Introducing Web Focus
I first saw the Web in December 1992 at a meeting of the Information Exchange Special Interest Group at Leeds University. At that time, as Information Officer in the Computing Service, I was looking for software which could be used to develop a Campus Wide Information System (CWIS). Quite a number of institutions in the UK were running CWISes, mainly based on home-grown software, but some were beginning to make use of Internet tools, such as Gopher. Around that time the Information Exchange SIG organised a demonstration of Internet tools, including Archie, Gopher and the World Wide Web. And from my first use of the Web - using a browser called Viola - I was hooked.
From 1993 I promoted the Web, both within Leeds University and throughout the UK HE community. I was privileged to attend the first WWW Conference at CERN in May 1994 (at which I arranged a poster display showing the Web activities at Leeds University ). I also gave presentations about the Web throughout the country.
My involvement with the Web continued during my time as Senior Trainer for the Netskills project. My training responsibilities included development and delivery of HTML authoring training materials. In addition during my time with Netskills I gave a number of presentation on Web Futures. I was also a member of the Programme Committee for the WWW 5 conference, held in Paris in May 1996.
UK Web Focus
Following a submission to JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) UKOLN was successful in obtaining funding for the post of UK Web Focus. Responsibilities of UK Web Focus include:
- Monitoring Web Developments
- Dissemination of information throughout the UK Higher Education community
- Coordination of Web activities within the UK HE community
- Representing JISC on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
On 1st November 1996 I was appointed as the UK Web Focus.
UK Web Focus Activities
An important aspect of my work will be close liaison with various groups and individuals in the community. I am currently working on a programme for a workshop aimed at people responsible for running institutional Web services. In addition I am working with UCISA-SG  as part of a group which will be evaluating Web tools. Both of these activities will involve liaison with the community. In particular the workshop should help to identify some of the important needs within the community, and help me to focus in on future activities.
World Wide Web Consortium
W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, is a body founded to "further the evolution of the World Wide Web while keeping its interoperability". As of January 1, 1997, W3C had 63 Full Members and 97 Affiliate members. JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) is an affiliate member of W3C and I am the JISC representative on W3C.
A W3C Advisory Committee meeting was held at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Abingdon on 15-16th January 1997. Over 100 people attended the meeting, including 73 from W3C member organisations and 21 W3C members of staff. The highlights of the meeting are summarised below.
- Consortium activity areas fall under one of three Technical Domains:
User Interface: the languages that convey information to Web users, which includes (a) HTML (b) CSS - Cascading Style Sheets and (c) Graphics
Technology and Society: the impact of Web-based services on society, which includes (a) PICS - Platform for Internet Content Selection, (b) DSig - Digital Signature Initiative and (c) JEPI - Joint Electronic Payment Initiative.
Architecture: the infrastructure and increased automation of the Web, which includes (a) HTTP - Hypertext Transfer Protocol (b) Addressing: URLs and (c) Object Technology.
- HTTP/1.1 is intended to fix a number of deficiencies in the HTTP/1.0 specification. HTTP/1.1 will help the Internet's problems significantly (the improvement in packets will be at least a factor of two, with much lower congestion). Users will see observably higher performance. HTTP/1.1 should be deployed as soon as possible, although there are still a number of issues to be resolved.
- Distributed Authoring
- WEBDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) is an IETF group which is dealing with the issues of distributed authoring and versioning on the Web.
- The HTML ERB aims to:
- Standardize stable, widely deployed features
- Get style sheets deployed
- Work together to design and refine new features
- Define new versions of HTML
The HTML ERB is currently preparing the next version of HTML, which is known as Cougar. Working Drafts are available on (a) Scripting, (b) Fill-out forms, (c) Frames and (d) Multimedia objects. Other drafts which are available include (a) Web collections, (b) Link types, and (c) Web page scripting services.
- CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) level 1 became a W3C Recommendation on 17 December 1996. It is the first in a family of specifications. A number of implementations are already available (e.g. Microsoft's Internet Explorer) and more are expected (Netscape 4 will support stylesheets).
Stylesheets describe the presentation of a document, leaving it to HTML to describe the document structure. Stylesheets in general are lightweight and fast-loading. CSS in particular:
- allows multiple presentations
- allows external or embedded style sheets
- is simple, human read/writeable
- replaces all commonly used HTML extensions
- keeps HTML coherent
- cascading resolves reader/author conflicts
- Joint Electronic Payment Initiative (JEPI)
- The goals of the JEPI group are to produce a specification, a technical demonstration, reference code and an entry point into the second phase, integration with products.
- Digital Signature (DSig)
- The Digital Signature (DSig) project was set up to address issues associated with (a) signing active content (e.g. Java applets, ActiveX components), (b) publishing legally binding documents (e.g. price lists, prospectus, etc.) and (c) non-repudiation of documents.
- PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) is a filtering mechanism which was developed in response to the US Communications Decency Act, which sought to restrict publishing of content on the Internet. PICS provides a mechanism for controlling the reception of information, rather than the distribution. It has been proposed that PICS will play an important architectural role in Web developments, including providing a general metadata architecture and for storing digital signatures.
Finding Out More
A report on the W3C Advisory Committee meeting is available .
A Mailbase mailing list has been set up to provide a forum for members of the UK HE community to discuss W3C activities and for announcements of new W3C activities. In the first few weeks the list was used to announce the report on the report mentioned above, and to discuss in further detail some of the important developments (see the Mailbase archives  for details).
To subscribe to the mailing list send the message join uk-web-focus-w3c firstname surname to the address firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any suggestions for other articles you would like to see covered in this column, feel free to email me at the email address B.Kelly@ukoln.ac.uk.
- World Wide Web poster displays,
- UCISA Software Group Web pages,
- UK Web Focus mailing list,
- W3C Advisory Committee meeting report,
Author DetailsBrian Kelly
UK Web Focus,
Netskills Web Site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/~lisbk/
Tel: 01225 826838
Address: UKOLN, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY