Inline markup considered harmful?

Robin Cover robin at
Mon Jun 14 13:28:55 BST 1999

On Sun, 13 Jun 1999, Len Bullard wrote:

> Robin Cover wrote:
> > 
> > For those not familiar with the utter brilliance of Ted
> > Nelson (the world should have a few more like him!) see
> 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.

How can I pick up a sword to defend Ted Nelson (as though he
could benefit from that) when, on any given day, I'd just
as quickly take delight in defending you?  No, Len Bullard,
I respect you too much to argue religion, philosophy,
and politics in public space [offline if you want].

I even agree with you to a point, though my threshold is much
lower than for many, I suspect, in identifying the point at which
"worse is better" (lectio difficilior preferendum est) have
been applied ad absurdum.  More often I hear these tunes sung
by poor souls seeking to console themselves, having capitulated
in the abandonment of some high ideal.  Contrariwise: at the
level I experience the Web via HTTP/HTML, a heap of broken
links, it's massively and profoundly broken by design.  That
"people use it" is quite unremarkable, in one respect, as another
of the one-liners on Ted's page says:

  "Microsoft is not the problem; Microsoft is the symptom."

Ted's judgment probably seems harsh because he measures a thing
against its potential -- not just by "nothing is proven to work
better than..." That he may himself be judged a failure as
compared (e.g.,) to Bill Gates is no doubt the common verdict.
In referencing his brilliance, I was speaking from a different
reference point, and different set of values, where
measurement by counting companies acquired, companies brought
to IPO, and 'successful' software products delivered (etc.) has
no currency.  Among Ted's gifts, some would say, is an unusual
ability to damn mediocrity by identifying it and labeling it
so plainly that it hurts.


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