Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Web anniversary -- 15 years in the public domain

We discuss IT history, including that of the Web.

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the placing of the Web in the public domain -- enabling it to grow to what it is today.

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He proposed that CERN develop a hypertext (link) based document management system for the Internet. You can read his proposal here.

The proposal was accepted and work began on what would become the first Web client/server.

On April 30 1993, CERN placed the Web software in the public domain, allowing anyone to build and use Web browsers and servers without paying a royalty. The BBC published several articles commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of that date, including:

What do you think would have happened to the Web if CERN management had decided to copyright the Web protocols and software and charge royalties for those wanting to use them?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Analyzing and improving Web site performance

We discuss the HTTP protocol and Web site timing. WebSiteOptimization is a good source of information about speeding up your Web site. The site includes:

  • A free Web site analysis and optimization service, which breaks out the load time of all Web page components and makes suggestions for improving performance.
  • A speed tweak of the week -- weekly tips on how to improve Web site performance.
  • Data analysis like this paper showing a three time increase the average size of a Web page and doubling of the number of objects during the last five years. (The average Web page is no longer useful for those with dial up connections or those in developing nations).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Should you write a paper or create an ad hoc blog?

I just gave a presentation on computer literacy courses at a conference. People typically write papers for publication in a conference proceedings, but I decided a companion blog would be more useful.

Creating an ad hoc blog for a project, event, or, in my case, a conference presentation, takes only a few minutes, but providing the content is somewhat more time consuming than writing a paper for publication.

My ad hoc blog ended up with 2,964 words in 9 posts. Writing it took longer than writing a paper of the same length with 9 sub-headings because of the inclusion of 76 links to references and enrichment material. Some of those 76 links would have been references in a traditional paper, but I would have left most of the enrichment material out. Since I was writing for a blog, and knew the reader could easily skip a link or follow it, I left them in. Adding the links is mechanical, but discovering and reading the enrichment material was time consuming. It also meant I learned more.

The division of the blog into 9 separate posts, each of which stands alone, allows the reader to focus only on portions of interest. Category tags and full-text search also help the reader focus and make sub-sections more discoverable.

Reading a blog is different than reading a paper. The author does not specify a reading sequence, and transitions between sections (posts) are not explicit. These drawbacks could be overcome by knitting the blog posts together into a linear paper or by preparing an overview post -- an extended abstract with links to the individual posts. Writing a traditional paper or an overview post would be relatively simple once the blog was complete, but it would still take time. (I will do both when I find time).

An electronic publication like an ad hoc blog is also mutable, whereas a conference proceedings is fixed once it is published. For example, I revised the Internet Writing post twice after publishing it. The blog also allows for comments and other feedback. Of course, an online conference proceedings can also be changed and feedback can be solicited.

The blog might also continue to grow. The first nine posts of the computer literacy blog were related to my presentation, but the tenth summarized a related presentation I heard at the conference. Some ad hoc blogs may continue after the event.

A final consideration is academic credit. Even if a blog is more effective than a paper, an academic writer may be reluctant to go that route due to publication pressure. The traditional notion of academic publication is out of date.

You often write term papers for classes. Would creating an ad hoc blog be preferable? Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Writing for the Internet: conversations, short documents and collaborative wrting

Netcraft publishes a monthly survey of the Web. Their April, 2008 survey reports 1.1 million new blogs were created using Blogger alone.

Some of those 1.1 million are just tests, and they will be abandoned. Others are ad hoc blogs, set up for a single event or project. Others will go on for years. Regardless, it is clear that a lot of people are writing for blogs -- professionally and personally.

We should examine our writing curriculum with this in mind. What sorts of things will our students be writing after graduation? Much of what they write will be for the Internet or intranet. That means they will be participating in electronic conversations, writing short documents like blog posts or Web pages, and doing collaborative writing.

You can read more on this topic in a post on the impact of the Internet on the writing curriculum.

A student recently wrote "I will write 42 pages for class this semester ... and over 500 pages of email". How many pages will you write for your classes this semester? How many emails, blog posts, instant messages, twitters, FaceBook pages, etc. will you write for the Internet?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Does being open pay off?

In spite of setbacks and roadblocks, there is an overall trend toward increased Internet and telecommunication openness and standards. (The ball started rolling with the 1956 Hush-A-Phone Case which forced AT&T to allow us to attach devices to their network).

We talk about openness and transparency in various contexts. We talk about the end-to-end, dumb Internet where anyone can run any application and connect any device. We talk about the cellular providers trying to keep control over their networks, but gradually begining to loosen up. We have seen record companies first try to control music copying, then starting to sell unprotected .mp3 songs. YouTube is open to all comers as are FaceBook, MySpace and thousands of other sites. I came across a different sort of openness while ordering a book at

As you see here, Amazon sold new copies of the book I wanted for $18.25 plus shipping. They also listed offers to sell the same book from 36 of their competitors. One competitor, FeelGoodReaders, was selling the book new for $14.55 and another had a used copy that was "like new" for only $12.75. In fact Amazon listed 12 competitors who were selling new copies of the book for less than their price of $18.25 and many others selling cheaper used copies. Amazon also told me that FeelGoodReaders had an excellent reputation -- 99% of their customers gave them positive reviews.

Based on this, I bought the book from FeelGoodReaders. Was Amazon hurt or helped by their openness? What did the decision to show the competitor's prices and customer ratings cost Amazon? Did it benefit them at all? Did it benefit the economy?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Soon we will have Internet video cameras in our pockets

Video is now a common Internet data type and mobile Internet access devices are becoming available. You can see the convergence of these trends in this video of a test drive of a Tesla electric car:

The audio and video quality is poor, but it was shot using a Nokia N95 cell phone camera and streamed on the Internet as it was being recorded.

(The video is worth watching in its own right -- Tesla's founder discusses their technology and plans for the future while taking a joy ride).

We saw the Apple iPhone this year, and large phone vendors are now demonstrating their own mobile Internet access devices. Soon portable video cameras will be ubiquitous.

Ubiquitous, Internet-connected video cameras will be used for many business and personal applications. Will they also affect politics and government? Would it have mattered if the students at Tienanmen Square or the recent Tibetan demonstrators had been online? How many athletes and spectators will be online in China during the upcoming Olympic Games? How many people will be online in Iraq next year?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Today's students take the Internet for granted and want to use it in school

We have seen that today's students have been raised with information technology (see
Beloit College Mindset list and Characteristics of today's students).

In a recent three part column, Robert Cringley noted that schools are now full of computers, but, increasingly, technical resources are devoted to keeping students from using their information technology -- defending against instant messaging, blogging, Web surfing, reading and writing email, twittering, playing games, etc. during class and exams as well as against plagiarism.

Cringley thinks we will be forced to accept student's use of technology, stating

We've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools (my emphasis).
That is a strong statement -- do you feel it is over the top?

You can read Cringley's three columns for yourself Column 1, Column 2, and Column 3.