Reverse XML - lessons that I learned for millennial sake

4 minute read

In April of 2001, I was so much into XML and had some innovative ideas of my own. I was working as a software engineer at Knowledgeview. The company was heavily focused on developing content syndication software for news agencies and newspapers. At that time the language Perl was still dominant for parsing text and Java was the popular language for websites. Knowledgeview was adamant about using standard specifications including NewsML, NITF, RSS, and more. XML, initially defined in 1998 wiki was starting to become a topic discussion within the office during the time that I was working with them between 1999 and 2001. As a young programmer, working mainly from the Lebanon office, I had lesser exposure to the technologies that the London office had at the time. But that did not stop me from trying to innovate. On April 23, 2001, I send an email to the xml mail distro at Knowledgeview that said:

Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 11:39:03 +0100

Attached is a 4-page white paper about a concept that crossed my mind like week. The whole idea initially started after a brief conversation with Dr Ali about XML in which he mentioned that not all companies may integrate XML in their applications. Such a remark, made me think of solutions that would keep one form of framework for such companies to exchange their data (that are based on customized and different structuring) without resorting to applications’ modifications (expensive) but where standards (like any form of XML) still apply.

What I basically said in the document is that if the industry is heading towards XML as a standard form of communication across systems or applications, and if some companies many not be quick to jump onto XML, why not generate an orchestration mechanism to allow a company A and a company B share data by bridging each of their own custom formats with a help of a middle-player - a two translator. The steps would be as follows

  1. let each company declare its set of set delimiters D for its content and publish the format on a common repository
  2. define a set of XSL rules that convert each set of delimiters D from (1) into a universal XML X format.
  3. anytime a company Y would like to leverage date from company X, company Y would query the common repository for company X data specification and execute the set of rules in 2 to convert the text from Company X into the format needed for Company Y.

I named the technique Reverse XML

I did not hear from anyone in the company about my idea. I was 27 at the time and was still young in the industry. I did not push myself nor I knew any better way to articulate my idea other than just emailing. Few month later I left the company not because of this but because I decided to moved the United States and a build a new future with my wife.

Why am I saying all this? I thought I had a great idea at the same time. Given that I had limited resources I really did not know that there might have been a similar product out there. Maybe if I know at that time what I know now I could have been more aggressive in marketing my idea. I would also ask the question why would I have sent a subsequent email and say that some competitor product exist when I really did not try that product. Whatever my idea was truly unique. Moreover, even if I did not hear from my management I should have tried another way. Nevertheless, I was proud of my idea and the name that I gave it - Reverse XML. I tried to be imaginative and was thinking big. In my conclusion I wrote:

The application may be established as a free service where the following could be our revenue:

  1. Our database would include all companies’ source formats, where our content-representation language that should handle all of these formats may create a data bridge between all those companies whose applications are not XML-friendly yet.
  2. Having said point “1”, our database would be also valuable because we will be able to market-focus our products that maybe of interest to these companies.

Note: “Reverse XML” may be free to use and our company may provide as a paid service the option to write the client’s “content key” files.

I was thinking of open sourcing the solution but provide a paid service for assisting companies.

Who knows maybe it would have been a great business opportunity or a great success story. Maybe this idea might have turned big just like JSON format nowadays. What if I patented the idea or made something more of it? There is no shortage of one’s tendency to dream and think of great accomplishments. Why not? Unfortunately I did not push for it and, at the same time, I could not convey its value in a better presentable fashion.

I later received a call from management but eventually the idea was not really understood nor was accepted. I still believe that, at the time, this idea could have had a great potential. But that does not matter. What matters is not to give up on your ideas. Push for them. That said, if you are in the late twenties early thirties or any age actually, if you have a great idea, push for it with your heart and soul. It might win big, and if it does not, learn from your mistakes to do something even better the next time. Don’t just wait for someone to call you… be proactive and make the call - not once but more.