The next step in being able to search for particular pieces of data is the semantic web. ‘Semantics’ is the study of meaning, and being able to understand data in the context of its meaning is incredibly important in the social sciences and humanities, where data might take a less quantifiable form than in the physical sciences, for instance.
A big step towards the semantic web is for researchers to label the data they record with ‘tags’. Collectively, these tags are referred to as metadata – ‘data about data’. Many people will already be familiar of metadata from tagging their photographs on online photo-sharing services. The challenge for academic research is to converge on a set of standard ways of tagging data: metadata standards. In Europe, EUDAT, a project set up to deliver a collaborative data infrastructure, have agreed that metadata for European projects with be written in English. Developing standards takes time however, so it is likely that they will evolve alongside development of the datasets themselves.