The Webby Future of Structured Markup: Not your father’s XML

John Maxwell
Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing
Simon Fraser University
Oct 25, 2012

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This is not a technical treatise,
but rather a manifesto for how
we think about markup.

How do we think about markup?

SGML was designed for industry

XML was designed with the Web in mind, but it still inherited SGML’s ROI model.

The case for SGML/XML:

So, do publishers need XML-first workflows?

Conventional wisdom says, “Yes.”

XML is an Industrial-strength technology... with Industrial-sized cost and complexity

...because it was designed for expensive and complex problems

If your project has a million-dollar content development budget, a $200,000 savings on content re-use makes good business sense.

How many publishers live in
that world anymore?

Or ever did?

Increasingly, publishing is not Industrial anymore.

Dare I say...

“Publishing is not an Industry anymore”?

Industrial markup is not the way to the future.

It’s a solution to the wrong set of problems.

Let’s revisit the rationale
for structured markup...

Rationale for GML (circa 1976)

Rationale for SGML (circa 1986):

Rationale for XML (circa 1997):

None of those reasons is obsolete!

How do we get back to first principles?

Industrial XML is utterly and hopelessly divorced from the world of writing.

Converting Word to XML has
been the holy grail since long before XML.

Can we have it both ways? A writing environment & a serious XML environment?

The real solution requires us
to unask the question.

What is in front of us?

Markup in actual practice. Incidental markup.
Effortless markup.

We can have the benefits of XML without the heavy industry

Because industrial efficiency isn’t what markup is about anymore.

It’s about interoperability & fluidity on the Web.

What if we treated nasty old HTML as though it were real markup?

HTML’s success is in its ubiquity.

“Just take a minute and consider how many person-years and dollars it’s taken to shake HTML down to the point where it generally just kind of interoperates and there are good authoring environments and so on.”
Tim Bray

Encouraging things abound.

Changes in widespread practice:

We have an opportunity to fix the disconnect between ‘Publishing’ & ‘Web’ mindflows.

The integral tension between tradition & innovation

As publishing moves forward, the internal tension between tradition and innovation threatens to tear it asunder.

How do we pull it together?

Feedback, please!

John Maxwell
Simon Fraser University