Metadata: the story behind the data that you need to know

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Metadata can be simply best described as data that that describes and provides information about other data.  Meta meanwhile is a prefix that in most information technology usages and case studies means “an underlying definition or description.”

metadata

Metadata thoroughly analyses basic information about data, which can literally make finding and working with particular instances of data easier. For example, author of a file is, date the file was created and date modified and file size are examples of very basic document metadata.  Having the ability to filter through that metadata makes it much easier for someone to locate a specific document or file.

Brief History

Metadata was being traditionally used in the card catalogs of libraries until the 1980s, when libraries converted their catalog data to digital databases. In the 2000 era, as digital formats were becoming the prevalent way of storing data and information, metadata was also used to describe digital data using what is believed to be known as metadata standards.

The first description of “meta data” for computer systems is purportedly noted by MIT’s Center for International Studies experts David Griffel and Stuart McIntosh in 1967: “In summary then, we have statements in an object language about subject descriptions of data and token codes for the data. We also have statements in a meta language describing the data relationships and transformations, and ought/is relations between norm and data.”

A principal purpose of metadata is to help users find relevant information and discover resources. Metadata also helps to organize electronic resources, provide digital identification, and support the archiving and preservation of resources. Metadata assists users in resource discovery by “allowing resources to be found by relevant criteria, identifying resources, bringing similar resources together, distinguishing dissimilar resources, and giving location information.” 

Types

According to Ralph Kimball, an author on the subject of data warehousing and business intelligence, noted that metadata can be divided into 2 similar categories: technical metadata and business metadata. Technical metadata relates to internal metadata, while business metadata relates to external metadata. Meanwhile, NISO (national Information Standards organization), distinguishes among three types of metadata namely descriptive, structural, and administrative.

Application of Metadata

Photographs – One major area of application of metadata is in photographs. Metadata in most cases are written into digital photo files. This helps identify who owns it the photo, copyright information, type and model of camera used in creating the file, along with exposure information (shutter speed, f-stop, etc.) and descriptive information, such as keywords about the photo, the photo or image searchable on a computer and/or the Internet.

Video – Metadata is being used in videos too, where information about its contents (such as transcripts of conversations and text descriptions of its scenes) are being provided.

Telecommunications – Information on the times, origins and destinations of phone calls, electronic messages, instant messages and other modes of telecommunication is also another form of metadata.

Metadata of telecommunication activities including Internet traffic is very widely collected by various national governmental organizations. This data is used for the purposes of traffic analysis and in most scenarios is being used for mass surveillance.

metadata
An example of metadata

In many countries, the metadata relating to emails, telephone calls, web pages, video traffic, IP connections and cell phone locations are routinely stored by government organizations or telecommunications companies.

Metadata is also being used on the internet as most web pages are being formatted to allow for the inclusion of a variety of types of metadata, from basic descriptive text, dates and keywords to further advanced metadata schemes such as scripts (both hidden and unhidden), cores, etc. Pages sometimes can also be geotagged with coordinates and metadata may be included in the page’s header or in a separate file.

Source: Wikipedia

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