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   XML is boring (was Re: coming clean with the SGML crowd)

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  • From: Peter Murray-Rust <peter@ursus.demon.co.uk>
  • To: xml-dev@ic.ac.uk
  • Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 08:40:36

My retitling of this message is deliberately provocative, and I do NOT wish
a flame war to ensue. I want the title disproved, but by *actions and
evidence*, not statements of faith.

At 23:25 10/09/98 -0400, Richard L. Goerwitz III wrote:
>XML right now is, well, only slightly more than a dream.  I have a hard time
>even finding valid XML document instances on the net.  

I agree with this. Given that XML was designed for use over the Web
(right?) and it has been in gestation for 2 years I find it incredible that
XML has not done anything useful in public view. Lots of hype in the
magazines, etc. but nothing tangible to show for it. Tangible in the sense
that I can show a non-XML person something that will interest them.

XML was effectively launched in Spring 1997 at WWW6, Santa Clara. It's 15
months since then and over a year since the first draft of the XLink spec
was released.  And as far as I can see there are virtually no useful
applications that have been created. I now find it difficult to convince
people that XML is useful, other than by repeatedly stating it as an act of

There are lots of valuable *tools* developed (many announced on this list)
but is anyone actually using them publicly? [I do not get excited by
statements like "Corporation X can achieve x% reduction in costs by using
XML for its workflow". "We are using XML to store our configuration files,
etc." It may be true, and it may be good business, but it's hardly a turnon.] 

XML has limitless applications. I continue to suggest them on this list -
the response is underwhelming. By an application I mean "something that a
non-XML expert can do something useful with". That "something" might only
be to play minesweeper or whatever. At present I count the following:
	- MathML - IMO this is the one that has most chance of achieving critical
	- The XSL slide processor announced on XSL lists just now. Haven't looked
at it, but it sounds like an obvious and useful thing to do
and my own - which I am actively building up critical mass for:
	- Chemical Markup Language. (http://www.xml-cml.org). It is now
distributable. Henry and I are proseletising in the community, I think with
some success. But the lack of other visible XML makes it very difficult.
	- the Virtual HyperGlossary (http://www.vhg.org.uk). This is something
that couldn't be done with HTML, as it uses the hierarchical nature of XML
and the additional addressing of XLink. AFAIK the only application of XML
that actively uses XLink. Is no-one else interested in the power of Xlink -
my own view is that it's revolutionary.

The criterion for inclusion as a useful XML application is:
	- it must be usable over the WWW AND/OR
	- it must be downloadable and useful
	- it must do something that cannot be easily done with HTML OR
	- it must do something in an *immediately obviously* better way than HTML.
	- it must catch the imagination of someone who is not an XML expert.

I have been confidently predicting that XML would take the WWW by storm
during 1998. I am amazed and saddened that it hasn't done so, but there are
**three months left**. I have thrown out lots of ideas on this list with
virtually zero take up. Is no one else interested in:
	- an XML spreadsheet?
	- an XML drawing tool?
	- a collaborative XML environment?
	- XML games

As far as I can see, most readers of this list are:
	- waiting for XSL because all they are interested in is rendering text
with infinite precision. Worthy, but surely that's not the main point of
XML. Also it's a year away.
	- waiting for MS/NS to come up with 'XML browsers'. Doesn't look very
promising, does it?
	- only really interested in using XML to manage their current client business
	- interested in doing some in-house re-engineering.
	- have some medium/long-term strategy for developing products. No doubt
some of these will be very exciting but I doubt they will spread a flame
across the WWW.
	- just waiting

By contrast, when Mosaic hit the WWW, within *months* I was able to:
	- use search engines (a completely new idea)
	- post requests by interactive forms (again a stunning idea)
	- send and display complex objects (e.g. molecules) painlessly over the
WWW (again stunning).
	- get servers to do incredible calculations (painlessly).

Much the same dynamics were seen for Java.

Where are the excited XML hackers? You don't need a *browser* to do fun
things. Where are the grad students (Paul Prescod doesn't count any longer

Isn't OASIS interested in creating a fun demo disk/CDROM to promote XML?  

Or am I right that XML is fundamentally about as boring as the introduction
of  TTL or 3-phase electricity - worthy, but manufacturer-level only?

I am hoping to be inundated with mail that shows I am wrong - that I have
taken a narrow view - that I don't read the newsgroups. But not mere
statements of faith, please. I want something I can *show* people. 

In addition I would like volunteers or code to help with the collaborative
project I suggested two days ago. So far the response has been
underwhelming. All I need is some dumb server-side software that can keep
open channels (or re-open them) between two 'players'. [Of course the
application need not be just games.] This is probably so trivial to some of
you that you think it's not worth offering - but I happen to be ignorant
about it.


Peter Murray-Rust, Director Virtual School of Molecular Sciences, domestic
net connection
VSMS http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/vsms, Virtual Hyperglossary

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