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On Sat, 4 Dec 2004 00:38:26 -0500, Michael Champion
> I wonder if there are analogous cases in the history of technolgy
> (ahem, besides SGML?) where a set of good ideas got out of control.
HTML came immediately to my mind in this context. You had a basic good
idea that caught like wildfire, was used for all kinds of thing not
originally anticipated, and was extended willy-nilly.
The low point came around the turn of the century, where the complexity of
what was being attempted was continuing to accelerate. At the same time
we had a bunch of good ideas about how to address the outstanding
problems... and even standards built around those ideas (XHTML CSS2 etc)
but support that was so patchy that most applications couldn't act on it.
In the intervening years incredible progress has been made. Not to say
that HTML doesn't still have problems or that browsers compatibility is no
longer a problem... but with serviceable and improving CSS support and
serviceable and improving browser DOM model consistency, we're now doing
exactly the things with browser facing code that we were frustrated and
stymied on in 2000.
At the same time many of the things people once tried to solve with HTML
or build into HTML have branched and are more healthy because of it. SVG,
MathML, Flash, PDF, SOAP (or REST if your prefer), etc...
My take is that we are today with XML where we were in 98 with HTML.
There are a bunch of recognized issues, a bunch of different solutions,
work arounds, etc. We're working on recognizing problems as belonging to
"classes" so that when we look at solutions we can distinguish between
things that solve problems and things that solve important classes of
problems. We're working on figuring out what makes sense to solve in XML
and where it makes sense to branch out (the binary XML proposals seem
balanced on this line).
> If so, what happened? Did people just learn to ignore the cruft and
> stick with what worked without worrying about it? Did the mess get
> re-factored back into the good ideas plus whatever was learned on the
> way ? Did the whole thing -- wheat, chaff, babies, bathwater -- get
> replaced by something else?
My experience is that it's a combination of the first two. You always
have to take the useful pieces and ignore the rest... that's true anytime
you use a general purpose tool for a specific application. But best
forward momentum comes from an evolution that includes refactoring.
It's a judgement call just how closely each generation of solutions should
be based on the last. My personal opinion is that future generations of
XML are going to carry forward large portions of what we have today. That
some critical needs will be met by updating XML fundamentals and the rest
will be met by a clear branching of concerns (as MathML meets the needs of
equation layout without altering core HTML). And that backwards
compatibility will fall on the backs of the developers of the next
generation of XML applications.
Just my 2c...