Meta tagging—What, Why & How

Meta tagging is associating keywords with a file. Meta tags are what search engines look for when accessing websites, and you use them to search through your own files for footage as though you have your own personal search engine.

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WHAT: Meta tagging is associating keywords with a file. Meta tags are what search engines look for when accessing websites. There can be nearly infinite meta tags per file, and when it comes to internet searches, that random off-subject site that popped in probably created their meta tags using the whole dictionary.

For film, it’s impossible to title a file with the entire contents of the clip. For organizational purposes, the file name has a format, starting with the episode and scene, for example, and the file name can’t be “E32 s5 turkey dinner Charlie Emma argue food fight mashed potatoes hit Grandfather’s portrait Josephine faints.” I’d like to see that episode, though.

Instead, the file name might be “E32,s5, dinner” and all the rest can be meta tags. This means that you don’t have to remember what episode and what scene, you can search for the footage using terms like “Charlie,” “Emma,” “argue,” “food fight,” “mashed potatoes,” and so on, like your own personal Google.

WHY: It’s been five years or so—you can’t exactly remember—but you caught this amazing footage of a snake ready to strike, and this new project requires snake footage. That’s not something you’d like to recreate, but you need original footage for this project, and the snake wasn’t even used in the final cut last time, so it’s unused, available footage that is perfect for this purpose. You are the hero—you just saved time in the shooting schedule, money on associated expenses, and heebee geebees for those who aren’t so keen on snakes. Go, you.

All you have to do is find it. Somewhere. On this hard drive? Or was that the last computer? Please don’t say it was on that external you just tossed because the Storage Monkeys had eaten it’s brain and the system couldn’t read it. It wasn’t corrupt, it was devoured!

Everyone knows the Storage Monkeys love technology—it can’t be the changes is temperature, dust, moisture in the air and such factors that impact equipment in less-than-ideal storage situations. Nope. The Storage Monkeys eat ones and zeros—that’s the only logical explanation.

If only there was a way to go to your shared storage and search the whole thing using the word “snake” without having to remember the created date, the exact file name, and where you think you saved it.

There is. Meta tagging. That’s why.

HOW: When beginning a project, set expectations on the minimum meta tags for each file. Using the example of a news station that collects a wide variety of footage, the expectation could be the location where the footage was shot, names of any involved persons, keywords for the circumstances, and date, with additional keywords as seems appropriate based on the footage. That way, no matter what you’re looking for, you know you can find it by at least one of those agreed tags, which makes finding things easier later and provides a uniform standard.

An example might be: Riverside City Hall, Mayor Fakename, Officer Hero, Key to the City, June 2018, Award, Ceremony, Sunset, Audience, Standing Ovation.

It is possible to tag footage with countless tags. The more tags you use, the easier it will be to find things later. However, if every clip requires 20 different meta tags, the data entry may be more trouble than it’s worth and there may be a compromise in there somewhere.

When working with Sharebrowser or other Asset Management and Workflow software, entering meta tags is as simple as clicking on that field and typing. Having a standard list of tags for your usual footage will ensure you can effectively use the search features as a team.

Remember, spelling counts in meta tagging. Sunset is a different category altogether from Snuset, and you don’t want to create a new category for each typo. A little time invested when the file is created will give you the maximum use of your system and the content you create.

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