What is meta?

The word meta is originally Greek, meaning “with, across, after” (thanks Google!).  In the modern, and certainly technological sense of the word, we’ll focus on the with definitions.

One of the technological uses of the prefix meta is as part of the word metadata.  Metadata is information about information – for example, the information in this blog post is a set of letters in a specific order.  But there is also data about this data: who wrote it, when it was published, and how many times it has been viewed.  This information is metadata.

Another common use for metadata is in digital photography.  The primary data in a picture is the image itself.  The metadata can contain a data and time when the picture was taken, the location where it was taken, and photography settings like aperture, focus, and shutter speed.

Meta is also used as a noun to describe self-referential content or inside jokes on the Internet.  For example, putting a Confused Travolta in an otherwise unrelated gif is considered meta as an inside joke.


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