The metadata crisis: Can geographic information be made more usable?
The Metadata Crisis: Can geographic
information be made more usable?
U.S. Geological Survey
Excavating a politics of repair and
“..perhaps we have been looking in the wrong
place. Perhaps we should have been looking at
breakdown and failure as no longer atypical and
therefore only worth addressing if they result in
catastrophe and, instead, at breakdown and
failure as the means by which societies learn and
learn to re-produce.”
--Graham and Thrift
• Metadata — describe the content, quality,
condition, and other characteristics of data.
• Major uses of metadata:
– organize and maintain an organization's investment in
– provide information to data catalogs and clearinghouses.
– provide information to aid data transfer.
Some rules for Metadata
Rule #1: Metadata should be Object-based.
Rule #2: Metadata should link out.
Rule #3: Metadata leave breadcrumbs or a history.
OSM doesn't link out - the user ID and user name can link into
the Wiki where users are encouraged to create profiles. The
profile is an extension of the metadata that can change as
• Data and metadata interchangeable
• Multiple linked ways to get information, all socially
mediated, produced by community, accessible to any
– Computer programs
– Tiling schemes
– Web pages
– Wiki pages
– IRC chat rooms
– Youtube videos
The Before and After of Metadata
• Made by professionals • Made by users
• Process of subtraction • Process of addition
• Structured (Hierarchies) • Miscellaneous (Tags)
• Implicit links • Explicit links
• Metadata travels • User travels
Everything is Miscellaneous
• 1st Order (organize things in space)
• 2nd Order (separation of description from
• 3rd Order (everything digital, data not
distinguishable from metadata)