About

According to ESRI,

Metadata is a summary document providing content, quality, type, creation, and spatial information about a data set

and according to the US Federal Geographic Data Committee,

A metadata record is a file of information ... which captures the basic characteristics of a data or information resource.

Metadata usability is enhanced by standardizing its format, allowing sharing and "intelligent" utilization of the metadata for searching, sorting, and classifying datasets.

Wikipedia page on metadata.

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