Thursday, May 27, 2010

Metadata - The Secret Value of Social Media

A lot has been written about social media and so I am not going to talk about its end-user appeal or benefits. Instead, I’d like to discuss the value of social media for the operator. Advertising is of course the first thing that comes to mind and that’s behind Facebook’s agenda. But there is another benefit that so far has not been making the headlines: metadata.

Metadata is essential for any content. Without good metadata, content is difficult to find and impossible to process. But good metadata is very difficult to get. Traditionally, the users were expected to add it at the time of content creation and throughout the processing. But users are notoriously unmotivated to do so and they won’t. Automatic approaches through content analytics are promising but still nascent (see my article The Problems Waiting to Be Solved). Yet here comes a 3rd way to create metadata – social media.

Just think about what’s happening on Facebook. Millions of users are socially interacting. They are telling each other their opinions about what they like and don’t like, what they do, what they need. This is the online version of an Italian piazza or an American sports bar on a football night. And they do it of their own accord, without corporate policies, and without having to adhere to any taxonomy. Mining these interactions is relatively easy and the result is information about people, processes, and content. And that’s how we define metadata.

Unfortunately, Facebook owns their metadata and they will be selling it to advertisers a bit at a time. And that really worries Google. If you want to read a good book or find a good store, you can either search for it or you can get a recommendation. You can either trust some search algorithm that relies on keyword prominence and frequency of links or you can trust your friends whom you know and share common interests and values with. That’s why the metadata generated from social media is more valuable than any search index and, as a result, ads based on social media are much more relevant than the ads based on search. And that’s why Google fears Facebook.

The same applies for private social media deployments on your intranet or web site. The high quality metadata generated by social media in an enterprise is just as valuable. It can be the driver for use cases such as recommendations, expertise location, knowledge discovery or suggestive records filing. Yes, the value of social media lies not only in the user engagement and interactions; it also represents a great source of metadata. And that’s the secret value of social media.

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