XML at 10

Volume 11, Issue 22; 10 Feb 2008; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Today is the tenth anniversary of the publication of Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 as a W3C Recommendation.

Ten years ago today XML was born. That's when it was first published as a RecommendationIn fact, that process document post-dates the XML Recommendation, but I can't find the one that was in effect in 1998. Not that I'd expect to find anything substantially different in it.. XML goes back a little further than that, it gestated, to stick to the metaphor, for almost two years at the W3C: Dan Connolly announced the creation of the SGML Working Group mailing list on 28 Aug 1996.

It predates even that, of course, in the vision of Yuri Rubinsky, Jon Bosak, and many others who imagined bringing the full richness of generalized markup vocabularies to the then nascent World Wide Web.

My personal, professional career goes back to the fall of 1993, so I came onto the scene only late in the development of “SGML on the Web” as an idea. It's earliest history is lost in the blur of fear, excitement, and delight that I felt as I was thrust by circumstance into the SGML community.

I joined O'Reilly on the very first day of an unprecedented two-week period during which the production department, the folks who actually turn finished manuscripts into books, was closed. The department was undergoing a two-week training period during which they would learn SGML and, henceforth, all books would be done in SGML. The day was a Monday in November, 1993Not 1994, as I previously claimed.. I know this for sure because I still have the T-Shirt.

My job, I learned on that first day, would be to write the publishing system that would turn SGML into Troff so that sqtroff could turn it into PostScript. “SGML”, I recall thinking, “well, at least I know how to spell it.”

Despite that inauspicious start, I have essentially made my career out of it. I learned SGML at O'Reilly and began working on DocBook, I worked in SGML professional services at Arbortext, and I joined Sun to work in the XML Technology Center. XML has been good to me.

Things have not turned out as planned. The economic forces that took over when the web became “the next big thing” are more interested in pixel-perfect rendering, animation, entertainment, and advertising than in richly structured technical content. HTML 5 may be the last nail in the “SGML on the Web” coffin, but few would deny that XML has been a huge success.

Here's to another ten! In internet time, that's forever, isn't it?