Bray and Symbols and Grounding

Tim Bray on the namespace fooflah that’s been happening:

Right now, in the context of the Pie/Echo/Atom/whatever project, people assert that crystallizing the meaning of embedded namespaces is the key to interoperability, the central problem, and so on. Huh? When someone proposes markup from another namespace for inclusion in a syndication feed, there are three possible outcomes:

Nobody pays attention and it isn’t much adopted.

It gets widely adopted, with semantics along the lines originally proposed.

It gets widely adopted, with some semantic drift away from the original proposal becoming evident in the implementations. (Note that this has already happened with some RSS 2.0 markup).

Oddly enough, this is exactly what will happen with proposed tags and attributes that aren’t in a different namespace.

I agree with Tim when he summarizes his essay with “…we shouldn’t try to kid ourselves that meaning is inherent in those pointy brackets, and we really shouldn’t pretend that namespaces make a damn bit of difference”. There is no ‘meaning’ behind markup, there is no ‘meaning’ behind namespaces.

But, there is behavioral assumptions associated with both – behavior that can be programmed into both producers and consumers of the markup. In the recent discussions about namespaces, as per Jon Udell, the programmatic behavior and assumptions might be getting a bit blurred about the meaning of it all, but within the Pie/Echo/Atom world, the discussion of namespaces is concrete: what signals a change, what works, what doesn’t, and what should be ignored.

For me, namespaces say:

I mark things that belong in a specific schema. This schema isn’t an extension to diddly squat – it can live on its own, thank you. If it didn’t, we’d have these psuedo-schemas floating around because the originators of Important Schema didn’t take the time to do their job right in the beginning. The opposite of analysis paralysis is … broken bits of schema floating around, desperately holding on to Big Brother, hoping to be acknowledged as part of the family and not the bastard add-on that crept in after darkness.

If you see a name like one of mine somewhere else that has a different namespace, this means that the two things aren’t the same. How they differ is up to organic side of this relationship to figure out. I personally don’t care. Because all I do, is mark things.

Come to think of it, there is a lot of ‘meaning’ in my understanding of namespaces, isn’t there?

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