WebWorld Trip Report

Daniel W. Connolly
$Id: trip-report.html,v 1.1 1997/07/06 06:21:12 connolly Exp $

Background and Summary

The WebWorld conference series is run by Digital Consulting Inc. Jay Weber from EIT is the conference chair.

I was invited to speak on HTML and related matters. (see: materials from my presentation)

In contrast to a conference like the Geneva WWW conference, this had a decidedly commercial slant. This was not a group of academics and engieers getting together to share wigged-out ideas; rather, it was MIS managers, marketing managers, and consultants getting together to discuss the status and growth of the internet as a way of doing business communications and commerce.

The Web is no longer something that only a few bold companies are getting into. The feeling I got at this conference was that having a web site is becoming as important as having an 800 number. If you don't have one, your competitors will, and you'll lose business.

Sunday: Pre-conference Seminars

As my travel arrangements had me arriving in Orlando Saturday evening, I was able to attend some of the pre-conference seminars.

Using the Internet to Target Your Markets by David Radin and Nathan Wgoner

This was a very polished presentation, aimed at folks in marketing who were trying to get a feel for the size and character of the markets they can reach through the net.

It was interesting to hear the questions and guage the level of understanding of the audience. This whole area is moving so quickly: some folks come in looking for consultants with "3 years of experience," only to discover that the web itself is barely 3 years old. The folks that have been at it for six months or more, on the other hand, generally had tangible results that they were proud to share.

Advanced Development Topics by Alan Richmond

Alan has been doing forms, imagemaps, and CGI development since the technologies themselves first appeared. He started developing forms-based applications at Goddard space center. He is now writing a book on the subject and starting his own consulting business.

He edits the Web Developer's Virtual Library, which is an invaluable resource for web applications developers.

Again, the varied level of familiarity with the net, the web, and forms technology among the audience was an interesting situation to observe.

There was a lot of interest in HTML conversion tools and editors, as well as HTML standards and upcoming features.

Monday: Conference and Exposition

I unfortunately missed the conference chair address, as I was busy preparing for my own presentation.

Formalizing Web Technology by Dan Connolly

I had originally told the conference organizers that an overhead projector would satisfy my A/V requirements. But on Sunday, when I realized how much connectivity and equipment was available, I requested a PC with a web browser connected to the net. After a little checking, they told me I could have a web browser for my presentation. But when the time came, the net configuration didn't work out. So there were some awkward points in my presentation where I had intended to do a little surfing. But it worked out for the most part.

As this was my first speaking engagement, I was pleased that the room was comfortably small, but filled to capacity with around 120-150 attendees. I hope that they were convinced of my opinion that the growth of the web as a commercial market depends on better specifications to ensure interoperability and extensibility.

Keynote: Marc Andressen

Marc gave a high-speed talk on his view of the recent past and his vision of the future. He plugged Netscape and its products only a little. He emphasized open systems, interoperability, and rapid growth.

I'll be interested to see how the security features of the Netscape browser and NetSite server interact with evolving payment infrastrutures to create "instant gratification" shopping on the net.

Secure HTTP: Alan Shiffman, EIT

Alan is a great speaker. He gave a pretty nifty presentation of public key cryptography in general security issues for commercial internet applications, and briefly demonstrated that the S-HTTP proposal meets the requirements for secure transactions in internet applications.

Keynote: Jay Tanenbaum, CommerceNet

Mr. Tanenbaum noted the tremendous growth of business uses of the web and the net. He was careful to point out that CommerceNet didn't really invent any of the technology (with the notable exception of S-HTTP), but in the eyes of business executives, they "legitimized commerce on the net."

He explained that there were some proprietary systems (Microsoft Network, and the Lotus/AT&T collaboration) that could have eclipsed the internet as a platform for commerce, had CommerceNet not demonstrated the benefit of a decentralized system.

Product Showcase

The expected players were there: Netscape, Spry, etc. The biggest booth was America Online's showcase of the InternetWorks browser that they recently aquired in buying BookLink Technologies. There were several MS-Windows based browsers that went beyond Netscape or any of the other Mosaic work-alike with really novel user interfaces.

Many of these interfaces go a long way to helping users manage a web of bookmarks into the global web. Unfortunately, it seemed that each browser had its own proprietary database format for these bookmarks, even though there was no clear reason why they couldn't be stored as HTML.

There were some reasonable authoring systems, including an add-on to MS Word version 6 for Windows. But far and away the best authoring tool was Pages.

Pages has been around for a while, providing separation of content from presentation for mission-critical document management by way of some very professionally crafted style sheets and design elements. All they did was apply their technology to the much smaller HTML problem. The result is a really slick tool. Too bad it's only available on NeXTStep! Apparently an MS-Windows port is in the works.


Stay Tuned...


Stay Tuned...