OPINION

Real World Markup Language

Chris has been flacking the idea of metadata specific to urban planning and related fields for a while now (and hey, if you go read that article from planning, ignore the lead -- I just re-read it and, well, what can I say except I was just a kid when I wrote it).

So the basic notion is pretty cool: all the data that an architect, planner, contractor, builder, etc. might run into or want about a building or a region would be tagged the same way. When our worker from the related professions taps into a tablet PC, or looks at a wall or a floor through augmented-reality goggles or whatever, he or she would get an x-ray vision look at what's behind that wall. Or be able to find out what the pipes were made out of, or how much juice the junction box can put out. Whatever.

But as I've embarked on the glorious journey of fixing up an old house, I've been thinking: the problem isn't necessarily with getting everyone onboard the same metadata standard (though that'd be good, too -- don't fire me, Chris). The problem is that the actual data might be old, wrong, or just plain suck. I mean, who do you think's going to be entering all that data and all those tags? Probably some outsource-oid on a continent 6,000 miles away from the actual building. You're going to have a very pretty of a picture of the crawlspace behind a wall, and the picture might not have anything to do with what's actually there.

Don't panic. I have a solution: Real World Markup Language.

Using some technology to be named later -- Radio Frequency ID tags, maybe, or machine-readable bar codes like UPCs -- every object in the world would be tagged with its own metadata at the source of its manufacture. Since this'd be a standard, all those objects would be compatible with each other for the reader. So your AR goggles would read 35 feet of copper cylinder about an inch in diameter as "plumbing" (I should be so lucky -- do you have any idea how much copper pipe costs?).

As RWML spreads, the entire built environment would turn into a kind of virtual Richard Scarry book, with everything labelled, if you're looking at it in the right way. Sheetrock or lathe-and-plaster? Diamond or quartz? Real or silicone-enhanced? Hairplug or toupee?

I hereby place the idea in the commons, for the public good. Go get 'em, you engineers!

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