Who are you and why are you here?

By Kurt Cagle
January 16, 2009 | Comments: 11

I'm going to do something that's just not done. There's this unwritten rule in journalism that when you write, your goal in doing that writing is to be the authority, to ask the hard questions of those who are the experts or the ones with power, to then render these in a compelling story to you, gentle readers, while at the same time never extending beyond the bounds of the page - or in this case the screen - to ... well to you.

For this one "article", I'm actually going to reach through the screen and find out what you actually think when you click on an article or follow a feed title. There's no real reason for doing this ... it's just that sometimes we on this side of the screen forget that the beauty of interactive media is that it is, well, interactive. I promise this isn't going to some marketing person, and you're not going to discover at the end of it that you've just become the proud possessor of a moose.

So here are a few questions that I'd like to know your thoughts about:

1) What are you wanting from me as a writer or editor? Code walk-throughs? IT analysis? industry news? wry commentary? end of the world angst? deep philosophical rumbling? Just to see how deep I can step into the cow poop?

2) Is this true for all O'Reilly writers, or do you really just like watching me up to my chin in muck? ;-)

3) Do you read O'Reilly Broadcast or Radar for deep technical content, specific writers, insights into big issues, introductory tutorials or other reasons?

4) What new coverage topics have you seen us do (within the last six months, say) that you'd like us (or me personally) to explore in greater detail?

5) What do you think is getting done to death here, is inappropriate for O'Reilly to be covering, or is just not interesting to you?

6) What are we not covering that you think we should be?

7) If you could write a blog for O'Reilly Media, would you? About what?

8) What is the air speed of an unladen swallow?

I'm not comment trolling here - I honestly would just like to know what you think about what we're doing here, and how we can do things better.


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O'Reilly Radar = innovation, trends. (O'Reilly books = deep tech knowledge)

Tim@O'Reilly Radar = Insight, thought provoking opinion.

More coverage: Intersection of culture and technology; Way under the radar innovation.

My O'Reilly blog: Intersection of social media/ networking and geospatial technology.

Airspeed of unladen swallow: (while reading O'Reilly Radar) = 0 m/s.


1) Deep philosophical rumblings.

2) Yes

3) Yes

4) More frequent posts by yourself, though lately you've done well. Minor suggestion:

5) Not relevant, since I, like many readers only read what interests us and ignore the rest. Note: that's "rest" not "REST".

6) Healthcare IT.

7) Healthcare IT.

8) Depends on what you are swallowing.

9) Bonus answer: Include the full text of the articles/posts in the RSS/ATOM feeds.

1) Code walk-throughs
2) Yes
3) Yes
4) More of the "work on things that matter" by Tim, and practical examples on how we can make the change.

6) I'd write about how you can teach good software engineering (design patterns, agile development) to non-software engineers (scientists), and what are the benefits from that.

1) Code walk-throughs? IT analysis? industry news? wry commentary? : yes
+ comments, ideas, opinions.

2) True for all O'Reilly writers.

3) I read it for all of it. -- I am a spy from the non-geek-world, so I grasp every kind of information and try to make sense of it. Anything can be important once in the future!

4) Haha: XML-editors for writers, Chinese Tables.... To be honest, I cannot judge.

5) Even if it is not interesting to me, I like the variety of topics, and this is one of the sites I would like to access even more often just to grasp information.

6) I am not sure whether you should, but in the end I am interested in applying XML technology in my everyday work. Which is archaeology, but you could insert history, art history etc. instead, "Geisteswissenschaften". This means I am eventually interested in writing texts and collect data. This is why I started to learn and use XML technologies (+SVN) for all its benefits. But the simple needs in our field of work are not appropriate to present here.

Thanks for asking, and another comment: This place here is so important to get in touch and keep in touch with new developments and to learn about relations between the technologies. For someone who has no personal contact to living and breathing IT specialists (except for some very helpful mail contacts!), the blog is a great place to be.

It's an amazing coincidence you asked this question when I was just about to drop this feed from MyYahoo!. This forum hasn't been producing anything I've been interested in of late.

(1) I would best describe it as "code analysis" or "standards analysis." As engineers, we're beset with a bewildering number of standards and RFCs which often interact in surprising ways. I thought back to the items from this forum that I've found most useful over the last few years, and here they are:

An analysis of how several RFCs interact to drive the choice of the default character encoding for a number of text/* and application/* data types. This was incredibly useful to me, coming at a time when I was smack in the middle of designing and implementing suites of pure REST web services.

An analysis of how XML namespaces work, and how they interact with XPath and XQuery. Another incredibly useful pieces, this demonstrated why you shouldn't use default namespaces.

These articles have lasting value -- I still point people at them, unlike current news.

They provide a factual analysis of complex situations, which is much more useful than mere opinion. We all have our opinions on how this or that standard is right or wrong, but those opinions don't really matter when it comes time to write an application component: we're stuck with those standards, whether we like them or not. That's why analysis of the type above is much more useful.

(2) True for everyone.

(3) Never heard of those channels. I originally subscribed to the RSS feed for this when it was xml.com, and wasn't O'Reilly branded.

(4) Not much. As I said, I was about to drop the feed. The dates on the older articles I've cited were in 2006. I want more of that kind of thing, not just for XML, but in other areas where there are similar issues. For example, I recently picked up Java again after a 10 year hiatus (back from when all you could do was write applets), and found a number of things harder to do than they are in other languages. I had to dig and dig and dig to find a recipe to serialize an XML DOM back into text. A simple matter in PHP or Python, but in Java the org.w3c.dom stuff just didn't seem to have a way to get there. I finally found a blog that discussed several alternatives: http://weblogs.java.net/blog/iasandcb/archive/2006/06/serializing_xml.html . But that's the kind of thing I expected to find here, or on IBM Developer Works.

(5) Not news or wry commentary.

(6) Again, recipes, and in-depth analysis of standards, and their interactions or clashes.

(7) REST, XML, Java, PHP, C++, and programming techniques in general

(8) Is that an African Swallow, or a European Swallow?

Most of what I learned about xml I learned reading the list-serve as the spec was being created, and struggling to keep SGML simple enough for paying customers. Keeping my nose in the wind turned out to be a good thing, though if you had asked me at the time I would have felt guilty for spending so many hours watching the real experts tossing stuff back and forth.

I find yours, and the other columns here, a way for me to stay on top of next year or the years after. I also enjoy it. As simple as that. It's more fun than keeping xml/xquery/svg/xbrl/x... simple enough for paying customers.

Thanks for asking.

Vindication. I want to be able to point to some article and say, "see, I told you." Well, OK, I'm trying to say that I realize my flaw, I don't want to put on blinders and start recommending technologies and budgets, but when I see another person "of sound mind and reasonable intelligence" (I mean only to deprecate myself) come to the same conclusions about technologies then ... I feel my insights have been confirmed / I feel my blindsides have been overlooked. Maybe these columns should be in movie review format.....

1) Stuff I can't find anywhere else (broadcast.oreilly.com)

2) I don't really distinguish the O'Reilly writers, I just graze on whatever headlines look interesting.

3) Other reasons. I value O'Reilly's printed product, and picked up this RSS feed, probably, on the back of something linked in from elsewhere.

4) Nothing springs to mind.

5) It seems to be a general mix of technology oriented posts; eg the change.gov -> whitehouse.gov post this evening. Lots of Obama coverage on news sites etc (I'm in the UK) but this is an aspect and area of analysis I'd not found elsewhere.

6) The feed titles are sometimes a bit un-eyecatching. So there's stuff you're covering and I don't even know it.

7) I don't have time, and even if I did, I'm not persuaded I have a sufficiently original take on anything to justify more than the odd popular post on my backwater website.

8) Burp.

1.) More “How-To” and in-depth standard analysis aimed at those of us stuck with them. I’ve got no problem reading the opinion stuff as well, as long as it’s ‘in addition to’, and not ‘instead of’ the analysis. Even though I commonly find myself vehemently disagreeing with your premise on the political opinion posts, I can’t fault your logic based on those premises, and they are always well written, so keep them coming. Reading opinions only from one side all the time rots the brain.

2.) Goes for all the writers. As long as they can cover a good spec analysis and are clear in their writing, I’ll read what they post.

3.) Never heard of those. I just read the xml.com site.

4.) I’m fascinated by the XRX architecture and the interplay between the eXist database and Xforms. I’d love to see a multi-part posting of a (brutally simple) application built from the ground up covering installation and configuration of the tools as well as the simple code to run.

5.) I tend to not bother with the reports from the conferences. Mainly because I don’t know about the people in them. But that’s just me. Others could be fascinated by them.

6.) I can’t think of anything. Coverage seems to be pretty good.

7.) Sure, I’d write. I can’t claim to be any good, but I’d give it a shot. I’m in the area of technical documentation, so I’d probably cover DITA and/or S1000D.

8.) Hopefully just faster than what’s chasing it.

1) Code walk-throughs, IT analysis, industry news, wry commentary, Deep philosophical rumbling... If its well written, yes, all of it.

2) It's true for everyone.

3) O'Reilly Broadcast or Radar - never heard of them.

4) XRX. Can't think of much "new" from the past six months.

5) Too much commentary/opinion that needs to be balanced out with a little more technical examples/walk-throughs.

6) What's up with the new W3C XForms for HTML? What's happening with business XML stuff: what's happening with UBL, why do banks and finance software still use OFX instead of something XML-based?

7) Possibly. If decided to, I'd write about XML technologies in the industrial automation world because that is what I know. SVG plant interfaces (HMIs): DataHub(Comet Server) connected to an OPC server streaming bi-directional data to your SVG interface; How to make your SCADA package grok XML; interactive SVG graphs to analyze process data; tips on writing good XML schema for process data reporting.

8) * buffer overflow *

I'll answer this in a different way: not in your format. Will it validate? If you find anything useful, cool. If not, well - cool.

I have never been to this site before today. I found it by searching 'difference between xml and rss' in google. The article returned in the google results was from Dec 2002. That seemed a bit dated, although I don't know if it is or not. Anyway, I decided it was old, and clicked on the home page to see what was going on at 'xml.com'.

First thing I saw was your question: "Who are you and why are you here". I don't know why, but i wanted to answer you.

Now I'm a complete novice when it comes to programming, but I've always been able to hack something together when i needed it. I knew nothing of 'standards' or 'namespaces' or anything.

I have been wanting to change that, and I took class at a local community college on XHTML. My idea of 'coding' at this point didn't even understand the difference between logic and presentation let alone standards, namespaces etc. I thought i would be learning the new version of HTML.

But something clicked when we spent so much time ensuring our documents were declaring the proper DOCTYPE and the namespace and all the other weird stuff I always just ignored when I was slapping together functioning websites. I started to get a vague understanding of what these 'markup' languages actually were. I actually started going through the WS3 site and reading as much as i could about what it was they did and how the whole markup text file is magically processed into a cool website in my browser. I then tried to validate (another new term in my head) all my older sites I've been developing through the years. I'm not sure, but I think I actually heard the validator quietly gasping in horror at my documents.

So it began. Within a few weeks, I've become obsessed with learning how machines and software actually talk to each other, how we standardize our code to enable this. Most interesting to me is what this enables - the integration of software/services/functionality from raw (standard) data to construct meaningful and interesting custom presentations or functionalies or services. Call me a decade and half late to the party - so be it. But I'm starting to grasp it and I'm now overloaded with information, yet unable to stop seeking and acquiring new info about this stuff.

So why am I hear? I don't think I know yet. Your article is the first one I clicked. But maybe you can help people like me who want learn about standards but also explore the ideas of what can be done with this.

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