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humility (was RE: experts)
- From: "Simon St.Laurent" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- To: email@example.com
- Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 13:57:51 -0500
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
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
>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