DTC 356 – Spring 2012 Electronic Research and the Rhetoric of Information


Prep for the final exam

The final will take place on Wednesday, May 2nd from 8am to 10am our accustomed classrooom, VMMC 111.


What does a good essay answer look like?

Sample question:

Metadata may be the single most important concept discussed in this course. Why all the fuss about metadata? Please write an essay describing what purposes metadata serve and how they are used to organize information and help searchers find what they are looking for. In your essay, please include a detailed definition of metadata and practical examples of how they are used to help people organize and find the information they are looking for.

Factually correct answer

Metadata are data about data.

Answer explained

Metadata are descriptive labels. They explain the context or significance of the data. A simple example of metadata are labels in an address book. When you have a blank entry in your phone's address book the blank lines are where the data will be entered. The descriptive labels are the metadata that tell you what data to enter on which lines.

Answer contextualized with examples

In a database, a common second-order tool, metadata take the form of fields, or the labels that describe the fields. In a standard table, the field labels would be the columns. In a web search engine, the metadata are less structured and more haphazard. Weinberger  claimed that "metadata is what you know and data is what you don't know" since any word can be used to find connected words. In address book example used above, "Name" "email address" "phone number" "place of work" are all common metadata labels for an address book, they describe and give explicit context to the data (Nicholas Schiller, schiller@vancouver.wsu.edu, 360-546-9171, WSU Vancouver Library) that follows them.

Complete answer, check to make certain all aspects of the question/writing prompt have been answered.

Metadata are used to define fields and explicitly label information in organized systems. Metadata tell the searcher what will be found in a specific area. Without metadata we would just have a chaotic jumble of data without context. We would be forced to examine every individual item in a set in order to know what is in it. For example, without metadata or context the word blues could refer to a range of colors, a kind of jeans, a genre of music, or a melancholy mood. Metadata makes the context for a datum (an individual unit of data) explicit.


Things you will want to be able to write about for the final exam:

Why do people organize things?

  • What techniques are commonly used?
  • What challenges are commonly faced?

Explain Weinberger’s three orders of order.

  • Give an example of each.
  • Explain what each is good for (list a situation where this would be the perfect solution to a problem)
  • Explain the key characteristics of each (what makes it special)

Explain the process of classification, including:

  • The role of authority
  • Why do people classify?
  • What is a taxonomy?

Define Metadata

  • examples
  • uses
  • Why are they important?

Be ready to explain certain key information organization systems. (order, uses, significance)

  • Linnean taxonomy
  • Dewey Decimal Classification
  • database
  • web search engine
  • semantic data markup

Describe a relational database including

  • table, record, field
  • what does this tool do well?
  • What kind of problem is this tool unsuited to solve?
  • How does one use this tool?

Explain how to effectively search a database of scholarly articles

Explain how semantic markup makes data on the web act like data in a database.

  • structured data / metadata standards
  • explicit metadata vs. implicit metadata

Describe a web search engine including:

  • crawler, index, PageRank
  • internal/external meta information
  • anchor link text
  • seo
  • What is this tool good at that no other tools can match?
  • What kind of problem is this tool unsuited to solve?

Describe a social taxonomy tool such as Delicious, Flickr, Pinterest, or Diigo

  • What makes this kind of tool work?
  • Contrast with a database (also with search engines)

Explain the silverware drawer analogy

“Knowing what you are looking for is just as important as finding what you know you need.”

Bits versus Atoms

  • Links vs. things

Tags and Categories

  • Compare and contrast in terms of:
  • Which order of order?
  • bits vs. atoms
  • freedom vs. control

“everything is miscellaneous”

  • What does this claim mean?
  • Evaluate this claim for its relative strengths and weaknesses

Known Item Searching and discovery

Compare and contrast implicit information versus explicit information



Arbitrary organization

What are some advantages and disadvantages to using authority to organize information?



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