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RE: WWW Notes (Big Rant Follows: working people ignore)

From: Bullard, Claude L (Len) <clbullar@ingr.com>
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2001 14:47:13 -0500 (EST)
Message-ID: <2C61CCE8A870D211A523080009B94E430571E44F@HQ5>
To: "Sean B. Palmer" <sean@mysterylights.com>, www-talk@w3.org
Sean writes:

>I thought long and hard aobut using "i.e." instead of "e.g." before sending
>the announcement. I think I wanted to express that this is a document that
>outlines how the WWW has survied as a hypermedia system when so many others
>have failed, and also to point out some of the inherent problems that have
>been created due to its "popularity".

As usual, Len rants:

Not starting to happen in 1985, but happening for real.  Take a 
look at the hypermedia conferences of the time, look for names 
like Donald Acksyn, Elise Yoder, Andries vanDam, and so on.  
Understand that the real father of hypermedia is not Ted Nelson, 
but Douglas Englebart. Ted proposed but Doug built and kept on 
building.  He knows more about this than all of the staff in the 
W3C put together.  You want the architecture guru, it's Englebart.

Most of the hypermedia systems I worked with before 
the web are still out there working. The thing to know is that 
they were built for particular missions and are meeting their 
requirements.  IADS is still serving the US Army and the Marines 
and some companies who took the free copies they gave away. 
I don't know how many folks are still using DynaBook but 
there probably are some.

How the heck do you think the SGMLers knew which way to 
take the web?  They had already been there in small groups. 
They'd seen the future.  Some of them, guys like Steve deRose, 
had been instrumental in inventing it.
Do I recommend their products any longer?
Heck no.  I recommend Internet Explorer.  Why?  Cheap, 
ubiquitous, talent is abundant, and after some generations, 
it now outstrips most of the capabilities of the earlier 
systems.  No one said the web hasn't meant progress in 
the medium;  it meant money and money makes the trains run on time.

Prior to the Mosaic browser and HTTP, no one 
I am aware of was building for the Internet because no one 
was paying for it.  You have to understand the conditions of 
the time.  Hypertext aside from the MAC stuff, was considered 
an exotic fantasy of the AI world.  The military types took 
it very seriously so you saw a concentration of effort in 
IETMs.  As for markup, the costs of the systems then available, 
the paucity of the talent that understood SGML, and the split 
in the community where print systems dominated made for a very 
thin and unfocused set of efforts.  TEI was mostly ignored as 
an academic thing.  The people who really held things 
together were folks like Charles Goldfarb, Yuri Rubinsky and 
Sharon Adler.  If ever there was a holy trinity of markup, 
it was that trio.

The problem of "popularity" is glare.  I don't dismiss HTML 
and HTTP as non-events.  They enabled the discourse and the 
access to go global.  Very very important event.  I don't dismiss 
the streamlining of XML into SGML as a non-event.  It put markup  
into the right medium and it stopped the inevitable stalling 
of WWW development (gencoding only goes so far, then it becomes 
a bottleneck).  I dismiss claims that the WWW was the beginning 
of serious hypermedia.  I dismiss the fatuous claims of companies 
that by dint of their guy or gal being on the SGML On The Web 
design teams, that their guy or gal or company invented XML. 

It's crap.  It's a distortion of history that becomes more 
damaging because of the amplitude and frequency of the signal. 
The ONLY thing standing in the way of distortion being accepted 
uncritically is those of us with memories of real events, 
real people, real contributions.  Our history is our greatest 
asset.  If we distort that, of what possible validity are 
our lessons learned?  Our competence becomes our 
capacity to live with lies and write running code.  But 
the consensus is screwed.  The agreement negotiated 
is negotiated in fear and by force.  Who really wants to 
pass that on to their kids?  Or God help us, have our names 
on such rubbish?

I fear the Web not because it is successful but because all 
of the scholastic controls, the financial controls, the 
stabilizing scopes for negotiation of meaning have been 
stripped out by looney technicians and those out to make 
a name for themselves.  Too much score settling and too 
little ethical science.   Ethics aren't something we 
just acquire naturally; they are practiced.  The only 
justice that exists exists because of that practice.  
To be metaphorical, the battle of good and evil takes 
place not between heaven and hell, or on Flanders Fields, 
but in the hearts of the humans who must negotiate that 
which is meaningful to THEM:  one heart at a time.  
WE are the good and WE are the evil.  How shall we 
choose if we can only choose among distortions?  
That is the face of the Golem, Sean.  It is a human 
face, the face of a village rabbi who thought to 
protect, but built a monster that thought to rule.

The technology isn't distorting the communication; 
WE are.  By what we believe about that technology and 
what we promote by our beliefs, we choose the means  
to choose means.

So write the history, Sean, but do a good job of 
it.  Dig deep, find and document all the threads that had to 
converge.  The web did not build a community.  
Communities converged on the web.  It was there 
and putting it there is the act for which credit 
was justly earned:  enabling access to the discourse.

I don't expect Utopia.  Don't even want it.  Justice  
is something to want because by practice, that 
can be had, not to make heaven on earth, but 
to make earth as good as we can make it.


Ekam sat.h, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti.
Daamyata. Datta. Dayadhvam.h

-----Original Message-----
From: Sean B. Palmer [mailto:sean@mysterylights.com]

There was time before 1993? :-) Seriously, if you look at the HyperText
community from about 1985 until 1993, you will see that something was
starting to happen, independantly of W3. The World Wide Web just brought it
all together... it was like the koan that blew apart the shackles of

> The essential task is to identify and apply means to ensure
> "closed systems [of definitions] do not create systematic
> distortions in communications". - Gruber

That is a good, point. Do you feel that the Web distorts our ability to
communicate because of the restrictions that it imposes, and the lack of a
solid arhcitecture? As Aaron once said (about something completely
different) "it's held together with bubble gum, but it works". The WWW is
successful, even if it isn't perfect. But that doesn't stop us discussing
how it might be made nicer, if not utopian.
Received on Sunday, 11 February 2001 23:09:09 UTC

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