Re: About the Web Forms 2 proposal

Hi Maciej,

XForms is the automobile.

John M. Boyer, Ph.D.
STSM: Lotus Forms Architect and Researcher
Chair, W3C Forms Working Group
Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Software
IBM Victoria Software Lab


Maciej Stachowiak <> 
Sent by:
04/28/2007 06:49 PM

John Boyer/CanWest/IBM@IBMCA
Dave Raggett <>, Matthew Raymond <>,, Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer <>
Re: About the Web Forms 2 proposal

On Apr 28, 2007, at 5:29 PM, John Boyer wrote:

> I think you missed the point about the declarative vs. imperative 
> debate, and then got it later in the email, so I won't go into that.
> Looking only at the forms that showed up as popular in your web 
> survey is looking in the wrong place to find out how to solve forms 
> problems because you're only looking at the things people know how 
> to do easily as evidenced by the fact that they have done it 
> often.  You will not find too many examples of the forms we would 
> like for people to be able to build because they don't build them 
> as often.  And they don't build them as often because it is too 
> hard and they give up.
> I can see an argument like yours being made to Henry Ford or Thomas 
> Edison.  "Hi, everyone is traveling with horse drawn carriage and I 
> don't see anyone driving around in a purely mechanical object so 
> there must not be a need for an automobile" or "Hi, everyone seems 
> to be reading using sunlight or torchlight; I don't see anyone 
> trying to use glass, tungsten and an inert gas to read, so there 
> must not be a need for a light bulb."  It makes no sense!

I think you are making a false analogy and overall a fallacious 
argument. Your analogy confuses two separate things, use cases and 
technologies that fulfill them. My personal standard for technologies 
is that if a use-case is popular, but current technologies make it 
hard to do well, then it is worth looking at improvements or new 

"Land travel between two points" is a use case. "Horse-drawn 
carriage" and "automobile" are technologies that fulfill that use 
case. So by my standard the high popularity of "horse-drawn carriage" 
is actually positive evidence in favor of "automobile", if we believe 
it will fulfill the use case better.

Let's bring this back to the web for a moment. Video on the web is 
hard to do well. Approaches to it integrate poorly with the rest of 
your content, and rely on external technologies that must often be 
separately downloaded, such as QuickTime, Flash, Windows Media or 
RealPlayer. Yet despite this, it is immensely popular. The fact that 
it is hard hasn't stopped people from doing it, because users want 
it. So this is a good case for enhancing the basic web technology to 
make the experience better for authors and users.

Contrast this to forms that could benefit from declarative 
expressions. We've agreed that the way forms are used today on the 
web, most would not benefit. Now, it is possible that there is an 
untapped hidden demand for such forms but they are just too hard to 
do. But I think this is unlikely.

When users want something, web developers tend to provide it, even if 
it is hard. Besides video, here are some other things that are hard 
to do well on the web that are still becoming fairly popular: 
animated UI elements, rich text editing, updating page state without 
a full page load, drag-and-drop and dynamic client-side graphics. 
Clearly mere difficulty is not an obstacle.

Furthermore, declarative expressions are available on the web today, 
if somewhat inconveniently. XForms plugins are available, and Dave 
Raggett's XForms Transitional prototype shows that declarative 
features can be provided through a script library. I haven't run into 
a website that uses either, except for demo purposes.

These factors make me doubt that there is a large untapped demand. 
Now, maybe there is evidence to the contrary. But to add a 
singificant new functionality to HTML, I think we need to actually 
establish that it would be helpful for things lots of people want to 
do on the web. We can't add every feature, and complex features 
especially need to justify themselves. Adding a complex feature that 
won't actually be used a lot is a significant opportunity cost, so it 
needs to have a clear benefit.

> Finally, it sounds like you don't have much experience trying to 
> develop a larger, more complicated form when you claim that 
> expressions only make things easier  in toy forms.  Have you ever 
> tried to put an insurance or financial application online?  If you 
> ever do, you will begin to understand why we want expressions.

You're right that I have not spent a lot of time developing forms. 
But I have spent a lot of time studying the forms developed by others 
and deployed on the web, particularly cases where they malfunction. 
Insurance and financial applications are not in fact very common on 
the web, and I don't see a declarative expression feature changing 
that. They're not very popular because they are not the kind of thing 
most people want to do a lot, not because they are hard.

Incidentally, I put my list of forms use cases here, I think it will 
be relevant to future discussion:


Received on Monday, 30 April 2007 22:38:00 UTC