XML *should* be boring

Simon St.Laurent simonstl at simonstl.com
Fri Sep 11 17:28:07 BST 1998

>I wish that we could have prevented the hype in the first place, but
>that's all spilled milk now.  XML is a very important standard -- I
>think that it is roughly to information exchange what TCP and IP are
>to networking -- but it's still just a standard, not a product.

Yes, but TCP/IP had the advantage of being first on the ground, a widely
implemented standard that was able to stand up to the OSI model largely on
the basis that people already used it, and it worked well enough.  XML is
moving into a field that already has many contenders, without many
supporting products, relying on the good will of a large number of people
and organizations to get any place.  XML may be a better idea than the
current mess (HTML, delimited text, etc.), but that's not going to take it
very far is OSI's being a 'better idea' is any indication.

(Yes, I know there are lots of folks who don't think OSI was a better idea,
and I tend to sympathize.  Nonetheless, it's the classic example of a
carefully thought out standard that went pretty much nowhere.)

>If we do our job as well as the TCP/IP people did, users should hardly
>notice that XML exists -- after all, we're supposed to help them do
>their work, not draw attention to our own.

I think this is a huge part of the problem - this idea that 'we' are
supposed to help people do their work.  XML isn't rocket science, and it
doesn't need a core of rocket scientists to make it work for many
situations.  XML being invisible, woven into other standards by a devoted
cadre of experts may do a lot to improve those standards - but it does very
little to reduce the cost of the implementations.  

Support for generic XML, with tools widely available for editing /
authoring / viewing / exchanging / storing / searching / objectizing /
developing XML might stand a chance of making sure that XML doesn't stay in
the high-end expensive small-community world that SGML inhabits today.
Enlarging the community of developers is a critical step toward making XML
cheap and ubiquitous.

In the long run, of course, XML should become invisible, like ASCII, to
cite Tim Bray's favorite example.  In the short run, though, it needs to
become visible enough to achieve ubiquity.  Otherwise, it'll be invisible
for good reason - no one will be using it except a few programmers.

Simon St.Laurent
Dynamic HTML: A Primer / XML: A Primer
Cookies / Sharing Bandwidth (November)

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