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

Mason, James David (MXM) sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Wed, 24 Oct 2001 15:09:31 -0400

I'm going to speak once more from an ISO perspective:

The choice about whether to revise/correct a standard can be influenced by
many things, but the goal of ISO is to have things as correct as possible.
If there's a bug and the committee knows how to fix it, then it should be
fixed as soon as possible.

As Steve N. remarked in an earlier message, Goldfarb was generally motivated
by wanting to do the best for the user community, not for himself or IBM.
(And in the early days, we pretty much did know who was in the user
community: if they weren't already on the committee, we could at least
expect to see them at a GCA conference.) But we got burned by our
relationships with another committee (dominated by vendors rather than
users) that was hostile to SGML, and that made a lot of people, including
Goldfarb, paranoid about any changes to the standard. The result was that
things didn't get fixed until some frustrated people went off and started
working on XML.

I think that the SGML/XML community is much more mature than it was 15 or 20
years ago, and the community, both users and vendors, can accept change
better than it once did.

The Topic Map community may not be so old or well established as the
SGML/XML community as a whole, but it's part of that latter community and
should accept the openness to change of the larger community. That we have
proposals for models and auxiliary languages moving through the ISO process
is a sign that the TM community is alive and capable of change.

So if we know there's something than needs fixing in ISO 13250, we need to
fix it. Users and vendors alike need to work on the fix. And we ought to
move on the fix as soon as we can figure out what the best solution is.

Now, speaking as Jim Mason:

Having been trained as a linguist, I'm acutely aware of the limitations of
natural language. I could never be a Strict Constructionist in
constitutional law or a fundamentalist in religion, though I am a strong
believer in both law and religion. 

In the Topic Map world we have one advantage over interpreters of the U.S.
Constitution and the major world religions in that we still have the editors
of the document among us. But even that does not guarantee us an absolute
interpretation. In literary criticism I learned about the "intentional
fallacy": even the creator of a work of literature doesn't really know what
he/she/it meant (or intended) in the document. The same applies to
standards. Steve, Michel, and Martin may *think* they know what they said in
the standard (and we ought to pay attention to their opinions), but they
can't really know.

ISO 13250 is not specified in a rigorous mathematical language; it's not
susceptible to proof. The only thing formulaic we have is two DTDs, and we
know they're not consistent. So we need to fix something, and that will
probably mean changing both words and DTDs. If that means changing some
vendors' code, so be it. If it means fixing some existing topic map
instances, so be it. I can't speak for how much work is involved in fixing
code (except to guess that while nontrivial it's considerably less than the
job of creating the overall code). I've lived with enough SGML documents in
the past 20 years to know that there are a lot of things that you can do to
a DTD that can be fixed in the instances by some scriptable process. While
some of us may have some pretty big instances, it's better to fix them now
than sometime later when they're even bigger.

Jim Mason

James David Mason, Ph.D.

Y-12 National Security Complex
Bldg. 9113, M.S. 8208
P.O. Box 2009
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-8208

+1 865 574 6973

Chairman, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34