Introducing the rNews metadata standard at Hacks/Hackers London
Last night I was at the Hacks/Hackers meet-up to hear Andreas Gebhart, Stuart Myles and Evan Sandhaus talk about the proposed new IPTC semantic metadata standard rNews. Stuart and Evan are also coming in to our Developer Drop-In today at The Guardian.
rNews is an attempt to standardise machine-readable metadata around news stories on the web, and as someone who thinks “the more metadata the merrier” it looks like a promising development. One of the important things to understand is that most news CMS software already stores all of this information at the database level, but as an industry we’ve been historically poor at exposing it at the presentation level of the web page.
rNews is built around a model of a news item, and can be expressed in a current RDFa implementation, with the promise of a HTML5 microdata implementation to come.
If you were more of a “hack” than a “hacker”, then last night had lots of scary slides full of gnarly code, but it did have a key message to take back to our businesses - the idea that the news industry “has to be the chicken, not the egg”.
In other words, in order for a metadata standard around news publishing to gain credibility on the web, it requires for us all to rally round one. If we start publishing semantically rich metadata based around our shared understanding of the news domain model, then it will make sense for others to adopt it. If we don’t, we’ll always be trying to bend formats like Facebook’s Open Graph or the search engine driven schema.org to fit the news model.
There were 4 things that I particularly liked about the rNews model:
Everything was optional. That means you are not hindered in implementing rNews because your particular CMS doesn’t support one metadata field, and you can choose not to mark-up information that you don’t want to be machine readable.
Publishing principles. Explicit ethics and a code of practice are one of the things that distinguishes professional newsgathering and publishing from other “content” on the web. rNews includes the ability to link to an organisation’s principles.
It included print metadata. As Evan put it: “It is not like articles are randomly dispersed throughout a newspaper”. The relative size and positioning of stories throughout the printed product gives you implicit information about the editorial importance of those stories, that often gets thrown away at the “shovelware” stage of web publishing.
Comments and community interaction were part of the spec. It is testament to how much audience participation in news sites has become the norm that the rNews model specifically includes a class around user interaction. This includes properties like comment count, and a URL where comments can be left on a story.
There was some criticism of the emerging standard on the night. It doesn’t yet, for example, map to any external vocabularies, and there was a strong feeling that there should be some concept of “the news events” in the standard.
For me, I think we should focus on raising the temperature of a pan of water a little before we attempt to boil the ocean - very few news organisations publish machine-readable structured data at present. Once we’ve got over that hurdle, then perhaps we can start arguing the finer points of “one perfect news ontology to rule them all”.
In the meantime, rNews seems to have a sensible and flexible approach to preserving and publishing all that structured data that we so often throw away.
“Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks” brings together notes from 16 talks, including those from Martin Rosenbaum, Stephen Grey, Alastair Dant, Scott Byrne-Fraser and Wendy Grossman. It looks at topics of interest to journalists and programers alike, including freedom of information, processing big data sets to tell stories, social activism hack camps, the future of interactive technologies, and using social media to cover your tracks - or uncover those of somebody else.
“Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks” for Kindle is £1.14.