When skimming our thousands of items a day we are actually making value judgements based on who the author is, what the headline reads (and what we think the topic is based on the headline), if there are any pictures to catch our eye and so on and so on.
When we come across a blog, I think that most people look for the subscriber count and consider (at least at the back of their mind and as part of a larger value judgement) whether or not they should add the author to their subscription list based on how authoritative that number makes them. Adding someone to your feed list is a relatively big decision. So the 'subscriber count' metadata is important.
The problem though, is that mainstream users don't know this metadata. They don't know that engaget is the top gadget blog. They don't know that Chris Messina is an authority on OpenID and Microformats and they don't know what constitutes a small or large subscriber count. They also don't know about Technorati and therefore don't know how to check a blogs rank before consider the weight to place on the post.
R. Todd Stephens writes an article asking us to imagine a world without metadata. It's a fascinating prospect.
He gives the following real-world example:
"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?"He also talks about metadata without context using foreign travellers as an example.
"My wife and I ran across this in the Atlanta airport a few months ago when traveling overseas. A woman standing outside the train car that moved travelers from the concourse to the travel gates was having a problem understanding the metadata information that was all around her. She asked us if we knew any Spanish, to which my wife replied, "Un poquito," or just a little. She started to reel off sentence after sentence, trying to explain to us her issues. The best we could do was to hand her off to another couple that knew much more Spanish than we did. Here is the point: as a traveler, she was surrounded by all the information and metadata she needed to either get her luggage or head to the departure gate. She simply couldn't understand the information she needed to take action."I think that mainstream users are just like foreign travellers. They lack the understanding to use all the metadata ques to filter information quickly in a flooded feed reader.
I think that if mainstream Media and business management want to reach their audience, then we need to give them a way of helping users get important content by making metadata
a. Easier to understand.
b. Collectively factored and contributory to a single Personal Relevancy rank.