Metadata: Our Savior

If you were to hear a colleague use the term “metadata” in a presentation or in ordinary conversation, you’d probably be impressed.

Don’t be. It’s not that complicated, but it is very important.

According to Webopedia, metadata is “data about data.” Metadata describes the attributes and content of other data. It’s generally applied to electronic “data” in the broadest sense — datasets, Web pages, graphics, video, music, and anything else likely to appear electronically.

To put it in everyday context, look to a public library (they still exist, don’t they?). The Dewey decimal classification system is a perfect example of data that describe and classify other data. Were it not for the Dewey decimal system, we’d be hopelessly lost trying to find the information (data) we seek.

Why is this relevant?

Metadata (if used properly) has the power to make digital media a significantly more advertiser-friendly environment — today.

In conversations with a variety of marketers, I’ve been discussing the power of contextual advertising (no surprise there). Naturally, the whole search phenomenon is predicated on the ability to accurately describe and categorize other data. More interesting, we’ve been discussing contextual targeting within digital content (e.g., within a story on NYTimes.com or CNN.com).

Companies such as Vibrant Media and eZula provide such contextual marketing services. Advertisers provide a list of keywords and keyword phrases. If those words or phrases appear in content, they then become associated with an advertising message.

What about the converse? What if an advertiser wants to run in a dynamic-content environment and be insulated from a particular kind of editorial?

The answer is metadata.

When a writer registers a story on NYTimes.com, that story is assigned a list of words and phrases that describe it (metadata). Then, by working with advertisers, the sales team can assemble a list of “forbidden” content adjacencies.

Though not foolproof, this seems like a great help solving some editorial adjacency issues. Is this happening on a widespread basis across publishers? Does the technology exist, and we’re just not taking advantage of it? Let me know if you’ve had experience in this area.

Metadata also has significant implications in the streaming video space. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could go to a rep company or an individual publisher, and tell them you wanted to run 15 preroll ads before any video content about, say, cooking? This company would then reference its metadata and assign advertisers based on specific content type. Awesome.

The Language of Metadata

Those of you remotely familiar with programming languages may know about XML. XML isn’t new, but it’s still being rolled out across publishers and content providers. Unlike HTML, which is a fixed format, XML is actually a meta-language, or language about a language. It’s designed to improve the functionality of the Web (and beyond). This is accomplished by providing more flexible and adaptable information identification.

XML allows groups of people or organizations to create their own customized markup applications for exchanging information within their domain (music, chemistry, electronics, finance, surfing, etc.). By using a syntax relevant to a specific environment or industry, one can be far more precise in describing and categorizing the data. XML is the underlying metadata that will take us from the current limitations of search marketing to the Promised Land.

So next time you hear someone use the term “metadata,” look them in the eye and say, “That’s old news, what else have you got for me?”

Unrelated Footnote

At a recent Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) advisory board meeting, we discussed which areas require the most immediate need for digital marketing education. The categories are advertisers, agency account people, agency media creatives. I emphatically feel we need to focus immediate attention on the creative community. We’ve been working diligently on the other areas for over five years. The traditional agency creative community represents a vast, untapped resource that could evangelize digital marketing solutions.

I’d love to get your perspective.

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