Subject: Opening up data interchange formats (e.g., book catalogs)
From: Rich Morin <rdm@cfcl.com>
Date: Sun, 4 Jul 1999 10:31:12 -0700

At 8:04 AM -0700 7/2/99, Tim O'Reilly wrote:
>I'm talking about things like data interchange formats or
>"business interaction API's" for particular industries.  A good
>example of this came up the other day when talking to our
>webmaster.  We supply content to all of the online booksellers:
>cover art, descriptions, tables of contents, indexes, sample
>chapters, price, etc.
>
>Each online bookstore has its own format for accepting this
>data.  Allen Noren, our guy, is trying to get some communication
>going, so this becomes more standardized.  But already Amazon has
>so much market power that the question is "do we do it the right
>way, or the amazon way."  Amazon hasn't done anything to suppress
>alternatives, but neither have they created a framework in which
>people can fix "bugs" in their process.  It's effectively "closed
>source."
>
>What I'd love to see is some conscious work to make this kind of
>problem more susceptible to open source efforts.  For example, if
>Amazon published an explicit API, and worked with other online
>bookstores to agree on it, people could be writing software that
>streamlined the process.   So the question for Amazon, as for
>others, is where do they benefit by opening up some of this stuff
>more to the outside world.
>
>For example, right now, we can't get them all of our indexes or
>some sample chapters, because their current upload process barfs
>on files of more than a particular size.
>
>Sure, they could fix it, but if the code they used was something
>other people could work on, we could fix it for them...

A number of technical publishers, including O'Reilly, are getting
into the topic of XML.  So, a while back, I spent an afternoon on
the phone, asking AW, PH, ORA and such if they had XML versions
of their catalogs online.  Nada.  No timelines, either.  If the
technical and professional publishers aren't going to lead this
charge, who will?

Creating an XML version of catalog information, when one already
has the non-XML version, should be a relatively simple exercise.
As a side-benefit, those areas where it is NOT simple may be good
indicators of poorly specified data.

I submit that ORA could do quite a bit to help both itself and the
"Open Data" movement by setting up an XML version of its catalog,
along with a sample tool or two to facilitate its use.  We could
then use this to beat AW and PH into doing something, etc.

-r
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