XML Tips for a Better Understanding

In our newsletter, we give lots of tips for working with structured content. In this article, we take a step back to the beginning. If you are working with content in word processing or spreadsheet programs, you may be wondering what all the XML fuss is about? Why should you convert your content to XML? What does XML do for you that you can’t do now? The following XML tips should give you a general idea of what its all about:

XML Tip #1: Listen to the tags.

When content is structured in an XML format, the data describes itself. The flexible tagging in XML allows you to accurately describe your content elements. For example, suppose you are creating travel guide content for national attractions, such as parks, memorials, and museums.

Whether you looked at this XML file today or 10 years from now, you could still determine that the file contains information about a place called Mount Rushmore (even if you don’t know anything about XML). By looking at the tags, you can easily see that Mount Rushmore is a memorial attraction, where it is located, who created it and when it was created. The XML tags provide a consistent structure and description for the content elements.

XML Tip #2: Build relationships.

In addition to specifying elements, XML also lets you specify the relationships between those elements. In our example above, you can require that every Place has a corresponding State. You can also require the metadata field, Attraction, has a value that is selected from a predefined list of “parks,” “memorials,” and “museums” to ensure that the content is described consistently and no other random terms (such as “forest” or “gallery”) are used. Then, you can use this content and metadata to sort and categorize your information for different deliverables; e.g., you can create a website of all national parks, or you can publish a travel guide of all attractions in the northwestern states. (Note that this is a very simple example. But imagine how helpful XML would be for large, complex sets of content that need to be organized, reused and repurposed, and published in multiple channels!)

XML Tip #3: Swap content around.

XML content is easy to read, and it is a non-proprietary format. For these reasons, content can be easily transferred to different applications that can read XML. So, you can use one program to store and view your content, while using another program to edit it. This becomes extremely handy if you translate your content using machine translation (and chances are, you probably use more than one translator if you manage multiple languages), or you publish to multiple deliverables (e.g., tablets, mobile phones, websites, printed books) using various publishing engines. The XML files are readable and transferrable by many editing, publishing, and translation programs, as well as component content management systems. You can’t do that with your word processing files and spreadsheets.

The staff at Vasont Systems has years of experience in XML. Not only do we have plenty more XML tips where those came from, but we also offer XML Consulting Services. Call us at 717-764-9720 or visit our website for help in getting started with your content management strategy.