"We don't know. We just know we need XML!"
Dramatization of an actual conversation;
"We need XML of our content."
"No problem. What will you import the data to?"
"We don't know. We just know we need XML."
"Ok, but what scheme do you need the data formatted for?"
"I don't know."
"What are you going to do with the XML? Do you have an application it needs to go to, a third-party, or a CMS?"
"Honestly, I don't know. We know we need it, we don't know why, or what we are going to do with it."
Of course this dramatization is a bit over-wrought, but actually quite accurate to a number of conversations that I've been party to. It seems that everyone believes XML is the proverbial 'key to the castle', and they are correct but what they don't understand is WHY. This is a fundamental question that once answered makes the need for XML and the ways to get it a bit clearer. Let's look at a few reasons XML is so powerful in the right hands.
1) XML allows the holder to separate form from function. What this means is that XML essentially neutralizes the data into a format that can then be used in a variety of ways depending on the requirement. Content can be flowed into any number of templates for print, web, or other digital media simply by virtue of its structure.
2) XML provides unmatched flexibility for data. This is similar to reason #1, but it also means that the data can be rearranged into different relationships again based on its formatting. What was once dependent upon context to be understood now has an identity of its own simply because of the tags attached to the data.
3) XML gives data a standard format. This allows for control over the type of data that is, and is not, allowed for a particular structure.
4) XML protects data for the future. As new applications and uses develop the presentation-neutrality of XML will allow the data to be used in these new processes.
5) XML makes sharing data easier. The standardization of XML makes exchanging information between applications or organizations simpler. The receiver can easily map data tags into new systems or databases.
XML essentially feeds content into containers. Getting content parsed into an XML scheme gives publishers the ability to publish their content in any number of ways by simply creating input schemes for the new medium. Many of the new media technologies are based on the idea of XML inputs to the user interface. The conversion to XML offers unique possibilities regarding new combinations of data into a single presentation layer. For instance, data that exists for multiple publications, interests, or genres can be combined into a single end-user presentation allowing for new flexibility in custom publishing content. Putting content into a front-end CMS (content management system) helps in this effort. But even if a front-end like NStein isn't available there are ways to create XML from design files and PDF documents. No matter how you create your XML, there will be downstream value in having it.
For more information on how XML can be used and how it can be generated for your publication, contact one of the technical experts at Fry.