4 July 2005 by Ian Davis
I’ve recently started working for a company called Talis as the technical lead for the research group. Talis is a pretty mature company. It was established as a co-operative providing library systems in 1969, so it’s a year older than me and the same age as the Internet. It embraced the web with the first web-based OPAC in the mid nineties. A few years later it changed its structure from a co-operative to a private company and more recently it’s been undergoing an internal revolution, driven by the new CEO Dave Errington and his vision for Talis 2.0 as a modern software company. Being somewhat of an outsider looking in I can see that the changes have been significant and painful but the results are showing, and they’re exciting. Dave’s building a new company focussed on innovation, using the existing business almost as an incubator. As the technical lead for the research group I’m responsible for those incubated projects. Number one on the list is the Silkworm platform. Although the name’s a working title, and will almost certainly change, it’s very suggestive of threads being woven to invoke a tranformation. Silkworm is going to be a platform built on Web 2.0 principles: participation, openness and communication. You can read more about it in the white paper (PDF), but the best way to follow development is on the blog.
Web 2.0 is a cunning moniker. As Danny pointed out, it’s pretty hard to find a concrete definition of what it actually is. Some think it’s about AJAX or cool applications such as Flickr and Google Maps. Others believe that it’s about web services and that finally all those specs are going to be used.
Here’s my take on it: Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology. It’s about enabling and encouraging participation through open applications and services. By open I mean technically open with appropriate APIs but also, more importantly, socially open, with rights granted to use the content in new and exciting contexts. Of course the web has always been about participation, and would be nothing without it. It’s single greatest achievement, the networked hyperlink, encouraged participation from the start. Somehow, through the late nineties, the web lost contact with its roots and selfish interests took hold. This is why I think the Web 2.0 label is cunning: semantically it links us back to that original web and the ideals it championed, but at the same time it implies regeneration with a new version. Technology has moved on and it’s important that the social face of the web keeps pace.
Web 2.0 isn’t the Semantic Web. Some might say it’s the semantic web (lower case) or that it’s a stepping stone to the Semantic Web. I don’t hold either of those views. I believe that the Semantic Web is actually a part of Web 2.0 which is to say not only that Web 2.0 is more important than the Semantic Web but that Web 2.0 requires the Semantic Web. For Web 2.0 to function as a social enabler it requires remixable available via accessible APIs. XML is hailed as the lingua franca of web applications but, as I’ve written before, XML isn’t enough and I think the RDF model is necessary to provide readliy remixable data. Just think smushing. I’m in the minority though, most archetypical Web 2.0 applications are producing XML in incompatible dialects but I hope to demonstrate that there is real value buried behind RDF/XML and with the current activity around Sparql as a query language it’s going to be easier than ever to access all that data in a uniform manner.
So, I’m pretty excited to be at Talis right now. We’re working on a new platform building on core web technologies. We’re going to dogfood it, and plan to be running core Talis applications on the platform as soon as possible. But better still the goal is to make this platform open and available to others on the web both as users and developers as we work towards the architecture of participation.