Boxworks 2013: Box Metadata Lets Users Add Contextual Information To Files

Steven Sinfosky calls contextual data a 25 year problem ready to be solved

Box will allow enterprise customers to add contextual information known as metadata to files stored in the cloud in what is being described by the company as “the most important change we’ve made to the platform in a long time.”

Businesses will be able to add details such as subject, creator and additional information that doesn’t appear in standard file systems, allowing them to find relevant content with ease and build applications around files stored on Box.

Speaking at the Boxworks 2013 event in San Francisco, Ted Blosser, product manager, suggested hospitals could add information such as patient details, diagnoses and follow up appointments to x-rays.

Box Metadata

Steven-Sinofsky-Developer1-682x1024Paper-intensive industries such as construction will also be targeted and Blosser claimed metadata could speed up legal processes and insurance claims. Toyota showed off a digital instruction manual for a Lexus; the manual was created entirely using metadata and could be changed in real time by simply searching for another type of content.

Steven Sinofsky, an advisor to Box, said there had been attempts to add contextual data for 25 years but these “totalitarian” systems had been far too painful to use. He said the consumerisation of IT means people will actually contribute positively to the process if they have the right tools.

Sam Schillace, senior vice president of engineering at Box, told TechWeekEurope the reason why metadata will work is because the technology is now in place, meaning it won’t be painful to use.

“When you’re my or Steven’s age, you get to see patterns recurring over and over again,” he said. “When I look at the app markets on smartphones, I think of the shareware market 15 years ago.”

A 25 year old problem

He explained that structured data had been an optimisation problem for computers but the industry had now developed techniques to cope with the issues of data retrieval and storage problems.

“Technologically, we have a lot more power in the data centres,” said Schillace. “You’re in a position to give users more flexibility. Just because people have been trying to solve it for 25 years doesn’t mean it’s unsolvable.”

He said the amount of data being added to files was not significant enough to be a storage issue, although there was currently a rough limit of 200 columns that could be added by businesses.

When asked whether this was a manual way of applying some principles of big data, Schillace agreed, but said sometimes doing things manually was better. He cited his friend Bradley Horowitz, now vice president of product management for Google+, acquiring Flickr for Yahoo as an example.

Horowitz had spent ten years working on an algorithm to identify good pictures, but realised that in the age of the Internet, you could simply ask people instead. Schillace said it was complicated because such opinions are subjective but it was a social organisational problem, not an algorithmic issue.

Metadata is due to rollout to Box customers next year.

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