The Documentalist

Metadata & the Future of Mobile Web Access

Posted in technology by Sarah on October 21, 2009

As we move forward with the electronic evidence study at CRL, one challenge keeps rising to the surface in all of our conversations, literature reviews, and reviews of internet resources.  In a word: Metadata.  Collecting metadata and context information seems to be particularly challenging for digitally or electronically created documentation;  in response, archivists and preservationists are striving to create simple, use-friendly means of capturing the information that will ensure that preserved documents will serve a long and useful life.  Such processes would allow documents to serve as evidence for continued activism, policy work, scholarship, legal action, and even for maintaining national memories of events once crises are past and democratic processes get improved or established (see the recent post on ADAM at Amnesty International for an example of one recently developed strategy).  After all, as the UN has recently established in its report Right to Truth, documentation and archives are fundamental to ensuring that all individuals’ human rights are supported and protected.

Automatic Metadata?

Given the challenges discussed above, it’s interesting to learn that the next generation of mobile Web devices will have the ability to automatically collect metadata such as geographic location, temporal information, and context for materials generated on them.  As stated in “Data-rich Internet Needs Context, New Modes of Consumption and Serendipity:”

In the future, metadata will be available on our mobile phones and it will provide computers with contextual information around data that developers create, according to Marc Davis, partner at Invention Arts and former chief scientist of Yahoo Mobile. By bridging the gap between pieces of information, particularly geolocation data, temporal information (when something is created) and other contextual information that Davis called the “who, what, when and where” clues, we’ll be able to help machines filter through data in ways that are more relevant for us ( Jennifer Martinez, GigaOM).

Of course, this capacity is being developed for programming and product development purposes, but if such data could be easily accessed by non-developers, they would have positive implications for digitally created human rights documentation, too.  If we can automatically have information about where, when, and in what context a document was created, we have a better chance of gleaning relevant materials–materials that might otherwise be lost for lack of context–for sustained engagement in activism, scholarship and legal action.


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