Saturday, May 1, 2010

WWW2010/FutureWeb Conference Summary

I had the opportunity to attend the Future Web part of the WWW2010 Conference this past week in Raleigh, NC. This conference was quiet amazing both in the scope/influence and the fact that it was in my hometown.

I was able to hear some technical giants like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Danah Boyd and Doc Searls. I was able to meet up with many people locally (including Paul Jones) as well as folks from across the world working to make the internet move into the future.

The content was as technical as it was social and political. While it's interesting to hear about the Semantic Web and HTML5 and all the cool new areas for search/data mining, it was equally valuable to hear about the impacts the Web is having on education, healthcare, and media to name a few. Also, I hear about the work of many of the conference attendees to change government processes for the better and how involved that can be with the web spanning countries in ways no other technology can/does.

Some reflections on the technical content:

1) Facebook was bashed (a lot). I actually learned that yet again, Facebook had opted me into sharing information without my understanding. The key take away from all of this bashing was that Facebook (and all web technologies) have become a critical part of our culture. The information we all are producing to create value for sites like Facebook/Twitter/etc needs to be treated with care. Marketing folks salivate at the opportunities that this community created content provides. However, just because we can share and use such data in ways that benefit our companies, we shouldn't assume we should.

2) Adobe/Apple was based (a lot). The value of open standards on the web is clear. Some of the stories shared by the panelists were quite interesting -- Talk about how the internet was just a radical idea that would never compete with the "serious networks" of the time prove how valuable standards can be and how they have and will continue to change the world.

3) There was a great presentation by Carl Malamud talking about "Rules for Radicals" that documented 10 rules to make large changes to government and technology, but the rules applied equally well - I can apply them to working within a large corporation. Note that while take aways #1 and #2 got a lot of press, the fact is there were many iPad's, Mac Books and Facebook borne meetups. Carl's presentation showed that we need to work to affect change within these communities. Here is a quick video summary of the rules.

4) I've had it on my TODO list for some time now to look at the building blocks of the Semantic web. I needed to understand how RDF/RDFa and SPARQL relate to XML and XQuery. I'm starting to form some opinions now based upon what I've heard at the conference and the work I've done this week to play with the technologies. I can say with certainty that this Web 3.0 (the web for machines vs. Web 2.0 which was the web for human) and its related technologies - RDF, SPARQL are not going away. I can also say that RDF/SPARQL doesn't compete with XML/XQuery. I can see that we'll need to bridge the gap between these worlds as we look to unleash not only the XML stored in many enterprises but also relational data. We'll also need to do this quickly as this world is moving fast and those people who don't embrace Web 3.0 will be as left behind as those that are still moving towards Web 2.0. An example of this speed that impressed me was the creation of a Facebook Open Graph Protocol vocabulary that was peer edited during a session on Thursday but then live by Friday. Amazing.

5) Twitter is a business tool. I've known this for some time and had success stories, but given the audience of this conference (passionate web technologists) I saw the value of Twitter magnified by at least an order of magnitude. Every academic attendee was communicating via Twitter. I used it to find the IBM attendees and collaborate with them in ways I'm sure I would have missed without Twitter. I used it to meet people I've never met before (even led to a lunch out with Doc Searls and Kathy Gill and another with a local company that is working with SIP technologies). If it wasn't for twitter, I'd say the value of the collaboration at this conference would have been decreased by that same order of magnitude. Another funny story that proves Raleigh is well connected was a fight between two bars on Twitter that broke out trying to earn our patronage for a dinner on the town. If you're a business that isn't paying attention to Twitter are you losing the cost of a few beers or worse?

I'm sure there were more take aways I'll remember, but for now that's a good starting point. If you were at Future Web and had other big take aways, post them in comments.

PS. I got to meet a bunch of great local XML/XQuery folks at the XQuery meet-up I organized. I look forward to collaborating with these folks locally in the future.