Foundation for the future

January 10, 1998

Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol 2, No 5
January, 1998

Last year, we predicted that at some point the Web would turn print editorial and production cycles upside-down: that print-to-Web workflow would begin to shift to Web-to-print workflow, simply because online is inherently a more timely delivery medium. It is our contention that once the Web has a language that is rich enough to describe documents for both online and print presentations, and the tools to support this language, then it will be time for publishers to reevaluate the tools they use to write, edit and produce their documents.

For years, a variety of print publishers—legal, reference, tech-doc and journal, for example—have been migrating their important text documents to SGML. When it came to publishing on the Web, these publishers found that SGML provided a tremendous economic benefit: their text was already in a form that could automatically be formatted for online presentation. HTML was a relatively simple tagset, one that provided an easy, albeit limited, target for most professional documents.

Support for display of XML-encoded text within Web browsers gives us hope that Web publishing will some day grow up and approach the quality of what we have in print. It should enrich the presentation customers see, as well as improve the tools editorial professionals use to produce that content.

At the same time, XML is proving to be a very useful way of describing all kinds of metadata, from object properties to subject trees. The enthusiasm and excitement about XML is coming from many fronts, in large part because it’s flexible, relatively simple and detached from vendor-controlled technology. To an increasing number of publishers, that sounds like a winning combination for the Web.

XML should be stable for the near future (which, on the Web, is the far future), but the XML family of standards is still in flux. As Jon Bosak, chair of the W3C XML Special Working Group, put it, for data-intensive applications, the problem is solved, but for publishing, it is not yet ready. We would add that in the area of schema development and knowledge representation and analysis, the real growth and development hasn’t even started yet. But, as XML and its parent specification grow into maturity, it looks as though the use of generic markup in the coming decade will easily eclipse all that has come before.