Re: Allocated chapter numbers for specific chapter content

Subject: Re: Allocated chapter numbers for specific chapter content
From: "Ned Bedinger" <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 2004 14:15:15 -0700

----- Original Message -----
From: "Broberg, Mats" <mabr -at- flir -dot- se>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Sent: Monday, September 20, 2004 12:25 AM
Subject: RE: Allocated chapter numbers for specific chapter content

>> Right on target. I admire SGML all to pieces.
>> Well-structured information presentation is the thing that
>> really blows up my dress. Whoo!

>Correct me if I'm wrong (as I belong to the XML generation), but wasn't
>the problem with SGML that it was an overly complex standard, where 95 %
>of the users used only 5 % of the standard's possibilites, and that this
>fact was one of the problems that eventually led to XML?

SGML was devised as a way to describe a document to computers. XML then came
along as a way to extend SGML's limited ability to carry the meaning of a
document's contents. I'll try to expand these statements a little bit,
because I think this is an unfamiliar view of markup language taxonomy that
needs a little historical perspective to be clear.

But first: You are ko-rrect, the SGML standard is much bigger than the
features most users need. The early set of HTML tags and interpreter
functions, for example, was derived and adapted from SGML (by Tim
Berners-Lee, CERN) to meet the specialized requirements of electronic
hypermedia for information sharing in the CERN scientific community.

SGML was an ISO (International Standards Organization) initiative whose time
had come. I think the basic idea behind it was simply to go as far as
possible in describing the meaning of a document's contents in more abstract
terms, as structure. SGML has some ability to convey meaning in terms of the
logical relationships between elements of the document. A familiar example
is the Heading/Subheading hierarchy. SGML lets an organization create their
own unique information structures, and tell them to computers. Familiar
examples abound where databases are found:

A Customer has
a name
first name
last name
an address
address 1
address 2
zip code
a phone number
area code

The computer can then interpret and extract structured information from a
tagged document, or generate a tagged document containing structured
information. The benefit to me, as tech writer, is that I too can know
beforehand, by being familiar with the document's definition and without
doing original analysis, how the information fits together, to meet the
customer's need. I can grab the appropriate template, fill in the specific
parts, and be done. The formatting will be applied by the SGML system
according to a predefined document design. The benefits to the user are that
all documents of a particular type will be the same in these respects.

With SGML, information got a new two-way street between databases and
documents. XML was driven by the potential to use even deeper cybernetic
capabilities to define and process information. With SGML you could not
distinguish between a double-precision number and an apartment number, but
with XML you can.

XML is more closely allied with programming--it provides a way to tag
information in the same terms used in traditional low-level programming
languages and databases. XML amounts to an easier way to send computer data
in the same stream that carries *TML markup information to a web browser.
The benefits are apparent to programmers responsible for making sure that
the data they're processing is the same type of data that the program
expects to be processing.

There must be a mountain of additional background available on the web.
Charles Goldfarb was the editor of the ISO SGML Standard, btw. Microsoft
and the other big players in B2B and web commerce have been among the prime
mover in the subsequent redefinitions of HTML, XML, XSL, etc.

Hope I haven't left anything out.

Ned Bedinger
Ed Wordsmith Technical Communications


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RE: Allocated chapter numbers for specific chapter content: From: Broberg, Mats

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