RE: XML whuzzup

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From: Gavin Thomas Nicol (
Date: Fri Aug 11 2000 - 17:55:20 PDT

> Somebody want to give away the big secret and tell me what I can DO with
> it other than mark up data?

Well, that's the whole point. That and the fact that thge markup language
is entirely under your control (call a spade a spade as it were).

Also, even though there is no XML processor that is 100% correct
according to the standard, interoperability between the tools is
already higher than that for HTML based tools.

> I guess the fun is if you're a programmer
> you can mark up a piece of text data and choose which pieces to display
> and which ones to use as metadata, act on, pass to the exec frame (woo!
> mark up XML with live perl in the tags!) etc?

Well, a good example is Jon Bosak putting up 100,000 pages of technical
manuals in less than a week, in 1994... and then changing the entire web
over to using tables in a couple of hours... by changing a single
style sheet (Jon Bosak was an early DynaWeb customer).

Another one is a largish computer manufacturer that saved $20,000,000
a year because they didn't have to continually republish stuff.

Another one was a largish aircraft manufacturer that saved millions on
unordered parts because technicians got more and more relevant information,
and so made better diagnostic decisions.

Another one is sending agents around the web in a completely secure
manner, such that they cannot run astay (unlike HTML+JavaScipt being
sent in email). Very tight correlation to capabilities and distributed
lexical scoping here.

One more is a largish telephone company that has it's help-desk using
an XML-based knowledge base, where the XML effectively encodes both the
documentation, and the decision paths of a simple expert system.

There are many, many uses. Most of them require a lot of up-front
thought in order to reap large benefits, and it's only after you've
wrestled with really large volumes of data that XML starts to really
make sense (for documents at least).

> Am I missing something really fundamental, or is there *absolutely
> nothing to get excited about re XML if I'm not a programmer*?

I think there is a *huge* amount to get excited about. FWIW. I think
the programmers, and the hype machine have muddied the waters to the
point where XML's value *outside* programming isn't obvious anymore.

Here's some interesting data: about 60-70% of a companies intellectual
assets lie outside of a repository/database in the form of unmanaged
documents. Many of those documents are in a proprietary format that,
in a few years, may be obsolete (hey, try opening old documents in
modern WP's). If a company is to take advantage of it's intellectual
assets (a goal most companies have, as they increasingly say that the
intellectual assets are the key differentiators). They need them in a
form that can be easily processed, manipulated. Moreover, metadata, and
automatic semantic analysis (clustering etc.) become crucial to document
management and information retreival.

For many of these reasons, XML is *very* exciting to large corporations.
It is also why almost anyone with data that has a long lifespan has
choosen XML/SGML for the archival format (have a look at the humanities
community, and corporations with legal bidings to data longevity).

It's far less exciting to the individual.

> Is there XML for the Common Man, or should Copeland go back to sleep?

The best XML is the XML that isn't seen. I'm waiting for for the tools to
hide the syntax, then we'll be able to say we've truly arrived.

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