May All Your Standards Be Simple and Evolvable is a post by John Wilbanks on Science Blog’s Common Knowledge. It is written with medical data standards in mind, but it could be discussing the state of library data as well:
“…TCP/IP, created simply to move bits between computers, begat a variety of new protocols like FTP, Gopher, Finger, many other protocols that layered atop the basic bits standard. Complexity from simplicity. Attempting to embed file transfer into the bits protocol would have made this whole process a lot harder.”
We are approaching a point in which we will be moving our data out of the cumbersome and outdated MARC format. It will happen, regardless of the heel-dragging that has been taking place for over 10 years. The debate is still heated over what we will replace the standard with.
Can we come up with something simple and evolvable? I define this as being able to build things out of data without having to break the it up into usable chunks. Have you looked at a MARC (.mrc) record with a text editor? There is no easy way to determine what much of the data means, and the entire record is one string of information. You can usually pick out the title, author and a few other things, but mostly it looks like gobbledygook.
If our data were in nice, small, understandable pieces to begin with, with straightforward rules guiding how it was formatted, it would invite innovation and creative use. We are only hindering ourselves with the complexity and arcane rules; simplicity would serve everyone’s needs far better.