Written by David Lenehan of Polldaddy and edited by Richard MacManus. David also covered the Future of Web Apps event [1, 2] in London this week. Photos from Route79, via Flickr.

I went down to the Mashup event in London tonight, which was organized by Vecosys and eTribes. The topic of conversation for the night was: "What's next, Web3.0? - The coming semantic web". The panel consisted of Paul Walsh from Segala, Mark Birbeck from X-Port Ltd, Tony Fish, and Sam Sethi - who took the role of chair for the night. Sam started by talking about where the semantic web movement was at the moment and the emergence of Microformats. He showed us some examples of sites that are using formats like HCard and HCalendar. For those of you who are not familiar with Microfomats, a good example is a site called worldcupkickoff.com. They used the HCalender format to help users bookmark the dates of games in the World Cup, in their own calendar applications. Microformats are only supported in the browser at the moment through the use of third party browser plugins, but it seems almost certain at this stage that Firefox 3 is going to support them natively.

X-Port

Mark Birbeck was first up and talked about his own products XPort and SideWinder. SideWinder is a platform that allows you to use web-based technologies such as JavaScript etc. on the desktop. You can put web applications in a wrapper and run them on the desktop. I'm not sure I really see the value of this product, but I don't think that he had enough time to explain its merits. Xport is a XForms processor... I wont go into XForms, but it's a technology that I'm watching closely, as it affects some of the things I work on myself.

Content Labels Format

Paul Walsh was on next, pushing the Content Labels format. His ideas generated most of the conversation for the night. Content Labels allow you to describe content on your website. You link to a Content Label in the HTML of your web pages, which is an RDF file that describes the content of your page. This is meta data and it serves a very similar purpose to the HTML meta tags of old. The difference with Content Labels is that you can have them certified. 

So the idea is that lets say you have a website that talks a lot about football, has no adult content, is child safe and is in French. You can then create a Content Label describing all of these features, then you submit it to be certified. A third party authority will come along for a very small fee and make sure your content label is accurate, in relation to your site's content. The clear advantage of this is that, if it is widely adopted, we will for the first time have meta data relating to web content that is verified and can be trusted to a certain extent. Search engines can then use this to help rank sites, browsers can show only child-safe websites to children, french sites to french speaking people and so on and so forth. I talked with Paul about Content Labels for a long time after the show and I realize I have not mentioned a lot of the other possible uses and functionality of Content Labels, but I'm still trying to fully understand it myself.


Paul Walsh at Etribes Mashup; Photo by Route79

As with microformats, at the moment content labels are only visible by way of a third party browser plugin for FireFox, called Search Thresher. There are no plans to implement this into any major browser releases in the near future, but people are taking note of this technology. The W3C are about to accept it as a standard and Microsoft has shown an interest in a plugin for IE. 

There were a lot of questions from the audience and a lot of people didn't feel that Microformats and Content Labels had anything to do with the semantic web. One interesting point that was raised is that these technologies only help make content on the web machine readable, but they don't make it machine understandable - which is what web semantics is all about. But in my opinion, the semantic web is a long way off yet and we can't make content machine understandable without first making it machine readable. It's going to be a long road, but I think these technologies are important stepping stones along the way - albeit very early ones. I like Content Labels and I hope to implement them on my own site.

Summary

Tony Fish talked last and, as far as I could tell, he disagreed with the importance of the semantic web. However I didn't understand what his points were, as his talk seemed a bit obscure.

I really enjoyed this mashup event, because instead of the speakers dictating to a mostly silent audience, the speakers were pretty much under the spotlight of the audience's scrutiny. Sam and Mike told me afterwards that a video of the event will be up on YouTube soon. If you're in London or near a Mashup again, go along - it's a very good experience.

Ed: Thanks again to David for covering the Web events in London this week. I've certainly enjoyed reading David's reports and so I'd like to 'open the floor' for other guest bloggers to do this - i.e. provide reports of web conferences and events, from anywhere in the world. Please email me on readwriteweb@gmail.com if you'd like to help keep R/WW readers informed of web events.