Home In XML did Kubla Khan – XML as Literature

In XML did Kubla Khan – XML as Literature

Dave Winer says there are 2 ways to approach XML:

“…people who think of XML as a programming space, and people who think of it as a literary space.”

The first group “love XML for its technical intricacy”. The literary people however “use XML because it is a convenient way to move info between apps”.

XML-as-literature is a romantic notion. While most programming languages (C++, Java, etc) are incomprehensible to the average person, XML is written in plain english. Both humans and computers can ‘read’ it. Actually XML, if we treat it as a form of literature, is less difficult to read than James Joyce! If you don’t believe me, check out this sample from Joyce’s Ulysses:

“Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies.”

People in the “programming space” would probably love James Joyce. Consider RDF, probably the most popular XML syntax for people inclined to technical intricacy. RDF syntax is similar to James Joyce’s writing, except it’s way more difficult to read! It’s so hard to read that people have to draw diagrams in order to write it. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, because RDF has many attributes (pardon the bad XML pun). As Shelley Powers wrote at xml.com:

“…the RDF model, and its associated syntax, brings with it the ability to define statements about data, rather than to just record pieces of data.”

But the trade-off between using RDF or simple data-recording XML, is similar to the trade-off between reading James Joyce’s Ulysses or Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. RDF/Joyce is complex and hard to get your head around. But potentially they both offer great semantic rewards. Straight XML/Hemingway is simple to understand, but capable of sublime poetry too.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m in the literary group of XML people. I happen to like Hemingway’s novels and I never did finish Ulysses 🙂 Maybe one day I may pick up Ulysses again, as one day I may tackle RDF. But right now I think Hemingway said it best:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.