One of the inspirations for Metatab was the Frictionless Data project, from Open Knowledge International, the creators of CKAN.  The project’s specification for data packages covers all of the common metadata for a dataset, and is extensible for less common needs. However, it is written in JSON, which was unfamiliar to a lot of the data creators that we worked with. That need for data creators who worked primarily in Excel to have a metadata format was the need that we started from.

However, most metadata definitions will have the same structure, and it turned out that the most sensible structure for a Metatab file, combined with the most sensible way to turn metatab into JSON, resulted in output that was almost identical to the datapackage.json format. With the addition of a small Declare file, Metatab can directly output datapackage.json.

Here is an excerpt of an example Metatab file, formatted for export to datapackage.json format. (You can get the whole file online from github. ) The Declare term specifies another Metatab file which adjust some of the terms, so the JSON output will be correct.

title Registered Voters, By County
description Percent of the eligible population registered to vote and the percent who voted in statewide elections.
version 1.3.4
Section Resources type description
.title First Resource
.name the-first-resource
.mediatype text/csv
.format csv
field id string description
field state string description
field income string description

You can test the conversion, after installing the Python module and the metatab program, by running:

$ metatab -j

The resulting output is a valid datapackage.json file, although it isn’t ordered as sensibly as it would have been had it been hand-written.

We’ll be adding this conversion to the Spreadsheet Add-Ons and web API, with a goal of providing an automatic conversion when Excel files in Metatab format are converted to ZIP archives of CSV files.