Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Emprisoning Words - Metadata. Webmaster.
Meta kind of sounds like mega; like big. Or many. Marry it with data and you have a supersyllable tongue twister. I swear some use it just to test the word out in conversation. I swear people's eyes go big as soon as they hear it, as if they had just spotted the sabre toothed tiger crouched on the ledge above. "Yes, but what about the metadata?" asks the square-glassed geek in the corner. The crowd is hushed in to submission.
But what is metadata really, and why do we attach so much significance to it?
Metadata are all the little invisible bits of information that is stored about a record that you don't see. For instance, in this blog you normally don't see the html hash that tells one computer to another how to read what I've written. Also in the background is who wrote it (well, my sign-on ID), and when.
I'm saying, it's no big deal. Records people get excited about it because in the replacing of one media to another (paper to electronic), metadata allows us the certainty that the electronically generated information has as much reality as a printed piece of paper. "This is what happened on this day." We have put the information in context of time and place. Some metadata features allows us the freedom to replace paper.
Other metadata elements have the potential to let us do new things with information; sorting and sifting it in new ways. Consider google earth, and the potential to tag photographs (metadata) with where they were taken.
What I resent is that metadata is used as a show-stopper rather than an introduction to freedom. People don't understand it, so they avoid it. Paper persists.