BEYOND THE BROWSER
Leon Brown on why you get more than you see when it comes to web standards
The original aim of the world wide web was to serve as a platform for presenting content. Since its inception, it has evolved to become a platform for delivering all types of content, data and software applications. It is only logical to conclude that the web will continue to evolve as new technologies are embraced by industry and consumers.
While the web is primarily experienced inside the browser, the content you see only touches the surface of the web. Web 2.0 was a milestone in the development of web standards, which heralded user-generated content and a better ability to present it. The emerging wave of innovation for the web is based around data, enabling improved scope for functionality of internet-connected systems.
The usefulness of software systems, whether they exist on a server, in the web browser or as a native smartphone/desktop application, is dependent on the data they have access to. The type of user-generated content that formed the basis of the Web 2.0 enabled new types of software application to exist on the web but was limited in terms of how this data could be used. The emergence of semantic web and microdata standards means data can be published in a way so software applications can understand their context.
The evolution of standards for user-generated content along with other standards based around software functionality is enabling the web to become a more intelligent, functional and convenient platform. Whether software is based on the web or merely dips into using web standards whenever required, software systems are beginning to access resources that were never previously an option.
One functionality standard that is already in popular use is oAuth, a standard for letting people use their account credentials for one web service to sign into another. This means that new users can access web service functionality without the hassle of needing to remember yet another set of login details. While the user sees this as functionality presented through the browser, the oAuth login is an event that happens between the server providing the web service and the server of the login profile service – typically Google, Facebook or Twitter.
A more serious issue of convenience is how people and organisations can be held to ransom by their data. This happens when software – web-based or native – is chosen to solve a problem but later becomes problematic or a bad deal. Users don’t have much choice if they are locked into continued use of the software due to being unable to export their data for use with other systems/vendors that function better or offer a better deal. The SCORM data standard solves this problem for systems by enabling organisations to transfer their e-learning system configurations between systems that support the SCORM standard. Where there is political will, we are likely to see similar standards emerge for other types of systems.
Storage is being revolutionised by the use of webbased data, making services such as Google Drive possible. This type of feature benefits users and web application developers alike. While web application developers don’t need to bear the cost of storing user data, users benefit from being able to use their data with multiple applications wherever there is support.
Finally, there is the Internet of Things, where devices make use of web-based data to control and extend functionality of devices like smarthome assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa – all defined with XML and JSON formats used for web-based content. Given time, these too will become standards for defining smart-assistant functionality.