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June 9, 2023updated 26 Jul 2023 3:56pm

What is metadata?

Metadata encapsulates all the information about a file or document, but what is it exactly?

By Tech Monitor Staff

The literal definition of metadata is “data that provides information about other data” and, as the description suggests, it involves identifying characteristics and attributes of specific elements in a broad context.

The prefix ‘meta’ refers to an underlying definition, and this kind of data is the summary of all the information collected, making it easier to find and reusable. For instance, the author’s name and the publishing date of an article can all be considered metadata files. By searching a title or a name, a user would be locating metadata.

Metadata Business Digital Computer Internet Communication Social Network People Concept. Businessman touched icon meta data text on virtual screen.
There are several types of metadata, from legal to structural (Photo: Panchenko Vladimir / Shutterstock)

Metadata itself is found in various and varied kinds of files, such as images, spreadsheets, videos, audio files and web pages. The latter in particular is important in the functionality of metadata since it contains all the information and descriptions of the page’s contents. Searching a keyword on Google or on a search engine in general, the metadata is the element that is displayed in the form of search results. In this case, the metadata is called meta tags.

How does metadata work?

Metadata is created at the same time as a file or document is either created too or modified. It acts are a categorising agent, by organising information using a keyword or term that makes its finding easier. For instance, web browsers filter through meta tags in HTML documents in order to show the best result possible depending on the search request.

The information is written in a standardised language that can be understood by both users and computers themselves and, for example, digital publishing and financial services companies use it to gain insights on customer satisfaction and on what they could change in order to become more efficient.

What are some examples of metadata?

Depending on the function it plays, metadata can belong to different categories. For instance, administrative metadata is useful to administrators to handle restrictions and user permissions, and it is mostly found in ongoing research.

Other kinds of metadata are descriptive, legal, preservation, process, provenance, reference, statistical, structural and use metadata.

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Provenance metadata in particular is also known are data lineage, and it functions as a tracker for the history of a specific element as it travels through systems in an organisation. It basically acts as an authenticity checker. Structural metadata, on the other hand, is used to describe digital media content, such as audiobook organisation in chapters. Digital libraries in particular take advantage of this kind of metadata, which takes the name of technical metadata.

Read more: Google and Microsoft earnings reveal heavy AI spending and cloud growth





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