With this article, we want to share for the first time ever our idea of the future of metadata edition, and how we intend to make it happen. If you want to be part of this adventure, get in touch!


First, some context

Disclaimer: this section might sound a bit technical if you have never managed a data catalog before. Don’t worry, things will get more exciting as we go forward!

Writing metadata to describe a dataset is an essential part of managing a catalog. Each record in a catalog has been written, or at the very least enriched, by actual humans. GeoNetwork is a very widely used open-source metadata catalog; as such, it offers powerful tools in this regard: custom edition forms, batch editing, templates, custom XSL processing, advanced edition in XML, etc.

Despite all these features, authoring metadata is often felt as a difficult process, involving complex actions, convoluted validity rules and an intricate knowledge of metadata schemas like ISO19139.

GeoNetwork has been built to work with XML schemas like ISO19139. It stores metadata in XML and, consequently, most of its editing workflow is based on XML objects. Since XML schemas are often quite complex, the person writing the metadata is not shielded from all this complexity as a result. Hiding fields or making parts of the form conditional helps, but does not solve the underlying issues. The blunt reality is that authoring metadata in GeoNetwork is hard, and always has been.

We at Camptocamp believe that users deserve better. Our campaign of UX studies have shown us how much could be improved, and in what ways. Besides, Camptocamp has been one of the largest contributors to GeoNetwork for more than ten years, and has been continuously doing R&D work to explore new technologies and possibilities.

From this knowledge, and with the help and support of two long-time partners (Geo2France and DataGrandEst, both members of the geOrchestra community), we decided to set out and revolutionize the world of metadata edition.


Our vision

“Revolution” might sound like a strong concept. We still think it fits our ambition, because we believe that making metadata edition accessible will in turn greatly facilitate data catalog administration. This could have deep positive consequences in many organizations, which is why we are so committed to our goal.

What we intend to build is essentially a new web-based metadata editor, offering a flawless user experience and integrating seamlessly with existing GeoNetwork catalogs. The new editor will let users create new metadata records or edit existing ones in a very intuitive way.

Please note that a Change Proposal with a more technical explanation was submitted to the GeoNetwork PSC; this document gives an in-depth view of how we plan to build this editor.

We will rely on the Geonetwork-UI and Geonetwork-Microservices projects to create new backend and frontend components while also contributing to these projects’ expansion and maturity.

Our vision for this new metadata editor can be summed up in three phrases:

  • Make metadata accessible to everyone
  • Forget about metadata schemas
  • Build your own editor


1. Make metadata accessible to everyone

The new metadata editor will be designed from the ground up with user experience in mind. It will be much more than a simple form, offering interactive choices, sections that can be revisited, and preventing users from producing invalid content.

Users will never be shown more than a handful of fields at the same time to reduce cognitive load. Anything that can be inferred from data will be inferred without user input. Advanced information will not be prompted initially but only on the explicit user request. The user will be able to stop and resume its work at any time without losing anything.

It is our hope that this editor will eventually allow someone to describe its dataset in just a few minutes, as well as letting an expert author spend time fine-tuning what the applicable license should be or which instrument was used for data collection.


2. Forget about metadata schemas

The new metadata editor will not rely on metadata schemas. We believe that schemas such as Geo-DCAT or ISO 19115-3 should be used exclusively for interoperability and machine-to-machine communication. Humans should not burden themselves with such concerns and only focus on actually describing what their catalog offers.

Finding a way to translate metadata into various schemas or standards is a technical challenge, and admittedly a vast one. But the user shall and will not participate in it.


3. Build your own editor

Each organization has its own inner workings, produces its own kind of data, and relies on its own set of rules. Some organizations will collect thousands of metadata records from other places through harvesting, while others only maintain a dozen of carefully handcrafted records. Some organizations are made to comply with legal requirements, while others have no such constraints.

We believe it is pointless to try and address all of these using a “one size fits all” approach. This has been the motto behind GeoNetwork-UI and we are sticking to it for this new metadata editor. As such, the editor will come with an extensive configuration system that will allow administrators to decide which fields are visible in which section, which values should be the default ones, what happens when this button is clicked, etc.

With a little bit of practice and creativity, catalog administrators will be able to drastically improve their users’ experience when writing metadata, as well as making sure the produced content complies to their policies and intent. We also hope to provide administrators with tools and documentation to support them in this critical task.


Wrapping up

Hopefully this presentation sparked your interest. If that’s the case, please note that we are always looking for new partners in this journey: every bit of support is obviously welcome and will help us push our ambitions even further. If you indeed want to join forces, please get in touch!

We are glad and incredibly excited to share this announcement with you. To a bright future full of amazing innovations!

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