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Social Web the next big thing

on 07 September 2010.

 

THE World Wide Web has grown to be an amazing thing in information technology development over the years. It has become such a part of our lives these days that it is hard to believe it did not exist a mere 20 years ago.

Professor White: Future of the web is tied to the future of mankind.

Professor White: Future of the web is tied to the future of mankind.

No one could have predicted its impact on society today. Likewise, no one can tell where is it heading to.

“Nobody can predict the future of the Web. It just happened and will continue to happen beyond our control. Predictions for the future Web worry me as they are largely based on technologies, not so much on the way people are using the Web, which should be the most important variable,” said Professor Emeritus Bebo White, a visiting American professor.

He was the key speaker at a recent seminar titled ‘Shaping the Future Web’, organised by the Sarawak ICT Development & Media Network and University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) for the local journalists on contemporary ICT matters and trends.

“The future of the Web is tied to the future of mankind. Web users have expectations of fulfillment — that is the Web should give them what they need when they need it. It is a Web that works for everybody, no matter where they are, what devices they use or what language they speak. The future Web, so to speak, depends on benefit or proof of benefit,” he said.

According to White, there are many contributors to the future of the Web, one of them being what is known as the Social Web.

“Social Web is the ‘elephant in the room’ right now because it has the biggest influence on society. This is the technology that shapes the perspective of life through various social networking sites such as Facebook as more people are accessing the Web from mobile devices rather than their desktop computers,” he explained.

White has some big ideas for the Social Web.

“Nowadays, it is important for people to have the most current and useful data, refreshed and available quickly. Social Web should allow users to access and manipulate those data and get them directly from the source or the people who created the data,” he said in his presentation.

He added that Social Web should contain easily adaptable ‘living’ applications, including personalisation of how we want to see the data.

“It should also provide for a collective experience for users by contributing to their different lifestyles. For example, Amazon.com allows users to share reviews that can be read by others and used for decision-making.

“The Web is a platform in which social environments can be modified. In the early days, publishing a website would mean having the knowledge to write html codes, looking for hosting and the like. Today, web publishing is made simple by blogs and microblogs like Twitter.”

In other words, there is no need to worry about technical details. Users can now focus on participation instead of just publishing.

White further highlighted the growing importance of the Social Web with the ‘Five Eras of the Social Web’, developed by independent technology and market research company Forrester Research. The information describes the ways that Forrester researchers see the Web is moving to.

“In the ‘Era of Social Relationships’, individuals assemble and connect with each other in online groups. They use simple profiles and discussion features to share with one another. It really redefines what a ‘friend’ means.

“The ‘Era of Social Functionality’ is scary to me. This is where social networks become operating systems. This is basically doing everything in one site, from checking emails to reading news. Users do not need to go outside that environment.”

White also explained at length the other eras — the ‘Era of Social Colonisation’ where technologies are seen to break down the barriers of social network and allow individuals to integrate their social connections as part of their online experience; the ‘Era of Social Context’ where sites will recognise personal identities and social relationships to deliver a fully customised online experience and finally the ‘Era of Social Commerce’ where social networks become more powerful than corporate websites as individual identities and relationships are built on this platform.

However, he emphasised that these were just potential impact to the future of the Web, not a sure definition of its direction.

For journalism, White believed the Web will not eliminate traditional media despite the advent of online media.

“I live in San Francisco, so I subscribe to San Francisco Chronicle. I also read the online version but some articles are not published immediately on the same day of print. So unless people are willing to get their news a day late, they still need to buy for a physical copy of the paper. The Web version is good for searching past articles,” he said, adding that both traditional and online media could co-exist to complement one another.

White is a Departmental Associate (retired) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC), the high-energy physics and basic energy science laboratory operated by Stanford University in California.

During his career, he was involved with the development of World Wide Web technology since its earliest days at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also among the original ‘Web Wizards’ who established the first website in the US and the fifth in the world — the SLAC site.

“The SLAC website grew out of SLAC’s collaboration with CERN. SLAC supports a research paper preprints database widely used by physicists around the world. When it was found that Web technology could provide ready access to that database, which had previously been difficult, we were convinced of the value of the Web.

“Setup did not take very long, perhaps a matter of weeks. No one who worked on this project had any idea that the Web would become as popular and useful as it is today,” the professor told thesundaypost after the seminar.

This was his second official trip to Kuching.

“I like Kuching very much. The place is beautiful and the people are wonderful. However, I do not think I will ever get accustomed to the heat and humidity. After Kuching, I’m travelling to Hong Kong where I’m a Visiting Professor at Hong Kong University for one of my regular teaching assignments,” he said.

Despite his retirement, White does go to SLAC regularly since he still has an office there. He would participate in some projects and provide consultations for some students.

“I’m currently working on Web Science and Web Engineering. I’m also editing a book for Springer Publications on the application of social media technology in education,”      he revealed.

On his most memorable conference during his career, White said there were too many to name.

“I have been to so many and chaired a few. I guess I would have to say the     1992 ‘Computing in High Energy Physics (CHEP)’ conference in Annecy, France. That was the conference when the Web was formally introduced to the high-energy physics community.

“Really, the best part of my career would be the opportunities to travel and teach all over the world. I have been extremely lucky in that sense,” he added.

Besides academic-related activities, White also plays for a jug band which employs a jug player and a mix of traditional and home-made instruments known as The Tarantulas. He is also the president of the California Jug Band Association.

“I’m hoping we will be able to get a jug band to play at the 2011 Rainforest World Music Festival. That’s when I’m planning to return to Kuching and Unimas,” he said.

 

Extracted from The Borneo Post.

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