Have you ever thought about what life without metadata would be like? Not the traditional database metadata, but retail metadata - the kind of metadata that appears on every product inside Wal-Mart, Kroger and Publix. For example, consider a simple bottle of aspirin, where the metadata on the box includes the manufacturer, ingredients, volume, quantity, directions and safety warnings. Open the box, and there is an insert with even more metadata on how and when to use the product. Not to mention the bottle itself, which repeats much of the metadata that was on the box, only in smaller print.
Now imagine walking into your local grocery store, and you notice all of the traditional taxonomies have been removed because product classifications are a form of metadata. The aisle signage has been removed. The only things you can see are the blank containers designed for the products themselves. Let's suppose you need soup to go with Saturday's dinner. You grab a can and begin to shake it in hopes that the weight and movement can provide you with some indication of the contents. Is it tomato soup or a can of beans? Perhaps it is a can of peaches or mixed vegetables. Or, maybe you're an experienced shopper who can distinguish between soup and other products. Is it chicken noodle soup, vegetable soup or clam chowder? Frustrated, you head over to the dry goods area but your problems don't seem to fade away. This time you pick up a blank box, which may contain laundry detergent, dishwashing cleaner or cereal. Of course, these uncertainties have little impact compared to those at the pharmacy, where you may be taking Viagra or Tylenol for your now splitting headache. Can you imagine any business that would actually run their store in such a manner? Can you imagine any retail environment without the information or information architecture required to do business?
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