Tim Bray, a Canuck who co-invented XML, chuckles at the thought of achieving any kind of techie milestone in his 20-year career. Instead, he’s almost modest and nonchalant about his role in the invention of XML back in 1998.
Ask him if he realized the implications of XML and how it would
ultimately move from a niche technology into a powerful business case, and he’ll tell you, “Good Lord, no. Not in the slightest.”
He says most of the folks who built XML came out of the publishing and information management space and weren’t necessarily thinking of it in a broader business sense. “We were thinking of it as an intelligent document applications and a more interactive, dynamic Web browser and things like that, ” he says.
“And whereas those things are beginning to happen, obviously XML has had its largest impact in e-business and enterprise application integration, which is fine. You know when you produce something, you can’t control how it’s going to be used. And I’m fine with that.”
Today, the 20-year software veteran, considered an expert in Web architecture and information retrieval and is requested to speak around the world, says 2002 was a significant year, one in which took him in a new direction.
His company, Vancouver-based Antarti.ca, surpassed revenue targets, appointed a new CEO (Bray left the role to wear the chief technology officer hat instead), and secured venture financing. “The year 2002 has been an outstanding year here at Antarcti.ca. We closed a round of financing in March, which is good, and we hired a new CEO in July, and our first quarter under his guidance (the July-September quarter) was a record in our revenue and it looks like we’re going to beat it substantially. We slam dunked this quarter.”
The software company peddles a visual browser engine, a product dubbed Visual Net. “It’s a graphical user interface for complex data – it draws maps on your screen.” The software provides user interfaces for things like online inventory for manufacturers and research library holdings and medical research.
“Our company is now in its third year of life and like many other start-up companies during the last couple of years, it’s been a long haul, but it looks like we’re turning the corner.”
And while reminders of XML linger and accolades continue to pour in, today his big passion involves user interface issues.
“Like most technology people, I have a short attention span and so I am currently more worried about the user interface problem and how to make progress on that. You know I’m happy to have been involved with XML and I think the results have been pretty good, but that’s not what I’m worried about now.”
Bray says the Web needs to evolve towards better user interfaces. So what needs to happen? When you leave the desktop realm and enter into a shared information space, he says, you leave the world of a visual interface and get into the mode of typing in queries and looking at lists of results.
“Why is it that personal information access is visual, but shared information access is textual? We need to get graphically-based user interfaces for large shared information bases out on the Web, and that’s what Antarcti.ca is in the business of doing, and that’s what I think is the important next step for the Internet.”
Indeed, 2002 didn’t just involve milestones in the world of Antacti.ca. He was nominated by Tim Berners-Lee (the father of the World Wide Web) to the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) technical advisory group.
Other significant achievements over the course of his career include: managing the New Oxford English Dictionary Project in 1987 at the University of Waterloo; co-founding Open Text Corp. in 1989, where he would later go on to create one of the first commercial Web search engines; and joining the W3C’s working group in 1996, acting as co-editor of XML specification 1.0.
And while Bray lives and breathes technology, if he had to do it all over again and was a “hot shot young kid starting out,” he says he’d be tempted to look at the music business.
“There’s a huge revolution waiting to happen in the music business. The business model of the existing record companies seems to be fundamentally broken, and Napster proved that. There are a bunch of things that could be done to make the whole industry run more efficiently, and simultaneously provide better business results.”