Minimalism AND functionalism

Jim Croft jrc at ANBG.GOV.AU
Wed Sep 6 23:42:46 CEST 2000

Kevin wrote:
>I agree that having a DELTA-like degree of structure is a worthy goal, and
>I'm not excluding such a degree of structure from the proposed standard,
>just not requiring it as I keep saying. What I don't agree is that it's such
>an obvious gold standard that we should say "for a description to be
>regarded as a useful description, it MUST have this degree of structure".

This comes back to the question of fitness for purpose...  as part of the
specs we need to define what 'useful' is....  or maybe abstractly, define
how we define 'useful'...

An unstructured blob of text might suit one particular need, but although
containing all the appropriate information, might be totally useless for

>I suppose I keep coming back to this: DELTA has just the degree of structure
>you wish for, it's been around for what, 30 years?, it's even been given the
>imprimatur as the "World Standard" already and - without putting too fine a
>point on it and calling a spade a bloody shovel - it hasn't worked as a

It may have if people hadn't gone around ignoring it and inventing
others...  or if it and the suite of products based upon it had been
flexible enough and responsive enough to accommodate what people wanted to
do when they wanted to do it...

>Now I suppose I'm going to get howls of protest over this,
>particularly from people who have been using DELTA for years, but I assay
>that it's true. The only reason that this discussion is taking place at all
>is that TDWG has realised for some time that DELTA as a standard hasn't
>worked well, and we need to be open about this.

My reading of the entrails at the time was the pressure to do the SDD thing
was not that DELTA wasn't working, but rather that there were aggressively
competing alternatives with champions working against each other inventing
different an diverging mousetraps rather than collaborating to build a
better one...  SDD was an attempt to create an environment that would
enable the definition of all descriptive data so it could be exchanged and
shared by all the various application with minimal (zero?) information
loss.  It was to concentrate on data and data structure rather than the
bells an whistles of applications and interfaces.  We seem to be going in
the right direction to do that...

>One solution is to do the fixes to DELTA that have been proposed already
>(and have been in draft now for ten years or so) and XMLify it. But it seems
>to me that the main limitation of DELTA isn't simply that it isn't XML, or
>that it's not complex enough (heaven forbid), or some easily-fixable thing
>like that. It's more fundamental, and I suppose I'm exploring some sort of
>fundament at the moment. I think part of the basic problem is that it's
>tried to force too much structure and while this is a great promise it's
>been an impediment in practice. I may well be wrong about this, but I think
>there's something in it.

A definition/specification that can accommodate both approaches would be
nice, but it is very unlikely that we will be able to fully resolve the
internal tension between rigour/structure and freedom/flexibility.  They
are incompatible and even if we can formulate a specification to handle
both approaches, at the end of the day people have to apply the specs, and
some will be control freaks, some will be anarchists and others will be
schizophrenic - it is difficult to imagine a real conduit between the extremes.

>Perhaps I'm trying to play lawn tennis with a table-tennis net! Would that
>be fun? It'd certainly make it easier to get the bloody ball over the net so
>the game can go on...

and sometimes I get the impression the only thing common in the game is the
grass - some are playing tennis on it (with or without a net), others are
playing golf, others croquet, bowls, cricket, soccer, etc.  But it is still
only grass and we should be able to describe the stuff in some universally
comprehensible fashion...


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