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The Allure of Gothic Markup

I promised that a paper was coming after this spring's assorted battles 
over the value (or lack thereof) of schemas.

The problems with schemas aren't simply at the surface, though there are 
many many of those problems as well.  They have much deeper roots, in 
false dreams of universal communication without ambiguity or 
contradiction, running on the logic of an industrial world.

I gave a talk last week at Balisage <http://balisage.net> on John 
Ruskin's "The Nature of Gothic" and how it might transform markup (XML 
and beyond) practice.  The talk and the paper compare and contrast 
Ruskin, William Morris, and Christopher Alexander's visions of how 
architecture should function with common SGML, XML, JSON, and Web practice.

The value of markup is not at all that it gives us an opportunity to 
standardize vocabularies.  That is, indeed, its curse.

The value is that it lets us use shared tools to create our own kinds of 
conversations, using a textual foundation that lets humans touch the 
data.  Savageness and changefulness may be difficult values to adopt in 
our vocabulary design-centric world, but they offer us perhaps our best 
chance to repent of a direction that leads inexorably to the machine.

(And yes, one of the slides doubts that anyone will want to repent. 
This isn't likely to change many people's minds instantly.)

Imagining computer practices based on craft rather than industrial 
models is difficult, and I suspect that my proposed model of 
transformation and customization is only partially there.  I suspect 
that the entire practice would have to change, and we'd have to abandon 
our fondness for maximizing scale.

The paper is at:


Slides (including some pieces I found too late for the paper) are at:


and notes (oddly botched, but including an expanded transcript) at:


All thoughts and suggestions, public or private, are welcome.  I'll be 
revising the paper for further submission at some point.

(Posted on Sunday because it's a good day for sermons.)

Simon St.Laurent

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