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Re: [BOAI] Formats for electronic dissemination

From: "Michael J. O'Donnell" <michael_odonnell AT>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 14:57:30 -0600

Threading: RE: [BOAI] Formats for electronic dissemination from joatp2000 AT
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Well, first I agree with Steven Harnad that achieving open archiving is 
much more important than the choice of format. Can we coin a proverb: 
"PDF in the archive is better than perfect format deleted"? But, 
since I 
am expert on formats, I have to respond:

Mike Brown wrote:

>>and two, they are too often in columns making them difficult to read
>This is not the technology at fault - this is the preference of the
>producer of the document.
It's partly the fault of the choice of "technology" (that is, 
PDF is a page layout format, not a structured text format. It requires 
the producer to make choices that are much better left to readers, in 
particular because different readers have different needs. It should be 
the reader, rather than the producer, who is making layout choices.

Supposing that we can choose which format to put in the archive, we 
should choose formats that provide maximum flexible utility to readers. 
We may enumerate some things that readers might like to do with 
documents: display them, search them, perform statistical analyses on 
them, display them in huge fonts because of low visual acuity 
(magnifying a 10-point layout does a very bad job of this), browse them 
audibly (which is much more than just having them read), ... But the 
point is not to support particular anticipated uses. Rather, the point 
is to support maximum flexibility, and avoid foreclosing uses that will 
be invented in the future.

Paradoxically, it is quite possible to evaluate the inherent flexibility 
of a format without knowing the precise use to which that flexibility 
will contribute. I wrote up some analysis of known types of formats, and 
the article is openly (but not very well organizedly) archived at

Mike O'Donnell
The University of Chicago

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