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Above and Beyond: Understanding Metadata

By Nate Zelnick SMIL Meets XML In the demonstration application I showed in the last XML File, I introduced the concept of metadata without explaining what it is or what it is for. I hope the wait wasn't too much, because in this column I'll answer all of your burning questions. Meta is one of those prefixes that has been so abused that it barely has meaning. Its origin is Greek and it means "above". So while most people say that metadata is data about data, it literally means "above data" just as metaphysical means above the physical. This may seem like meaningless semantics, but it helps to conceptualize what metadata is about. When you view something from a great height--like from a plane flying at 10,000 feet--general features of the landscape that you couldn't see from the ground are much clearer. On the other hand, little details are lost. Maps provide a high-level guide to terrain that is impossible from the ground. Metadata works the same way--it provides a high-level view of something, defining general structural information about it. It's good for generalities, but is really lousy when you start to get into specifics. The CDF example we looked at in the last column is a great example of an XML vocabulary that was designed to sit above a set of resources and describe them as a single, integrated channel. If you need a refresher, here's what that file looked like


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