Web creator Tim Berners-Lee set out his vision for the future of the Net at this week's Ebusiness World conference in Boston.
He believes the Internet should not only transform human communication, but also enable machines to carry out new functions.
The inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the W3C standards body, Berners-Lee wants to see the next phase of the Internet delivering better human communication through shared space and knowledge, rather than just access for everyone.
At the conference, Berners-Lee ran through his personal 'wishlist' for the future of Web technology - particularly the use of software agents by machines. As the Web has evolved, underlying technology such as agents has been hidden by the browser interface for ease of use. But Berners-Lee believes the time has come for the agents to come out of hiding and be used by machines rather than humans.
He predicts a trend to expose and then export data into machine readable information, all automatically.
This machine readable style, called metadata by the W3C, will allow machines to 'understand' far more user information and so to control issues such as privacy and copyright through the browser, without human intervention. The browser, for instance, could 'read' a Web site's privacy statement and check it against a privacy profile to ensure it has been adhered to.
With the imminent arrival of Web TV and other access devices, he sees the architecture as a single universal space, with all that PCs offer today - from hypertext to video on demand and real time audio/video.
"Wherever there is a screen, that will be your window to the Web," he said. "But this must be a consistent world. This consistent interface must extend to the personal workspace."
He believes there has been insufficient use of hypertext for personal applications such as address book and agenda within software such as Lotus Notes.
At present, customisation available to the user is limited, but Berners-Lee envisages a kind of "intercreativity" - "for instance, anyone will be able to plug in a digital camera and have the ability to annotate the pictures through their creative Web space," he explained.
This creative space will be entirely personal to the user and can be used in very flexible ways. "Human thought is at different levels, we need to be able to capture spontaneous thought as well as final ideas," he went on.
He also sees a real need to change how applications are perceived. "There will be big changes to the architecture and what we think of as applications," he said, predicting a move towards using templates that include the initial value and style, rather than file name or file transfer protocol.
"That stupid 'save as' dialogue box, you have to think of a file name, not to mention how you want to create something, before you do anything," he joked.
The search engine we know today will have to change to support this evolved Web. "The engines of the future will be logical. Search engines scale but they produce wrong answers," he said, looking forward to a time when users can set their own criteria, which the search engine will be able to interpret intelligently.
Greater use of electronic forms is also on Berners-Lee's wishlist. "All my personal information is stored on a machine somewhere," he said. "We should now be able to do away with paper forms and just download the relevant information from, say, my financial software and ask the system to fill in my tax form."
All of these changes will lead to higher quality of information from the Internet and, by using metadata to endorse pages, users, will be able to trace who is responsible for information contained in a Web page, he concluded.
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