Monday, November 06, 2006

There's plenty of innovations to come using existing internet technology

The web has moved on enormously in the last five years. Social networking sites like MySpace, blogs, news feeds, search engines and innovative online applications have created "Web 2.0" and whole new industries from scratch.

Meanwhile, the dominant browser, Internet Explorer, gained no new functionality.

So how did Web 2.0 happen? We began to learn the potential of existing internet technology - which is so powerful that it consumes all competing technologies - computer networking, the phone system, and even now newspapers, radio and television. There was so much scope for exploiting existing technology that we didn't need new browser technology to move forward.

Internet technology is based on two forces; the first is the URI and HTTP - to an end user, an address that you type into the browser, but to computers, an executable command. The URI is the foundation of the world wide web, the best way we've found to distribute applications across the world, and the source of modern collaboration technologies.

The second force is HTML and the browser - a simple, straightforward way to define and view web pages, including hyperlinks, document structure and styles. Millions of people have learnt HTML just by clicking "view source"!

In the last few years, computer scientists have focused on improving the second force, by creating even more powerful languages than HTML - for example, XHTML, SVG, RDF, and XForms. They clamour for browser technology to take in these standards.

These improvements will one day revolutionize the web. But not right now - because there's still plenty of room left to exploit existing internet technology.

Ajax technology sat in the browser for six years before it was fully exploited. VML, for vector graphics in Internet Explorer, is still largely unexplored, as is its cousin in Firefox, SVG. We are still learning to use CSS - witness the recent rise of the CSS only menu. The REST approach to internet applications is not yet mainstream.

But most of all, we are still learning what the internet is for. Originally a set of static homepages, it became a layer over which traditional forms-based applications were deployed. Now we are beginning to understand how important collaboration is (witness the success of Skype and social networking sites). We are beginning to see that client applications such the basic word processor, calendaring and document management are best done in the browser.

Where is this all heading? Visit this blog soon for some answers!

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