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I was asked in a meeting recently to define metadata. This prompts me to adapt some text recycled from All that is solid melts into flows* …
Like most people ;-), I tend to think about metadata as ‘schematized assertions about resources’: schematized because patterned and machine understandable; assertions because they involve a claim about the resource by a particular agent; resource because any identifiable object may have metadata associated with it. Metadata is useful because it relieves a potential user (a person or a program) of having to have full advance knowledge of the characteristics or existence of the resource. In other words, metadata provides ‘intelligence’ which supports more efficient operations on resources. Examples of operations are discovery, preservation, purchase, reformatting, embedding, analysis, extraction of components, and so on.
* And sorry, I couldn’t resist keeping in the smiley ….