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Talking about metadata, like cooking with metafood

Technical conversations about information and data can sometimes include the word "metadata," which commonly gets defined as: data about data. It's a fancy word, and I've seen many cases where there's a need to think in terms of meta-ness about data.

But, as a practice, I find that talking about just plain-old data is not only sufficient most of the time, but prevents conversations from degrading into murkiness around which data is about data, and which isn't. (From experience, I wonder: is there actually any data that isn't about data in some way?)

I often think food works in analogies about information and data. So, let's imagine we have "metafood," defined as: food made with food. And then, it's easy to come up with examples of murkiness: is peanut butter a food or a metafood?

In this context, the meta modifier stands out—if you have a techno jargon warning light, it should be going off. But, when you're new to talking about technology and information systems (and, even what you're not so new), the unfamiliar jargon can suggest something more important than it really is.

A lot of concepts of data and information are actually familiar concepts to a lot of people. What, professionally, I might call a "taxonomy", you might call an "outline" or even just "categories". Sometimes it's important to be precise and use technical language—a taxonomy is more than just an outline. But, you need to keep a jargon warning light around that goes off when the techno babble gets out of hand.

Just think about it like food: you probably want your dinner made by someone who can describe what their making in terms of cooking food. If they're making you a cup of soup, they probably shouldn't be cooking any metafood in the process ;-)

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