What is Metadata?

What is Metadata?

Heading photo, Metadata.

What is metadata? Well, It’s an odd concept to wrap your head around. Metadata is essentially the secondary layer of data that tracks details about the “regular” data. The regular data is something you’re likely much more familiar with, it includes files you interact with on a daily basis like photos, videos, documents, spreadsheets, etc. Your computer uses metadata to help contextualize the regular data collecting details such as when data was produced, or even where. Additionally, metadata serves as a tool for your computer to determine the original producer of the surface data, whether it be a person or a device.

What is Metadata’s use?

Your computer employs metadata to keep a record of the peripheral details within your files. It’s a snapshot of all the small things your computer might be interested in knowing about the file. This allows your computer to keep track of the file better. It can be an important tool to keep track of permissions surrounding the data as well. Metadata can also be useful for individuals navigating files on their computers. It can make locating files much easier as well as organizing files themselves much more streamlined. Imagine how confusing it would be to navigate files not knowing when they were last modified.

So if my computer keeps track of this stuff why should I care about it? It’s pertinent to keep track of the kinds of data that your computer records for several reasons. Data is a shared language between humans and computers, and data literacy would then be the guide to that language. Furthermore, metadata is useful when managing large amounts of information between many different people. Understanding the organizational structure of your data systems will make sure everybody is on the same page. Metadata is one of the main catalysts for this concurrent flow of information.

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Metadata and its Growing Importance

The value that metadata holds is increasing as we continue to exist online in a larger capacity. Assets are progressively shifting from physical to digital. Being able to track ownership on the web is becoming one of the most important roles that metadata fills. Perhaps the most prominent use in the last few years is its prevalence in tracking NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). The unique issue of claiming ownership of a digital asset when other users can simply copy it and stake their own claim is solved through metadata. In addition, individuals can use it for claiming ownership of creative assets or IP (Intellectual Property). Metadata protects artists from people ripping an audio file or photo from the internet and calling it theirs.

Interaction with AI

Another growing field in technology is AI or Artificial Intelligence. Metadata is a great tool for AI to determine the validity of content by scanning the data for inconsistencies. This can either grant credence to information that data supports or revoke it from digital actors working in bad faith. Metadata on sources of publication, location, and time frame can be invaluable for AI and this future development will likely be a front-runner in making it safer to browse the internet.

Interaction with Deepfakes

Deepfakes are yet another burgeoning technology that has people both scared and excited. While people have mostly used it for lighthearted jokes during its short lifespan as of today, it is not hard to envision how the tech could serve more nefarious purposes. We exist in the age of information, with misinformation accompanying genuine facts. With tools that exist to create hyperrealistic images or videos of public figures doing and saying things they have never done, it has become increasingly challenging to distinguish what is real from what is fake. When seeing is no longer believing, metadata can then be the microscope we use to analyze the truth behind seemingly obvious media.

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Further Applications of Metadata

Metadata has an entire laundry list of applications, some niche and some more widely adopted. Gary Kranz, the writer of a related article from TechTarget, dove into some of these uses and which ones are the most important to keep tabs on.

“Companies in digital publishing, engineering, financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing use metadata to gather insights on ways to improve products or upgrade processes,” Kranz writes.

Kranz proposes that industries utilize these insights in many different fields. One example he uses is how streaming services like Netflix for video or Spotify for audio might use the metadata on both their content and their customers to determine what is accessible to their users. This is especially useful in the application of different regional licensing deals. For instance, Amazon Prime users in the U.K. might have different shows available to them than users in the States. This distinction arises due to regional licensing. In this example, Amazon Prime controls and applies for these permissions through locational metadata.

Other important employments of metadata include its use in tracking data trails for government use, tracking customer IDs across different websites, and keeping note of the revision histories of files.


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