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I've spent the past few weeks dealing with various especially crusty
forms of XML and I've concluded that XML has suffered greatly from good
intentions.  We need some mischief.

I think it's fair to say that XML's massive growth comes from a unique
combination of rough legibility and lots of tools.  The philosophy that
goes along with this marvelous toolkit seems largely to consist of "put
anything you like in this and it will magically work" or "we need to
form a committee to study the subject intensely and develop a highly
structured set of recommendations for seamless interchange." 

Out of rough legibility, lots of tools, and a horribly mangled set of
philosophies, we're getting a huge selection of document vocabularies
created by people who obviously don't give a damn about markup.  They
care about their object structures, they care about data interchange,
they care about a deadline, or they just don't care at all - they
chucked something at a tool and never bothered to see what came out the
other end.  Even when the creators of vocabularies do give a damn,
various consumers of those specs have needs different from those of the

(There are plenty of exceptions to this description, of course, and
variation even among the vocabularies produced by single organizations.)

I'm finding myself spending more and more time creating transformations
that perform garbage in, something vaguely tolerable out.  Suffer
through the ill-thought slime once, get out of it what you can, and
automate as much of it as possible away completely.

The nice part about this is that XML makes it mostly possible to perform
this work without tearing your hair out.  (Every now and then I get
flashbacks to working with the old Apple/Claris XTND stuff, but they
usually go away quickly.)  There is no need, for example, to suffer
through someone else's perverse notions about putting element names in
attribute values kept far from the data you care about, provided that
there's some consistency to the perversity.

The one concern I have with all this is that such development tends to
happen in isolated corners, and it sometimes seems that the creators of
the original vocabularies might not be happy with such "improvements" to
their Intellectual Property.  The evolution of vocabularies seems to be
part of the privilege of 'ownership,' and that can get complicated,
especially when you ain't the owner.  

I don't think there's any easy way to reconcile the needs of people who
can't stand to work with particular vocabularies with the needs of the
people who create them, so I think perhaps it's time to take up
"mischief".  Taking other people's toys and making them your own isn't
popular on the playground, but the kind of taking that I'm talking about
doesn't mean the original owners of the toys lose their property.

It seems like xml-dev might be a good place to share such mischief, and
tales of such mischief.  I hear a lot of this kind of conversation at
conferences, but it rarely seems to make it to the list.  I'll be
publishing some of it in the near future, but I hope to see more of it
in general.  Mischief-enabling technologies seem like another good
prospective topic of conversation.

Simon St.Laurent
Ring around the content, a pocket full of brackets
Errors, errors, all fall down!
http://simonstl.com -- http://monasticxml.org


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