I recently listened to a pitch by a vendor that was well spun. Let’s use this post to consider some spin around what is not metadata and what is a proprietary interface.

The vendor described how they stored photos… I pointed out that photos were clearly not metadata… so they went on to talk about the metadata attached to the photo: who took the photo, where it was taken, who was the photographer, and so on. But none of this is metadata either. It is data.

Consider this… if instead of a photo the “fact” was a transaction… we would never consider the name or customer id of the customer metadata. It is data. Yet this is exactly what the vendor was proposing. Not only were attributes of the transaction called metadata but the dimensional data around the fact was categorized as metadata. It was just wrong. Metadata about a photo might include the format of the photo: jpg or tiff. It might include information about the resolution. But it would not include the location of where the photo was taken.

I’ve seen this metadata mistake several times before… so I thought that I would call it out. Sometimes it is honest… and sometimes vendors spin their products as required to get an audience. As engineers we should call them on their spinning now and again.

If you are interested there is a great definition of metadata on Wikipedia (here)…

The same vendor was told that we are focussed on products that include no vendor lock-in… or that we can get around the locks by relying on standards. Their response was no worries… we use JSON formats.

Ugh. There is no portability afforded by this response. If I write code that expects to receive data wrapped in JSON but in a vendor-specific form underneath then I have no ability to plug-in another product and have it work. In database-land this would be like saying that any ODBC call is non-proprietary even if the call includes vendor-specific SQL syntax. It is like saying that it is OK… we use XML. If you hear these responses be careful… the vendor is leading you down a path that will lock you to their product.

Spinning too much makes me dizzy… and it insults the intelligence of the audience. I wish that vendors would just stop.