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Subject: Re:Mark Baker's article about XML

Thanks, Mark (Giffin), for suggesting to read Mark Baker's article. I also think that Mark Baker is knowledgeable and experienced, and even though his book Every Page is Page One does repeat the same mantra just a little too much, there are some good points that anyone new to structured content could and should take away.

But reading his article on XML has pretty much ruined his reputation for me, as he is so obviously off the mark (yes, that is a bad pun) on so many aspects. Following his line of thought, the only good system to create meaningful text with is an old-fashioned mechanical typewriter. Just use whitespace to add all the meaning you need. I have done that, many times, in my student days, and yes, I use whitespace in this email to separate the paragraphs and pause the thinking of the reader before moving on to a new point.

But this has nothing at all to do with meaningful markup, and it does not mean that Mark has a valid point about the supposedly bad move of XML doing away with whitespace.

Mark is utterly confused about the difference between the notation format (XML) and the tools that present the information in a meaningful way to a human reader or author. It is bad tooling that Mark is writing about, not a bad notation standard. If Mark would have looked beyond the surface of well-known "easy" word processors like MS Word, he would know that almost every computer file uses some kind of XML for its notation format.

The statement that XML is void of semantics is hilarious: all of XML is semantics. But semantics only has meaning in context, which is true for any signals humans use to communicate. It is exactly the whitespace that does NOT have meaning. And after his rant on the meaninglessness of XML and the value of systems without markup but lots of meaningful whitespace, he introduces what? Another markup language called SAM. Another markup language some poor author will have to learn to constrain all the round semantics in his mind and try to make it fit in the square holes that Mark's SAM will come up with.

Mark's main problem is that he cannot imagine other people having different set of semantic labels in their mind with which they want or need to create a model of their world in writing. The learning curve in understanding someone who speaks Slovenian might be higher than just sticking with your country folk, but it does not do justice to anyone to simply state that their view of the world - and the words or labels they choose to describe it - are the problem.

In my opinion, laziness is the real problem. Laziness of a lot of authors who do not want to learn about semantics in the XML that they are offered, laziness in the software developers of tools that cannot make those semantics manageable without all the ugly side effect (angular brackets, verbose labels etc), and laziness in the people who are supposed to configure the systems that do offer writer-friendly ways of presenting the semantics from the XML labels to the authors who have to work with them.

A lightweight markup language without the option to specialise and add my own meaningful labels is a dead horse, as it will never go anywhere beyond the limited horizon of the use case for which it was intended. And for Mark (Baker), I suggest he replaces his SAM with a good old Remington.

Now let's hear it from the others in this think tank.


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