The ECAI Metadata Issues:
a summary

Dr T. Matthew Ciolek,
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies,
Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

notes presented at the
3rd Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI) Workshop,
Villa Bosch, Heidelberg, Germany,
29-30 June 1998

Document created: 19 Aug 1998. Last revised: 27 Aug 1998

0. Introduction

The following is a set of notes I used on Mon 29th June 1998 during the ECAI Roundtable Discussion on "Metadata - Standards and Practices". The Session was organised and moderated by Dr Helen Jarvis, (, School of Information, Library and Archive Studies, U. of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

There are presented here, subject to subsequent refinements and changes, in hope of aiding and stimulating further discussion on the ECAI standards and methodologies.

You are warmly invited, therefore, to send your comments and suggestions to

1. Metadata Definitions

The term "metadata" in its most abstract form means "a set of information which remains in some intentional, hierarchical relationship with another set of information", or better still "vital intelligence about some piece of information."

In other words, metadata is "a summary data about some other data", or "a map, an overview, a careful distillation of the essence of some larger unit of information".

Metadata come in many shapes and flavours. They constitute essential ingredients of multifaceted apparatus dedicated to efficient distribution, storage, tracing and retrieval of publicly accessible information. Metadata can be of many types:

2. Metadata Functions

The above analysis suggests that there are, in fact, six (6) systematically related functions metadata can perform in relation to a given set of information
  1. Find - metadata help to locate a possibly relevant subset of data within the global information soup;
  2. Focus - metadata help to eliminate uninteresting alternative materials;
  3. Preview - metadata help to see a sample, a specimen of the interesting material;
  4. Access - metadata helps to connect to and download the complete information resource;
  5. Use - metadata help to navigate across and smoothly process the obtained material;
  6. Interpret - metadata provide the context for drawing correct inferences from the obtained material, they reveal and establish possible relationships between a given chunk of information and other informational chunks.
Not all metadata tags and annotations, of course, are capable of performing all these six functions by themselves. Hence, an existence of multiple, specialised sets of metadata scattered both within and without the resource in question.

3. Metadata Usability

The usability of the metadata is related to the question of the intended primary 'audience':

4. Metadata Locus

There are two major types of metadata in terms of their placement with respect to the resource they annotate Usually, information resources have at least one internal set of the metadata and several external ones, the existence of which may or may not be known to the authors of the resource in question.

On the whole 'Pointers', 'Doors', 'Content indicators', 'Provenance indicators', 'Function indicators', 'Quality indicators', and 'Attention grabbers' tend to be located outside the information resources they are dealing with, whereas 'Navigation markers', 'Information decoders', and 'Structure indicators' reside mainly within such resources.

Metadata live in symbiotic relationship with the information they pertain to. The information 'benefits' from being infused with and surrounded by various chunks of the metadata, it gets 'more intensive' usage or a 'better' (i.e. more relevant) clientele. The metadata, in turn, cannot 'live' (i.e. be established and used on regular basis) without the information it tracks, distills and heralds.

5. Metadata Standards

There are at least three ways of looking at the standards:

6. Metadata Production

Metadata need to be talked about, understood and appreciated. Above all, however, they need to be put into regular, systematic, daily practice. The production of metadata sets involves taking the following steps:

7. Metadata - Unresolved Issues

8. Recommended ECAI Strategies

[this section still needs to be revised and beefed up - tmc]

The above notes suggest a preferred course of action for the ECAI group. Clearly, the metadata to be in the context the ECAI documents and data sets need to:

9. References

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