Why do we write standards?

Rick Jelliffe ricko at allette.com.au
Sat Nov 13 06:03:14 GMT 1999

From: Joshua E. Smith <jesmith at kaon.com>

>  (If W3C required just one working implementation it would be
>a quantum improvement of the process.  It's a great way to fight the
>natural tendency for bloat.)

Which is why the enabling framework for "standards" is more important
than the standards:  TCP/IP is more important than HTTP,  MIME types are
more important than HTML or XML, the maligned stylesheet PI is more
important than CSS or XSL, why namespace URIs are (potentially) more
important than schemas, etc.  At every lower level, there needs to be
mechanisms in place to allow plurality and experimentation at the
next-higher level.

If we look at XML, we can see a couple of places where this mechanism is
missing, and it will bite us:

* We now have four kinds of XML: WF, Canonicalized, Valid with DTD, XML
with namspaces: actually, since they are not mutually exclusive, maybe
that gives us 8 kinds of XML. But there is no standardized way for a
document to announce which of these forms it is (I suppose the
standalone declaration does something like this).   The early drafts of
the Schema spec introduced "nearly well-formed", and the SML idea
introduces another variant.

* It has seemed like there will be no standardized way to invoke schemas
other than DTDs or (future) XML schemas. Without such a thing, there is
little way for experimental implementations or even for the market to
decide between alternatives. Plurality is not bad for us: even in the
area of schemas.

There are some people for whom standardization means homogenization: in
each area, we should only have one technology.  There are others for
whom standardization means that there should be at least one
high-quality choice.  I subscribe to the latter, and to the view that
"enabling" standards are more important than "constraining" standards.

The W3C should set a policy that for every new domain they work in, in
good time before the release of a specification, enabling mechanisms
which allow plurality.

Rick Jelliffe

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