I seem to be getting increasingly unhappy at the use of the term ‘metadata’ to mean the attributes of real world entities, as opposed to information objects. Here’s a response to an exchange on the LinkedIn Metadata Management pages. Am I just getting too purist (i.e. old and grumpy)?
Traditionally metadata has been information about information objects (I can’t bear that phrase ‘data about data’ which is very unhelpful). When a painting is digitised, as you suggest, for me it then becomes an information object, and accordingly would get metadata. Until that point, any information stored about the actual painting in the real world is cataloguing or description or …
I remember a meeting of the UK e-Government Metadata Working Group which produced the UK government metadata standard, where one member of the group suggested that information about events or buildings or people would qualify as metadata. Another member of the group exclaimed in a horrified voice ‘So a swimming pool can have metadata!?’ In fact of course a swimming pool can have a name, a location, opening hours, etc but that is surely data, not metadata. The webpage that contains the information about the swimming pool may very well – and should – have metadata, but that’s because it’s an information object.
I think the reason this bothers me is that when developing a metadata standard, which I often do for clients, I need to focus on the attributes of information, not the attributes of anything that might be mentioned on a webpage (for example). Otherwise I have to start including attributes for events, people, products etc etc, and thus my metadata schema becomes huge and unmanageable.
The taxonomy, on the other hand, needs to provide values for metadata and data, but that’s another discussion….