Metadata syntax (was Universal syntax for Markdown)

Tao Klerks tao at
Tue Sep 20 10:34:02 EDT 2011

On Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 9:56 AM, John MacFarlane <jgm at> wrote:


> I think that the abstract is a fine case. Although one *could* handle

> it the way you suggest, by having the metadata specify a section

> of the document to use as the abstract, I don't see the advantage of

> that. It is natural distinguish between the body text, which is *always*

> part

> of the produced document, whether a fragment or a standalone document is

> being

> produced, and regardless of the format or template used, and the metadata,

> which sometimes appear in the produced document, depending on one's

> purposes,

> and which appear differently in different formats. Once you make this

> distinction, the abstract clearly falls on the side of the metadata.



In that case, you're talking about metadata in the more general sense - like
link definitions, footnotes, and other constructs that are currently treated
as a special case in markdown. I'm all for having a special syntax for
defining the abstract, as long as the author doesn't have to worry about any
escaping conventions and can just write it like he/she would any other
regular markdown content.

> Other cases:


> * bibliographic data for the document itself, which you might want

> to print in some presentations but not others

> * revision history

> * tags

> * bibliography entries used in the document

> * settings for things like default stylesheets



Point taken, most of these are good cases for supporting structured content,
but not formattable/markdown content, right?

> Currently you need to specify the bibliography database on the

> command line as well (it can be bibtex, endnote, or any number

> of other formats). Ideally, though, the document itself should

> specify where its bibliographical entries are coming from.

> This could just be a file path, but if you want the document to

> be truly portable, it would be nice to be able to include the structured

> bibliography entries themselves in metadata at the end of the document.

> This could be done easily with a data description language as

> powerful as lua/yaml/json.


Absolutely - but the (possibly unattainable) ideal would be a situation
where tools and experts can specify complex structured metadata, and regular
joe can change his title, author, and other basic/simple values and lists,
specifying values that contain apostrophes, commas and other natural
punctuation, wihout blowing anything up in the process. As soon as he needs
to specify/modify something that contains structure (or even something
multi-line?) it seems fair that he should have to use a tool or do some
research on the standard (esp. as most if not all of the structured-data use
cases relate to tools already).

My concern with a pure-lua/yaml/json metadata format is that it requires
specialized knowledge (not related to the existing markdown
standards/experience) on the part of the user for even the most trivial
changes to the simplest fields - *especially* if structured/markdown content
such as the abstract is placed in a metadata field!
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