Stoa Consortium

Stoa Consortium

1.8.2. What's the big deal about XML?


Up: 1.8. An Introduction to XML and the Text Encoding Initiative Previous: 1.8.1. TEI and Latin Texts Next: 1.8.3. Great. So where do I start?

Although the world is indebted to HTML for enabling document delivery and display over the Internet—not to mention the phenomenal growth of the World Wide Web—its uses, as we mentioned before, are limited. HTML was created primarily as a publishing language that instructs the browser how a document should be displayed: i.e. that the text surrounded by <B></B> tags should be bold, that the text contained in <H2></H2> tags should be smaller than that in <H1></H1> tags, and so forth. While this is useful for ensuring the readability of documents, it does not take advantage of the Internet's potential as a vehicle for exchanging meaningful information that computers can actually process in order to accomplish tasks.

In "XML and the Second-Generation Web," Jon Bosak and Tim Bray (both instrumental in the development of XML) state that a self-describing language, such as XML, promises to extend the Internet beyond basic information delivery.105 Because XML documents explicitly label the information they contain, the browser can then "find, extract, sort, filter, arrange and manipulate that information in highly flexible ways".106 An example presented by Bosak and Bray to illustrate the difference in the potential for meaningful exchange of a document created with procedural markup (HTML) and one created with self-describing—or semantic—markup is the following: while a doctor can view an HTML page to educate herself about a patient's drug-interaction history, she cannot then email that page to someone else to have it pasted directly into a database. Using XML, however, would allow the medical community to create meaningful tags such as <patient><name>John Doe</name><drug-allergy>penicillin</drug-allergy></patient>.107 The ability to declare data explicitly within in an application-independent text document—provided it conforms to standard terminology within a given professional community—lays the groundwork for the creation of computer programs that would allow the information in that document to be entered automatically into an existing database without the need for intermediate steps.

Up: 1.8. An Introduction to XML and the Text Encoding Initiative Previous: 1.8.1. TEI and Latin Texts Next: 1.8.3. Great. So where do I start?



Date: last revised 2003-12-18 Author: Jennifer K. Nelson.
This page is covered by a Creative Commons ShareAlike license.