Digitizing Taxonomy: from Dewey to Plagman

Though the nature of data has not changed and never will (facts, figures, statistics, and other information are always going to be the primary components of daily life), how it is created, accessed, used, and stored has changed tremendously over the past centuries. Today’s computers and networks allow instant access to almost any piece of information you could want, no matter where you are or what type of device you are using. Document management systems (DMSs), like those provided by eFilecabinet, allow business users and individuals unparalleled freedom to create and organize information. And in a world full of countless bytes of data, the recent advancements in metadata are making it easier than ever to organize and store every document, file, photo, or program a company will ever use.

But the innovations of today are not isolated creations—tthey are the product of hundreds of years of technological advancements and changes. And while hundreds and thousands of inventors, creators, and designers have helped create the technology of today, there are a few key individuals who provided essential innovations that lead to where we are now.

Charles Babbage

The first individual who played an important role in the evolution of metadata is a mathematician named Charles Babbage. Around the year 1830, Babbage was well aware of the importance of functions containing polynomials of a variable in scientific equations. The importance of those functions had been known for many years (thanks to individuals like J. B. Fourier), as they provided an easy way to approximate complex functions.

The complex functions were used regularly by mathematicians, scientists, and other analytical thinkers regularly. Unfortunately, doing the work by hand was labor intensive. Also, it was easy to make mistakes when dealing with such complex functions that had many variables and values.

Babbage realized that processing these functions was something that could be automated, dramatically reducing the need for human labor. Working with polynomials and functions required what can be considered mathematical brute force—a lot of repetitive or time consuming work and less abstract reasoning. It didn’t take long for him to devise a simple machine that could compute polynomials and then compute an approximation for a function, all without errors or effort.

Though the machine he created was complex, its operation was based on a simple idea of differences. The machine used a series of cogwheels that could be positioned in such a way that, as the cogs and wheels turn, different values and numbers would be derived by the final position of the cogs and wheels relative to where they started and to each other. This machine, one that could compute polynomials, paved the way for modern computers and metadata creation and storage.

Melvin Dewey

While many have heard of the Dewey Decimal system, not everyone understands exactly what the system is. Melvin Dewey pioneered a simple method of organizing and classifying data in the late 1800s. The Dewey Decimal system uses the concept of a relative location and relative index to keep information organized according to subjects. Dewey himself was a librarian and applied his ideas to the classification of books, which themselves are large groups of data.

While the system has evolved dramatically over the years, it shows what could be considered the birth of formalized metadata used today. In a sense, each book in a library was associated with non-digital metadata, quickly describing and identifying the data stored within. And the system Dewey created provided the groundwork for how data management systems works today.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing can be credited with a number of significant creations and advancements in the world of computers and data. However, there are two things he is responsible for that have changed the world forever.

Alan Turing created what is widely considered the first general purpose computer in the form of his Turing Machine. This machine operated by manipulating symbols according to a table of rules. Users specify the instructions given to the machine and the machine would read the symbols and perform an action based off of the instructions and given symbol. It was the nature of the machine’s results that led to the second breakthrough.

The Turing machine proved that, in a limited way, a machine could replicate human thought and reactions. This was the birth of artificial intelligence, or machines that could be programmed to “think” about what to do with pieces of data. As far as metadata is concerned, the birth of artificial intelligence meant metadata could evolve to be accessed and organized digitally, making it possible to store and access greater quantities of data than ever before.

Bernard Plagman

The creation of the term metadata is attributed to Bernard Plagman, who first used the term in an article published in the early 1970s. Metadata is basically data about data, or a way of organizing and understanding larger quantities of data through a classification system. In other words, metadata is information about something that is separate from the “something” itself. It allows data to be used in large quantities without extra effort.

In his article, Plagman discusses the importance of making quicker decisions and processing data in a more efficient way. He goes on to describe how metadata is a way of quickly identifying large groups of digital data that would otherwise be almost impossible to manage or understand with any sort of efficiency. His efforts have helped shape how document management services organize information for large and small companies, dramatically increasing productivity in every department.

Metadata for Your Company

The evolution of metadata means document management services like the ones we provide at eFileCabinet are able to help you organize all of your company’s information in secure and easily accessed databases. Because of the advancements of individuals like Melvin Dewey and Alan Turing, you are able to use portable electronic devices and desktop computers to quickly create, understand, and share as much data as you can produce. And thanks to metadata, even the most complex groups of information can be accessed and used in a matter of seconds. The streamlined services you enjoy today wouldn’t exist without a few key advancements of the past 250 years.

By | 2016-12-15T11:58:52+00:00 January 4th, 2016|
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