The term meta has been co-opted in today’s slang to mean aware of oneself. Traditionally, the prefix concludes that the root word has transcended or is a more comprehensive form of itself. Thanks to greek etymology and the cool kids, when it comes to metadata we can immediately glean from the term that this is data that holds more than just itself. It is literally data about data, a self-aware form of the basic information we deal with.
Now, of course it is not self-aware in human terms, but there are metadata teams who encode data with metadata and update endless spreadsheets full of information on individual company assets, down to the digital for employee and consumer use.
What is Included in Metadata?
Metadata — if referring to something like an eBook — could include title, author, SKU, description, theme, keywords (useful for SEO and other engine searches), license, publisher, reading level, etc. It is all the data one would need in order to better find that one asset, or larger piece of digital data. It can be virtually anything. If the owner of the data wants to create 100 ways in which it could be categorized, then there will be 100 different headings of metadata.
Because it helps categorize data, keeping metadata is useful for more than just consumable products on the front-end. For the back-end team — graphic designers, developers, etc. — it can assist in the plan and preparation of products.
One of the more popular digital objects for which to keep metadata is images. Of course, this information has to be generated first. But lucky for you, if the image is not original and is already online, chances are that metadata has already been encoded into the file. For instance, when you go onto Shutterstock and type in a keyword, the engine sorts through massive amounts of image metadata to get you what you need.
How to Find Metadata
There are a few ways you can find an image’s metadata, from the very basic date of creation timestamp and image type, to the EXIF information. EXIF stands for exchangeable image file format. This type of metadata will give you information on digital photos, providing the camera make/model, shutter speed, aperture, lens model, etc. In other words, this metadata provides the settings for how to recreate that particular photo’s aesthetic.
If you are using Windows Explorer, finding metadata is incredibly easy. All you have to do is right-click > Properties > Details. Simple!
On a MacOS, download the image in question and open it with Preview. Go to Tools > Inspector. The Inspector will display the properties of the file.
Although you can access an image’s properties straight from the browser on Windows Explorer, if you are a Chrome user, you may find that the same process does not apply. The best you can do is control + click > Inspect. This may give you more than what you want and not the correct information, since you will be viewing code.
To view the properties of the photo, you’ll have to download an extension. We chose the View Image Info extension. Navigate to the Google Chrome web store. Search for “view image info” and you’ll see a few image options. View Image Info does not have a thumbnail. It is free to add. Restart your browser.
Now, control + click > View Image Info. Go ahead and select that option and a new screen will appear with the picture’s metadata.
If you want to go deeper into the image’s metadata, you’ll have to download an EXIF viewer. This extension can also be downloaded for free from the Google Chrome web store. For purposes of this article we chose to test EXIF Viewer Classic, good for beginners. Note that this extension only reads .jpg files.
First, place your cursor over the image and check in the top, left hand corner of the image. If there is no EXIF data detected, a small notification will appear. If there is EXIF data, control + click > View EXIF info. You will be taken to the EXIF Data Viewer in a separate tab.
When do I need to go looking for metadata, you ask? The classic scenario is data entry and building libraries and automation systems for searches or input. EXIF files can be pulled if you are a photographer looking to recreate a particular image’s look. Then, of course, whenever you are curious. It’s incredible to see the amount of data there is to describe data, to see the author of the image, the details that go into preparing it for digital consumption, etc. This data is not just your run-of-the-mill superficial data. This data is meta.