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Data Exchange GraphicMetadata Descriptions and Registries
Judith Newton (

Overview: The recent increase of interest in knowledge management and electronic commerce emphasizes the need for tools that assist in controlling and documenting the semantic content of the data exchanged among trading partners.  A metadata registry assists users in the sharing and exchanging of mutually agreed information.

Information quality is enhanced by documenting all aspects of data elements and related metadata constructs in a web-enabled registry. Registries allow aspects of data models, classification schemes, terminology systems, naming conventions, and standardized definitions to be easily accessed by users of information systems.

Industry Need Addressed: Transfer of information created and accessed by differing software products is made difficult by the underdeveloped export functions found in many products. Also, most information management systems have metadata description methods so customized to those products that translation of meaning is a real problem. By using a product-independent registry to describe metadata, and by basing those descriptions on a format defined in an international standard, users can be assured that the meaning of their information is consistent with that of their information-sharing partners.

The growth of XML, a data description language for the Internet without an intrinsic mechanism for insuring semantic conformance, makes the use of metadata registries even more important. 

NIST/ITL Approach: NIST/ITL is collaborating with several federal government agencies and industry to solve this problem.

The prior expertise available at NIST assisted the EPA to develop a metadata registry for use both internally and for their information exchange partners (industry, state EPAs, and foreign equivalents).

Institutionalizing this approach in government and industry has led to the participation of NIST in ANSI and ISO efforts to develop standards addressing various aspects of metadata registries. ISO 11179, Metadata registries (MDR), several technical reports, and ANS X3.285, Metamodel for the Management of Shareable Data, have resulted. Judith Newton has assumed various technical and managerial leadership roles in these efforts. Information on these standards can be found at:

Both national and international committees have liaisons and cooperative efforts with industry groups, consortia, and international organizations. For instance, members of ANSI L8 are developing an XML tag set for the Metamodel, as well as serving on the W3C XML Registry/Repository working group. NIST is working with the EPA to study ways to best use XML and 11179 together.

Impact: The popularity of the metadata registry concept has led to the formation of a user group, the Metadata Registry Implementers Coalition (MDRIC). The Coalition web address is: Pressure from these and other potential users have had an impact on vendors. Both Ontek and Oracle have developmental efforts underway for commercial products based on the 11179 standard. Many implementations have been built independently, yet in accordance with the standard. Notable collaborations among subject area domains include the environmental area, health data, air traffic control, and statistical data.

Last modified: February 5, 2002

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Created on January 1, 2002.
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