July-August wrap-up…finally confirmed

Wow, I can’t believe it’s September and how slack I have been about keeping this blog up-to-date…

July was mainly taken up by my PhD confirmation and August with the widgets spec, visiting Oslo for a WAF face-2-face, and a brief visit to the W3C office in Canberra to attend a standards symposium.

Confirmation dramas

My PhD confirmation went well enough… about 10 people were nice enough to come along. I basically presented the issues around widgets and then argued about why it was valid to do my research their standardization. I got a bit of grief from the academic panel about my resistance to include the academic community in the research. I basically tried to argue that academics are out of touch with what is happening in this area and there would be little point in me including them (as I also have very little idea about what is going on in this area!;)). Still, they insisted that I produce at least three academic papers out of my research and make that my PhD… I agreed.

I will now produce three papers for my PhD (I’m doing my PhD by publication, which means I just publish papers instead of writing PhD thesis that no one will read):

  1. The first will be about the issues around widget engines and the problems that could be addressed by standardization.
  2. The second will be on the design decisions that have gone into the Widgets 1.0 Spec. This paper would cover, for instance, the reasons we are using XML for the manifest format instead of JSON… or why we may or may not have a namespace for the widget manifest format.
  3. Third, would discuss the Widgets 1.0 Test-suite… particularly any interesting design decisions. There is not much literature out there on web-based test suites for specs. Well, not much that I could find as part of my research.

Anyway, I was asked to resubmit my confirmation document and list the above three publications. To be a smart-ass, I submitted the document with the following footnote (mostly to test if they would read any of my changes):

It is my position that producing peer-reviewed publications for journals and conferences is a waste of time (according to an article published CiteSeer in Nature (Lawrence, 2001), the average citation rate of a journal paper is 2.74, and articles freely available online are more highly cited. For greater impact and faster scientific progress, authors and publishers should aim to make research easy to access. Something that is not possible when papers are published for profit on the medium of paper. Also QUT’s Creative Industries faculty finds it difficult to deal with the concept of harnessing collective intelligence (O’Reilly, 2005) as it undermines what academics do as they can no longer claim authorship over works/publications. This is both unfortunate, sad, and a very archaic way of thinking. It is obvious than harnessing the collective intelligence, as it done in open standardization efforts, will more often yield higher quality of output than those produced by pretending that everything is written in isolation.

That footnote did not go down too well, so I was asked to remove it (hehe, yes!! CENSORSHIP AT QUT, IT’S ALL TRUE!!!!)… anyway, I removed it resubmitted a few days ago, so I am now finally be confirmed. Glad that part of my life is over and done with.

WAF F2F in Oslo

Morning in Oslo...

The Web Applications Format’s (WAF) face-2-face meeting in Oslo went very well. It was held at Opera Software‘s HQ in Oslo. We most talked about Widgets and decided to finally dump the Declarative Format For Applications and User Interfaces (DFAUI). (I’ll talk more about the widgets stuff we discussed in a bit). The implication of dumping the DFAUI was that our working group charter is monumentally out of date! In fact, the current WAF charter does not even mention widgets. The WAF working group will have its charter reviewed in November (as the group also expires in November, 2007). I expect the group to be rechartered for another 2 years.

The discussions around widgets focused mostly on the editor’s drafts of the widget requirements and the widget spec. As I’ve written about previously, I’ve done a lot of work recently on the requirements. The requirements document is starting to become quite stable. However, the widget spec is still in a bit of a mess. I mostly blame myself for that so I’ve started working on restructuring it. The reasons I think the widget spec is a bit of a mess is because:

  • I still don’t have a complete overview of the overall problem space (particularly APIs).
  • I really want to make sure that a proposed solution is as compatible as possible with existing implementations, and also follows W3C principles. This means really understanding how the current market-leading widget engines actually work. This involves a lot of research, development, and testing on each platform, so it is quite time consuming.

Regardless of my document structuring inabilities, I think that the meeting was quite successful in at least nailing down what we need to make a priority in the short term. Namely:

  1. Manifest (language and processing)
  2. Packaging (bits of Zip that we want to use)
  3. Auto updates (a HTTP and XML based model)

I recently made a post to the WAF public list about automatic update based on the discussion the working group had at the face to face meeting. In the coming days (weeks?), I’ll write a blog entry on current approaches to automated updates. I’ll mostly just focus on FireFox, Yahoo! Widgets, and compare that to a pure HTTP solution proposed by Mark Nottingham.

Standards Symposium, Canberra

The W3C Australia office and NICTA jointly organized small standards symposium, which was held at the W3C office (CSIRO) Canberra on the 26th of August. Overall the event was very interesting covering a wide range of topics relating to standardization of various technologies (mostly built on XML).

One interesting talk was given by Anne Cregan about some work she is involved with regarding the Semantic Web. As someone who was once into the rhetoric of the semantic web, I was quite fascinated to hear that there is a working group trying to create what Anne described as an English-like expression of OWL. I then proceeded to ask Anne why there was no collaboration between the HTML WG and the Semantic Web working groups, given that, the semantic web is supposed to interact with the Web (AKA, HTML+tag-soup)? She mentioned GRRDL, which made me giggle as I can’t think of a more useless technology.

My conclusion from Anne’s talk is that the Semantic Web and HTML groups are still working completely separately of each other, which is probably why the Semantic Web movement got so badly pwned by the Microformats and Tagging communities. At least it’s good that they have started dumping all the XML syntax in favor of more human readable alternatives. If the alternatives prove to be usable, then there may be hope yet to integrate them on the Web… particularly if any new semantic web language does not rely on XML… maybe someone will come up with a nice JSON alternative 😉

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