Should I insert metadata like names and places into digital photos (for example, as EXIF tags in the JPEG files)? Or am I better to leave my digital photos in their original form and maintain metadata alongside them (for example, as part of the iPhoto library)? IN 50 years, what will seem like the better choice for a typical computer user? Thanks in advance.
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Personally I think it's safest to store metadata inside the photo because you can't lose it then! It can always be extracted at a later date somehow. I'm assuming you'd only be adding additional metadata rather than editing/removing metadata. You have to be careful of the application you use to do this - I've heard that some programs make all sorts of modifications (eg. removing EXIF data) to the JPEG file when you re-save the file, you want one that JUST alters the metadata. I still haven't worked out the best format to use yet. IPTC has some great fields in it, but there are some missing that I'd love to have.
For longevity and archiving, if possible metadata should always be embedded in a digital photo file in addition to the specific software catalogue you are using. There are some caveats however. If you have JPEG, TIFF or DNG formats, metadata can be written directly to the file header without altering the image in any way. However, Camera RAW formats generally do not support metadata embedding other than EXIF and need to be converted to DNG or TIFF. Although it supports some descriptive metadata, EXIF is used mainly for technical or device-oriented metadata. The scheme designed for descriptive photo metadata is IPTC-Core. IPTC-Core is an updated standard designed to interoperate with XMP, which brings together a variety of metadata schemes including EXIF, ITPC-Core and Dublin Core. The present money is on XMP as being the most likely image metadata standard to be around in 50 years, but for the more cautious, anything supporting ITPC-Core should be fine. Unfortunately many consumer level software programmes provide poor metadata standards support. They may keep some metadata in a proprietary database file instead of embedding it, or inconsistently use ITPC-Core or XMP fields, even causing metadata to be overwritten accidentally (or erased as staplegun refers to). For performance purposes a number of software programmes also only embed the metadata if you manually export an image from within the software, and may hide metadata from you to make the interface easier to use. An earlier question http://makeit.digitalnz.org/askaquestion/questions/9 discusses free software, but if you are serious about the survival of your images, a paid for programme such as ACDSee Pro, Aperture or Lightroom is the way to go. IPTC publishes a list of software known to be compatible or incompatible with its standard, http://www.iptc.org/IPTC4XMP/. It is somewhat out of date, and misses an assessment of popular programmes like Picasa or iPhoto, but is a good starting point. If you want to read or be part of a more technical discussion about the pros and cons of embedding metadata in images, you can visit http://metadatadeluxe.pbworks.com/.