BEYOND THE BROWSER

Leon Brown on why you get more than you see when it comes to web stan­dards

net magazine - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper and au­thor of e-learn­ing con­tent at Next­point ( next­point.co.uk), Leon makes com­pli­cated con­cepts easy to un­der­stand and fun to learn.

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.

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