According to Wikipedia, metadata is defined as data about data. That might sound a bit abstract, but what it means is that metadata provides a bit more information about some content whether it’s a piece of text, an image, a video or something else. For a text metadata can be the file format it’s stored as (plain text, word, pdf, etc) and for an image metadata can be the resolution of the image.
Metadata can be divided into different types. Exactly what the types are is not set but I like to think of it as either a) technical or b) descriptive.
Technical metadata represents “hard” types assigned automatically by systems like file type, file size, creation date, encoding etc. Descriptive metadata represents more “soft” information assigned by humans like author, title, summary, keywords, category etc.
Technical metadata is often a finite set that can be common accross organisations, where descriptive metadata is more related to the organisation’s needs and structure.
So all this talk about metadata, why do we need to worry about this in a findability solution? Well, since metadata tells us a bit more about our content, we should use this to help our users to find their information quicker. I like to think that it can be used in at least three ways in a findability solution; relevance influence, navigation, and result presentation.
So if you define descriptive metadata that makes sense to the users in your organisation, they are very likely to assign them to content they are creating. When content has a high degree of metadata assigned you can use this to help users navigate to the content by using the metadata instead of a fixed folder-like structure. When searching, you can tune the relevance so that if the user’s query matches content in the metadata of the document, it is ranked higher than other documents.
The important thing about metadata is that if you can make users assign it to their content it can be used in many different ways and applications to help people find their content quickly.