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In part, it's true. Nelson set out to design
hypermedia that would not fail (no broken links,
no copyright problems, tumbler addressing, rich
formats and so on). In part, it's false. XML
isn't evil; it smells funny. And XML isn't
the whole story anyway.
The web began as a very anemic version
of Nelson's vision. It is best characterized by
the problems it did not attempt to solve (links
fail regularly, copyright problems are epidemic,
addressing is based solely on URL-cum-URI, HTML
as a weak format and otherwise, reliance in the
main on a single protocol, HTTP). HTML is
the concept of gencoding largely abandoned in
the SGML industry until the web brought it back.
Nelson is over the top in some places. Whereas
gencoding was an attempt to replace formatting
codes, SGML is an attempt to provide fully-self
describing types. XML weakened that by tossing
out the bits that described encodings in favor
of fixing that to Unicode. XML weakened the
description of structure by taking out the
requirement to put the type definition in the
document and replacing it with reliance on
syntax. XML is not a self-describing format.
Nelson failed to produce Xanadu. SGML failed
to get ubiquitous buy-in. The web produced
a scalable and successful implementation. XML
got the buy in from the programming community that
enables web services, layers for the semantic web, etc.
If relaxing requirements is a means to move forward,
Nelson is wrong. If failing to solve problems
described in the requirements is wrong, Nelson is right.
The web keeps coming back to the same requirements
and attempts to meet them with technologies that in
some ways replicate Nelson's attempts and in some
ways try different techniques. It's healthy if
somewhat disunified. What Nelson attempted with
a design, Berners-Lee attempts with a consortium.
There are pluses and minuses to each approach,
failures and successes with each attempt.
Either way, the web won and Nelson lost. Keep in mind,
there were designs for spaceships before there was a
demonstrable airplane that could lift its own weight
and that of a passenger under its own power. Vision
is not a working solution.
Running code beats running laps.