Companies dealing with unstructured data could be soon offered their own version of SQL following the efforts of seven leading software companies.

The Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification, which has just been submitted to the Oasis standards body, is aimed at doing for unstructured data what SQL did for databases in the 80s according John Newton, chief technology officer for Alfresco, one of the software vendors driving the process.

The objective of the draft CMIS specification is to deliver a common, REST or web Services, an API that can be used to develop write-once, run-anywhere, next generation content and social applications.

Newton believes the SQL comparison was a good one. "The query language that will be used within the spec is actually a form of SQL, offering several options for querying the repository, including location, properties, and full-text" he said. "There's a huge amount of unstructured data out there and we should be able to query it in exactly the same way that we query databases, what's been holding us back is the lack of an SQL," he added.

Most of the leading software vendors are involved in developing the specification. Besides Alfresco, the participants are EMC, IBM, Microsoft, OpenText, Oracle and SAP. Newton said that it there will certainly be other vendors willing to work with the specification but no other vendors were approached: "It's been pretty hard keeping it a secret for the past two years but now that it's an open spec, we can expect others to work with it," he said.

Newton said that he expected a great deal of interest in the spec from the user community. "To take one example, Citigroup has 25 different content management systems, with no means of being able to discover information across all of them.

He said that the first stage in the process would be for Oasis to set up a technical standards committee but couldn't offer a timescale as to when a standard would be ratified.

The Alfresco Labs' Draft CMIS Implementation can be downloaded from the Alfresco website.