RMIT | Faculty of Art, Design and Communication | Department of Visual Communication | Sunrise Research Laboratory

MetaData - Quick Tutorial

This document gives a brief introduction to metadata and some of it's applications. It is at an introductory level, and assumes a basic knowledge of HTML. It demonstrates how to manually include metadata in HTML.


MetaData is way of formally including summary information about various aspects of electronic documents. In general, it encompasses any data that describes such aspects of a document as content, quality, field of knowledge, censorship details, copyright information, format etc..

Examples of metadata in the non-internet world are:


When a search engine is used to look for something on the internet, it does not look at actual documents - it looks in one or more big data bases that has been compiled automatically by software robots that 'crawl' the web. These robots use various techniques to access documents at a site but basically they all look for keywords in a documents' contents to decide how the reference to the document should be categorised.

There are some big problems with these techniques, and the following are both addressed by the addition of metadata: Bandwidth and Effectiveness.

To generate these summaries, the document has to be searched entirely, which is one of the biggest band width killers on the internet today. By placing metadata in a known place (near the top of the document) robots need only read in a few lines for each document to generate their data base entries.

Current methods do not provide useful data bases. There are a couple of reasons for this - first is language. An unsophisticated user will often not find information he/she is looking for because they don't use the same language that the crawlers and data bases use. (These users would also have the same problems with library catalogues). At the other end of the scale are search enquiries that yield hundreds of thousands of 'hits'. This is again largely a problem of user sophistication - a novice user interested in 'computers' will have an impossible amount of information to wade through to find something of use to them.

The addition of metadata will overcome a lot of these types of problems by providing agreed vocabularies and thesauri. The other problem that metadata will help to overcome is the quality of information required. Users will be able to specify {pre-school, primary-school,high-school,university,..} to determine what level of information they require. Further to this, users may eventually be able to determine the type of resource at a given level - so {reference,general,historic,current-news,tutorial,review,...} may also be specified. The addition of metadata will allow much more interactive searches, that will assist users without the required priori knowledge to perform effective searches.

The interactive process will set the user on the right knowledge tree and may look something like:

  1. Field of knowledge is first established with a general thesaurus. A user may enter 'matrix' and the search engine will come back with the response: 'This database has entries for "matrix" in the areas of {science,general}'
  2. User selects 'science'. Engine then switches to the science thesaurus and responds with 'The term "matrix,science" has the following senses: mathematics: data object, metallurgy: forge and medicine: womb'
  3. The user selects mathematics which is responded to with 'Select level required from {high-school, university}'
  4. After high-school is selected, the reply may be 'This data base has entries for {definition,tutorial,application} select term or send the request "ISO-S001-2-09876" to the following search engines....'

Of course someone who knows their way around a bit more can simply provide 'field=mathematics,keyword=matrix,level=secondary,infotype=tutorial' as their search term.


Just as a movie can have several reviews, a document can have several different metadata entries that describe it. They can live inside the document, or they can exist externally in someones database.

The entries may be provided by the author or they may also be generated automatically by software (though this defeats the purpose somewhat) - or a specialist third party. The third party may be a software form you fill out with a particular database, or it may be a group of specialists in your field who you send your document to for classification (along the lines of journal submissions).

The latter option is perhaps the best, in the sense that these specialist groups already have their own rich classification systems and respect from their peers - for example, the American Mathematics Society has a primary and secondary AMS classification that is known and used by many mathematicians and the journals they read and write for. While an AMS classification number as metadata wouldn't induce the same level of respect as a refereed journal, it provides a useful amount of confidence in a documents' suitability.

The problem with this approach is that it takes someone with a good level of experience to successfully classify specialist material. These people usually expect healthy renumeration for their expertise and time. A good trade off is for authors to provide their own metadata according to a specific scheme. As an example of this, the 'Dublin-Core' metadata descriptors are now briefly explained.


The DublinCore metadata for this document may look something like:

<TITLE>Metadata Quick Tutorial</TITLE>
      CONTENT="Metadata Quick Tutorial">
      CONTENT="A brief introduction to metadata. 
      Description of DublinCore elements.
      Example Usage."> 
      CONTENT="metadata,dublincore,dc.,dublin core,
      html, crawlers">
      CONTENT="Sunrise Research Laboratory:">

where each meta tag may be included zero or more times.

Dublin-Core currently has 15 recommended tags and uses the DC.prefix to distinguish it from other schema. (Definitions as per w3. with my additions in italics)


The name given to the resource by the CREATOR or PUBLISHER.


The person(s) or organisation(s) primarily responsible for the intellectual content of the resource. For example, authors in the case of written documents, artists, photographers, or illustrators in the case of visual resources.


The topic of the resource, or keywords or phrases that describe the subject or content of the resource. The intent of the specification of this element is to promote the use of controlled vocabularies and keywords. This element might well include scheme-qualified classification data (for example, Library of Congress Classification Numbers or Dewey Decimal numbers) or scheme-qualified controlled vocabularies (such as MEdical Subject Headings or Art and Architecture Thesaurus descriptors) as well.

The highest level available should be used - as computers will perform the task of adding the more general classification schemes. This element would likely be provided to the author after filling out a classification form - or authors may look up agreed thesauri when they become available.

      CONTENT="Non-Newtonian Fluid Flow, Bingham
      Plastics, Rheology, Yield-Stress Fluids">

(The following are examples of specialist schema that may be used and are not part of the Dublin-Core.)



A textual description of the content of the resource, including abstracts in the case of document-like objects or content descriptions in the case of visual resources. Future metadata collections might well include computational content description (spectral analysis of a visual resource, for example) that may not be embeddable in current network systems. In such a case this field might contain a link to such a description rather than the description itself.

Keep in mind that future browsers and style-sheets will probably be able to pull this field out by itself as an abstract that people read before deciding to download the full document.


The entity responsible for making the resource available in its present form, such as a publisher, a university department, or a corporate entity. The intent of specifying this field is to identify the entity that provides access to the resource.

This is an ambiguous definition - an article written by an individual that he/she places on the internet via a university server would specify the university as the publisher but what if the individual placed the article on a commercial server ? Although the document resides on, the individual presumably pays for it to be there and may rightly feel that they do not need to name their service provider as the publisher.


Person(s) or organisation(s) in addition to those specified in the CREATOR element who have made significant intellectual contributions to the resource but whose contribution is secondary to the individuals or entities specified in the CREATOR element (for example, editors, transcribers, illustrators, and conveners).


The date the resource was made available in its present form. The recommended best practice is an 8 digit number in the form YYYYMMDD as defined by ANSI X3.30-1985. In this scheme, the date element for the day this is written would be 19961203, or December 3, 1996. Many other schema are possible, but if used, they should be identified in an unambiguous manner.


The category of the resource, such as home page, novel, poem, working paper, preprint, technical report, essay, dictionary. It is expected that TYPE will be chosen from an enumerated list of types. A preliminary set of such types can be found at (Reproduced for convenience)


The data representation of the resource, such as text/html, ASCII, Postscript file, executable application, or JPEG image. The intent of specifying this element is to provide information necessary to allow people or machines to make decisions about the usability of the encoded data (what hardware and software might be required to display or execute it, for example). As with TYPE, FORM will be assigned from enumerated lists such as registered Internet Media Types (MIME types). In principal, formats can include physical media such as books, serials, or other non-electronic media.


String or number used to uniquely identify the resource. Examples for networked resources include URLs and URNs (when implemented). Other globally-unique identifiers,such as International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) or other formal names would also be candidates for this element.


The work, either print or electronic, from which this resource is derived, if applicable. For example, an html encoding of a Shakespearian sonnet might identify the paper version of the sonnet from which the electronic version was transcribed.


Language(s) of the intellectual content of the resource. Where practical, the content of this field should coincide with the Z39.53 three character codes for written languages - see (Reproduced for convenience)


Relationship to other resources. The intent of specifying this element is to provide a means to express relationships among resources that have formal relationships to others, but exist as discrete resources themselves. For example, images in a document, chapters in a book, or items in a collection. A formal specification of RELATION is currently under development. Users and developers should understand that use of this element should be currently considered experimental.


The spatial locations and temporal durations characteristic of the resource. Formal specification of COVERAGE is currently under development. Users and developers should understand that use of this element should be currently considered experimental.


The content of this element is intended to be a link (a URL or other suitable URI as appropriate) to a copyright notice, a rights-management statement, or perhaps a server that would provide such information in a dynamic way. The intent of specifying this field is to allow providers a means to associate terms and conditions or copyright statements with a resource or collection of resources. No assumptions should be made by users if such a field is empty or not present.

Further Resources

Other classification schemes are provided for reference. They may be useful in deciding what area of knowledge embodies work you are trying to classify. If it is your job to maintain a large site - you may want to consider collecting resources such as these to develop tools that assist users in classifying their work.

A commercial advertisement for a product or service.
A peer reviewed , refereed article from a journal.
A bibliography of other resources.
A complete book, not formed from separate papers.
A work that is printed and bound but without a named publisher or sponsoring institution.
A book produced from a collection of separate papers.
Syllabus, timetable, etc for a course.
A set of data of some sort.
A university Honours thesis.
A picture of some sort.
A part of a book, which may be a chapter and/or range of pages.
A single paper or article from a published collection.
A single paper from a published workshop or conference proceedings.
An entire issue of a refereed learned journal.
An entire issue of an unrefereed journal or magazine.
An operations manual for a product.
A university Masters thesis.
The resource is a message on a mailing list which is moderated.
The resource is a message on a mailing list which is not moderated.
Work of another or undetermined type. This is the default scheme value if the scheme is not explicitly stated.
A piece of music or a score.
Some sort of information about an organisation or group (eg: A library homepage on the web).
A university Doctoral thesis.
Some of information about an individual (eg: A person's homepage)
A piece of poetry.
The resource is a message posted to a USENET newsgroup which is moderated.
The resource is a message posted to a USENET newsgroup which is not moderated.
Pre-publication of a research article.
A whole published workshop or conference proceedings.
A piece of research work.
An online service of some description.
An internal university or research organisation technical report.
A document with an author and title, but not formally published.
An unrefereed article from a journal, magazine or newspaper.
A video of some sort.



ACE Achinese
ACH Acoli
ADA Adangme
AFA Afro-Asiatic (Other)
AFH Afrihili (Artificial language)
AFR Afrikaans
AJM Aljamia
AKK Akkadian
ALB Albanian
ALE Aleut
ALG Algonquian languages
AMH Amharic
ANG English, Old (ca. 450-1100)
APA Apache languages
ARA Arabic
ARC Aramaic
ARM Armenian
ARN Araucanian
ARP Arapaho
ART Artificial (Other)
ARW Arawak
ASM Assamese
ATH Athapascan languages
AVA Avaric
AVE Avestan
AWA Awadhi
AYM Aymara
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BAD Banda
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BAS Basa
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BEL Byelorussian
BEM Bemba
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BRE Breton
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CAT Catalan
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CHA Chamorro
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CHG Chagatai
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DEL Delaware
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DUM Dutch, Middle (ca. 1050-1350)
DUT Dutch
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EKA Ekajuk
ELX Elamite
ENG English
ENM English, Middle (1100-1500)
ESK Eskimo
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EWO Ewondo
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FAR Faroese
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FIN Finnish
FIU Finno-Ugrian (Other)
FRE French
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FRO French, Old (ca. 842-1400)
FUL Fula
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GAL Oromo
GAY Gayo
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GER German
GIL Gilbertese
GMH German, Middle High (ca. 1050-1500)
GOH German, Old High (ca. 750-1050)
GON Gondi
GOT Gothic
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GRC Greek, Ancient (to 1453)
GRE Greek, Modern (1453- )
GUA Guarani
GUJ Gujarati
HAI Haida
HAU Hausa
HAW Hawaiian
HEB Hebrew
HER Herero
HIL Hiligaynon
HIM Himachali
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HMO Hiri Motu
HUN Hungarian
HUP Hupa
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IBO Igbo
ICE Icelandic
ILO Iloko
INC Indic (Other)
IND Indonesian
INE Indo-European (Other)
INT Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association)
IRA Iranian (Other)
IRI Irish
IRO Iroquoian languages
ITA Italian
JAV Javanese
JPN Japanese
JPR Judeo-Persian
JRB Judeo-Arabic
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KAB Kabyle
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KAS Kashmiri
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KUR Kurdish
KUS Kusaie
KUT Kutenai
LAD Ladino
LAH Lahnd
LAM Lamba
LAN Langue d'oc (post-1500)
LAP Lapp
LAT Latin
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LIN Lingala
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LOL Mongo
LOZ Lozi
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MAC Macedonian
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MLA Malagasy
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MOH Mohawk
MOL Moldavian
MON Mongolian
MOSs Mossi
MUL Multiple languages
MUN Munda (Other)
MUS Creek
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MYN Mayan languages
NAH Aztec
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NAV Navajo
NDE Ndebele (Zimbabwe)
NDO Ndonga
NEP Nepali
NEW Newari
NIC Niger-Kordofanian (Other)
NIU Niuean
NOR Norwegian
NSO Northern Sotho
NUB Nubian languages
NYA Nyanja
NYM Nyamwezi
NYN Nyankole
NYO Nyoro
NZI Nzima
OJI Ojibwa
ORI Oriya
OSA Osage
OSS Ossetic
OTA Turkish, Ottoman
OTO Otomian languages
PAA Papuan-Australian (Other)
PAG Pangasinan
PAL Pahlavi
PAM Pampanga
PAN Panjabi
PAP Papiamento
PAU Palauan
PEO Old Persian (ca. 600-400 B.C.)
PER Persian
PLI Pali
POL Polish
PON Ponape
POR Portuguese
PRA Prakrit languages
PRO Provencal, Old (to 1500)
PUS Pushto
QUE Quechua
RAJ Rajasthani
RAR Rarotongan
ROA Romance (Other)
ROH Raeto-Romance
ROM Romany
RUM Romanian
RUN Rundi
RUS Russian
SAD Sandawe
SAG Sango
SAI South American Indian (Other)
SAL Salishan languages
SAM Samaritan Aramaic
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SAO Samoan
SCC Serbo-Croatian (Cyrillic)
SCO Scots
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SEL Selkup
SEM Semitic (Other)
SHN Shan
SHO Shona
SID Sidamo
SIO Siouan languages
SIT Sino-Tibetan (Other)
SLA Slavic (Other)
SLO Slovak
SLV Slovenian
SND Sindhi
SNH Sinhalese
SOM Somali
SON Songhai
SPA Spanish
SRR Serer
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SUK Sukuma
SUN Sundanese
SUS Susu
SUX Sumerian
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SWZ Swazi
SYR Syriac
TAG Tagalog
TAH Tahitian
TAJ Tajik
TAM Tamil
TAR Tatar
TEL Telugu
TEM Timne
TER Tereno
THA Thai
TIB Tibetan
TIG Tigre
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TOG Tonga (Nyasa)
TON Tonga (Tonga Islands)
TRU Truk
TSI Tsimshian
TSO Tsonga
TSW Tswana
TUK Turkmen
TUM Tumbuka
TUR Turkish
TUT Altaic (Other)
UGA Ugaritic
UIG Uighur
UKR Ukrainian
UMB Umbundu
UND Undetermined
URD Urdu
UZB Uzbek
VEN Venda
VIE Vietnamese
VOT Votic
WAK Wakashan languages
WAL Walamo
WAR Waray
WAS Washo
WEL Welsh
WEN Sorbian languages
WOL Wolof
XHO Xhosa
YID Yiddish
YOR Yoruba
ZAP Zapotec
ZEN Zenaga
ZUL Zulu
ZUN Zuni


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