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Software Carpentry: Internet Groupware for Scientific Collaboration

Aug 06, 2000, 14:28 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jon Udell)

"The Web was invented so that scientists could use computer networks to collaborate -- that is, exchange documents, discuss them, coordinate work, create and publish collective knowledge. It was, in other words, supposed to be a groupware application."

"Despite the popularity of the Web -- or, perhaps, because of that popularity -- it has yet to fulfill that original mission. Today's Web is more like a shotgun marriage of electronic publishing and broadcast television than it is like an engineered solution for group collaboration. True, the Internet empowers today's working scientist in ways only dreamed of even a decade ago. Yet our use of it often remains rooted in pre-Web idioms and habits -- partly because we don't fully exploit today's Internet communication tools, but mainly because we're still missing key tools and infrastructure...."

"Although HTML is a far simpler markup language than, say, TeX, today's Web is biased heavily toward consuming content, and offers little support for producing it. The Web, in its current incarnation, is a library in which we read, not a bulletin board on which we scribble. The Internet application that we do use for scribbling -- endlessly, prolifically -- is email. But while email can (and often does) become Web content, it's never first-class Web content."

"Lately there is movement on a number of fronts to reclaim the two-way, read/write architecture that was the Web's original conception. Part of the story is a new protocol called WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning, http://www.webdav.org/, also known simply as DAV), which enables client applications to store documents directly on a DAV-aware Web server, lock and unlock the documents, and query or set their properties. DAV-aware servers include Apache (with the mod_dav module), Microsoft's Internet Information Server version 5, and Digital Creations' Zope. DAV-aware clients include the Microsoft Office apps and, more recently, Adobe's Go Live, a Web authoring and content-management tool."

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