petroglyphs found in the Valley of  Fire
PHOTO: Joshua Gresham

"Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don't mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime." — Rachel Wolchin

Metadata is something else, indeed.

It always has been, and it always will be. Metadata is more than just data about data because when it comes to content, it’s everything you have. Metadata is the spirit of an intellectual or creative asset … it is the descriptive, administrative and structural (technical) depiction of an asset, whether that be an image, a video, an audio recording.

It's even database fields on a graphic on television.

Metadata is needed to effectively manage knowledge so that it may be found, understood and used. The successful implementation of any content-related strategy requires the implementation of a holistic metadata schema that is supported by technology, people and process. Metadata is the foundation of a profitable digital strategy to deliver an optimized and fully engaging consumer experience. And yet, metadata is not easy. It takes time, money and resources to make it all work. Your vendor will not save you, nor will your IT team. There is no “magic bullet” and there is no easy way out, so be prepared to work on your metadata strategy in perpetuity.

Choose Your Words Wisely

If data is the language upon which our modern society is built, then metadata is the grammar, the construction of its meaning. Metadata is the building elements for content that demonstrates meaning for us all.

On November 4, 2020, CNN aired the following graphic which caused me to pause and reflect.

CNN exit  poll categorizing Native Americans as  "something else"
PHOTO: CNN

CNN listed five categories of “Race,” but used the unfortunate phrase “something else” to classify one group. We've seen this before in the use of “other” and the even more unfortunate “miscellaneous.” People will offer all sorts of reasons for using these terms, but none justify their usage. All CNN had to do was include a more accurate description, such as the US Census uses to describe that group:

  1. White
  2. Latino
  3. Black
  4. American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  5. Asian

"Something else," “other,” “miscellaneous" — none of these are ever appropriate metadata. They are sloppy, unsystematic, and reflect that no effort or time was put into understanding the power of words and their meaning as applied to the categories, and people, in our businesses. And, more importantly, the power those words hold when seen on such a medium as television or the internet. We all need to constantly strive to do better, to give value and meaning with every opportunity we have. Indeed, better metadata elements and taxonomies exist. The content is there for us to use, but we need to make every effort we can to do so. The data is there to provide meaning and authority to what we say, write and do. So, let's do better.

It is unbelievable to see examples like CNN's in 2020. News organizations need to do a better job of providing as accurate a view of data as possible, whenever possible. We know what should have been written, so just do it. All people deserve to be seen, heard and identified as who they are. So, no "other" and no "something else." Let's all make an effort to provide the “who” and “what” it is which gives us "something equal." 

Related Article: Who Can You Trust in This Age of Disinformation?

Metadata and Language

"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world." — John Keating in "Dead Poet's Society"

An estimated 800 neologisms (new words and phrases) are added to the English language every year. Our language is always evolving. Metadata provides a snapshot in time representing the business processes and goals at any particular time. In an ever-changing business environment, metadata must be adaptable and flexible to stay relevant. If maintained and governed well, metadata will continue to contribute to expanding business needs. The best way to plan for future change is to apply an effective layer of governance to metadata. We all need to take the time to manage language and control the change.

Metadata unlocks the commercial potential of information, data, and intellectual or creative assets. Every piece of content has the potential to be exploited for a variety of purposes. For example, an image tagged with the descriptive metadata about gender can be discovered and used for targeted marketing or demographically-specific content. A well-designed metadata strategy also allows creative and publishing teams to leverage automated technical metadata, like file type and size, to help speed the time to market. A metadata schema that includes administrative information allows for targeted access control, allowing more people to search information and content systems without expanding the risk of misuse. Metadata makes all the sense in providing meaning in our data when we all need it the most.

Metadata provides the foundation and structure needed to make your assets more discoverable, accessible, and, therefore, more valuable. In other words: Metadata makes them “smart assets.” The robustness and relevance of the metadata associated with an asset is what makes it findable, usable, and meaningful.

Related Article: DAM Governance Practices for the Long Haul

Conclusion

“When you got it, flaunt it.” — Mel Brooks

Metadata is relevant and meaningful when it provides insights into the time, place and context of an asset. Think of content for what it not only does for you but what it is for your users. Content is the road upon which you navigate this information-rich world of data-driven decision making.

Metadata-empowered content is the constant connection between you and your users. Trust and certainty that your data is accurate and usable is key to building those connections. Leveraging meaningful metadata supports you here and becomes an essential line of defense against lost opportunities. And, like the song goes, “When you got it, flaunt it. Show your assets, let them know you’re proud.”

Value is not found — it is made. So, do better by managing it well, and making metadata meaningful at every opportunity.