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The Participant Observer » Blog Archive » Where’s the metadata, the anthropology?
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Where’s the metadata, the anthropology?

Though I joined the lovefest over this video at Savage Minds; shared it with dozens of people last week; and am genuinely grateful it was produced and posted; I have some problems with the representation of Web 2.0 it makes.

Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

The focus on form and content a bit misleading. Sure, XML, enables you to separate abstract data (i.e. the so-called “content”) from rendition information (form, or better, formatting), but that’s hardly the heart of Web 2.0. Metadata, middleware, an interchange format that makes document processing and data processing one and the same, that’s the heart of it. Though the video emphasizes that XML facilitates automatic data exchange, and talks about tagging as teaching the machine, metadata is never mentioned by name.

Mostly, I find the video problematic as a work of cultural anthropology because it so readily serves up the party line of the Web 2.0 initiative in the native tongue of marketing: “Digital text can do better,” XML leaves us “free from formatting constraints,” no need to “know complicated code,” “no longer just linking information, Web 2.0 is linking people.” This last one strikes me as particularly odd coming from an anthropologist. Were people not connected by the Web in 1994? A lot of complicated codes are required to blog and use social networking tools, the fact that most of them aren’t machine-readable shouldn’t keep a social scientist from recognizing them as code.

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