Here is the talk I had prepared for the Web 2.0 panel a the XML 2006 conference. This has been a very interactive panel and even though I haven’t pronounce exactly the same sentences, the message is the same.
I had proposed a whole session titled “Why XML Experts Should Care About Web 2.0”. I have tried to shrink this 45 minutes presentation to fit within a 5 minutes slot, but that didn’t really work. Instead of presenting the result of this hopeless exercise, I will use a well known metaphor. Of course, metaphors do not prove anything but they are great to quickly illustrate a point and that’s what I need.
Bamboo stems can reach 40 meters in height with diameters up to 30 cm and some species can grow over one meter per day. Despite that, they are so strong that in Asia they are used to build scaffoldings for sky scrappers. These performances are due to the tube like structure of stems reinforced by their nodes.
It recently occurred to me that the IT technology (and probably science in general) is progressing like bamboos and alternates periods of fast innovation with periods of consolidation. It is interesting to note that the prominent actors for these phases are often different. Consolidation builds on prior experience and is a good work for established experts. On the other hand, expertise often tends to censor new ideas and it can seriously limit the ability to innovate.
This theory is well illustrated by the history of the World Wide Web.
In the eighties and early nineties, hypertext experts were stuck by the complexity of their models and a new phase of innovation began with the invention of HTTP and HTML.
The consolidation phase was launched ten years ago by Jon Bosak when he said “You have to put SGML on the web. HTML just won’t work for the kinds of things we’ve been doing in industry.”
In five years time, this consolidation phase grew to a stage where the XML stack is so heavy that it looks like legacy. Its development is almost stalled and a new innovation phase was badly required.
Those of you who know me know me as an XML expert and as many XML experts the crazy hype that is obscuring Web 2.0 kept me away for a long time.
I started to look what’s behind the hype a year ago. Having done so, I am happy to report that Web 2.0 could be the next innovation phase.
A good indication is that XML experts predict that Web 2.0 will fail for the same reasons hypertext experts predicted that HTML would fail: Web 2.0 is messy, over simplistic, not well enough designed, …
If Web 2.0 is the next innovation phase, what should we do?
We can contribute, actively follow the growth of the phenomena, provide guidance but we should avoid to be too directive for the moment.
My first personal contribution is my book “Professional Web 2.0 Programming”. This book is for anyone wanting to catch the Web 2.0 wagon. It’s also a set of reminders and guidances by we’ve tried to be as open as possible and for instance, we have covered not only XML but its alternatives (including controversial technologies such as JSON).
If we keep ready, our turn will come again when the next consolidation phase starts.
This consolidation phase will eventually put XML on the Web like XML has (at least partially) put SGML on the Web.
Will XML on the Web still be XML? Maybe not: SGML on the Web is no longer SGML, why should XML necessarily survive to the next iteration? Anyways, does that really matter?