ODF, Metadata & what am I missing?

Today I discovered the weblog of Rob Weir called “An Antic Disposition“. Rob is a member of the OASIS ODF TC amongst others. The blog has been a delight so far – be it the technical content, the perspectives that are revealed or even just the list of books from his library, all indicate an individual with a richness of thought and perception that goes beyond the minutiae of technology and its implementation.

The specific post that caught my eye was the ODF gaining support for XML/RDF driven metadata framework. A metadata framework would allow application developers to provide the means to gather contextual information that allows interpretation of content within a document.

For example if you come across the term “711.25” within a document, how would you interpret it? Is it the price of something? Is it distance between two locations? Honestly, it could be anything. In this case it is the last trade price of Google as on 02 Nov 2007. Note what helps us disambiguate this number is multiple pieces of information i) Traded stock is Google ii) The number is the last trade price and iii) As on 02 Nov 2007. And that is just the start of what would be required to clearly interpret a number as one we just saw.

This is an admirable step for an open source effort but what I don’t get is this – Microsoft Office has had extensible metadata support since Office 2003. Especially on Word, using the Smart Document feature, one could attach a custom schema to the document and have it annotate content. The metadata lives interspersed with the content, allowing you to mark every fragment of text with XML tags and attributes that make disambiguation possible. We have used this feature for over 3 years and in spite of the niggles have realized that this feature adds the “Smart” to “SmartDocuments”!

Now, neither in the post or in any of the linking articles did I find a reference to the fact that this feature exists already elsewhere. Nothing wrong with it in principle but guess one can learn from prior art. Note that I restrict myself to metadata addition frameworks for office productivity applications, which I believe is the scope of ODF 1.2.

Am I missing something here? Would like to understand this better, Rob?

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