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Is Your Intranet Full Of Broken Lego?

Here's one of the most awesome analogies I've heard for a while about "semantic web" (huh?) from an old TED Talk given by Richard Baraniuk on open-source learning:
XML is like the nubs* on top of Lego bricks that help you join it all together

And the nubs of a Lego brick is great example as they are standard in size, everyone knows how to use them and they are ubiquitous.

Taking that analogy a little further, I think that when we want to use information from a website or, more importantly to those within the walls of an organisation, the Intranet we experience:
  • PDF/Flash/Silverlight - completely created toy, no Lego involved, it is what it is and there's not much anyone can do about it
  • Bad HTML - a toy made out of specific/customised Lego bricks that aren't much good for anything except that one toy
  • HTML - A box of Lego with instructions for 3 or 4 toys but you'll need a lot of skills to build your own creation
  • XML - basic building blocks that can be put together however you want
What the techies of the world keep talking about is XML as the building blocks to free the data and let the world get creative. What I believe is still missing though is examples of what can be done and how to get there.

What is your site/Intranet made up of?
Are you stuck with content like this - something our of the box, does one thing well but there's not a lot more you can do with it?

Or do you have your information like this - everything build upon other blocks that can quickly be molded to whatever you need it to be.

From Nathan Sawaya,

* Yes, that is the technical term


  1. We can also extend that analogy just a bit further... A Lego brick needs to be engineered to an exacting standard or they will not stick together or will never come apart (and to date, none of the cheap nock off's are any good).

    So by analogy, it pays to have really well thought out XML or the processes using it will fall apart and become worthless. Yet getting it right is hard work and requires exacting attention to detail.

    That is not something that happens magically or on the cheap. It is hard.

  2. Very good and absolutely correct!


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