Highlights From the WWW9 Conference

by David Sims

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The Ninth International World Wide Web Conference in Amsterdam consisted of hundreds of sessions on all aspects of the Web, from protocols to applications, from content management systems to convergence in the living room. Fourteen hundred people attended the meeting from around the world, including three from the O'Reilly Network. Here are a few observations from the show.

Principles of the Living Room

Convergence was a theme of the conference, represented mostly by the extension of web content to wireless phones. But the next stop is the set-top box in the living room.

But how do people behave in living rooms? Since this was a gathering of computer geeks, and since we never get out of the office, we had to bring in a consumer electronics expert to explain the rules of the living room. Paul de Bot of Philips Digital Networks obliged. "The setting is completely different than a PC environment."

WWW9 Reports

Read O'Reilly Network's other reports from the Ninth International World Wide Web Conference, held in Amsterdam on May 15-19, 2000:

All Thumbs at
WAP development asks us to stop thinking point-and-click, and think about thumbs on 10-key pads.

Is the New Black Hat?
Remember when Netscape tried to bully new tags like BLINK through the W3C? Is WAP more of the same?

Lessig Praises Open Source
Open source development is more than efficient; it's metaphorical for the free architecture that fosters innovation on the Internet.

Coming Together or Falling Apart?
Web creator Tim Berners-Lee says it's great that convergence happened, but too bad that we didn't plan for it.

  • Devices must be plug and play.
  • No boot time; devices must be up and running instantly.
  • Stability is essential; zero tolerance for crashes.
  • The set-top box represents the hub for applications and devices, with access to the TV, the PC, voicemail, e-mail, and who knows what else.
  • Ease of use. Devices need a simple, straightforward user interface that's constant across devices. Computer savvy folk can laugh about all those blinking 12:00's on VCRs out there, but they actually represent a failure on our part to make our products accessible.

Wireless Couch Potatoes

Despite the common notion of mobile users racing through airports or beaming their cards to each other from one TGV train to another, Eija Kaasinen of Finland's VTT Information Technology research institute reported that the couch is one of the most popular places for mobile usage. Kaasinen said their research found the most common time for using beyond-the-voice phone services was while killing time waiting (for the bus or an appointment), followed by just sitting around at home.

"Surprisingly enough, they use [mobile phones] to keep from being mobile."

Better Compression Algorithms for Net Radio

Paul de Bot of Philips Digital Networks showed slides of new products that we can expect on shelves within the next year or so, including a retro-looking table-top radio with a phone-link that's designed to play MP3s off the Net.

Philips doesn't want to wait for broadband to sell this radio, but they know streaming at modem speeds isn't going to deliver a satisfactory experience. "We need better algorithms that can deliver CD-quality music at bit rates below 56 K," de Bot said. "Actually, Philips is working on something, and we hope to make an announcement soon."

VRML: Not Dead Yet

At a culture track session on Developers' Day, Marco Gaiani of the Politecnico di Milano showed a project representing eight tombs along the Appian Way in great accuracy using VRML 2.0 and Silicon Graphics' old Cosmo Viewer. The question hung in the air: Which is deader, the people in the tombs or VRML?

VRML is hardly dead, according to Gaiani and several in the audience. VRML backers are working on something called Web 3D, a likely successor to VRML as the three-dimensional protocol for cyberspace. "It's too early yet to bury VRML," said one audience member. VRML backers are reportedly working with the W3C on a project called X3D.

Opera Hits the High Notes

Opera was praised, not only for its compliance with traditional standards, but because it reads XML content and is the only browser that can read WML directly. This is an interesting development. A key criticism of the wireless application protocol (and the cornerstone of's business model) is that a new piece of hardware, the WAP Gateway, must sit between the web server and the client (the phone). It's the gateway's job to add headers and decode the tiny content coming in from the phone's microbrowser and, on the way back, to strip out headers from the web server and encode data for wireless transmission.

If Opera can read WML directly, and it's small enough to fit on a cel phone, does that mean that web servers could push WML content directly to clients running Opera?

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