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Re: [xml-dev] Lessons learned from the XML experiment

From an interview with James Clark, entitled:

A Triumph of Simplicity: James Clark on Markup Languages and XML

Dr. Dobb's Journal July 2001

Markup languages, the standardization process, and the importance of simplicity


DDJ: Did you feel like there were any major itches that you got to scratch with the specification of XML?

JC: I knew how insanely complex writing an SGML parser was. SGML is really doing something very simple. It's providing a standard way to represent a tree, and your nodes have a label with names and they can have attributes. That's all it's doing. It's not a complicated concept. Yet SGML manages to make writing something that implements it into a several-man-year project.

A lot of the features do have a reasonable motivation, but when you put them all together, you just get something that's too complex. I think the complexity is misguided. It's failing to pay attention to the importance of simplicity. If a technology is too complicated, no matter how wonderful it is and how easy it makes a user's life, it won't be adopted on a wide scale.

[Personally, I wish people would stop fueling this notion of XML being too complex.]

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 9:31 PM, Costello, Roger L. <costello@mitre.org> wrote:
Hi Folks,

XML has been a grand experiment.

Shall we summarize what we've learned?

I see two defining lessons:

1. Data is a first class entity: XML showed the programming world (and the rest of the world) that data is not just confined to the bytes exchanged in subroutine calls, but data is a serious issue, worthy of investing time and money in defining and validating collections of data for exchange.

2. Design for the masses; once the cat is out of the bag, you can't put it back: XML was created for use by the entire world. A technology that is targeted for use by the entire world must be understood by the entire world, which means that it has to be very simple. The XML creators thought they had created a sufficiently simple technology, but they didn't go far enough in simplifying. Since the release of XML in 1998 there have been numerous attempts to create a simpler version, but those attempts, noble as they were, have failed to get any significant uptake by the world-wide community. Lesson learned: when creating a new technology, make it as simple as you possibly can, then simplify it ten-fold. Once you've released your technology onto the web, you won't be able to take it back and simplify it. Instead, someone else will come along and provide something simpler and the world will adopt it, not yours.

Do you agree with these lessons learned? What other lessons do you take from the grand XML experiment?



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