The Role of PDF and Open Data

The open data movement is pushing for organizations, in particular government agencies, to make the raw data that they collect, openly available to everyone for the common good. Open data has been characterized as the “new oil” that is driving the digital economy.  Gartner claims: “Open data strategies support outside-in business practices that generate growth and innovation.”

What promises to be a very interesting workshop on the topic “Open Data on the Web,” is being sponsored by the W3C in London on April 23-24, 2013. I will be attending and will present a talk entitled “The Role of PDF and Open Data,” which explores how PDF (Portable Document Format – ISO standard ISO 32000-1) can be effectively used to deliver raw data.

There is widespread belief that once data has been rendered into a PDF format, any hope to access or use that data for purposes other than for the original presentation, is lost.  The PDF/raw-data question arises because raw data is usually best represented as comma-separated values (CSV) or in a specific (well documented) XML language.

PDF is arguably the most widely used file format for representing information in a portable and universally deliverable manner. The ability to capture the exact appearance of output from nearly any computer application has made it invaluable for the presentation of author-controlled content.

The challenge has been to find ways to have your cake and eat it too: to have a highly controlled and crafted final presentation and yet keep the ability to reshape the same content into some other form. We know of no perfect solution/format for this problem but there are several ways in which PDF can contribute to solutions, which I have explored in previous blog posts and will expand on in my presentation at the workshop. I hope to see you there.

James C. King
Senior Principal Scientist


2 Responses to The Role of PDF and Open Data

  1. Barbara says:

    While PDF (and your support of it) has been around for a long time and does evolve, its frustrating to try to use PDF as a universally portable format and run into obstacle after obstacle. Feature sets that have been long promoted are not supported on iPad and mobile computing devices. I’d like to be be able to use PDF as if it were a presentation delivery tool, but it needs something like (real) animation and embedded HTML5 support. And creation tools – like InDesign – should really be supportive of CREATing PDF documents and components. I’m an avid user of all the Adobe products including Flash, InDesign, Illustrator & Photoshop. I love PDF. I am looking forward to Adobe evolving PDF.

  2. James King says:

    Barbara: I, too, love PDF. This June with be the 20th anniversary of PDF, invented to support Adobe’s Acrobat product line. So, yes, it has been around for a long time. I think it does outstandingly well as a universal and portable presentation format. Basic PDF is natively supported by iOS (iPad and iPhone) and there are now several quality PDF viewers available for most mobile devices. The number of extra features that those viewers support (forms, digital signatures, reflow) is improving everyday. I would be interested to hear directly from you as to what your most recent obstacle has been.

    The PDF ISO standard (introduced in July 2008 as ISO 32000) does define embedded video, flash, 3D, etc. and Adobe’s products support those features (not everything on mobile as you noted). A lot of work has gone into InDesign to produce magazines for mobile devices and many, if not most, of the pages in those magazines are PDF. A large percentage of the online magazines for mobile are developed and delivered by this InDesign technology. InDesign along with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop do support creation of PDF files. Either you are thinking of something beyond what they do or are unfamiliar with what they DO do.

    ISO will be evolving PDF further and has been working on PDF 2.0 for several years. The current ISO 32000-1 is PDF 1.7. As you might expect, Adobe has been a strong supporter and contributor to the ISO work. We are always constantly striving to improve our products that support PDF. Again, if you send me a direct note with more specific wishes, maybe we can look into pushing them forward.

    Jim King