Visual-Meta is a method of including metadata visibly in a document, rather than hidden in the datafile, making ordinary documents richly interactive. This is not a new document format.

You can think of it as barcodes for documents which are also human readable.

Imagine documents with quick and robust citing. Documents where you can copy and paste as a citation. This is a citation which, when you export your document and someone comes across it, the reader can click on to view the reference information and then click again to open that paper immediately (not via a download site). And it opens to the right page. 

Picture better views of your documents where you can fold documents into outlines with a click, Find text in context (with headings), perform analysis of the text such as seeing only the names in the document or glossary terms used, also in context, with headings to see where they are.

Picture better views through your documents where glossaries finally become instantly accessible for the reader and trivial for the author to create.

Picture better views of how your documents connect. Citation networks become almost trivial to construct, allowing you to traverse connections like never before.

The result is richer views for richer insights. Doug Engelbart felt views were vital to extend the grasp of our knowledge. Bertrand Russell, writing more abstractly about views, used the example of how binocular vision provides a richer sense of what is being viewed than is afforded by a single eye, with a single point of view. Now we must imagine what an almost unrestricted amount of views can give us because our documents now contain the metadata to build such views.

All of this is made possible because Visual-Meta documents can contain bibliographic information for citing the document, structural information, such as headings, as well as what the document cites and accessible glossaries. This means that the documents ‘know what they are’, giving you a myriad of options for views and interactions.

Let’s first look at how metadata is ‘imprinted’ in a paper book:

Traditional Book Approach

A printed book features a page, before the main text, with ‘meta’ data ‘about’ the book, including the name of the author, title of the book and imprint information and so on. For example:

Copyright © 2010 Alberto Manguel.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-  Manguel, Alberto. A reader on reading / Alberto Manguel. p. cm. Includes  bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-300-15982-0 (alk. paper) 


The Visual-Meta Approach


Visual-Meta puts this metadata into an Appendix at the back of the document instead of at the front (to make it less obtrusive), written out as plain text in the very human readable format, as shown below (It is not a new document format, it is a novel use of the existing BibTeX standard). The PDF viewer software can then use this to make the text in the document interactive. Here is a basic indication of what Visual-Meta can contain:



   author = {Manguel, Alberto},
   title = {A reader on reading},
   year = {2010},
   isbn = {978-0-300-15982-0},



The documents we share with each other today are generally paper-facsimile with few digital interactions afforded to them.


To truly unleash digitally connected discourse we need documents to ‘know’ what they are; who authored them, what their title is, when they were published, how they connect to other documents and so on, as well as what their structures are. 


To achieve this, it must be done in a robust way so that this enabling metadata does not get stripped from the document over time. It is relatively easy to invent a format to provide this but with the ubiquity of PDF it would be prohibitively expensive to promote as a universal standard. It should therefore bootstrap what we have, it should augment what is already used for important documents, particularly academic documents; PDFs. This achievable–it can be as simple as simply writing a few lines of text at the back of the document.


Implementing Visual-Meta


Visual-Meta aims to be self explanatory for those who come across it. To create Visual-Meta for your documents follows the BibTeX format:


Implementing Visual-Meta





Introduction {Hypertext ’21}

Brief presentation and explanation of Visual-Meta to the attendees of the Hypertext ’21 Conference, where Visual-Meta is a part of all the conference proceedings, by Frode Hegland, after an introduction by Vint Cerf. The Full Introduction is also available, with the introduction by Vint and discussion after the presentation:


Visual-Meta Implementations

Visual-Meta has been implemented in academic journals, authoring software and visualisation systems: