Writing the Web

Sophisticated, self-organizing sites also let users create content. For example, Wiki lets any user edit or post pages. This practice is in stark contrast to the usual Web model, in which the Web is regarded as a one-way medium, and like television, you have a group of broadcasters providing content to an audience.

However, the ability to publish content via the Web isn't a new idea. Late in 1995, a group of interested parties met at the WWW4 conference to develop means of making the Web a writable, as well as a readable, medium. This group became the Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) working group.

WebDAV is an extension of the HTTP protocol that lets authors create, edit, and manage documents on the Web. In a sense, it attempts to create a kind of Web-based interactive filesystem. In addition, the protocol allows file locking and, as the name implies, versioning.

Although the Internet Engineering Task Force approved the WebDAV group in 1997, the group is making a big splash this year. Why? As the standard matures, operating systems and applications are beginning to support WebDAV more and more. In many cases, the protocol is completely transparent to end-users. For example, with Windows XP you can use Notepad to open up a URL via WebDAV and, if you have permission, save it back to the server. The process is little different from saving a file to the local hard drive.

In addition to Windows XP, WebDAV support is also built into Apple's Mac OS X and Novell's Netware 6.0. Adobe Acrobat lets WebDAV authors update shared PDF files.

For Web sites that employ open publishing, WebDAV is analogous to HTML. You typically don't care what Web browser users employ to view your site, because HTML provides a lingua franca that all browsers understand. Similarly, WebDAV can provide a framework that lets clients on any operating system use whatever tools they wish to publish to a Web site. To find out more, read the WebDAV FAQ at

—Al Williams