Content vs. Context

Assignment 5 — Web Architecture Fall 2009

Assigned: Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Due: Sunday, November 8th, 2009


This assignment looks at the evolution of the Web from a content-delivery platform to an increasingly contextualized system. Write an essay predicting in technical and non-technical terms how this trend will continue.


This assignment asks you to write an essay about the development of a Web from a content-delivery platform to an increasingly contextualized system. Early Web pages were provided and consumed in a largely decontextualized way, with people accessing Web pages by URI and getting representations that were using the one-size-fits-all approach. Increasingly, Web content is delivered in a more contextualized way, both by the content providers by using additional inputs such as cookies (3rd party cookies from ad delivery networks), HTTP requests, IP information, or with client-side code doing browser sniffing. On the consumer side, content is consumed in a more contextualized way because links are provided by social networks, or additional annotations may be used which provide a contextualized view in the browser. In summary, content and context on the Web are in a shifting balance, with context becoming increasingly important in the face of a constantly growing amount of available content.

In your essay, you should make a prediction of a new way in which you envisage a new contextualization method/practice to emerge. You can be modest or futuristic in your prediction, because grading will be based on the completeness and consistency of your prediction. Specifically, your essay must cover and consistently make detailed predictions in these areas:

  • What are the technical requirements for the new method/practice? If new technology is required, what would be the implications in terms of basic Web architectures and non-functional requirements such as scalabilty, accuracy, and adoption rate?
  • Why will this new method/practice succeed? Give some examples in which you describe possible developments that might help for this method/practice to be adopted, and to gain traction. Optionally, you might also point out possible problems with your method/practice. In practice, risk analysis always is an important part of project management as well.

Be creative. The main task of this assignment is not to be technically accurate down to the exact details, but to demonstrate that you understand how the Web works, and that you are able to predict how the Web might work in 10 or 20 years. Focus on thinking about something that you find interesting and compelling, and turning this into a consistent story. As long as you can make your case, it might also be futuristic or even provocative. Your essay should be 800-1200 words in length.

When complete, send the link to your essay or the essay itself to

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