When Will the XML Market Take Off?

April 22, 1998

Adina Levin

When Will the XML Market Take Off? Adina Levin
April 22, 1998

This article comes to us courtesy of Cap Ventures, who do all sorts of good work in the general area of Document Computing; their management-oriented Documation conferences pay close attention to XML. -Tim Bray

XML has been getting a lot of mainstream press lately: an article in Time Magazine confirms that XML is the media's newest technology darling. The hype is exciting for folks who've been working in related fields for years, and but it's also somewhat ominous, since the quantity of hype summons an equal and opposite quantity of skepticism.

Om Malik, writing for Forbes Digital Tool, exemplifies this skeptical attitude. In a series of recent articles, Malik's angle is to ask whether XML is the "next big thing," or simply the next big computing fad. The headline for the articles: XML Blues: A New Web Language Starts Hype War.

This issue has been coming up a lot in our discussions with clients. Is the "XML market" poised to take off? When is XML going to launch itself onto the 110-degree portion of the "hockey stick curve"? Will the hype harm the "XML market"?

The questions, the hype, and the skepticism about the "XML market" are all based on a faulty assumption. There's no such thing as an XML market.

Say What?

We all know the story of the "market life cycle." A new technology is born -- laser printers, or personal digital assistants, or image management. The market passes through familiar stages -- early adoption, rapid growth, profitable maturity, and finally, "end of life." When we see a new thing like XML, we want to fit it into this familiar pattern.

But XML is not a "market." Customers do not - and will not - buy an "XML," in the same way they buy a laser printer or a PalmPilot. Instead, XML is an enabling standard that allows people to do some new things, and to do some existing things better. As an enabling standard, XML will play an important role in several markets, whose growth paths are nearly independent of each other.

This argument is bolstered by reporting in Forbes' XML series. An article in last week's Forbes Digital Tool describes six XML projects in large corporations. These projects provide evidence -- not of AN emerging XML market -- but of SEVERAL emerging markets enabled by XML.

  • Cisco Systems is using XML to distribute news within the company from multiple sources outside the company.
  • Hewlett-Packard is testing a business-to-business system, based on software from WebMethods, that lets users exchange data between applications, web sites and proprietary systems.
  • Citibank is working on a bill presentment and payment system in XML.
  • CommerceNet has instituted a pilot project to make XML- powered catalogs for the U.S. government.
  • Marquette Medical Systems is developing a cardiovascular monitoring system that uses XML to post data from various hospital departments to the hospital's intranet.

The examples given in the article illustrate five different classes of applications that are enabled by XML.

  • Personalization and customization (Cisco)
  • Connecting databases to documents (Hewlett-Packard/WebMethods)
  • Web-based EDI (Citibank)
  • Content exchange and syndication (CommerceNet)
  • Publishing automation (Marquette Medical)

These classes of applications are different from each other in many ways. They require different kinds of tools. They use different kinds of tag sets -- some require tag sets that are shared across a number of different users, perhaps as a standard within a particular industry, while others will use tag sets that are specific to a particular company's business process.

Class of Application Tagging Applied To
Personalization or customization Company-specific tags or shared/standardized tags Publishing, marketing
Databases to documents Company-specific tags Transactional apps of all kinds
Web-based EDI Shared tag set Commerce
Content exchange and syndication Shared tag set Publishing, commerce
Publishing automation Company-specific tags Transactional publications

These classes of applications are associated with corresponding market opportunities that will develop at different rates, along different growth curves, within different important vertical markets.


Content aggregators will be among the first to adopt XML-driven customization. Publishers and electronic commerce websites will be very interested in XML-driven customization, but adoption may be slowed by several factors: the need for new authoring tools; the need for data mining tools that drive customizations; the need for new processes to manage customized services. Depending on the degree of customization, tagging could be either specifically adapted to the needs of a customer or could be built around a general purpose XML application such as CDF (Channel Definition Format).

Databases to Documents

The buyers for this technology will be IT developers. XML tools will compete with other scripting and programming methods for achieving the same goals.

Web-Based EDI

This application will follow a network adoption model - clusters of adopters will "light up" simultaneously. These clusters will be concentrated in industries characterized by powerful buyers (who get their suppliers to standardize) or a dominant distributor (who gets its manufacturers to standardize).

Content Exchange and Syndication

This application will also follow a network adoption model. Powerful information aggregators will demand that their suppliers deliver information with standard tags. Catalog distributors will provide versions of catalogs to be hosted on their customers' intranets.

Publishing Automation

This application will develop gradually and steadily, among both corporate and commercial publishers. Publishing automation takes extra work and expense, and will need cost- justification. Users will need to show that the benefits are expected to overcome the costs of new tools, added in tools, in time, and in changed processes.

Which XML Market are You In?

This analysis tells us is that "buzzword-enabling" your product won't be enough to secure success as an XML player. In order to succeed with XML software, it is important to communicate clearly which problems you are solving with XML, and to define which of the emerging XML markets you're in.

At recent XML events, we've seen plenty of interest and activity among software developers in XML-enabling their product lines, and avid curiosity among publishers and programmers about what this new thing will let them do. Users are looking for help in understanding what XML can do for them. Clarifying your market position help you cultivate the market, succeed more quickly, and avoid user confusion and backlash.