‘Tis the season. While the season means different things to different people, its most common theme is people buying things for people. Things that become presents when they are covered in wrapping paper.
Two retailers have been running television commercial campaigns this season about how presents are wrapped. One campaign focuses on the anticipatory joy of children wondering what present is concealed inside a well-wrapped, but nondescript box. The other campaign pokes fun at present wrapping by showing various items (bicycles, skis, canoes, jackets, hats, gloves) not wrapped in boxes but simply covered in wrapping paper while retaining their obvious shape, and the recipients act as if they are still left wondering what the present could be.
These commercials made me think about how metadata presents data, how metadata provides a definition, description or context for data, without which data is difficult, if not impossible, to use. Metadata is the layer between data and business users. Although it doesn’t actually conceal data like wrapping paper conceals presents, metadata’s wrapper frames the form and content of data.
While it would be a stretch to suggest that business users approach data with the anticipatory joy of children on Christmas morning, they do approach data with the expectation that it can be useful. Metadata should emulate the wrapping paper from the second commercial, not the first. Instead of nondescript mystery boxes, metadata should present data with nothing left to the imagination. This would let business users know that the data is exactly the present they wanted to receive.