extensibility, open exchange
A large portion of the XML community sells XML softly, as a set of tools for defining (often programatically enforceable) standards representing the terms of agreement for communication between participants. XML also has a core of people who take "extensible" more seriously, and regard XML as a syntactic foundation for communications of a rather more anarchic sort, in which participants can use whatever labels and structures they want to send information to other participants who read those labels and structures however they want. The former group commonly regards the latter group as far-out dreamers, while the latter group often regards the former group as lacking in imagination. (Both of those descriptions are substantially toned down.) For the far-out dreamers (and those willing to listen), I've got a brief quote that explores the possibilities created by the model of open exchanges. The quote is specifically about the nature of scientific debate, but it isn't difficult to stretch "collectively deciding an issue" to other forms of communication, even markup processed in deeply 'rational' computing environments. "There are therefore at least two different ways of collectively deciding an issue which I shall call a guided exchange and an open exchange respectively. In the first case some or all participants adopt a well-specified tradition and accept only those responses that correspond to its standards. If one party has not yet become a participant of the chosen tradition he will be badgered, persuaded, 'educated' until he does - and then the exchange begins. Education is separated from decisive debates, it occurs at an early stage, and guarantees that the the grown-ups will behave properly.... An open exchange, on the other hand, is guided by a pragmatic philosophy. The tradition adopted by the parties is unspecified in the beginning and developers as the exchange proceeds. The participants get immersed into each other's ways of thinking, feeling, perceiving to such an extent that their ideas, perceptions, world-views may be entirely changed - they become different people participating in a new and different tradition. An open exchange respects the partner whether he is an individual or an entire culture, while a rational exchange promises respect only within the framework of rational debate."  Open exchanges have historically been expensive things in computing terms, as the huge sums of money thrown to relatively weak implementations of natural language processing have demonstrated. For some of us, however, XML offers an intriguing middle ground, bringing structures which lower the cost of processing while offering capabilities which are far more open than constrained vocabularies can ever be. Thanks to Michel Biezunski for mentioning Feyerabend in a conversation a few weeks ago - I'd always known it was there, but it's been fun reading ever since.  - Feyerabend, Paul. _Against Method_. (Verso: New York, 1993.) p.227-228. Simon St.Laurent http://simonstl.com
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