XML is boring (was Re: coming clean with the SGML crowd)

Dave Winer dave at userland.com
Fri Sep 11 16:27:56 BST 1998

Peter, thanks for a great message! I am new to the xml-dev list and hadn't
seen your earlier messages. What you're saying sounds like what I've been
saying on DaveNet. Maybe now we can get focused on using XML, instead of
talking about how great it's going to be when we do use it.

We have two projects that generate XML files every day. 

One is a siteChanges.xml file for our server, www.scripting.com. It's very
useful, if the search engines, or one search engine would read the damned
file. If every webmaster produced one, the time to re-index the web would
be dramatically shortened, and the search engines that used this would kick
their competition's butts.

More information on this application is at:


The second project is Scripting News in XML. We produce an HTML version of
the content flow at www.scripting.com, but we also produce an
always-current XML version of the content flow. There's an XML file
produced every day. This one is being used. Josh Lucas, a Java programmer
in Boston reads the file every night at midnight, and sends an
email-formatted version of the text to subscribers. So the Scripting News
flow goes out thru email. Also, one of our competitors, Vignette, is
running an experimental server that syndicates the Scripting News flow,
again based on the XML version of the content.


Of the two, there's no question in my mind that the siteChanges app is a
killer. Now comes the problem of evangelizing the search engine guys to
support it. Once they do, the chicken and egg problem is solved. Then we
can evangelize other webmasters to write a simple script (less than 100
lines for sure) that updates this file every night. We do it in Frontier,
but it would be trivially simple to do it in Visual Basic, Perl, Tcl,
AppleScript, whatever.

Re your other comments, and XML-based spreadsheet and draw program would be
awesome! I agree that XML in web browsers is B O R I N G (beyond belief).
The interesting applications are connections between apps that are not web

I have my hands full with Frontier or I would be jumping on those ideas
right now. We would be very supportive if anyone is working on such
programs, the compatibility with Frontier would be incredible. To me that's
the point of XML, it's the idea of open file formats allowing exchange of
info between all kinds of apps, not just web browsers.

Again, thanks for starting this thread. It's a very positive step.

Dave Winer

At 08:40 AM 9/11/98, you wrote:
>My retitling of this message is deliberately provocative, and I do NOT wish
>a flame war to ensue. I want the title disproved, but by *actions and
>evidence*, not statements of faith.
>At 23:25 10/09/98 -0400, Richard L. Goerwitz III wrote:
>>XML right now is, well, only slightly more than a dream.  I have a hard time
>>even finding valid XML document instances on the net.  
>I agree with this. Given that XML was designed for use over the Web
>(right?) and it has been in gestation for 2 years I find it incredible that
>XML has not done anything useful in public view. Lots of hype in the
>magazines, etc. but nothing tangible to show for it. Tangible in the sense
>that I can show a non-XML person something that will interest them.
>XML was effectively launched in Spring 1997 at WWW6, Santa Clara. It's 15
>months since then and over a year since the first draft of the XLink spec
>was released.  And as far as I can see there are virtually no useful
>applications that have been created. I now find it difficult to convince
>people that XML is useful, other than by repeatedly stating it as an act of
>There are lots of valuable *tools* developed (many announced on this list)
>but is anyone actually using them publicly? [I do not get excited by
>statements like "Corporation X can achieve x% reduction in costs by using
>XML for its workflow". "We are using XML to store our configuration files,
>etc." It may be true, and it may be good business, but it's hardly a
>XML has limitless applications. I continue to suggest them on this list -
>the response is underwhelming. By an application I mean "something that a
>non-XML expert can do something useful with". That "something" might only
>be to play minesweeper or whatever. At present I count the following:
>	- MathML - IMO this is the one that has most chance of achieving critical
>	- The XSL slide processor announced on XSL lists just now. Haven't looked
>at it, but it sounds like an obvious and useful thing to do
>and my own - which I am actively building up critical mass for:
>	- Chemical Markup Language. (http://www.xml-cml.org). It is now
>distributable. Henry and I are proseletising in the community, I think with
>some success. But the lack of other visible XML makes it very difficult.
>	- the Virtual HyperGlossary (http://www.vhg.org.uk). This is something
>that couldn't be done with HTML, as it uses the hierarchical nature of XML
>and the additional addressing of XLink. AFAIK the only application of XML
>that actively uses XLink. Is no-one else interested in the power of Xlink -
>my own view is that it's revolutionary.
>The criterion for inclusion as a useful XML application is:
>	- it must be usable over the WWW AND/OR
>	- it must be downloadable and useful
>	- it must do something that cannot be easily done with HTML OR
>	- it must do something in an *immediately obviously* better way than HTML.
>	- it must catch the imagination of someone who is not an XML expert.
>I have been confidently predicting that XML would take the WWW by storm
>during 1998. I am amazed and saddened that it hasn't done so, but there are
>**three months left**. I have thrown out lots of ideas on this list with
>virtually zero take up. Is no one else interested in:
>	- an XML spreadsheet?
>	- an XML drawing tool?
>	- a collaborative XML environment?
>	- XML games
>As far as I can see, most readers of this list are:
>	- waiting for XSL because all they are interested in is rendering text
>with infinite precision. Worthy, but surely that's not the main point of
>XML. Also it's a year away.
>	- waiting for MS/NS to come up with 'XML browsers'. Doesn't look very
>promising, does it?
>	- only really interested in using XML to manage their current client
>	- interested in doing some in-house re-engineering.
>	- have some medium/long-term strategy for developing products. No doubt
>some of these will be very exciting but I doubt they will spread a flame
>across the WWW.
>	- just waiting
>By contrast, when Mosaic hit the WWW, within *months* I was able to:
>	- use search engines (a completely new idea)
>	- post requests by interactive forms (again a stunning idea)
>	- send and display complex objects (e.g. molecules) painlessly over the
>WWW (again stunning).
>	- get servers to do incredible calculations (painlessly).
>Much the same dynamics were seen for Java.
>Where are the excited XML hackers? You don't need a *browser* to do fun
>things. Where are the grad students (Paul Prescod doesn't count any longer
>Isn't OASIS interested in creating a fun demo disk/CDROM to promote XML?  
>Or am I right that XML is fundamentally about as boring as the introduction
>of  TTL or 3-phase electricity - worthy, but manufacturer-level only?
>I am hoping to be inundated with mail that shows I am wrong - that I have
>taken a narrow view - that I don't read the newsgroups. But not mere
>statements of faith, please. I want something I can *show* people. 
>In addition I would like volunteers or code to help with the collaborative
>project I suggested two days ago. So far the response has been
>underwhelming. All I need is some dumb server-side software that can keep
>open channels (or re-open them) between two 'players'. [Of course the
>application need not be just games.] This is probably so trivial to some of
>you that you think it's not worth offering - but I happen to be ignorant
>about it.
>	P.
>Peter Murray-Rust, Director Virtual School of Molecular Sciences, domestic
>net connection
>VSMS http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/vsms, Virtual Hyperglossary
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