Web Technology's a Paradigm Shift, Says Co-Chairman

OSF's Goldstein calls the Web 'a revolution in access technology'

Leaders in the Open Software Foundation (OSF) decided a year ago that the World-Wide Web would be an important area of computing, and one that OSF members would need to know about. As a result, the OSF Research Institute decided to co-sponsor the upcoming Second International World-Wide Web Conference in Chicago. Ira Goldstein, director of research and advanced development, is co-chairman of the conference.

"We concluded that Web activity was extremely significant to how computing would be used in the rest of the '90s and beyond," Goldstein says. "So we made commitments in our research program, in the kind of information we will try to communicate to the OSF membership, and commitments to facilitate this whole area."

The technology surrounding the Web, Goldstein believes, is "a technology that's going to be absolutely ubiquitous." After talks between OSF and representatives from CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, where the Web was developed, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, where Mosaic was developed, it was the sense of the group that both technology and usage are evolving so quickly that conferences need to be held frequently.

Since the first conference was held in May, "A variety of companies have reached the marketplace with their enhanced Mosaic," Goldstein says. "I think we'll see improved tools for placing material on the Web. I think the biggest thing is the continued usage of the Web, so there will be lots of talks by people who are using it in government and industry, the arts, and education. I think from the growing body of experience, we'll distill what's working well, what needs attention, and what might be less important."

As an experiment, OSF decided to advertise mostly via the Web and through UniForum, which is supporting the conference. The conference sold out in eight weeks. Based on that experience, "I would say that the Web is a pretty significant kind of communication medium," Goldstein says. "A couple of years from now, you really would reach a very significant percentage of the knowledge worker community."

What interests Goldstein most about Mosaic and the Web is that "This is all becoming a real paradigm shift in how we publish and communicate knowledge. There was the paradigm shift of the printing press that moved us from an aural culture to a very small number of written manuscripts, very expensive and only for the very special, to a culture in which the printed book was common. With the Web, what's happening is, first of all, the diversity of knowledge, the multimedia character of it is broader and richer, and your ability to publish it individually is enormously increased.