Defining Irony: How the NSA made ‘metadata’ mainstream with an incorrect definition

Posted by Daragh O’Brien on May 4, 2016 10:30:00 AM


What is metadata? All too often when I ask this question of technologist colleagues I get bombarded with an array of definitions, the only unifying characteristic of which is that they fail to evoke relevance for me from a busy business manager’s perspective.

“Metadata is data about data,” I’m told. “Metadata is data that provides information about other data.” I chortle at this because one of the overlaps between my legal training and my years of experience in data modelling is that it is always an error to define something with reference to itself, and these definitions sound very recursive. Also, this definition causes those of us who are not information-centric or technology-biased thinkers to switch off. Data is the job of the IT department after all, right?

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Topics: Metadata, Cartography

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