Web Focus: The WWW 2005 Conference
About the WWW 2005 Conference
The WWW 2005 Conference was held in the Nippon Conference Centre in Chiba, Japan over 10-14 May 2005. This conference is the main event for the Web research community and provides an opportunity for researchers to present papers on research into developments in the Web infrastructure. In addition to its role for the research community, the conference also attracts delegates who are active in leading edge work in more mainstream areas. Finally, the conference hosts a W3C Track in which members of staff in the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) describe developments which are being coordinated by the W3C.
I have attended nine in the series of international WWW conferences (although I missed last year's event and so had some catching up to do). Previous conferences have helped to identify significant developments to the Web's technical infrastructure. For example, WWW 10, as described in Ariadne issue 28 , held in Hong Kong in 2001, made me aware of the potential of a pervasive Web, with Web kiosks being available in many of the shopping malls; the mobile Web was a key theme at WWW9 held in Amsterdam in 2000  and, way back in 1997, I described the excitement caused by the release of XML . In contrast to the excitement I felt at those events, this year highlighted the difficulties a number of Web technologies are facing in gaining wide acceptance. This can be can be seen from the title of panel sessions such as 'Can Semantic Web Be Made to Flourish?' and 'Web Services Considered Harmful'.
The panel session on 'Can Semantic Web Be Made To Flourish?' was very well attended, attracting several hundred delegates. The panel was invited to reflect on the disparity between the high profile which the Semantic Web has had within the Web research community and its apparent failure to gain acceptance within the wider user community. Although some people argued that the Semantic Web was, in fact, being widely deployed without users necessarily being aware of the fact. For example, Adobe's Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) which Eric Miller, W3C's Semantic Web Activity Lead has described as 'an important piece that brings the Semantic Web closer to realisation'  is an RDF application used within Adobe's desktop products. However many others appeared to sympathise with the concerns that the Semantic Web doesn't seem to be flourishing and that there may need to be a more coherent marketing push, possibly though techniques such as viral marketing. As an aside, I suggested that the FOAF (Friends Of A Friend) Semantic Web activity could be used as a bottom-up approach to engaging people in Semantic Web applications, possible for use at next year's WWW 2006 conference, along the lines suggested in my paper on 'Using FOAF To Support Community-Building' . Perhaps this is an opportunity for the Semantic Web and FOAF community in the UK to revive interest in FOAF.
I did not attend the panel session on 'Web Services Considered Harmful' although I understand that the complexity of Web Services technologies was discussed (it has been estimated that all of the Web Services specifications and proposals weigh in at several thousand pages!) and the failure of some of the Web Services specifications to gain momentum - although some specifications, such as SOAP, were felt to be successful.
Further concerns were raised in the session on 'The Future of XML'. Although XML has been an undoubted success, there are still areas which need to be addressed, including binary XML (for applications in which rapid processing is needed, such as games applications) and wider support for internationalisation. However, since XML is a key foundation for other parts of the Web and Internet infrastructure (as well as being used within many applications), making changes cannot be done easily. Whether to grasp the nettle and make such changes or to continue to make use of a critical technology which has known flaws is still very much a matter of debate for the community.
Excitement about Microformats
Although I have focussed on the concerns raised at the conference, there were also a number of positive aspects. In particular I should mention 'microformats' or, as it is also (confusingly) termed the 'lowercase semantic web'. Microformats have been described as 'a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards ... designed for humans first and machines second' . More specifically, microformats allow you to make use of the structuring capability provided in HTML though use of <div> and <span> elements and the "rel" attribute to the <a> element to provide simple semantics in existing HTML documents. For example, rather than making up the date of an event or the contact details of a person in presentational markup, simple semantic markup can be applied: For example:
<div class="vcard"> <a class="url fn" href="http://tantek.com/"> Tantek Çelik </a> <div class="org">Technorati</div> </div>
By agreeing on this lightweight markup it is then possible for third party applications to process the markup. A typical example could be a browser bookmarklet or extension or a Web-based transformation service which could convert this HTML markup into vCard format. This would then allow users to select the data which could then be added to their address book, calendar, etc.
Microformats are beginning to be more widely used. Blogging engines, for example, can make use of this technique, while hiding the implementation for the Blog author. This technique is being used by the XHTML Friends Network (XFN)  to define human relationships between Blog users. In this case the "rel" attribute to the <a> element is used:
<a href="http://jane-blog.example.org/" rel="sweetheart date met">Jane</a>
Eric Meyer and Tantek Çelik ran a workshop on Microformats on the Developer's Day at the conference. I did not attend the workshop, but Eric's blog  gives a useful summary. It was pleasing to read that the 'lower case semantic web' folk (the 'Microformatters') and the Semantic Web folk appear to be in broad agreement on the challenges to be faced. However this example of potentially significant development being initiated by the grassroots Web community is very interesting especially in light of the concerns mentioned previously. This contrasts markedly with the top-down approach whereby initiatives take place within W3C Working Groups, which are formally chartered, the work being approved by W3C membership, including the requirement that the approach fits in with the W3C technical vision and so forth.
Use of Technologies at WWW 2005
Eric Meyer was not the only WWW 2005 participant who used a Blog to report on the conference. Prior to the start of the conference Kathy Gill ran the '2nd Annual Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem: Aggregation, Analysis and Dynamics' . Several of the workshop attendees subsequently published Blogs during the conference as did Kathy herself . Kathy Gill also published a Podcast of several of the talks at the conference .
The availability of a WiFi network at the conference venue made it much easier to publish blogs, moblogs, podcasts, etc     . A very high proportion of delegates brought along laptops which were used during the conference, including during the talks. This seemed to enrich the event, allowing delegates to provide 'real-time peer reviewing' of research presentations, to use the term coined in Paul Shabajee's article on the WWW 2003 conference .
It is clear that the ease with which blogs can be published and the ease of finding blog articles though the use of technologies such as RSS, microformats, etc can enrich conferences by providing more immediacy to reports and discussions and reaching out to an enlarged community. I feel that I should be making use of such technologies at future events to provide more timely feedback using a more interactive technology. Incidentally, as described by Miles Banbery elsewhere in this issue , this year's Institutional Web Management Workshop was enhanced by the availability of a WiFi network and many - though not all - of the delegates valued the opportunity to be able to use instant messaging, Wikis and related technologies during the event.
Input from UKOLN and Partners
Prior to the conference itself there were several workshop and tutorials. I am pleased to report that a paper on 'Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World' , by David Sloan, Lawrie Phipps, Helen Petrie, Fraser Hamilton and myself, was accepted for publication and presented at the International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility (W4A). This paper builds on work led by TechDis and UKOLN which argues that the evidence of the low compliance with WAI WCAG guidelines for Web accessibility can be due to limitations in the guidelines themselves, rather than necessarily accessibility problems inherent in the Web resources. The paper describes the limitations of the WAI approach and argues for an alternative strategy which, while supportive of much of the WAI work, emphasises the importance of users and their needs rather than seeking to implement a checklist approach.
On a related topic, acceptance of a poster on 'A Quality Framework For Web Site Quality: User Satisfaction And Quality Assurance'  by Professor Richard Vidgen, School of Management, University of Bath and myself was also pleasing.
Temptations of Tokyo
I did have time to leave the conference and visit Tokyo itself. Having a keen interest in new technologies I succumbed to temptation and bought myself an iPod, which I've been using not only to listen to my music collection, but also for Podcasting - another new technology of great potential to the educational community, as described in the Introduction to Podcasting briefing paper .
WWW 2006 will be held in Edinburgh over 22-26 May 2006. The conference Web site is already available . As this conference is, for the first time, to be held in the UK, I would like to encourage a high turnout from the Web development and research community within the UK. See you in Edinburgh!
- Hot News From WWW10, B. Kelly, Ariadne, issue 28, http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue28/web-focus/
- Reflections On WWW9, B. Kelly, Ariadne, issue 24, http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue24/web-focus/
- Report on the WWW 6 Conference, B. Kelly, Ariadne, issue 9, http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue9/web-focus/
- Extensible Metadata Platform, Adobe, http://www.adobe.com/products/xmp/main.html
- Using FOAF To Support Community-Building, B. Kelly and L. Dodds, IADIS Web-Based Communities 2004 Conference http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/conferences/iadis-2004/
- About Microformats, microformats.org http://microformats.org/about/
- XHTML Friends Network http://gmpg.org/xfn/
- Microformats and Semantics in Japan, Eric Meyer, 18 May 2005, http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2005/05/18/microformats-and-semantics-in-japan/
- WWW 2005 2nd Annual Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem: Aggregation, Analysis and Dynamics http://www.blogpulse.com/www2005-workshop.html
- wiredpen, musings on technology, communication and convergence http://www.wiredpen.com/2005/week19/
- wiredpen, Workshop Keynote - Podcast Link, 9 May 2005, http://www.wiredpen.com/2005/05/workshop_keynot_1.html
- WWW 2005 highlights, Timboy, 14 May 2005, http://timconverse.com/blog/index.php?/archives/82_WWW2005_highlights.html
- WWW 2005 in Tokyo, Dave Beckett, 8 May 2005, http://journal.dajobe.org/journal/archives/2005_05.html#001774
- Blogging W3C Conference, Kurt.Cagle, 6 May 2005, http://www.understandingxml.com/archives/2005/05/blogging_w3c_co.html
- Greetings from WWW2005, Chiba, Japan, Molly E. Holzschlag, 9 May 2005 http://www.molly.com/2005/05/09/greetings-from-www2005-chiba-japan/
- WWW 2005: We're here, Erik Sellberg, 5 May 2005 http://www.selberg.org/2005/05/10/www2005-were-here/
- 'Hot' or Not? Welcome to real-time peer review, Times Higher Educational Supplement, 1 August 2003 http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/~edxps/publications/hot_or_not.html
- Miles Banbery's IWMW 2005 report, Ariadne, issue 28 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue44/iwmw2005-rpt/
- Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World, Kelly, B., Sloan, D., Phipps, L., Petrie, H. and Hamilton, F. Proceedings of the 2005 International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility (W4A). ISBN: 1-59593-036-1. http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/papers/w4a-2005/
- A Quality Framework For Web Site Quality: User Satisfaction And Quality Assurance, Kelly, B. and Vidgen, R. The 14th International World Wide Web Conference [WWW2005]. Special Interest Tracks & Posters. ISBN 1-59593-051-5 pp 930-931. http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/papers/www2005/
- Introduction To Podcasting, QA Focus briefing document no. 83, UKOLN, http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/qa-focus/documents/briefings/briefing-83/
- WWW 2006 Overview, http://www2006.org/