Simon St. Laurent's main points in the "more grist" thread seem to be:
- A spec should be taken seriously as a standard when it is a "best practice" in real deployment, not when it is a "best guess" of an expert committee.
- The W3C specs would be more useful if they were MODULAR, e.g. if there was a Recommendation for simple datatypes, another for complex datatypes, another for Structures perhaps?
- W3C specs should minimize the interdependencies between one another; striving for clean layering rather than tangled webs of functionality.
This reminds me of the parable of the two watchmakers in Herbert Simon's classic essay "The Architecture of Complexity" (summarized online at http://www.netage.com/Learning/Publications/Seybold/Seybold9_2-90.html)
"Suppose each watch consists of 1000 pieces. The first watchmaker constructs the watch as one operation assembling a thousand parts in a thousand steps. The second watchmaker builds intermediate parts, first 100 modules of 10 parts each, then 10 subassemblies of 10 modules each, then a finished watch out of the subassemblies, a somewhat longer process, 110 steps longer.
It would seem that constructing a watch in a single sequential process would progress faster and produce more watches. Alas, life being what it is, we can expect some interruptions. Stopping to deal with some environmental disturbance, like a customer, the watchmaker puts down the pieces of an unfinished assembly.
Each time the first watchmaker puts down the single assembly of 1000, it falls apart and must be started anew, losing up to 999 steps. Interrupting the second watchmaker working on a module of 10 using hierarchical (in the first sense) construction means a loss of at most 9 steps.
For organizing complexity, the moral is this: taking a few extra steps in the short run, saves many steps in the long run.
In anything less than an environment of no change, the second watchmaker will be much more successful in finishing the complex whole. Using an elegant mathematical demonstration, Simon shows how dramatically more successful the modular-levels principle is in producing stable and flexible complexity. Nature, he says, must use this principle. And, indeed, systems scientists have extensively documented this level pattern of organization, whether physical (such as particle, atom, and molecule), biological (like the example of cell, organ, and body), social (for example, local, regional, and national government), or technological (one example is phones, local exchanges, and long-distance networks"