Into the fray...

Buss, Jason A jabuss at
Tue Jan 12 17:19:35 GMT 1999

Hello to everyone.

I just subscribed to this mailing list over the last couple of days and it
appears I have walked into a very interesting discussion.

I just thought I would share a few things with everyone regarding the
impressions and hopes that I have for XML.

I could be considered a relative newcomer to XML.  I have been working with
SGML for the last 7 months or so, as part of a team that was formed to
implement an SGML publishing system for our company.  The team went through
some reorganization, and I sort of got in at the tail end, implementation
side of things, as most of the research, conceptualizing, and development
had already been completed.  Basically, I learned SGML by working with
various public tools as well as the commercial software we ordered, and the
internet.  There just isn't a whole lot out there other than the materials
generated by the individuals and organizations committed to SGML

Basically, we did evaluation after evaluation of commercial software,
decided on a publishing package from a very respected vendor.  Showed it to
our technical writers, and watched them turn on us.  The lack of real
information that came from the team to the publishing group only helped to
exacerbate the feelings of paranoia and helplessness from writers.  They
were terrified that we were going to force everyone to learn programming.  I
have, over time and vendor improvements, shown most people that this is not
the case.  Most people hear "metalanguage", but think "language".

I am no programmer by any stretch of the imagination.  I was a technical
writer and illustrator before being coaxed into SGML publishing.  I was put
off by the whole thing until I took a really close look at it.  And that
brings me to a real sore spot that I think would love to see addressed when
people write white papers and abstracts to explain XML for the rest of us.
The concept of SGML (and XML) is no challenge for most people to grasp, but
the majority of published texts are so weighted down that most technical
writers come away either crushed or confused.  Many of them need to see it
applied before they can fully grasp the application (particularly the
syntax).  I personally had to read almost ten white papers before I came
away with everything I needed to get the whole picture.

I know there are some people who are in the process of building SGML
publishing systems who are terrified because as the information and
resources for XML increases, the information and resources for SGML has
trailed off somewhat.  A lot of people, for whatever reason, have missed the
XML/SGML connection, and are worried that SGML will fall out of favor, and
not have the support it once had.

And hopefully, something, or someone, will bring XML to the forefront of
public awareness.  Be it a well-branded vendor such as Microsoft (I am
personally banking on Netscape/Sun/IBM;  AOL stands to gain hand over fist
from XML implementation), or the next Gates or Andressen or someone who can
really push XML not only into the office for production, but into the home
for delivery.  Even the beginning web surfers quickly understand that it is
HTML and Java applets that make all this information visible within their
browser.  Many people pick up on the concepts and syntax of HTML from there,
going on to create their own documents/pages, but the ones who choose not to
still understand the benefit of HTML.  XML would probably be most likely to
succeed if it has the groundswell of support or at least understanding of
benefit from the public at large as it becomes implemented.  Unfortunatlely,
I can ask 20 people familiar with HTML, and maybe two of them have heard of
XML.  Almost none of them understand that HTML is a doctype of SGML.  There
needs to be a really simple, straightforward PR blitz aimed not only at
publishers and document managers, but at webmasters and the general public.
It is very commendable of Microsoft to embrace XML like they have, but it
seems most of their papers are geared towards the industry, and promises XML
support in their products, as opposed to informing the general public of the
benefits to be gained from XML.  People clamored for a way to share,
transmit, and display information in an inexpensive, easy-to use format that
could be accessible to anyone or everyone, Hence HTML, and the internet.
Customer-driven solution.  Now the challenge is to convince everyone who is
comfortable with HTML that XML will better serve their needs and offer them
the most benefit.  Industry-driven solution.

Like I said before, I have recently entered the area of metadata, but I have
gone through most of the resources I could, and unless I am missing some
things along the way, this seems to be where some additional focus could be
used; explanation of benefit as well as concept and use.  And to bring the
introduction of application up to speed with the introduction of information
and concept.

BTW, has anyone noticed the variance of how techmedia has perceived XML?  I
have seen articles that say XML is the direct replacement for HTML, while I
have seen others that say XML is a compliment to HTML, and HTML will never
really be phased out at this point.  With this in mind, I got a somewhat
panicked phone call from someone who came across the W3C draft for rewriting
HTML 4.0 as an XML application recently.  I was able to dispel his alarm,
but the concern was somewhat understandable.  Any comments?? 

Jason A. Buss
Single Engine Technical Publications
Cessna Aircraft Co.
jabuss at

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