XML for the rest of us

adam bosworth

"The relational database is designed to serve up rows and columns," said BEA's Adam Bosworth in his keynote talk. "But our model of the world is documents. It's 'Tell me everything I want to know about this person or this clinical trial.' And those things are not flat, they're complex. Now we have the way to get not only the hospital records and prescriptions but also the doctor's write-ups."

The doctors and bankers will get that, just as the highway patrolmen already do. XML documents, flowing through XML plumbing, can now deliver very real and tangible benefits. For the publishing geeks who started it all, it's a moment to savor. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]
By the way, Adam Bosworth said a great many other interesting things in his XML 2003 talk. For those of you not inclined to watch this QuickTime clip -- and in particular for the search crawlers -- I would like to enter the following quote into the public record.

The reason people get scared of queries is that it's hard to say 'You can send me this kind of query, but not that kind of query.' And therefore it's hard to have control, and people end up building other systems. It's not clear that you always want query. Sometimes people can't handle arbitrary statements. But we never have queries. I don't have a way to walk up to Salesforce and Siebel and say tell me everything I know about the customer -- in the same way. I don't even have a way to say tell me everything about the customers who meet the following criteria. I don't have a way to walk up to Amazon and Barnes and Noble and in a consistent way say 'Find me all the books reviewed by this person,' or even, 'Find me the reviews for this book.' I can do that for both, but not in the same way. We don't have an information model. We don't have a query model. And for that, if you remember the dream we started with, we should be ashamed.

I think we can fix this. I think we can take us back to a world that's a simple world. I think we can go back to a world where there are just XML messages flowing back and forth between...resources. I think we can do this by understanding that there are certain amounts of the Web services standard that quite honestly should just be ignored for a while, because it's not clear that we'll ever need them, and it's certainly clear that we don't need them now. These are the complex multi-part coordination standards that describe how you can hop, walk, and quack like a duck all at the same time, when all we want to know is how to get from point A to point B.

Three things jump out at me from that passage. First, the emphasis on XML query. My instincts have been leading me in that direction for a while now, and much of my own R&D in 2003 was driven by a realization that XPath is now a ubiquitous technology with huge untapped potential. Now, of course, XQuery is coming on like a freight train. At XML 2003 I got to meet two of the authors of XQuery from the Experts -- Michael Rys and Jonathan Robie. The humble XPath examples I demonstrated in my own talk barely scratch the surface of what's now possible, but Robie -- a co-creator of XQuery's predecessor, Quilt, and an editor of both the XQuery and XPath specs -- told me he thought that was fine. As with other media, we agreed, it's necessary to immerse ourselves in data, play with it, and discover its possibilities. Simple forms of play that yield immediate gratification lay the foundation for more advanced games.

The second notable point was Bosworth's use of the term "resources," which carried extra weight for those who have followed his public meditations on REST.

The third point was of course the controversial stance on complex coordination languages -- BPEL4WS and friends, though he didn't name them. Clearly Collaxa's Edwin Khodabakchian would take issue with that point. It would be great to get both of them on a panel in 2004 to hash this out. Of course since both are bloggers, maybe a more loosely-coupled conversation can happen instead, or in addition.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/12/22.html#a873