The IT Conference in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil which I attended on October 20, 2004 was produced by IT Midia. One of their publications is INFORMATIONWEEK Brasil. Rachel Rubin is a reporter for the magazine and she interviewed me (by email) for a special issue which was distributed to the 300 attendees of the conference. The magazine is published in Portuguese only so I have included Rachel’s original questions and my answers here in English. I do not claim to be an expert on the subjects she asked about but hopefully I offered some simple ways to think about the concepts.
1) Since W3C got started, which recommendations and standards you consider the most important for making the Web become as we know it today? Why?
2) In practice, how Semantic Web, considered for W3C as the next big advance in internet, is going to work inside companies,in the enterprise world? Is it too far to occur?
The semantic web is part of the evolution of the Web. It will take things to a whole new level. HTML enabled information to be displayed on a web page. XML allows information to have context; e.g. the word “media” is a type of data or it is an element of publishing or perhaps it is part of the name of a company. The semantic web allows much more specific information about information. For example, 09-Oct-2004 is not just a string of numbers separated by hyphens. It is a date. Also, it is a valid date; e.g. 33-Oct-3987 or 21-Nbt-2004 are also strings of numbers separated by hyphens but they are not valid dates. Furthermore, this particular date is when Bruno and Silvina had a meeting in Sao Paulo about marketing. Knowing this, someone could find other meetings that happened in Sao Paulo or other meetings that had marketing as the subject or other meetings that Silvina attended or other meetings that happened on that date. The idea is that with the semantic web, everything relates to something else or another way to say it, all data is metadata, which is data about data. Everything can related to everything. The concept is very powerful and it will have profound implications. One of them is that computers will be much more able to exchange information intelligently. Using TPML (trading partner markup language), computers will be able to negotiate contracts with each other on your behalf because they will be able to understand the vocabulary of contracts — lessee, lessor, start date, rent, etc. There are elements of the semantic web already in place. One example is blogging. Each blog posting has a date, subject, author, category, and content. These are forms of metadata that relate to other things that were written on that date or by that author or on that topic. Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook have ways of relating contacts to meetings to categories. When will the semantic web be here? It will take more time but the evolution has begun. I would say that in a few years there will be significant usage.
3) To address the concern that royalties for patents are a threat to emerging technologies, W3C is promoting a royalty-free standards policy for patent licensing. But getting various companies to agree on standards is difficult, considering W3C has 350 member organizations. How many members have already accepted that and how to persuade others?
Intellectual property is a very complex topic with many dimensions. If a company invents a complex piece of equipment and it cost them millions of dollars of capital investment, recruitment of top scientists and significant amount of time, it seems reasonable to grant that company a patent that could protect what they invented from being stolen by others. If a company requests a patent on the process of clicking the right mouse button on a Tuesday afternoon to check the status of an on-line auction, that may appear to be an abuse of the patent system. Today’s system is more or less a “one size fits all” system. We need a new system for patents. The answer is not to eliminate all patents and it is not to allow an out of control system. In the meantime, it requires companies and governments and universities to work together. There are usually leaders that emerge on particular topics and progress gets made. Looking back ten years, it is extraordinary what has been accomplished by the IETF, the W3C and other standards bodies. Occasionally, a company or individual may interfere with progress but that increases the resolve of others to find an alternate path. I am optimistic that continued progress will be made.
4) As the next generation of Web functionality is developed, what´s going to happen?
Of all the things that could be done using the Internet to make our lives simpler and save us time, only five percent of them are actually available so far. The good news is that the pace of evolution is accelerating. The Internet a few years from now will make today’s Internet seem primitive. It will be fast, always on, natural, everywhere, intelligent, easy, and trusted. These characteristics will make the Internet an important and treasured part of our everyday life.