Thursday, March 02, 2006

XML Was Invented By Losers

Here's something to ponder. Winners may write histories but evolution is determined by the losers.

How many of the XML designers and primary supporters had, owned or worked for companies that were losers in the SGML market or standards fights? Most of them (the exception being James Clark but he was independently wealthy and has his own reasons). XML wasn't the Revenge of the Forty-somethings as it was once described, but the victory of the SGML losers over the SGML winners.

The trick here is pragmatic (as in linguistic pragmatics): the sentence may be true and the implicature false. Implication is in the utterance, not the sentence.

Can you think of cases where the sentence is true? In possibly more cases than we like to admit, losers determine the direction of the next generation. Why? Motivated to change. That's why BigCos are seldom the place to look for progress. The cost of ditching legacy is not something short-term profit project managers want to account for. It's cheaper to offshore the old, delay the new, and melt down the competence capital of the engineering departments. Then you sell the company to your wealthier competitors or even to the offshore companies you have been sending work to. After that, losers take the next steps.

Happy Mind Melting.

What happens as the cost of computer hardware continues to fall? Traditionally, it has been cheaper to replace or upgrade software because hardware changes were orders of magnitude more expensive given a system of some size? If both costs are falling, isn't there a point at which it is cheaper to FexEx the entire system? Is it true that the only future profits for information technologies will be in local customization?

I don't believe any of that, but the implications are fun. Those buying those companies, for example, may win by acquisition and lose by possession of the obligations because the losers in the last round of competition are waiting and weren't loafing while all of the buying and selling was paralyzing the engineers like deers caught in the headlights.

And now that they have lost, they have nothing else to do but work on winning.

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Kris Kristofferson


Mike Champion said...

Who were the SGML winners if Arbortext, Softquad, Inso, ISOGEN, etc. were the losers ?

I do agree with the overall thrust -- change doesn't come from those who are happy with the status quo.

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Tony Fisk said...

Hi Len,

It's an interesting take on the Turing test these days: how do I manage to *not* come across as a spam bot?

I suppose I could start by pointing out how to block out the auto spam, at least.

Go check your blog settings/comments. Set the flag: 'Show word verification for comments?' to 'Yes'. interesting idea for an anti-spam bot!

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