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designers as users etc.
- From: "Simon St.Laurent" <email@example.com>
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2001 10:13:32 -0400
Every now and then I get back to computing history. Partially I do it
to figure where things came from, but I'm always looking for something
that looks like it might fit with XML. The passage below, quoted in
Steven Levy's _Hackers_, is one such possible fit.
The ITS system is not the result of a human wave or crash effort. The
system has been incrementally developed almost continuously since its
inception. It is indeed true that large systems are never
In general, the ITS system can be said to have been designer implemented
and user designed. The problem of unrealistic software design is
greatly diminished when the designer is the implementor. The
implementor's ease in programming and pride in the result is increased
when he, in an essential sense, is the designer. Features are less
likely to turn out to be of low utility if users are their designers and
less likely to turn out to be difficult to use if their designers are
Donald Eastlake, "ITS Status Report", MIT A.I. Lab Memo No. 238, April
1972. (from Steven Levy's _Hackers_, 1984, p.127)
Users of XML mostly aren't the hackers who inhabited the MIT AI Lab in
the late 1960s and early 1970s, though I think that Donald Eastlake is
the same person currently working on XML Digital Signatures.
How does the development of a time-sharing program fit with the
development of XML vocabularies? To me, it's in the "users are their
designers and... designers are users." XML is a new opportunity for
information users to structure the information they want to work with as
they want to see it, not as defined by a "human wave" effort trying to
nail down every data structure in sight. Markup fits well with
incremental development. Formats no longer need to be punch cards, and
users have opportunities to make changes on the fly.
Sadly (to me), the software frameworks people are designing around
markup aren't nearly as flexible. Developers seem to be writing code
that couples tightly to data based on very limited possibilities for
what that code might contain, though many larger frameworks offer
"escape hatches" where they suspect such things are necessary.
There are times when I wish I was a better programmer, and could just go
out and write these things instead of talking about them. I do it when
I can. For today, though, I'll just hope that my continuing interest in
history has unearthed a nugget which might be intriguing to people.