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What is Metadata?

If you were to open a word document or a webpage in a text editor, near the beginning of the formatting codes you would see the text "Microsoft Word-Document MSWordDoc Word.Document.8" This text would not be visible in the document because it is not part of the document's contents, it is information about the document's contents. In this case, which application the document was created with.

If you were to open an image in a text editor, near the beginning of the image color codes you might see some text like "JFIF Ducky Adobe". This text would not appear in the image because it is not part of the image, it is information about the image's data format.

These bits of information about data are called metadata, or "data about data". Metadata can provide information about data such as:

Application used to create the data
Title of the data
Author of the data
Publisher of the data
Country where data was created
Format or standard used for the data
Date and time data was created
Date and time of last modifcation

And much more possible data about the data. If you don't believe me, open Windows File Manager and right-click in the windows column header. A dialog box will appear listing probably hundreds of different column headers (or types of metadata) you can apply to the files.

The most commonly used metadata on the Internet are meta tags. Meta tags are similar to html tags except that they are entered into the head section of the webpage and they don't directly control the layout of the webpage. Instead they provide information about the document. Meta tags can provide information about data such as:


That last one, Robots, tells search engines how to handle the data, for example whether to cache it or not. Shown below is an example of a meta Description tag, which is a tag no webpage should go without.

<meta name="Description" content="Definition, description, and examples of metadata." />

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