Labelling and metadata

Gwendolyn Hyslop glow at UOREGON.EDU
Tue May 4 05:49:28 UTC 2010

Dear RNLDers,


Thanks so much for this discussion; I have appreciated following it. I’d
like to add to it by asking one small question. There has been discussion
about not using capital letters or spaces in files names, but I am wondering
about the use of periods (.) as a way to separate information in file names,
as opposed to an underscore (_) or hyphen (-). In other words,  is there any
known problem with doing something like: KS2009.09.19.01.wav, as opposed to






Gwendolyn Hyslop

Department of Linguistics

1290 University of Oregon

Eugene, OR 97403, USA

+1-541-505-1594 (USA)

+975-1776-2177 (Bhutan)




From: Peter Austin [mailto:pa2 at] 
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 10:28 PM
To: Alex Francois
Cc: Resource-Network-Linguistic-Diversity; munanga at
Subject: Re: Labelling and metadata




Here's a possible solution.


In your Excel metadata sheet add a column called 'file' and for each row go
to the Insert Menu > Hyperlink and you can insert a hyperlink to the
relevant file (with its short unique ID) -- in Windows Control-K is the
shortcut for this. Save your Excel file. When you click on this cell now the
file will be opened by the software that you have associated with it (eg.
2010-05-04.prj will open with Toolbox etc -- you might get a warning from
Excel about the dangers of opening the file but that's just Microsoft being


So, Excel has a function that does what you said you do manually:  "try and
identify the string of digits which I'm looking for, write it down, then try
and access the recording among hundreds of files, essentially in a
non-automatic way". This is the solution David Nathan was alluding to in his
post. (You can also do this in HTML if you prefer that over Excel.)


If you set up your Excel columns with the semantic fields that are useful to
you (ie. the ones you listed out for us) then simply sort on whatever column
you like. find what you're after and click the hyperlink to open the file.
You can easily add new columns, like "Have you transcribed this file yet?"
or "Date of last checking of this file" etc. and then use them to sort and
access you data files.


As David suggested in his post, this is an information management system
solution to the problem. The SIL promise-ware that was mentioned in an
earlier post is a packaged application solution.


I think this kind of "dirty laundry confessions" is really useful for us to
share experiences and solutions that work for each of us, so thanks Alex.
It's the kind of "bottom up" development of good practice ideas that I find
valuable from a forum like this one.





On 4 May 2010 14:43, Alex Francois <Alexandre.Francois at> wrote:

dear Greg, dear all,

Useful thread indeed. 
I am especially curious about the contrast suggested in the earlier
discussion, between trying to include semantics in filenames, vs using
opaque filenames and then search a database.

The reason is, during the last decade, I have experienced the two ends of
the spectrum, and I'm not sure where I should stand now.  

For many years, I had taken the habit of naming my audio files with
maximally informative (and therefore rather long) names, such as:

*	BD04-24 Veraa Harold ch Jesus mtp-vrs.wav
*	DD04-13 Lovoko Mamuli leg Laperus2 tnm.wav
*	ED10-30 Yaqane Edwad-Bilis conv chamanisme hiw.wav

[NB:  At that time I would use spaces in filenames (I'm not doing this
anymore), but this can be easily changed to underscore with some file
utility.  Sometimes I even used non-Ascii characters, I confess! ]

These file names would begin with a unique alphanumerical ID, so that the
chronological order of recordings would be easily retrieved by automatic
sorting.  The other reason for starting a long file name with an id, was
that, should some software truncate the filename to the first 8 characters,
it would still remain unique.
Here is how my (customised) system worked:

*	first letter is a code for a whole collection = a single fieldtrip
[A for my first fieldtrip, B for my second.... F for my 6th]; 
*	second letter is a code for the support (D for digital audio
recording, P for photo, V for video
*	then 2 digits for a subcollection (in the olden days this was the
number of a minidisc);  This subcollection ID is also the name of the folder
in the folder-tree.
*	then hyphen plus 2 digits for item in this subcollection (never more
than 99)

and then the Homo Sapiens-friendly stuff came in: 

*	location of recording, spelled out — usually a village in Vanuatu:
e.g. Veraa (=Vera'a, a village in Vanua Lava), Yaqane (a hamlet in Hiw);  or
in the Solomons (Lovoko, Vanikoro);
*	name of main speaker, spelled out
("Harold"; "Mamuli"; "Edwad-Bilis" as this was a conversation between two
names also uttered in full in the recording itself.
*	genre of recording, using a limited set of abbreviations:  
ch= chant (song), ct='conte' (tale), leg='legend', conv='conversation', etc.
*	a very short title:  
"Jesus" (a church song on someone with a name like this); 
"Laperus2" (the legend of Lapérouse's wreckage — second version by same
speaker that day); 
"chamanisme" (a conversation on shamanism);
*	a 3-letter id for the language 
=> Very useful as several languages can be spoken in the same village, and
sometimes the very same person would tell me the same story in 2 different
e.g. tnm=Tanema, hiw=Hiw;  mtp-vrs= Mwotlap and Vurës, because this church
song was exceptionally mixing the two languages. 
[I'm not using ISO codes because they are opaque, and poorly designed for my
area; but the equivalence between the codes I use and ISO codes is made
easily accessible in my publications & homepage
<>  anyway.]

Admittedly some info is missing, e.g. my own name, or the date:  but the
date is usually retrievable from the collection & subcollection, and I
always uttered it orally in the recording itself. Maybe one day I should
hardcode it in the filename.  

These (relatively) transparent long names have proven very useful to me as I
was working on all these files, whether to transcribe them, compare
different versions of similar stories, or whatever.  Because I have 1150
different sound files in my corpus, it proved also convenient to perform
automatic search queries on filenames, say, to easily retrieve all
recordings with the same storyteller over the years, or to filter all
recordings of the same language.  I don't know if I would recommend such a
system (maybe not) but at least I found it convenient for myself: the file
name says it all. The good thing was also that most of these filenames were
easily interpretable to people other than myself, with a minimal amount of
abbreviations or codes.  The initial id (BD04-24
) doesn't really need to be
interpreted anyway (it's an id), but the village & speaker's names (+title)
are explicit, and a simple Txt file can help make sense of language names or
genres (and collections).  In parallel I've always used spreadsheet for
metadata, with full name of speaker, their age, precise location, date, full
name, etc.

And then a few years ago, I wanted to archive these hundreds of files into
our open archive (LACITO's Archivage
<> ). 
When they saw these long file names, our IT people were horrified.  They
insisted that they should all be shortened to a simple id, as short as
possible, getting rid of all the semantics.  They thought it would be much
more convenient, or more elegant perhaps, to handle filenames like
"AF03-05-02.wav" [AF03=my initials + 3rd field trip, etc.], coupled with
some metadata file. Fair enough, they were surely right.  (my earlier use of
spaces and occasionally non-Ascii was probably at fault, together with the
sheer length of each string).

So I created a copy of my 1150 audio files, and renamed them all (manually)
with these elegant numbers, which are now opaque even to myself.  Took me
ages (weeks? months?).  In parallel I would fill a metadata sheet for each
item, and send it to the IT people for them to encode in Xml/Xsl format onto
the server. (I didn't know Xml/Xsl/Php well enough to create the search
interface myself.) This was several years ago, and it never became as
convenient as I was hoping it would be. In fact a fair part of the metadata
is still awaiting to be format-converted & transferred to a new server,
which was stopped halfway due to shortage in funding
 but this is another

In the meantime, I now have my whole audio archives (37 Gb) in two versions:
exactly the same sound files, but one set has the old filenames, one has the
numbers. This is very silly, and was meant to be temporary, yet has lasted
for some reason. 
Finally what happens is, every time I want to quickly retrieve a file from
my archives, I basically have the choice between accessing the set of files
with the long, transparent names which are visually readable, easily
searchable, and instantly clickable  
—  OR accessing my metadata spreadsheet, try and identify the string of
digits which I'm looking for, write it down, then try and access the
recording among hundreds of files, essentially in a non-automatic way.  Now
guess which solution I end up choosing.  (*grin*)

There's probably something I've done wrong (as always) but I'm still
wondering what the ideal combination would be.  It seems that different
usages (working on one's own files vs long-term archiving
) may warrant
different decisions, but of course this is not a good answer to Greg.
I am especially trying to identify the best procedure in terms of archiving
for the future, and making access easy for other prospective users.



Margaret Carew wrote: 

Useful thread, and I am now looking back at my various drives with one
eyebrow raised...
I'm wondering, what is the role of folders in all this?
I have an almost well organised system of audio recordings that is in the
main not archived (although carefully backed up!), from various years and
places. I have established a folder for each year that has passed since I
commenced recording in digital (ie. 2006 2007 etc). Within each of these
year folders is a recording session folder with a name that includes the
year and month (sometimes day) the place and the event or key topic. Within
each of these secondary folders are the recordings that are part of that
session, with a date, speaker and other semantic info (eg.
20100209_BP_kurdu_wita.WAV). The metadata files (marked up text files) are
stored within each folder, and the name of the folder is entered as a field
in the metadata.
Like my erstwhile colleague Greg I'm probably closer to the hodge-podge end
of things, doing lots of recordings with students, sometimes in a bit of a
random fashion, multi-tasking like crazy, yet trying to keep some order in
it. I'm now wondering whether the folder based system is going to be a
problem when it comes to archiving - one thing that has popped up is the
existence of these lots of folder based metadata files - this might need to
be consolidated into one file.
I might also add that I've become fond of using itunes to make playlists of
recordings - usually edited ones - and to use as a secondary database (a
kind of partial mirror if you like). You can use the file info to point back
to the folderised filenames as described. And it's great for making CDs for
students of their recordings, to repatriate materials quickly etc. Also good
for compiling files that will be used in a resource (eg. a set of clips for
a voiceover) Am I committing an archiving crime by using itunes in this way?
Marg Carew
-----Original Message-----
From: Claire Bowern [mailto:clairebowern at]
Sent: Tue 04/05/2010 00:49
To: David Nathan
Cc: Resource-Network-Linguistic-Diversity
Subject: Re: Labelling and metadata
David, that would work at the end of the documentation (in fact I'm
doing something pretty close to that right now for One Arm Point
School for Bardi stories) but while working on the collection, doing
searches, transcribing, etc, I'm constantly using the underlying
files, and I'm not sure that creating another layer of reference would
solve the problem. It would be useful for managing collections where
there are several numbering systems though (e.g. I have tapes that
have 3 references - the AIATSIS archive tape number, the internal
collection number, and the number they'd get if I put them in my
On Mon, May 3, 2010 at 6:58 AM, David Nathan  <mailto:dn2 at>
<dn2 at> wrote:

Dear all
About the filenames, there are some excellent suggestions in this
thread, but I think that there is a tendency to conflate the function
of filenames as identifers with the functions that enable retrieval
and access to resources. This conflation remains invisible only while
we all keep imagining that documentation materials are merely "data" -
without some genres, granularities, interface considerations etc. that
relate to the presentation and usage of the resources. In that sense,
you might think (even hypothetically) of the interface by which you
might wish people to access them, and it is probably likely to be some
kind of link. As those familiar with HTML and related technologies
know, a link has a target as well as a "display text" (and other
possible attributes in semantic web formalisms). Translating this back
to one's local data management, there seems a good case for separating
out the two functions mentioned above, and thinking about a simple
linking system (that you can implement easily in spreadsheet pages, or
HTML), and then the relevant considerations for what you want the
"display text" to be - for yourself, and, quite possibly differently,
for other users. This might help resolve out the different issues that
are most relevant for each function in your contexts.
best wishes
At 18:11 03/05/2010, you wrote:

If you are going to include semantics in the file names can I make a plea
that your labels are a little more transparent -- why not use:
rather than FM09_v10A ?? v could stand for "version" or "volume" or who
knows what else, and, as for "A", well that's anyone's guess. Also, if the
"09" is a year then write it as >2009 (one might even argue for "felicity"
or "meakins" rather than "FM"). I recommend separators like _ as well, as
Bill Poser did in his contribution to this discussion. Note also, >that if
you have more than 99 video sessions you'll need the label to be:
I think there are good reasons for being a little more explicit in file
names if you want to put in some (useful) semantics like this -- after all
YOU know what "FM" "09" "v" "A" mean >but who else could guess? Compare that

On 3 May 2010 18:19, Felicity Meakins  <mailto:f.meakins at>
<f.meakins at> wrote:
This is a good point, particularly if you use two recorders (e.g. audio
recorded plus video camera) to record the same session. I use 'v' and 'a' to
distinguish these. In this respect, it is the recording _session_ that's
primary, not the actual recording.
09=year (full date is in metadata)
10=recording session
A=part of recording session
e.g. recording session may have taken place at X place but over two hours we
recorded 3 stories A, B, C.
On 3/5/10 6:13 PM, "Joe Blythe"  <mailto:blythe.joe at>
<blythe.joe at> wrote:

The only two cents worth I'd like to add to this discussion is that I had to
modify my numbering numbering system to indicate whether the original
recording was made with a video or dedicated audio recorder. I only mark the
video ones as "vid".
Thus video files might be
Because you sometimes need to extract audio files from video files the video
file, such an extracted audio file would be
This ensures that any files recorded on the same date from a dedicated audio
recorder (e.g., 20100503JBv01.wav) don't end up with the same file name.

Prof Peter K. Austin
Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom
David Nathan
Endangered Languages Archive


2009-2011:  Visiting Fellow
        Dept of Linguistics
        School of Culture, History and Language
        Australian National University
        ACT 0200, Australia


Prof Peter K. Austin
Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom


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