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   RE: [xml-dev] Ted Nelson's "XML is Evil"

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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.



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