What is Metadata?
Metadata is data containing information about other information. For example, image data captured from a photograph may describe who took the photo, the date and time the photo was taken and the technology used to take the photo. Simply put, metadata provides a basic summary of in-depth and larger information, often focusing on the factual information that allows it to be categorised, located and referenced.
Metadata has a long history, documented well before the creation of the Internet. Libraries in ancient Greece were known to attach tags to books and information documenting the title, author and subject so materials could be easily retrieved to save the time consuming task of unrolling scrolls to see their contents.
In 1965, news companies collaborated to create a system whereby news data is shared between source and recipient and ensured that photos contained information within the file such as the author and subject of the image.
Due to increasing digitisation, vast amounts of information can be collected and stored indiscriminately, such as domestic phone calls. Information of this nature is often used by governments for security purposes, and used to identify and monitor criminal activity.
With regard to the Internet, metadata can be used to identify documents such as webpages, images, document files, videos and other media that are crucial for users navigating the World Wide Web.
Metadata can be used to identify these files and documents. Webpages can feature meta titles and meta descriptions which are used by search engines to identify documents and their contents. This data is also used by search engines to inform the titles and descriptions displayed to the user before they click.
Optimising these elements is important for search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure these webpages can be found in search engines. To be found for the right search terms, SEOs can make sure metadata and content on the webpage features the keywords that users are using when they search.
Problems with Metadata
Metadata can be ineffective if errors are made in the automatic creation of the data. This can occur when the information is processed and default values are too vague or inaccurate. On the other hand, manually changing metadata can also lead to typos and inaccuracies that make the data harder to find. It is crucial that metadata is accurate so the information it describes can be found.