3 December 2013

TFPL Connect: What a difference a web makes

I had various reasons for wanting to go to this TFPL Connect meeting.

I had missed some TFPL Connect events for various reasons, the subject matter interested me and the speaker Dame Wendy Hall and I studied Maths at Southampton University around the same time, we were not in the same year but I think we overlapped.

At first I was wait-listed, as were lots of other people, but I was saved when the high demand caused TFPL to move the event to a bigger venue so that more people, people like me, could attend.

We were in the Grand Connaught Rooms which made it an easy walk for me down from Kings Cross. That's my excuse for being the first person there. That also meant that I was the first to tuck in to the sparkling wine and nibbles that I was not expecting to see until after the talk.

The pre-talk drinks included the usual networking and I spoke to several people that I knew. Some of them claimed that this was their first TFPL event, this surprised me as I had known them for so long and I had assumed that everybody in the LIKE and Gurteen circles also went to TFPL events.

After the small talk we were politely ushered in to the conference room for the main talk.

Wendy Hall took us through a brief history of the internet, which has only had a brief history. She spent a bit of time, understandably on the start of the story. Understandably because she has worked with Tim Berners-Lee for some years (not quite from the beginning) and understandably because getting the initial architecture right was key to its rapid adoption and growth.

For the mid-life of the internet, Wendy used this familiar chart and teased out some key points from it, especially the relationships between the developments.

For example, Google could only exist once there were sufficient pages on the internet and enough people reading them to warrant a search engine and for there to be enough links between the pages for their algorithm to work. Similarly the (relatively) recent rise of applications like Facebook and Twitter has needed the increased bandwidth and mobile capabilities.

The growth in the internet is now driven by individuals. It is ordinary people who are uploading photos, swapping links and writing comments.

Wendy then told us something about her current work and her expectations for the future.

The next step is linked data, rather than linked pages and while corporates led on publishing documents it is government agencies that are leading on open data.

In the UK, these initiatives are spearheaded by the Open Data Institute founded by, that man again, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, also of Southampton University. I saw him talk on the semantic web at the Royal Society and was not convinced then. I'm still not convinced.

Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCS) have the possibility to reform education by making good quality courses widely available at low cost.

Wendy would like to build a Web Observatory to explore and map the web. We have built it but we do not know much about how it behaves.

Wendy spoke for the best part of an hour and then took several questions. It was a good talk and the questions took us in to some interesting areas of speculation, such as what might happen with the increasing amount of personal data that is being collected on us all.

I would have preferred to have spent more time talking about the future but the background is important and not everybody there had lived through it.

After the talk there was more networking and more drinks to go with it, possibly more than was strictly necessary, and some very nice canap├ęs too. I spoke to lots of people including several that I had not met before. As always, these conversations were an important part of the evening.

Having been the first to arrive I was among the last to leave which is proof enough of how much I loved the event.

TFPL has gone though several changes in the years that I have known them, including three owners and more offices than that, but they have kept the KM community that started, for me, with the Bath Club going all that time. Long may they do so.

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