Web work far from done, Berners-Lee warns

After nine World Wide Web Conferences and more than 10 years of work, the Web is not done yet, said Web pioneer and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) director Tim Berners-Lee, kicking off the recent 10th World Wide Web Conference in Hong Kong.

Making various Web languages work together, bringing Web functions to mobile computing devices and making the Web’s benefits available to people in rural areas and developing countries are among the tasks developers are still facing, Berners-Lee told a large international audience in the initial keynote of this year’s annual meeting of the consortium.

Berners-Lee kicked off his speech by announcing the formal approval of the XML (Extensible Markup Language) Schema as a W3C recommendation, the final sign-off for a W3C standard. XML Schema defines how programmers should describe content using XML, which can put an identifying tag on any piece of content on the Web.

Now, “there’s an XML language for defining XML languages,” Berners-Lee said.

He also pointed to new technologies now becoming viable, including Extensible Hypertext Markup Language; Scalable Vector Graphics, which Berners-Lee used to zoom in on charts in his presentation; Cascading Style Sheets for XML; and Mathematical Markup Language for giving mathematical notation on the Web, as signs of progress.

However, making all these specifications and others work together will take more work, he cautioned. Developing new kinds of interfaces, such as a voice interface for drivers, and making computers talk to each other for automated Web services are also key tasks, Berners-Lee said.

Another concern that will come to the fore as electronic commerce grows will be the persistence of critical kinds of communication, such as the electronic equivalent of a check written for a product or service, he said.

Consumers and businesses may keep canceled checks as proof of payment, but “you don’t keep your IP (Internet Protocol) packets,” Berners-Lee said. Documents on the Web should be able to identify themselves so they can be examined later, after the Web formats in use have changed.

Another key technology now being polished by the W3C is Resource Description Framework (RDF), which provides interoperability among applications that exchange information from one machine to another on the Web. It can use XML to exchange descriptions of any Web resources, including non-XML resources. Corporations are starting to recognize the value of RDF, he said.

A diagram showing dozens of interconnected circles and squares – including things the W3C wants the Web to achieve and the protocols and software elements they will require – demonstrated the hard work ahead.

“It’s difficult when there are so many blobs,” he said.

Attendees of the conference applauded the approval of the XML Schema, which is intended to replace the many Document Type Definitions that have been used to describe the contents of different kinds of Web documents.

“The XML Schema is just way more powerful. It allows you to be more expressive in the way you describe your documents,” said Stefan Edlund, a software designer at IBM Corp.’s Almaden Research Center, in San Jose, Calif. The technology will be important for business-to-business commerce, Edlund said.

The XML Schema will help to rein in ways of defining Web content, making the definitions more consistent, said Amit Singal, a senior research scientist at Google, the Mountain View-based Web search company.

“It’s going to make all kinds of data interchange possible that’s not possible today,” Singal said.

A companion of Singal’s, however, cautioned that the W3C’s approval is only one step.

“It’s a milestone, yes, but it’s still going to have a lot of flux,” said Soumen Chakrabarti, an assistant professor in the computer science and engineering department at the Indian Institute of Technology, in Mumbai.

The W3C, based in Cambridge, Mass., can be reached at (617) 253-2613 or via the Web at www.w3.org.

– IDG News Service, Hong Kong Bureau