Building connection engines with metadata

In "Scan This Book!" -- a May 14 manifesto published in The New York Times Magazine -- Wired's Kevin Kelly explores the copyright battle provoked by Google's ambition to digitize millions of library books. It's ultimately a clash of business models, he concludes. In a networked world, where copying is implicit in every transfer of information, copies lose their direct economic value but gain indirect value as "discovery tools" that attract attention, sponsorship, and subscription.

Search is the game-changer. "Things can be found by search," Kelly adds, "only if they radiate potential connections." Yes, but that leads to a more nuanced view of search than the one Google and its competitors have popularized. For the past few months I've been revamping search on Full-text search works more effectively now and is augmented by streams of metadata and by RSS syndication. It's all about making the site a better connection engine.

On my blog, I've chronicled the development of a pair of applications called InfoWorld Power Search and InfoWorld Metadata Explorer. Both exploit three kinds of metadata to turbocharge the discovery of InfoWorld articles: first, structured document titles that include key attributes, such as date, type, and author; second, tags assigned by way of; third, subtitles and lead paragraphs.

In InfoWorld Power Search, aka iws, I use these metadata streams to add value to the output of our Ultraseek search engine. The raw Ultraseek results are ordered by relevance, but that's begging the question: Relevant to whom? For what purpose? Using iws, you can order results by date, type, and author, and you can evaluate the results in the context of their tags, subtitles, and lead paragraphs.

In InfoWorld Metadata Explorer, aka iwx, the same metadata streams add value to Compare the results for the tag "vista," for example, in and in iwx. It's the same set of URLs, but in iwx they're decorated with extra metadata. Those metadata elements aren't just passively displayed; they're active filters, too. Clicking a tag filters the view to include just items with that tag. Clicking an author's name adds another filter for items by that author.

These applications blend search and navigation in interesting and powerful ways. Because every view is fully specified by a URL, they radiate a lot of connections for people to use. Under the covers, they also use RSS feeds to radiate connections that people and machines alike can use.

Like many sites, offers a set of topical RSS feeds. Now that every iwx view can be seen through an RSS lens, that set is vastly enlarged. Suddenly we have feeds for Vista, Cisco, and many other topics. Cool! But not in the obvious way. Before iwx offered an RSS feed of InfoWorld's Vista articles, did. Frankly, neither version is very interesting in and of itself. If you want to syndicate articles about Vista, ours are only some of the ones you'll want to see in that feed.

Aggregated views are the ticket. And the key point is that the iwx version of the feed encourages smarter aggregation. Metadata is what makes the interactive experience in iwx more compelling than its counterpart. By syndicating that metadata, I'm inviting others to more richly contextualize their aggregations of our stuff.

If other publishers will return the favor, I'll gladly make better use of theirs. Any takers?

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Udell

Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?