XSL and the semantic web

Marcelo Cantos marcelo at mds.rmit.edu.au
Thu Jun 17 02:14:06 BST 1999

On Wed, Jun 16, 1999 at 09:21:48AM -0700, David Brownell wrote:
> "Simon St.Laurent" wrote:
> > 
> > At 06:28 AM 6/16/99 -0400, Paul Prescod wrote:
> > >In other words I always interpreted it as being about choice. You complain
> > >that XSL allows this choice. Even if it were the case that XSL uniquely
> > >allowed data dumbing (which it is not), I could not see how its allowance
> > >of this choice would constitute a problem or flaw. Data dumbing is part of
> > >the economy and ecology of the Web. As Guy Murphy has described, the Web
> > >is richer for it. Do we want Lexis-Nexis to take their thousands of
> > >databases back to their private network where they controlled the level of
> > >semantics tightly?
> > 
> > I'm afraid we'll have to accept the value of this 'choice' as a fundamental
> > disagreement.  I feel strongly that by encouraging this choice, and by
> > providing a vocabulary that is even more formatting-oriented than HTML, XSL
> > encourages a greater level of server-side dumbing down than was available
> > before, and makes it easier.  I can't see this as a positive move in any
> > light,
> I can, quite easily.  I give examples below.
> And one more:  you appear to be assuming that the client actually
> has enough horsepower and information to do the transformation (or
> for the FO side of the argument, formatting) ... those are known
> to be false assumptions in many cases.  A PDA with a typical speed
> IR link (not measured in megabits), slow CPU, and small fixed size
> storage just doesn't have that kind of resources.  For many set-top
> boxes, ditto.
> >	and no, I don't see the 'semantic firewall' as a positive thing for
> > the Web.
> Hmm ... do you see them as issues in other contexts?  Information
> is transformed routinely, every day.  Frankly, I don't want to to be
> getting a complete history of everyone's life every time I deal with
> them; I'm happier to work with the current context (far smaller!).
> That sort of time/history based "semantic firewall" is very useful,
> for all that it's subject to abuse by all parties.
> There are others; if I browse a product description, rarely will I
> want complete technical specs, and if I do then I'll ask for them.
> I may want my technical books at a different level than someone else.
> Those are examples of transformations reducing the information
> that's presented.  There are other transformations that can increase
> it; perhaps I want to look at a particular seller's history on an
> auction system before I buy from them, and not otherwise.
> If the semantic content is a "web" then anything short of looking at
> the whole web at once (yeah, right!) is looking through a "firewall".

I'm a little confused, and I think it relates to a degree of confusion
between formatting and transformation (XSL/XTL?).

My understanding is that Simon et al object to the use of server XSL
to provide formatted output to the client.  Paul suggests that this is
a good thing because it gives the owner of the data choice in what to
make available to the user.  David then provides some examples to back
up this argument.

My problem with all this is that the cases-in-point that David
supplies (embedded systems notwithstanding, though they really are a
separate issue in my opinion) are all more appropriately dealt with by
transforming the data rather than formatting it (in fact, David even
refers to it as such).  But this is not, as far as I understand it,
what Simon is objecting to.

There is no-one, as far as I can tell, arguing that there is anything
wrong with pruning the tree.  The issue centers on whether it is
appropriate to present only the formatted output to the client.  I
have no strong views on whether this is a good or a bad thing (having
no experience at all with using XML/SGML browsers in a production
environment), but it does seem to me that the participants are arguing
across each other and not really getting to this central point of

This whole issue seems to me to provide a post hoc rationale for
splitting XSL in two: XTL at the server and XSL at the client.

Finally, I offer my most humble apologies to anyone whom I have
misrepresented (and to everyone if I have misunderstood the debate).
My sole intention is to offer what meagre help I can in keeping this
most interesting discussion flowing.



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