Free Content Now!

…as in “set my content free!”

Who “owns” the content? Where does control over it really lie? Is ownership effectively in the hands of its creator or its creator’s employer? Or is ownership defaulted to its application due to closed, proprietary formats?

Sure, ECM systems like Documentum fully manage unstructured content regardless of whether that content lives in XML, Word or AutoCAD files. But what if I want to repurpose the essence of a document beyond, for example, renditioning a Word document to a PDF file? Should you be forced to depend upon commercial (not free) translators and integrators just to rightfully access your thoughts put to digitial media?

I think not!

For example, there is an ongoing discussion at work about the need for living functional and design documents. Surely there’s a way to move beyond confusing point-in-time snapshots with present reality. But isn’t this what happens when you promote the use of any document format alone on your development process? What about leveraging Wiki’s instead?

A wiki can be an effective medium to convey dynamic design. Tools exist today to create formatted wiki snapshots as documents For example, I know of at least one tool that creates Word document representations of FlexWiki-based wiki’s; I’m certain there are others for various static captures of different wiki implementations. “Wiki + document snapshots” seems more aligned to the needs of cross-function dev teams than does “documents + code.” What do you think?

In the first issue of Free Software Magazine, Marco Fioretti states the following in his “Format Wars” article: “Almost all software applications are used to manage information so these applications are worthless without information to process, store and display…If information exists before (and independent of) the applications, the file format used to store the information should be defined before hand. In this ideal situation, you could potentially write several programs (released under free or non-free licenses) to handle your information.” With the emergence of open, XML-based office document formats from OASIS and ECMA I believe you will be able to embed additional content within these metaformats (i.e. .odt as .jar and .docx and .zip), which can lead a whole new class of knowledge worker experiences as well as new applications built to leverage the presence and meaning of specialized embedded content–not just, for example, Office add-ins but entirely new standalone applications without regard for Office.

In the eleventh issue of FSM, Tom Kuipers and Alan Berg state the following in their “ODF in Action” article: “An important benefit of standards is the enabling of easy and transparent exchange of data. You are not tied to a specific application or vendor. This interoperability does not just exist on the application level but also on platform level as well…When exchanging documents, data loss is obviously not acceptable. We consider losing the layout as a form of data loss as well, and therefore the loss of layout is a serious matter.” Certainly rendition fidelity or transformation fidelity should be able to address layout (presentation) as well as data (content)–sometimes the layout is the critical element to make words, charts, pictures, etc. accessible, meaningful and/or memorable. However, I don’t believe that there should be a tight coupling between data and layout (e.g. cross-cutting concerns that are unconcerned with visualization/rendering).

In this recent post, “Set My Data Free,” Jon Udell essentially voices the same concern I began this post stating. Whether you call it “data,” “information,” or “content,” we want you to respect that its ownership should not be dictated by format but by other reasonable and appropriate policies.