I’m not much of a book reader, so when I do read a good book, it sticks in my head. David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous is one such good book, that speaks to the added value of meta-data. For non-techies, that’s all the descriptive information of an object – like your library catalogue. When you buy a book in Amazon or tag photos in Facebook, you’re leaving a trail of meta-data that when properly harvested, can create an amazing experience for users of those services.
I was reminded of David’s work recently when I found my dusty matchbook collection that was forgotten on a top shelf for over ten years. The value of a tiny bit of meta-data was as striking. And the absence of meta-data was equally striking.
Through most of the eighties and nineties, before smoking was banned in public places, most restaurants carried souvenir matchbooks. I’ve already confessed in a prior blog post my bizarre habit of writing meta-data in my dictionary. So you won’t be surprised that I wrote meta-data in matchbooks as well. That’s right, every time I was out for a meal, I would ask for a matchbook if they weren’t already on display at the maitre-d stand next to the toothpicks. My wife Miriam collected matchbooks too, and she enhanced them with meta-data just as I did.
Now we’re talking very sparse meta-data, not anything rich like the Dublin Core standard. It probably took less than five seconds to record three basic attributes – When? Who? Why? Obviously the “Where”?” was pre-populated on the matchbook itself. At some point, restaurants lost interest in matchbooks and Miriam and I lost interest in this strange habit. But I kept all the matchbooks nevertheless.
The first few matchbooks I opened had no meta-data. I had an empty feeling knowing I had been somewhere but not remembering with who, why, or when. I probably had an enjoyable evening with a business colleague, a friend, or my wife, but who knows? Its totally forgotten now.
But for the matchbooks that had meta-data, wonderful memories jumped back to life. Here are a few that span a ten-year period. Leave a comment if you were there.