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[P]
Is the tech industry out of ideas?

By Dacta in Op-Ed
Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 09:29:51 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

USA today is carrying a story about a percieved lack of ideas in technology.

The industry seems to have stalled. The technology that is the basis for the Web, HTML, might have hit the upper limits of what it can do. The communications networks that would allow hot new services mainly high-speed broadband lines to homes and next-generation wireless systems capable of carrying graphics and video are not appearing as quickly as hoped. And Silicon Valley's near-monopoly on tech innovation is in danger of getting whittled back by Europe, Japan and Israel.


The article goes on to say that XML is the next big thing to invigorate the tech industry.

They actually make a good point:

With XML, Web sites will be able to talk to and exchange information among each other and with other programs inside your computer or wireless devices. It should make the Web more flexible and open the way for services not yet dreamed of. Microsoft is pointing its whole ship at XML. Others are becoming XML fans, including Bricklin. ''XML is going slowly, but we're all sure about it,'' he says.

When I first read this article, I laughed at the idea the tech industry is out of ideas. Now I kind of understand - they aren't talking about no new technology ideas, they are talking about the industry. I can see what they mean - a lot of the tech industry seems to be concentrating on the same technological idea - e-commerce. Making e-commerce systems/websites isn't really a challenge anymore - it's pretty much a plug & play market.

So what is the next big thing (in the commercial/industry sense)? It is the sematic web, where website provide XML/RDF data for automatic processing? Or is it Peer to Peer networking, reinvigorating the idea of the two-way internet? Wireless devices? Automated web service discovery? Application Service Providers?

Of course, it doesn't have to be one single thing. Will there ever be a time again when a single technologuy meme dominates the way e-commerce/the web has over the last five years?

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Is the tech industry out of ideas? | 23 comments (21 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
I know nothing about XML ...... (2.50 / 12) (#1)
by streetlawyer on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 04:27:50 AM EST

.... but I know a hell of a lot about management structures and negotiation. And something tells me that an idea which everyone is paying such furious lip-service to, which has been around for so long without tangible result, and which depends on such wide agreement between such an array of different people, is never going to amount to anything.

Just call me Captain Cynic.

jsm

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
... not for long. (3.44 / 9) (#3)
by eMBee on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:03:59 AM EST

the xml-in-5-minutes crash course:
you know html:
containers: <table></table>,<ul></ul>
tags: <br>,<hr>

now invent your own tags and containers:
<something><another></another>

now here is a piece of new markup:
<foo>
<bar> ... </bar>
...

now, tell me, is <foo> a tag or a contaier?

oh, you can't tell?

ok, now, lets look at xml:
containers: <something></something>
tags: <one/>, <another/>

notice the difference?

now again the above piece of markup:
<foo>
<bar> ... </bar>
...

<foo> must be a ...
... container!

here is the full piece:
<foo>
<bar><awk/></bar>
<sed/><grep/>
</foo>

if you understood that, you understand xml.


greetings, eMBee.
--
Gnu is Not Unix / Linux Is Not UniX
[ Parent ]
more or less (none / 0) (#21)
by kimbly on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 06:45:22 PM EST

Of course, if you're actually going to use XML as a developer, you should probably also understand XSL, namespaces, XPath, and at least one actual set of semantics -- e.g. SOAP or XHTML.

[ Parent ]
actually (3.40 / 5) (#7)
by fantastic-cat on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 06:07:56 AM EST

you'd be surprised how much XML is allready in use on the web on wireless networks on interactive TV it's invisible and that's the point.

t.

[ Parent ]

XML not in use? (4.50 / 6) (#10)
by Carnage4Life on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 09:09:09 AM EST

And something tells me that an idea which everyone is paying such furious lip-service to, which has been around for so long without tangible result,

Since I know you aren't in the software industry I guess it isn't hard to see why you would think XML isn't being used. XML-based standards for data transfer are currently being used in dozens of industries from banking & accounting to software development. Every major software company is using XML in a big way from Oracle and IBM to Yahoo and eBay.

Here is a link to the current number of XML standards across various industries which by my count number over a 100. The link is to a google cache of the page since the original site (xml.org) seems to be down. I have used XML in two products that have been released for mass consumption, one was a resume search engine for the MBA program at the University of Texas, Austin and the other was for a regression test suite for i2 technologies I wrote while interning.

XSLT and XHTML (both XML-based) are currently being pushed to be the new standards for dynamic and static web content by the w3c as well as a large number of web developers. XML is greatly in use but it's mainly behind the scenes where the average user would never know, kind of like how Java is in use a great deal on the server end of software but not on client application.



[ Parent ]
100 standards? (2.50 / 4) (#12)
by streetlawyer on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 09:23:19 AM EST

the current number of XML standards across various industries which by my count number over a 100

Unless "standard" here is being used in a sense I don't understand, surely that's a weakness?

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

XML is a meta-language (5.00 / 3) (#13)
by Carnage4Life on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 09:33:35 AM EST

XML is a language used for building languages/standards. You can use XML to define how your data will look and anyone who knows the description can parse your document.

The 100 standards means that there are currently a 100 or so standards for data interchange that use XML as the markup/description language. Microsoft's SOAP for transfer of distributed objects, W3C's XHTML which is aimed to replace HTML, the music industry's FlowML, SVg for computer graphics, etc are all examples of standards for data representation or interchange that were built with XML.



[ Parent ]
oh, right (2.33 / 3) (#14)
by streetlawyer on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 09:40:52 AM EST

I think it may have been XHTML that I've heard so many bad things about, on reflection ..... I'll get my coat.

jsm

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
And the great thing about XML is (5.00 / 2) (#16)
by Dacta on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 10:49:17 AM EST

that you can use the same tools for any one of those XML dialects

This means that if you have a tool that generated some kind of graph from FlowML you can use the same tool on SVG.

A better example may be XSLT. XSLT is an XML dialect for expressing transformations on other XML documents, using a tool called (logically enough) and XMLT transformation engine. This lets you transform your XML personal file into XHTML to display on the web, for instance. The cool thing is that you can then transform that XHTML file (using a different XSLT document, but the same engine) into a RSS file for displaying as headlines on a website.

I know I haven't done a good job explaining that, but it is very, very cool when you see what you can do with it. How I long for the day when people write XHTML rather than HTML4. There are so many applications that would be easy to write if parsing peoples wierd HTML formats wasn't so hard (especially when their HTML isn't really HTML).



[ Parent ]
... because you don't see it. (3.75 / 4) (#11)
by ajf on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 09:10:59 AM EST

The company I work for doesn't present XML to any of its customers (who would have no use for it), but most of the content on the site comes in as XML. The XML is transformed into HTML which the web browser presents to the user.



"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
Why does there need to be a new idea? (3.60 / 5) (#4)
by spiralx on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:11:49 AM EST

I can see what they mean - a lot of the tech industry seems to be concentrating on the same technological idea - e-commerce. Making e-commerce systems/websites isn't really a challenge anymore - it's pretty much a plug & play market.

So? You could say pretty much the same thing about the word processor market, the operating system market or the spreadsheet market, and yet they've been going for years and show no sign of dying. Just because the initial boom period is over why should the industry need to turn to something else?

Whilst I'm sure that there will be new ideas coming up, I don't think that you're correct in assuming there needs to be a "next big thing", or that there needs to be. In fact, if the industry started jumping on the bandwagon every five years the way they did with e-commerce, all we'd have is a lot of half-baked, experimental systems without the reliability and usability that comes from having years of design experiance behind them.

Maybe XML will take off, maybe not, but it's just a method of communicating data between systems, not anything in itself. It remains to be seen whether it will be of any use yet.


You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey

It's about the money..... (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by 11oh8 on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 12:35:21 PM EST

If we don't have the "greatest and latest" next thing every year or so, then the incredibly (ludicrous maybe?) high stock prices just cannot be sustained... And i'm sure that every USA Today article (whether business or technical) has a economic view (or at least an economic concern) since high tech and wallstreet seem to be so synonymous lately...

11oh8.

[ Parent ]
Maybe the next step is for people to use it (4.11 / 9) (#5)
by jesterzog on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:47:50 AM EST

Whether or not the tech industry has had any new ideas this year, I don't think most of the original ideas have had an incredible effect yet anyway. The more difficult problem with ideas is actually getting people to use them properly and effectively. Part of this problem is the difference between physical and digital information. For instance:

  • We have great markup languages along with external formatting information. This is supposed to make them more efficient and easier to understand, and properly used it does. Unfortunately 99% of people will still point and click to change fonts and sizes directly as if they're writing it with a pen on paper, because that's the way products are designed. Most people don't understand the advantages of doing it the 'better' way because they're thinking in physical terms.

  • There's a great wealth of good information out there about how to make digital technology usable. For physical objects ergonomic design has been a big thing, but so far not many people have taken digital ergonomics seriously. If they see it in front of them and it looks "right", they'll assume it looks the same to everyone else.

  • We have ever improving and readily available cryptography and digital signing, but the infrastructure makes sure that even if there weren't lots of government restrictions on it, most people still wouldn't use it. (For example, what's the point of having it when nobody else does?)

  • We have peer-to-peer information sharing, but it won't be majorly used outside a specific community until it's more obvious what it can be used for besides copyright infringement. (There are definitely lots of uses, but they haven't been applied in many places yet.)

  • We have some great relatively new things like java in all it's multiplatform goodness, but it's most visible use still seems to be getting in the way as unnecessary applets on web pages. (Which isn't to suggest it's not being used productively elsewhere.)

The list goes on. Probably one of the reasons is that it's just difficult to make the transition from the physical world, and think about how digital information is different. This would be for the same reasons that metaphorical desktops on computers were so revolutionary.


jesterzog Fight the light


usa today (3.78 / 14) (#6)
by fantastic-cat on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 06:04:45 AM EST

And Silicon Valley's near-monopoly on tech innovation is in danger of getting whittled back by Europe, Japan and Israel

This kind of comment is so typical of USA today why is the removal of a monopoly addressed as a "danger"? surely free competition is what america is all about. USA today is so full of shit.

t.

only if US companies win.... (3.60 / 5) (#17)
by 11oh8 on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 12:31:19 PM EST

surely free competition is what america is all about

yes of course... as long as our companies are winning the competition.. if not, then raise the tarrifs!!!

Surely you don't expect the US to become such a great (??) nation by following it's own rules and priniciples (?)

11oh8.

[ Parent ]
You're kidding, right? (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Canthros on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 03:56:40 PM EST

They're not talking about a monopoly is the sense of Standard Oil or even Microsoft. Silicon Valley is many businesses. And innovation is not specifically a good or service; it isn't bought or sold ('innovations', that is, innovative ideas and their implementations, are not the same as innovation). Finally, the "danger" referred to in the quote was to the "monopoly", not to anyone else. Please do understand what you're complaining about before you start whining.

--
It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
RyoCokey
[ Parent ]
OK (none / 0) (#23)
by fantastic-cat on Fri Nov 10, 2000 at 05:18:13 AM EST

I understand that the danger is to the monopoly, I was merely pointing out that danger to monopolies is usually viewed as a good thing both for consumer choice and inovation (or the generation of inovative ideas if we're splitting hairs). I just wanted to highlight the extreme narative bias of the article as a whole(which is typical of USA today's insular, narrow minded viewpoint) and I thought the quote I chose illustrated this rather well.

t.

[ Parent ]

The Software Industry Is Not Revolutionary (3.30 / 13) (#9)
by Carnage4Life on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 08:45:46 AM EST

First of all I take great offence at both Dacta and USA today for reducing the entire Technology industry to fly-by-night dotcomms and software companies. With such a narrow view of technology, of course it would seem that technology is stagnating even though biotech, chip research and optical networking are making great leaps and strides.

Frankly everything that has been lauded as revolutionary in the software industry for the last 5 or more years has always been a rehash of old technology.
    Object Oriented Programming: Java and C++ are simply worse versions of Smalltalk which is decades old.
    The Internet: Which is descended from ARPANET which is a decades old technology.
    Hypertext: This has been around since the 1960's in the form of Project Xanadu.
    XML: A rehash of SGML which is over a decade old.
    Peer to Peer Networking: This describes any network including the internet. Precedent abounds.
    Application Service Providers/ Microsoft's .NET: The practice of keeping files on a central server that are accessible from any client machine is almost as old as UNIX.


My reason for pointing these things out is to show that the software industry has never progressed in great leaps and bounds. It may seem that way to a lay person who just began to reap the fruits of years of research and trail & error now but this is not the case. The current software landscape is no less uninnovative as it was 5, 10, or 15 years ago.



Read what I said, again. (4.33 / 3) (#15)
by Dacta on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 10:33:55 AM EST

I know all these things have been around for a long time. After all there is nothing new in the world of computers - it was all invented at Xerox PARC! I never claimed that the web or ECommerce was new - mearly that the industry obsession with them seemed to be ending.

That's (partly) why I said:

When I first read this article, I laughed at the idea the tech industry is out of ideas. Now I kind of understand - they aren't talking about no new technology ideas, they are talking about the industry.

To make this clearer: In the last few years, a large propertion of the computer industry's focus has been on the ecommerce arena. This is a fact - it has been driving significant changes in other areas, and has picked up technologies from other things, too.

All those things you listed have been around for ages but have never dominated the focus of industry the way ecommerce has. Read the USA Today article again, too - they were talking about how the last great change in (computer) industry focus was the shift from Mainframe/Terminals to the PC. That focus seems to begin to run out of momentum in 1994/1995, just as the WWW/Ecommerce drive took off.

biotech, chip research and optical networking are making great leaps and strides
Of course they are, but they aren't the source of industry attention like Ecommerce was/is. Take the biotech industry - which I wasn't really discussing before. I'm fairly sure that in the next 20 years biotech and genetic technologies will have more impact on our lives than computer technologies. However, they aren't (yet) the source of the huge hype and inflated stock prices that E-Comemrce has produced.

BTW, I didn't mean to cause offense to anyone by this story. It was supposed to be provocative in that people were supposed to think "Of course the tech industry isn't out of ideas", and then read on, and think about it some more. That's what happened to me when I read the USA today article. Again, I apologise for offending you.



[ Parent ]
Just a nit: (3.66 / 3) (#19)
by sugarman on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 02:05:15 PM EST

Cheops Law No project was ever completed on time and within budget

Just an aside, but your sig is in error. I can think of at least one project that disproves Mr. Cheops: The Panama Canal


--sugarman--
[ Parent ]

What me worry? (2.00 / 1) (#22)
by Calamari Indigo on Fri Oct 27, 2000 at 02:29:39 PM EST

Here's my theory, and feel free to poke holes in it, because it's just
a theory and not a religion:

Most, not all, of the "technology industry" is the biggest damnned pyramid
scheme ever conceived. Most of it is just doing old things in new ways.
And a lot of careers rely on the pyramid not collapsing.

Email? Well, mail has been around for a long time. Electronic messaging
has been around since Samuel Morse. Prehistoric uebergeeks even figured
out how to send faxes over telegraph lines over 100 years ago. But it was
*real* slow and had no practical applications. Does anyone remember the
"wire photo"?

Web pages:
Personal - "Here's my photo album of my trip to Xerxes IV".
Corporate - "Buy Snorto Soap. It's for clean people".

You get my point.

The pyramid scheme comes in when people start spouting nonsense,
"Electronic mail will revolutionize your life!" Revolutionize, no. Convenient?
Hell, yes. Eventually the advertising suits move in and try to convince you
that your non-OS-of-your-choice-client is outdated and can no longer read
email from this century. Suddenly it's all about sales and not ideas.

Is XML new technology? Not really. Anyone who's been around for a while
and waded through the HTML wars (1541-1786) remembers the OBJECT
container. This had XML beat hands down.

Radio was new technology. TV was new technology. The Internet was new
technology. Email Eater Version 4.714a is not new technology. It's just hype.



Is the tech industry out of ideas? | 23 comments (21 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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