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Tag Soup (was: FW: XHTML)

From: Arjun Ray <aray@q2.net>
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 01:10:19 -0500 (EST)
To: www-html@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.10.9912012347190.23274-100000@mail.q2.net>

On Sun, 28 Nov 1999, Dave  J Woolley wrote:
> Murray Altheim <altheim@eng.sun.com> wrote:

> > If HTML is to die, it'll die of its own accord, not through any plan of
> > action or negligence on the part of the HTML working group.
> I think it will be a very long time in dying, and that even the current
> deprecated elements will take a long time to die.  

HTML is very unlikely to die.  Gresham's Law (with Tag Soup as the
relevant "currency") is in the way.

> > [...] unfortunately HTML 4.0's spec allows for such wide variance and
> > requires support for CSS (itself an impossibility) that I hardly blame
> > MS and NS for not having compliant browsers. 

> I do, or at least Netscape; it was they who decided to commercialise HTML
> and knew that what was sellable was physical markup, with no underlying
> formal syntax, resulting in what Lynx calls "tag soup".

Mainly it amounts to the same thing (considering the personnel involved)
but the "blame" lies with Mosaic.  Mosaic had a talented, tireless and
relentless promoter; through it, Tag Soup was evangelized to a wider
public beyond the www-talk mailing list.  The very success in drumming up
enthusiasm for it (Tom Lane has called this the "Talkworthiness Effect")  
is what made the subsequent decision to commercialize compelling.  The
journos had started to scream their heads off about this cool thing that
net-connected sophomores were screaming their heads off about.  (Nope, not
this cool system called the WWW; yep, this cool program called Mosaic.  
Does anyone remember Time's cover story on the Internet in Summer '94?)  
It was merely a question of fuelling the momentum of a bandwagon already
set in motion, a minor matter of spending $12M in the last 8 months of
1994.  Marketing 101.

But that's ignoring *why* Tag Soup was found so appealing and immediately

1. Because Tag Soup was *no different* than the familiar lo-tech usage of
word processing software: type a little, smack a function key - or toolbar
button - type some more, smack another...  

2. Because Tag Soup was breathtakingly easy.  Instant experts everywhere,
churning blizzards of tags into a cool program that rarely crashed (the
Common Man's take on acceptable "baseline processing")...

3. Because Tag Soup had just the right amount of computer-y mystique for
the instant experts to wrap themselves in.  What the heck is a UL?  Toss a
couple into Mosaic ... Oh, I get it!  UL means "indent"!  How delightfully
esoteric.  Where the plain meaning of words such as "List" might have
gotten in the way, cryptic initialisms were just right for voodoo...

Cool stuff, this HTML.  Huh, what's HTML?  Oh, just a bunch of commands
for Mosaic... 

> > Because XML must be *at the very least* well-formed (simply to pass 
> > thru an XML processor), we hope that this level of compliance will set
> > a higher threshold for markup quality that will enable better baseline
> > processing.

> Well formedness will eliminate <font..>....<p>.....</font>, but won't
> prevent people using the result instead of <h2>.**

Because Tag Soup has reinforced the lesson them that this is what they

> The great problem with structural languages is that a remarkably small
> proportion of the potential authors can think in a structured way.

Profoundly true.  Generalized markup has been around for 30 years now, but
still it remains a specialized discipline.  Meanwhile, the popularization
of the Mosaic paradigm has served to reinforce a different "lesson".  The
fact of the matter is that "HTML as an SGML application" was put to sleep
by Summer '93.

> For most, HTML is a method of presenting appealing advertisements on a
> couple of pieces of "free" software, not a way of producing well
> formed machine parsable documents.

The machine parsability documents is one of the fundamental tenets of
generalized markup, so it's not surprising that it (or even the need for
it) hasn't occured to these people.  And these people are the majority on
the Web.  Like it or not, their attitudes both shape and reflect the
prevailing ethos.

The tragedy is that a formal spec for Tag Soup was never written.

Received on Thursday, 2 December 1999 00:50:24 UTC

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