Interesting initiative announced today by UG online video site Metacafe, which has started letting all users edit metadata embedded in video clips on the site. That means that users—not just the content creators themselves—will largely decide how clips come up in search engine results. It’s an idea that could be applied to premium content at some point, although it seems unlikely in the near future as cable programmers work out ad-supported business models. Metacafe’s main goal is to eliminate tag abuse in which a content producer inserts irrelevant words and phrases into the metadata in an attempt to improve search results and inflate the number of plays (This has become an increasingly prevalent tactic on leading UG site YouTube where video creators also sometimes use fake screenshots to entice people to play the video even though the picture has nothing to do with the content). Considering the community-policing concept inherent in Metacafe’s initiative, what better name than “Wikicafe”—an obvious reference to the popular user-generated Internet encyclopedia known as Wikipedia. “A video with incomplete or inaccurate metadata is like a book without a cover–you don’t know what it’s about, which shelf it belongs on, or who’s most likely to enjoy it,” said Eyal Hertzog, founder and chief creative officer for Metacafe. “Simply put, we live by the mantra ‘it’s the metadata, stupid!’.”
It works like this: Users can share their knowledge about and passions for particular topics by adding details about the content of a video. For example, a music buff can add information about the band featured on a video’s soundtrack. A dog lover can tag a video with the correct name of the breed it features. An experienced world traveler can add background about the location in which a video is set. In addition, Wikicafe enables people to fix misleading or incorrect metadata by clicking “Edit Video Details” on any Metacafe video page. Changes are immediately updated on the site and visible to Metacafe’s large and growing audience. And similar to Wikipedia, users can police each other to make sure the information remains accurate.
The implications for cable content owners could be quite interesting. For example, would Hulu, Viacom’s cable net sites or any number of MSO portal sites be wise to open up their metadata to a community of users? On one hand, it saves content owners from maintaining metadata on their own. And it could actually lead to more comprehensive results that help steer content to new audiences. But on the other hand, it dilutes the power of media companies to control how their content displays when people search for particular terms. It may be too much of a stretch for most content owners, especially during this time of business-model uncertainty when it comes to online and mobile video. Still, traditional cable content owners would be wise to monitor Metacafe’s experiment in metadata democracy.