XML has failed

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

XML is a failure. I think the worst mistake its designers made was the insistence that a single error should cause all processing to stop. YAML did not make this mistake. The attitude expressed by “One error and this must die” is roughly in line with “program to the contract”, part of the whole baggage of Object Oriented Programming, which suffers from the same unnecessary limitations. I am grateful that functional programming is gaining ground — programming without ceremony is a welcome thing.

And then it stopped. For fun I estimated the number of research papers focused on XML in a major conference like VLDB: 2003: 27; 2008: 14; 2012: 3. That is, it went from a very popular topic for researchers to a niche topic. Meanwhile, the International XML Database Symposium ran from 2003 to 2010, missing only year 2008. It now appears dead.

That is not to say that there is no valid research focused on XML today. The few papers on XML accepted in major database journals and conferences are solid. In fact, the papers from 2003 were probably mostly excellent. Just last week, I reviewed a paper on XML for a major journal and I recommended acceptance. I have been teaching a course on XML every year since 2005 and I plan to continue to teach it. Still, it is undeniable that XML databases have failed as anything but a niche topic.

I initially wanted to write an actual research article to examine why XML for databases failed. I was strongly discouraged: this will be unpublishable because too many people will want to argue against the failure itself. This is probably a great defect of modern science: we are obsessed with success and we work to forget failure.