Why Google Wave makes Tim Bray nervous

XML co-author on complexity and the web


Radio Reg Before Google’s founders were ordering pizza in their Stanford University dorm rooms, Tim Bray was working to commercialize search technology. At start-up Open Text Corporation, he was using the massive University-of-Waterloo project to put the Oxford English Dictionary online.

And before Amazon Web Services was a glint in the toaster sellers’ eye, Bray co-authored XML at the W3C. XML laid the foundations for interoperability between competing systems and for the exchange of data that many today take as a given.

So what does Bray make of systems like Google Wave using XML? Is Opera’s Unite a return to the past or a re-invention of the web? And is the W3C’s magnum opus HTML 5 really a Flash killer?

Bray told The Reg during a chat that he felt a little uneasy about Google Wave, which could either become the next Twitter or the next Lotus Notes. Gulp.

“I tend to be a little bit nervous and suspicious of something that tries to do everything at once,” Bray told us. “Some of the really big innovations on the internet have been things that solved one problem really well and didn’t try to boil the ocean.”

With Opera Unite, Bray’s at least a fan of the core idea of “web hooks” in the cloud — or a web server in the browser — to help users communicate. HTML 5, meanwhile, has got some “brain-dead good ideas,” but will it succeed in becoming the last word-spec in compatibility between all browsers or have things just got too big already?

Just give Bray a chunk of money and the job of building a distributed system that involves lots of events and messaging, and you might be surprised by the language he picks to build it. Rather than Java, from his employer Sun Microsystems, Bray thinks a 1980s language from Swedish telco manufacture Ericsson called Erlang has appeal.

In our full 17-minute interview, you’ll find out how the 1980s are back not just in obscure languages but also in the battle between relational and network databases. Listen using our player below, or you can just grab the Ogg file or the MP3. ®

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