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   XML and Complex Systems (was Re: [xml-dev] Re: An Architecture forLimeri

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1/13/2002 7:43:43 AM, Sean McGrath 
<sean.mcgrath@propylon.com> wrote:

> Nature figured this out long before we
> sentients did. Extreme programming/well-formed XML/
> procedural scripting is a good toolset to start
> with to mimic natures ability to grow complex order
> out of large assemblies of simple interactions. In nature,
> powerful functionality emerges from the bottom up. 
> The queen in the ant hill is not a monarch. There is no 
> "top down management" and the functionality 
> did not emerge from a top down design.

Sean may be reading the same stuff that I am lately! Maybe  
"Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and 
Software" by Steven Johnson ....  Also, I'm not sure what 
more I can say about this (being tangentially involved), but 
people might want to look at 
1010934914/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_10_3/002-3841261-8649657  when it 
is published in a couple of months. Do you have any reading 
lists to suggest along this line, Sean?

Anyway, I'm trying to sort out in my mind a "thesis" that 
goes something like this:  

XML was conceived as "SGML for the Web," combining aspects of 
both its SGML heritage and its Web heritage.  SGML puts the 
Document Type Definition at the center of an application; 
design begins with a document analysis, proceeds through a 
detailed DTD design, and ends up with application components 
that are highly designed and coordinated by the "authority" 
of the DTD.  In other words, the DTD is sortof the "queen 
ant" (in the old-fashioned sense) whose authority keeps it 
all together.  XML's formal development within the W3C has 
tended in this vein, though of course a typed XML schema and 
PSVI is the "queen" of a state of the art XML application.

This works fine in "behind the firewall" environments (or 
really well organized industries) where the complexity can be 
managed by authority.  This tends to not work when there 
isn't an authoritative schema (or many contending schema, or 
schema in rapid evolution), and this "balkanization" or 
"tower of babel" is perceived by many as a crisis for XML.  
For a recent example, http://www.eweek.com/article/0,3658,s%
253D1884%2526a%253D20656,00.asp "Now, more than three years 
after XML's introduction, IT shops implementing industry-
specific variants find themselves looking at multiyear, 
multimillion-dollar projects that leave two fundamental 
obstacles unchallenged: how to shift partners from trading 
through traditional means to trading with XML and how to 
interoperate with other industries. "

Of course, one solution is for customers to sell their souls 
to a dominant vendor with a useable schema, or to lash the 
standards groups until they come up with usable vendor 
neutral schemata, but think of the other half of XML's legacy 
-- the Web -- and what made it succeed without a dominant 
vendor or centralized authority.  That's where, as Sean 
noted, the modern conception of the ant queen as simply the 
mother of the colony becomes an interesting metaphor: 
Anthills exhibit effective "emergent" behavior by individuals 
operating very simply, the queen does nothing but lay eggs 
and nobody coordinates (except Darwin, of course). Likewise 
with the web,  no committee laid out requirements for the Web 
and reviewed designs to achieve it. Instead, its features are 
the emergent properties that appeared when TCP/IP and HTTP 
produced a reasonably reliable universal network and the 
simple but powerful HTML (and later XML) markup languages 
became almost universally supported in browsers and authoring 

I'm not at all sure what this vision of an alternative, 
loosely coupled approach to using XML to build complex 
networks of Web applications/services implies for us, other 
than "stop worrying about balkanization and seeking 
uniformity," "keep the components simple" and "try lots of 
things, keep the successes, and kill off the failures."  
Steven Johnson's book discusses some ways  to use the "ants 
following pheromone trails" metaphor to improve the Web, 
especially www.alexa.com, which provides a feedback loop that 
HTTP/HTML doesn't have natively. I'd say that Google has done 
a lot along these lines as well, as have weblogs. To the best 
of my knowledge (and it is pretty much gossip and hearsay), 
the Wall Street types have thrown a lot of money at the 
complexity theorists in Santa Fe and gotten little return on 
their investment, so I'm not at all suggesting that we 
develop Strange Attractor Markup Language or takes ants and 
swarms and boids too literally as models for web services. 
But I do think that there is SOMETHING here, and I'm very 
glad to see Sean thinking the same way ...and would be very 
glad to hear from both people who think they can effectively 
debunk this and from those who think they can add flesh to 
its bones.




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