Aspects and XMDS: higher order metadata for datasheets

xmds_aspect1Recent progress on the OS X Molecular DataSheet (XMDS) app, which is currently in beta, has involved the inclusion of aspects into the user interface for editing datasheets. The core format that the XMDS desktop app, as well as all the rest of the products from Molecular Materials Informatics, is the datasheet, which is a tabular format made up of rows and columns: like a spreadsheet, except that the columns are strongly typed, so you can’t just abuse it and put in whatever you want wherever you want. The minimalistic table datastructure can be supplemented by any number of aspects, which are directives that impose higher order layers of interpretation, which are often composed of multiple columns (e.g. a chemical reaction which cobbles together multiple molecules for its reactants, reagents and products). One of the fun software engineering challenges has been to make these complex representations fit seemlessly into the grid-based “spreadsheet” editor upon which XMDS operates. Continue reading