The Problem of Business Semantics

Jon Bosak
Sun Microsystems


For thousands of years, commercial transactions have consisted of two things: an exchange of goods and services, and an exchange of documents. XML is achieving wide acceptance because it allows us to implement the exchange of documents electronically. Originally designed as a more capable replacement for HTML, XML is becoming the technology of choice for a style of spontaneous trade in which previously unacquainted buyers and sellers meet and do business in a virtual marketplace.

But trade -- especially international trade -- works only if we have common vocabularies and forms for the conduct of business. XML solves this problem on one level by providing a mechanism for the creation of an unlimited number of these vocabularies and forms, each designed for a different purpose. But clearing away the syntactic underbrush merely exposes the real problem: How do we arrive at shared systems of meaning across industries and cultures?

This talk describes attempts to grapple with this question now taking place in a joint initiative of two organizations -- the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and the United Nations body for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) -- dedicated to the development of an XML-based infrastructure for electronic commerce.


Jon Bosak is Sun Microsystems' XML architect. He organized and led the working group that created XML and served for two years as chair of the W3C XML Coordination Group. He is a founding member of OASIS and of its predecessor, SGML Open. At Sun he holds the position of Distinguished Engineer.

Prior to his work with XML, Jon originated the Web strategy used by Sun for the distribution of Solaris documentation. Before joining Sun, he was responsible for the SGML-based delivery system that put Novell's NetWare documentation online and was a primary force behind the development of the DocBook standard for Unix and Linux documentation. He was also involved in the final stages of the development of DSSSL (ISO/IEC 11079), a precursor of XSL, and headed the effort to define an online subset of DSSSL called dsssl-o.

A frequent speaker at XML events, Jon co-chairs the annual XTech Conference, chairs the annual XML Developers' Conference, and serves on the committee responsible for organizing the annual International World Wide Web Conferences.