Meta tags – so 200BCE

Posted by jerry on March 13th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, New media, Technology

There are continuing discussions over web 2.0 – on the issue of tagging and tag clouds (all forms of meta data) – so I thought it timely to revisit an idea I first explored in 2004. The internet has come up with a range of standards in relation to information about information – meta data standards. The best known of these are the Dublin Core meta data standards But the issues that led to the Dublin core standards are not new. The Rosetta Stone (196 BC) – just 200 years after Plato, and – significantly – during the Greek administration of Egypt, revealed something really interesting – the existence of meta tags almost 2000 years before the Internet.

The two languages in three scripts on the stone revealed the difficulties of applying consistent language standards across an empire. Just as Web pages today specify a language an script to be applied, so too, the Rosetta stone includes as part of the inscribed decree, the stipulation that it is to be set in hard stone, in the three scripts: heiroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

What we have in fact is a meta data standard that specified the platform (a stele of hard stone); the language versions; the authority of the specification, (Ptolemy V); and its URL (each of the first, second and third rank temples). In web language these would look like this in the head part of the cartouche:

Rosetta Stone meta tags

In other words about half of the Dublin Core meta data standards are incorporated into the Rosetta Stone. This must surely provide us with an insight into something fundamental about the nature of information, and the nature of official discourse. What is needed to establish the intelligibility and authoritativeness of a piece of text when it is removed from the body (speech) and placed into a third-party medium? This is not a new question – and goes to the heart of what it means to be part of a speech community, and indeed part of the virtual community of human culture whether online or face-to-face.

Cheers
Jerry

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