Content-centric XML: Where We've Been, Where We're Going in 2003

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Look Into the Future
"Predictions are difficult—especially about the future." Whether it was Yogi Berra or Niels Bohr who said that, it certainly is true of XML. Waiting for XML's adoption has been like waiting for Godot. With increasing XML support for business users, and general awareness of XML's benefits, 2003 may be the year when content-centric XML gets as much support as does the data-centric variety. If this happens, it will be in part because vendors understand that general business users constitute a far larger market than the early technical adopters.

"Semantic Web" is less likely. My hunch says it fails the 80-20 rule. Give us 80% (or a little less) of the capabilities with 20% or less of the effort or complexity, and that's the solution most will choose. Search engines—-especially Google—are getting increasingly clever at sensing the best results for search requests, and Google is software sans "Semantic Web." Moreover, the sheer number of legacy Web pages, and the complexity and number of XML vocabularies, makes me say: Not in 2003 and, except for certain vertical industries, maybe never.

Consumer resistance to paying for Web content and for restrictions on their ability to make "fair use" copies of content from one medium to another suggest that XrML for consumer applications will still face tough sledding in 2003. XrML for business applications may come sooner, but as features of suites, which may explain Microsoft's stake in ContentGuard.

Vendors think 2003 may be a watershed year for XML authoring systems. In late September, PG Bartlett, Arbortext's vice president of marketing, told me "Reuse and automation are the key requirements driving most businesses to commit to XML content management solutions." Initiatives such as Arbortext's focus on the life sciences are key. Arbortext is targeting new drug applications, product information (package inserts, leaflets and labels), and written documentation of procedures (so-called SOPs) used in the preparation, processing and packaging of pharmaceutical and medical products. The benefits? Not only faster time to market, but less exposure to FDA penalties. One large company expects a benefit of 30 times the cost of this solution. This focused application of XML with specific benefits is what I believe will drive industry acceptance.

That's the view of content in late 2002. Arguably, content without knowledge is data without information, and content is useful only as a foundation for knowledge, the ultimate enterprise intellectual asset. But knowledge management, itself increasingly exploiting XML, is another column for another day.

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