Metadata (meta data, meta-data, or sometimes metainformation) is “data about data”, of any sort in any media. An item of metadata may describe an individual datum, or content item, or a collection of data including multiple content items and hierarchical levels, for example a database schema.
For most small businesses I expect they have no idea what metadata is so the small business owner may assume they don’t need to know (“I don’t know what it is so I must not be using it“). Do you ever provide an electronic copy of a Microsoft Word document to a customer or client? If you answered yes then you have exchanged metadata with your customers or clients. Sounds a little like a one night stand doesn’t it?
Metadata is anything at first glance is NOT visible in an electronic document but it is in most cases easily retrievable. In fact in nearly ALL cases you will find that the tools to manipulate and retrieve metadata are built right into the very software application used to create or edit the electronic document. But what is the purpose of metadata? For an answer to that let’s go back to Wikipedia:
Metadata provides context for data.
Metadata is used to facilitate the understanding, characteristics, and management usage of data. The metadata required for effective data management varies with the type of data and context of use. In a library, where the data is the content of the titles stocked, metadata about a title would typically include a description of the content, the author, the publication date and the physical location.
Some examples of how metadata gets created automatically:
- Tracking changes made in a Word, Word Perfect or similar document. A recipient of the document might be able to review all your previous edits and changes.
- The “properties” or “document info” of a given document. This could include the original software licensee’s name, firm name, author name and so on.
- Newer software systems may allow documents to be “tagged”. These tags are usually more visible but they serve the same purpose as metadata.
- If you are in an office and your computer and software is set up by your internal IT Dept. or by a third party you really should double-check the Microsoft Office Properties for each application. In one instance a contractor had provided my team with a PowerPoint file that listed the author as “Those F—–g Slime Bags from (name of company)”. I suspect they had a disgruntled Help Desk worker or an unpaid vendor.
Now that I’ve covered a little bit of what metadata is and why you should learn more about it I guess I should tell you specifically how to control your metadata and why you might want to use it. I think I’ll do that in a followup posting.