World Wide Web Conference 2012: From technical to socio-technical

World Wide Web Conference 2012: From technical to socio-technical

Extending the reach and scope of the Web

I just returned from this year’s edition of the World Wide Web conference, which also happened to be my first. I can honestly say that it was by far the best conference i have been to. The quality of every session i attended was very high, the crowd was knowledgeable and friendly and i also caught up with old friends in addition to making new acquaintances. The city of Lyon was also quite enjoyable, so all in all it was a great experience. I am going to give here a quick recap of the sessions i attended.

On 17-4-2012, i presented work we did with Adam Westerski and colleagues from IMC on Building Consensus via a Semantic Web Collaborative Space, in the Semantic Web Collaborative Spaces workshop. The presentation went well and the feedback was positive, although unfortunately workshop attendance was not great.

There was a mixup with the workshop planning so i suppose this may had something to do with it, but in any case it was a pity because the work presented was generally interesting. The highlight was probably the keynote given by Denny Vrancecic on wikidata, which is basically a new interface to allow wikipedia editors to edit data directly, rather than indirectly via wiki pages.

In the afternoon i attended the tutorial given by people from Yahoo and Microsoft on Integrating and Ranking Aggregated Content on the Web. It was an excellent tutorial, as the speakers not only had a deep knowledge of the subject but also approached it in a way that allowed everyone to understand it.

18-4-2012 was the official beginning of the conference, launched by a keynote given by Tim Berners Lee in the Amphitheater. This was probably the highlight of the conference, hence i dedicated a post on the topic.

In the afternoon, i attended the demo track (for which i also served as a member of the program committee). The 1st part was on art and media demos, and was dominated by the impressive keynote by the Google Art project. The 2nd part was on social media, and what attracted the most interest here was Henry Story‘s presentation on “Turning a Web 2.0 Social Network into a Web 3.0, distributed, and secured Social Web application. As i happened to review this paper, i sort of knew that would be the case.

Even though as i told Henry (and he also shares this view) there’s still quite some work to be done in this area, Federated Social Web applications are definitely the way to go.  Tim Berners Lee who was in the session apparently agrees with us, as he also showed great interest in this presentation and stayed to discuss, learn more on the approach and encourage the team.

19-4-2012 started with a keynote by Chris Welty on how the team in IBM created Watson, the engine that picked up on Deep Blue‘s success in facing Gary Kasparov to successfully face the best ever player of Jeopardy. Interesting talk, unless you have seen it before: it was the exact same one he gave in ESWC 2011, so i don’t have much to say on that.

Following this there was a brief talk by EU comissioner Neelie Kroes and a panel including her, Tim Berners Lee and a French enterpreneur on the topic of the Web as a human right. Even though Mrs Kroes in her talk mentioned being all for openness (in software and data) and transparency, the discussion naturally brought complicated and controversial topics on the surface.

For example, what point is there in having a discussion on whether the the Web is a human right (which it is, obviously) when practically every human right is violated, even in the so-called developed countries democracies? Harry Halpin for example did mention this point in the QA session, only to receive a vague reply.

In the afternoon, i attended the Developer’s Track on Data and Platforms and Data Integration. Even though i would not say there was something earth-shattering there, it was interesting to see more Linked Data infrastructure being made available via different platforms. What caught my attention the most was an approach for Social Media API unification and LDIF, the evolution of the SILK framework from the Freie Universitat of Berlin team.

Finally, the keynote on 20-4-2012 was given by Bernard Stiegler, on the philosophy of the Web. I think it was quite heavy stuff for most of the crowd, as also pointed out by a comment from the audience. However, it is worth reading and thinking about. The last part of the conference i attended was the first part of the WebScience session (as unfortunately i had to a plane to catch), which was particularly interesting.

Opening up the scope from merely addressing technical issues to take into account the interplay with social science was in one way or another the topic of all the talks, and there was a very interesting discussion among presenters and participants as well. WebScience is definitely something to keep an eye on.

All in all, it was a great conference and already looking forward to the next one in Rio de Janeiro in 2013!

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