Edapta Position Paper
3, 4 October 2000 -- Bristol, England
Kynn Bartlett, Director of Accessibility
Introduction to Edapta
Edapta is a San Diego-based startup founded in 1999.
We focus on user-centric computing; specifically, on creating
user interfaces which intelligently adapt to the needs or
preferences of the user. We have a specific interest in
the needs of aging users and users with disabilities, but our
approach is applicable over the entire range of web access
devices, from mobile computing to information appliances.
Our unique Edaptation Engine technology provides web sites
with the intelligence needed to "morph" the user experience
to meet user needs, representing the ultimate separation of
content from presentation.
All users are not the same! Rather than relying on a single
presentation (or a small handful) to meet the needs of anyone
who would use a web application, our Edaptive technology
creates a custom user interface optimized for each person.
A blind web surfer need not hope for "graceful degradation" --
we will provide an interface optimized for linear access
through a screenreader or Braille terminal. Access through
WAP-enabled phones is no problem; WML is merely another dynamically
generated user interface from our standpoint.
We apply the proven technology of "personalization" to the web user
interface paradigm, operating not on the content level but on the
level of the user's experience with the content. To date, the
work in this field has been restricted to minor cosmetic changes such
as changing the color of a heading or the font; we are revolutionizing
web user interfaces by doing major structural and functional
changes to the user interaction level in order to optimize the
presentation and accessibility of the content.
Edapta relies heavily on the development and implemention of
industry-wide non-proprietary standards, such as those
developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. To be able to
provide the ideal user interface, we will need a broad base
of support for existing and emerging standards such as CC/PP,
XHTML, and XSLT.
User Definition Objects and CC/PP
The W3C's Composite Capabilities/Preferences Profiles work
enables web access methods to be self-identifying as to their
own capabilities and their settings as functions of the
This self-identification is essential to the growth of the web
as a user-centric communication medium accessible through a
multitude of different access devices. The use of CC/PP
profiles allows for server-side programs -- such as Edapta's
Edaptation Engine -- to be written today which can
understand the diversity of tomorrow's web access
methods. CC/PP is a forward-looking method of dealing with
variety of access methods which will blossom as the 21st Century
unfolds, and is not limited to "how things look today", which
has been a limitation on previous attempts to identify user
Edapta's user interface personalization technology uses User
Definition Objects (UDOs) exchanged between various components of
the integrated content delivery system -- these consist of the
known qualities of the user and her system, including the
CC/PP profile as well as any other information regarding the
user's interaction with web content. Our UDOs accept and
interoperate with CC/PP profiles.
Edapta urges the W3C to continue to develop the CC/PP
standards and looks forward to creating implementations
which can interoperate with CC/PP-enabled user agents.
We likewise hope that all browser and access device users
will provide appropriate CC/PP profiles and identifiers
to allow for a high level of interoperability.
Web Morphing and XSLT
Edapta's web morphing service operates under the direction of
the Edaptation Engine (the "brains" of the operation) to create
specialized presentation and interaction models for each user of
an Edapta-enabled web site. A key to this process is Extensible
Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT).
To provide optimized user experiences, we construct XSLT stylesheets
on the fly and then apply them dynamically to the structured content
to produce output in a presentational language (WML, XHTML + CSS,
XSL-FO, VoiceXML etc.) appropriate for the user and her access method.
Edapta is pleased to see continued development of specialized
presentational languages based on XML (such as VoiceXML) as well as
growing support for XSLT.
Content Storage and the Semantic Web
To produce an adaptive user experience, it is first necessary to
separate the content from the presentation. This can be done in a
number of ways; for example the use of XHTML 1.0 Strict plus
Cascading Style Sheets attempts this separation.
In an ideal situation, the content would be stored in an XML-based,
highly structured content definition language (or a database with
an access method that duplicates such an XML application), without
consideration of the ultimate presentation -- leaving that for the
This content definition language is what HTML was intended to be.
It is our position that XHTML does not currently fill this need
adequately at the present time.
XHTML 1.0 (and 1.1) only provides the barest minimum in the way of
structure for content, and is still reflective of the Web's
origins as a distribution medium for a very specific type of
document (physics papers). The content models in current XHTML
do not reflect the use of the Web as it has evolved in use; XHTML
structures have proven inadequate for describing the current
applications of Web use. Furthermore, XHTML is intended to be used
(with CSS) as the basis of a presentation layer directly; an ideal
content definition language should not be directly used as the
structure for creating the presentwation. The structure of the
content and the structure of the display of the content are separate
concepts, and current XHTML formulations do not take this into
A standardized approach to a content definition language which
adequately reflects the structures of web documents would be
very useful as it could be adopted by content management systems,
web authoring software, and application servers -- employing a
richer degree of semantics than currently available via XHTML.
(The model of XHTML, however, could be used to produce modular
content scheme based not on a vague sense of "what kind of markup
should be used", but rather on the type and structure of the
content to be presented.) XHTML could continue to function as
a presentation layer structural language.
Development of a standard language for presenting content
structure in a way not currently available in XHTML will only
help with the development of the Semantic Web and of tools and
programs to process rich semantics to provide better
adaptability to user needs.
Edaptive User Interfaces and the Web Accessibility Initiative
Edapta's progress in creating optimal user interfaces for users
with disabilities or age-related changes has a solid foundation in
the groundbreaking work of the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative.
Our approach is to serve as an example implementation of how
dynamic content generation can be used proactively to meet the
needs of people with disabilities and conform to the Web Content
To date, most of the published guidelines from the WAI have (rightly)
concentrated on the single source model of graceful degradation;
until recently (with innovations such as CC/PP, XSLT, and XHTML),
this has been the only reasonable approach to meeting users needs.
However, a single user interface cannot directly meet the needs of
all users in the way that optimized user interfaces may; a solution
which relies on "graceful degradation" is by definition a compromise
solution. Especially when dealing with the needs of multiple disability
groups, this has had the effect of introducing cases in which web
designers and application developers have had to make difficult
choices regarding who would and would not receive the best possible
interface to web sites or applications.
An adaptive user experience can eliminate these problems and increase
the usability (in addition to the accessibility) as each interface
is constructed specifically for the person using it, and is not
the result of an attempt to provide a single interface that can meet
all user needs. For example, a "logical order" for visually
displayed content (where position, size, and color are factors in
how information is processed) is going to be very different from a
logical order for linear users, such as those with screenreaders or
Braille devices. By rebuilding the structure of the page for
different access methods, we can provide an ideal experience rather
than a compromise solution -- increasing user satisfaction (for
Internet sites) and employee productivity (for Intranet/Extranet
The Web Accessibility Initiative should explore the
issues of dynamically generated user interfaces and produce guidelines
which cover situations in which a unique experience may be created
for each user, as well as continuing to develop guidelines based on
single user interfaces (as those will continue to be used for some
time by many web authors).
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