leaky faucet dripping
PHOTO: Luis Quintero

Poor metadata is negatively impacting the income of music artists around the world. So said a recent article by Dani Deahl in The Verge, which clearly shows how increasingly hard it is to fix a situation when information isn't properly captured and shared at the point of creation.

What made the article particularly resonate with me was the realization that I faced this same situation on a recent project. We were prioritizing our agile backlog and someone asked why a story I had created was important. If people weren’t going to see the data, why capture it? My answer was simple: If you don’t capture the data from day one you can never act on it.

Dripping Pennies Down the Drain

The article about lost music royalties goes into the many interesting aspects of how artists get paid. Every time a song is played on a service or location around the world, it generates a royalty payment. The performer, writer and others get their defined percentages. What I didn’t realize was how many ways a single song can be divvied up.

There are often multiple artists on a song. It isn’t just the writers and performers either. Producers and engineers get a slice of the royalties. If that data is not properly recorded, that portion of the royalties goes nowhere. Like a leaky faucet, money that should be going to artist is dripping down the drain.

By the end of the article, I was feeling sorry for many of the artists in the recording industry. They are losing potentially billions of dollars. With all of the different players involved, and the different standards for storing metadata, it's a problem that isn't going to improve any time soon soon. As I thought of how this problem could have been prevented, I remembered the information governance discussion I referred to above.

Related Article: Using AI for Metadata Creation

Capture Metadata Now

We were sitting in a planning meeting and someone asked about a story we were planning for an upcoming release. The story was simple. Another system had started sending additional metadata about chain-of-custody for content and we needed to start capturing it. That's when the developer asked, “If we don’t need to display the information to anyone, why capture it?”

It was a good question. However, the question overlooked that there are three types of system features.

  • User Experience Features: These benefit the end-users. These features either involve new capabilities or improve the usability of the system.
  • Business Features: This set benefits the business’s mission. These involve improved digital integration with other systems, customers or greater insight for management.
  • Non-Functional Features: The third set of features revolve around non-functional requirements. These include records management, security and other features driven by compliance to internal and external rules and regulations.

A feature may fall into multiple buckets, but often there is a single, driving reason for the new feature. Auditing user behavior may seem like a non-functional requirement — and it often is — but if the audits begin because management wants to report on the action to measure productivity, it is more of a business feature.

This requirement revolved around chain-of-custody for the content and definitely fell into the third bucket. We needed to track the content as it moved between systems so if any challenges were made to the validity of the content, we could provide the necessary evidence. There was no requirement to display the information, but the product owner definitely realized it was better to have it.

More importantly, if in the future they need to run a report to identify all content that passed through Scott's hands, they can do that easily. If the system doesn’t capture that as metadata upon ingestion, we have to extract that information from the content. While possible with today’s technology, the capability would still need to be coded, tested and be 100% correct.

The answer for the team and product owner was simple: Capture the data now so they never have to worry again. It was only an hour or two of effort that may save days, or weeks, of effort later.

Related Article: Managing Metadata: Any Volunteers?

All About The Money

Even in this information governance example, it is all about the money. Needing to prove the chain-of-custody almost always is the result of a dispute. Disputes can cost a lot of money if you lose. They also cost money in the lost time people spend to gather the information from other sources.

To be fair, you shouldn’t capture everything. Personally Identifying Information (PII) shouldn’t be captured, unless necessary, due to privacy concerns. Capturing any information about a person can have GDPR compliance issues so you need to be careful.

However, you should always be thinking ahead. Don’t just think about how people will use the system today. Think about how people will need to use it years from now. If you do things well, the system will grow and expand. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are losing a stream of money due to uncaptured metadata.

Help future you by capturing that metadata today.