Specification and emergence

www architecture: local search
The WWW Technical Architecture Group (TAG) has been gradually codifying a bunch of principles and best practices in a document entitled The Architecture of the World Wide Web. One of the authors, Tim Bray, asks:

Mystery Why, I wonder, did nobody ever get around to writing this stuff down in one place before? [ongoing]

It does, admittedly, seem odd. Roy Fielding's influential thesis, for example, which kicked off the RESTian reinterpretation, did not appear until 2000. Maybe this statement, from the TAG's own document, says why:

The architecture described in this document is principally the result of experience.

In any architecture, the interplay between what is specified and what emerges is subtle and complex, far beyond my ability to understand. For example, when I noted that the categorization of points within the document (i.e, what is a "constraint," "principle," or "practice") is still in flux, I wondered how to visualize that. The result -- another one of my recent series of XPath search experiments -- is shown in the screenshot. If you're an IE user, you can try it here, after visiting Tools -> Internet Options -> Security -> Internet -> Custom Level -> Miscellaneous -> Access data sources across domains (shouldn't there be URLs for these things?), then switching the default ('Disable') to, I would recommend, 'Prompt'. The reason, by the way, is that the page, which loads from my site, has a script that fetches the TAG document from its site, so it's cross-domain access. (If you're a Firebird user (as I also am), maybe you can help me sort out why this doesn't work but this does. It's not just about cross-domain access, I don't think.)

I'm really excited by this way of creating dynamic views of documents in the browser. It's possible, in this case, because of some other kinds of best practices: the document is written in XHTML, and its style tags are used in a consistent way. Having worked through a couple of these implementations, I'm starting to catch glimpses of further best practices -- related to use of structure and use of style tags in XHTML documents -- that could amplify the power of this approach and minimize some of its weaknesses. Could I write them down now? No way. It's a process of discovery. Could that discovery happen if people had not agreed on and documented formats and protocols and APIs? Also, obviously, no way.

So I guess it is a mystery.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/07/01.html#a735