It has been nearly twenty years since Alissa Whitney and I created the first version of SDXML, and since then, it has grown into far more than we ever imagined. Initially created as a utilitarian way to make InDesign documents editable on the web, at this point it is a complete. serious document model, that facilitates round trip processing of various document formats.

What is a document model?

Let’s back up and consider the fundamentals. A document model is a description of a document. Microsoft word has a model that can be expressed in XML, the DOCX format. InDesign has a similar XML model, IDML, for onverting InDesign documents between newer and older versions. HTML is a document model for web pages.

So most document models are created for a specific application. They tend to provide a way to make edits in pure text that can then be loaded into that single app.

Why a universal model?

Why would you want a model to go beyond a single application? When we started to build SDXML, our goal was to edit InDesign documents on the web.

Initially, we didn’t think that we needed to describe the whole document. If you know IDML or HTML5, you know that they go for miles, with hundreds of elements and attributes, reference to CSS and binary files, etc., etc.

We made a model that represented a small, common subset of the two document types. We were concerned with the most important things: the text frames being edited and the images being replaced and/or cropped.

This actually worked great for the first Silicon Designers. However, we soon faced demand for more and more features. Users wanted to edit vector graphics, backgrounds, and more and more parts of the document. Roughly ten years from our beginnings, we had a universal model that could render to either InDesign or HTML. Edits made in either format can be seen in the other one.

The magic of intelligent documents

Document Model Meta DataSDXML was initially focused mostly on the appearance of content. But being XML (now migrating to JSON) it gave us the capability to add any form of metadata we wanted, and demand has steadily grown for this.

The first metadata we added was focused on user experience. Say you had an InDesign template, and you were editing it online. It was convenient, for example, for a date to be editable with a date picker. If you had a logo image to replace, metadata could inform the browser to present a gallery of logos.

Another flavor of metadata adopted early on was data binding. If a real estate agent opened a document for editing, it was convenient to load that agent’s name, address, and phone number.

As Silicon Designers proliferated across different industries, we’ve seen more and more ways to extend it. A few examples include:

  • Workflow status, such as whether the document has been approved yet.
  • Rights management info, for specific graphic assets in the document.
  • Asset IDs connecting images (or text components) back to content management systems.
  • Tracking of user edits; for example showing which users edited certain content at what date and time.

It is great to see SDXML come of age and find its way into so many diverse workflows. We continue to grow the number of applications it supports, and enhance it’s functionality, but it has already proven the power of a universal document model.


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