Metadata literally means “data about data.” That can be quite confusing and vague, so what is metadata really?
In “Introduction to Metadata,” Anne Gilliland sets the stage by providing the audience with multiple definitions and views of metadata. The 1990’s was quite accurate, defining it as the internal and external documentation of data contained in an information system. More specifically, metadata is about an information object. An information object embodies content, context, and structure. Thus, metadata does not have to be digital; it can be recorded in card catalogs, vertical files, and more. Though metadata is a broad term, there are specific types. For example, library metadata includes indexes, abstracts, and bibliographic records. As technology advances, it has expanded the market of metadata in creating automated means such as “metadata mining, metadata harvesting, and Web crawling.” Evidently, computer capabilities are becoming increasingly powerful and sophisticated. Paul Conway, though, takes a positive spin on metadata and says that the digital world maintains objects’ intellectual integrity.
However, does metadata cross the (privacy) line? An article by the Wall Street Journal titled “Metadata Can Expose Person’s Identity Even Without Name” speaks for itself. MIT’s research proves that, despite anonymity, this analytic formula can readily identify a person’s unique purchasing pattern almost 100% of the time; and with a little bit more research into public profiles (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, “check-in” applications), they could place names to the numbers. It is not so alarming though, because this new technique is purposed for firms, advertisers, and retailers for better advertising.
Bottom line, I believe the digital world relies on metadata. It functions to create, recontextualize, validate, organize, and preserve and there are clear benefits. Out of those, I find its role in effective researching most significant. I think Wall Street Journal says it best, “metabase is not as important as content but remarkably revelatory.”