One of the best chapters I’ve ever read about metadata can be found in Darin Stewart’s book ‘Building Enterprise Taxonomies’.
To quote Stewart:
Metadata is a hard sell. It is expensive to create and difficult to maintain. Executives have a tough time understanding how the problem of having too much information to manage can be solved by adding on yet more information. Metadata is a bit of a “hair of the dog” solution. We add a little information to make a lot of information more usable. As to the expense, the answer is, or course, pay now or pay more later; sometimes a lot more. A few minutes tagging a document can save hours hunting for it later.
In Australia government agencies have been subject to a range of metadata standards, i.e. the Australian Commonwealth Standard for Recordkeeping. Metadata standards have been incorporated into eCM systems to deliver “recordkeeping compliance”. In nearly all cases, business users have been expected to input recordkeeping metadata. There’s so much effort involved, yet so little effort has gone into providing metadata for business use – i.e. metadata that will help business users find, filter, group or sort information.
eCM developers have not seen fit to deliver functionality for adding, connecting and leveraging metadata. It’s hardly surprising that business users opt out of records management systems and create their own information management systems.
I believe that SharePoint’s enormous popularity has been because it has given control of metadata back to the business users, hence the proliferation of team sites and databases. However an absence of metadata controls leaves SharePoint users with the same old problems – what may be a good set of metadata for one set of users is not necessarily going to benefit the organisation as a whole.
As Steward says, metadata provides best value for money when it is controlled – i.e. when it is created and used consistently, at a user, enterprise or global level, ensuring that everybody is speaking the same language