Metadata as personal information

Hopefully all of you have seen this spiffy little tagging library that Christian and David are working on. One of the comments we hear about it is that tags should be system-wide, rather than per-user. Some people view tags as a global attribute of a file: much like a MIME type or its permissions. We view tags as something a user should be able to personally apply to any resource, whether they “own” it or not.

Well, the recent article on metadata in Vista would seem to support our position. Sure, the article is your typical alarmist journalism tripe, but within it is a kernel of truth: people are likely to use this type of metadata for assigning their own personal categories to a file. This data fundamentally belongs to the user. As the same file is processed by another user, the tags may no longer make sense. As the article points out, they may even be harmful.

Obviously it all depends on how you define “metadata”. Mime type, file size, an icon.. these are all things that have traditionally been thought of as “belonging” to the file itself even if they aren’t stored with the file. This goes all the way back to the resource fork in MacOS, maybe farther. Today this flavor of metadata is trying to reemerge through linux extended attributes, and Windows’ new filesystem. But why? MacOS has had it for decades. It was useful for a while, but in the internet age the flat file dominates. Everything has to fit into an HTTP session, into a zip file, or it’s useless on the ‘net. Metadata like file type, image size, and such has become redundant out of necessity. This information must be encoded within the file itself, or you can’t transmit it.

Where does this leave out-of-band metadata? Well, it’s perfect for attributes that don’t need to permanently follow a file around the internet. It’s perfect for personal data, and that’s exactly what this project is using it for.