Friday, July 22, 2011

Move over, PDF.... Interactive CDF is here from Wolfram

Thanks again to John Vornle for forwarding this article to me...

Wolfram on Thursday rolled out its Computable Document Format (CDF), which aims to turn documents into interactive applications.

The goal is to turn “lifeless documents” into ones that bring data to life, show the data behind assumptions and illustrate concepts. Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram, said the CDF effort has now reached the point where the company can open it up to developers, publishers and other interested parties.

Wolfram is still working out the business model behind CDF, but publishers have shown “great interest.” For now, CDF is delivered via a free player that can bring infographics, journals and math lessons to life. It’s not a stretch to see how a magazine like Popular Science could publish in the CDF format.

The rub is that Wolfram needs adoption and there’s already a dominant document format in Adobe’s PDF. One big challenge would be figuring out the interplay between CDF and PDF. Would someone want to embed a CDF document into a PDF. Conrad Wolfram said that “the CDF format will be open” with the goal of becoming a public standard.

In a demonstration, Wolfram highlighted a bevy of use cases. Financial documents such as 401K information could highlight the assumptions behind savings models. If global warming papers could have detailed the underlying data in the models perhaps there wouldn’t have been climate gate, noted Wolfram.

For now, Wolfram needs developers on board. CDF has reached the point where a developer with the knowhow to author an XML document can bring publications to life. Indeed, the use cases for CDF revolve around:

  • Journal articles;
  • Knowledge apps;
  • Textbooks;
  • Infographics;
  • And presentations and reports.

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