El.pub Analytic Issue Number 15
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Analytic 15 - Looking back - seven years of El.pub (Part 2)
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Interoperability and standards
Members of the El.pub team were involved prior to its start up with the EU funded standards promotion, Open Information Interchange. There is no doubt that there have been major successes in interoperability. Image / sound encoding in the MPEG standards and online document presentation in the form of HTML, spring to mind. There have also been failures, such as the formatting of 3D information.
There is a reluctance on the part of RTD programmes to fund work on standards directly, as such work tends to be seen as requiring long term commitment rather than being project based. This is a reasonable argument if not carried too far. The MPEG work started with project based research, which was required to determine the feasibility and parameters of possible standards. Only after these were determined, did the long administrative process of finding consensus and agreeing the wording of the formal standards take over. So there is a place for project work in the early stages of standardisation, as there is in developing pilot products that will implement the standards in the final stages.
Although the digital revolution has been underway for many years now, with its roots in the earliest applications of computers, it is difficult to argue that it has been a great success. So far the majority of those successes have come through the application of computers to tasks that existed in the traditional content industry. In addition it is only relatively recently, less than ten years, that the cost / performance balance of computers has been such as to allow them to be used for content other than text and numeric data.
We are now entering a period where processing power, storage capacity and transmission bandwidth are beginning to open the way to new forms of content creation and exploitation. Science fiction is full of visions of the future, whether of space travel or of virtual reality. Space travel is alive and well, and like virtual reality still in its infancy. Unlike the virtual reality community, the space science and engineering community are prepared to deconstruct some of the visions and allow them to inform their RTD agenda. It may be that the fact that VR is not really about technology but about the human mind that creates the reluctance in workers in that area to face up to the visions.
The two big areas for RTD in digital content at the moment are entertainment and knowledge management. The success of interactive videogames has opened a path to new forms of content and expression, even if the reaction of many people to the precise expression is rather like that of parents to comics in the 1950s. Knowledge management is a rather pretentious phrase for an acknowledgement that if we were to put all existing information and human artistic expression online, we wouldn't be able to access it sensibly and certainly wouldn't know what to do with it.
Content is the creation of the human mind. Human consciousness gives it meaning. It is the basis of our communication with each other and with the past. Through digital representation the computer offers us the possibility of creating new forms of content, communicating more effectively and of organising the great mass of existing human expression in new ways. RTD needs to step back from the technology and consider what the first steps we have taken in the digital revolution tell us and where those steps might lead.
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