WWW 2002 report

I arrived a day early to allow for travel problems and last-minute difficulties with the Global Community track, which I was co-chairing; since there weren’t any insuperable problems, I found myself mostly free that day and took advantage of it.

Other blogs and reports about the conference:

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

My notes from today are going to be more sketchy than usual, since I chaired two sessions in the Global Community track and couldn’t take notes. So I will begin by pointing you at Dan Gillmor and Robert Scoble, who have been blogging and surfing throughout the conference so far.

And now it’s far later, and I find that my brain is rather fried and overloaded. But I’ll probably never get around to writing about today if I don’t do it now, so here’s what I can still remember at this moment.

Tim Berners-Lee’s keynote speech was unusual — he didn’t talk about the future of the Web. Instead, he talked about how “bits matter” and how the various specifications which make the Web possible all depend on other specifications, all the way down to the physical layer (at least). Tim also made a good argument for royalty-free standards for the Web — while not denying the usefulness of patents.

I chaired two sessions on “A Global Society?”, kicking off the Global Community track, where we are trying to explore how the technologies developed by the folks talking at the rest of the conference affect people around the world — both those who use the Web and those who don’t.

I was pleased at how many people took the trouble to find our track — we’re in the Sheraton Royal Hawaiian (most of the conference is in the Sheraton Waikiki, about 100 meters away), and at the far end of the hotel. Getting to us requires a concerted effort to ignore the wonderful weather and the beach. But the first session was standing-room only until they got us an extra 30 chairs, and the second session was also pretty full.

The first speaker was red keith bradley, who talked about Design Considerations for a Global Audience. Much of what he said was old news, but the message needs to be repeated until it’s heeded — you can’t assume that the person using your site is your clone. There are cultural issues (example: the Fed Ex site for the United Arab Emirates, which rotates through a number of pictures, including one of a picture of a woman in a short-sleeved Fed Ex uniform — not a likely sight there), language issues, bandwidth issues, cost issues, and many many more. Site designers need to consider why people are visiting the sites — in most cases, it’s probably not to admire the designer’s cleverness! A lively discussion followed.

Ashley Tucker then presented work done comparing Internet users in the UK and Egypt, especially when presented with VRML pages. He talked about reasons, other than the obvious economic ones, for lower Internet penetration in the Arab world. Discussion followed.

Libby Levison of MIT finished the session with a wonderful paper on enabling Internet search by e-mail for users in low-connectivity countries. By making the search asynchronous, you can greatly reduce the costs to the user — and do a better job of qualifying the results. This could be useful for “high-connectivity” users, too — imagine being able to submit a question, then go do something else (like watch a TV show or fly across the country), and then receive answers when you next fetch your e-mail. It could be almost as effective as asking a librarian! And again, a lively discussion followed, running on into lunchtime.

This year, the organizers have decided to omit sit-down lunches with speeches; instead, they’re setting up buffets and allowing people to mingle and talk during lunch. I’m not sure if this is for cost reasons (ah, for the glory days of 1999…or even 2001) or not, but I think it’s a great idea (though I hope we move on from sandwich makings for tomorrow’s lunch).

After lunch, it was back to the grind; one of our invited speakers didn’t take us up on the invitation, so we only had two talks in a 90-minute slot.

Linda Jackson followed up her talk last year with a report on Home Net Too, this time with some analysis of the data they gathered from the low-income families they provided with computers and Internet connectivity. There were some surprises — for example, there was hardly any use of the Internet for job training or seeking! They have lots more crunching to do, and I look forward to another report next year. Once more, there was plenty of discussion and debate.

Stu Weibel of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative closed the session with a presentation on technology development as a conversation, and the need for standards and shared terminology. And, yet again, we had a lively discussion.

And there ended my hosting duties for this conference.

The final session of the day was hosted by my co-chair, but it didn’t help me take decent notes. And when I tried posting soon after the session, I had system problems, so this is a second attempt, almost a week later, with a fuzzy memory. *sigh*

The first speaker was Karima Boudaoud of the University of Geneva, who talked about Electronic Communication Issues related to Online Dispute Resolution Systems, an overview of the state of the art at using online techniques to assist in alternative dispute resolution systems (mediation, negotiation, and arbitration). She paid special attention to the needs of confidentiality and data integrity. One point of note — she didn’t know of any attempts to automate the actual dispute resolution process, just attempts to make it possible to handle most of the communications online instead of in-person.

Our second speaker, Manuel Oliveira of University College London, probably belonged in a different track. His paper, “Causing Mayhem on the Internet with Virtual Environments”, is a rather technical paper dealing with a Java-based system which can be used to build online distributed virtual environments (games!), and it’s worth reading. But he realized that presenting the details of such a system wouldn’t be terribly useful in the less-technical environment of the Global Community track, and so his presentation focussed on the social issues (such as the problem with trusting code on the client — believe it or not, people cheat!).

Finally, Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News gave an invited talk: “Will Hollywood Capture The Internet?”. He discussed the problems that the DMCA has caused and that the CBDPTA could cause — see his weblog for more.

Thursday, May 9, 2002

I probably shouldn’t admit this in public, but I didn’t make it to the first set of talks this morning. I had a hard time getting started today, so I had to choose between a morning run and the early talks. The run won, largely because the Global Community track didn’t have a session in the first slot.

But I did get to the conference early enough to have some good discussions with people while catching up on my e-mail (wireless networking is a wonderful facility to have here — I’m glad, though, that I’m running a firewall and antivirus software). I spent a few minutes in the Cybercafe (misnamed — you’re not allowed to bring food or drink in), and couldn’t resist looking at what was on people’s screens. Probably the most common type of site was a news site…what was interesting, though, was to see that most of those sites were not in English. We really do have a global community here at the conference.

The fourth Global Community session was somewhat uneven, and plagued by technical problems.

Charles McCathieNeville (the only person I know with a tri-capitalized last name) gave what I think was a good talk on The Role of Community in Technical Development. I say “I think”, because I spent much of it trying to get the sound in the adjoining room turned down so that we could hear Charles — neither the hotel controls nor the mixer I found on the floor worked. Eventually, a tech person showed up and fixed the problem, but by then, I’d missed most of Charles’ talk.

Robert Scoble talked about weblogs; I would have blogged his talk as it happened, but the server handling my weblog was down at the time. He did a bit of demonstrating, but if I weren’t already involved in weblogging, I’m not sure I would have gotten a strong message from the talk. But since I am, I felt free to disagree with one of his claims of weblogging’s strengths — that Google now aggressively crawls and indexes blogs, and gives them extra weight in the results. I’m not sure that’s entirely good — as an example, whenever I look at my refer logs, I see hits for the phrase “things to do in Paris”. And when I Googled that phrase today, I found that my weblog entry from 25 March 2001 is very near the top of the list of results (it’s the seventh item right now, but that’ll change over time — and as a result of typing this entry, I’m likely to have another top hit). Much as I enjoyed my trip to Paris last year, I am far from an authority on things to do there! My observation led to some lively discussion.

I had to run out during the Sophie Lissonet’s talk on using metadata to support building an educational community, so I have no comments on it.

Lunch today was, again, make-your-own sandwiches, so a colleague and I decided to test the free market and wound up at Duke’s Canoe Club, two hotels Diamond Head from here, where I had an excellent (if slightly overcooked) piece of ahi tuna, Duke’s style. That makes two meals at Duke’s this trip, which is probably enough, though I won’t really complain if someone suggests it again tomorrow.

Having a full lunch made the afternoon plenary session a bit more challenging than it might otherwise have been. Ian Foster gave an introduction to the Grid, and Alfred Spector gave a talk about the need for, and a possible approach to, creating an Architecture for Knowledge Middleware.

And now I’m back in the Cybercafe, feeding my computer electrons and bits. In a moment or two, I’ll declare victory and take the bus over to the Bishop Museum for the conference banquet and luau; fortunately, they’re not just having kalua pig and poi (though I guess poi would qualify as a vegan alternative)!

Friday, May 10, 2002

The subconscious mind is a funny thing.

This morning, I had a breakfast appointment at 7:30am, and so I thought I wouldn’t be able to go jogging beforehand. But just before I fell asleep last night, the thought flitted through my mind that I could jog if I just woke up an hour early.

Bad idea. At 5am this morning, my eyes flipped open of their own accord, and stayed that way, despite my efforts to turn over and go back to sleep. After a while, I gave up, got dressed, and went out for a jog.

The weather was notably cooler than it had been when I’d left the hotel at 7, and so my speed was better — not great (and nothing I’m going to admit in public!). I’m amazed at how busy Kalakaua Avenue (the main drag in Waikiki) is at 6am — and how many stores are open by 7. I don’t think downtown Los Gatos comes to life so early.

The morning plenary session was good; the first speaker was Rich DeMillo from HP, who talked about “new foundations for Trust and the Web”. He made some interesting observations — one was that “more content will be generated in the next three years than in the previous 40,000 years of human history.” But he was measuring content strictly in terms of bytes, and so horrors like PowerPoint presentations, streaming video, and this very web page contribute to the flow — and let’s face it, it’s very easy to create a presentation with no actual meaning which requires more bytes than, say, the entire works of Shakespeare plus the Torah!

Pamela Samuelson from Berkeley gave the second talk, on copyright and why it matters to “normal” people now. She pointed out that, until recently, copyright law basically only affected content creators and publishers, not the vast majority of people — but with the advent of digital media and the potential for widescale copying (even before release), copyright law will extend into our homes and the devices we use, endangering “fair use” and privacy. She urged us to contact our legislators and join the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and suggested that Hollywood might do better to stop hating their customers.

From there, it was back over to the Royal Hawaiian for the day’s first session in the Global Community track, “Making information useful with metadata”. We had three rather different presentations.

Jane Hunter talked about Rights Markup Extensions for the Protection of Indigenous Knowledge, a way to allow, for example, aboriginal peoples to control the use of their “traditional” knowledge even after converting it to digital form. She talked about the needs of such peoples and how they differ from Western copyright law — for example, the tribal knowledge is owned by the tribe in perpetuity (contrasting with the fixed term in copyright law). And the tribe needs to be able to control who has access to the information, and in what form (as an example, only tribal elders might be allowed certain information). What struck me was how similar these constraints are to those which Hollywood wants, and which Pam Samuelson had just called unacceptable!

Greg Fitzpatrick then gave a very different talk. His paper is Universal Directories: Web Services as Human Services, but the talk didn’t really cover the paper. Instead, he gave a rather philosophical talk on knowledge, entropy, and energy, coming back at the very end to touch on “Power of Presence”, which in turn hearkens back to some of the discussions about weblogging triggered by Robert Scoble’s presentation yesterday.

Finally, Kathi Martin of Drexel University talked about Data and Image Standards of the Open Archive Initiative: A How and Why for Small Collections, showing what the Drexel Digital Museum has done to put their fashion collection online and make it usefully accessible — though not in the sense of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), since it uses Flash, animation, and other techniques which just plain don’t work for many users.

Lunch was the same sandwich buffet as the past two days, but with different breads. I decided I’d rather have interesting discussions than different food, and stayed in the hotel.

After lunch, we had the final Global Community session, “Accessibility’s Many Dimensions”.

Judy Brewer of the WAI kicked off the session with a backgrounder on accessibility, including debunking of myths about accessibility being a luxury that developing countries can’t afford.

Lisa Seeman gave a rather interesting and somewhat controversial talk on Inclusion Of Cognitive Disabilities in the Web Accessibility Movement. Some of the steps she called out will be very difficult (for example, marking up ambiguous or figurative language so that someone with a specific cognitive disability could request a literal translation), but could have a big payoff if done right — can you imagine being able to get a simplified, accurate, and unambiguous translation of laws and proposed legislation? There’s a long way to go before we reach that point — even non-controversial ways of improving writing, such as Strunk and White’s advice from 1918 to “use active voice” is often ignored (such as in this very sentence!).

Finally, Jan Richards of the University of Toronto’s Adaptive Technology Resource Centre talked about how tools to help authors make their work accessible should and should not work (example: don’t wait until the document is ready to publish and then put up a dialog box saying something like “498 accessibility problems — do you want to fix them now?”; instead, make it easy to avoid creating the problems in the first place and provide authoring assistance whenever possible). He showed A-Prompt, which is an attempt to make it easier for authors to fix accessibility problems (but, of course, it’s not integrated into common authoring tools such as WordPro or Word).

And so ended the Global Community track for this year.

I had planned to go to a panel titled “XML: Cleanly Layered or Badly Bloated?”, but it was cancelled. There’s not enough time before the closing ceremony and post-conference “thank you” reception for the chairs and staff to go to the beach…and besides, it’s cloudy anyway.

Tomorrow, I hope to get a little shopping done and then it’s time to go home!

Shabbat Shalom!

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