Metadata is one of those things that is so important, it becomes easy to forget about. We often collect metadata without thinking about it. When we don't collect it — or if we collect it in a sloppy manner — we notice very quickly that something has gone wrong. But when someone says the word "metadata", a large number of us go, "the what now?" And start trying to remember what that word means before we make ourselves sound dumb in conversation.
Metadata is really just information about information — it helps us organize, find, and standardize the things we know and want to know. At the Information Culture blog Bonnie Swoger offers some Christmas-themed examples that will help you remember what metadata is, help you understand why it's such a big deal, and improve your ability to do metadata right.
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If you stumbled across this list on the web you might be able to guess what it was, but you couldn’t be sure. It would also be difficult to find this list again if you were looking for it. The list creator might find this pretty useful, but if he or she shared it with others, we would want some added information to help the new user understand what he or she was looking at: this is metadata.
Metadata for this data file:
Who created the data: Santa Claus, North Pole. An email address would be nice. This way we have some contact information in case we need clarification. Title: “My List” isn’t a title that is conducive to finding the file again.
Put all the water on this planet into a single sphere and it would have a diameter of about 860 miles, says the United States Geological Survey. For reference, that's roughly the distance between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Topeka, Kansas.
About 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water. But water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and earthgwaquifer.html, and even in you and your dog. Still, all that water would fit into that "tiny" ball. The ball is actually much larger than it looks like on your computer monitor or printed page because we're talking about volume, a 3-dimensional shape, but trying to show it on a flat, 2-dimensional screen or piece of paper. That tiny water bubble has a diameter of about 860 miles, meaning the height (towards your vision) would be 860 miles high, too! That is a lot of water.
I really like this illustration because it shows off an important concept: Whether a number represents "a lot" of something or "a little" is pretty damn relative. As the USGS says, that is, in fact, a lot of water. But it also makes for a surprisingly little ball.
The earliest timelines, published in the 1500s and 1600s, were difficult-to-follow mashups that attempted to place all of human history into a list of numbers or an elaborate graphical metaphor. (I imagine the people who made these being somewhat stoned ... "So the fourth millennium before the birth of Christ was totally like a dragon! Here, let me show you ...")
By the 19th century, though, the art of the timeline had progressed significantly, and people like French engineer Charles Joseph Minard were creating infographics that look recognizably like infographics. This one, from 1869, traces the routes taken by Hannibal on his march through the Alps and Napoleon on his march into Russia, showing, through the thickness of the bars, how both armies dwindled during the journey.
This is from a great collection of historic timelines published on The Morning News website. Definitely worth flipping through the entire slideshow!