Don't segment desktop XML

jon's infoworld photo
Ouch :-)

The future of XML on the desktop is far from certain. Now is not the time to segment a market that has only just begun to grow. I hope Microsoft will reconsider. And I trust that the competition is paying attention. []

This is the 30th installment of my Strategic Developer column, but the first to appear in InfoWorld's print edition, relaunched today in a spiffy new magazine format. What I like most about the new format is that we carve out a feature well in which to run thematic collections of investigative and analytical pieces. I always enjoyed doing that at BYTE. Doing it weekly rather than monthly is going to be a challenge!

Accompanying my column in the magazine is the photo you see here. During the photo shoot, I glanced at the Polaroid preview shot and noticed that the top of my head had been deleted, as is customary for columnist headshots. For some reason, I wondered aloud when this particular design had come into fashion. After all, head shots haven't always looked this way (have they?) -- I guess at some point another style will prevail. The art director gave some reasons, in artspeak which I can't precisely recall. But here's the thing: the photographer scalped me in the camera, leaving the art director no option not to crop, or to crop differently. And this was simply taken for granted. There was no discussion between them. There was no conscious decision.

Of course I couldn't design my way out of a paper bag, so I'm grateful to work with people who can. Still, the incident made me think about the role of habit and custom in professional work. It's a good thing to be able to internalize standards. Conscious awareness of the rationales underlying them would cripple our ability to work. But unconscious habits can become dangerous too. At what point do we need to surface and evaluate them? And how do we do that? I have a hunch that cross-disciplinary blogging will help. InfoWorld's art director probably won't read this item, but if he did, he might find it useful. It's precisely because I am not a designer that I can call attention to things that designers take for granted. Conversely, he might be able to call attention to habits in my work that I'm not aware of.

One habit that's going to be tough to break, as I move the column into print, is my addiction to Web-style writing. The first 30 installments of my column went out as an email newsletter with footnoted URLs, which became hyperlinks in the version that was posted to the Web. Space is tight in the print edition, though. I have to boil the columns down from a variable length (often 1000 words or more) to about half that. Plus, long links play havoc with print layouts. Fortunately, the layered strategy I've developed -- pointing to my InfoWorld print articles, and embellishing them here on the blog -- will help me bridge the two formats.

There's an old adage: "I am sorry to write such a long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one." (I can't find an authoritative source for this. It seems to be variously attributed to Kipling, Twain, Emerson, Voltaire, Proust, Pliny the Younger...) For me, though, density of writing is roughly constant, and quantity of output is linearly proportional to time. What will take more time is the refactoring. That's an engineering term for what is, to me, an engineering problem. I have a hunch that the "desktop XML" which is the subject of this week's column will play a role in the solution. It should be fun!

Update: I'm told the photo in the magazine isn't the cropped head shot after all, but rather a full-length pose. Cool! Can't wait to see the new format, it should arrive here tomorrow.

Further update: According to Greg Wilson, the quotation is: "I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Blaise Pascal, "Lettres provinciales", letter 16, 1657. Bingo. That's it. Thanks Greg!

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