Michael.Orr at Design-Intelligence.com Michael.Orr at Design-Intelligence.com
Fri Nov 19 19:05:18 GMT 1999

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Sebastian Rahtz
> Subject: Re: History
> Betty L. Harvey writes:
>  > I give credit to Tim Berners-Lee
>  > for the insight to recognize that SGML was format for the Web - HTML.
>  > could have chosen NROFF, RUNOFF - any of those other system formatting
>  > languages but he chose SGML - Thank you very much.
> But he didn't choose SGML. He saw some SGML documents and borrowed
> some of the look of it. I am sure that he would not claim that he
> understood SGML at the time.

Of course he understood it! 

He also understood that the *first* order of business was to create a 
hypertext page that everyone could read and write, because: 
(1) the value of that is an order of magnitude higher than all previous 
computer applications combined, 
(2) it was pragmatically achievable -- including world-wide viral 
distribution -- on top of the internet as it existed at the time, and
(3) that done, generalized markup could be added on top of a platform 
so compelling, economically and otherwise, that no organization would 
decline to adopt it. 

The most productive single insight in the history of the world. 

Do you think it's a coincidence that the adoption curve for markup looks 
like a step function?  
                               -------- (y = signif % of human activity)
                  (thousands of lines deleted)
SGML --- (infinite time) --- HTML (y = SE-intense structured publishing)

The ultrasimplifications in HTML brought some problems. They can be 
fixed, but they could not have been prevented without killing the goose. 

The cost of the retrofix is high enough to be painful to some of us 
who come from an engineering mindset, sometimes to the extent that it 
seems unjustifiable, leading to remarks characterizing HTML as a botch. 
This is called having one's eye too close to the page: nothing could be 
further from the truth. 

The role of XML is to converge full-powered, fully-leveraged, fully-
engineering-compatible computing back in. Its mission must be universal 
expressiveness, and it must commit to that as firmly as HTML committed 
to *its* mission of universal accessibility. 

The W3C process to date has executed admirably against this mission, 
and one thing that has helped tremendously is HTML's inborn, though 
imperfect and mostly unconscious, extensibility as an SGML-based 

This is also not a coincidence. 


Michael Orr, CTO, VP R&D
Design Intelligence Inc, Seattle WA USA

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