What Would Shakespeare Think?
Thursday, April 2, 1998 by Dave Winer.
I've been caught in a whirlwind. Things have been moving fast. Finally I'm getting a chance to catch my breath and write a little.
I got an interesting email a few days ago from a regular Scripting News reader saying that he didn't understand what I've been talking about or what I've been pointing to ever since I got on the XML parade.
I will try to make it simpler, and that'll happen soon. I promise.
In the meantime I've been reading the specs along with my confused correspondent.
It's like reading Shakespeare. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, in school, and they made us read Shakespeare, I had no idea what they were talking about. I was raised in New York, in the mid-20th century. Shakespeare wrote in England in the mid-17th century. A lot changed in between including the language we use. It was called English then too. But it was a very different language from the one I speak.
Imagine Shakespeare trying to read the specs on the W3C site. He was a smart guy. What would he think? Would he rush out and get XML for Dummies as soon as he saw what was on those sites?
Privately I've been evangelizing developers on putting a simple XML parser and HTTP server into their apps, alongside their COM and Apple Events interfaces. HTTP is simple enough, most developers have experimented at least a little in TCP programming. But when I ask the typical developer to think about writing an XML parser (I'm thinking of someone who does an HTML tool or a graphics app) mostly the response is "What's an XML parser?"
Uh huh. We have a long way to go. And XML is a moving target. And some of it is being designed for relational databases when we already have object databases that can represent XML data in (close to) their natural form without forcing contortions to make them fit the relational view.
I think the standards process is weak. It gives an extrordinary voice to the large companies, and history has shown that they rarely are hotbeds of innovation, nor are they willing to take real risks on new technology, nor do they really want to move quickly. A confounding maze of computer science is the result, when (I believe) the only thing the market will actually consume is simplicity.
The standards process supports the kind of stagnation we've seen between Netscape and MSIE. Look at how quickly the products got into lockstep and look at the dearth of new ideas in browsers. Do we want to continue to support that process? Both companies are talking to C and Java developers. Who is going to provide the next level of power for people who understand HTML?
Neither Microsoft or Netscape has put vector graphics into the browser. Why not? Such an obvious idea. How did the standards bodies miss that? In the old days, when Excel and Lotus were facing off, or Word and WordPerfect, the pace of innovation was higher, belying the idea that "Internet time" is faster than old times.
Sure we're all moving at a feverish pace, but how much real progress are we making? Are we building on each other's work? Two weeks ago when I proposed that we work with Perl developers to leverage our work in XML databases, the most popular answer was "We'll crush you because we're bigger." Uck. Been there done that. You crush yourself, not me. I keep moving.
I think (I hope) we're just in a breather period between explosions. The web made a big difference. Can the next growth incubator happen without a major delay? We'll see, sooooon, I think.
That's what I'm thinking about right now. I want to keep it simple. I want to break out from behind HTML-imposed barriers, but I don't want to give up the low-tech understandability of HTML.