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humility (was RE: experts)

Mike Champion wrote:
>I pretty much agree with what you've said in this thread, Simon, but not
>sure what it means for how XML specs should be written.  The ideal is
>"designed by geniuses so it can be used by morons" or "simple things
>should be simple, hard things should be possible."

I'm not sure about "designed by geniuses so it can be used by morons" - I'm 
suggesting perhaps "designed by people with experience so that people with 
less experience can still use it without much risk."  The second flavor, 
however, I'll go with.

>I think what we
>have today is "expert proposes, Bozo disposes."  That is, the W3C,ISO,
>OASIS, ebXML, BizTalk, ad infinitum spew out specs, and the truly Bozo-proof
>ones will survive the shakeout.  It's not fun living inside the shaker,
>but I'm not sure how we can make this period less painful.  Do you?

At this point, I see competition between specs as necessary, and perhaps 
the only antidote to some of the problems involved in 'expert 
proposes'.  The process of sorting out multiple possibilities is a huge 
pain in the neck, but it does offer 'bozos' the opportunity to choose the 
least painful of their options.  Competition, in some sense, forces 
organizations creating specs to pay some attention to who will be 
selecting/consuming/suffering based on the contents of those specs.

>Perhaps we could more explicitly proclaim "Power to the Bozos ...
>if it doesn't work for you, ignore it." But isn't that how the world
>works anyway?  Sure, there are some Pointy Haired Bosses who will say
>"All the COOL guys in my in-group are using W3C Schemas, and they call
>me a wimp for letting you Bozos use RELAX, so I want to see you fully
>exploit the Post Schema Validation InfoSet NOW!!!. "  But Father Darwin, or
>Adam Smith's invisible hand, or whoever, will send them packing sooner or 

In the absence of competition, I don't think Father Darwin or Adam Smith 
have much to do with it.  For a while, the W3C seemed to be _the_ place 
making decisions about XML fundamentals, based largely on the laurels from 
XML 1.0.  I don't think that's the case any more - people are much more 
willing to question the W3C's role in the XML universe than they once were 
(myself included).  On the other hand, a lot of people can't take the time 
to read about W3C XML Schema and RELAX and TREX and Schematron and 
Examplotron. They may never get past W3C XML Schema, whether or not they 
liked it.

Similarly, there are a lot of people right now content to let company M - 
or I or S or O - make their decisions for them. It spares them a lot of 
work, and it's worked before.  The more impenetrable the specs are, the 
more likely I think that scenario is.  People adopt XML Schema not because 
they even thought about reading the spec, but because Microsoft has said it 
will support XML Schema, and so have IBM, Oracle, and Sun.  Complex specs 
aren't the only cause of this, certainly, but they play very nicely into 
keeping this scenario alive.

"Power to the bozos?"  Probably not.  But I think acknowledging the 
existence of competition and the importance of developers and even end 
users, not just vendors selling tools, is a critical step.

I really like Rick Jelliffe's discussion of 'institutional humility' as he 
applied it to internationalization of development, and think there may be 
some (possibly conflicting, alas, but promising) paths worth exploring in 
that area:

>It seems to me that the preconditions for these is not democracy (in the
>sense of making ever-larger committees) but insitutionalized humility in the
>centre to allow an exchange of ideas with the periphery.

At present, I see competion as the only plausible means of building 
interest in exchanges between the center and the periphery, but I'm a 
pretty moderate free-marketer.  I'd like to think there is room to balance 
the work of experts, vendors, developers, and end-users, but I fear we're a 
long ways off.  In the meantime, I'll keep looking for ways in which 
techno-hermits can dance and sing with techno-organizations, marketers, and 

Simon St.Laurent - Associate Editor, O'Reilly and Associates
XML Elements of Style / XML: A Primer, 2nd Ed.
XHTML: Migrating Toward XML
http://www.simonstl.com - XML essays and books