Metadata Interoperability—What Is It, and Why Is It Important?

Introduction to interoperability - the exchange of metadata between computer systems

Metadata interoperability is the ability of two or more information systems to exchange metadata with minimal loss of information. This does not address data compatibility – only interoperability of descriptive metadata. The OGCOpen Geospatial Consortium defines interoperability as the capability to communicate, execute programs, or transfer data among various functional units in a manner that requires the user to have little or no knowledge of the unique characteristics of those units (ISOInternational Standards Organization 2382-1). The OGC definition applies to metadata interoperability, when one replaces the word “data” in the definition with the word “metadata”. An important aspect is that interoperable metadata can be used by computer systems, in contrast to metadata that is designed to be read and understood by a person.

Benefits of Interoperability

Having interoperable metadata allows multiple systems to work with the same set of data and metadata. It helps ensure metadata records associated with one resource can be accessed, accurately interpreted and subsequently used by a system or integrated with metadata records associated with other resources.
For example, interoperable metadata allows:

  • tools, such as address books, and drawing systems, to easily and accurately import data.
  • people to move geospatial datasets between various GISGeographic Information System systems.
  • a dataset to be searched and found through multiple catalogs without the provider having to implement multiple sets of metadata.

Different institutions and projects will inevitably develop "customized" metadata templates and files. To ensure interoperability, these customized files must conform to essential standards, and include effective labeling. Once equipped with the standard and an effective labeling system, a technical tool can be implemented to translate (though sometimes imperfectly) between these customized metadata files (crosswalks). The existence of a vocabularyA set of terms (e.g., words) that are used in a specific community. Related Guide, such as a dictionaryIn the context of metadata, a dictionary is a type of controlled flat vocabulary, which provides a list of metadata terms, definitions and additional information within a specific domain. Related Guide and/or thesauriA type of relational controlled vocabulary which provides a list of terms, with specific relationships between the terms. Related Guide can also aid in the development of interoperable metadata.

Suggested Citation

, 2009. "Metadata Interoperability—What Is It, and Why Is It Important?." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed February 28, 2017.