I received a very interesting question today from a reader:  “Could you please explain to us what metadata means? The term has been in the news lately and I’ve looked it up, but don’t really understand it. Your explanations are easy to understand.”

I hope I’m up to the challenge of making the term easy to understand. Probably the best way to explain it is to say it’s data about data. An example of metadata is the information contained about a book on a card in an old-school library card catalog.  ( I hope I’m not dating myself here.)

card-catalog

This type of information makes it much easier to decide where to place a book on a shelf and where to search for a book if you need it.  It works the same way for electronic information like documents or emails or images. Except in the case of electronic files, this metadata is embedded in the file instead of typed on a card.

  • The basic types of metadata you can expect to see are:
  • How the data was created
  • Date and time of creation
  • Who created the data
  • Where it was created
  • What kind of file it is
  • The size of the file.

For example, let’s go to File explorer, find a document, right-click on it, and select Properties.

document-properties

You can see the size of the file, what program was used to create it, when it was created, when it was last modified, and when it was last accessed.

document-properties-window

When I click on the Details tab, there’s even more information about the file. Like how many times it’s been revised, when it was printed, how much time has been spent editing it, and more.

windows-documents-meta-data

That’s a lot of data. Which is why individuals and companies need to be careful when sharing things like images and documents. Sometimes there could be information on there that you don’t want anyone to know.  Now let’s look at the most common way your PC uses the metadata. One of the most commonly used bits of metadata is the date an item was created or modified.

metadata-date-modified

Another would be file size.

metadata-file-size

Metadata is how your PC knows to put images in the picture library and documents in the documents folder. Just like that card in the card catalog helped the librarian decide where to put a book on the shelf.

I hope that explanation helped.

~ Cynthia