The last presentation at the DAM conference back in June was by a very interesting DAM specialist – Mark Davey – of Cliffe Associates and Digital Asset who spoke engagingly about the increasing pervasiveness of metadata and how it is opening up a whole new world of connections and possibilities.

Internet of Things

He talked about the emerging Internet of Things and how this will – essentially – be enabled by metadata. The more sophisticated our metadata management, the more use we will be able to make of links and connections. The semantic web is a bold attempt to link information resources, but if the semantic web and the Internet of Things can be linked, the web leaps out into the real world in unprecedented ways and this, according to Davey, is why librarians rock! It is the people who understand how metadata works who will be forging the links that will create an integrated Internet of Services. A smart fridge could send you text messages telling you what you need to buy when you are in the shops (although I worry about mine scolding me for eating too many cakes!), but there are many more business-focussed applications. For example, RFID tags are being used by Hollywood prop and costume hire companies to help them keep track of and retrieve stock. The location data is useful in that case to physically find missing items, but knowing where customers take their purchases may have all sorts of interesting implications for marketing. A car rental company could plot on a map where people have driven their cars. This would be a fun image in a brochure, but could support business decisions such as where to open branches or whether to provide more small cars for city trips or bigger cars for long distances.

The current Internet is not fit for purpose, because nobody agreed any standards, but if we can start developing standards, we can set digital assets and metadata free so that they can interact with each other in a machine-brokered way. This could be incredibly powerful – everything could end up everywhere! Ways to monetise this new world could involve micro payments – you are watching a video, you see a product you like, you click on it and behind the scenes your credit card or online account is charged and the product is shipped to your door. Meanwhile, the sales team know that you bought that product because it was in that particular scene in the film, they know where you live, and they know what else you have been buying.

Hive minds

This all seems rather scary. On the one hand, people are already referring to the distributed cognition aspects of social networking sites as the hive mind – we are, perhaps, creating some kind of Borg-like merging of identities into one big digital stew. Individuals could find themselves subsumed into a digitally imposed conformity to some overriding norm due to the panoptic, big brotherish combination of AI, RFID and CCTV, especially when you factor in neuromarketing and automated classification of behaviour (which will be subjects of future posts). On the other hand, people have always worried about the homogenising effects of anything that brings people together and the misuse of surveillance.

(I think in practice, metadata alone is just a tool that can be used for good or ill, like a knife. The Internet of Services is likely to be patchy, with some very worthy projects – applications in medicine where scarce resources like organs for transplants needed to be tracked and delivered and surgeons kept informed – and some just for fun – like the Tales of Things Project, where you can add memories, as metadata, to objects.)