Who cares about metadata anyway?

Recently in the news the NSA has been found collecting way more information about people, their doings, and their relationships than they should. I don’t really want to talk about the ethics of this at this point. What I do want to talk about is what they are collecting, and hopefully push everyone to a fuller understanding of what can be done with it.

The NSA says, that what they are collecting is just meta data and that it is no big deal. I assert that this is simply not true. Why?

Metadata is defined as a set or collection of data that describes other data. Why is data about data useful? While listening to a podcast, the analogy was given of a can.


What is in this can? I bet you can’t guess. There are all kinds of choices and options, you simply can’t tell what is in the can without more information. This is where metadata comes into the picture.


Now you can guess what is in the can. Beans. Okay, we know beans are in the can, so we can classify the can as beans. After we make this classification, we can further classify this as black beans, pinto beans, green beans.

As you can see metadata turns something that is unknown, into something that is known. Metadata can be a great help.

As you may be aware, I am starting to work on some new family history and genealogy tools that will allow me to find those members of my family that are difficult. Most family history and genealogy sites focus on their record collections. That’s great, but there is a whole new world of data to be opened up and discovered that will allow a more complete picture of our past.

We are using the metadata from these documents to make assertions, assumptions, and ultimately to make inferences about individuals, families, communities, and nations so that we can find with greater accuracy our loved ones, and not simply a bunch of images of records that are hard to prove as related to our loved ones.

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