[sc34wg3] Re: Public Interest and ISO WAS: [topicmapmail] <mergeMap> questions

Murray Altheim sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Fri, 19 Oct 2001 14:44:49 -0700

"Steven R. Newcomb" wrote:
> [Murray Altheim:]
> > I don't see the current discussion as productive in
> > determining who among the ISO committee, any of its
> > members, or anyone on this forum as being either
> > better qualified or better placed in serving the
> > "public good."
> I'm sorry if I sounded like I was promoting persons.  I
> was trying to promote ideas.

[see below]

> > Only in hindsight could one determine which better
> > served. It's not about intention.
> I disagree.  Of course it's about intention!  If we
> don't intend to serve the public interest, then we will
> only do so by accident.  We are very likely to serve
> the public interest better if we actually intend to do
> so.


Thank you very much for responding so civilly to my message, and
I appreciate the things you've said about me, both now and in the
past. I don't think either one of us questions each other's 
intentions, as I think we both firmly believe we're working for
the best possible outcomes for the community, not any fame or
money or whatever for ourselves. This is why I said "it's not
about intention" as I believe those involved in these discussions
have the right intentions. I merely mean that we have no way of
knowing whether our good intentions will lead to the best result.
The road to hell is paved, etc. I'm worried that with the best
of intentions we may be undermining the work that has been done
to develop and promote XTM and the community that has arisen 
around it.

> > If XTM is not simple, straightforward, and can't be
> > understood without an exhaustive education, if such
> > an education is required to author a topic map, if
> > its processing model cannot be understood by software
> > developers, if a user of topic map software finds
> > that a reference to an online taxonomy causes an
> > enormous taxonomy to be downloaded (which it's
> > unlikely its owners would even allow in many cases
> > even if the user was willing to wait and had the
> > space in memory and hard drive to contain it and
> > process it), well, XTM will not succeed.
> First of all, the points you make are all very relevant
> to the public interest.  Furthermore, I know you,
> Murray, and I know that you are so deeply committed to
> the public interest that, most of the time, you're not
> even aware that it's an issue.  (And I would venture to
> say that this is the case with just about everyone in
> our community.)
> But just looking at your words, and if I did not know
> you personally, I would get the message that your
> primary intention to is "make XTM succeed" -- to make
> it be adopted by the mass market.  It's not at all
> obvious that you regard XTM as a tool for providing
> some specific benefit to the public.

Well, I can't really separate these issues, as if XTM 
doesn't succeed commercially, it'll likely not provide
any benefit to the public since it does require significant
software, infrastructure and human-knowledge support.
> I'm not splitting hairs, here.  The distinctions we
> make between means and ends inform everything that we
> do.  For example, the primary goal of Microsoft is to
> make its products succeed.  For a commercial venture,
> there's nothing wrong with that.  But consider how
> different Microsoft's products would be if Microsoft's
> primary goal were to enhance human productivity,
> instead of using human productivity enhancement as just
> one means of generating profit.
> I guess what I'm saying is that the development of a
> public standard need not itself be a commercial
> venture.  It can have different priorities.  Widespread
> adoption need not be an end in itself, but rather a
> means to another goal.  That other, primary goal,
> whatever it is, must be the basis of our discussions.
> Otherwise, we may make a mistake, and, for example, get
> the wrong standard widely adopted.

If there is no goal of seeing topic maps succeed as a commercial
venture, vendors will not play in this arena. If that happens
there'll be no software support except for hobbiests and those
willing to spend their "free" time developing open source tools.

My concern is that if we make XTM too difficult to understand,
implement, support, document, or use, it'll be useless in 
promoting *any* goals whatsoever, as it'll die the death of
all of the other standards that people ignored. For me, mass
adoption doesn't mean millions of people, it means a sufficient
and appropriate "market penetration" to ensure its success and
longevity. I'm not advocating dumbing it down, not fixing actual
mistakes, but there's a big difference between a mistake and a
difference of opinion on *how* something might be implemented.

I'm not in this for the money any more than you (though we both
have to pay our bills), but if nobody can pay their bills we'll 
all be doing something else. And I'd much rather be doing this
than something else (aha! my selfish interest surfaces!)

> I'm sorry if I sounded like I was promoting persons.  I
> was trying to promote ideas.

My only accusation has been your use of a rhetorical rather
than a technical argument. I don't think it fair to lean on
what might be the "public interest" any more than it's useful
to use a "sky is falling" point. There is the idea each one of
us has of Topic Maps, there is the ISO 13250 standard, the XTM 
1.0 Specification. If they don't all agree it's because there 
isn't a really clear picture underlying all. That doesn't really
matter (and in fact it's impossible to be otherwise) so long as
we are able to intercommunicate and interoperate at a sufficient
level that things "work." I say "impossible" because nobody can
ever truly be sure of communication being accurate, it's an
incremental understanding we can only strive to improve. 

There was no explicit model at all in ISO 13250 and yet things 
moved forward. There may be differences between your understanding
of the topic maps model and that of the community. What's important
at this point for each of us is to understand whether or not 
fixing that discrepancy is worth it if it destroys the stability
and therefore the community. Some changes of course can be made,
I'm just suggesting that the functionality and interoperability
of the *existing* specification(s) be considered very seriously
before resorting to a policy of "fixing" things.

Eg., my car engine makes a funny noise but it still runs fine. I'm
not willing to try to repair it unless I'm sure its really necessary
and I'll not make things worse, causing me to give up it and start 
riding a skateboard.


PS. Hope you're doing well, my friend. For me, K. and I are off to the
UK next week to visit KMi.
Murray Altheim, SGML/XML Grease Monkey  <mailto:murray.altheim&#64;sun.com>
XML Technology Center, Java and XML Software
Sun Microsystems, 1601 Willow Rd., MS UMPK17-102, Menlo Park, CA 94025

     i am going to see if i cannot reform insects in general
     i have constituted myself a missionary extraordinary 
     and minister plenipotentiary and entomological to bring
     idealism to the little struggling brothers -- archy (1927)