[foaf-protocols] WebID talk at W3C

Henry Story henry.story at gmail.com
Sun Aug 22 11:12:31 CEST 2010

On 22 Aug 2010, at 09:12, Henry Story wrote:

> As it happens I just realised that I will be travelling at the time of the meeting myself on Tuesday. You yourself told me won't be able to make it either. So I think we should push this meeting back a week or two perhaps. 

It may also be good to move the teleconf to Wednesday where we could discuss what will be presented at the W3C meeting. At the very least I should talk this over together with you Manu more carefully.

  I have given many talks on WebID over the past two years, to many different audiences from the academic to the hacker world, and I have been thinking very carefully of how to present the message in a way that is both short, to the point and convincing. This is not an easy task.

  It can be very difficult to structure such a talk in a way that both captures the originality and simplicity of WebID. Reduce WebID too much (say to a login button) and anything interesting that it may have will vanish. Make WebID too big: the solution to the Social Web, and you are closer to what it is about, but you may run out of time. Keep technical and people will get lost in the sea of competing protocols, but move too philosophical and they won't see how what you say relates to any practical question at all. WebId is a solution that is interesting because of its potential to answer a question few people have voiced - at least until very recently: the creation of the global decentralised social web. So one has to at the very least paint that picture in a few brush strokes.

  Then there are of course the technical issues. Here we are confronted with a very odd space of mostly coherent browser implementations and browser flaws, with possible temporary workarounds to get things going. A bit like Ajax allowed people to work around browser incompatibilities, so in the WebID space there are a number of ways of working around limitations - though we have not fully solved the puzzle yet.

  Finally WebID is not and should not be limited to web browsers - as they are now. When I embarked on the project, it was because I was thinking of building my own client - a semantic address book, which was to be to foaf what TweetDeck is to twitter - where it would have been completely feasible to work around any issues: though there are very good reasons there to have a protocol that is simple too. It was quite a surprise to me that we could get so far with Web Browsers at all.

   Finally we are trying to solve issues that because they overlap with issues others are trying to solve - and have been trying to solve for so long - may easily lead people to think the issues we are trying to solve are identical to others they tried to solve unsuccessfully, or have solved already. Working one's way with people trough this space that has been explored so much and so often is very much a philosophical task.

There is something to this in what Wittgenstein wrote in the Philosophical Investigations: 

"The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something—because it is always before one’s eyes.)"

  And bringing out the familiar is even more difficult than bringing out the new, because the tendency people will have to think that they already understand what you are trying to show them :-) 

  So we need to make sure that the message presented at the W3C does justice to what WebID is about, in the very short time allotted there to us. How much time is it in fact?


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