Re: meta information (Chris Lilley, Computer Graphics Unit)
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 1994 12:34:19 +0200
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From: (Chris Lilley, Computer Graphics Unit)
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: Re: meta information 
X-Listprocessor-Version: 6.0c -- ListProcessor by Anastasios Kotsikonas
I thought this statement was important enough that I would repeat it.

Chris Neuss said:
>  Seriously, this is important. The only way to actually get people
>  to add such information (which is necessary for all kinds of local
>  and global indexes) is have editors provide a special field for
>  filling it in. But this requires that a standard has to be agreed
>  on by the time real WYSIWYG editing tools arrive - and this is
>  gonna be pretty soon... :-)))

I have listened to the recent discussion about meta information with interest. 
It reminds me of the discussions about meta information that happened in the 
scientific datasets community some years ago. As looks like happening here, the 
proponents of 'we don't need no meta information' won. So, apart from some 
notable exceptions, such as the NASA work on PDS, scientific datasets don't have 
proper meta information, there are no real standards worth a damn, and 
visualisation systems throw any meta information away. Ho hum.

But discussions of the best, truest and most holy way to alter the DTD to 
express this or that have seemed a little closed and high flying. Yes some 
people know enough to suggest an addition to the DTD when they want to add a 
meta information element - but the vast and increasing majority don't. Many 
information providers will not even know the DTD exists; just that they use a 
special Web editor to write Web pages. The implementation details are as 
irrelevant as they are to the user of a wordprocessor, or a paint package.

Similarly, I have little sympathy for the idea that all meta elements are left 
open ended and un-specified, as if each information provider should be capable 
of designing their own, well specified, incompatible, system. That may be true 
of some people - perhaps many of those on this list - but we are not a 
representative selection. Once good authoring tools come into play, we will be a 
massively un-representative selection!

I would much rather see a suitable selection of generally usefull elements which 
will, inevitably, be adopted as a defacto standard in the absence of anything 

Then they will get used, acquire critical mass, and become useful. 

At WWW94 I suggested to Dave Raggett that the meta elements be firmed up a 
little so that there was a usable set for commonly required ones, and a simple 
procedure for registering new ones. That way, the system is extensible and 
useable. The WYSIWYG editors just incorporate the latest crop of registered 
extensions each time a new minor version comes out.

If new elements are registered this avoids duplication, which is I think self 
evidently a good thing. If some elements are standardised they will get used, 
which is also clearly of benefit, and if a significant proportion of the web 
documents out there have some, usable, meta information - all using the same set 
of tags, not all different ones - we have a big win.

Chris Lilley
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