What can hashtags teach us about metadata and how to use it?
One of the innovative upshots of social media sites like Twitter is the promulgation of hashtags. A hashtag is the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase. In addition to being a fun way to add a tongue-in-cheek commentary to a Tweet or post, a hashtag also creates a quick and easy way to find other Tweets or posts on the same or similar subject. Essentially, hashtags create searchable categories. Posts about a current event, for example, will utilize a specific hashtag allowing users to quickly view updates and new tweets that use that hashtag and read information and comments about it. Like hashtags, metadata categorize items so that you can easily find them later.
Like hashtags, using metadata should feel like an intuitive and natural part of how you organize and access your files and records. If you’re looking for an HR document for a particular employee, for example, you could search for “Human Resources” and the employee’s name. What about something less specific, say, I-9 forms from a given year? Search for “I-9” and the year. All of these searches are possible when your documents have been digitized and tagged with metadata. Just like you can find relevant posts on social media sites using hashtags, your files will be equally searchable and accessible.
Metadata can be customized to how you look for files
The only hard and fast rules for metadata are using what terms and categories works best for you. Using the HR records example, your term files may have personnel files with Social Security numbers (SSNs) up to a certain year and then employee identification numbers thereafter. In this case, it might be useful to have both those values indexed so that you can search for either. On the other hand, if you know that you only need SSNs because you will never need to search by employee ID number, it may make sense to index only the SSNs and not the employee ID numbers. The goal is to make your metadata work to your advantage. If it’s not working for you and you can’t easily find the document you’re looking for, it can always be changed later to better fit your needs.
Hashtags can be fun, in part, because they’re a reflection of our natural impulse to categorize and organize information. Metadata should be no different. Good metadata should be a natural extension of how you organize and categorize paper documents within folders and filing cabinets. When you search for a document, your metadata should reflect your thought process. In the same way that hashtags let you say a little something additional about the content of a social media post, metadata lets you say a little about each document so that finding it later is easy and stress free.Share