Groves, the next big thing (Re: ANN: XML and Databases article)

Michael Champion mike.champion at
Fri Sep 10 22:38:23 BST 1999

----- Original Message -----
From: Paul Prescod <paul at>
To: <xml-dev at>
Sent: Friday, September 10, 1999 2:39 AM
Subject: Re: Groves, the next big thing (Re: ANN: XML and Databases article)

> > Most importantly, someone is going to have to write a *clear* statement
> > the paradigm, its power, why it's "the next big thing, etc.
> You're asking the impossible. Pretend I am a skeptical mid-1980s dbase
> user. Now write the one-page description of the relational model that
> will convince me that the model is better than DBase and other
> proprietary, ad hoc models.


> I am still discovering the Zen of OO and the Zen of
> relational myself so how could I brain-dump the Zen of groves (which I
> am also still discovering)?

OK, fine ... my point is that if it is so difficult to beome enlightened
about the Zen of groves, it's not likely to become "the next big thing" or
"the next Linux".

> I can give you some hints though:
>  1. addressing is the basis of everything. For the most part, the DOM
> could be replaced with an API of one method: "EvaluateQuery()".

This is what I've suspected all along.  The DOM is an attempt to develop a
pragmatic solution to a number of real problems faced by ordinary people
building Websites, writing XML-aware applications, etc.  It's got numerous
flaws, and those of us with it on our consciences are painfully aware of
them.  (My personal "favorite" flaw is exactly the one Paul Prescod
mentioned, i.e. the rather clumsy way in which one must address individual
characters and its incompatibility with XPath, XSL, etc.; I rant about this
to the point that I'm sure my colleagues find rather tiresome).
In retrospect it is clear to me that the DOM would be a better API if it
were built on a more explicit and formalized notion of what the underlying
data model is and how one addresses individual sub-components (down to the
character level) in that data model. But the Internet economy was not about
to wait for the best possible XML API, so we had to get out one that is good

Groves, on the other hand, is an extremely general framework, somebody in
this thread called it a "Grand Unified Theory of Information".  It would
appear that the groves paradigm is general enough to encompass just about
any XML or non-XML data model -- including the DOM's implicit data model,
the Info Set data model, RDF (?), etc

But this very generality puts it at a level of abstraction that is simply
not appreciated by most people trying simply to get their jobs done.  I'm
VERY sure that had the DOM working group somehow proposed an API that
consisted simply of an EvaluateQuery() method it would have been soundly
rejected by the W3C membership or failing that, gotten absolutely nowhere in
the marketplace of ideas.  It simply would not solve any of problems the DOM
is intended to solve, i.e., it doesn't make it any easier to develop an
interoperable Web site or XML application, maintaining the maximum possible
degree of compatibility with languages, tools, and APIs in widespread use.
What we did come up with is, well, what you call "ad hoc" and I call
"pragmatic":  not pretty, flawed in many ways, but highly serviceable and
widely adopted.

Sooner or later, maybe after we've all retired to live off the rich rewards
due us as XML pioneers ;~) somebody will come along and re-define the chaos
we now call the DOM, XML, XSL, XPath, XQL/XML-QL,  RDF, etc. in a clean,
consistent way and on top of a firm theoretical foundation -- let's call
this "X-Nirvana".  At the very bottom, that theoretical foundation will
probably look an awful lot like the Zen of Groves. Some people on this list
seem to believe that a more widespread appreciation of the Zen of Groves
will shorten the path to X-Nirvana. I personally doubt it.  To pick up Don
Park's analogy elsewhere in this thread, what would 18th or 19th century
chemists done had they the knowledge that ultimately atomic theory could be
formulated in terms of quarks?  Would that have speeded up  the process of
figuring out the periodic table, discovering the chemical composition of
familiar materials, or leveraging this knowledge to economically produce new
materials?  I doubt it -- quark theory is just at the wrong level of
abstraction to be useful for solving the practical problems of that age...
and I'm far from convinced that the grove paradigm does much TODAY to solve
the problems we face in our day jobs.  Maybe after a lot more "ad hoc"
exploration of how to solve real problems, but not anytime soon.

Mike Champion

xml-dev: A list for W3C XML Developers. To post, mailto:xml-dev at
Archived as: and on CD-ROM/ISBN 981-02-3594-1
To (un)subscribe, mailto:majordomo at the following message;
(un)subscribe xml-dev
To subscribe to the digests, mailto:majordomo at the following message;
subscribe xml-dev-digest
List coordinator, Henry Rzepa (mailto:rzepa at

More information about the Xml-dev mailing list