But what does that really mean? Well, at its most basic, metadata is all the readable information associated with a digital file. A word processing document not only contains many (searchable) words as prose, it also contains information about when it was created, or modified. It may also include fielded data such as the document’s author (byline). To be more specific, metadata is used to describe a file. That is define it, describe its structure (including content in context for the purpose of easing the use of the captured and archived data for further use). In other words, metadata helps you easily find your stuff; good metadata helps you find it even faster! Metadata with a purpose!
In 1965, news organizations came together to create a standard for how news data should be moved around from source to recipient. In the realm of photography, this became the IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) or NAA standard, and ensured that as photos were shared as digital objects, the items and (basic) information such as the caption, byline (author), headline, source, credit and create date were also sent as part of the file. This information was actually included inside the file in a defined place in the file header. When image editing applications appeared, like Photoshop, they too adopted the IPTC as a standard for exchanging metadata. This is, of course, Photoshop’s File Info screen.
As with any standard, it did not take long for organizations to implement their own flavor of it. I am reminded of the saying, (attributed to author Andrew S. Tanenbaum and used by many) “The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from.” The Associated Press decided that the headline would be the “line of heads” or the last name of every individual that is actually pictured, a practice that continues to this day, so The AP uses headline differently than other news organizations.
Any photo archiving, digital asset management system (DAM), or Picture Desk® (MerlinOne holds the trademark for Picture Desk!) should be able to look at digital files and see this relevant metadata so that saved content may be easily searched.
When MerlinOne introduced the Merlin Picture Desk in 1993, its primary job was to save transmitted news photos and make them searchable.
In the mid 1990’s the need for a more flexible metadata scheme became apparent, and Adobe introduced XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform), their XML based technology to replace the “image resource block” technology of IPTC. This meant that digital asset management systems like ours needed to not only recognize IPTC, but XMP as well. Sometimes, depending upon how the data was handled prior to adding to a DAM collection, data in IPTC and XMP did not match, so any system worth it’s salt would need to be able to manage this and prioritize this information so users would know which information was current and valid.
As the industry adopted XML and Adobe’s XMP flavor, MerlinOne went with it, and adopted a flexible workflow that allows for the mapping of IPTC, XMP and XML appropriately into its searchable application Picture Desk and archive application.
(Learn more about XMP here.)
As technology changes, the list of metadata standards continues to grow. Next week I will talk more about some of the other metadata standards available.
Posted by David Breslauer