A minutely belated followup to “Future of The Web – Part I – A History“, these are the rest of my thoughts on the NESTA “Future of the Web“ session. The videos of the event are here – you’ll need to be able to play Windows Media files.

Unsurprisingly, there were some parallels with the previous session (see Tim Berners-Lee @ The Innovation Edge). It was a shame that it didn’t touch on many of the things that came up in the Wordle cloud (Communicating Feelings on the Future of the Web), as there were some interesting items there. Lloyd Davis’ post “Tim Berners-Lee at NESTA on the Future of the Web” says the unsaid well. Sir Tim’s talk was about 20 minutes. I don’t think anyone there would have complained if it had been 3 hours, especially the topics around the Web Science Research Initiative.

Sir Tim’s current baby is the semantic web, which has been incubating (or should that be gestating?) for a long long while. It seems suitably meta to use the talk as an example of how the semantic web would change the Internet. During the talk I was concentrating hard, so I missed the Twitter conversation. This might have been because I was in the front row, opposite Sir Tim, with two video cameras watching my every move – yes, that is my fat head bobbing up and down in the videos, sorry! I felt like a bunny stuck in the proverbial headlights.

Anyway, I missed the back-channel conversation. I knew a fair number of people there would be tweeting (got to love that term), so I wanted to see what had been said. Summize is a tool that searches the Twitter public-time-line [Note, as I posted this, Twitter announced their intent to acquire Summize]. In tradition web style, I would have used search terms like “Sir Tim”, “Future”, and a number of other things. However, most of these phrases would have missed messages and others would have resulted in the search equivalent of “overspray” – catching messages that were irrelevant.

Enter Hash tags. If hash tags are new to you, don’t panic. It is all above board and quite simple. Hash tags make use of the hash symbol (#) to indicate a tag. This is a little like semantic information, in that it provides some context about the message. People can tag messages (in the same way that blog posts and wiki pages can be tagged). This transforms the discoverability of information.

It does require users to manually tag their messages, which leaves it vulnerable to human fallibility/laziness. Automating this process is a key part of building the semantic web. I can go to summize and search for #futureofweb (the tag for the event) and see the conversation. Here is a little hand-picked selection of highlights:

PaulWalsh: Ah NESTA is using #futureofweb hash tag for the event with TimBL. Personally I hate the tags.
JeremyGould: #futureofweb Reflecting how wonderful that TBL still as passionate about web 20 years on Hope I can maintain that level of interest- in …
Nico_Macdonald: Re NESTA TB-L talk… Hope for Web future: bootstrapping human ingenuity. Fears: fooling ourselves Web can solve all problems. #futureofweb
keibro: Generic Answers #futureofweb = CL: Keep it open. AD: Put stuff back based on what you take out.
timd:  TBL: “In terms of humanity, we should make sure we don’t expect too little” #futureofweb
Nico_Macdonald:  Tim Berners-Lee event: Berners-Lee’s answer: Web is about connections between people. Can we expect this much of _humanity_?! #futureofweb
emmalwallace: When TBL speaks you can see the pictures he draws in his head. Da Vinci brain genius in action. When science and art collide. #futureofweb
deirdre: also heartening 2 knw TBL shares my obsession w/ persistence. internet so often is transient, too many things lost & destroyed #futureofweb

That’s a tiny sample of the comments, but it paints the picture. The most comprehensive write up on Sir Tim’s talk is on Mia Ridge’s blog (Open Objects) and you can download the slides via the w3 site: http://www.w3.org/2008/Talks/0708-ws-30min-tbl/.

Even though we didn’t meet at that event, in a strange act of serendipity, I met Mia this evening, at a completely unrelated event. I recognised her from her twitter avatar and blog picture, and had a really interesting conversation. The power of the web…