Wandering Thoughts archives

2008-04-11

The appeal of XML

For a long time, I was not at all fond of XML. The grandiose claims of universal document exchanges, universal editors, and so on were clearly bogus; as lots of people said, understanding the syntax gives you no clue about the semantics. It all smelled of hype and overselling, with XML the latest in a long line of next big things for the enterprisey market.

Then it struck me one day:

XML is a great way to not write a parser.

If you need to write and then read back some data, you need to parse your file format (and to generate it). But parsers are a solved problem; unless you have unusual needs, writing a parser (and its inverse, a generator) is tedious and boring, a necessary expense that you slog through in order to get your program to save and load data.

XML handles the low level parsing and generating for you. You still have to serialize and deserialize your data, but you'd have to do that anyways (even if the deserialization was hidden in parser actions and so on).

(XML also gets you out of having to design an actual file format, although you still have to come up with the serialization and so on.)

This has made XML a lot more attractive to me, to the point where I can imagine using it in my own programs if I need a save format for something.

(Of course, you get the same benefits from any widely supported and reasonably flexible format. These days JSON probably qualifies, and it's a good match for the native data structures in things like Python and Ruby.)

programming/XMLAppeal written at 23:55:43; Add Comment

When I do and don't read a blog's comments

I read (or sometimes skim) a relatively decent number of blogs, and as someone who writes one too I wind up noticing various aspects of the experience. One of the things I've noticed is that I am both quite predictable and quite divided about reading comments on entries; there are some blogs where I always read the comments and there are a lot where I never do, but there are almost none where I sometimes read them and sometimes don't.

In thinking about this, I think that there are two determining factors. One is whether or not the comments 'add value'; whether they are interesting, informative, amusing, and whatnot. The other is whether or not the comments are a conversation, where the original author also comments; if the original author doesn't reply to comments, what you have is just a stream of reactions to the entry, and if I wanted that I would trawl the blogosphere in general.

(Partly my bias is because I find most comments to be less well done than actual blog entries, which is not really surprising, all things considered; I feel that most comment writing environments are not that conducive to good writing. It's sort of like dashing off a first draft email message, usually under time pressure, with a bad editor to boot.)

Another way to put this is that if I wanted to read other people's writing in general, I would be reading their blogs. Thus, if all the blog's author does with comments is give other people a convenient forum, I'm pretty much not interested.

(The exception that proves the rule is if the original entry asks a question that I'm interested in; then the comments hopefully provide a convenient collection of answers.)

PS: none of this should be taken to imply that I don't read comments on WanderingThoughts. That's a different situation; I am always interested in people's reactions to my own entries.

web/ReadingComments written at 00:35:57; Add Comment


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