A Plea for Schemas

Matthew Gertner matthew at praxis.cz
Mon Nov 1 20:48:33 GMT 1999

Simon St. Laurent wrote:
> It's interesting, though, that the 'marketing manoeuvres' fosters this kind
> of open competition, while the more neutral body has set up a formal
> process for settling on schemas through closed committees.
> I'm not sold on the need for single schemas for particular markets, nor do
> I think a single repository is going to make that much difference (except
> perhaps for PR).
> In some cases, companies will be able to agree on industry-wide standards,
> but I don't think that approach is the only path forward.  XML's
> transformability (courtesy of its structures plus XSL, Omnimark, MDSAX, and
> other tools) opens the door to a Babel-like world in which we have a
> significant - and adquate - chance of understanding each other without
> having to proceed in lockstep.

Okay, let's put it this way: I can see your point that a central
repository has significant weaknesses. The idea of an automatic
discovery mechanism is much more promising. This is where you start to
run into questions of vision (i.e. I'm probably wrong), but think back
to how unimaginable the wealth of information available on the Web would
have been a few years back. (Actually what's really unimaginable to me
is how we got along without this.) It would have seemed outrageous only
10 years ago that it would soon be possible to find, say, the full text
of an ISO standard, Hamlet and the screenplay to Pulp Fiction in ten
minutes sitting at your computer, not to mention ordering a video, a
pizza and a car. Now transpose that to the software engineering field.
Is it really so crazy to suppose that programmers (and other creators of
metadata) might publish their information in a way that can be
discovered and reused by many others, both programmers and

This idea has been derided by some because it smacks of AI technologies
that have been heavily hyped and then failed to materialize in the past.
But a simple full-text search could be very effective on this volume of
data. Advances in full-text technology that have been designed to deal
with the gigabytes of the Web could be heavily leveraged in this
scenario. Competition would also spout up among portals who would choose
and classify schemas. I find the idea of a Yahoo for schemas very
plausible; as with the real Yahoo, they would not actually author the
schemas themselves, but they would serve an important role in weeding
out the junk and sorting the rest.


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