"Apathy: If We Don't Take Care of the Customer, Maybe They'll Stop Bugging Us" - de-motivational poster
XML is a major building stone for this research project and therefore deserves a chapter of it's own.
The first section sums up the advantages of the Internet for communication. A deficit of the current Internet is the lack of information about what is communicated. In the second section, XML (eXtendible Markup Language) is introduced as a means to communicate something and at the same time including information about what is communicated. This means that computers will be able to "talk" to each other meaningfully. The third section describes how to create a vocabulary enabling communication. Appendix A contains a much more detailed explanation of XML and related technologies, skipped in this chapter to keep it compact.
The Internet is a technology that fulfils much of the need for a usable communication medium:
Dirt cheap. Simple modem dialup service for small companies. The big ones (should) already have a decent connection for current Internet usages.
Usability. Many people are familiar with surfing the Internet. If much of the building and construction information can be made available through Internet pages, the information will be usable by virtually everybody.
Platform and implementation independence. When care is taken to adhere to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, the client's computer, operating system and browser won't make a difference. Be it a small browser on PalmOS or Mozilla on one of the company's Sun workstations.
There is, however, one problem: the way the Internetpages currently are made. The only information now contained within the pages is the actual text and images and information on how to display it. This means that a human can read a page and is able to determine that the third paragraph is about a certain type of bricks that can be bought. But no computer will be able to determine which words distinguish product names, which addresses, etc. Currently, it is all about presentation of information for reading by the human eye.
What is needed is electronic communication along the lines of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange, the section called Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) in Chapter 2), exchanging information (almost) without human intervention, automating away the parts where human attention is not needed.