TPAC 2012: 4 days of Open Web Standards & Nouvelle Cuisine
(Published 8-Nov-2012, Bernadette Hyland)
The following write up describes how one W3C co-chair interested in Open Government activities spent four days at TPAC 2012. I was grateful to have made it to Lyon France due to the massive interruption to East Coast travel at the end of October. I was scheduled to speak on a panel Monday 29-October led by NASA JPL CTO, Tom Soderstrom, called “Making Big Data Real”, however, due to Hurricane Sandy, the Virginia leadership conference was cancelled. I quickly drove Washington DC to catch one of the last flights to Europe. Over fifteen thousand flights were cancelled out of East Coast airports due to the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Sandy and I suspect a few reading this post may have been affected too.
Day #1 – Monday 29-Oct-2012
Relieved to have safely arrived in Lyon during a time of chaos in the New York/New Jersey area, I reviewed the detailed TPAC 2012 schedule which included 16 parallel working group sessions and a Developer Meetup scheduled for Monday evening. TPAC is an action packed week of technical meetings, seredipitous conversations over coffee breaks, constructive break out sessions, and importantly, very focused, intense work sessions to get work completed F2F. The event is heavy on technical doers and standards bearers from research organizations, governments, non-profits, and small and large companies from all over the world.
After connecting with several colleagues over lunch, I sat in and observed the RDF Working Group, facilitated by co-chairs Guus Schreiber, (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and David Wood, (3 Round Stones). About fifteen very bright researchers and developers tackled complex and nuanced issues, discussing matters in a productive, contributory manner. The RDF Working Group is nearing completion on its two year charter. They are in Last Call for the RDF Turtle serialization, and have working drafts in review for RDF 1.1 Concepts & Abstract Syntax, as well as, JSON-LD Syntax 1.0 and JSON-LD API 1.0 in First Public Working Draft.
After the afternoon coffee break, I headed over to the WebID, ReadWriteWeb & Social Web Community Groups, facilitated by Henry Story. The Interest Group enjoyed broad international participation from about 30 people with seven people actively discussing WebID. An IG naturally has a different atmosphere than a W3C Working Group — more of a grassroots, startup feel. If there is sufficient interest and momentum, an IG may evolve into a formally chartered working group or have its deliverables “adopted” by an existing working group, such as the JSON-LD effort which was incorporated into the RDF Working Group in 2012.
The highlight of my first day was the Open Source Developers Meetup at the Lyon City Hall. After passing through the coat check, we ascended the palacial marble stairway and mingled with over 300 developers standing in the Lyon City Hall’s somptuous “Grand Salon Justin Godart”. During the Second Empire, this 325m2 room was used as a ballroom. This beautiful 19th Century building replete with exquisite crystal chandelliers and French artwork on the bright guilded walls. The salon is named after Justin Godart, mayor of Lyon from 1944 to 1945. I learned that Lyon France was the birthplace of the French Resistence during World War II.
The Meetup featured welcoming remarks from the Lyon Mayor’s office, followed by a number of lightening talks and demos on newly announced open source and standards initiatives. The evening included demos from clever researchers and entreprenuers including Benjamin Habegger (109Lab), Rudy Rigot (CleverAge), Eric Daspet on Reading on the Web using a Web browser as an EPUB read, Robin Berjon (W3C) on HTML5 in action, Chris Mills (Opera), Mounir Lamouri and Jonas Sicking (Mozilla). Dominique Hazaël-Massieux (W3C) gave a demo on hyperdevices, augmented reality, and a 3D explorer. Simon Sapin (Kozea) shared a demo of WeasyPrint, bringing the Web to PDF and paper.
If the future of the Web didn’t excite you enough, W3C staff closed the evening with talks by Marie-Claire Forgue (W3C) on W3C online training courses for Web developers, Doug Schepers (W3C) on Web Platform Docs, and Ian Jacobs (W3C) on the rise of Community Groups. Videos and slides for the W3C developer meetup. Kudos to Marie-Claire Forgue (W3C) and her team for organizing a truly memorable event to kick off a great TPAC!
I could not help but marvel at the juxtaposition of this somptuous European hall filled with international Web developers and entrepreneurs. The energetic grassroots meetup included W3C members, University of Lyon researchers and the greater international development community. Midway through the demos, Tim Berners-Lee quietly slipped into the room after chatting with the Mayor of Lyon. Cool.
As I sat and listened, a creative dance unfolded between “atoms” and “bits” in this fabulous French civic center. Two centuries before, European artists were commissioned by the aristocracy to produce works of art for the civic center. Today, Web developers are defining open standards and creating software that has allowed information to race around the world at the speed of light. We’re doing it on an Open Web Platform and we’re doing it fast! The pace of change is sometimes hard to appreciate when inside the vortex of the dynamic Web ecosystem.
I felt privileged to spend the evening with many people who are driving the science and technology of our ever flatter world. They work at places like Adobe, AT&T, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, Yahoo! and Yandex, as well as, at innovative small companies that will be tomorrow’s household names.
Monday evening really drove home how far we’ve come in two decades. My first experience developing on a Web browser was in 1993 with the graphical Web browser developed by a team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There were 12 HTML tags if I recall correctly. I learned about the Web from Dave Wood in under two hours because it was simple back then, really simple yet really profound. During a deep geek dinner with Pierre-Antoine Champin (Associate Professor in CS at the University of Lyon), David Wood (CTO, 3 Round Stones) and Tim Berners-Lee, TimBL shared that Andreessen’s graphic browser was in fact the forth such browser. TimBL has a unique vantage point to remember these fine points as he invented HTTP, HTML and the first Web browser in 1990 and by 1991 posted a summary on the World Wide Web, the project aimed to allow all links to be made to any information anywhere.
That evening during dinner I accessed the deep memory banks recalling that in 1993 I coded my first Web app for the financial service industry on the Mosaic Web browser running X Windows. It ran on an early Mosaic Web browser on Sun workstations with 64MB of RAM that cost $30k. Today, the Web is used by billions of people on relatively inexpensive mobile devices without regard to socio-economic status. Whether a villager or world leader (or werewolf , you’re likely to have used a mobile device in 2012. Africa enjoys some of the best connectivity and doctors are remotely diagnosing and treating patients in Africa.
The committment to standards has empowered the global developer community to do extraordinary things. Together, we’re fostering, building and extending the ubiquitous platform that is the Web. No one person can master all the technology that underpins today’s Web. So while there is more to do, including improving performance, capabilities, interoperability and to reach new markets, we’ve come a very, very long way in just two decades.
As the the W3C prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday in 2013, the Web is the most robust technology platform known to humankind. Importantly, it is the world’s database too. The creative inspiration and determination I experienced in the Lyon City Hall on Monday night was truly awe-inspiring … then I realized this was just the first day of the TPAC event!
Day #2 – Tuesday 30-Oct-2012
After a great French buffet breakfast at the conference hotel, I joined a small, very professionally conducted market focus group. I represented a semantic technology startup that has been around the W3C for awhile. Other members of the focus group included AC representatives from international telecommunications and software firms who have been long time W3C members.
The market strategy & research project was facilitated by Elaine Solloway (Salloway & Associates) who walked the group through questions related to W3C competitors, products and services, perceived benefits of membership. The most interesting part of any market research effort are the questions involving terms, concepts and animals that describe the product or service.
When asked what animal I associated with the W3C, I replied, “kangaroo”. I didn’t go into all of this, but here is the explanation of why I associate the W3C with a kangaroo. Having lived in Australia for many years I grew to really appreciate this large marsupial, adapted for for leaping as fast as 20-25 km/h (13-16 mph), and the ability to sprint up to 70 km/h (44 mph) when necessary. A kangaroo is a very cool because its young emerge after a brief gestation period of about 31 days when it’s only the size of a jelly bean. It climbs into its mum’s pouch where it stays for about nine months, attaching to a teat for nourishment. From 9-18 months, it hops in and out of mum’s pouch exploring the world with the rest of the kangaroo “mob”. Call me odd, but this reminded me of W3C working groups. Male kangaroos playfully “box” amongst one another for dominance — depending on the working group, we’re getting warmer. But most of all, the kangaroo in unique because it can only go forward, never backwards. That is much like the W3C, moving forwards, successfully adapting to variable conditions, able to travel long distances at moderately high speeds on a level, open landscape.
In the afternoon I attend a series of Advisory Committee meetings. Jeff Jaffe kicked off the meeting with a keynote titled “Embracing the Early Majority: Open Web Platform Progress Report”. Dr. Jaffe shared his vision for the Open Web Platform and the current work of the W3C. HTML5 is seen as the cornerstone of the Web, showing tremendous potential. Dr. Jaffe emphasized that while HTML5 is fast becoming the defacto standard for Web innovation, this interoperable environment will require cooperation among many constituents working to define an HTML5 standard by 2014. He cited industry analysts to support his balanced report on the potential of many initiatives facilitated by W3C staff and members. The AC meeting enjoyed attendance by 150 of the W3C’s 380+ members and TPAC 2012 overall drew a slightly larger attendance than last year’s TPAC in Silicon Valley which is remarkable.
Day #3 – Wednesday 31 Oct 2012
Wednesday was the Technical Plenary Day, breakout sessions and member reception in the evening. The Plenary was open to all participants in good standing in a W3C Group including Working Groups, Interest Groups, Business and Community Groups, Advisory Committee reps, the TAG, Advisory Board and W3C Staff.
Dr. Jaffe kicked off the plenary outling the top 2013 technology trends:
#1 Mobile devices battles
#2 Mobile Applications & HTML5
#3 Personal Cloud
He outlined the steps that the collective global standards community must address including:
1) Closing the gap with native – improve performance, capability, packaging, payment discovery;
2) Improving interoperability; and
3) Reaching new markets meaning bringing more people in to improve mobility & social
Trends also include new entrants to the browser market including Chinese browsers, Yandex the widely known Russian search engine, Espial a leading Asian Communications Technology firm, and Dolphin Browser, a mobile Web browser. New HTML5 hybrid applications are coming out in the publishing industry.
Dr. Jaffe said, even though we’re in the “early majority” phase, we’re not there yet. Two additional components required:
1) Strengthening the core & reaching new markets. We have some idea what the specs look like. We have workshops planned for 2013.
2) We have to understand where there are problems & we have to fix them, these things are not done. Web technologies are having broader and broader impacts. As it becomes a more exciting platform for development, we have to understand how they’ll use it in Automative, Publishing, Mobile, TV, etc.
TPAC Breakout Sessions:
Close to 40 breakout sessions spontaneously were organized. Members were invited to outline/prepare for breakouts in advance however sign ups and attendance were very much a spontaneous, organic process. Rooms were allocated by the W3C but other than that, it was very ‘self-organizing’ with rather remarkable results.
Breakout Session: Digital Publishing and the Web
I attended a great session facilitated by Ivan Herman (W3C) on emerging W3C work focused on the 2nd largest industry using Web Platform, the publishing industry.
Current W3C Plans:
* W3C Workshops focusing on eBooks, workflows are the first two in 2013
* Depending on outcomes, new activities may be initiated
* Does not want to replace other organizations (e.g, IDPF, IPTC) but wants to find areas of coorperation.
11-12 Feb 2012, New York, Hosted by O’Reilly, co-located with Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2013 (#TOC)
IDPF for ePub books – Int’l Digital Publishing Forum, non-profit trade & standards organization, 400 members from digital publishing ecosystem. Focus is ePub format as the open format for digi books. Started with Sony, Adobe, et al. Latest publication ie ePub3, published in 2011.
DRM management is the issue, brings burden to consumers, etc. Packaging is an issue for discussion
Breakout Session: Government Linked Data
Since the Government Linked Data Working Group wasn’t able to hold a F2F session at TPAC, I facilitated a breakout session titled “Linked Data: Helping Public Sector to Publish High Quality Data”
The session included a discussion of what can be done to better articulate the value proposition of Linked Data in a manner that resonates with public & private sector managers with budget authority. Here are my slides to kick off the discussion. We discussed approaches to resolve the “Four Challenges of Open Data” as described by Jeni Tennison who attended the session. The session was attended by more than 6 W3C staff members dedicated to Web Accessibility, eGov and Semantic Activity, marketing and communications. We also had attendees involved with open government, linked data and semantic Web projects in Australia, Russia, France, Taiwan and the UK, as well as a range of corporate participants from international IT companies.
I began with a brief intro on how citizens and civil servants are making real difference in people’s lives through publication of open government data. I cited Todd Park, the US Federal CTO who passionately describes how liberating data in machine readable format is providing data interoperability and enabling developers to create life saving apps and services that people really care about in relation to better health, education, public safety and improved energy outcomes. Policy makers can make more effective decisions, especially in the face of natural and economic disasters. Because governments are uniquely are able to collect, curate and publish high quality authoritative data, the work of the W3C Government Linked Data Working Group, (GLD WG) and related eGov and standards groups is critical. The GLD WG is tasked with publishing peer reviewed and vetted vocabularies, best practices and supporting collateral to assist government open data champions.
I believe we’re at a tipping point in 2012-2014 where there is genuine enthusiasm for innovation by governments as presidents and prime ministers, CIOs and CTOs, have publicly committed to transparency initiatives and adapting to the rapidly changing mobile landscape, as it grows from 1B in 2011 to 5B globally in 2016. Many have prioritized social media/community engagement, cloud, Web standards and open source platforms to reduce costs. US senior executives including Todd Park are speaking openly about the public good and economic value created by open-standards, open data and open source platforms. I regularly hear executives in 2012 describing the importance of “machine and human readable open data”, APIs and open source platforms to level the playing field — these are of course the foundational open-standards and Open Web Platform the W3C community has been thoughtfully building over the last decade. In the GLD WG, we’re producing peer-reviewed, vetted standards that clarify and stabilize what early adopters of semantic technologies and Linked Data have put into action in the private and public sector.
Helping people to achieve better living through an open Web platform for knowledge sharing, rapid application development and collaboration is paramount. We must not take openness and a level playing for granted. W3C serves as the world’s steward of a royalty-free IP clearinghouse. This is critical to the keeping the WWW a write once, run anywhere platform. It is world’s interest to have the Web remain the place you want to be.
Within the W3C GLD WG, we’re focused on open government data published and consumed as 4 & 5 star linked data. This includes a best practices guide aimed at government, contractors, vendors and the public to:
- Improving search, access & re-use of government content using Web standards;
- The value proposition of Linked Open Data;
- How LOD compares with existing approaches & where it differs;
- Best practices on vocabulary selection, URI construction, data modeling, transformation & annotation of datasets,
- A Linked Data glossary, and Linked Data Cookbook
Our working group was charted in June 2011 for two years, so we’re about 16 months into our deliverables. We have 3 vocabulary documents in FPWD; one in LC; Best Practices for Government Linked Data in FPWD; a functioning Community Directory that requires improved UX/UI & automation; a cookbook and glossary.
We recognize this is a 10+ year process and that we’re in early years of publishing 4 & 5 star data. Practically, only data sets that have some potential for re-use will be selected for this type of publication because of course there are costs associated with modeling, publishing and maintaining LOD. In the US, organizations like the National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine are publishing authoritative content that is leveling the playing field and beginning to reduce healthcare costs through innovate private sector products and services. Their contributions on open data are producing measurable outcomes that people really care about in relation to public services for better health, education and safety.
Themes emerging from Gov’t LD breakout:
- Everyone wants ROI stories for publication & consumption of Linked Data.
- It costs money to track, analyze and write up ROI stories. If you’re selling products, you’ll do that. If you’re government, you are measuring public good which is measured differently with qualitative attributes.
- Use cases & success stories are useful even not fully quanitified ROI case studies.
- Emphasize flexibility & agility. Data interoperability is 20% technology and 80% about organization dynamics — politics and emotions (credit: Bart)
- Jeni encouraged people to talk about URIs and opening data without mentioning Linked Data.
- Jeni further emphasized government agencies may do small projects but there must be guaranteed supply, along with an ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ from the government that they’ll keep up the timely supply of information, specify a license, and other relevant information for data use.
- Lower the barriers for entry but not sacrificing quality, in fact, increase the quality but make it easier to use;
- Work on integration, not just production, consumption and manipulation;
- Government are often reluctant to put data on the Web, “open can be scarey”.
- Emphasize data sharing internally by government agencies who need to share, e.g., first responders. Recognize they all have slightly different meanings of the word “victim”, which is fine. They still need to share their data.
- We need Government Open Data Best Practices, guidelines for publishing data, vocabularly selection, URI naming conventions. I noted this is a deliverable of the Government Linked Data Working Group.
- Compelling applications using Linked Data are critical, beef up SWEO concept & bring it up to date for LD deployments in the wild. This will help Gartner too.
- Common problem is overwhelming government officials with tech speak. Consider having a template from which internal champions can pull language:
- Financial benefits
- Social responsibility benefits
- Legal & regulatory benefits
- Technical benefits
We emerged with a concrete, actionable list of next steps. Many are being developed by the W3C Government Linked Data Working Group. Some are new deliverables that may form the basis of an Interest Group or subsequent Working Group.
Later in the afternoon, Hadley Beeman, a UK based Open Data advocate, social networking specialist for the UK Public Sector and advisor on technology policy lead a breakout on open government data.
Open government advocates and practioners from Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, UK and US attended this Open Government breakout session facilitated by Hadley. Themes of making data accessible to the public, engaging the public in cleaning “dirty data” and thereby having a state in it, and the benefits of RDF as an interoperable data model were discussed. Hadley facilitated the breakout with open ended questions like, “In 20 years when we have massive amounts of government data being published, will RDF still be useful? Will we progress beyond Linked Data?”
The presumption is that we’re at a tipping point where data is flooding the Web, however, once we find data the question becomes “how do we readily use it? What is the context of the data? What is the license for re-use? Right now, government agencies do not exchange data in multiple data models. To be relevant, you must be able to publish your data on the Web in a way that people can both access it and use it.
We discussed patterns for data workflows, ensuring context (metadata) travels with the data itself. Ralph (W3C) concluded that we’d like to have this problem of too much Linked Data. He is confident that when we have this ‘problem’, we’ll find a way to deal with it because unlike CSV files where you have to guess what it means, Linked Data has context that describes what the data represents.
Day #3 wrapped up with dinner with members of the RDF and Linked Data Working Groups at a lovely Lyonnaise style restaurant. As I love French cuisine, I was in Nirvana.. The desserts were creative and delicious. You might think we just ate and ate in Lyon, you’d be correct!
Day #4 – 1 Nov 2012
Thursday included yet more Working Group meeting including the newly launched Linked Data Platform Working Group, co-chairs Arnaud Le Hors, (IBM) and Erik Wilde, (EMC). Arnaud facilitated Thursday roundtable discussion with many big brains. It was W3C Working Group process at its best! I was reminded of just how small and distributed the Web community is when Arnaud and I realized we attended the 1993 X Windows Developer Conference in San Jose but just met one another F2F at TPAC 2012 two decades later. It is a global village, indeed.
I later headed over to hear an update from Ian Jacobs, head of W3C Communications, on Community and Business Groups. These have been very, very popular based on participation of members and the public. Doug Schepers, Developer Relations Lead, gave a great overview of the Web Platform Docs initiative that was announced 8-October 2012. By midday we heard from several new W3C members including British Sky Broadcasting, Irdeto, Panasonic and Yandex. The important Tracking Protection Working Group has continued the hard work of driving to consensus on “Do Not Track” policies. Finally, Ralph Swick, COO (W3C) ended the session with updates to the W3C’s Markup Validation Service that checks the markup validity of Web documents in an effort to provide a better Web experience.
I concluded my TPAC meetings with an enjoyable meeting with Secretary Delfino Natal de Souza of the Ministry of Planning and two Brazil office staff who participate in the W3C Government Linked Data Working Group. We discussed the progress the Brazilian Government has made on open government initiatives and further explored how the W3C Government Linked Data Working Group or other activities can further support their efforts.
I left my first TPAC with a heightened sense of the importance of the W3C as the global standards organization dedicated to communicating the vision of the world’s Open Web Platform. The benefits to humanity in having the W3C as an international standards organization with well-defined processes, a culture of transparency, balance and openness cannot be overstated.
A thousand thanks (mille grazie) to the hundreds of very bright thought leaders, researchers and developers who have meet on weekly telecons, driven towards consensus, documented standards and best practices over the last two decades. Your collective wisdom has had a huge impact on humanity, innovation and competition around the world.
Since 2004, I’ve been a co-founder or on the management team of three W3C member companies — What took me so many years to attend a W3C TPAC meeting?? Well, it was a bit of a mystery what happened at TPAC. I hope this summary of experiences encourages you to attend if you’ve never been to a TPAC meeting before, and if you’re a regular delegate, I hope I see you next year!
If you’re organization is not a W3C member, considering joining and becoming part of the worldwide community addressing the prescient issues of the 21st Century from the ground up. If you are a W3C member, don’t wait 8 years to attend a TPAC conference!
Appreciating the Lyon and Beaujolais Region
On a personal note, I love French nouvelle cuisine and the 2 hour lunch experience. The French have the importance of fresh ingredients, beautiful cheeses, great Beaujolais and portion control defined to a fine art ~ That is why French people aren’t fat!
I found time to take a day long tour of the Beaujolais Region with a guide named Sébastien Girard of “Lyon is Yours” who came from five generations of wine makers. The Beaujolais region has one of the highest vine density ratio of any major, worldwide wine region with anywhere from 9000 to 13,000 vines per hectare. Each vinyard is about 11 hectares in size, is run by a few skilled wine growers who do a huge amount of manual labor themselves. Their “vines are their children” and lovingly tended and maintained for multiple generations. We visited Vaux en Beaujolais, famous under the name of “Clochemerle”, and visited the golden stone region, culminating in a medieval village called “Oingt”. Our extraordinary tour guide, Sébastien Girard shared how Beaujoais is the ‘ordinary, everyday wine’ shared with friends and family. He gave me a new appreciation of wine masters and the central role of Beaujolais in French lifestyle.
So as Beaujolais is central to French people, the Web is the fabric of my day to day life, shared with my friends and family. Bonjour ne!