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This document is dead to me Dave

The problem Digitial Documents solve makes sense, most of the time, but I want to argue that maybe, just maybe there is lots of Business that are solving problems which come from using outdated thinking when it comes to the documents they produce.


It is understandable to see the advantages that come from creating a Digital Document over the handwritten or typewritten Document they replaced

  • A Single Document can be shared multiple times through email, download or printed if needed
  • Mistakes are easily edited, spell checked and the like
  • It is easier to read a typed font than someone’s handwriting
  • Archiving Documents can be easier, and multiple backups can be stored
  • Version control
  • Password Access
  • Adding images or other media
  • Can be restricted for further editing
  • Collaborative authoring (how modern!)

My argument

Today’s documents are dead, and that can be a good thing. There are certain documents that are pieces of information which will be composed only once, to meet a specific need, a discrete solution.

What I see a lot in business is, similar documents where only small sections are different, essentially a Data-Driven Document, are being produced but without any of the smarts. The Documents being produced this way are not being created using any Data functionality, the information typed into its pages get lost into the words on the page. There are tools which can help walk the creator through some steps to add or remove passages to ensure the right information is present, but again is this mixing data and presentation too close?

The challenges this creates is that sometimes it is useful to find information from collections of documents with similar content. The age of Deep Learning / Machine Learning / Natural Language Processing and AI has brought about tools which can parse and process to pull the information back out in a meaningful way but is that solving the right problem?

I would argue that Documents like this should be ‘generated’ from a Data Set, which can be used more meaningfully – the Document is a presentation layer, with the ‘fluff’ and context around it can still be inside.

A Business will be compounding their issue every single day as more and more documents are created, which at some point they will want to understand what was contained within it. What will probably happen, is they will spend a lot of time and money solving a problem they could have avoided, the problem of getting the insight back out of it.

There are newer ways of thinking about Documents too, such as – Interactive Documents. Once you have sent the document to another person, could they find more meaning, context and ultimately value from the information it contains? Should they be able to manipulate charts, execute code to pull their latest information?

It feels like Documents are becoming living, like a Web Page – is that a good thing? I think so