Weblogs: Web Standards

A bold step in the right direction for standards compliant web-authoring

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Something I wrote a year ago...

Finally... FINALLY, someone out there understands the benefits of standards compliant web-authoring - [Best viewed with Telnet port 80]. Browsers don't matter. Its the interoperability of webservers with corresponding webclients (which could be webservers to other clients, and so on) that is so important in the next step of World Wide Web evolution.

The Semantic Web promises to revolutionise the way we look for information on the web. Instead of being a passive page to a user, the Semantic Web makes the web proactive, offering suggestions, alternatives or side-tracks that users find useful.

The Semantic Web will probably introduce the concept of Agents (a technology that's keen to be unleashed). An Agent is a piece of software belonging to the user (really - belonging to the user), that adapts itself to your personality/likes/dislikes/tastes and crawls the web looking for stuff just for you.

Want a holiday to Belgium? Your agent will look around all the travel agencies, airlines, hovercraft rides planning your itenary, costing the trip. It spots that there are tickets to the coming Grand Prix - you like motor racing - so it includes that in the package. When you next use your browser to call up your agent, it will provide a list of options, and the best packages it has found - all according to your preferences. All you do is visit the links it has found for you, or click the button to select your chosen itenary.

The great thing about your agent, is that you specify what you want. You also specify which of your details you let websites know. So there's no problem with someone taking your credit card details. Noone can get any details you have not specifically allowed your agent to reveal.

The pieces that are required to create such an enviroment are slowly being dragged into place. Search engines like google can already handle a "cloudy" idea and offer up websites that match (surprisingly closely) what the original intention meant. As an example:

Yesterday we had a bit of a disagreement over what those plastic bits at the end of shoelaces were called. I originally believed it was a boondongle (I'm guessing this one came out of Bill Gates' "The Road Ahead"), others disagreed. So onto google, I entered "end of shoe laces" as a search phrase. It replied "Don't you mean end of shoelaces?", so I clicked. The first entry returned read "The end of shoelaces are called aglets..." - score one for the online knowledge base.

The Semantic web puts a layer on top of the existing Web which "imposes" a rule based set. These heuristics can then be manipulated to understand words in context - so it can tell the difference between a "table mountain" and Cape Town's "Table Mountain" contextually. By understanding this overlooked concept, the web starts becoming self-aware, and thus more useful to us, then end user.

It all starts with something small. In our case it starts with the web developer adhering to a documented W3 standard when it comes to creating websites. Sites like [Best viewed with Telnet port 80], although engineered as a joke, but based on a firm understanding, do a lot more to the growth of the internet as an everyday tool than the newest multimedia gizmo.

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