Inline markup considered harmful?

Len Bullard cbullard at
Thu Jun 17 05:00:06 BST 1999

Robin Cover wrote:
> 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,

Is it?  I think it remarkable that we have these debates 
yet have never met.  I find the fact that I can sit 
at home changing mandolin strings rather than attending a 
meeting in San Jose to move a spec five paragraphs further 
and still be reading the New York Times remarkable.  
However we consider the design of HTTP/HTML or any 
simpler email system, that fact that they work is a 
testimony to engineering practice.  If they fall short 
of theoretical elegance, it's OK by me as long as I 
can still change these strings. :-)

> Ted's judgment probably seems harsh because he measures a thing
> against its potential -- not just by "nothing is proven to work
> better than..." 

It works and it works for lots of people.  Quod Erat Something.

At the end of the working day, that is an 
accomplishment.   As for inline markup being harmful, it 
certainly can be just as inline RTF is a PIA.  OTOH, it 
can also work marvelously well and in a simple way.  The 
fact is, the means and skills to parse an undifferentiated blob of 
text, find the whitespace, find the linefeeds and embedded 
carriage returns, build a thesaurus, code the logic for 
finding the exceptions for disambiguating semantic meaning, 
and so on is waaaay beyond far too many people who are 
responsible for gathering, classifying, and assigning 
linking information to text.  For these folks, there are 
tools such as markup.  It is a tool; not a cancer.

> That he may himself be judged a failure as
> compared (e.g.,) to Bill Gates is no doubt the common verdict.

He goes beyond facts into beliefs about what is best for everyone's 
information resources.   Many of us have statements like that somewhere 
in the archives.  All I am saying is that calling markup a 
cancer is hyperbole.  It is a less than ideal but better 
than UTF-8 way of getting certain jobs done that Ted did 
not do.  Those that did do it did a good job.  No Latin; just, 
thanks for the relief so I don't have to do it. 

Can the web work better?  Sure.   But we don't get to 
find out without applying our experience and trying out 
our ideas.   Whatever else we do, we get to do that here.
How many folks get to work on Xanadu?

> 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. 

MS didn't invent this.  They took advantage of it just like 
everyone, and I do mean everyone, else.  So?  Let 'em.  Working  
software beats the heck out of systems that are always just 
one more revision from being released.  See Babbage.  If we 
are still worried about chaining up our information, well,
if that virus last week didn't do anything else, it sure 
made me organize the paper in the file cabinet.  Tedious to use, but 
not zero-length at the whim of someone who thought it would 
be a clever stunt to wipe files for some holy cause to 
release me from my MS chains.  Jeez.  That help the InfoMustBeFree 
Warriors can keep.

> 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.

Something else I hope I have learned:  I can't educate by hurting 
that which doesn't learn from pain.  It's just more pain.  

This is as true of Gates as it is of Ted: whatever they have, they have
because they want it.  Me, I am a mediocre mind; I just want to change 
the strings on my guitar next.  If this is the cry of someone who 
has lost their higher aspirations, so be it.  Those who listen 
get better sound.  This isn't, worse is better; it is something for 


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