Welcome!

Industrial IoT Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, SmartBear Blog, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Industrial IoT

Industrial IoT: Article

Soft Issues Surrounding Industry Standard Schemas

Soft Issues Surrounding Industry Standard Schemas

It sounds so easy. First, get a bunch of people together who share a common need to interchange some type of data - say, invoices. Explain XML to them. Explain the significant technical benefits of having an industry standard schema for invoices.

Get technically minded individuals into a room with plenty of whiteboards and caffeine. Sometime later they'll emerge with a consensus model of what it is to be an "invoice" enshrined in some schema language (UML/XML Schema/DTD/RelaxNG/whatever).

Thereafter, all interested parties use the schema for data interchange and all is sweetness and light.

This makes 100% technical sense but it often doesn't work in the real world. The reasons it doesn't work have nothing to do with flavors of schema language or indeed flavors of markup language. It often doesn't work because of soft issues concerning people.

Let's start with Zipf's law and the Principle of Least Effort (http://cogsci.umn.edu/millennium/1109153206.html). Simply put, humans strive to do as little as possible to communicate. The language this article is written in, English, is literally riddled with structures that break the rules of English grammar - the schema - in the interests of quick and easy communication.

All human languages exhibit this phenomenon. Successful languages adapt to allow humans to cut corners in the interest of quicker communications. XML tag languages that don't offer similar functionality are asking for trouble. That trouble can manifest itself in a number of possible ways.

First, users may engage in "tag abuse" - using tags for purposes they weren't intended for because it makes their life easier.

Second, users may create point-to-point side agreements between themselves for simpler communications and convert their simple communications to the official schema only when forced to.

Third, users may lobby for "flexibility" that allows them to make local modifications to the industry standard schema, thus creating an entire family of mutually incompatible but similar languages that start as patois and grow into full-blown, mutually incompatible dialects.

Fourth, users may bring the standard initiative down. If this happens, everything from the coffee to the schema language can be blamed. Everything, that is, except noncompliance with Zipf's Principle of Least Effort.

Then there's the matter of organic schema growth and what I call the "tag bag syndrome."

Successful languages, and XML-based tag languages are no exception, need to exhibit the ability to change and evolve over time. Otherwise they atrophy and eventually die. With human languages we just change their grammatical structures and idioms without worrying about historical material fitting the new forms. In other words, we aren't worried about backward compatibility.

With XML tag languages we're typically very worried about backward compatibility. When we need to modify a schema to cater to a new phenomenon, we cannot allow previously valid documents to become invalid. As a result, we loosen the constraints in the schema. Over time, the gradual loosening of constraints erodes the tight control over structure the schema designers put there in the first place. The result is a bag of tags - structures of the form "X can consist of any number of A or B or C or...." In DTD terminology these are known as repeating OR groups.

This leads us nicely to the next soft issue: George Miller's law concerning the cognitive limits of human beings. If you present humans with a list of more than seven options to choose from at any one time, they'll start to feel overloaded and uncomfortable. When it comes to creating XML conforming to a "bag of tags schema," there can be an overwhelming feeling of drowning in a sea of options.

In the back office the software developer is similarly overwhelmed because the large number of choices at each point in the schema translates into a programmer's worst nightmare. known as an exploding state space.

Schema creators ignore Miller's rule at their peril. User and software developers alike can and will subvert the technically elegant designs in order to work within comfortable cognitive limits.

It's important to remember that the "group of people getting together to agree on a data interchange standard" phenomenon is not a new one. Stepping back just one generation, this went on wholesale in the SGML world - without much success. It wouldn't be good soft-issue tactics for me to mention any failed standards initiatives by name. You'll find plenty of evidence if you read through some history of the SGML years, especially the early-to-mid-'90s.

My contention is that the failed industry-standard schema initiatives of the past did not fail for technical reasons; they failed for human reasons. There is a rich lore of experience here that the new wave of XML schema designers could do worse than mine for valuable insights. Those that don't learn from the mistakes of the past truly are doomed to repeat them.

Apart from paying due regard to history, I think XML schema design needs to take a leaf out of the extreme programming book. Start with the customer (human), do the smallest thing than can possibly work, and start using it. Never lose sight of the human creating the XML content or the human writing software to process the content. Remember Miller's law. Remember Zipf's law. Allow the schema to grow/evolve organically over time. It will anyway, whether the schema designer likes it or not.

The only industry standard schemas still standing at the end of this decade will be the ones that address the soft issues.

More Stories By Sean McGrath

Sean McGrath is founder and CTO of Propylon, one of Ireland's fastest growing software companies. Headquartered in Dublin, with development centers in Sligo, Ireland and Mumbai, India, Propylon delivers what it terms "industrial strength XML" and XML consultancy services to its service and product partners in Europe and the United States.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseTech has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. EnterpriseTech is a professional resource for news and intelligence covering the migration of high-end technologies into the enterprise and business-IT industry, with a special focus on high-tech solutions in new product development, workload management, increased effic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CHEETAH Training & Innovation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CHEETAH Training & Innovation is a cloud consulting and IT training firm specializing in improving clients cloud strategies and infrastructures for medium to large companies.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datanami has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datanami is a communication channel dedicated to providing insight, analysis and up-to-the-minute information about emerging trends and solutions in Big Data. The publication sheds light on all cutting-edge technologies including networking, storage and applications, and thei...
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...