I really didn’t pay that much attention to the first OOXML round at ISO, but I’ve developed a sort of sick fascination with it, leading up to the potentially-apocalyptic Geneva BRM. I read the Kyoto meeting report from the excellent Alex Brown and it dawns on me that a lot of us owe some huge debts to people whose names I bet most of you don’t know: James Mason, Martin Bryan, and Ken Holman. Here are a few words on them.

XML wasn’t actually invented, it was created by subsetting and fine-tuning something called SGML, which had been around forever and an ISO standard for ten years. For most of SGML’s life, its course was guided by James Mason, and it wasn’t an easy job: there were at least as many difficult headstrong people involved as with any other technology subculture. James is polite and persistent and principled and hard-working and XML just wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t been there tending the platform we built on. I gather that in the years since the XML explosion, he’s being doing an outstanding job of keeping the ISO house in order.

Martin Bryan, as far as I know, is the first human being who ever made a full-time job out of markup-language technology. He’s been an organizer and an evangelist and a tireless standards wonk and his persistence has not failed over the last twenty years.

Ken Holman, a long-time independent, and totally the guy to call if you need XML-related education, has been working away on the committees and task forces and other community service for decades.

All of them are stepping sideways or back, changing roles. They’ve already each made more contributions than should really be asked of any individual, but I hope they have the energy to keep pitching in for a while yet.

In that Alex Brown piece I linked to above, he tips his hat elegantly to James, Martin, and Ken; it’s worth a read, even if you’re not watching the OOXML drama.



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From: Jay Carlson (Dec 11 2007, at 21:29)

On the other hand, XML was the first SGML-blood standard to cost less than ~$100 per copy.

I wish I could be more positive about SGML, but it was from a very different business era than anything that was going to survive NCSA, desperate perl hackers, and Dave Winer. Even then, SGML needed an emergency hack to be compatible with XML so all the vendors could put out press releases about the letters "X" and "ML".

SGML's lasting legacy is mixed content.

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From: len (Dec 12 2007, at 06:25)

It's more than that, Jay, but the truth is out there. The lasting legacy of SGML is the Web as it exists: open, free and largely, markup.

I spent time with all three of the men Tim cites. Lynne Price and Pan Gennusa also deserve mention (left out the women, Tim?).

The web owes these people more than it will ever know or will admit to knowing. My guess is two generations of webHeads have to die first.

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