UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

From The DNER To Web 2.0

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Jul 2007

Original DNER diagramMy former colleague Andy Powell was one of the key developers of what was originally known as the DNER (Distributed National Electronic Resource) and was later rebranded as the JISC Information Environment (IE). Andy produced a diagram of the IE architecture, an early version of which is illustrated.

This diagram (and subsequent versions which further developed the initial model) illustrate how JISC’s development strategy recognised the importance of the network as a platform for providing access to services across the higher and further education communities.

I was involved in some of the early discussion about the JISC IE. And the following diagram (taken from a talk on The Web In The 21st Century given at the JUSW 2001 workshop on 4-5th September 2001 at Loughborough University) gives my interpretation of how the JISC IE might develop.

DNER Diagram

It should be noted that in this diagram I floated the idea that the JISC IE could be enhanced to include access to application services and not just middleware services such as authentication. It is interesting that my vision was for access to lightweight services such as spell-checks and bookmarking services. The idea came to me after reflecting on services such as HaL’s Web-based HTML validation service which was announced way back in 1994 and was subsequently mirrored on the (now defunct) national HENSA mirror service. It struck me back then that this concept (based on simple REST interface) could be applied more widely.

Back then I didn’t envisage that it would be possible to deploy networked versions of full-scale applications such as a word processor. But this is now available, as the Google Docs service (and many other competitors) clearly illustrate.

I also did not foresee that the service we use within the higher and further education communities could be provided by the commercial sector. But, and many other social book marking services, also clearly demonstrate that the model of networked access to bookmarking services, which I suggested in my diagram, can be deployed on a global scale.

On reflection I think the vision for the JISC Information Environment, which was devised and developed by UKOLN and JISC colleagues including Andy Powell (who now works for the Eduserv Foundation) and Liz Lyon (UKOLN) and Rachel Bruce (JISC), can be seen as an architecture which has strong connections with Web 2.0. The JISC IE vision, however, probably missed out on the importance of social networking and user generated content and, indeed, generating interest which will encourage users to adopt new technologies (indeed, as Andy Powell commented recentlyOne of the … problems with the JISC IE diagram is that it was largely technology driven“). But the initial technical architecture that was devised (especially syndication using lightweight technologies such as RSS) seems to have been validated by the success of Web 2.0.

3 Responses to “From The DNER To Web 2.0”

  1. pdanderson said

    This is really interesting Brian. I often think that not enough attention is paid to historical views of technology i.e. how we got where we are. One point occurs to me though. In the enhanced JISC IE diagram the global application services are show as accessed through brokered access provided by institutional portal/VLE etc. I guess this is a reflection of the time, or I’m missing something, but surely these days users are usually accessing Web 2.0 services and apps directly?


  2. Hi Paul
    Yes the historical perspective can be useful – I’m glad (although I suspect I could also be slightly embarrassed) that my slides dating back to 1996 are still available.
    The issue of whether scholarly services are / should be accessed directly, via institutional gateways (VLEs, portals, etc.) or via Web 2.0 services (Netvibes, Facebook, Slideshare, etc.) is an area of hot debate at present. There are issues of control, reliability, sustainability, etc. which need to be addressed – and different stakeholders will have different takes on the debate.

  3. Paul,
    yes, the portal/VLE thing was definately a “reflection of the time”. One of the problems with the diagram was that it mixed up conceptual bits of functionality with actual boxes on the network. So, as an example – yes, in some cases there is a box on the network that purely performs an aggregator function, but more often that function is rolled into a box that does more than that, one that typically includes ‘presentation’ layer functionality.

    I commented recently in eFoundations that one of the problems with the diagram is that it doesn’t capture the messiness of the real world. It wasn’t particularly intended to – but perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough. (To be honest, I probably didn’t even recognise that when the diagram was first developed – though I did later start including a slide in my presentations that simply showed all the boxes scattered everywhere).

    As a result, we (the JISC community) ended up taking the boxes and layers in the diagram perhaps too literally on occasion. Positioning of boxes in the diagram became somehow very important with, in some cases, whole JISC programmes built around them.

    As for portals… well, yes, I really wish we’d never used that word on the diagram – I mean, who cares about portals now!? :-)

    I still think the diagram is useful BTW… I still think one can look at it and say that it makes sense in the context of Web 2.0. But I also think that the layering isn’t necessarily very helpful – particularly if it is taken too literally.


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