The Future of Connected Documents

Citations are the literal backbone of academic discourse, it is the means through which explicit links are threaded.

In the move to digital environments, the combination of the old and the new has not produced the most convenient, accurate or robust systems.

Citations have received some benefits of digital interactions, including the ability to use web-links associated with the cited material, which point to download sites and use handles, such as DOIs. Links are not robust, they are brittle connections, which break when a server goes down or a domain is no longer paid for, so this does little to create a long term, robust connection environment.

In the rush to embrace digital technologies there has also been a strong force to maintain legacy systems of work, which is why PDF documents act as the medium in which to freeze academic documents, which is a vital part of the academic process, but freezes them without adding necessary meta-data. This creates digital objects which are devoid of many benefits of being digital, such as meta-data to allow the document to be able to present itself for what it is, which can foster richly interactive ecosystems.

In the book The Future of Text I have addressed this problem: The book contains an appendix called Visual-Meta which adds human-readable metadata in the well established BiBTeX format. For example, the title of the book, which is rarely the same as the name of the document, looks like this: title = {The Future Of Text},. When someone copies text from the book, this Visual-Meta is appended to the clipboard so that when it is pasted, the copied text is pasted with full metadata for citing the book. The result is a clean and robust citation in the word processor, which can be styled as desired on export and automatically added to the Reference section. This has been implemented in my Reader PDF viewer and Author word processor, both on the macOS platform.

Visual-Meta also adds formatting information so that the reading software knows where headings are and who wrote specific sections, which is important for works such as The Future of Text, which features 180 contributors. Visual-Meta can also address high-resolution citing and computational text, as well as surfacing the values inside embedded images and tables, and more.

This is how I made citing instant (simply copy and paste), accurate (only one copy operation, based on the published metadata for the document is used) and robust since the PDF can even be printed, scanned and if OCR’d, no metadata is lost. The data cost is a page of small type and the admin cost is minimal, since this is an open standard with self-described fields, which software can easily be updated to create on authoring and parse on reading.

The system is ready to step out of The Future of Text and into everyday academic use, where it can provide time saving, robustness and enable whole new levels of advanced interactions for academic authors and readers.

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