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What is metadata?

What is metadata?

Metadata is the core of every digital asset management system. But what exactly is metadata? What kind of metadata exists? And why is metadata important? We will answer these questions in this article.

What ist metadata?

Metadata is structured, additional information to the actual data to more describe the data. Some examples about metadata can help to better understand the definition of metadata. For example, the content of a book is the actual data. Additional information such as author, publisher or the ISBN are the metadata for the book. For a piece of clothing, the size, color or item number can be the metadata. A digital photo is enriched with additional information by the place and time it was taken or the photographer. A music file, on the other hand, can be further described with information about the artist, title or genre. The classic digital document includes information about file size, name, format as well as the last modification date and when it has been created by default. Websites also have metadata, such as keywords, metatags or alternative texts, as descriptions of the images used. Metadata can therefore exist in many different areas. Depending on what type of formats the "source" file is, the metadata is therefore very different.

Why is metadata important?

How metadata helps in SEO:

Particularly in online marketing and optimization for search engines (SEO), meta data is essential. Meta elements such as title or description influence the ranking in search results. Ideally, the title and meta description should contain the relevant keyword for which you want to be found.

Metadata helps to describe and categorize the actual data making it easier to find. In the last example, the meta information of a website, for example, helps to become visible to Google because it describes its content. With the help of metadata, the website can be found via this or other search engines. A book can be found faster in the library if you have the ISBN or the name of the author at hand. A photo from the last product shoot can be found more easily if it contains the appropriate metadata. This is where a digital asset management (DAM) system can come into play. DAM software helps companies store all digital content centrally. Especially media files such as photos, graphics, videos, music or text files can be managed more easily in the DAM system with the help of metadata.

What metadata standards exist? 

There are some metadata standards that are often used, especially in the digital photo world. For example, digital photos taken with a digital camera or smartphone already include a lot of information. These are stored in the so-called Exif format (Exchangeable Image File Format) and includes information about technical information about the shot, for example the camera model and the settings (exposure time, aperture, ISO, geodata, etc.). This data is automatically created by the capture process. Another standard type for digital images like jpg or tiff often used is the IPTC-IIM standard. This can include, for example, a description of the content, keywords or copyrights and must usually be added manually by the user. Other metadata standards are the XMP metadata, which is integrated in all Adobe publishing products, or the Dublin Core schema.

How is metadata stored?

The automatically generated metadata, such as the technical EXIF metadata for photos, is stored in a special area directly in the file. In a digital asset management system, this and other (individual) metadata is stored directly on the respective digital document (digital asset) in the database. Rights groups in the DAM system ensure that users only see the metadata and files that are relevant to them and for which they are authorized to access.

How to read metadata?

Standard metadata such as the file name, creation date, file size or even the Exif data (with information about the lighting, aperture and shooting location of a photo) and IPTC or XMP data can be read with the help of the operating system. On macOS, this works with right-click on the image > Information > More Information. For Windows: right-click on the image > Properties > Details. Of course, this data can also be read out via programs (such as Adobe Lightroom or Bridge) or with an online service. Other metadata, such as individual metadata with which a file can be enriched in the DAM system, can accordingly only be displayed in the Digital Asset Management System.

How to change or delete metadata? 

Especially if you want to share photos or other files, it can be useful to add, edit or remove the automatically added metadata for privacy reasons. Editing or deleting metadata, for example, works quite easily with many image editing programs (Lightroom, etc.). There are also special programs for editing metadata standards, and some are available for free. Metadata can also be edited or deleted in a digital asset management system. Additionally, administrators can define here which users are allowed to perform these actions.

How to add metadata automatically to files?

To provide files with meta information, these can be added manually. However, it is easier if they are added automatically, for example with help of a digital asset management system. This is possible in the Cavok DAM system, for example, with batch processing, metadata on folders and categories, or automatic workflows. If metadata is stored on folders or categories, it is inherited to all files in them. An automatic workflow can be realized, for example, by linking the PIM system with the DAM system. By specifying the article number on the product image, the product data from the PIM system is completed in the metadata of the DAM system. Or by linking to a keyword list, additional keywords are automatically added to match the image.

Which metadata is important? 

In this article, different types of metadata were shown, but which metadata is needed in digital asset management? As described at the beginning, this depends on the origin data - and what should be done with it. What metadata do you and your colleagues want to be able to search and filter by? While for one company it is important that the product information of the product depicted in the photo is stored as metadata, for another company it is more relevant at which location an image was taken or what editing or release status the file has. Every company and every industry may require individual metadata types - this is where good advice from a DAM expert often can help.  

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