I spent a couple of days last week in Orlando at the Thomson Corporation Technology Summit; 120 or so leaders from the many far-flung outposts of the Thomson empire; I did a keynote and talked up Visual Net. It was kind of a thrill for me, because these are the people that XML was actually built for, and they live in the world of Information and nothing but. Herewith a few words on the loudest drumbeats in a tribe that feels like my own.
The Company · Thomson's name comes from a family of Canadians, initially Roy Thomson, who got into publishing and broadcasting in Britain as a second or third career. Eventually Lord Thomson of Fleet, he is remembered among other things for describing the early television business as being “a license to print money,” which may be the first usage of that memorable phrase. Anyhow, Thomson got into travel and newspapers and all sorts of things but has in recent years concentrated on what's generally termed “professional publishing.” They have products that your accountant needs to do his job, and your doctor needs to do his job, and your stockbroker needs to do his job, and your kids' schoolteachers need to do their jobs, and your lawyer needs to do his job, and you can't buy any of them at the newsstand. They are steadily profitable, rather decentralized, and seem on balance well-run.
The Data and the Future · They also have a lot of data; terabytes of highly structured, highly quality-assured, highly focused information, going back a lot of years, concerning subjects that people really care about.
In scale and quality, this inventory is right up there with the Web itself, and with other infopools such as WorldCat.
I like this kind of aggregation for its own sake, and I can't help thinking, just as with WorldCat, about the potential upside if you could figure out a way to unleash the whole thing on the Web for everyone to use.
I can't go into too much detail about Thomson's directions and our Visual Net ideas, because this is a highly competitive business, except to note that if you combine one of the world's best data stores with a radically better user interface, what you get is more people using the data, which makes everyone happy.
The XML Tribal Angle · It's no secret that the people who cooked up XML, including me, were mostly publishing-technology geeks. What we thought we were building was the smart-document format of the future, to unleash the world's intellectual heritage from the clutches of fragile, proprietary, short-lived, binary data traps. It's cool that it's been taken over by Web Services Visionaries and B2B Bandits and Database Divas, but at the end of the day it's documents—human discourse, our intellectual heritage—that turn my crank.
On this front, Thomson Gets It. In this biz, it is such a no-brainer to do your upstream authoring (as much as you can) in XML and make the content available (absolutely) in XML, that they've been on the bandwagon for some time, and they used to have an XML-specific technology conference that they've wound down beause it's now just part of the air they breathe and water they drink.
It's really great to spend time around people who build their lives around information, and who hit me with really smart questions I can't begin to answer about XML Schema options and Apache Publishing frameworks and so on and so on. Like I said, this is my tribe. And it's only a matter of time till we figure how to get this stuff out where everyone can use it. It's not going to be free, because building, organizing, maintaining, and hosting these mega-repositories costs some serious bucks. But that's OK, few of the good things in life are.