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Metadata

Metadata is the information describing a digital asset. From Greek, “meta” means “after” or “beyond” i.e. “beyond data” if to translate it literally. In other words, metadata summarizes data about data.

What type of data? Anything! From the creator’s name to the date when the file was created/updated or any technical info like EXIF data. In metadata, you usually find the answer to any questions regarding your asset:

  • 1.
    What: what is the file type? what is the topic about?
  • 2.
    When: when was the video published? when was it updated?
  • 3.
    Where: where was the article published? where was it created?
  • 4.
    Who: who created the post? who was it sent to? who modified the post?
  • 5.
    How: how is the file organized? how does the file need to be accessed?
  • 6.
    How many: how many pages does the document contain? how many versions did we create?

To understand the term better, make an analogy to googling. Sometimes, you don’t know precisely what you’re looking for. So you begin your search by typing in some words associating with your search intent.

For example, you want to find a song but don't know its title. And so you search for something like “popular song 2020” (=keyword), “Rihanna” (=author), and “Best make me believe it” (=keywords / the words you remembered best).

All these are metadata. Only the audio of the song is the data itself.

Types of metadata

In a nutshell, there are three large groups of metadata:

  • 1.
    Descriptive - metadata referring to physical attributes (file format or type), minimum bibliographic data (title, author/creator’s name), and keywords;
  • 2.
    Structural - any structural tags like a title page, table of contents, or chapters;
  • 3.
    Administrative - any technical info such as the resolution or light source in the image.

Based on this division, metadata differ in their functionality:

  • 1.
    Descriptive tags help to identify and describe the asset.
  • 2.
    Structural metadata gives information about relations between assets like whether the asset is a part of a collection.
  • 3.
    Administrative tags assist in asset management & processing. For example, if the license in your asset gets expired, and you have to renew it, you’ll get to know it thanks to metadata.

A few examples of metadata

Regardless of its type or format, any file could contain some metadata. Here are the examples of 5 different file types & their metadata.

Document file metadata

Example 1: Document file

Document file metadata

Metadata are marked in blue in the image. And here we see the following metadata:

  • 1.
    The title of the document;
  • 2.
    Table of contents;
  • 3.
    The last date of editing.

Text documents can contain other metadata such as the subject, the author, the number of pages, keywords that briefly describe its content, etc., etc.

What’s not the metadata? The content of the document (marked in red). It’s data.

Example 2: Image

Image metadata

Here we see that metadata (marked in blue) could also include:

  • 1.
    The filename;
  • 2.
    A brief image description;
  • 3.
    A bunch of keywords describing what’s portrayed in the picture.

What’s missing here? The standard EXIF/IPTC data like the number of pixels, camera settings, image compression, and resolution. Plus, we could also add the photographer’s name, the date when the photo was taken, the color scheme, & probably the marketing campaign it’s used for.

Of course, the picture itself (marked in red) is not metadata. It’s data.

Example 3: Video

Video metadata

Look through the next example. This time, the metadata (marked in blue again) include:

  • 1.
    The video’s title;
  • 2.
    The tags;
  • 3.
    The number of views;
  • 4.
    The date when the video was added to YouTube;
  • 5.
    The user that added the video;
  • 6.
    Some basic description of the video.

Videos usually have some pretty standard EXIF/IPTC information too. This could include its duration, codecs, or the camera info, for example. Other info that’s missing is the file size, file dimensions, and rights metadata.

The video itself (marked in red) exemplifies the data.

Example 4: Blog post

Blog post metadata

In this blog, there is a range of metadata (as usual, marked in blue):

  • 1.
    The title;
  • 2.
    The date of publication;
  • 3.
    The average reading time;
  • 4.
    The categories to which the post belongs to;
  • 5.
    And the table of contents.

But we could supplement these metadata with the info regarding the author or the keywords describing the content. The article (read: data) is marked in red.

Example 5: Email

Email metadata

One more example for you. So what’s metadata here (marked in blue):

  • 1.
    The sender’s name & email address;
  • 2.
    The recipient’s info;
  • 3.
    The subject line;
  • 4.
    The data when the email was received.

Alternatively, the body of the email (marked in red) exemplifies the data.

Why do we need metadata?

Metadata brings a lot of value to businesses helping them to structure & manage their materials. Here are a few benefits of metadata:

One more example for you. So what’s metadata here (marked in blue):

  • 1.
    Identification & instant access to data. Metadata group your assets as well as distinguish between dissimilar ones. Plus, they usually provide information on the location of the file.
  • 2.
    Organization of assets. Metadata helps you structure files. In the blog post, the info is usually divided into portions thanks to the use of H1 & H2
  • 3.
    Data reuse. Having quicker access to data, you can repurpose them. For example, you can use leftovers from your old marketing campaign when the topic coincides.
  • 4.
    Protection & preservation of your resources. With metadata, you can prolong the lifespan of your asset. Track any legal issues, control the asset usage, follow the production & approval processes.
  • 5.
    A historical record of your data use. Metadata usually contains the basic info about who, when, and how managed your materials. In the long-term, you could use this info in case of inconsistencies that occur in data management.

Metadata creation and management

Lots of modern-day software works with metadata: digital asset management, CMS, metadata management tools, file managers, etc. Some of them are designed to work with metadata specifically. Others offer it as a supportive feature.

Two creation methods

Metadata could be created either manually or automatically. The manual process is more time-consuming. But of course, it tends to be more accurate & reliable. A user makes sure that the info is error-free. And they also input only the metadata they need.

Automated metadata input takes a few seconds. And it works perfectly for technical info that could be extracted from the digital asset like the file size or extension. The content part is more prone to errors, especially if the file is big or saved in unusual formatting.

So the best choice is to combine manual & automatic methods. For example, you create the metadata by using AI technology but then refine your keywords manually.

Five approaches to management

Metadata could be created either manually or automatically. The manual process is more time-consuming. But of course, it tends to be more accurate & reliable. A user makes sure that the info is error-free. And they also input only the metadata they need.

Automated metadata input takes a few seconds. And it works perfectly for technical info that could be extracted from the digital asset like the file size or extension. The content part is more prone to errors, especially if the file is big or saved in unusual formatting.

So the best choice is to combine manual & automatic methods. For example, you create the metadata by using AI technology but then refine your keywords manually.

  • 1.
    Keywords are so-called descriptive terms that the user assigns to the file by using a free-form text or an enforced list. These usually include the most associated words with files. For example, the colors used in the image or the topic of the PDF file.
  • 2.
    Taxonomy is the way of structuring metadata based on hierarchy. For example, you create a collection of your own keywords and then provide sub-keywords. The photo below could have the keyword “animal” but also “tiger” (which is a subcategory of an animal):
    Tiger
  • 3.
    Field level texts, also known as custom fields, are short customizable descriptions of texts organized in categories relevant to particular assets. In other words, you could adapt this type of metadata to your own workflow.

    Let’s imagine you work in a fashion agency. You would prefer to tag your assets by sizes, materials, types of clothing, etc. These are labels that would work for you in managing files. Still, they won’t do for an advertising company, for example.
  • 4.
    A picklist consists of various descriptive terms that the user should choose from like the formats or filename. It could include suggested and/or enforced items.
  • 5.
    A rights field means structuring metadata on usage rights or asset ownership. For example, you assign a video to your teammate for a review, and this is reflected in the metadata field.

Conclusion

As they put it, metadata is the data about data. And they are as important as the data themselves. Metadata helps users find & systematize their information and, thus, extend the lifespan of their assets.

If you’re urged to know more about metadata & asset management, feel free to look through the rest of our glossary. You’ll replenish your knowledge with more insightful information & would become an expert in digital asset management.

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