W3C Opens UK & Ireland Office

Yesterday I attended the launch event of the new W3C UK & Ireland office in Oxford, hosted by Nominet (who are hosting the office, not just the launch event).

It was a relatively short event (half a day) but packed full with some interesting talks, showcasing the work that is being done with the web by various parties in collaboration with the W3C. The talks did a nice job of giving us a look at how central the web is in fields like mobile delivery (MobileAware & Vodafone), future media (from the BBC), Internet & television (BBC R&D) and, underpinning much of this, was the importance and role of the web in sociological terms, with Prof. Bill Dutton, Director of the Oxford Internet Institution, rounding off things with a look at Freedom of Connection & Freedom of Expression. Prof. Dutton highlighted elements of a forthcoming UNESCO report that provides a new perspective on the social and political dynamics behind threats to freedom of expression using the Internet and the web through digital rights issues and how technical, legal and regulatory measures might be constraining the freedom that many of us see the Internet allowing us today. A line that stood out for me in particular was:

Freedom of expression is not an inevitable outcome of technological innovation

Sir Tim Berners Lee kicked off proceedings with a bit of history behind his invention of the web and the subsequent creation of the W3C, whose goal, Sir Tim told us, is to “lead the web to its full potential”. Around 20-25% of the globe now uses the web but now we have reached a point where we need to look at why the other 75-80% don’t. The W3C Web Foundation (http://www.w3.org/2009/Talks/0318_bratt_WebFoundation/WebFoundation.pdf) is there to tackle this issue and figure out ways to accelerate the take up of the web in the parts of the world that still don’t have it.

Sir Tim Berners Lee

Sir Tim Berners Lee

Sir Tim talked about the role of the web in supporting justice and democracy too (something that the UNESCO report investigates as I wrote previously) and asked the question of how we can optimise the web to support wider and more efficient democracy. Science too. How do we design the web to more easily bring together part formed ideas across people and countries to help these ideas feed off each other and evolve. And how can the web – in this new age of social networking – help us work more effectively and communicate wider than simply “friends of friends”, breaking through traditional social barriers and forming new relationships that may not normally occur?

An interesting question from the audience was the one around temporal bubble and how to ensure we can still view the web as we have now in decades to come – after all, so much content from 10 years ago cannot now be viewed (without a painstaking process of content conversion). It was a timely revisit to that question as on the train down I was reading about the hundreds of thousands of photographs shared on the fotopic.net have recently simply vanished due to fotopic going into liquidation. Then the day after I read that Google is now telling users of their Google Video service that they need to move them off there as, while it hasn’t supported new uploads for quite some time, Google will actually be folding the whole thing and putting up the closed sign.

So that was all just in the opening talk!

HTML5 Logo

HTML5 Logo

We went on to hear about the W3C’s Open Web Platform and how HTML5 and related web standards are extending and evolving the power of the web, making it central to areas like mobile, gaming, government and social networking. On the topic of mobile, J Alan Bird of the W3C stated that,

The open web platform is the new mobile operating system

and the W3C’s work is ongoing to make it as robust as possible.

Dr. Adrian Woolard of BBC R&D talked about their work in Internet TV and how they are looking to free this from the set-top box, while focusing on the accessibility of New Broadcasting products and services. We’ve had the web on our televisions for a few years now, well, those of us with a Wii or Playstation 3 that is. But the Internet will be moving into the TV itself. On this topic the W3C recently formed the Web & Television Interest Group (January 2011) to start looking at requirements that will then form recommendations and a Working Group that will approach the standards issue in this space – see http://www.w3.org/2010/09/webTVIGcharter.html. This is something that I want to take a bit further in a future article, around the web in a Post-PC world. We’ve had the web on PCs for over a decade now, we have it, increasingly, in powerful mobile devices in our pockets, tablets, and now…that bastion of the living room…the TV!

Dan Appelquist of Vodafone outlined the company’s commitment to working with the W3C in the mobile space and nicely highlighted some of the reasons why Vodafone look to work with the W3C, contributing to web standards. Something Dan mentioned (kind of in passing) that I didn’t know about was around the social networking space. One was OneSocialWeb project (http://onesocialweb.org/), a free decentralised approach to the social network (in fact I’ve just this minute found they have an iPhone app that I’ll be duly installing after writing this) and something more grounded in the CETIS Standards space – oStatus, an open standard for distributed status updates, across networks. See http://ostatus.org/about

Ralph Rivera, Director of BBC Future Media talked to us about how the BBC is looking at the digital public space it inhabits as much as the programmes and services it creates and outlined what digital public space means to the BBC, and how the W3C and BBC can work in partnership. Ralph said a couple of things that really stood out for me. One was that the BBC is looking at the 2012 Olympics and planning their digital products & services around it to do for online broadcasting what the Coronation did for television. I thought that was pretty cool. He also said this, and I’ll round off the article with this…

There is no more important digital space than the web itself

I like that.

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