The Heart of Today's Effort
When the Web was developed and a need for a browser markup language arose, the world fully understood the superiority of descriptive markup over its visual cousins. Indeed, the development of SGML in the 60s and 70s was driven largely by frustration with the visual markup in use at the time. Despite this, HTML was developed to meet only the visual needs of the browser software. The resulting delay in the development of XML has had far-reaching impact on the Web's progress toward the information resource it can and should be.
The growth of markup is at the heart of today's effort to revolutionize our ability to communicate and collaborate. In the 1960s we realized that textual information could be stored in, and processed by, computers and that through codes embedded in the text, it could identified for logical access and use. Since then we have continued to refine our ability to capture and deliver text-based information products.
Indeed, after a period in the 1970s and 80s during which the database world moved ahead of text in its ability to deliver information value, the text automation world has made remarkable advances. This has been true in both depth and flexibility, culminating in the development of the Internet, World Wide Web (WWW) and XML (eXtensible Markup Language,) all broadly text-based instruments. In fact, the Internet and WWW revolution happened so quickly that we found ourselves in the 1990s with no content formatting approach capable of capturing and delivering information at a level commensurate with the Web's ability and Web users' appetites.
HTML, the first attempt to address this deficit, grew out of visual formatting concerns, as had the computer-typesetting world of the 1960s. Accordingly, for the first several years of the Web, we prepared electronic information in a space age "layout format." SGML, the answer to descriptive formatting in the 60s and beyond, was judged too heavyweight for the nimble software and networks of the Web and could not contribute materially until the radical change that finally produced XML.
As the information world becomes more fully engaged in the many attempts to define protocols by which content may be marked up and used, there are a number of important things to remember lest we repeat past experiences.