Metadata Standards vs. Metadata Specifications

Some confusion exists about the use of the words standard and specification when applied to metadata. On the MMI site, we maintain the following distinction:

A metadata standard is a set of rules that define the creation of metadata. These rules are formally usually expressed in a document that outlines acceptable usage of the elements described within the standard. Documentation of these elements typically includes things such as name, definition, and structure. These rules also have formal approval, publishing, and governance procedures, as established by a formal body or organization with broad community-based representation.

A metadata specification is any description of how to store metadata. A specification can be developed and implemented by any level of an organization. A specification does not need formal documentation, nor does it need broad community-based approval. There may or may not be a formal governance procedure for a specification. Governance is not required. If it does have governance, it is often at a local or even an individual level.

Specifically, all standards are specifications, but not all specifications are standards. Because a standard is governed by a large community of stakeholders and is well documented, published, and governed, it promotes interoperability between organizations that use the standard and, therefore, provides greater value to the international community.

Suggested Citation

Isenor, A., Neiswender, C., Graybeal, J., Stocks, K. 2011. "Metadata Standards vs. Metadata Specifications." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed October 20, 2020.