The Web needs to break its habit FoRMing.

I Find Karma (
Fri, 23 Jan 1998 23:27:33 -0800

This week in Switzerland, Rohit extolled the virtues of declarative
user interfaces and I sat there and listened, wondering, "Yeah, why
haven't Web <form>s changed in the last four years?"

Worse, when we gave our talk on XML in Basel, it became painfully clear
that just because you can specify new elements and new attributes using
XML, that you cannot necessarily ascribe to those new elements and
attributes some new behaviors -- for example, how DOES one write a
<form> DTD that appropriately encapsulates the behavior of <form>s as
they exist on the Web today? The short answer is, you can't: that's not
something that DTDs can do.

<form>s on the Web today are powerful, yes, but clearly they do not
represent the be all and end all of declarative UI design. For the most
part, the only thing I can type into a form is text; not a signature
written from a stylus, not a jpeg image (though I guess I could just
give a URL pointing to that image), and certainly not an XML-marked up
business card that I can drag and drop onto the <form> and have the
appropriate argument fields automatically fill in. The functional
description used in <form>s today -- "it's a text stream" -- is not as
useful as knowing what *type* of text stream it is: e.g., Fedex tracking
codes. Knowing the type allows me to automate the use of that
information better. WIDL for markup is a giant step forward, but a full
solution needs to incorporate the User Interface as well.

I guess the startling revelation here is that the UI community has done
lots of work on declarative UIs, but they don't seem to want to (and/or
they just plain cannot) talk with the Web community. Meanwhile, the Web
community, rather than extend <form>s, has moved to more operationally
specified UI's using VBscript, JavaScript, &c.

What the Web needs now (lest declarative UIs be swept into the dustbins
of history to make room for operational UIs) is someone (preferably in
the UI community) to do some work on improving <form>s. So here are
some FoRK ideas of things to add to <FoRM>s that I scribbled down on the
airplane back from Zurich:
3. STREAMING UI RENDERING FROM Universal Resource Identifiers.

Care to elaborate, Rohit? :)

In other news, Bill Janssen read my scribe's notes from the Monterey
workshop on Compositional Software Architectures and informed me that
the proper HTTP-NG reference should be the W3C page (not the Xerox PARC
page as I previously had given):


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-- Herman Melville