I recently attended a few sessions of the COVID-19 Virtual Conference: Understanding the Data Landscape. It was a conference focused on the sharing of COVID-19 data and information. A lot of the discussion was about the explosion of information as scientists race to find out more about the virus and search for a cure. I was invited by my friend Natalie who was presenting. In her session on resource sharing, I brought up the point about Social Metadata Application. If I had been in the same room, I would have gotten blank stares, but in a Zoom room, I got dead silence so I had to explain.
Social Metadata Application is a feature in some catalog/Intranet/repository systems. It, obviously, depends on the UI and permissions.
Simply, Social Metadata Application allows users to apply terms (or metadata or hashtags) to records in a repository. Before you get upset about data integrity and taxonomic integrity, this is not a permanent change to records. The terms a users adds reside in the user’s account and are layered on top of the official record like a filter. They only show up to the user and to administrators. Other users would not be able to see my additions unless the terms were normalized into the official repository taxonomy or the user gave permission for others to see them.
From a user perspective, this is a way for users to create collections of their own using their own terms. Records in a database take on more meaning to a user when thee user can creatte a collection relevant to their interests or research. The way users organize information is useful to them, so having this feature makes them come back for more. Making Social Metadata Application a usable feature creates the opportunity for more people to have a say in the terms that are being used.
From a professional’s perspective, seeing the metadata users apply can inform changes to the official taxonomy. Seeing users use terms that may be slang or unfamiliar to the taxonomist, can help a taxonomist provide alternatives to the official terms and enrich the taxonomy. User metadata normalized for use in the official taxonomy makes the terms available to other users official and enriches the entire repository. Also, administrators can see what collections users are forming. Seeing the different ways people interact with the repository can inform new options of marketing the collection or new ways of thinking about the data. For example, scientists can be informed when research articles are grouped in a way that suggests additions to the research.
Adding Social Metadata Application to the feature set can be the third metadata layer. First, machines scan the repository and create a list of most used terms. Second, the taxonomist goes through the machine’s list to normalize it, create alternate terms and make a usable taxonomy. Finally, with user input, the taxonomy can help disseminate the information in the repository farther. Additionally, things like bias can be minimized when more terms are offered up from different perspectives.
The UI must have the capability to allow users to add metadata in a way that does not compromise the integrity of the repository. Permissions must be set correctly and staff must schedule time to review the terms being added.
Such a feature requires added code, but could expand the usability of a repository.