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Category: Visible-Meta

Update (June 2019)

A friend asked for an update to introduce someone to the book project and the work in general so I thought I might as well post it as an update here in my journal:



With that aim I have developed an interactive text utility for macOS (I’m afraid all my work is in the Apple ecosystem, for my sins) called Liquid | Flow which allows the user to use a myriad of commands within half a second to search for highlighted text or to translate it and more. The site for this and my main project; Liquid | Author, is


Liquid | Author is a minimalist word processor with powerful tools for the digital age. It is not hamstrung by attempting to mimic paper but liberated by enabling rich interactions: Collapse the document into an instant outline with a pinch of the trackpad and see all occurrences of any text without having to scroll through the document looking for yellow boxes. Add citations from Books, Web, Video & Academic Documents instantly, and search any online resource in half a second.

It is also the first word processor with an integrated Dynamic View for freeform thinking, brainstorming, concept mapping and mind mapping. You can see the new 2 minute video demo:

Visual-Meta & Reader

Finally, and I perhaps most importantly, is my notion of a visual-meta information system, for which I am building a new PDF reader called Liquid | Reader (I don’t use my imagination on naming things I have been told). It should be in the App Store around next weekend.
The origins of the approach is acceptance that PDFs are embedded in the academic (and business) world and that the act of ‘freezing’ information at the point of publishing is useful and important, but it should not be a struggle to utilise a document’s meta-information for such basic and core uses as citing a document.
It is based on the premise that documents should be readable, both by humans and systems and this is done by adding a visual meta information section at the end of the document. Please have a look at the blog post, with contains a roughly made demo video using Author and Reader to make this happen:
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Visible-Meta Origins

The visual-meta approach came about through developments for better citations in Liquid | Author. Here are my initial notes:

The information about an analog document would have to be on the same substrate level as the content in the analog world, there was no place to hide it. In digital documents however there can be a payload of information not visible to the user, in fact it is a requirement of digital documents since they need a way to convey to the operating system and reader/editor software what the document is and how it should be displayed and how it can be interacted with. This can clearly be useful, such as with the EXIF data of a photograph containing a lot of information about the technical status of the taking of the picture and has potential for adding all the citation information–and more–to a document but there are two issues: Publishers (software and companies) usually do not include this meta information and it gets stripped out on changing formats or printing.

I learnt that when Jacob implemented the ability to copy the document’s BibTeX textual citation information however, that this is findable information for a system since it starts with a unique and identifiable string, and as such, when a user copies a BibTeX from a download site to use in Author, the user does not need to copy only the the BibTeX text since if the whole web page including the BibTeX is copied, Author will easily parse the text and find the BibTeX and use it.

This gave me the most obvious revelation: Humans can read the visible text in documents and so can computer systems so why not not worry about embedding meta and instead leave it visible? This is why Author now has the option to export the BibTeX for the document at the end of the document as plain text, under the heading ‘BibTeX’. It means that Reader opens the document and ‘reads’ it and finds the BibTeX, it then uses this when the user performs a basic copy by appending it to the clipboard. When the user then pasted back into Author this is made available and on paste a dialog asks the user: Paste as plain text or use the embedded BibTeX to paste as a citation? The result is that a simple copy and paste becomes a fully formatted citation where the application accepting the paste (in this case Author) ‘knows’ that this is a citation.

The next step from this perspective is to encourage software vendors to produce PDF documents where the visual information contains semantic values, not expecting hidden information to do the job. In terms of archiving and data transfer this is useful but it’s also useful now, to make the systems more rich and robust.

Have a section at the end of the document with the BiBTeX as citation information and don’t call it meta, simply call it information but since it’s clearly marked any reader can use it in the same way as Reader / Author does.

And let’s go further. Let’s use such an appendix to describe the formatting of the document, including how headings are formatted and so on. This should allow for complete compatibility with basic PDF readers but also allow new readers to extract semantic values to allow for richer interactions, such as automatic headings interactions, citation display and interactions and so on.



The process has been blogged here under the Categories of Liquid | Author and Dynamic View (initially called Liquid View).


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Visible-Meta Examples

The Visible-Meta appendices are automatically inserted at the end of the PDF on export, after any References or any other user-added appendices, with a normally formatted heading ‘Visible-Meta’. After the heading the text ‘@{{visible-meta}}’ is inserted to tell the reader software to parse the following. There are no line breaks within the sections and only line breaks–not page breaks–between the sections, and the font size is small, with 9 point being the suggested size, to save virtual and actual paper if printed.

The format is in the style of the BiTeX Export format, as illustrated below. This was chosen because of the ubiquity of the format and the human and machine readable formatting. The section starts with ‘@{{visible-meta}}’ to tell the reader software to parse the following. There are no line breaks within each section to make it use less space and only line breaks, not page breaks between the sections.


Screenshot Mockup


Sections are identified through a simple format of ‘@’ followed by the section and ending with a left ‘{‘ and the section should end with a right ‘}’ but will automatically end when another section starts. The sections are:

  • @bibtex
  • @formating{
  • @citation{
  • @Special{

The explanatory text shown below each heading is to be included in the actual Visible-Meta to aid in its readability and adaptability.



Visible Meta

This is where the reader software should start reading the meta-information of this document and this is where the Visible-Meta version number is noted:

@{{visible-meta}} version = {1.0}, generator = {Liquid | Author 4.6},


Describes who the author of this document is in order for the reader to cite this document. Order is: author, title, document name, day, month, year, location, publisher, publication, volume, issue, page range, institution, ISBN, DOI, URL, AISN, ISSN, PubMed, arXiv, followed by any other. Since all are identified, any which do not have any values are skipped:

@article{ author = {Douglas Carl Engelbart}, title = {AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT – A Conceptual Framework}, document_name = {augmentinghu_dengelbart_19621021231532_6396.pdf}, month = jul, year = {1962}, institution = {SRI},



Describes how the text, including headings, is formatted:

@formating{ heading level 1 = {Helvetica, 22pt, bold}, heading level 2 = {Helvetica, 18, bold}, body = {Times, 12pt}, image captions = {Times, 14, italic, align center},



Describes formatting of the inline citation style and the References section in order for the reader to parse how citing is done in this document:

@citations{ inline = {superscript number}, section name = {References}, section format = {author last name, author first name, title, date, place, publisher},


Special: Dynamic View

Describes specific, special views the authoring software supports. As with the other formatting, it is optional to implement in a Reader:

@Special{ name = {DynamicView}, { node = {nodename, location, connections},

Source Code

Source for for reading this is available from XXX.URL




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