One of this morning's opening sessions at Supernova started with a workshop on the "personal infosphere," which has something to do managing information overload. I wrote about the overload of social networking services yesterday--a lot of horsepower is being applied to solving the problem of dealing with filtering out noise and livng the intelligent digital life. Most of the companies won't be around by the end of next year.
Several companies demonstrated how they are trying to solve the overload problem 'I am scared if form and structure is imposed, you throw away value before it can be generated.' -- JP Rangaswami with Web 2.0, socially aware services during the workshop. Imeem started with a buddy list/instant messaging and expanded out to become a social network with the usual array of digital information, tagging that works across different data buckets (photos, blogs, photo albums and videos) and notifications. eSnips, allows users to upload and tag anything into folders and set sharing parameters (private, group, public).
Plaxo tries the solve one aspect of the overload problem by creating a smart address book and providing data synching across all devices. If information changes in a person's network, and that person also uses Plaxo, the address book is dynamically updated. To date, Plaxo has 300 people on average per address book, an average of 7 fields per entry, 13 million members, 3 billion address book entires and 500 million unique addresses.
Netvibes allows users to create a personalized page with their preferred content from feeds and services. People are building modules, over 150 so far, for TV schedules, and peope can build tabs with content and share them with their friends. "The next iteration is to build open platform to Interent, for people to manage their digital life and share it with friends and discover new things--reinvent the way people browse through services," said company CEO Tariq Kim. Of course, several others are trying to do the same--Microsoft, Google, Pageflakes, etc. Kim said Netvibes has 4 million registered users.
Plum allows user to collect and organize information, such as web pages, indexing it and make it sharable. It also finds public collections that semantically match an individuals' collection. Plum will allow tagging, but the systems should be doing most of the work, searching tags across other site, said CEO Hans Peter Brondmo. Plum is still in limited beta and is using Amazon's S3 cloud storage service. The company is also considering offering encyrption services to users who want more privacy for their data.
Hans Peter Brondmo (Plum), Dalton Caldwell (Imeem), Ben Golub (Plaxo), Yael Elish (eSnips), Tariq Krim (Netvibes)
Discussion followed the presentations. The wisdom of the crowd spoke that the demoed products weren't strong on the notion of collaborative filtering, harnessing the social intelligence. People in a social network become a trusted filter, and you want to connect to people and things, by location, price, color or whatever parameter. Brondmo pointed to tags and the structure underlying data as a way to make interesting inferences and connections. "It's partly a tools problem and partly a smart mob problem," Brondmo said. "If it's a technology problem, we have some hard problems to solve."
On the technical side, a lack of open standards for collaborative filtering (voting, rating, linking, clicking, etc.) and the re-siloing of data into the multitude of social-network influenced site were surfaced as problems. Microformats are a step forward to providing more structure in the metadata pool.
JP Rangaswami noted that too much structure isn't ideal. "I am scared if form and structure is imposed, you throw away value before it can be generated," he said. This echoes Andrew P. McAfee, an associate professor with the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School, told me--the most promising sites based Web 2.0 and social networks are those where the structure emerges over time and the results of interaction are more persistent. Wikipedia, the canonical Web 2.0 example, has some structure that evolved over time that applies to the management of the service, such as arbitration of conflicts.
As I posited in my post on social network-oriented software, enterprises will start looking beyond wikis and blogs to inlcude other collaboration tools that are built on a social network foundation "Everybody is going to build social software, Web 2.0 software because it is ultimately the right way to build software better faster, with a better user experience," said Dalton Caldwell, CEO of Imeem. However, getting enterprises to be more open and AJAXy, while maintaining appropriate security, and to move away from traditional platforms is a cultural challenge that trumps any technical issue.