W. Kilbride / J. Kenny
(Archaeology Data Service, University of York)

This introductory paper will look at the current gap between the promise and reality of XML from the perspective of a digital archive. Digital archivists have an obvious interest in data types, standards and formats as part of their curation plan. As information brokers, they are interested in aggregating and mediating diverse data sources. XML holds promise for both of these activities. Where digital curation depends on migration, formats become important. As text-based format with openly declared document types, XML formats should offer robust containers for information. But it is hard – if not impossible – to recommend XML formats to the large number of data creators whose tool set and skill set may stretch no further than generic retail applications. This creates a paradox for archaeological archiving with XML: until we can recommend and distribute XML tools they will be under used; and until they are more widely used they cannot be recommended. It is striking that XML-based data aggregation tools have made a more successful transition from research to deployment. Services such as Heirport, Spectrum or OASIS have made extensive use of XML. Even so these have concentrated on shuttling data between different native data structures – especially traditional relational data structures. Is that as good as it gets?