||Monday, October 31, 2005
This entry is my response to an interesting thread spun out of a bet about the future of markup languages. It can be read standalone, but is probably easier to follow if you read the bet and the thread first.
I believe that we will all author in something much closer to XHTML+microformats than we author in DocBooks or WordML or TeX, because the former better enables Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the two-way web: a web whose "interactive content" can be immediately edited using the same basic tools for browsing as for editing. I think the traditional "batch style" of authoring and publishing using "compiled markup languages" is giving way to the "interactive style" of authoring and publishing using "dynamic markup languages". [While "compiled markup language" seems to be in use, there does not yet appear to be any discussion of compiled vs. dynamic markup languages. So this may be the first.]
The batch style is exemplified by the phrase "WYSIWYG": What You See Is What You Get. What has been compiled for rendering is what you get--take it or leave it. To put it more pejoratively "What You See Is What You Are Stuck With." The interactive style is exemplified by WYSIWYE ("What You See Is What You Edit"). [For about five minutes, I was pleased with myself for having of this succinctly insightful term; until I Googled it and got 200+ hits. Oh well, its still a great alternative term for Tim Berners-Lee's read write web.]
So...because I believe that eventually we will be able to edit and annotate and cut and paste everything we SEE on the web, this leads me to believe that the language used to present such information will be the language we use to author it as well. Note that we may still use fancy WYS editors for authoring. But the author's mental model of the underlying representation will be based on a dynamic markup language.
Blogs and wikis are heading in this direction. Few blog or wiki writers author in Word and then publish in XHTML. Instead, they author while thinking in much more HTML-native ways. For example, they use pidgen HTML markup languages (==header==) and viewers that can toggle between cooked (rendered) and raw views. Or go back even further when we used to author in long hand and a WP specialist would reproduce it in electronic format. Now almost all writers are expected to author in electronic format.
So for me, the interesting question is: What will tomorrow's "dynamic markup language" look like? I'm betting it's going to look a lot more like today's XHTML+microformats than today's compiled markup languages", e.g., DocBooks, WordML, Postscript, TeX. (Note: I think a similar dialectic is happening between dynamic programming languages and compiled programming languages for similar reasons, i.e., the transition to WYRIWYE--What You Run Is What You Edit.)
The other interesting question is how quickly will dynamic markup languages and the WYSIWYE interactive document lifecycle displace compiled markup languages and the WYSIWYG batch document lifecycle? Unfortunately, technical writing, which is often expected to be published and not changed much thereafter, e.g., academic journals, is probably the last form of writing to follow this trend. The biggest determinant of the pace of such change will be the change in thinking about academic collaboration. It's already changing with preprint archives like arXiv. The lines between preprint, print, and postprint are blurring because the relationships between the peer review process and the publishing process are in flux. However, given the pace of such cultural changes, I think five years is very optimistic--but still possible.
||Saturday, July 23, 2005
||Monday, July 18, 2005
A while ago, I posted an entry on the Unitarian Jihad. Well, this being the Web, it's taken on a life of its own. To see what I mean, check out the comprehensive Wikipedia entry on UJ, which describes the UJ as follows:
Unitarian Jihad is a nascent satirical religious/humanist movement which opposes religious extremism of all kinds through peaceful means.
The concept of the Unitarian Jihad originated in a column by writer Jon Carroll which was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 8, 2005. The column intentionally juxtaposed the Unitarian Universalistfaith and rational discussion with the Islamic concept of (militant) Jihad, and used the conceit of having received an anonymous communique from the then non-existent group. Note how many different sites mentioned in the entry have sprung up.
One of my favorites is the name generator. Here is what it generated
While the spread of the UJ meme is a humorous example, it is nonetheless a
powerful demonstration of how the Web enables the emergence of
spontaneous order. Let me walk you through it:
The point of going through this in detail is to give you a flavor
of the serendipity of the emergence process. Imagine, just a few months
after an article is published an entire
community and an rich set of Web resources emerge into being! This is
enabled by two "new" aspects of the 2nd Web Generation (aka Web 2.0):
- I find out about the UJ article from one of the blogs or newsletters I read (I can't remember which).
- I bookmark it in Furl: UJ Bookmark.
weeks later, I look at my UJ bookmark (long story having to do with
looking into my Furl Religion folder for some other search on
- I notice that someone named number-six
has also Furled UJ with the following comment: "See:
http://homepage.mac.com/whump/ujname.html to get your uj name. More
here: http://www.livejournal.com/community/unitarian_jihad/ .
- So I go to the UJ page at livejournal.
- I am amazed to find over 300 members listed on the UJ community page. I'm even more amazed to find that the community had apparently been created on the same day as the article, April 8, 2005!
- From these pages I discover the name generators and the Wikipedia entry
These two capabilities are at the heart of the Web's ability to generate spontaneous order.
- The ability of individuals to easily create new Web resources: content, groups, tools, bookmarks, etc.
- The automatic generation of backlinks, e.g., who also linked this page, what pages contain this phrase
||Saturday, July 09, 2005
Via slashdot, an interesting new twist on the decentralization, mass innovation, social software them -- Fundable:
Fundable is a new service that lets groups of people pool money for
various purposes in what are called "group actions." Similar to an
online auction, a group action has its own page, describing how much
money will be collected and what the money will do. No participant
takes a risk: if the collection for a group action falls short of its
target on deadline, all money is refunded.
Fundable's all-or-nothing approach to collecting money lets you
participate in a group purchase or fundraiser without worrying about
what other people will do. You will either get what you paid for or get
your money back.
According to the slashdot article, Fundable has already succeeded in raising funds for OSS development.
Hmmm... I might use this to organize the next Gall Family Reunion. <grin>
||Thursday, January 27, 2005
Note the change to my weblog. I've added a list of recently "Furled" pages to my home page "navigation box" to the right of this post. What's Furl you say? Furl is one of a number of emerging "bookmark" ASPs (application service providers). (Since, I'm an analyst, maybe I should coin the term "Content Service Provider". Naw.)
Rather than storing my bookmarks on my hard drive using good old Compass. I now store them at Furl, which has serveral advantages:
- I can share them with others more easily (including letting others subscribe to see new bookmarks as I collect them)
- Furl permanently caches a copy of the Furled page, just in case the link breaks down the line for some reason (this is what initially attracted me to Furl)
- I can see who else has Furled the same page, which is a great way to find people with similar obscure interests)
- I can see how many people have hit one of my bookmarks (maybe someday Furl will let me see where the hit came from)
- I can comment on the page (this eliminates the need to do such commenting on my web page)
So give it a try. Click on a Furl that interests you or click on Full Archive of Furled Pages to see all the cool pages I've encountered in my travels. Furl is highly recommended. (And yes, you can download an XML document with all your bookmarks at any time. Something that A9 lacks.)
||Sunday, November 28, 2004
I don't know if anyone has already made this
observation (please let me know who has), but I was just reading an excellent article on the history
of email [or "history of the email" as I originally posted; which surprising someone searched on, so I'm including the text here] (from an interesting journal: Iterations: An interdisciplinary
journal of software history), and the birth of the Internet's Request for
Comments (RFC) documents as a collaborative medium struck me as a wonderful
forerunner of today's weblogs:
A key feature of ARPANET design
collaboration was the careful documenting of design debates. The Network
Working Group, which solved problems in linking computers to the ARPANET,
fully documented its work starting in 1966 to help solve problems that they
expected other network users would later encounter. By 1969, when the
ARPANET became operational, proposals for technical and social norms for
information exchange were instituted in the Request For Comments (RFC)
documents that were soon distributed online. Graduate student Steve
Crocker set the tone of the RFCs when describing a Network Working Group
meeting (comprised mostly of other graduate students) about communication
between host computers and IMPs: "I present here some of the tentative
agreements reached and some of the open questions encountered. Very little
of what is here is firm and reactions are expected." In RFC 3 of
April 1969, entitled "Document Conventions," Crocker wrote:
The content of a NWG note [the
early name for RFC] may be any thought, suggestion, etc. related to the HOST
software or other aspect of the network. Notes are encouraged to be timely
rather than polished. Philosophical positions without examples or other
specifics, specific suggestions or implementation techniques without
introductory or background explication, and explicit questions without any
attempted answers are all acceptable. … These standards (or lack of them)
are stated explicitly for two reasons. First, there is a tendency to view a
written statement as ipso facto authoritative, and we hope to promote the
exchange and discussion of considerably less than authoritative ideas.
Second, there is a natural hesitancy to publish something unpolished, and we
hope to ease this inhibition.
These early RFCs sent a welcoming
signal to others interested in contributing to and improving the ARPANET.
Brian Reid, later a Carnegie Mellon graduate student and a participant in
MsgGroup, told them "I did not feel excluded by a little core of
protocol kings. I felt included by a friendly group of people who recognized
that the purpose of networking was to bring everybody in."
See especially the bolded section, which
beautifully describes the tone of a modern weblog entry. This reinforces my
belief (see my
previous entry on WS-Complexity) that the open-ended collaborative process
shaping today's Web services specifications (WS-*) is following in the footsteps
of the IETF collaborative process that was an essential, but usually overlooked,
part of the Internet's success versus formal standards organizations'
collaborative efforts such as ISO's OSI.
Such collaborative standards development refute
the notion that "Standards,
by definition, can't be innovative". See my comment disputing this.
© Copyright 2006 Nicholas Gall.