by Ivan Herman
The 9th World Wide Web conference hosted by CWI in Amsterdam attracted more than 1400 participants (55% Europeans, almost 40% from USA/Canada). 20 companies and organizations (including ERCIM, but also Sun, IBM, ACM, Philips, the Internet Society of the Netherlands, or UPC) were involved through some form of sponsorship, an exhibition booth, or as co-organizer. 30% of the participants came from academic institutions (universities, research centres, museums or galleries), over 50 reviewed academic papers were presented (280 submissions).
Such dry statistical facts do not tell about the exciting atmosphere during the week of 15-19 May, when the 9th World Wide Web conference was held in Amsterdam. These conferences have traveled all over the world, from Santa Clara, in California, through various European cities to Brisbane, in Australia. They have become the primary meeting places of Web experts worldwide, where the latest technologies are presented and discussed. Amsterdam was no exception.
The WWW conferences are not trade shows; they are typically attended by techies, with only few suits around. This determines the nature of the conference programmes, too. At WWW9, the technical paper sessions were complemented by a series of Web & Industry sessions (featuring such companies as General Motors, Elsevier, or Nokia), where industrials presented their visions for the future and the technical challenges they face in realizing these; panels over XML protocols, WAP and its connection with the Web, graphics techniques on the Web (such as Web3D, SVG, or WebCGM), or Web internationalisation generated passionate debates; 90 posters triggered further technical discussions around a high diversity of topics. There were five keynote speakers, coming from such companies as Ericsson, Philips or Psion. A series of tutorials and workshops preceded the core conference; a so-called Developers Day, which gave speakers the opportunity to dive into the most intricate details of their work, closed the event.
The evolution of the mobile Web was one of the main topics that spread throughout the conference. The term mobile is very general: it refers to mobile phones with WAP facilities, but also to PDA-s like Psions or Palms, or to applications used, for example, in the automobile industry. This new phenomenon raises a number of new challenges, from protocol level to application. There were tutorials and developers day sessions on the subject; the opening and the closing keynotes (Egbert-Jan Sol, Ericsson, and Charles Davies, Psion, respectively) both gave a thorough overview from their perspective. It was a nice coincidence that this conference took place in Europe this time; the Old Continent has a considerable advantage over the US in the mobile Web area, it was therefore quite appropriate that this topic dominated a conference held in Amsterdam.
The World Wide Web conferences have a traditional contact with the World Wide Web Consortium; indeed, the conference is the most important annual public appearance of W3C, where the newest developments are presented. In Amsterdam the W3C track sessions which included presentations on new topics and specifications like SVG, P3P, XML Schemas, or the Web Accessibility Initiative, were extremely popular and well attended.
Of course, the Web has also become a social phenomenon. One new aspect of the Amsterdam conference was that social issues were brought to the fore, too. The keynote address of Lawrence Lessig (Harvard Law School), talking about the issues of government control on the Web, or about trademark and patent problems, was certainly one of the highlights of the conference. A separate, parallel track was entirely devoted to cultural activities and the Web. Virtual museums and galleries, Web-based architectural models, metadata and property right problems, etc., all raise new challenges to the technical community.
For all those who could not make it to Amsterdam, the proceedings of the technical papers are available (published by Elsevier, Amsterdam) and, of course, accessible on the Web (http://www9.org). In the coming weeks the presentation materials of the keynote speakers will be put on the web site, too, so that everybody can have an impression of the conference. The next conference in the series will be in Hong Kong, May 2001.
WWW9 website: http://www9.org
Ivan Herman - CWI, co-chair of WWW9
Tel: +31 20 592 4163