An introduction to metadata and taxonomies

Are you "into" metadata an taxonomies or alternatively like understand the concepts but are looking for a bit more information? Then you'll definitely be excited (perhaps not excited) by this blog post from the Brain Traffic blog. In the blog post the author looks at some of the concepts behind metadata and taxonomies.

The first thing I want to say about this blog post is that although it's quite short it's packed full of content and it uses diagrams to great effect. The author also says that any conversation about metadata and taxonomies can get "big" very quickly, the important thing as the author says is not to get intimidated..."these terms have been around much longer than the Web, and can be applied in a wide variety of contexts"

So what did I learn from the blog post. Well the first thing was an excellent quote about metadata, which is as follows:

Metadata is "information about the content that provides structure, context and meaning" I also now know that there are three main types of metadata:
  • Structural metadata defines the elements that need to be collected; labels like title, author, date created, subject etc all make up structural metadata.
  • Administrative metadata is often created automatically when an item is added to a CMS or a Document Management System. This metadata is used to manage the content.
  • Descriptive metadata describes aspects specific to each piece of content like title, subject and audience.
Tied together these three types of metadata makes content findable and perhaps more importantly understandable to a human or computer.

What about taxonomies?

In a previous role I used to do a lot of work with taxonomies, so understand how crucial they can be and perhaps more tellingly how passionate individuals can become about terms within a taxonomy. In its simplest sense a taxonomy groups stuff into hierarchical groups. This stuff could be anything, legal subjects, animals, pop groups, you name it you can apply a taxonomy to pretty much anything.

In the digital world (aka websites or intranets) taxonomies are used to provides a structure within which content (which contains metadata) is published.

Common taxonomy types include:
  • Term lists are a standardised list of terms created to ensure consistent tagging of content
  • Hierarchies are a list of terms contained within a structured framework that have parent/child or broad to narrow relationships
  • Thesauri are used to translate conceptual relationships between content into something a computer can understand
How do taxonomies and metadata work together?

As the author says..."at its simplest a taxonomy organises information and metadata describes it. For the taxonomy to be able to organise the information, terms need to be stored as metadata"

That would be an excellent way to end the blog post, but the author then provides a diagram which illustrates this point. You'll have to read the original blog post to see it though :-)