The First International Conference on World-Wide-Web, May 1994
See also the on-line talk, which represents a summary of this report and the SIGWEB group that has
been set up in the UK.
The conference was held on May 25-27 at CERN, Geneva, 1994 and organised along the lines of parallel sessions of two concurrent talks and up to three simultaneous
workshops. This overview represents only those sessions I was able to attend, and is therefore highly
personal. However, all the talks, including the plenary sessions will be made available via the cern web server
shortly. In addition, the proceedings will be published by Elsevier in both a printed and a Web form, the
latter being freely available at no charge! In what follows, I have not attempted to fully attribute to individuals
all the points made, but to try to draw themes out. Any errors of interpretation or fact are entirely mine. I should also point
out that these are not "formal" minutes. Others who attended the same talk as me may have come to entirely different conclusions.
Most Important Future Directions.
This panel discussion actually closed the conference, but in many ways nicely summarises why we all met. The following points
were offered by the main speakers, and are arranged here in no particular order of preference or priority.
The conference closed with a vote of thanks to Robert Cailliau for organising the entire event, and
to Tim Berners-Lee for "giving the Web to the Wide World".
- A Global Bill of Rights is needed to establish the rights and limitations of all users of Electronic
methods of information delivery, and to recognise that Social Engineering in this
"Alternative World" is already occuring as a result of technologies such as the Web.
- The Web is currently mostly READ-ONLY, with great power vested in "SysOps", who
control the servers. Its original concept was of a READ/WRITE system. We need to move into a more collaborative environment with better
tools. A Browser/Editor is a good start.
- The Web and the Internet are now often thought of as synonymous.
- There are perceived but perhaps ill-founded concerns at the role that industry and commerce
play. All agreed that commercialisation is inevitable and indeed necessary to allow the Internet to
invest and expand, but that the standards must not fall into the hands of a single monolithic commercial
- Concepts such as "e-money", and evanescent digital signatures are evolving. We can also expect messages
such as "You have to pay for this picture" to start popping up.
- Problems in areas such as "Deep Searching" and Persistent Naming need to be solved urgently.
- Some felt that it would become more important for individuals to have access to the Web
than to printers!
- The greater enfranchisement of Windows users (via Winsock 1.1 and shortly 2.0) and maybe even
Nintendo-Sega owners would on a very short timescale increase Web availability by more than an
order of magnitude.
- The Web is developing into 3D Cyberspace, with definitions such as VRML (Virtual Reality
Markup Language) being actively developed, and standards such as HyTime being proposed to
develop "timelines" within Web browsers.
- The problem of network overload is a serious one. Perhaps developments such as Prospero,
and proxy requests to caching servers are the way forward.
- Network agents and delegation are viewed with great interest, although the interaction between General Magic and their "Telescript"
and the Web community is an unknown quantity.
The www94 chemistry workshop was attended by 16 participants. The diversity of interests made for an interesting and highly productive
discussion. The agenda was approximately that mounted on
One point that emerged during discussion was the cyclical and recursive nature of many existing "chemical"
servers. Only rarely if ever did a server indicate clearly its "mission", and whether it was basically inward or outward
looking. The former existed as a departmental information server or window to the outside world, and therefore
consisted largely of links to external resources. Such a server was unlikely to be of much interest to users outside the
home institution, since it would contain relatively little original material. There would be little need for many external links to
this server. The outward looking server existed to "advertise" the department to the world, and should therefore have a
preponderance of original material. It was in the interests of this server to have as many other servers as appropriate pointing
to it. Currently, there was almost no indication in most home pages of which of these two any particular server aspired to.
The demonstrations of chemical MIME types and the use of programs such as RasMol and XMol as 3D
visualisers caused much interest, since such 3D applications are not yet common outside molecular chemistry and biology.
I was fortunate to meet with Mark Pesce (firstname.lastname@example.org) who in his own talk (and with Dave Raggett)
three dimensional Cyberspace defined by VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language). The chemical applications of this look
immensely exciting. Mark also told me about a company called S3D Corporation, who will shortly be bringing to
market a set of low cost "active" 3D glasses designed to fit to the graphics board of Windows or Macintosh systems, including the IR emitter. I will post more details when the product is finally on sale in
approximately 2 months time
Talks with Phillip Hallam-Baker and Dave Raggett convinced us that an attempt be made to incorporate
at least some chemistry into the html
specifications. This would enable structures to be represented within html documents as "active molecules" rather than as
bitmaps as at present. In a parallel strategy, the inclusion of cgi in clients should lead the way to ppm style
conversions between the various chemical MIME types that we had proposed in our Internet Draft.
Forthcoming Software Releases
- Joseph Hardin of NCSA announced that V2 of the Mac Browser would appear shortly and that NCSA were on course for NCSA
Mosaic 2.5 this summer, supporting Tables. The equation setting ability would come later.
- NCSA are working on "Open NCSA Mosaic", including hyperlink passing to other viewers, choreographing
sequences of URLs, incorporating the Z39.50 deep searching library standards, whois++ and integration with NCSA
- An explosion of Commercial Web software products can be expected in the next six months if only a fraction of the
rumours are true.
- Dave Raggett hopes to make his own html+ browser available later this summer.
- A full WYSIWYG html editor from SoftQuad, initially for X-windows/SUN, but within weeks also for other Unix, and for Mac and Windows will be
available for free via NCSA. HTML+ support was not indicated.
- Web Browsers are moving towards better integrating html, network news
and mail into a single interface.
- Real time incorporation of videoconferencing and virtual reality into Web tools is on the horizon.
The Status of HTML
The partial uptake of the html and html+ standards as defined by Internet draft documents has resulted in considerable
confusion, and significant differences in capabilities between different browsers, and even between different platform
versions of the same browser (ie NCSA). In an effort to rationalise this, it is now proposed that the following versions of
HTML be recognised
- html 1.3: The first stable version, incorporated into early CERN and NCSA browsers.
- html 2.0:This is defined principally by the capabilities of NCSA Mosaic 2.4, supporting forms. Thus html 2.0 incoporates some
features of what was known as html+
- html 3.0: A new primary version number, including support for tables and auto-sizing tables, text wrap-around for images,
local client based hot-spot image mapping, support for overlaying multiple images and perhaps image scaling (ie recognition
that not all users have large monitors!), multiple submit buttons for forms and
background texture. This version for the first time will offer a genuine capability of generating
subtle "look-and-feel" styles for documents.
Here also, an attempt will be made to rationalise
"bad" html constructs. A suggestion was made that version 3.0 compatible browsers do not support all "bad" html, but that
the user might have to "tidy" old html first. The httpd servers would establish a dialog with browsers as to what support
the browser might have for specified html documents. To assist this, it may be necessary for a new MIME type such as
text/html+; attribute=3 (for html 3 support) to be created.
- html 3.1: This will include support for equation setting.
- html 3.2: Features still being discussed, including potentially chemistry.
- Particular attention to compatibility with Braille SGML dtps and support for text-to-speech conversion
Future Requested Support for HTML
This represents an unordered list, with no attempt at priority assignment.
- Support for Proxy servers, to reduce network traffic (ie re-direction of URLs).
- Document toolbars, ie permanent non-scrolling tools to navigate within a document, for example to go to a
document home page (as opposed to the browsers own home page).
- Guided tours and URL lists (ie choreographing a document), incorporating some way of printing an entire book
or document in a single command.
- Increased in-line support for other formats, starting with vector graphics and JPEG, and perhaps even extending to MPEG.
- Local event processing (ie for ISMAP etc).
- Tools for collaborative authoring of documents, perhaps within combined browsers/editors and better handling of
annotation and version control.
- Better support for time-lines, as in multimedia, and perhaps via adoption of the HyTime standards.
- Extending equation support to incorporate chemical structure diagrams.
- The often requested remote file size attribute was generally agreed belonged to the httpd protocol. It was noted that
many people remained confused by what was/should be handled by the httpd end of things (ie the server) and what should
be handled by the browser (ie html).
- There was much discussion about whether better support for filters into html from other markup dtds was a priority,
and whether Microsoft would become highly active in this whole area.
- Increasing semantic support via html. For example, the equation definition should be capable of being parsed
by a syntax checker to see if the maths (or chemistry) is correct.
- There appeared consensus that electronic publishing was not likely to result in loss of subscription to existing printed
formats. Many people still preferred to have the latter, but wanted the speed and currency of the on-line versions.
In effect, on-line publications were selling a "service" rather than "content".
- Much concern was expressed that html in particular could not yet express the "look-and-feel" of a publication. Perhaps this might
be handled in future with "bootstrapping" documents that could establish a dialog between server and browser such that
a "look and feel" could be generated locally.
- There was a lengthy discussion on "filters" between favourite page setting
and word processing documents and html. The consensus was that html "pageless" documents had their own style
and artistic guidelines, that could not simply be created from a printed paged dominated format. It is perhaps a sign of
a maturing Web that its own artistic requirements are finally being recognised. To some, the issue of "filters" simply
does not arise, it being more important to develop better "native" tools.
- Issues of copyright were generally recognised as
- Some concern was also expressed at the lack of progress in long term archiving, and how e.g.
peer review would/should be handled.
- The presence of a large number of publishers, and the general intense interest and
extent of participation of this sector seems most encouraging for the future, although few of the people present were
fully aware of where the publishing industry would make its money. The recent messages that the NSF in the USA
is intent on charging for traffic is one sign of the times. Apparently, in the USA, the "real" cost of networking is about
1$/Mbyte, and in Europe it varies from 2-10$/Mbyte. More importantly, the cost of installing cost-recovery mechanisms
must be enormous!
- A W3O (World-Wide-Web Organisation) is proposed to handle standards, liaison with
commerce and industry etc. Centres in Europe (at CERN), in the USA and elsewhere are proposed, and
a formal announcement of the details is expected soon.
- Web Internet traffic has now overtaken Gopher traffic.
- The Global Network Academy expects to expand rapidly, and MOOs (the generic term
for MUDs) are playing an
increasing role. A MOO based course on C++ won a "Best of WWW" award. Some of us
think that the development of learning environments in for example chemistry, with on-line
courses written by a number of global "experts", worked problems and tutorials, and incorporating
3D visualisation and time-dependency provides a stimulating opportunity for us teachers,
and really does force us to think how hitherto parochial or inward looking university departments will develop
in the future! The UK has just undergone an excercise
in which individual chemistry departments are assessed for their teaching quality,
and the results collected as a national league table. The pressures to do well locally and the
concepts raised by the Web appear at first sight at odds! But think of it this way. Some 400 people
spent in the region of $1,000,000 to attend www94 in order to hear the likes of Tim Berners-Lee
propound his vision. People continue to matter, and the Web will not change that.
[The soap boxes at Speakers Corner in Hyde park are
just around the corner from this Web server!]
- Libraries are adopting the Web with some enthusiasm.
- A Combination of CD-ROM and the Web is seen by some as a major development
area, others as a technological cul-de-sac. With the recent announcement by IBM of single
platter 6 Gbyte CD-ROM technology coming in 1995 perhaps, I favour the former.
- Some (lucky) towns and individuals already have a mesh of "T1" connections (thats a 1.5 Mbit/s
cable conection) to the Internet. One individual uses this, via an ATM system at home, to
videoconference to their children's school! In the eyes of some, ISDN is being rapidly by-passed.
I also read in the May Wired magazine (distributed at the www94 conference) that Harvard
will soon have about 11,000 Fibre data points on the campus soon.
- The WWW94 badge and T-Shirt are expected to become collectors items.
- No assistant professor has apparently yet received tenure for their work in WWW.
- The demographic distribution of WWW users reveals the majority are aged
20-30, and male! China joined the Internet in May 1994, and has one server up already.
Personal computers have penetrated only 5.7% of the potential market in Japan, and only
8.6 of those are linked to any sort of network.
Next WWW Conference: Mosaic and the Web
This is organised for 17-20 October 1994, in Ramada-Congress Hotel, Chicago, USA. Contact
http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/IT94/IT94Info.html for current information. A call for papers is out.
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org