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   Re: Babel (again) or standard taqs and aliases (UDEF, Bizcodes)

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  • From: Eric Bohlman <ebohlman@netcom.com>
  • To: "W. E. Perry" <wperry@fiduciary.com>
  • Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 09:37:06 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 1 May 2000, W. E. Perry wrote:

> All of what you say is certainly true, but there is more to the story. The buzz
> (dare one say frenzy? irrational exuberance?) which has attached to B2B stories
> for the past year arises from the expectation that many more players than ever
> before will be able to transact directly with each other. Some of these
> newcomers will certainly be smaller enterprises which could not afford the
> earlier EDI kit but which will now conform to a vertical industry XML-defined
> data vocabulary in order to have a share in the business. Others, however, (and
> some of them not small players!) will not see themselves as part of a particular
> vertical market simply because they wish to consummate a particular transaction,
> and may well be blithely unaware of the data vocabulary adopted by that
> industry--indeed, perhaps even unaware of the boundaries of the vertical market
> itself, as understood by its acknowledged participants. The possibility for such
> players to bid or to offer, perhaps to the world in general, a transaction which
> may not be couched in an agreed industry vocabulary and may not even be bounded
> by the accepted definition of an industry, opens possibilities for the expansion
> of commerce far beyond what will ever result from smaller new players conforming
> to the norms of an industry which has a vital interest in seeing to it that they
> do not take away any significant market share.

I think the key point here is that the buzz and hype is around the notion
that a technology, all by itself, will result in a specific *social*
change in the way companies do business with each other.  It's generally
accepted that the key distinction between B2B commerce and retail commerce
is that the former normally takes place between parties who have
pre-existing relationships with each other, on terms negotiated through
those relationships, whereas the latter takes place between parties who
are essentially strangers to each other, on "my way or the
highway" terms.  B2B transactions have a lot more context than retail
transactions; the former are part of an ongoing, planned series of
interactions whereas the latter are essentially independent of each other.

One of the most important messages of the quality movement led by Deming
and others was that customers and suppliers need to work closely together
rather than at "arms length."  Yet the hype over the "XML e-commerce
revolution" suggests that everyone is eagerly hoping that technology will
reduce or even eliminate the need for such relationships.  It seems to be
driven by a "lonertarian" mentality that sees human relationships as messy
nuisances to be eliminated by technology as much as possible.  There seems
to be an undercurrent of "hey, this will let us do business without having
to step outside our castles."  Is this really a Good Thing?  Some might
indeed think it is, and they might even have valid points, but much of the
hype seems to imply that the question doesn't even need to be asked.

Human communication (and organizations are made up of humans) has *always*
been based on shared context.  The symbols humans use to communicate
derive their meaning from this shared context, not from any intrinsic
properties of the symbols themselves.  Human language is negotiated, not
received.  Dictionaries *describe* what meanings people *create* for
words, not *prescribe* usage based on intrinsic properties of
words.  Attempts to create artificial human languages have failed because
they don't take this into account; if there's a language barrier between A
and B, it's only going to be solved by *joint* action between A and B
(each trying to learn the other's language, or the two creating a pidgin),
not by C acting at a distance.  IMHO, the role of schema repositories is
like that of dictionaries: a place to record the attempts of parties to
communicate so that others can learn from those attempts and build on
them, *not* a repository of received Truth.

In closing, technology often *does* drive social change all by itself, but
rarely in a predictable direction.  Planned attempts to drive specific
social changes by purely technological means rarely succeed.

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