Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone --- ?RonGoldman 6 Dec 2001

. . . being Electronic Nomads (OnePersonManyMachines), we move from machine to machine and from one software application to another. In each environment we need to be able to access the information we have stored online. We also need to be able to share information with others, including basic messages, StylizedLetter, drafts of papers, and spreadsheets.

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When we write down information somewhere, we expect to be able to read it at a later date.

Fifty to ninety percent of the world's languages are predicted to disappear in the next century, many with little or no significant documentation. ( Whatever texts are written in those languages will become unreadable when no one is left alive that can speak them.

The situation for information stored online is equally grim, only the timescale is years rather than centuries. Most software uses proprietary formats the details of which are not made public. In fact recent laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) may even make it illegal to reverse engineer a proprietary format. It is common for new versions of software to not be compatible with previous versions, forcing people using the old version to upgrade if they wish to read files sent them by their colleagues who are using the new version.

All in all if different software (email clients, editors, etc) is being used it is quite difficult for someone to exchange information with other people, or even with themself when they are using another machine.

In the dawn of the computer/internet age the limitations of our machines may have made it necessary to conserve each byte of storage, but that is no longer true. We need to store information in formats that contain a description of what they contain and how it should be displayed. For example, XML-like technology is designed to provide MetaInformation that describes documents and makes them universally accessible.

Programs can then interpret as much of this information on how to display the text as they are capable. Meta information they do not understand can be ignored.


Always have programs store and exchange information in formats that are as universal as possible. The format should describe itself sufficiently that a program one hundred years from now would be able to read and display it correctly.

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Using common and self-describing file formats helps to provide GoodIntegrationWithOtherTools.


Last edited December 24, 2002
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