Sir Tim Inaugural Lecture

Just watching the live video feed of Prof. Sir Tim Berners-Lee's inaugural lecture in the Electronics and Computer Science department at Southampton Uni. I can't see the slides which is a nuisance. I thought I'd type up a few notes as I listen.

He started off talking about engineering versus analysis of network systems. And creativity, which is part of engineering.

Amusingly, he is trying to talk about Web 2.0 sites but without mentioning the actual term "Web 2.0".

He made a big point about macrosopic social elements (the web community) deriving from microscopic (URI schemes and HTTP and HTML and stuff and junk). (This is exactly the point I make when trying to explain where TBL fits in to the history of the web: TBL is not responsible for the massive cultural system built on top of the web. It's mere chance that his distributed hypermedia system took root. A lot of people can't distinguish the utility of the web now from the seed protocols (not even ideas, as such, which were already established) that TBL gave us.)

He mentioned something about email and how it's abused.

The web - what it was intended to do and the primary concepts that drive it. Layering technologies on top of one another. Wow. Abstraction.

The web is an information space. A mapping between a URI and some information.

PageRank. Google. Deriving macrosopic web usage models from something very simple like number of links. Audio went a bit rubbish for a while but it's back now.

Wiki. How microscopic behaviour like collaborative editing grows into macroscopic systems like Wikipedia. This will revolutionise democracy and politics.

Blogs. Woo. The Blogosphere. May be rubbish. Who knows. Probably both rubbish and excellent at the same time.

Information in HTML format is not manipulatable. Se we need a semantic web to re-use data as data. RDF, OWL, SPARQL. Use URIs for things rather than web pages. And the relationships between overhead projectors and colours. Merge and query is very easy. FOAF networks. (Yay! I know all about those.)

Some websites are tables, some are trees, some are "hypercubes". (He keeps calling tables and matrices "rectangles". That strikes me a such a cute web-kiddy thing to do, labelling arrays as "Square, daddio" while graphs are new and "cool")

Something to do with trees and top-down OOP. (shrug)

What shape is the Internet? It's a net. (It's not. It's a fluffy cumulus cloud. Every first-year computer science student knows that.) It's robust.

The web is a web. What shape is that? What does that mean? It should be shaped like the world.

Common vocabularies for describing things with RDF. You get local collaboration to produce specific ontologies and you use some terms from global ontologies. Spatial things can be used in lots of applications. Overlapping ontologies.

The web is actually fractal. Structure at all different levels.

Much less work is done in describing ontologies than using them.

Web Science includes

  • User interface for the web. SemWeb doesn't have this.
  • Building resiliant systems. Against slashdotting, attack. At an architectural level.
  • New devices - handheld and large screens.
  • Creativity. Connecting people and making them more effective. Allowing them to understand one another; letting half-formed ideas in two different people's heads on different sides of the planet connect.

Right, done.

It was a whistlestop tour of web science I suppose, but I didn't really feel that it was particularly insightful. Of course I'm not in the business of rationalising the way that the web works. I just program. I think TBL has to try to rationalise it because that's what he's famous for; at a personal level he probably feels people look to him to explain the ways of the beast. But of course he didn't create it. Mainly people just create web apps and it either catches on or not, or it needs a bit of pointling to actually make it work the way people want it to. With a lot of Web 2.0 sites, it just involves a huge amount of development to get to the point of having a web app that works well enough and scales, and then creative ideas can be tried out on pieces, beta tested and deployed.

This is exactly how the web started and evolved and I don't think I understand how we got to where we are now any better than I did before. I don't think it's possible to either; the web evolves in parallel across the globe. It doesn't have a single history behind it or a single motivation driving it.

There is a podcast available.


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