NSF WWW Workshop, Fox Position Paper: Specific Suggestions

  1. I encourage NSF to encourage development and use of WWW and Mosaic and have personally acted in this direction:
    1. Testimonial: Tim Berners-Lee spoke on WWW, Rob Akscyn (then chair of ACM SIGLINK) talked about hypertext, and I spoke about our NSF funded work on digital libraries in March 1993 at Online Publishing '93, Pittsburgh, PA; immediately afterwards I passed around Tim's WWW notes and brought up some of the early Web software.
    2. Testimonial: I was greatly pleased when a large group from NCSA came to the July 1, 1993 Workshop on Information Access and the Networks, IANET'93, held in conjunction with ACM SIGIR '93, in Pittsburgh --- and reported on Mosaic.
    3. Testimonial: Kurt Maly, Alan Selman, Jim French and I have coordinated work since early 1993 on the NSF funded WATERS project (see also our WWW94 paper) for CS technical report capture, storage and dissemination, that uses WWW and Mosaic for browsing, query entry, and presentation of search results and reports. The Indiana TR project has shorter term goals. Integration with the ARPA CSTR effort (e.g., see Cornell start-up kit or DIENST report) has recently been approved by ARPA, and will be enabled by the facilities of WWW.
    4. Testimonial: My Fall 1993 Information Storage and Retrieval course made extensive use of gopher and Mosaic, using servers that have been running continuously since then (see CS5604 pages); in Fall 1994 my department has three "paperless" courses, with all instruction and courseware delivered through WWW (thanks to an NSF funded Education Infrastructure project, and at least 9 computers running WWW servers (including on my own workstation).
  2. However, there is plenty of room for NSF-funded research to help ensure that WWW and Mosaic lead to even better systems, services, and tools:
    1. Hyper-G system advantages are important to consider; they have encouraged us to use it along with other types of servers in our CS digital library (see our paper from WWW94)
    2. MIME, which was planned as an interim solution to multimedia interchange, should eventually be replaced with a more efficient standard, with better integrated compression, that would replace it in WWW and Mosaic use.
    3. Full support is needed for SGML (for descriptive markup that reduces the cognitive load on authors -- see proposal); DSSSL (for specifications on how to present or print SGML-encoded documents); HyTime (for more comprehensive description of hypertext, hypermedia, and time-based documents); and MHEG (for object-oriented description of multimedia, hypermedia, and interactions) --- to facilitate interchange and electronic (re-)publishing.
    4. KMS (a hypertext system, provided by Rob Akscyn's company KSI) type support is needed for: fast and efficient collaborative editing of hypertext documents, draw operations, line art, rapid client/server protocol, and easy adding of annotations.
    5. Multimedia presentation support is needed, and should move to constraint and style-guide based schemes; content-based indexing and analysis of multimedia documents (e.g., images, movies, speech, music) is also of great importance.
    6. Advanced retrieval techniques should be applied more to the WWW, e.g., with (SGML structure) context-dependent searching, use of extended Boolean schemes, morphological analysis of document and query terms, automatic query expansion using a lexicon or thesaurus, clustering to aid in browsing and retrieval, session-long interative query improvement through relevance feedback, use of knowledge bases to allow inferencing and conceptual retrieval, etc.
    7. IR based models of user-intermediary interactions should drive how systems carry out interactive sessions, and could inform the behavior of intelligent retrieval systems.
    8. Use of general purpose knowledge representation and protocol standards (KQML, KIF) should be made in agent-based systems.
    9. Tighter integration is needed with other parts of users' environments, such as authoring languages for courseware, scripting languages that specify interactions, mail handlers (that could allow automatic filtering, routing, classification, filing and retrieval), expert systems / decision support systems, help and documentation systems, calendar / tickler systems, agenda and outlining tools, citation and content searching, etc.
  3. NSF-funded research in this area might follow these strategic guidelines:
  4. Integration of WWW-related efforts with Digital Library work should be strongly encouraged.
  5. Cross-fertilization of ideas should be encouraged through: support of interdisciplinary workshops and preference given to broadly skilled project teams or coordination between projects.
  6. Scalability, usability, efficiency, and effectiveness should be required as design criteria for most of the funded efforts, and should be the basis for obligatory evaluation phases of such studies.
  7. Studies of users, as they learn anew how to write, read, learn, and work in the WWW environment, must be undertaken before we loose the chance to collect data about them --- and results should be fed into design and development efforts.
  8. CS researchers should be encouraged to work with other NSF-funded investigators to create "environments", building upon the current WWW, for collaborative use, such as for: scientific computation, engineering design and development, learning, courseware development, multimedia programming, or proposal preparation/review --- with on-demand access to needed information, tool integration, multiple views of design/development/use spaces, and as-needed conversions between data/information/knowledge representations.
  9. While expanding the functionality of our emerging universal interfaces, we must also go back to tailored and crafted specialized interfaces, drawing ideas from them and fitting those back into WWW.
  10. A long-term perspective should be adopted, so
    1. we understand the relation of network and system architectures to the need for scaling up in size of content and number of users;
    2. we think not only about the idea of agents but also about other means to unleash the tremendous computational power of the Internet; and
    3. our research and experimentation is aimed toward task support that cuts out the middle man and empowers users.