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   RE: [xml-dev] Do We Need James Clark to get Good Recs?

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Hi David,

I guess it all ends up in the "knowledge management" courtyard. Like you
said, a good spec has to be simple to be accepted by the neophytes. It's
only when a domain is well understood that a spec could be made simple
enough for mass consumption (I mean here, developers :-). Since you are
also part of DSSSL history, what I'll say will be only a reminder for
you. So, this is for the others wanting to understand...

Now, a little bit about history. We tend to forget that before XSLT we
got a lot of experimentations and learning occurring with DSSSL. DSSSL
was based on the premise that it should be able to transform Groves. So
to speak, if an Excel document stored in a proprietary format could be
transformed into a grove, then it could be transformed into another
grove like for instance, an XML based structure or into standard
formatting objects. However, this part of the spec never took off
because, no freely accessible grove engines were available and Jade
didn't supported external grove nor was it supporting the transformation
part of DSSSL. Bottom line, we never experimented what manipulating
generic grove would be with a standard language. But, James added a nice
feature allowing us to create our own formatting object, for instance,
SGML element, attributes, etc... People using Jade started to use that
feature to perform transformation from one SGML structure to another.
Some consultant needed an SGML instance to be transformed into different
formats and then we got a MIF backend (FrameMaker), a TeX backend. All
these people got a forum with the Mulberry mailing list (i.e. the DSSSL
mailing list still existing today).

There we go; we got the right environment for learning:

a) a freely available implementation (and free $$)
b) a small group of users and a community allowing them to share (the
DSSSL mailing list + the consultant using it and expending it)
b) Somebody learning from this interaction and synthesizing this

Then we got a version 2 with XSLT, it was, in fact, the result of
several years or experimentation and feedback. DSSSL was version 1.0 and
XSLT the 2.0 version. The rules were replaced by templates and the
matching mechanism simplified. These things were present in DSSSL but
simply expressed in more complex ways. And the DSSSL SGML backend
provided the right environment to learn about the template mechanism.

I guess that what is happening right now with some specs is that we are
in the middle of the experimentation process and these people are
learning. If these groups have a high turnover, then these groups can
hardly learn since this knowledge evades when some key people are
quitting the group. 

All in all, this is knowledge management process.
a) Create a thesis, build a prototype
b) Get people to use you prototype and get feedback
c) Correct the thesis and the prototype on the basis of the feedback you

If you can reduce the time for each cycle (from a to c) then you are
learning at a faster pace. This is why some said "fail early, fail
often" they simply meant accelerate the learning cycle by reducing the
time take at each stage.

So, even if James is very very talented, we shouldn't forget the
history. This could at least prevent us to repeat the errors of the past
or to understand that we human have some ways to learn when we explore
unknown territories.  As SGML/XMLers, do we?

So, to answer to the first question: It is only when an group has found
ways to learn (as some scientific communities) that it can improve its
knowledge. Science taught us that a good way is to get at least two
kinds of individuals in a group: Experimenters and theorists. Obviously
the experimenters help to invalidate the theories or simply to grab new
data to be explained by theorists. In a world like XML, we need
implementations that people can play with (experimenters) and people
writing specs (theorists) if the theorists do not pay attention to the
experimenters, the feedback loop is broken and the group stops learning.
If the experimenters do not have an incarnation of the theories (a
concrete implementation) then again, the feedback loop is broken. If the
experimenters need to buy the implementation, then the loop may either
be broken or lengthened.

My 0.02 Euro, 0.02 CAN$ and 0.02USD (the advantages of being
multi-cultural :-)

Didier PH Martin


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