XML: The Emperor’s Clothing

By David Alan Rech of Scribe Inc.


XML stands out in the industry as this amazingly complex, technical mark-up language that is going to revolutionize publishing. Within publishing, it has become equated with a magical panacea to cure all that ails the industry.

The publishers who don't understand it, or understand it and don't see the benefits, feel coerced into pouring valuable resources into XML, hoping for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ideally, it would make the workflow efficient, enable easy conversion, and function as a storage format. In reality, XML is just as invisible as the proverbial emperor's new clothes.

Like the emperor's new clothes, XML is an abstract theory, not a concrete reality, and certainly not a cure-all for the publishing industry's ills. XML or Extensible Markup Language applies structure to content in "a simple, very flexible text format derived from SGML (ISO 8879)" (W3C Web site). For all its simplicity, many companies have discovered that the implementation of XML can consume huge amounts of time, resources, and money.

Potentially, XML has a lot to offer, but, in spite of the hype, there is nothing there. That is not to say that XML has nothing to offer, only that publishers need to distill the concept down to simple and realistic terms. You need to see how XML can work for you before you invest time, energy, and resources into its development.

XML is based on a concept of well-formed documents in which publications have delineated content, an identification of distinctive elements, proper nesting rules, and a consistency of all of these elements. To be well-formed, a document does not need to contain angle-brackets, special coding, or any other complex coding structure. Any good copyeditor can achieve this, If your copyeditors produce well-formed documents, then you have already been creating what everybody refers to as XML content.

With a little know-how, and some simple procedures, XML can be applied in any program during your normal editorial and production process—with no additional investment in hardware or software, and no expenditure of extra time and effort. It’s like getting a new wardrobe, without all the expense.

XML is like the emperor's clothes: it is costly and experts will tell you how great it is. But it is really nothing!