Is it software?

Is it software? asks Dave. That's such a great question! From the moment I first saw an HTML form on a Web page, it was clear that boundaries were about to blur. Web pages are both documents and programs. Websites are both publications and applications. URLs are both phrases and function calls. Text is code, code is data, data is text.

The renewed understanding of documents and URLs in the SOAP community, over the past year, is an appreciation of this fundamental intertwingularity. Joshua Allen's terrific recent essay, Naked XML, translates into practical terms:

I have a litmus test of sorts that I use to determine if someone has "got it". I show them an XPath like "//contact[.//fax]" and watch their faces. Of the people who understand what it does, most will have no reaction, and most of the rest (the experts) will raise their brows skeptically and say "only a stupid person would write such an inefficient query!". There are yet precious few who exclaim "that is how things should be!" as their faces light up.

The lesson, of course, is that real-world information is chaotic. In any but the smallest "proof of concept" systems, the best that one can hope for is to be able to recognize small pockets of structure within a sea of otherwise unstructured information.

[ Better Living through Software]

Now, take a look at Jonnosan's geographical service browser. Note, in particular, this feature:

Check Availability (not very accurate yet!)

Let's think about why not. Consider this query, which leads to a status page containing:


   On Shelf&nbsp;

It would be great, of course, if all 117,418 libraries in the U.S. were to offer comprensive XML APIs. I'm optimistic (or foolish) enough to think that I might even live to see the day. Meanwhile, though, suppose this status page were instead merely well-formed HTML or XHTML, with structural cues, like so:

<td class="availability">
On Shelf

There's a nice little "pocket of structure within a sea of otherwise unstructured information."

Multiply by 117,418. It adds up.

Is it software? Yes.

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