Findability, Discoverability and Marketing

May 31, 2012 by Thad McIlroy

Most discussions about the value of metadata move quickly to proclaim that metadata is essential to discoverability. Discoverability is rarely defined: we’re left with the vague sense suggested by its root word “discover”. Most people know that there are too many books and too much information so the idea that it’s challenging to find a book resonates — we’ve all faced the challenge. Certainly everyone who’s part of the publishing supply chain, whether author, publisher or reseller, is well aware of the problem. They know that just because a book is very good doesn’t mean it will ever be found.

I’m immersed in a project (with Renée Register) to write and publish a handbook about metadata for book publishers so of course I’m giving lots of thought to the hows and whys of metadata. I’d already embraced the discoverability faith. But having reached that part of the book where I explain to authors and publishers the why of metadata I find that “discoverability” is being used carelessly and doesn’t provide ready answers. Metadata’s first task is mere findability – and the distinction is important.

For argument’s sake let’s assume that half of the books purchased or borrowed from libraries are searched for by title or by author. Those books must be found, not discovered. It’s the other half that will be discovered, whether by wandering through the stacks at the library or strolling the aisles of a bookstore (or the online approximate but inadequate equivalent).

Findability is the challenge of locating exactly what you’re looking for (even if you have incomplete or inaccurate information about the book).

Discoverability is the process by which a book appears in front of you at a point where you were not looking for that specific title (although you are looking for something other than a pound of butter).

Marketing a book involves reaching out to a community that should be interested in that particular title and bringing it into focus in a way that captures their attention.

Metadata plays an important role in all of these tasks, although the role it plays is substantially different in each.

More to follow

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  • Peter Turner

    Jun 13th, 2012 : 3:33 AM

    Great topic. I’ve been crying out for some more coherent discussion of discovery, what it is and isn’t. The distinction between “finding” and “discovering”–as activities is brilliant. A great way of reframing searching vs. browsing. It’s probably worth emphasizing just how fundamentally different these two activities are. Looking for something specific, finding it, is one thing. Looking to discover something without knowing what it is strikes me as a fundamentally different thing. I wonder if anyone has done any research on how often search engines are being used to find vs. discover? I strongly suspect that discovery will be supported by very different sorts of tools, processes, and environments. 

    Your definition of marketing is maybe too limited. “Marketing a book involves reaching out to a community that should be interested in that particular title and bringing it into focus in a way that captures their attention.” To “reaching out” I’d add pulling in, not necessarily via SEO, but by curation and community. 

  • Thad McIlroy

    Jun 13th, 2012 : 6:43 PM

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve been sweating the findability/discoverability distinction for awhile now, and will continue to post on it.

    I’m with you on marketing. Here I tend to fall back on the old distinction made about advertising: can you –make– someone buy something or do you just offer it for sale.

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