What is metadata and how does it work? (2022)

What is metadata and how does it work? (1)

By

  • Garry Kranz

Often referred to as data that describes other data, metadata is structured reference data that helps to sort and identify attributes of the information it describes. In Zen and the Art of Metadata Maintenance, John W. Warren describes metadata as "both a universe and DNA."

Metais a prefix that -- in most information technology usages -- means "an underlying definition or description." Metadata summarizes basic information about data, which can make it easier to find, use and reuse particular instances of data.

For example,author,datecreated,date modifiedandfile sizeare examples of very basic document file metadata. Having the ability to search for a particular element (or elements) of that metadata makes it much easier for someone to locate a specific document.

In addition to document files, metadata is used for:

(Video) What is metadata? (and why does it matter?)

  • computer files
  • images
  • relational databases
  • spreadsheets
  • videos
  • audio files
  • web pages

The use of metadata on web pages can be very important. The metadata contains descriptions of the page's contents, as well as keywords linked to the content. This metadata is often displayed in search results by search engines, meaning its accuracy and details could influence whether or not a user decides to visit a site. This information is usually expressed in the form of meta tags.

Search engines evaluate meta tags to help decide a web page's relevance. Meta tags were used as the key factor in determining position in a search until the late 1990s. The increase in search engine optimization (SEO) towards the end of the 1990s led to many websites to keyword stuffing their metadata to trick search engines, making their websites seem more relevant than others.

Since then, search engines have reduced their reliance on meta tags, although they are still factored in when indexing pages. Many search engines also try to thwart web pages' ability to deceive their system by regularly changing their criteria for rankings, with Google being notorious for frequently changing its rankingalgorithms.

Metadata can be created manually or by automated information processing. Manual creation tends to be more accurate, allowing the user to input any information they feel is relevant or that would help describe the file. Automated metadata creation can be much more elementary, usually only displaying information such as file size, file extension, when the file was created and who created the file.

Metadata use cases

Metadata is created anytime a document, a file or other information asset is modified, including its deletion. Accurate metadata can be helpful in prolonging the lifespan of existing data by helping users find new ways to apply it.

Metadata organizes a data object by using terms associated with that particular object. It also enables objects that are dissimilar to be identified and paired with like objects to help optimize the use of data assets. As noted, search engines and browsers determine which web content to display by interpreting the metadata tags associated with an HTML document.

The language of metadata is written to be understandable to both computer systems and humans, a level of standardization that contributes to better interoperability and integration between disparate applications and information systems.

(Video) What is Metadata?

Companies in digital publishing, engineering, financial services, healthcare and manufacturing use metadata to gather insights on ways to improve products or upgrade processes. For example, streaming content providers automate the management of intellectual property metadata so it can be stored across an array of applications, thus protecting copyright holders while at the same time making music and videos accessible to authenticated users.

The maturity of AI technologies is somewhat easing the traditional burden of managing metadata by automating previously manual processes to catalog and tag information assets.

History and origins of metadata

Jack E. Myers, founder of Metadata Information Partners (now The Metadata Co.), claims to have coined the term in 1969. Myers filed a trademark for the unhyphenated word "metadata" in 1986. Despite this, references to the term appear in academic papers that predate Myers' claim.

In an academic paper published in 1967, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors David Griffel and Stuart McIntosh described metadata as "a record … of the data records" that result when bibliographic data about a topic is gathered from discrete sources. The researchers concluded that a "meta-linguistic approach," or "meta language," is needed to enable a computer system to properly interpret this data and its context to other relevant pieces of data. Unlike Myers, Griffel and McIntosh treated "meta" as a prefix to "data."

In 1964, an undergraduate computer science major named Philip R. Bagley started work on his dissertation, in which he argued that efforts to "make composite data elements" ultimately rests on the ability to "associate explicitly" to a second and related data element, which "we might term a 'metadata element.'" Although his thesis was rejected, Bagley's work, including his reference to metadata, subsequently was published as a report under a contract with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research in January 1969.

Types of metadata and examples

Metadata is variously categorized based on the function it serves in information management.

  • Administrative metadata allows administrators to impose rules and restrictions governing data access and user permissions. It also furnishes information on required maintenance and management of data resources. Often used in the context of ongoing research, administrative metadata includes such details as date created, file size and type, and archiving requirements.
  • Descriptive metadata identifies specific characteristics of a piece of data, such as bibliographic data, keywords, song titles, volume numbers, etc.
  • Legal metadata provides information on creative licensing, such as copyrights, licensing and royalties.
  • Preservation metadata guides the placement of a data item within a hierarchical framework or sequence.
  • Process metadata outlines procedures used to collect and treat statistical data. Statistical metadata is another term for process metadata.
  • Provenance metadata, also known as data lineage, tracks the history of a piece of data as it moves throughout an organization. Original documents are paired with metadata to ensure that data is valid or to correct errors in data quality. Checking the provenance is a customary practice in data governance.
  • Reference metadata relates to information that describes the quality of statistical content.
  • Statistical metadata describes data that enables users to properly interpret and use statistics found in reports, surveys and compendium.
  • Structural metadata reveals how different elements of a compound data object are assembled. Structural metadata is often used in digital media content, such as describing how pages in an audiobook should be organized to form a chapter, and how chapters should be organized to form volumes, and so on. The term "technical metadata" is a synonym most closely associated with items in digital libraries.
  • Use metadata is data that is sorted and analyzed each time a user accesses it. Based on analysis of use metadata, business can pick out trends in customer behavior and more readily adapt their products and services to meet their needs.
What is metadata and how does it work? (2)

How to use metadata effectively

The accelerated rate of data growth has fueled new interest in the potential business value that can be derived from metadata. A variety of data structures exist that present both opportunities as well as challenges.

(Video) 5 Minute Metadata - What is metadata?

Metadata management provides an organizational framework to harmonize discrete data sets stored across various system. It also provides an organizational consensus to describe information, often broken into business, operational and technical data.

Companies implement metadata management to winnow out older data and develop a taxonomy to classify data according to its business value. A component of this is a catalog or central database that serves as a metadata repository, also known as a data dictionary.

In addition to classifying data, metadata management strategies are used to improve data analytics, develop a data governance policy and establish an audit trail for regulatory compliance.

At its core, metadata management is about enabling people to identify the attributes of a particular piece of data using a web-based user interface. The attribute might be the file's name, its author, a customer ID number, and so on. The person requesting the document is thus able to see and understand the different attributes of the data, the enterprise system it resides in and the reasons those attributes were created.

As of November 2020, Alation, ASG, Alex Solutions, Collibra, Erwin, IBM, Informatica, Oracle, SAP and SmartLogic are ranked among leading metadata management platform vendors by IT analyst firm Gartner in its Magic Quadrant for Metadata Management Solutions.

Standardization of metadata

A number of industry standards have been developed to make metadata more useful. These standards ensure consistency on the common language, format, spelling and other attributes to be used to describe data. Each standard is based on a specific schema that provides an overarching structure for all its metadata.

What is metadata and how does it work? (3)

Dublin Core is a widely used general standard originally developed to aid in the indexing of physical library card catalogs. The standard has since been adapted for web-based digital metadata. Dublin Core describes the attributes of 15 core data elements: title, creator, subject, description, publisher, contributors, date, type, format, identifier, source, language, relation, coverage and rights management.

(Video) What is Metadata?

A similar bibliographic metadata standard is Metadata Objects Description Schema, an XML-based schema for libraries, spawned by the Network and Standards Development Office of the U.S. Library of Congress as a successor to Machine-Readable Catalog standards developed in the 1960s.

A newer standard, schema.org, is based on open source software collaboration that provides a collection of metadata schema geared to structured internet data, email and other forms of digital data.

Industry-specific metadata schema

A number of standard metadata schema have been developed to meet the unique requirements of certain disciplines and industry verticals.

Arts and humanities:

  • Text Encoding Initiative is a consortium of institutions developing standards that specify encoding methods for representing machine-readable text in digital form.
  • VRA Core, jointly developed by the Library of Congress and the Visual Resources Association, is described as "a data standard for the description of works of visual culture as well as the images that document them."

Culture and society:

Sciences:

(Video) Metadata Management & Data Catalog (Data Architecture | Data Governance)

This was last updated in July 2021

Continue Reading About metadata

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  • Object stores, metadata create smart storage systems

FAQs

How does the metadata work? ›

Metadata can be explained in a few ways: Data that provide information about other data. Metadata summarizes basic information about data, making finding & working with particular instances of data easier. Metadata can be created manually to be more accurate, or automatically and contain more basic information.

What is metadata and why is it used? ›

Often described as data about data, metadata is a foundational element used to transform data into an enterprise-wide asset. Metadata helps understand the data behind it and reflects how data is used and is key to supporting data governance initiatives, regulatory compliance demands, and data management processes.

What is metadata in simple words? ›

In simple terms, metadata is “data/information about data". Metadata helps us understand the structure, nature, and context of the data. Metadata facilitates easy search and retrieval of data. Metadata also helps keep a check on the quality and reliability of data.

What is an example of metadata? ›

A simple example of metadata for a document might include a collection of information like the author, file size, the date the document was created, and keywords to describe the document. Metadata for a music file might include the artist's name, the album, and the year it was released.

What are the three types of metadata? ›

There are three main types of metadata: descriptive, administrative, and structural. Descriptive metadata enables discovery, identification, and selection of resources. It can include elements such as title, author, and subjects.

What is another name for metadata? ›

Metadata is a collection of information, or data, that describes another set of data. In other words, metadata is "data about data." No kidding.

Where is metadata stored? ›

Metadata can be stored in a variety of places. Where the metadata relates to databases, the data is often stored in tables and fields within the database. Sometimes the metadata exists in a specialist document or database designed to store such data, called a data dictionary or metadata repository.

What is the benefit of metadata? ›

It's valuable because it provides information about the attributes of data elements that can be used to guide strategic and operational decision-making. Metadata management is the administration of data that describes other data, with an emphasis on associations and lineage.

What is difference between data and metadata? ›

Data is any sort of information which is stored in computer memory. This information can later be used for a website, an application or can be used in future. Metadata describes relevant information about the data.

How is metadata created? ›

Metadata is created anytime a document, a file or other information asset is modified, including its deletion. Accurate metadata can be helpful in prolonging the lifespan of existing data by helping users find new ways to apply it. Metadata organizes a data object by using terms associated with that particular object.

When people say that metadata is data about data What do they mean? ›

Metadata is simply data about data. It means it is a description and context of the data. It helps to organize, find and understand data.

What is metadata in a document? ›

Document metadata is information attached to a text-based file that may not be visible on the face of the document; documents may also contain supporting elements such as graphic images, photographs, tables and charts, each of which can have its own metadata.

Which of the following is a common use of metadata? ›

Descriptive metadata is often the most commonly referenced and utilized metadata, since it is so accessible, visible and relevant on popular file types. It's also one of the easier types of metadata to understand, and provides basic information about things, such as book titles, author name, date, etc.

Why was metadata created? ›

Metadata are used to facilitate and support resource discovery, identification, the organization of resources, and the exchangeability of the data itself as well as the exchangeability of the resource or resources it represents.

What is an example of image metadata? ›

It includes camera details and settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO number, focal depth, dots per inch (DPI). Other automatically generated metadata include the camera brand and model, the date and time when the image was created and the GPS location where it was created.

How do I change metadata? ›

How to: Create or Edit Metadata On a File
  1. Step 1: Find a file you want to Add/Edit metadata. Open windows explorer and navigate as normal to your file.
  2. Step 2: Right click. Right click the file and click on Properties.
  3. Step 3: All in the Details. In the Properties dialog, click on Details.
  4. Step 4: Edit Away.
17 Nov 2010

What kind of information is commonly included as metadata? ›

A text document's metadata may contain information about how long the document is, who the author is, when the document was written, and a short summary of the document. Metadata within web pages can also contain descriptions of page content, as well as key words linked to the content.

Does a PDF contain metadata? ›

PDF files retain some basic file description metadata, such as author, file name, and date, which can be minimized if the proper conversion settings are used (see page 31).

What are the components of metadata? ›

Title/Name – Name given to the resource. Description – A description of the resource and its spatial, temporal or subject coverage. Format – File format, physical medium, dimensions of the resource, or hardware and software needed to access the data.

How do you use metadata in a sentence? ›

Examples of 'metadata' in a sentence metadata
  1. The images are also stripped of all metadata that could be used to identify the patient. ...
  2. Thank you to the secret squirrel who reminded me of the metadata report the government was due to table yesterday. ...
  3. There are no new powers to access metadata granted by this bill.

What is a synonym for meta? ›

In this page you can discover 13 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for meta, like: content, para, name-robots, ortho, name-description, name-keywords, trans, folksonomy, post, tag and name-dc-date.

Is metadata one word or two? ›

"Metadata" is a fairly new word (it appeared in the latter half of the 20th century), whereas "data" can be traced back to the middle of the 17th century.

Is metadata stored in the file? ›

Embedded in the file

Most media file types can store metadata directly in the file itself. This is typically done in the file header, which is a block of storage that is separate from the actual media payload.

How do I add metadata to a file? ›

How to add metadata to your image and video files
  1. Open up the folder on your computer that contains the image or video file.
  2. PC users: Right-click on the image, and select Properties. ...
  3. In the window that appears, you can change the name, add tags, write a description, and more.
13 Aug 2020

What is digital metadata? ›

Metadata and Digital Curation

Metadata is the backbone of digital curation. Without it a digital resource may be irretrievable, unidentifiable or unusable. Metadata is descriptive or contextual information which refers to or is associated with another object or resource.

Who is responsible for metadata management? ›

Operate. In the operate step, responsibility for metadata management falls on data engineers and operations leaders. They need to manage the constant changes to the data, associate the right business context – through metadata – to the data, and avoid duplication of data. Two tools are essential at this point.

How do businesses use metadata? ›

About Business Metadata.

It enables the various departments and business units of a company (and the data analysts, business analysts, and data stewards working with or within them) to understand, find, and use any piece of information stored anywhere in the organization.

How does metadata affect data quality? ›

Good data quality starts with metadata. Metadata characterizes data, providing documentation such that data can be understood and more readily consumed by your organization. Metadata answers the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions for users of the data.

How is metadata created? ›

Metadata is created anytime a document, a file or other information asset is modified, including its deletion. Accurate metadata can be helpful in prolonging the lifespan of existing data by helping users find new ways to apply it. Metadata organizes a data object by using terms associated with that particular object.

Can metadata be manipulated? ›

When accessing documents as a normal user it is not possible to alter or 'tamper' with metadata. However, there are specialist tools readily available that can make this possible in the hands of someone with sufficient knowledge.

How can metadata help you find specific data? ›

Findable: Metadata make it much easier to find relevant data. Most searches are done using text (like a Google search), so formats like audio, images, and video are limited unless text metadata is available. Metadata also make text documents easier to find because it explains exactly what the document is about.

Where is metadata stored? ›

Metadata can be stored in a variety of places. Where the metadata relates to databases, the data is often stored in tables and fields within the database. Sometimes the metadata exists in a specialist document or database designed to store such data, called a data dictionary or metadata repository.

Is metadata automatically created? ›

Metadata can be supplied by a human (by the creator of the digital file, by an information professional, and/or by an expert or non-expert user). It can also be generated automatically by a computer algorithm, or inferred through a relationship to another resource, such as a hyperlink.

What are examples of metadata for a photo? ›

It includes camera details and settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO number, focal depth, dots per inch (DPI). Other automatically generated metadata include the camera brand and model, the date and time when the image was created and the GPS location where it was created.

Can a photo be traced? ›

With experience in the computer forensic field the short answer is Yes. As other people said it's called EXIF data. You can get information such as camera settings and lens used, time and date etc.

Do screenshots have metadata? ›

TIL Android Screenshots don't include any metadata for the date it was taken on, iOS screenshots do.

Can metadata be used as evidence? ›

Metadata often counts as substantive evidence. For example, comments in a Word document can show the drafter's intent. The same with tracked changes and formulas in Excel. Further, metadata is extremely useful for authenticating evidence because it often shows the author and creation date for files.

What can you tell from metadata? ›

Metadata summarises a photo or video's basic information. For example, the footage's time and location, and the device it was taken with. Metadata is important because it can verify that the footage was taken when and where the photographer says it was. It can also show that the footage has not been tampered with.

How do you find out when a picture sent to you was taken? ›

Just use the browser to locate a picture folder, select a picture and choose the EXIF tab at the bottom. There is also an online EXIF viewer called Jeffrey's viewer at http://regex.info/exif.cgi. Just browse for a photo and click the View Image From File button.

Why is metadata so important? ›

Metadata is important because it allows you to organize your data in a way that is meaningful to you and makes it easier to find the information you are looking for. It also helps to keep your data consistent and accurate.

What is the benefit of metadata? ›

It's valuable because it provides information about the attributes of data elements that can be used to guide strategic and operational decision-making. Metadata management is the administration of data that describes other data, with an emphasis on associations and lineage.

What is difference between data and metadata? ›

Data is any sort of information which is stored in computer memory. This information can later be used for a website, an application or can be used in future. Metadata describes relevant information about the data.

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