Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Web 2.0 And The Emacspeak Audio Webtop

Blogging while at WWW 2007. I attended the W3C AC meeting the first two days of the week. The highlight for me from the AC (Advisory Committee meeting was a panel consisting of TimBL and Tim OReilly at the end of the day yesterday. It was fun to hear Tim OReilly define Web-2.0 --- he is credited with originally coining the term, but in the last year, Web 2.0 has often been lightly equated to dynamic Web applications that use JavaScript to the extent that many assume that anything that doesn't use JavaScript is not Web-2.0!

The gist of Tim O's definition of Web-2.0 was to point out that once the Web had gained sufficient coverage and scale, it became possible to build application services on this Web that drew their value from aggregating the data on the Web; his examples ranged from Google to Amazon. His comments were insightful --- my own view now is that Web-2.0 should have been called Web^2 i.e. this current revolution is about applying the power of the Web to itself.

The other amusing piece while running around at the conference and observing what everyone is working on is to realize that now that Web Gadgets and the like are popular, it's now considered a fine idea to write light-weight site-specific tools. Notice that Emacspeak has had this since the late 90's in the form of first the websearch module, to be later joined by url-templates. I believe these innovations arrived earlier on the Emacspeak Webtop as compared to the rest of the Web for the following reasons:

  • Emacspeak relied on Emacs/W3 for Web functionality,and when that browser stopped being maintained, there was a strong need to develop Web tools in the context of Emacspeak.
  • The visual Web was getting too complex for use via speech output, and given the flexibility of the Emacs environment, and the arrival of XSLT in 1999, things were well set up to build a powerful set of Web access wizards.
  • Task-oriented Web tools in Emacspeak led to the conceptual Web Command Line in Emacspeak at a time when command-line interfaces were considered passe'.

Incidentally when I showed others working in the field of accessibility these Emacspeak tools during their early days, they were promptly dismissed as site-specific hacks that wouldn't scale in the face of generic screenreaders that would handle every web page. With the visual Web getting too busy for everyone mainstream users now have access to productivity solutions such as Apple's Dashboard Widgets, IGoogle modules that can be placed on a Web page or the desktop, and other comparable tools. It will be interesting to see how much longer blind users saddled with commercial screenreaders will have to wait before seeing similar tools emerge in their world --- just remember, when that does arrive, Emacspeak had them in 2000!