ChannelManager: What’s missing?

October 20, 1997

Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol 2, No 2

When we spoke with Pool in mid-August he predicted that "by this time next year, everyone will have XML metadata tags on their Web site." We’re not convinced that everyone will adopt XML that quickly, but we agree that it’s possible for a fair number of the larger sites. Those that already have CDF metadata can be found linked from ChannelWorld.

Yet, even if a majority of Web sites used XML metadata, there will still be a few pieces missing from the puzzle:

  • Conventions for sharing CDF.
  • XML documents, as well as XML data, and the tools for creating them and the styles for displaying them.
  • Client-side processing.

Sharing conventions. Right now, the ChannelWorld list of sites is created by cutting and pasting CDF fragments culled from individual servers. ChannelManager can’t crawl over the Net, peeking into sites and plucking XML metadata. To do so would require that all CDF metadata be stored within one identified folder on a server. Somehow, this must be generalized so that XML servers can grab, customize, massage and deliver the data without manual intervention. (Such conventions are a possible outcome if Netscape’s proposed Resource Description Framework [RDF] is adopted.)

XML-tagged documents with styles. ChannelManager manages the most common form of XML metadata, the Channel Definition Format. It displays content as HTML within the browser or a proprietary format, such as RTF or Marimba, within a separate application window.

Pool also predicts that "XML will pass HTML on the Internet in 1999," but with the caveat that there arise FrontPage equivalents for XML. For CDF and other metadata applications, Pool expects that people will use Java as the user interface to a database that exports XML. For XML documents to make a big splash, new editing software will have to find a way to make creating XML documents easy and fun—maybe not as much fun as HTML, but certainly more immediately appealing and easy to figure out than the best of today’s SGML editors.

This month DataChannel is expected to announce its own foray into the authoring market. The company is developing an add-on to a "popular word processor" that will "save as XML." The new product wasn’t ready when we visited in August, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see a prerelease version demonstrated in October.

However, along with tagging tools, the market needs a strong, generalized styling mechanism to make screen presentations a direct response to data. The recent XML style sheet proposal put forth by Microsoft, Arbortext and Inso gives hope that before long Web browsers will be able to do a much better job of formatting tagged documents (see story in the Latest Word of this issue).

When, or if, richly marked up text starts to blur the distinction between data and metadata, channel management by data input should really take off.

Client-side processing. As long as clients are serving up HTML documents, all of the management takes place on the server. When browsers have XML to chew on, processing can pass to the client.

John Tigue provides an example to illustrate this point. When you point your browser at a server today, it can automatically generate an HTML page with folder and file icons in a graphic tree in which each icon is a link to the item. Looking at the contents of a folder means hitting the server again and regenerating a static HTML page. If, instead, you could get a CDF page representing files and folders, you could sort by name, date or size and look within folders, all on your client. (This is the same vision of XML-enabled client-side processing espoused by AIS with its Balise XML plug-in. See The Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, Vol. 26, No. 19, pp. 35–36.)

When consumers in the mass market hit their hands on their foreheads and realize, oh, if my document was in XML, I could derive my CDF automatically from the document, it might be worth holding stock in that cool XML editor company.