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Metadata 101

Effective Digital Asset Management Tips

by Ben Zamora-Weiss

A DAM – a digital asset management system – isn’t worth a damn if you don’t have quality metadata to help you find and use what you need. Metadata might sound mysterious, but it isn’t, and this blog will make it clear what we mean when we talk about metadata.

Metadata: a set of data that describes
and gives information about other data.

What's in a name?

A lot, when it comes to media. Imagine if all your documents were just titled “Document 1,” and “Document 2,” and so on. How would you find anything?


Names that include information about the file – e.g., its content, its format, the date it was created – make your media easy to organize and retrieve. That’s metadata. And this brief overview will illustrate the main types of metadata, and explain how a DAM system can leverage this to the benefit of your organization.

Three Ways to Think About Metadata

We tend to talk about metadata in three primary ways. We’ll look at these in order of increasing complexity:

  • Structure
  • Function
  • Theory

Structure

Structure is about giving basic form to the metadata we’re collecting. For instance, say you’re organizing a list of names. Will you use “First_Name, Last_Name” or “Last_Name, First_Name”? And what about titles (e.g., Dr., or Jr.)? What about middle initials?


This simply means asking whether the metadata we’re collecting is structured or unstructured – if there are rules to how information should be entered – and then defining what those rules are. Free text fields, for example, are considered very unstructured, while a checkbox is a very structured True/False item.


Establishing a common structure for your file names can make a world of difference when it comes to automating your DAM processes.

Function

The next way of thinking about metadata involves splitting ideas into three main buckets, based on their function: 

  • Technical
  • Administrative
  • Descriptive

(There will be some overlap between these categories, by the way.)

Technical Metadata

The first set, technical metadata, is usually the easiest to collect. It is the attributes of an item, such as the file’s type, size, creation date, codec info, aspect ratio, color space, data rate, etc.  Most DAM systems can collect a wealth of technical metadata during the ingest (import) process.

Administrative Metadata

Administrative metadata helps define how media might be used inside and outside the DAM. Fields might be set up that trigger certain actions for your media, such as creating proxies, sending notifications, or transcoding into another format.


You can track key info, like identifying the producers or editors attached to a given project, or keeping clear rights management and embargo data – noting associated usage restrictions of the platform, expiry date, or fees. User permissions is another common example of administrative metadata, defining who can access certain sets of media within the DAM, how much metadata they see, and whether they can edit, download, and share content.

Descriptive Metadata

Descriptive metadata is where we detail the contents of a project or specific file. The key to thinking about descriptive metadata is asking, “How is someone going to find this again?”


This might include general information – like a description of the overall project and what it was for – but it can be as granular as putting a name to every face that appears in a group photo.  After all, when most people search the DAM, they’re often looking for a specific file or type of content, not a full project.


You might differentiate different types of audio files into music, sound effects, voice-over, and final mixes. For video interviews, for example, are there subsets of people you want to recognize?


Going a step further, what sort of info might you want to capture about the content of the media? Are specific people, brands, products, or actions featured?  Is there a transcript you want to create and associate with the video?

Theory

Now let’s get a little metaphysical about metadata: we digital librarians talk about the ‘Is-ness,’ ‘Of-ness,’ and ‘About-ness’ of the assets we’re tagging.

 

‘Is-ness’ is usually the simplest and is often a technical or structural way of describing what an item is: a PDF; an MP4 final; or a PSD image.

‘Of-ness’ is commonly just a literal description of the content we’re tagging. For example: The PDF is a copy of the final shooting script. The MP4 file is of the CEO address for the upcoming annual meeting. The PSD shows headshots of the CEO, CFO, and CHRO with text and logos.

 

‘About-ness,’ looks at the intention behind the item we’re tagging. The PDF script is for the CEO to read at the recording and includes stage directions and areas of emphasis. The MP4 of the CEO’s message was exported to follow the guidelines for the internal video distribution network as an invitation to the annual meeting. And the PSD of headshots and text is advertising some of the key presenters to be used in an email blast tailored to key stakeholders.

The tip of the metadata iceberg

There’s a lot more to metadata and its function for your DAM system, but with these three themes – structure, function, and theory – you’re primed to start seeing how metadata can tie together your organization’s media into something cohesive, searchable, and shareable.   

Turn your media into a powerful digital library