As is so often the case, I am in nearly full agreement with Lou's
sentiments. Interoperability is not particularly high on my list of
desiderata for TEI.
Those of us who have been trying over the years to justify the
intellectual and scholarly rigor of text encoding have emphasized that
an encoding of a text is, among other things, a reading and
interpretation of that text. When the TEI provides multiple ways to do
the “same” thing, there are usually subtle or not so subtle rhetorical
differences that accompany each different way of doing that thing.
Thus, they are not really the “same” thing at all. By establishing one
and only one way to do a certain thing, we gut the rhetorical power of
the TEI. A relentless charge towards interoperability would benefit
the increasing tendency towards the Googleization of digital
humanities, in which bigger is generally better, "good enough" OCR is
good enough, and lip service is paid to beautifully crafted and
carefully curated smaller projects as they are relegated to a
necessary but increasingly irrelevant middle ages of digital
humanities. Rather than have at my disposal millions of homogenous and
interoperable TEI texts provided by Google or whomever, I would prefer
to make my way through a smaller number of meticulously encoded texts,
where the mind of the scholar(s)/editors(s) is present in the
encoding, along with ingenious and clever encoding strategies that
suggest important critical insights about the texts. This is the
nanotechnolgoy of digital humanities.
The TEI is a monumental intellectual achievement that provides both a
theory of text and a framework to accommodate many other, often
competing, theories of text. These theories are not always
interoperable, and the TEI encodings of different texts are not and
should not always be interoperable, though as Lou rightly points out,
they are always or generally interchangeable.
Having said that, I don't think the TEI as it currently exists is
necessarily incompatible with greater interoperability, and certainly
the TEI community has the expertise to provide an interoperable format
in addition to an interchange format, but it would be something
different and should supplement rather than replace what we currently
I will take issue with Lou's characterization of Mr. Jobs. Flash is
not absent from certain Apple devices because Apple believes it will
confuse people. It's absent because it sucks—it degrades performance
and wreaks havoc on battery life, and Apple has instead thrown their
considerable weight behind a more open, competing standard: HTML5 and
related technologies that can provide much or all of the functionality
of the proprietary Flash. Apple also led the charge to make the 3.5"
floppy disk obsolete, not because it confused people, but because
networks and other technologies made them increasingly useless. I
assume Lou doesn't want a 3.5" floppy drive on his phone, but I may be
I'm sure we all remember that it was not so long ago that Apple was
dismissed and ridiculed as a niche player, who, if they wanted to
succeed, needed to become more interoperable with the dominant
operating systems and technologies of the day. Mr. Jobs and Apple told
the pundits to fuck off, and continued their focus on design,
elegance, aesthetics, and innovation, not interoperability. We all
know how that worked out for them. I don't think the TEI would do too
bad moving forward by continuing our own long-standing and successful
focus on design, elegance, aesthetics, and innovation.
On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 7:19 AM, Lou Burnard
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> It's interesting how these little words "interoperable" and "interchange"
> arouse such passion. Let me go on record with the view that the "I" in TEI
> is for "interchange" not "interoperability".
> Total interoperability is I contend an ignis fatuus, a foolish goal. If you
> want to be able to do on your computer exactly the same with my document as
> I can do with it with the software running on my computer you're probably
> going to be disappointed, until such time as we all succumb to the lure of
> Mr Jobs or whichever avatar of late capitalism replaces him. Or we have to
> agree to define a fairly low level of common functionality and hobble our
> systems to provide only that: it's called commodification (no you can't have
> flash, no you can't have a usb interface... they'd only confuse you, trust
> Interchange however is another matter. We do it all the time, just as we do
> with natural language. Actually, natural language is not such a bad analogy.
> People get by very well at international symposia using a subset of the
> facilities offered by the whole glorious English language, without losing
> the ability to be creative in their use of it (This incidentally is why
> synthetic languages never catch on -- people need to be able to be creative)
> All we need is a well defined common set of concepts, and a (preferably
> fairly small) agreed set of ways of expressing our choice amongst them.
> Those choices are not all going to be the same because we all want to
> express our individuality, and a very good thing too, or science would never
> I think the TEI is the least worst example of such a set of concepts so far
> proposed. I think the technical methods it has now in place for
> customisation and tailoring of that set to the needs of particular research
> communities are pretty good. They could be improved, and in particular they
> need to be made much more accessible and more widely understood, but they
> are functionally up to the task of guaranteeing a degree of
> interchangeability of digital documents which would otherwise be impossible.
> On 22/08/11 01:13, Doug Reside wrote:
>> Patrick Durusau wrote:
>>> 1a. Is the TEI about "interchange?"
>>> Rather than setting users up for the disappointment of expecting to
>>> benefit from the texts of others or to create texts that are going to be
>>> snapped up by other scholars, let's be realistic about the difficulties
>>> interchange, under the best of circumstances and not make it a selling
>>> for the TEI.
>> I agree that the TEI is all but useless for interoperable *anything*
>> at the moment, and I likewise acknowledge that even relatively more
>> interoperable markup languages such as HTML still suffer greatly from
>> differing interpretations by software that either ignores the standard
>> (IE) or interprets it in slightly different ways (Firefox vs Chrome).
>> Still, if we give up the goal of interoperability as a central, even
>> primary, goal of the TEI, then I see no reason:
>> * to use it,
>> * for any institution to support it, or
>> * for any granting agency to recommend its use.
>> Without a goal of interoperability, I might as well create my own tags
>> that won't force me to spend a lot of time looking for the appropriate
>> tag for the textual feature I wish to identify.
>> The current lack of consistency in TEI encoding (admittedly, in part,
>> the fault of editors like me as much as the standard itself) should be
>> cause for sorrow leading to repentance rather than an excuse to toss
>> out the goal itself. I can't imagine that most of the libraries and
>> universities that support the TEI do so in the hopes of providing a
>> medium for literary criticism using exceptionally clunky form of XML.
>> We already have plenty of better mechanisms for this, and a commented,
>> public viewable Google Doc would serve the purpose far more
| John A. Walsh
| Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science
| Indiana University, 1320 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405
| www: <http://www.slis.indiana.edu/faculty/jawalsh/>
| Voice:812-856-0707 Fax:812-856-2062 <mailto:[log in to unmask]>