Timely access to accurate geospatial data is crucial to any GIS application. Stakeholders involved in distributing and accessing geospatial data agree that the first stage in achieving this goal is the documentation of data sets or the entry of metadata. Standards organisations (FGDC, ISO/TC211, OpenGIS) have identified metadata as a priority in their work and geospatial data infrastructures often start with the implementation of services related to metadata (discovery, evaluation, access).
However, the gathering of metadata is often a tedious and frustrating exercise that discourages most organisations that have started the cataloguing of their data sets. They are confronted with complex standards that do not handle all of their particularities and existing tools are not user-friendly. These tools have a steep learning curve, limited flexibility with regards to accepting metadata based on different standards, different versions of a same standard, or user-specific metadata, and usually do not work properly in any language other than English.
The M3CAT (Multistandard, Multilingual Metadata Cataloguing) tool was developed under the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure GeoInnovations program to resolve these problems. Based on more than 10 years of research and practical experiences, M3CAT has been designed and developed to offer flexibility and to benefit from the World Wide Web environment. First, it allows users to configure their own metadata fields using the ones delivered with the tool (FGDC, ISO/TC211, GILS and NBII), i.e. to build their own profile of a standard. Second, users can customise the user interface for standard parameters such as pull-down lists, establish default values for numerous metadata fields (organisation name, projection system, etc.), use templates that correspond to the type of data set they document and then take advantage of cataloguing aids such as Wizards, metadata inheritance between data sets, automatic metadata extraction from existing geospatial databases and translation into another language to facilitate the development of metadata databases. Third, it is ready to support the translation between standards (ex. for a ISO querying of FGDC metadata base) and among different versions of a same standard. Fourth, M3CAT also integrates a semantic analysis tool to manage keywords and a multi-projection, multi-datum geographic viewer to enter data set bounding co-ordinates.
M3CAT is provided free to potential users and has been tested with half a dozen governmental organisations involved in the management of geospatial data. It works in a Web environment, supports XML and SGML and can interface to the ANSI/NISO Z39.50 FGDC GEO profile.