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What Are the Different Types of Metadata Fields?

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Graphic banner with abstract representation of metadata, search, and taxonomy structures.  

Many things you interact with everyday utilize metadata fields. Like filters on your favorite retail site, Netflix search results, and photo libraries. But what are metadata fields and why are they important? 

One simple way to understand metadata fields is to think about them in the context of a survey, which consists of questions and answers. The questions are essentially the metadata fields, and the answers are the corresponding data. Like survey fields, different types of metadata fields organize individual pieces of data.

What are metadata fields in digital asset management?

Metadata fields are input elements that are populated with data to describe things. In a digital asset management (DAM) system, different types of metadata fields answer questions about each asset. Including identifiers like: filename, photography type, description, and usage rights. 

Metadata fields have a range of formats that allow us to capture and aggregate information that defines the assets being tagged.

Benefits of using metadata fields

A system of metadata fields is called a metadata schema. Building a schema with the appropriate fields helps ensure that metadata is accurate and complete, which improves the search experience by delivering the desired results.

Metadata field types

Our DAM system, the Widen Collective® offers admins 10 options for structuring each metadata field, depending on the desired input.

Metadata fields can be one of the following:

  1. Autocompleter fields
  2. Checkbox groups (for multiple selections)
  3. Date fields
  4. Dropdown lists (for single selection)
  5. Limited text fields (256 characters, single line, no carriage returns)
  6. Long text fields (32,000 characters, multi-line, carriage returns)
  7. Multi-select palette fields (multiple selections for large lists)
  8. Numeric fields
  9. Text areas (10,240 characters, multi-line, carriage returns)
  10. Text fields (1,280 characters, single line, no carriage returns)


When to use text fields

Text metadata fields allow the user to enter information in any combination of letters and numbers. Here is a brief overview of these text fields, and possible uses:

Numeric fields can only contain numbers, not letters or symbols. Examples could include Product ID or Job Number.

Date fields allow users to enter metadata by selecting a date on a calendar, for things like Event Date or Publishing Date.

Limited text fields can contain a single line of 256 characters, and is appropriate for things like Asset Title, Campaign, or Project Manager.

Text fields allow up to 1,280 characters, and works well to capture a description in a Caption or a Keyword field. 

Text areas and long text fields can be used for metadata that’s recorded in a paragraph format. These fields permit carriage returns and have a larger character limit (10,240 for text areas and 32,000 for long text fields). These fields could be used to import metadata from another source that lacks formatting, or complicated contractual metadata.

Metadata field with free text area


When to use controlled fields

Controlled fields offer a range of benefits, and should be considered whenever possible. The use of controlled fields can streamline the metadata entry process, and improve metadata accuracy through reduced spelling errors. Further, controlled fields can be used as search filters. 

Controlled fields are comprised of standardized terms known as a controlled vocabulary. Best practices recommend that the terms should be listed alphabetically but there are exceptions depending on different use cases. 

Here are the controlled metadata field options offered in the Collective:

Checkbox fields are ideal for a short list with multiple answers. Examples could include a list of brands, internal teams, or asset types (such as logo, presentation, final photo, b-roll video, etc.).

Dropdown fields are ideal when users need to select one option from a list. They could be used for a list of clients, vendors, or licensing terms.

Autocompleter fields look like text fields, but when the user begins typing they offer options from a controlled vocabulary list. This can be used when there is a very long list in which there is one answer.

Palette fields are good for long lists that can have multiple answers, such as a list of countries in which the asset can be used, or a list of products featured in the asset.

Palette metadata field example


What about dependent fields?

Dependent fields are tied to another metadata field. They are only visible when the parent field is selected, which creates a more streamlined metadata entry process. Within the Widen Collective, all parent fields must be a dropdown format.

Dependent fields can be helpful for a number of reasons, including rights management. The example below lists four options for a Rights Management field. When the user selects one of these options from the dropdown menu, a new child metadata field is revealed to allow additional information to be entered. The child field can be any metadata field format. 

  1. Unlimited Use
    Dependent field: text field to enter any relevant notes.

  2. Limited Rights
    Dependent field: text field to enter the terms of use.

  3. Royalty-Free
    Dependent field: palette field to select the licensing source.

  4. Editorial Use
    Dependent field: text field to enter the terms of use.

Dependent fields can also help manage complex keywording, that includes multiple sets of controlled fields. In the example below, a grocery store has a metadata field for Department, with a dropdown menu and accompanying dependent fields.

  1. Bakery
    Dependent field: palette field with options like bread, bun, croissant, muffin, etc.

  2. Meat and Seafood
    Dependent field: palette field with options like beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, turkey, etc.

  3. Cheese
    Dependent field: palette field with options like shredded, sliced, grated, etc.

  4. Packaged Goods
    Dependent field: palette field with options like snack, breakfast, baking, baby food, etc.

  5. Beverages
    Dependent field: palette field with options like water, soda, juice, coffee, etc.


Streamlining metadata creation

There’s no doubt about it — effective digital asset management begins with strong metadata. But creating thorough and consistent metadata for each and every asset can be a laborious task. Fortunately, the Collective includes tools to help automate this process both upon upload and after assets are in the DAM system. 

The Collective’s upload experience  includes metadata tools that enable users to add metadata to assets across all files or in subsets. Alerts can also be used to notify admins when metadata needs to be reviewed or added prior to being released. 

When multiple existing assets require changes, batch editing allows users to update metadata for up to 500 assets within the DAM system. In addition to streamlined metadata entry and consistency, the ability to change metadata en masse comes in handy — especially when metadata fields change and values need to be updated or migrated to new fields.

Integrations between the Collective and several AI auto-tagging tools can automate some of the metadata creation process as well. An integration with Clarifai offers two options: one simply tags images, while the other lets users custom train Clarifai to recognize and classify their organization’s images. Tools like this allow admins to spend less time tagging and more time on strategic work, like system optimization. 

Metadata that works for you

Designing effective metadata fields for a DAM system is both an art and a science. But the good news is that the fields are not set in stone, and can be adjusted to reflect the evolving needs of your users. In fact, any effective DAM system optimization strategy should include periodic metadata field audits, to ensure they still reflect how your users search for content. And if you need help developing a metadata schema — or retooling an existing one — Widen has metadata experts that are happy to help.

Get in touch to see if the Widen Collective is the right DAM system for you.

Additional resources:

What is metadata?
What are metadata fields?
What are controlled metadata fields?
What are dependent metadata fields?
How do I create metadata fields?
What are some industry best practices?
What are some best practices for keywords?
An intro to the five foundations of digital asset management

Widen University lesson: 
Metadata and Categories in the Widen Collective


Note: This article was originally published in February 2017 with updates in December 2018. It has been amended to include new content.

Topics: DAM

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