Sunday, October 12, 2008

 

Document Design Matters

A few months ago I wrote about an article titled "XML Fever" that I’d written with my Berkeley ISchool colleague Erik Wilde. We’ve just published another article together called "Document Design Matters" that appears in the October 2008 Communications of the ACM.

We chose the title before we wrote the paper, and under Erik’s forceful leadership of our collaboration the paper evolved in a direction that makes the title less appropriate than it would be if I had been smart enough to be the first author. It would be more apt to title it "Metamodels Matter" but that wouldn’t sound as clever and "metamodel" would probably scare a lot of people away.

Here’s an abbreviated abstract of the paper:

The classical approach to the data aspect of system design distinguishes conceptual, logical, and physical models. Models of each type or level are governed by metamodels that specify the kinds of concepts and constraints that can be used by each model; in most cases metamodels are accompanied by languages for describing models...

In this modeling methodology, there is a single hierarchy of models that rests on the assumption that one data model spans all modeling levels and applies to all the applications in some domain. The one true model approach assumes homogeneity, but this does not work very well for the Web…

Instead of being governed by one true model used by everyone, the underlying assumption of top-down design, Web data and services evolve in an uncoordinated fashion. As a result, a fundamental challenge with Web data and services is matching and mapping local and often partial models that not only are different models of the same application domain, but also differ, implicitly or explicitly, in their associated metamodels.

Wilde and I distinguish the native or "system" data model used by an application or web service from the "exchange" model created when it interacts with another one. Exchange models are most often implemented in XML, and this can cause problems because the tree-based XML metamodel isn’t entirely compatible with the graph-based metamodels of RDF or E-R system models. The solution is probably an XML-oriented conceptual modeling language, but we only sketch what one would have to be like in this short paper.

The citation for this article is Erik Wilde and Robert J. Glushko. Document Design Matters. Communications of the ACM, 51(10):43-49, October 2008.

But you need access to the ACM digital library to find the official version, so we’ve posted (with ACM permission) an "author’s pre-print version" .

-Bob Glushko

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