XML at 10: Big or Little?

Uche Ogbuji of Fourthought writes the Thinking XML column on IBM’s developerWorks site. On the 14th of this month he celebrated what is more or less the 10th anniversary of XML with this thoughtful piece on the origins and current state of the technology. What the article ultimately ends up being about is the “Big” idea of XML vs. the oftentimes “Little” implementation of it. The Big idea is that XML can be used in a bottom-up fashion to model the grammar of a particular problem domain in an application- and context-independent manner. The little implementation is when XML is essentially used as a more verbose protocol for data interchange between existing applications. I would guess that is 90+ percent of what it is currently used for.

Mr. Ogbuji doesn’t like the idea that the XML vision might devolve into YAP (Yet Another Protocol). He rightly believes that the power and benefit of the idea is in creating independence between data formats and current processing mechanisms. I agree, but at the same time I don’t think it likely that this will actually evolve in most industries. Our economy is too chaotic, things change too rapidly, and self-interest always rules. Organizations are happy to cooperate on stuff that runs buried deep in the wires, i.e. HTTP or the ISO formats for bank data interchange. They are less happy to spend time creating a universal definition of what they do for customers and partners, which has the ultimate effect of debranding their own interfaces. An interesting read, whatever your take on it.