Distributed Authoring on the World Wide Web

Informal Working Group Meeting

E.J. Whitehead, Jr.


On July, 10, 1996, an informal meeting of the Working Group on Distributed Authoring on the World Wide Web (WWW) was held at the offices of America Online (AOL) Productions in San Mateo, California. The 14 meeting participants included members of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) Working Group, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the document management community, software configuration management companies, distributed Web authoring tool vendors and researchers, and the academic hypertext versioning community. The main objective of this meeting was to provide a forum for people interested in fostering interoperability between distributed Web authoring applications to meet, exchange information about the current state of the art and practice, identify key interoperability issues, and formulate an agenda for achieving interoperability.

While many tools are on the market (e.g., SoftQuad HotMetal Pro 2.0, Quarterdeck WebAuthor 2.0, Adobe PageMill 1.0, InContext Spider 1.1) that provide a graphical user interface for the authoring of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) format files and layout of associated graphic content, these tools require the user to have direct access to the physical storage of the name space served by a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) server. This effectively limits the use of these tools to computers connected to a local area network (LAN) containing the physical storage. In contrast, an emerging class of tools (e.g., Microsoft FrontPage 1.1, AOLpress/AOLserver 1.1) allows users to save their work directly to an HTTP server, affording a style of work where authors are located remotely to the HTTP server hosting their content. This second class of tools, known as distributed Web content authoring applications, were the focus of this working group.

The meeting began with a presentation by Jim Whitehead, U.C. Irvine, describing the following:

Next, Ron Fein (Microsoft) gave a presentation on collaborative authoring and WWW features in Microsoft Word. The morning session ended with a presentation by Henrik Frystyk Nielsen (W3C) on distributed authoring and his vision of a unified PUT model. The afternoon began with a presentation by Dave Long (America Online) on AOLpress and AOLserver, followed by a presentation by Andy Schulert (Microsoft) on FrontPage; Whitehead then led a discussion on the working group's goals, working group sponsorship issues, and criteria for completion of these tasks. At the end of the day, the group discussed key interoperability issues and developed a list of activities and deliverables to be produced by the working group.

Key Results

  1. Adopted a goal to enable distributed Web authoring tools to be broadly interoperable.
  2. Created a task-oriented list of scenarios that interoperable distributed authoring tools should be able to perform. Keith Dawson (Atria) is the editor of this document.
  3. Created a list to collate the "key functionality" among AOLpress/AOLserver, FrontPage, Word, as well as other distributed authoring tools. Dave Long (America Online) is the editor of this document.
The working group also identified some areas for future work:

  1. Discussed criteria for completion of the group's work; acknowledged need for clear documentation.
  2. Discussed possible sponsorship by the W3C. However, before the group is officially sponsored, members needs to know the intellectual property rights implications of such sponsorship.
  3. Discussed need for a reinvestigation of work previously performed by Murray Maloney on standard LINK REL and REV tags.
  4. Discussed need for an investigation by the versioning and configuration management group into the utility of entity tags (etags) for performing versioning.
Detailed meeting notes, a list of participants, a final agenda for the meeting, and slides from the meeting are available at http://www.ics.uci.edu/~ejw/authoring/sanmateo/.

The final report for the meeting is also available as the document, "Final Report of the San Mateo Meeting of the Working Group on Distributed Authoring on the World Wide Web," issued as UCI-ICS Technical Report 96-32. Send email to Bernie Bender, bender@ics.uci.edu, for ordering information.

Historical Timeline for Distributed Authoring

Nexus Web authoring tool.

Most of the world sees line-mode browser: not impressed.

Mosaic 2.4 reaches critical mass.

"Publish/Browse" becomes the dominant model.

PUT disappears from HTTP specification, due to lack of support.

NaviPress/NaviServer developed.

Vermeer FrontPage developed.

W3C Line Mode Browser.

1994 (December)
WWW4 break-out session on distributed authoring tools.


Focus of session: Interoperability among distributed (i.e., client/server) Web authoring tools.

Identified interoperability issues:

NaviPress/NaviServer & Vermeer FrontPage are released and start developing market for distributed authoring tools.

Rohit Khare at W3C researches a leasing and locking mechanism http://xent.w3.org/~khare/6.852%20Project.htmld/index.html.

Vermeer purchased by Microsoft. NaviSoft absorbed into America Online. These activities indicate major corporate support for distributed authoring.

Release of intranet-enabled word processors (Lotus WordPro, Microsoft Word).

Netscape Navigator Gold supports HTTP PUT.

March 1996
Dan Connolly puts out a call for volunteers to coordinate distributed authoring activity, and Jim Whitehead, U.C. Irvine, volunteers.

July 1996
Meeting on distributed authoring on the WWW at AOL Productions, San Mateo, CA.

August 1996
IETF HTTP Working Group completes Internet Draft of HTTP/1.1.

PUT method is part of standard.

IETF HTTP Working Group completes Internet Draft on digest authentication.

Public release of Amaya editor/browser by W3C.

September 1996
Initial draft requirements documents on WWW Distributed Authoring and Versioning

Meeting on distributed authoring and versioning on the WWW at MIT, Cambridge, MA.<|Zapf>n


The working group would like to thank Dave Long of America Online for arranging the conference room at AOL Productions, and for his in-meeting support. Also deserving thanks are Ron Fein of Microsoft, Henrik Frystyk Nielsen of W3C, Dave Long of America Online, and Andy Schulert of Microsoft for their insightful presentations, Dennis Hamilton of Xerox PARC, and Keith Dawson of Atria Software for their excellent notes, and to all participants for their thoughtful discussion.

About the Author

E. James Whitehead, Jr.
Department of Information and Computer Science
University of California
Irvine, CA 92697-3425

E. James Whitehead, Jr., is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, where his research interests include WWW Distributed Authoring, Hypermedia Versioning, Open Hypermedia Systems, and Software Architecture. Jim is currently the chair of a working group on WWW distributed authoring and versioning issues, which is actively working on specifications to enable widespread, interoperable distributed authoring tools. He is also working on making the Web supportive of widely distributed software development by leveraging distributed authoring capabilities. Jim's home page is at http://www.ics.uci.edu/~ejw/.