In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series of clues allow Holmes and his inseparable companion, Dr. Watson, to unravel the mystery surrounding strange cases that include robberies, murders and disappearances. The archetype of the detective by excellence, Holmes is a genius when it comes to reading the clues that will lead to the capture of the culprit. Moving away from fiction, something similar happens with technology. To locate a book in virtual space, our electronic equipment (Holmes and Watson) perform a myriad of operations to solve the «mystery», that is, to find the publication we are looking for, as well as others that we did not exactly want to locate, but that are related to our previous main search.
This mechanism that allows us to locate books and practically everything on the Internet is known as an algorithm (a term as old as mathematics) and, today, it has gained importance because computer systems have perfected it to such an extent that they are capable of performing billions of operations in a matter of seconds (Fanjul, 2018). In this way, algorithms are responsible for locating a movie, a song, a video, a book, etc., based on our previous searches or through the relationship that a content has with other similar ones. However, their operation would be impossible without the presence of a series of information that is like the «passport» that allows us to travel on the network to those contents, I am referring to the metadata.
On the left, e-book with little metadata and therefore not linked to other publications; on the right, the same book, but with correct and sufficient metadata linked to other titles by the same author.
But what is metadata? Simply defined, it is the basic information that makes it possible to recognize and locate a book. At Bookmate, we consider the following to be basic data for any publication: author, title, ISBN, language, year of publication, publisher, synopsis of the book and countries in which it is and is not allowed to be sold. In addition, we consider others such as translator, illustrator, genre and BISAC, Thema or ONIX categories.
This simple list of data about a book allows us to locate it within the ocean of information that feeds the network day by day and minute by minute. Therefore, without sufficient and specific metadata, it is almost impossible to find a book. Secondly, well-defined metadata relates a title to others of the same author, genre, publisher, subject, etc., so that it can be located even by those who are not looking for it, as happens with the hashtag (#) and the contents recommended by any streaming platform.
As can be seen, metadata is the channel that communicates millions of pieces of information on the web. Thus, good metadata is the difference between locating a book or not and relating it to similar content, so that even someone who is not looking for it has access to it and can decide whether to read it or not. The latter is the task of the different algorithms; as in Conan Doyle’s novel, our job as authors and publishers is to provide good clues or data to the algorithms (Holmes and Watson) so that the reader can locate the book he is looking for or might be interested in.
In the end, reading is an encounter with the unknown, with what we were not looking for but needed to find, now (thanks to metadata and algorithms) at the click of a button.
Saucedo, Ana Sofía, y Fernando Alcaraz. (2021, February 11). Seminario editoriales: metadatos, en Estrategia Nacional de Lectura. Recuperado de https://www.facebook.com/EstrategiaNacionalDeLectura/videos/428200371630110 (Retrieved on March 1st, 2021).
Sergio C. Fanjul. (2018, 24 de marzo). En realidad, ¿qué […] es exactamente un algoritmo?, en El País. Recuperado de https://retina.elpais.com/retina/2018/03/22/tendencias/1521745909_941081.html (Retrieved on March 1st, 2021).