Building the Future, Day 1 – The Beginning

Like all things, every story has a beginning. In this case, [Project] Ottawa started with the concept The Information Layer (2009). But what came before this?

Well, it all started in Vancouver, Canada (February 2009) where I saw this film, in a lecture by BERG designer Timo Arnall:

Wireless in the World 2 – http://vimeo.com/12187317

In Wireless in the World, they were imagining wireless networks available in the surrounding environment. Now, this looks like an interesting film. But to me, it was a pretty eye-opening experience. You see, up until this time, I only viewed the Web as being static. That is, something that was only accessible from the comfort of a chair and a desktop computer.

Step back for a moment. Now imagine all those dotted circles representing access points just like one of those desktop computers w/chairs. It would look funny at first but the main point is that each one of those access points is accessing data. They are accessing the same content I am through my desktop computer. If your concept of content is something that is seen through a desktop monitor, what does this do? The concept of having the same content available across all sorts of devices, being available at will – without the constraint of the standard web page format. Even without the author controlling how the information was displayed. The user now has the power not only to access the information but to display it in any fashion he/she wanted.

That idea of information being free, not in the political sense but in accessibility, really changed how I worked. After that film and the lecture, I decided that my job as a front-end developer was not of creating layouts. My job became a person who tried to build products that allowed for easy access to information. Building the layout with excellent code was simply a means to an end. Improving upon the work simple meant improved access to information. Information, in my terms of my work, is equivalent to content.

At this point, I was trying to find a way to explaining this way of thinking. It was only a few months later that I was looking at XSLT or XML transforms. Basically, it is a method of taking data in the form of a XML format and transforming into a format resembling a HTML web page. Well, XML is an open format, anyone can use it at will and modify the information to display it in any form they want. We have RSS feeds – XML format data streams that user can collect data and use. This is where all the dots began to connect. You see, XML or JSON, can carry content/information anywhere with the user applying the formatting.

Going back to this point, I wrote some ideas and sketches which later became The Information Layer. What I realized was that the current UI model was not sufficient – it was simple not granular enough to fully describe what was happening at the time. One of the novel things I did was creating a separation of the Semantic (HTML) Layer from the Information (content) Layer. How important was this? It was very important because it depicted the free flow of information /content. It also displayed the fact that HTML has its own sense of meaning, which was further expanded with HTML5 semantic tags a few years later. This was not a new concept but was not fully realized until now.

And so, that was the beginning. From here, I used this model for building my work.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Project Ottawa is simply the first practical application of the model. This was revised recently to deal with the concept of content, which will be the main focus point of Project Ottawa/Third Draft.