Few people bother to look at the code underlying Web sites they visit, but it is often worth doing so - not just to see how good pages are put together, but to examine any metadata lurking there. For metadata - data about data - is becoming an increasingly important area of Web technology (the World Wide Web Consortium has some background on the subject).
The reason is simple: metadata offers a way of easing the data overload that the Web has exacerbated. By building in extra information to Web pages it will be possible for search engines, for example, to offer more useful results, and for data exchange - vitally important for the future of e-commerce - to be facilitated.
One page that is worth exploring in this way is that of the e-envoy. I wrote about this page from the point of view of its content a few weeks back, and since then it has added an important document outlining the Government's policy on open source software.
The metadata it contains is part of a broader initiative called the E-Government Metadata Standard. This, in turn, is but one component of the E-Government Interoperability Framework. There are documents covering the two parts of this, the first on general issues, the second on technical matters.
The best introduction to the Government's metadata plans is an earlier paper on the E-Government Metadata Framework (e-GMF). As well as providing a good starting point, it represents the formal announcement of two crucial elements of the interoperability framework.
The first is the development of a pan-government thesaurus, which is "a structured list of terms and keywords to help us define information accurately and find information faster" according to the e-GMF. This may sound simple enough, but is in fact an ambitious scheme which is still in its early stages. Minutes of various meetings working towards this goal are online.
The other important announcement in the metadata framework paper was that the first version of the e-GMF would be based on the Dublin Core metadata initiative. Since I wrote about the Dublin Core a year ago its main site has expanded considerably, reflecting the growing importance of this metadata standard in the online world - not least because of its adoption by governments.
Looking at the online information about the Dublin Core - including its history - reveals that the Dublin involved is in Ohio, not Ireland. There are various documents available, including recommendations, proposed recommendations and working drafts. Other resources include a FAQ, a list of current projects based on Dublin Core metadata, and a list of related tools and software.
The thoroughgoing nature of the Government's metadata initiative is impressive, and it will provide a useful - and high-profile - test-bed of the routine and rigorous use of metadata across a large organisation. Businesses should keep an eye on developments - as well as on all that metadata.
Next week: Helix
This was first published in August 2002