W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-sgml-wg@w3.org > November 1996

Rhetoric and Psychology

From: Paul Prescod <papresco@calum.csclub.uwaterloo.ca>
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 1996 14:06:05 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: W3C-SGML-WG@w3.org
I don't mean to pick on Lee, but I've just snapped. I'll address his
conspiracy theories first, and then the larger issue of the degenerating
tone of the discussions.

At 12:02 PM 11/13/96 EST, lee@sq.com wrote:
>> I get a chuckle every time I imagine the look on the face of the
>> mythical CS grad as he or she reads that "weasel-worded" paragraph.
>> And here we were complaining about the language of RE handling in
>> the SGML standard.
>I don't think it matters -- XML has now become ugly enough that I doubt
>we'll see many implementations.  I suspect that the ERB really wants it
>to fail so they can get on with HTML and not bother with that old-fashioned
>SGML community any more... 

Let me get this straight. You figure that 

Tim Bray, Textuality                    tbray@textuality.com
Steve DeRose, EBT                       sjd@ebt.com
Dave Hollander, HP                      dmh@hpsgml.fc.hp.com
Eliot Kimber, Passage Systems           kimber@passage.com
Tom Magliery, NCSA                      mag@ncsa.uiuc.edu
Eve Maler, ArborText                    elm@arbortext.com
Jean Paoli, Microsoft                   jeanpa@microsoft.com
Peter Sharpe, SoftQuad                  peter@sqwest.bc.ca
C. M. Sperberg-McQueen, U. of Illinois  U35395@UICVM.UIC.EDU

are hoping to torpedo SGML on the Web so that they can get on with HTML.

You figure that the W3C was under "so much pressure" from "SGML people" that
it felt compelled to develop a standard that they did not intend to support,
in order to get us off of their backs. Somehow, I expect that W3C gets major
pressure from phone companies, billion dollar software vendors and internet
service providers, not the SGML community. We should be *thrilled* that SGML
is even on their short list of important technologies to integrate. If not
for the historical accident of HTML being SGML-like, we would be trying to
claw our way out of Web-obscurity and displace RTF, LaTeX or whatever other
thing they happened to have standardized on. It is a *miracle* that SGML is
mentioned on the W3C home page. Dan Connolly understands why SGML is better,
and that is why this WG exists.

I have major beefs with XML as it stands. I don't think the
HTML-compatibility thing is necessary (because changes to the HTML DTD can
remove empty elements and preserve compatibility with XML and with existing
browsers). I'm not going to go into all of my other disagreements, they are
mostly in the public record. 

*At the same time* I have major beefs with SGML as it stands. So do I with
HTML, the URL spec, HTTP and FTP. The only standards I do NOT have beefs
with are the ones that I do not understand. Standards are created in
particular contexts by fallible human beings and they achieve success if
they solve real problems and are not torpedoed by political considerations.

Solving real problems

Is XML good enough to do the job, to solve the real problem of ubiquitous
generic markup?

 * The empty element hack is gross, but no worse than some of the hacks in
SGML. Users need never worry about this hack and vendors can handle it
without too much hassle. 

 * The RS/RE handling is also simpler than SGML. (I would prefer RS/RE rules
that are more strictly compatible with SGML) 

 * The non-overridable entity thing is a little nasty, but can be fixed in
XML 2.0 without breaking any XML 1.0 documents.  (I would prefer them to be

 * The repeating attributes problem will allow some XML documents to be
non-SGML documents, but making XML documents that are also SGML documents is
very straightforward. When SGML is fixed, the two will come back into
alignment. (I would prefer for XML to wait for SGML)

Lee claims that XML is "ugly." To language designers, yes. To end users, no.
To browser implementors? After HTML, or a few hours figuring out SGML's
RS/RE rules, XML is a model of simplicity and organization. We all came to
this hoping it would be the Markup Language That We have Always Waited
For...the mythical beast that would fix all of the flaws of the markup
languages we already have. Well it isn't, and we are going to have to learn
to deal with it.

Political Considerations

Is XML going to be torpedoed by political considerations? It all depends on
us. We are them. Many major vendors are (perhaps unofficially) represented
here. Many important user groups are (perhaps unofficially) represented
here. WG8 is (...) represented here. We can each decide to convince our
peers to try to sink this thing because it has features we don't like, or we
can try to point out the dangerous parts in it, as we have been with SGML
for 10 years now, perhaps "underimplement" the hacks (as we have been with
SGML) and muddle through. 

I don't think that if XML fails we will get another shot at the big time for
years. We can come up with standards ourselves, but without W3C backing we
will probably be banished to helper-app and plugin hell again, to duke it
out with ShockWave, PDF and LaTeX for second class data format status.

As Tim has pointed out, XML is ready to sell itself. People don't even CARE
what it looks like. Other than purists, most people will only see its flaws
as flaws if we point them out to them (which is not to say that we should
whitewash them). Hell, most people don't even realize that HTML is limited
and broken. But they will when they see XML, if we let them.

One last point: this post is not a blank cheque to the XML ERB. They will go
down in history with their names on this specification. They are, in my
experience, honorable people and I expect that they will do the best job
they can. I also expect that they will listen to our feedback, and at least
occasionally respond to tell us that they ARE listening, and to tell us as a
group why they are making the decisions that they are making.

 Paul Prescod
Boycott Shell Oil worldwide!  http://www.web.apc.org/embargo/shell.htm    

"Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel
said to be holding a watching brief."..."The ecological war that the Company
has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later." -Ken
Saro-Wiwa to the tribunal that later executed him.
Received on Wednesday, 13 November 1996 14:10:59 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 6 January 2015 21:25:20 UTC