WWW2002 — Day Three (a cloudy day in Paradise)

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!