Not done yet, says Berners-Lee

by Edd Dumbill

Opening the tenth International World Wide Web Conference in Hong Kong
Wednesday, Tim Berners-Lee told the attendees they could congratulate
themselves for the progress made so far on the Web, but that they weren't
finished building yet.

Announcing the release of a landmark XML specification, W3C XML Schema,
Berners-Lee explained that the three specifications -- XML 1.0, XML Namespaces
and XML Schema -- formed the new foundation of XML. XML Schema allows the
description in XML itself of XML languages, such as SVG or XHTML, and is
designed to replace DTDs, which served the same purpose in XML 1.0.

The development of the XML Schema specification has been characterized by
controversy and criticism, since the early concerns in late 1999 as to whether
Microsoft would support the spec. Berners-Lee praised the Schema working group
for their perseverance in difficult circumstances. Though many in the XML
developer community still hold reservations about the specification, most
agree that XML Schema will, indeed has to, succeed.

So now, over three years since the XML 1.0 Recommendation was first
published, the W3C have built a foundation for XML applications that its
member companies think can be used in today's applications. However, there's
more to the total XML architecture than the foundation. Berners-Lee noted that
a key technology, the XML Query language, a kind of SQL for XML data, is still
in development, as are XLink and XPointer, XML technologies for linking
documents together.

There was a glimmer of encouragement for those who feel that XML has got
out of hand in its complexity, Berners-Lee saying that there was a need for
revisiting and simplifying the existing XML architecture. He said that a W3C
Recommendation was not the end for a specification, and that taking another
look at technologies was required in reaction to implementation experience and
questions of interpretation.

Berners-Lee then went into detail on his plans for the next stage in the
Web, the so-called Semantic Web, recalling the early days of the web in 1990
-- the "fun stage." The Semantic Web initiative is aimed at making the Web
machine-readable, by creating interoperable formats for information. It is
currently seen mostly as a vision for the future, perhaps in a similar way as
the Web itself was originally perceived ten years ago. However, Berners-Lee
was not perturbed that industry was not embracing the Semantic Web at the
moment, preferring that it attracts the attention of developers who will help
build it.

Certainly, the Semantic Web is attracting more interest at this conference
than at last year's WWW9 conference, an afternoon Semantic Web session packing
a room full of over 350 attendees. However, the W3C still has some way to go
in communicating their vision, as many participants were still left scratching
their heads afterwards. The Semantic Web is something that a lot of people are
attracted to, but find that the actual details elude them.