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What is metadata and what is it for?

Surely you have heard the word metadata, a concept that is very widespread nowadays. However, few people really know what it is, what its function is, whether there are different types or how it is classified, among other things. 
 
To answer all these questions and more, in this article we will address these questions and explain the importance of metadata and where to find it in different media. 

What do you think if we start with this guide on metadata? 

What is the meaning of the term metadata? Definition

The etymology of this word gives clues to its Greco-Latin meaning: 


● meta (μετα): "after" or "beyond". 
● data (datum): "that which is given". 

Thus, it could be said that this word means "beyond data", i.e., data describing other data. 
 
Applied to the field of information technology, "data about data" takes on great importance in view of the enormous amount of information that grows exponentially every day for all users, because how can we classify, differentiate, describe all this data? That is why we need to use metadata.
 
In fact, they are of great help to gain operational efficiency and make better decisions to achieve competitive advantages. 

How to view the metadata in a file

The process of viewing the data information of a file is quite easy, as almost all operating systems display it quickly. 
 
For example, in Windows you just need to right-click on the file, go to Properties and then to the Details tab to see the information about the file. 
 
However, sometimes the metadata displayed by the operating system is somewhat limited compared to their total. Thus, you will have to use other resources such as Metapicz or Get Metadata. 

What information is shown by metadata 

  • Images: when taking a picture, many digital cameras add useful data for processing such as shutter speed, aperture opening, focal length, sensitivity, with flash or without flash, chosen mode (automatic or manual), ISO speed, coordinates of the place where the picture was taken (if the camera is equipped with GPS), resolution, weight, size, model, brand and serial number of the camera used, etc. 
  • Videos: when a video is taken, useful data are included in a recording, such as format, duration, bitrate (bit rate or amount of information per unit of time, which gives an idea of both its quality and file size), date of recording and editing, software used, codec needed to play it back, etc. 
  • Written materials: some of these data are the length (number of pages, words or characters), the content (summary, chapter index, keywords, topics covered), the author, the date of creation, the type of content (book, manual, legal text, etc.), the format, the number of revisions, etc. 

    Metadata classification

    Data about data is classified using three main differentiated criteria:

    By function

    Data can belong to one of the following three types of functions:

    ● Subsymbolic: they contain no information about their meaning.
    ● Symbolic: they detail subsymbolic data, thus giving meaning.
    ● Logical: they explain how symbolic data can be used to make deductions from logical results, so they are characterized by compression.

    By their variability

    These data can be classified according to their variability into two groups:

    ● Immutable: they do not change regardless of which part of the resource is visible.
    ● Mutables: they are different from each other and even differ from part to part.

    By their content

    Information about information is fractioned by its content, distinguishing between those detailing the resource itself and those describing the content of that resource.

    However, these two groups can be further subdivided into more subgroups depending on how precisely we want to classify the data.

    Metadata life cycle

    Data data has a structure according to the functions it performs. In other words, it has a life cycle that details each stage through which it passes, performing certain tasks at each stage. The life cycle can be divided into three phases:

    1. Creation

    They can be developed in different ways:

    ● Manual way: it can become a somewhat complicated procedure, although it depends on the format used and the volume sought.

    ● Automatic way: the software receives the necessary information by itself, without external help. However, it is hardly feasible for the computer to manage to extract all the data automatically on its own.
    ● Semi-automatic form: a series of autonomous algorithms are set up which are supported by the user and which do not allow the software to extract the desired data by itself, but require external help.

    2. Manipulation

    If the data changes, the metadata must also change, which is easily and automatically achieved, although human assistance is sometimes required.

    3. Destruction

    Sometimes data about data is deleted at the same time as its resources are deleted together. However, there are times when it is retained for a variety of reasons, such as to control changes to a document.


    As important as it is to understand what metadata is, it is also important to implement a proper metadata management. Do you already have your data about data management strategy? At Intelequia we offer you the best advice in this regard, so do not hesitate to contact us.