Using XML appropriately

Reactions to "Eating the XML Dogfood" (in email) suggest I should restate my point. I do think the core XML standards are coming along nicely. No-one anticipates more than me the imminent merger of SQL and XML data management disciplines. OpenLink's Virtuoso, which I explored recently, is an inspiring example of what that kind of hybrid will be. What I believe Sean McGrath is saying about XML is simply: use technology appropriately.

Last year I went to the XML DevCon in NYC and came home rather depressed about the exclusive focus on web-services protocols. Nobody was talking about, or showing, XML-enabled applications that ordinary people could see, touch, understand, and profitably use.

Where is the viral app that does for the end user, by means of XML, what the browser did for the end user by means of HTML? Where are the XML-enabled tools for writing, for personal-information management, for knowledge capture and refinement? [ Report from XML DevCon 2001]

Radio is not the endgame by any stretch of the imagination, but it begins to answer some of these questions. Sticking to a minimal subset of XML is part of what makes that possible. This does not mean that DTDs, XML Schema, namespaces, XPath, and XSLT don't matter. They are hugely important. Classically, we have had exquisite control over a relatively small amount of highly structured data (i.e., by means of SQL), and almost no control over vast amounts of semi-structured and unstructured data. It's tantalizing to think we'll have some control over the messages, reports, essays, and other documents that hold the majority of the world's data. It's precisely because this prospect is so exciting that we need to strike the right balance between control and freedom. McGrath is not saying that XML tagging is worthless. There will be a semantic web, and it will require (and reward) a certain level of discipline. But people won't be able to inhabit that semantic web if the XML taxes they must pay are too high. Like everything else, it's finally just about common sense.

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