Metadata is utilized in sorting, labeling, and classifying. “Tagging” assists in organizing data and redistributing it in a way that helps people using various search engines, websites, music playlists, online stores, as well as the rest of the online market target more specific audiences and more specific searching. Popular Culture, Digital Archives, and the New Social Life of Data explains the role of data, how data is acquired and organized, and challenges the concept of the archive.
Pop culture has been at the forefront of attaining commercial data. Beer and Burrows write, “Popular culture increasingly generates both data and metadata as a by-product” (51). Metadata’s role is to filter and create ways to make information more accessible and useful. They argue, “[metadata] plays the part of filtering, making content readily searchable, it classifies and groups, it is created through processes of data tagging and can be thought of as a type of classification system that works from the ground up…” (51). Similar to a library, metadata is a system in which to find information for the purpose of utilizing it for a greater use.
Beer and Burrows use iTunes, Amazon and Spotify as examples of transactional archives. He argues that these archives are complex and are ‘responsible for generating a kind-of back end archive” (52). These programs, websites and applications, widely used across popular culture, are analyzing trends in data that is “produced and consumed” and using it to benefit and promote consumerism. Although metadata proves to be successful and helpful, as all technology does, it has its downsides. Not only is it confusing, but “messy” and difficult to navigate. While metadata may not be completely competent at organizing non-linear data, the data that it does collect is able to be “controlled and managed” and easily finds connections between groups of information.
Because information is organized via metadata, archives are created. Information that is sorted, categorized and stores is referred to as an archive. Beer and Burrows question the idea of the archive, “Should we treat websites as individual archives?” (51). Perhaps we use specific websites as individual classifications systems: for example, iTunes would be considered a specific music archive different from Spotify. Although they are both music, the way in which they use their data differs. “Indeed, tagging content with organizational metadata can be understood as play in itself; there is a certainly a highly visible imagination at work in contemporary popular culture” (59). We do not often realize how our activity is tracked, saved, and used to identify patterns. The iTunes Genius playlist and Amazon’s item recommendations are ways that metadata is at play.
Beer, David, and Roger Burrows. “Popular Culture, Digital Archives, and the New Social Life of Data.” Theory Culture & Society 30.4 (2013): 47-71.