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Data Standards

(March 31, 2004) - Can you imagine how narrow the web would have been if the HTML spec had defined categories of data for all to use? If the question sounds overly technical, we'll simplify it a bit. The HTML standard (the basic work that makes the web possible) only defines formatting. You can put whatever data you want into it however you want. There is no form of data that is prohibited on any web page. Content and its categorization are the privilege of the content owner.

In response to yesterday's article, we received more of the usual stuff about HR-XML and a couple of other approaches to data structure. Somehow, our readers did not take the time to look at the idea of RSS (or, more likely, we failed to explain adequately).

Data structure is transaction dependent. XML, as defined by big company committees like the HR-XML group, is all about the collaborating companies desires to see their world views embedded. In an RSS world, XML is a distribution approach, not another attempt to build the one perfect information infrastructure. While it may be that Company A wants the data you send it to be structured in one way, it is inevitable that Company B will want another form.

RSS is agnostic on the subject of how the data is structured. In fact, most RSS applications assume that the creative juice required to generate categorization comes from the creator of the data, not the consumer of the data. Anyone who has actually tried to impose data standards on users/creators is well aware of the fact that this is a recipe for unusable systems. Unfortunately for the HR-XML crowd, the real work is just becoming obvious. Rather than the imperial approach of setting standards for sheep to follow, the ultimate challenge of XML will be to reconcile categorizations made by Resume (and other content) creators.

This is a surprise affront to the arrogant folks working to make life easier for the end consumers of the data.

The reality of the RSS-XML resume world is that content creators (people with resumes) will define their own categories of data. The more sophisticated the creator, the more creative the categorization. The reasons for variation will range from the (very important) notion that "my" data merits discrete categories to more mundane (and equally important) ideas like the maintenance of privacy and retention of ownership of the core data. While resumes will, indeed, be syndicated, they will live fully useful lives outside of a database as platforms for communication. Rather than becoming more conforming, they will become less so.

There will, of course be an advantage gained by the first companies to unveil ReSSume style systems. Standards emerge from usage (as is the case with RSS itself). It is rare that a committee gathers together enough real execution initiative to make a standard stick. It is hopelessly unlikely that the HR-XML bunch will. The tool with the broadest acceptance will prevail.

All of the current XML content creation systems on the market encourage user categorization. This ensures that content creators are talking to the right audience.. Unfortunately for the folks who would like data modeling to become deterministic, the trend is towards pure anarchy. It is far more likely that Recruiting shops will begin to contain data analysts than that industry standards will prevail.

John Sumser

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