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

Ron Bourret rbourret at dvs1.informatik.tu-darmstadt.de
Fri Sep 11 17:33:43 BST 1998

Simon St. Laurent wrote:
> At 07:22 AM 9/11/98 -0700, Tim Bray wrote:
> >At 08:40 AM 9/11/98, Peter Murray-Rust wrote:
> >>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?
> >
> >That might very well be the case. -Tim
> If that's the case, we've all lost out, and should tell the magazines to
> cool the hype and settle down to more important stories on exciting issues
> like stock prices and IPOs.
> Oh well.  I guess the revolution's over before it got started.  Could have
> reached a much wider audience, but somehow snuffed itself out. Sort of like
> SGML, perhaps.

It strikes me that the application that is going to make the public sit up and 
notice XML is the one that lets me ask: "Make a table of all hotels in New York 
that cost less than $100 and are within walking distance of Central Park."

The good news is that this application is completely possible (and almost, but 
not quite, inevitable).  The bad news is that it's still a ways off.  What it 
requires is enough people writing their Web documents in XML (with widely 
accepted element tag names) to make it worthwhile for the search engines to 
offer this kind of functionality.

There are probably a number of ways to jump-start this process, but the most 
obvious is a browser that supports XML+XSL so that Web masters are willing to 
write in XML.  (Sorry to those of you who find browser support of XML boring.) 
We also need namespaces, one or more Yahoo-like repositories for semi-standard 
DTDs/schemas (see www.schema.net for a start), and a solution to Tim's 
ought-to-be-famous "interesting and difficult problem of compounding DTDs".

I suggest that a short-term solution for the latter is to simply combine 
elements from different DTDs as one sees fit.  Although the resulting documents 
are not valid wrt their original DTDs and cannot be used by DTD-specific 
applications, XML does not require valid documents and the use of standard tags 
facilitates the search process.  I am advocating a certain degree of anarchy 
here, but the Web is inherently anarchic and if we wait until we find a way to 
combine DTDs without breaking DTD-specific applications, we're missing the 
chance to build some extremely useful applications right now.

(By the way, a nice feature of XML editors that would help this along would be 
to read DTDs/schemas from said Yahoo-like repositories, let users insert 
elements whereever they want from whatever DTDs/schemas they want, and generate 
new DTDs as requested.)

In the mean time, XML is still extremely useful as a data transport and I agree 
with Chris von See, who said that XML's greatest potential is in data-based, not 
document-based, applications.  Just because the public won't see it doesn't mean 
they won't (indirectly) appreciate it.

-- Ron Bourret

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