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   RE: [xml-dev] frustration (was RE: [xml-dev] XPath 2.0 )

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The subject line of this thread accurately describes my sentiments regarding
W3C standardization efforts. I know this path has been trod many times
before, and I don't want to initiate another spate of unfocused W3C bashing.
At the same time, I believe firmly that the strong feelings that the new
XPath and XQuery specs have aroused on this list point to a real problem,
and that this is a procedural and not a technical issue.

Like so many other areas of human activity (Murali uses the example of
academic research), standards efforts are driven by ego. The organizational
structure of the W3C is such that (as someone already pointed out) people
are much more willing to fight for features they want than to fight against
features they don't want. The result is that the newer specs are
frighteningly bloated and ignore the very principles that have made XML
successful (such as the 10 -- or 9 -- design goals that Tim Bray mentioned).

I wonder if there is a better model that can be explored for creating new
XML specs. I am thinking about something similar to the approach used by
Open Source software, which very effectively harnesses the large egos of
great programmers to create great software (see Eric Raymond's "The
Cathedral and the Bazaar" and other works). Recent mention on this list of
Darwin and Adam Smith seems very apt in this regard. At the very least, some
plausible competition to the W3C would result in improved vigor of the
resultant XML standards. In the best case, we would actually find a model
that works better than the 75-company-representatives-in-a-room approach.

As far as I'm concerned, the W3C set itself up for this by releasing the XML
Schema spec. I'm sick of hearing people, even rabid XML advocates like
Simon, starting to doubt the validity of the whole endeavor because of this
one misguided effort. Now that the spec is polluting newer specs like XPath
2.0, it is time to start discussing alternatives seriously.

In pursuing the open source parallel, I would suggest that a website be set
up where individuals or small groups can submit proposals for
specifications. These would then be opened to discussion on a mailing list.
When consensus is reached, they would be published formally as "Authorized
Specifications" or whatever. This might not be the same as having the
approval of an international standards body, but the W3C isn't a real
standards body either in this regard (it is a dictatorship that issues
"Recommendations"). There needs to be some coordination with XML-focused
open source development groups to ensure that the specs are actually
implemented. Maybe this could even be done as part of/an extension of the
Apache effort. The W3C can go on doing its academic style research, and this
will doubtless provide invaluable input.

I'm very serious about this. This discussion has been going on for a long
time (I published a "rant" about this over two years ago --
http://www.schemantix.com/resources/rants/rants_2.html), but it is now time
for action. I am personally willing to devote time and resources to setting
this up. Is anyone else?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Murali Mani [mailto:mani@CS.UCLA.EDU]
> Sent: Friday, May 10, 2002 11:55 PM
> To: xml-dev@lists.xml.org
> Subject: Re: [xml-dev] frustration (was RE: [xml-dev] XPath 2.0 )
> This is especially for researchers, and a little bit for 
> developers also.
> Yesterday I attended a talk by Prof. Scott Shenker (UC, Berkeley). His
> talk was more about how researchers work, and why researchers 
> miss stuff
> like Napster. I was thinking more like why they miss XML. I 
> think it is
> obvious that researchers had to miss them, because the idea of
> standardization information exchange would have definitely 
> not occurred to
> them, but to me, what is more difficult to believe is how 
> they missed the
> concepts of data modeling similar to XML.
> Prof. Shenker mentioned a point about the way researchers 
> work: "The goal
> of researchers is to prove to the world that they are smart". While I
> think this is true for a large portion of the researchers, I 
> believe that
> there are quite a significant amount of researchers, whose 
> aim is not to
> prove they are smart.
> Then we (couple of friends and myself) discussed about 
> developers, I am
> afraid that I find the same trend among developers too: "The 
> goal of the
> developers is to ensure that their company's approach gets 
> accepted as a
> standard". Again I believe that while this is true for a 
> large number of
> developers, there are a few developers who are open to adopt 
> and change.
> Again, should we blame the researchers and developers for 
> being what they
> are -- I again think not. Most of the researchers and 
> developers who try
> to do the "ideal" thing either do not get funding or get 
> fired from their
> companies. Those who still hold on to those ideal goals, and 
> are able to
> work on them are those who have been fortunate so far. So how do we go
> about changing the whole system?? -- that is a big question, 
> and I think
> the answer almost always is that we should start making sacrifices and
> risks -- that is we should change ourselves, and be ready to face
> difficulties. I am quite sure this trend will be infectious.
> Anyways, I believe that was pretty heavy stuff to digest. Also, often
> times it is very difficult to practice what you preach also.
> cheers and regards - murali.
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