An RDF for books

On October 11, Laura Dawson and I are co-presenting a Tools of Change (TOC) workshop on metadata. It is part of the education program that accompanies the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In preparing for the event, Laura pointed me to an interview with Richard Wallis, who was hired by OCLC to serve as their "technology evangelist". In the interview, Wallis explains the basic idea behind the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and its ability to link like objects in context across the web.

Since our initial conversation, Laura has written a couple of related posts about future uses of metadata. The first, "The space between things", explains RDF as "a statement about things and how they relate to one another". It follows the "subject, predicate, object" analogy, common in diagramming relationships in sentences, that Wallis invoked in his interview.

More recently, Laura posted "Cars, threads and Deleuze", in which she notes, "If your standards are small and flexible and interoperable, instead of top-down, dictated, enforced…they’ll probably work better." This resonated with me.

Lately, I've been reading "The intention economy", by Doc Searls, who envisions a world in which "vendor relationship management" (VRM) tools act as agents for individuals. In Searls' view, these VRM tools will soon talk to "customer relationship management" (CRM) systems, along the way restoring balance in the way that contracts are struck and data is exchanged.

There is much more to Searls' idea, but (like Laura) he is a fan of smaller-scale development. In the book, he opens a chapter with a simple argument:

"VRM development works because it is distributed. That is, anybody can do it anywhere and build on the work others are also doing."

Our TOC workshop is about three hours long and currently has five parts, the last of which tries to answer the question "What trends in identifiers, search-engine marketing and content tagging will affect book publishers in the next five to ten years?"

RDF matters to books because (as Hugh McGuire has argued), "The book and the internet will soon merge". Nobody has a crystal ball, but Laura's thinking, hinted at in her posts, suggests that book content will be much more open, accessible and interoperable in 2020. Let's hope we're using the tools that also make that content discoverable.

[By the way, Laura encouraged me to read Deleuze. I'm not sure where I squeeze him in, but the books are on order. When it comes to metadata, Laura has that effect on people.]


About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.