Task Forces/Metadata/Fran Toolean Interview

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FRAN TOOLAN, CEO, Firebrand [Bill] (major metadata management service for book publishers)

Fran characterized the biggest problem as "Publishers don't understand the role of the web. They understand that everyone is on it, but they are confused by all the virtual storefronts, and very confused about SEO, how to determine keywords, how does book industry metadata (BISAC) fit in. They don't have workflows around this. They don't have somebody on staff looking at Google AdWords for every title."

Another big problem: every retailer site has its own ingestion engine, its own specifications.

The metadata itself isn't as bad as people think it is. The vast majority of publishers are creating the metadata they've been told to create.

Another key insight from Fran: "Metadata was once identified as a method by which a publisher could control the perception of the book. That is no longer the case. With all the review sites, social media, etc., it is now out of the publisher's control. The publishers don't know what to do about this."

"The right question is 'How can publishers be more successful on the Web?'"

He feels that metadata in the context of the W3C "means something completely different than what it means in the book supply chain." "What's 'the product' on the Web?"

There's confusion regarding usage. Most people consider usage info as "metadata": how much of the book can display, where it can be sold, who has the rights to it, etc. This is really supply chain data.

"ONIX is irrelevant to the W3C." It doesn't show up anywhere on the Web.

"What the publisher cares about is if the book can be discovered." The Web page should be an aid to discovery. "But the publisher is not in control of that because they're not the retailer."

Biggest problem: the publisher doesn't know what affects what. "Is the info they've been browbeaten to give over the past few years doing any good? No way to know, no feedback loop."

He feels that "BISAC categories are irrelevant to the W3C." How can this translate to the W3C? Keywords are a big deal. [Note that BISG is working on a keywords recommendation--not a vocabulary, but guidelines regarding keywords.]

"CrossRef and schema.org work because they're each a central registration agency." "Bowker and Books In Print used to be that in the print era. Currently there is no single repository for book metadata." "The only way to get a central registration agency for book metadata is if the retailers agree to use it. Amazon and Apple will never do that." "Retailers like Walmart etc. use UPC (bar codes) for which GS1 is the central registration agency [for general merchandise]. This never got any legs for books."