ActiveWeb: Development of Active Content and Interaction among Servers

In the fall of 1997, the UCSD Department of Computer Science and Engineering proposed development of the "ActiveWeb", a next-generation World Wide Web premised on support for active content, which is rich in multimedia and references to other objects, and for mobile agents, programs that move about and execute on remote servers, carrying out requests at a distance on behalf of users. These servers are no longer passive databases as in today's Web, but context-sensitive knowledge networks that contain all kinds of active content; among the servers there is a constant exchange of agents, which add to, refine, interconnect, and make consistent the distributed content. The goal is to promote a high degree of resource sharing, and the buying and selling of service as in a market economy. To realize this vision, the department focused on integrating its strengths in network and operating systems design, security, multimedia, content-based search, scientific metacomputing, and computer and software engineering.

Last summer, the project was seeking a "killer app" for this new Active Web. They found it in the idea of "education as culture." In particular, they determined that the modern university campus is suffering from growth and, surprisingly, technological advances. A campus is supposed to be a community that passively and actively reinforces the values of education, that is, a "culture of learning." This culture is weakening due to campus population growth, more students working off campus, increasing demands on everyone's time, and technology like cell phones that draw attention away from campus activities. Thus, their idea was to employ technology to make UCSD's growing campus feel instead like a small one: Make the walls transparent, encourage chance meetings, attract attention to campus activities, and, in general, reinforce the culture of learning. Pervasive wireless mobile computing, such as being implemented in Calit², is a natural technology for pursuing this goal. They have developed one application, and two others are in prototype:

ActiveClass: Makes a large class feel like a small one by permitting people (e.g., shy people) to "silently participate" via wireless devices in the classroom. In particular, permit students to pose questions to the teacher, vote in support of other questions, rate the class, and inform the teacher whether s/he is going too fast or too slow. Likewise, the teacher can pose questions for the students to answer, and the answers then can be broadcast to everyone.

FindMe: Facilitates chance meetings by detecting when colleagues are near and arranges a get together. Because students and faculty are often hurrying from one place to another, they typically don't have time to arrange such meetings. Yet, they might find time at odd moments, like when getting lunch.

Roamer: Engages a person in the physical world by informing about what's going on the vicinity: plays, music, talks, book signings, sales, etc. Also shows what departments, labs, and organizations occupy nearby buildings, in essence making the walls transparent. This operates by offering Web content relevant to the user's physical location.

These applications require the engagement of several research areas in computer science and cognitive science, including networking, distributed systems, artificial intelligence, data mining, databases, security, and human/computer interfaces. Computer Science and Engineering is collaborating with 6th College and the departments of Cognitive Science and Communication to design, construct, and understand the effects of this system. Being a "living laboratory," this system is meant to fulfill several objectives: Create an exciting, flexible platform for computer science research and related disciplines, educate students, and stimulate and engage them in research activities on campus.

This project is being supported by HP's Digital Village Project, which is contributing PDAs, handheld PCs, and servers.