Brewster Kahle: Bill Dunn on the value of Meta-data

00:35:21

I GREW UP OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK CITY. MY PARENTS, MY FATHER WORKED FOR A FORTUNE 500 COMPANY, COMMUTING ON THE TRAIN EVERY MORNING INTO MANHATTAN. I TRIED THAT FOR A SUMMER. GOSH, THAT WAS A SACRIFICE MY PARENTS MADE FOR THE KIDS THAT I WOULDN’T DO FOR MINE. LIVING IN THE BIRDS AND SPENDING — BIRDS AND SPENDING ALL YOUR TIME COMMUTING. I LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO RIGHT IN THE CITY, BUT I REALLY APPRECIATE THE GOOD SCHOOLING THAT THEY AFFORDED ME. IT LET ME GRADUATE COLLEGE WITH NO DEBT, SO I COULD PURSUE HER — PURSUE GOING WORKING IN A THREE-PERSON LITTLE START OF MAKING CHILDREN’S TOYS OUT OF COLLEGE RATHER THAN THE IBM OFFER I HAD ALSO GOTTEN. I WANTED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE, SO THAT WAS A SUPPORT THAT MY PARENTS DID IN TERMS OF LETTING ME GO AND GROW, AND I REALLY APPRECIATE AND I JUST WISH THERE WERE MORE KIDS ABLE TO GRADUATE COLLEGE WITH NO SCHOOL DEBT. WHAT A BURDEN. WHAT A BURDEN THAT WOULD BE IF YOU DIDN’T FIND A JOB RIGHT AWAY. ANYWAY, I FEEL VERY FORTUNATE, BUT SAN FRANCISCO IS HOME. SAN FRANCISCO IS — I LOVE THE DREAMERS. WHEN I WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHERE TO PUT THE INTERNET — THIS IS IN THE LATE 1980’S, AND I ASKED BILL DUNN, THE HEAD OF DOW JONES ELECTRONICS. HE CAME UP WITH THE TERM METADATA. HE SAID THE METADATA IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DATA ITSELF. THIS IS REVOLUTIONARY IN ITS TIME, BILL DUNN. WHERE SHOULD WE DO THIS? GO SOMEPLACE WHERE PEOPLE DON’T THINK YOU ARE CRAZY. WHERE WOULD THAT BE? HE SAID, IF YOU WERE STARTING PUBLISHING COMPANY, HE SAID HE WOULD THINK ABOUT L.A. YOU SHOULD MAYBE GO FROM BOSTON, WHICH IS WHERE I HAD BEEN FOR 10 YEARS AND STRIKEOUT. I STRUCK OUT FOR SAN FRANCISCO AND THE WONDER OF SAN FRANCISCO IS PEOPLE DON’T CALL YOU CRAZY. THEY’LL SAY, WHAT YOUR IDEA? THAT’S A NEAT IDEA, CAN I HELP? IS THERE SOME WAY I CAN PARTICIPATE IN THIS? THERE WAS A SUPPORT NETWORK THAT WAS ALL YES’S, RATHER THAN ON ALL NO’S, WHICH IS WHAT I WAS FEELING IN THE 1980’S ON THE EAST COAST. THERE WAS ALSO A RECESSION. THAT’S WHEN I PICKED UP AND TURNED OUT TO BE RIGHT. A LOT OF THE INTERNET AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND THE WEB WAS DEVELOPED IN LUCERNE AND TIMBER WE MOVED TO M.I.T.. THAT WAS THE SAME TIME I WAS REESTABLISHING IN SAN FRANCISCO BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE I THOUGHT THE IRAQI PEOPLE WOULD GO AND TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY SHOULD BE. NOT EVERYTHING IN SAN FRANCISCO IS ROSES, AND I THINK HAS CHANGED A LOT. THERE’S AN ENORMOUS CONCENTRATION ON JUST MAKING LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY, WHICH I DON’T THINK IS — IT IS NOT LIKE PEOPLE GRADUATE ON THEIR TOMBSTONE AND SAY I’M AWESOME BECAUSE I MADE LOTS OF MONEY. THAT ISN’T THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS. YOU DO GOOD THINGS, RELATE TO GOOD PEOPLE, FEEL BAD — GOOD FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. I WISH WE COULD TONE DOWN SOME OF THE GREED.

Collector or Digital Librarian?

Do you think more often of your date of birth or date of death?
Do you think of the start or the end?
Do you think of the project or the deadline?
Do you think of your journey or your legacy?
How much substance is there in your soul verses value in your impact on others?

I imagine these are the differences between the Collector and the Digital Librarian. The collector seems to want to experience, to learn and also to share. The collector discovers, understands and reveals to others.

The digital librarian has no long term memory other than what is captured in the library. Where the collector lives for life’s expressive expanses, a digital librarian is designing for not-being-here-anymore. When a doctor says, as the end nears, “you should get your affairs in order…” it is gloomy, foreboding, and tragic to the collector. The Digital Librarian says, “That is all I ever do.”

It is not that the Digital Librarian does not want to live forever—in fact that may be the driving emotion—it is just the method to live forever is not corporal, it is informational. We fight mortality through trying to share, and share permanently.

In creating the Great 78 Project, I have wanted to keep the notes of what records were in whose collections. I believe this may be the most important thing—more important than the recordings—what records were together?

If we want to understand a time or a life, it is made up of those groupings. As a Digital Librarian I want to illuminate for others those lives, those perspectives — I want to not lose those past lives through reorganization. But I don’t think I will be the one to learn from these lives, those choices, those perspectives. It will be other people, or even machines that will learn from these assemblies.

Bill Dunn said in the mid 1980s, “The metadata is more important than the data itself.” Astonishing—how did he know? He came up with the term “metadata” with Mitch Kapor around that time.

Collections are metadata and metadata of great value if these reflect a life’s choices. Those life’s choices may be the most valuable part of the Great 78 collection.

As a Digital Librarian, I feel I should, I must preserve this, share this.

But it is not for me, it passes through me. I am a Digital Librarian, not a collector.

I hope I do a good job during my brief stay on this earth.