Attracted by the ease with which it allows programmers to build Web pages that can be readily indexed, businesses are beginning to embrace Extensible Markup Language (XML), according to a new report from Zona Research Inc.
After the World Wide Web Consortium declared XML an industry standard last February, Zona said the number of organizations using the specification in their Web pages jumped from 1 percent in the second quarter of last year to 16 percent just a quarter later.
And although its use is still limited to early adopters, 1999 will see "multiple investments in XML from the development and business community" and will mark the specification's jump from "new technology" to an accepted norm for conducting business-related information exchange, according to Zona.
Industry giants including IBM, Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have all invested heavily in XML technology, and that backing, combined with the contributions of smaller vendors, will mean that 1999 will be the year that XML is "commercially born," the report said.
The XML specification allows text in Web-based documents to be tagged. XML enables developers to ascribe metadata -- or descriptive data about data -- to documents or sources of information. Zona said Web-based searches become exponentially more efficient when search engines utilize metadata rather than having to comb through the vast volumes of text and other information that are examined in conventional searches.
In addition, XML supports vertical vocabularies, or XML-based protocols, that are integral components of many applications and databases used by firms in areas including finance, telecommunications and multimedia -- to name a few, Zona said. The specification's flexibility also allows for interoperability between vertical vocabularies, the report added.
"This implies, for example, that an XML-based voice-recognition protocol can easily interoperate with an XML-based financial-management protocol ... banks or businesses can create personal financial-management applications that are voice-aware simply by adding a few lines of XML code rather than integrating an entire voice-recognition application," the report said.
These vertical vocabularies, according to Zona, will play a key role in shaping the future of Web-based business transactions, "with far-reaching implications into the heart of electronic commerce, Internet content management and delivery, messaging and application integration, data warehousing, and application management."
And because it gives meaning to the text in a given document, XML allows programmers to build "smart" pages that are relevant to specific users, applications or databases. Zona said this attribute is particularly useful to extended Intranet environments, where data is often tailored to users' specific needs.