The forest and the trees

The genius of Jon Udell's work is not sheer technical innovation (not that TransQuery amounted to anything like that either) but rather the ability to make sense of how such technologies can be used in simple but powerful ways over compelling content.

And not getting lost in the trees.

[Evan Lenz]
I greatly appreciate Evan's kind words. Ironically, I've been asking myself the same questions about my current project that Evan asks himself, in his posting, about his earlier (and masterfully done) TransQuery project: why doesn't it provoke the reaction I think it should? Not because my stuff is technically innovative, which it isn't. But rather because it shows how ubiquitous but underexploited technologies (XPath, XSLT, XHTML) can make our everyday information more useful.

Co-incidentally I'm now reading XQuery from the Experts, and am having a curiously mixed reaction to the book. The geek in me is irresistably drawn to this Swiss-army-knife query language that so ambitiously straddles the realms of typed and untyped, hierarchical and relational, declarative and procedural. And I can't wait to use the corpus of XHTML blog content that I'm assembling to explore XQuery implementations, along with the XPath/XSLT techniques I've used so far.

On the other hand: so what? If I can't paint a picture of the forest that people can relate to, then planting a few more trees won't help. The notion of dynamic categories comes closest to answering the "so what?" question. But not close enough. When you work publicly, in blogspace, as I have been doing, reaction to your work is exquisitely measurable. And when I take the pulse of that reaction it's clear that I'm miles away from proving three points:

  1. Ordinary Web content is already full of metadata,

  2. which can enable powerful queries,

  3. which, in turn, can motivate us to enrich the metadata.

As I begin to explore XQuery, I'll try to keep these guiding principles front and center. And if I wander off into the weeds, please feel free to administer a virtual dope slap.

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