Previously I wrote about how one can store too much data. I was guilty of that personally. I have way too much data hard to sort through easily. This collection of data was not just images I have taken; it is also documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. What is often overlooked is that there are tools out there to address the issue head on, but most of us don’t use them. It is the power of Metadata.
For those of you not familiar with the term metadata, it is data about data. Yes, that sentence is circular, on purpose. Metadata is a way to describe data using additional data. A few examples to illustrate the idea could be thought of as the “Tag Cloud” to the right on this blog. I manually go in and add descriptive tags for each post so that people can find them easily. That is just one example; another one is key wording or captions in pictures. The actual data is the image itself; the metadata is describing the data that is contained within the image.
The key is to actually fill it out and use the metadata options in pieces of software. This can make finding something much later, much easier. Metadata is not limited just to photographs and blog posts; the much-maligned Microsoft Office products include the ability to add metadata to the file. Microsoft does not call metadata “metadata”, they call it “Properties”. This data can be very helpful.
Let’s say that you were writing a letter to an airline about the difficulties you had with booking a flight with frequent flier miles. Now when you save the file, you might give it a filename such as “United July 2011”. Now later you go looking for the file, will you be able to find it just based on the filename? What happens for something less directly identifiable? It becomes a little harder. However if I add a brief sentence that says “Correspondence about trouble booking a flight using frequent flier middles” and put in keywords of “United, Frequent Flier, Reward, Travel”. Both Mac and Windows operating systems provide utilities to find files using metadata. It is the search tool built into the finder.
You might be thinking to yourself, “I do not need to do all this extra work, I can keep track of my files.” I would like to leave you with perhaps the most compelling reason to fill out your metadata – media files.
All the MP3 and other media files that are organized in iTunes are organized using metadata. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to go through 4,730 files to find one specific piece of media? How about if you have multiple versions of the same song? Without metadata, media management would be very difficult.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to go fill in some document properties.