What is metadata?

Metadata is ‘data about data,’ and all computer files have it. As you create and modify files on your computer, the applications you are using (e.g. Microsoft Word) record all sorts of information about these files. Things like who created them, when they were created, when they were last opened, etc. This ‘data about data’ (i.e. metadata) serves as a digital footprint to track the history of the document. It's useful in many ways, including searching for specific files or file types. All files have metadata embedded in them, but you won’t see it unless you know where to look.

How much metadata is there?

There are hundreds of different types of metadata. Some of them are easy to find—e.g. the author of a document, how much time was spent editing the document, and where it’s stored. But some of them are hard to find unless you have technical skills—e.g. the history of all edits to a document.

Metadata for word processing documents

Let's take a look at a Microsoft Word document’s metadata:

  • Filename and size
  • When (date and time) the file was created. And who created it
  • When (date and time) it was last modified. And who modified it
  • How many times and when it has been accessed, changed, or altered
  • Where it’s stored on the hard drive or computer network. And (occasionally) the GPS location of where it was created

You can check out some of the metadata for your own Microsoft Word files:

  • On Windows:
    • Right-click a Word file and then click ‘Properties'
    • Click the ‘Details’ tab. Here you’ll see a lot of the file’s metadata
  • On Mac:
    • Right-click a Word file and select 'Get Info'
    • Click the arrow next to 'General.' The section will enlarge and you'll see some of the file's metadata

Metadata of files on Windows

Extracting and referencing metadata is extremely useful, which is why GoldFynch has been built to be good at doing it. If you'd like a more in-depth look at metadata, check out this article and this solution (on email metadata).