Inline markup considered harmful?

Len Bullard cbullard at
Sun Jun 13 18:42:11 BST 1999

Robin Cover wrote:
> For those not familiar with the utter brilliance of Ted
> Nelson (the world should have a few more like him!) see
> for example
>    Trying to fix HTML is like trying to graft arms and legs
>    onto hamburger.  There's got to be something better -- but
>    XML is the same thing and worse.  EMBEDDED MARKUP IS A CANCER.

Perhaps he is, Robin.  I've a hard time with this comment as an 
expression of it.  

HTML, XML, SGML, etc. are all CS techniques to 
get work done: tradeoffs.  Hypermedia floundered for years on the
"brilliance" of 
such statements and only got working systems when some accepted  
engineering tradeoffs.  More historical attention 
should be paid by the hypermedia communities to the 
niceties of scholarship with regards to 
the history of hypertext.  The heroMachine of the WWW is 
disgusting even when it is just naivete.   Still, for better 
or worse, and better IMHO, we now have tools that work because 
the Web starts with HyperText 101 (<p> and <a href='path' >) 
and grows from there.  The advantage has been to get the 
entire world involved instead of just theorists, visionaries, 
and Brown U postDoc grads that made up most of the community 
prior to 1993.  

The one lesson I learned with no small portion of crow was, "we need 
to make this easier if we expect anyone to use it" - Jean Paoli

For that to happen, like rock returns to blues, painters 
return to white, an writers return to haiku, sometimes to go 
forward, the blessed thing has to be torn down to basics 
and rebuilt.  That is what the 1993 WWW was.  It has a 
ways to go to reach Xanadu, but at least there are more people 
on the trek than were or could have been following Ted Nelson.

HTML is dirt easy.  XML is one step up.  When you remove all the 
markup and just point, that's cool, but that is what relational 
systems do better than Xanadu.  The good engineers use each tool 
where it works best.  That's all. If the WWW has committed one 
mortal sin, it has been to work with the media to cannonize 
an effort that is simply that.

Ted gets his 32 minutes of fame anyway.  If he is committing 
a social faux pas, it is to denigrate the achievements of engineers who 
were willing, able, and succeeded in doing what he talked about.


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