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A simple picture of Web evolution

This picture above shows a simple abstraction of web evolution. The traditional World Wide Web, also known as Web 1.0, is a Read-or-Write Web. In particular, authors of web pages write down what they want to share and then publish it online. Web readers can watch these web pages and subjectively comprehend the meanings. Unless writers willingly release their contact information in their authored web pages, the link between writers and readers is generally disconnected on Web 1.0. By leaving public contact information, however, writers have to disclose their private identities (such as emails, phone numbers, or mailing addresses). In short, Web 1.0 connects people to a public, shared environment --- World Wide Web. But Web 1.0 essential does not facilitate direct communication between web readers and writers. The second stage of web evolution is Web 2.0. Though its definition is still vague, Web 2.0 is a Read/Write Web. At Web 2.0, not only writers but also readers can both read and write to a same web space. This advance allows establishing friendly social communication among web users without obligated disclosure of private identities. Hence it significantly increases the participating interest of web users. Normal web readers (not necessarily being a standard web author simultaneously) then have a handy way of telling their viewpoints without the need of disclosing who they are. The link between web readers and writers becomes generally connected, though many of the specific connections are still anonymous. Whether there is default direction communication between web readers and writers is a fundamental distinction between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. In short, Web 2.0 not only connects individual users to the Web, but also connects these individual uses together. It fixes the previous disconnection between web readers and writers. We don't know precisely what the very next stage of web evolution is at this moment. However, many of us believe that semantic web must be one of the future stages. Following the last two paradigms, an ideal semantic web is a Read/Write/Request Web. The fundamental change is still at web space. A web space will be no longer a simple web page as on Web 1.0. Neither will a web space still be a Web-2.0-style blog/wiki that facilitates only human communications. Every ideal semantic web space will become a little thinking space. It contains owner-approved machine-processable semantics. Based on these semantics, an ideal semantic web space can actively and proactively execute owner-specified requests by themselves and communicate with other semantic web spaces. By this augmentation, a semantic web space simultaneously is also a living machine agent. We had a name for this type of semantic web spaces as Active Semantic Space (ASpaces). (An introductory scientific article about ASpaces can be found at here for advanced readers.) In short, Semantic Web, when it is realized, will connect virtual representatives of real people who use the World Wide Web. It thus will significantly facilitate the exploration of web resources.A practical semantic web requires every web user to have a web space by himself. Though it looks abnormal at first glimpse, this requirement is indeed fundamental. It is impossible to imagine that humans still need to perform every request by themselves on a semantic web. If there are no machine agents help humans process the machine-processable data on a semantic web, why should we build this type of semantic web from the beginning? Every semantic web space is a little agent. So every semantic web user must have a web space. The emergence of Semantic Web will eventually eliminates the distinction between readers and writers on the Web. Every human web user must simultaneously be a reader, a writer, and a requester; or maybe we should rename them to be web participators. In summary, Web 1.0 connects real people to the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 connects real people who use the World Wide Web. The future semantic web, however, will connect virtual representatives of real people who use the World Wide Web. This is a simple story of web evolution.This article is originally posted at Thinking Space.  

November 5, 2007 by Yihong-Ding

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Marc Andreesen digs into the Platform

As Danny highlights in the latest instalment of This Week's Semantic Web, Marc Andreessen has once more demonstrated that he's not content with co-authoring Mosaic, sneaking around in the 24 Hour Laundry and driving social networking Ning-style. Far from it, as he continues his recent practice of blogging thoughtfully on issues facing the industry of which we - and he - are part. Yesterday's post, The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet, touched on a number of issues that we've addressed here on Nodalities before, and it is well worth both reading and thinking about.As Marc suggests in his introduction; “One of the hottest of hot topics these days is the topic of Internet platforms, or platforms on the Internet. Web services APIs (application programming interfaces), web services protocols like REST and SOAP, the new Facebook platform, Amazon's web services efforts including EC2 and S3, lots of new startups talking platform (including my own company, Ning)... well, 'platform' is turning into a central theme of our industry and one that a lot of people want to think about and talk about. However, the concept of 'platform' is also the focus of a swirling vortex of confusion -- lots of platform-related concepts, many of them highly technical, bleeding together; lots of people harboring various incompatible mental images of what's about to happen in our industry as a consequence of various platforms. I think this confusion is due in part to the term 'platform' being overloaded and being used to mean many different things, and in part because there truly are a lot of moving parts at play that intersect in fascinating but complex ways.”How true. The Platform space is a great one to be in and it's brimming over with opportunity and potential; so much so that we're one company staking an awful lot upon the detail of our Platform vision. Traditionally sloppy use of language, however, has led to a situation in which unnecessary confusion is now associated with a superficially straightforward term. Some of this confusion is introduced by innocent drift in the evolving usage of a word, but far more is down to the unfortunate fashion for everyone jumping on the bandwaggon and unleashing a 'platform' of their own. At least we've been using the Platform label for our own endeavours in this area for a number of years.In his attempt to introduce some clarity, Marc's post reiterates his basic definition of an internet platform; “A 'platform' is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers -- users -- and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform's original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate. We have a long and proud history of this concept and this definition in the computer industry stretching all the way back to the 1950's and the original mainframe operating systems, continuing through the personal computer age and now into the Internet era. In the computer industry, this concept of platform is completely settled and widely embraced, and still holds going forward. The key term in the definition of platform is 'programmed'. If you can program it, then it's a platform. If you can't, then it's not.”Check.He then offers three 'kinds' or 'levels' of Internet platform, being careful to stress that one is not necessarily better than those it supersedes; “I call these Internet platform models 'levels', because as you go from Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3, as I will explain, each kind of platform is harder to build, but much better for the developer. Further, as I will also explain, each level typically supersets the levels below. As I describe these three levels of Internet platform, I will walk through the pros and cons of each level as I see them. But let me say up front -- they're all good. In no way to I intend to cast aspersions on what anyone I discuss is doing. Having a platform is always better than not having a platform, period. Platforms are good, period.”Marc's three levels are;Access API “Architecturally, the key thing to understand about this kind of platform is that the developer's application code lives outside the platform -- the code executes somewhere else, on a server elsewhere on the Internet that is provided by the developer. The application calls the web services API over the Internet to access data and services provided by the platform -- by the core system -- and then the application does its thing, on its own.”Plug-in APISuperficially very similar to the 'Access API', but the host application (such as Facebook) into which a developer's application connects does the vast majority of the work around marketing; “Facebook provides a whole series of mechanisms by which Facebook users are exposed to third-party apps automatically, just by using Facebook.”Runtime Environment “In a Level 3 platform [such as Salesforce], the huge difference is that the third-party application code actually runs inside the platform -- developer code is uploaded and runs online, inside the core system. For this reason, in casual conversation I refer to Level 3 platforms as 'online platforms'.” “Put in plain English? A Level 3 platform's developers upload their code into the platform itself, which is where that code runs. As a developer on a Level 3 platform, you don't need your own servers, your own storage, your own database, your own bandwidth, nothing... in fact, often, all you will really need is a browser. The platform itself handles everything required to run your application on your behalf.”And there's more, and it's interesting stuff that Marc has clearly thought about long and hard.Reading - and rereading - Marc's post, though, I kept coming back to ideas touched upon in two posts of mine about the relative openness of different Platform solutions; “Facebook and Talis might very well be offering 'Platforms', but they're quite different in intention. Facebook's platform seems to be all about making the Facebook site as rich, compelling and sticky as possible; everything is sucked to one point. The Talis Platform, on the other hand, is about providing developers - wherever they are - with the tools and capabilities to easily link and manipulate data across and through the web. The former sits heavily 'on' the web, and feeds upon it to suck ever more into its maw. The latter is truly 'of' the web, giving a distributed community of developers and users powerful new capabilities to enmesh their applications, and to deliver capabilities at the point of need.”Regardless of its position in Marc's levels, I truly hope and believe that the Internet platforms of long-term viability will be those that embrace the Network rather than feeding rapaciously upon it; those that are of the web as we are trying so hard to be.A Platform should give the developer a helping hand. It should lift them up and provide them with a set of tools that make it easier to concentrate upon and deliver their core value whilst the Platform worries about the day-to-day mundanity that is mere context [to paraphrase Geoffrey Moore]. A Platform should enable the developer to realise the benefit of those tools and capabilities in places and manners of their own choosing, rather than expecting or requiring the developer merely to expose their assets within the bounds of whatever site(s) the Platform chooses to offer. Platform providers who realise and embrace that will be the ones to succeed.

November 1, 2007 by Paul Miller

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Web 2.0 Summit - reflections after a trans-Atlantic flight and a day off!

Last week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco was pretty intense, all things considered. It's therefore lucky that this week is the Half Term school holiday in this particular corner of the UK, and peppered with days off to do various non-work things.During the conference (sorry, 'summit') I managed to live-blog most of the sessions I attended, and the corpus can be found here. O'Reilly/CMP are also doing a great job of getting session videos up.Now I've had time to reflect without the need to type and listen and keep an eye on the office, what were the trends and highlights for me?I noticed two big switches since 2005 when I last attended this particular gathering. Firstly, although I didn't see much evidence of a credible alternative, there was far less of an assumption that Google AdWords were the business model of choice. And secondly the lobby conversations just seemed much less desperate than last time, when everyone and everything was frenetically for sale.The iPhone was everywhere. I saw lots of people using Apple's latest, but don't think I saw anyone actually talking into the thing, which means that Nokia's phone-less (?) alternative may do well. We get iPhones in the UK in a couple of weeks, and Talis will be raffling one at our conference the week before that launch. Something tells me that my chances of winning that iPhone are about as high as those for Nokia to send me an N810.There seemed less of an emphasis upon scheduled evening entertainment than previously. Richard MacManus comments on this, too. From my perspective it was a good thing, as it made my packed schedule of dinner engagements (and a trip to a real San Francisco home) so much easier to manage. In many ways, these (including one with Mr MacManus) were the highlight of the trip.The main auditorium was a truly unpleasant place to spend time; way too crowded. The overflow room upstairs was a far better bet, complete with comfy sofas, power, wifi (which you could also get downstairs, if your battery was up to the job), and easy access to food and drink. It would have been nice to be able to ask questions with a video link to the sweatshopauditorium downstairs that was bi-directional, though. A second display showing the whole stage would also have been good. The main monitor kept zooming in to provide detail on faces/slides etc; it wasn't always focussed on the thing I considered important.So what about the meat?Well, in case you hadn't noticed, Facebook is going to be big. I don't just mean suggestions that Zuckerberg may be 'selling himself short' at a mere $15bn, or evidence that Facebook's platform is delivering profit for third party developers. More than both of those, there was an underlying - often implicit - recognition that growth opportunities lie in pushing content and functionality off our individual websites and into the cloud. Although I've argued before that Facebook is a very long way from being open, it's 'Platform' remains a compelling example of ways in which external content can be aggregated and consumed elsewhere. Imagine what would be possible in a more open ecosystem, an ecosystem of which Facebook could be a part? Were others (MySpace, anyone?) to seed such an ecosystem whilst Facebook remained off to one side, would the rate of fall in Facebook numbers equal or exceed their recent growth?'Semantic' has arrived; the Metaweb/ Radar Networks/ Powerset pow wow with Tim O'Reilly (pictured) on the final afternoon was great, and was just beginning to go places when they ran out of time. More debate and analysis would have been nice, with (a lot) less demo. This was followed up by John Doerr recognising the whole space as a compelling investment opportunity, echoing trends that Brad Feld highlighted in his recent podcast with me. I found Danny Hillis' explicit distancing of himself from the Semantic Web odd (Shelley just found it funny...); I'll admit that I've done a little of the same, but more to demonstrate that there is plenty that the Semantic Web's building blocks (RDF, GRDDL, etc) can do right now, without needing to await the arrival of The Semantic Web. We do need to find better ways to describe this space, though; 'Web 3.0' can be unnecessarily confrontational/epochal, and 'Semantic Web' carries way too much baggage...Jonathan Zittrain had some interesting things to say, and they're not nearly as contrarian as they might at first have appeared.Mary Meeker was good value, as always... although impossible to blog! I was surprised by the lack of reaction to her figures illustrating the fall in US growth, relative to competitors to the east.The Launch Pad, that gathering of exemplary startups, was hugely disappointing. I can't believe that was the cream of the crop.Gene sequencing needs to be watched... very closely.Real people don't think (quite) like geeks and venture capitalists! Craigslist, rejoice...(Almost) everyone had a Platform, with some more black hole sucking-ish than others. It does appear, all too often, that the web is actually becoming less open than it has been of late. All these Platforms are sucking data and users and developers to themselves, and letting very little flow back out. It certainly fulfils short-term goals around eyeballs, advertisers, and the like. But it's bad for the web and, in the long term, it's got to be bad for (most of?) the guilty.(Almost) everyone was recognising the power of intention/attention, and seeking ways to implicitly or explicitly harness both. Social and semantic graphs have something to say, here.Photograph © James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media

November 1, 2007 by Paul Miller

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Anthony Lilley doesn't seem keen on Web 3.0

With Ian Davis and I packing to join the UK contingent hopping across the Atlantic to this week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, it was interesting to see Anthony Lilley's piece on Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 in today's Guardian. He's clearly not a fan of the labels; “So, finally web 2.0 is dead. Its jargon half-life has expired and the buzzword du jour is being interred and superseded. And by what? Well, you'll never guess. Long live web 3.0. Honestly, give me strength. We'll look back in 20 years and wonder when we decided to hand over the English language to people who can haggle for hours about the difference between versions 2.1 and 2.5 of some software.”In amongst the criticism of marketing hype, and the grounding in nappy/diaper changing that I am so happy to have left behind for the giddy heights of the tooth fairy, Anthony follows John Markoff's line in postulating that Web 3.0 may be the Semantic Web; “I'm coming to the conclusion that if web 3.0 is anything at all, then it's a step on the way to something I first heard about several years ago - the development of the semantic web. And, let's be honest, a version number is a better selling point than the word semantic is ever going to be.”On the way, Anthony steps sideways into discussion of money; “But I share some of the cynicism of a Canadian colleague who says that web 2.0 will actually come to an end when the venture capital money runs out. Well, given that lots of Silicon Valley investors are suddenly starting to talk about web 3.0, maybe that day is near and web 3.0 is just a branding relaunch, kind of like Kylie's new look?”Despite recent figures in the Financial Times, I'm actually not so sure that the money is leaving Web 2.0. Rather, I think that we're seeing the sort of technological bedding in that Brad Feld and Talis Platform Advisory Group member Mills Davis talked about in their podcasts with me. VC's aren't drawing back from funding Web 2.0 at all; instead, we're moving through the hype that Anthony rightly criticises, and we're emerging into an environment in which smarter entrepreneurs and smarter investors are once again becoming interested in meeting real business opportunities. Web 2.0 technologies are there, through and through, but there's far less interest in funding a company just because its website has curvy corners and a smidge of AJAX. That's a good thing. It doesn't mean Web 2.0 is dead. Maybe it does mean Web 2.0 has grown up a little.Like so many others, Anthony also refers to Jason Calacanis' recent PR stunt. I commented on that at the time, but he draws value from Jason's assertion that; “Web 3.0 is the creation of high-quality content and services produced by gifted individuals using web 2.0 technology as an enabling platform. Web 3.0 throttles the 'wisdom of the crowds' from turning into the 'madness of the mobs' we've seen all too often, by balancing it with a respect of experts.”Well, maybe. “The reliability of content and an understanding of the wider context in which content sits are rising in importance on the web and taking their place alongside the wondrous power of group communication, especially as more and more people join the party.”Absolutely. Here, Anthony hits the nail right on the head. Long before the all-encompassing ontological wonder of the Semantic Web is realised (if it ever is), there is much that some of its building blocks can do to help us deliver real solutions to real problems right now. I touched on this mid-point between Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web in my presentation in Cambridge last week, and will be expanding upon those ideas in various places over the next wee while. Behind the curvy corners and the blurring of boundaries between the Cloud and its access point, Web 2.0 is the manifestation of numerous trends, and Tim O'Reilly has consistently done a good job of expressing these. Open Source, Falling costs of storage, Increases in compute power, increasing ubiquity of access, commoditisation, software as a service, and more.However, for all their advances, all too many Web 2.0 applications remain fundamentally 'on' rather than 'of' the Web; offering rich functionality and interaction within their own little microcosm of the wider Web. Through pragmatic application of robust elements of the Semantic Web stack, we can move far beyond 'simply' crowdsourcing an encyclopaedia, 'merely' tracking recommendations and behaviour within a single e-commerce site, or 'just' allowing 46 million people to turn one another into zombies. It is this recognition that the power of the connections between resources is woefully under-utilised that is behind the Talis Platform. We are moving beyond the 'see also' links of the traditional web, and beyond the best-efforts silos of Web 2.0's darlings, to offer means by which assertions - and their provenance - may be made and tracked across the open web. Many of Web 2.0's ideas figure highly, as does a strong grounding in the technologies of the Semantic Web. Data is, of course, key... but we need to move beyond current presumptions in favour of use toward a model by which everyone is clear as to what data can - and should - be used for. Hence our long-standing interest in the Open Data movement.Is any of this 'Web 3.0'? I'm not sure. Talis Platform Advisory Group member Nova Spivack has, in the past, attempted to defuse the whole Web 2.0/ Web 3.0 polarisation by painting Web 3.0 as merely a label for the third decade of the Web. Semantic technologies are part of that decade, but so are other things. Nova is one of those speaking in a Semantic Web session at the Web 2.0 Summit this week. It'll be interesting to see how his ideas are received in that temple to 2.0, and you can be sure that I'll be sat there taking notes...Image of Kylie Minogue by Keven Law, shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons license. To understand why, you'll have to read Anthony's article...

November 1, 2007 by Paul Miller

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O'Reilly and Spivack grapple with the Webs

I've really enjoyed the recent flow of posts between Talis Platform Advisory Group member Nova Spivack and (not yet a member!) Tim O'Reilly. Through them it's possible to see some of the complex interrelationships between aspects of 'Web 2.0' and the more pragmatic areas of 'Semantic Web' development. 'Web 3.0' occasionally makes an appearance, confuses things, and gets pushed down the pile in order that a more sensible dialogue can take place. Except, perhaps, in Nova's use of it to describe the third decade of the Web, 'Web 3.0' does seem to currently be causing little more than confusion; which is surely exactly the opposite of what a loose label such as that should be for? Despite that, it - or a term like it - will be needed as the media and others struggle to describe the transitional phase that we're entering as the exuberant outpourings of the early Web 2.0 days bed down into sustainable and longer-term activity. We can either craft these labels ourselves and use them to tell our stories, or we can have them created for us with language that will (doubtless) pit the new thingummy against the 'old' Web 2.0 in ways that are unhelpful. For want of a better term, many of us do seem to fall back upon 'Web 3.0' to describe something else, but I'm not sure that any of us actually like the term. 'Web of Data'? Maybe. 'Web of Intentions'? Possibly... and I'll begin to dig into why in an upcoming series of posts. 'Semantic Web'? No, probably not. It's far too bound up in the totality of Tim Berners-Lee's vision; something that we see small parts of in various labs around the world, but something that is an extremely long way from the mainstream web of today or tomorrow. Parts of the Semantic Web ideal figure extremely highly, but it may be unwise to shoot them in the foot by bogging discussion of them down in all that ontological big system stuff that seems to accompany any mention of the big SW.Robust, pragmatic, and Web-scale deployment of the technologies and ideas of the Semantic Web is not a replacement for Web 2.0. It is an evolution, a change of emphasis and approach. It is the realisation of many of Web 2.0's under-delivered promises, and a powerful step forwards for incumbents and new entrants. The opening up (legally, technically, and practically) of the data that drives the current social web is the big story. The particular W3C recommendations that make it possible are a means to an end.As Nova comments; “The Semantic Web is not about AI or anything fancy like that, it is really just about data. Another and perhaps better name for it would be 'The Data Web.'”Nova also remarks; “I agree with Tim that the Web 2.0 era was a renaissance -- and that there were certain trends and patterns that I think Tim recognized first, and that he has explained better, than just about anyone else. Tim helped the world to see what Web 2.0 was really about -- collective intelligence.”Absolutely. And it is here that the opportunity lies in taking a huge step forward. We're seeing plenty of interesting examples in which silos of reasonably collective reasonably intelligent data are growing and being mined.The opportunities are so much greater with an open pool of data, to which context, role and reason can be applied, and it is here that semantic technologies such as RDF have so much to offer.Nova goes on to say; “The fact is, while I have great respect for Tim as a thinker, I don't think he truly 'gets' the Semantic Web yet. In fact, he consistently misses the real point of where these technologies add value, and instead gets stuck on edge-cases (like artificial intelligence) that all of us who are really working on these technologies actually don't think about at all. We don't care about reasoning or artificial intelligence, we care about OPEN DATA. From what I can see, Tim thinks the Semantic Web is some kind of artificial intelligence system. If that is the case, he's completely missing the point. Yes, of course it enables better, smarter applications. But it's fundamentally NOT about AI and it never was. It's about OPEN DATA. The Semantic Web should be renamed to simply The Data Web.”I know for a fact that Tim 'gets' - and passionately believes in - Open Data. I've seen him talk compellingly on the subject, and read his thoughts online more than once.It does seem, though, that he's not yet making the connection between the power and importance of Open Data and the importance of the open web of data that a move from the siloed databases of today's best Web applications to a distributed network of flexible and actionable RDF data. Getting the data out there (with appropriate licenses to encourage use and reuse, of course) is only part of the job. The networks of association, inference, context and more make the sum of the parts worth far more than the individual records or databases... and this doesn't require (despite fears to the contrary) any wholesale adoption of inflexible ontologies or the widespread crafting of RDF.Now I really must finish the set of posts in which I hope to show more clearly how web-scale and sustainable deployment of Semantic Technologies promises to enrich (not replace) the vibrant ecosystem that Tim has so eloquently captured in his descriptions of Web 2.0.

October 31, 2007 by Paul Miller

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The Semantic Web - is everyone confused?

The Economist. Tim O'Reilly. Nova Spivack. Danny Ayers. Read/Write Web's Alex Iskold. Kingsley Idehen. Brad Feld. Over the last few days all of them have been amongst those writing to clarify their understanding of the Semantic Web and where it's going.Each piece is thoughtful, each piece is well worth a read, and each differs somewhat from the others in outlook as they delve into 'ontologies', 'classic approaches', 'machine intelligence', 'SPARQL', 'Turtle' and other geekiness [meant in the nicest possible way]. I do wonder, though, if all of them are bypassing some fundamental points as they seek to clarify their own perspectives to themselves, to one another, and to the world; points with which I suspect that each may actually agree.First, I definitely don't think that a company, technology or approach can only be either 'Web 2.0' or 'Semantic Web'. Sure, some companies will see themselves (or pitch themselves) in one space or the other, but there's going to be an ever-increasing number that reside firmly in both. Ultimately, of course (and figures in the FT this week, suggesting that “The pull-back was particularly acute in Silicon Valley, as big Web 2.0 investors such as Benchmark Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Omidyar Networks, the private financing vehicle of Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar, cut back on their investments.”might more logically be interpreted as supporting this argument) companies won't be Web 2.0 or Semantic Web. They will be companies that solve a particular set of problems for a particular set of audiences. Some of the tools in the toolbox they use to do this will be Web 2.0-ish, some will be Semantic Web-ish, some will be both, and some will be neither. Those things that currently differentiate us - and to which we apply labels in order to reinforce the differentiation - will become mainstream, run of the mill, mundane, and simply expected. That's progress, and it's a good thing. Web 2.0 won't go away. The Semantic Web won't go away. Shouting about either might, and it doesn't have to mean that their importance has diminished.Second, 'collective intelligence' applies equally to both. Tim O'Reilly's absolutely right that it's been a key differentiator of many Web 2.0 darlings; “By contrast, I've argued that one of the core attributes of 'web 2.0' (another ambiguous and widely misused term) is 'collective intelligence.' That is, the application is able to draw meaning and utility from data provided by the activity of its users, usually large numbers of users performing a very similar activity. So, for example, collaborative filtering applications like Amazon's 'people who bought item this also bought' or last.fm's music recommendations, use specialized algorithms to match users with each other on the basis of their purchases or listening habits. There are many other examples: digg users voting up stories, or wikipedia's crowdsourced encyclopedia and news stories.”It's also front and centre in Semantic Web work, though. For example that from ourselves, Radar Networks and others. See this white paper [PDF] for one, and watch here and here for public sight of internal developments... soon. The connections that RDF makes so manifest are a perfect way to express, traverse, and mine the habits, behaviours and desires of the collective.Third, 'a formal ontology' is not a requirement, and nor is pushing structure in the face of the user.Tim makes a good point here; “The Semantic Web is a bit of a slog, with a lot of work required to build enough data for the applications to become useful. Web 2.0 applications often do a half-assed job of tackling the same problem, but because they harness self-interest, they typically gather much more data. And then solve for their deficiencies with statistics or other advantages of scale.”I'm not sure, though, that SemWeb/ Web 2.0 is the dichotomy here? Rather, it's a split between purist, all-encompassing, and hugely flexible on the one hand and pragmatic and 'good enough' on the other. I would agree that stereotype would often place Semantic Web developers on one side of that divide and Web 2.0 startups on the other. The technology is not the point there, though, so much as the mindset. Believe me, we can do some great stuff to harness self-interest, gather much more data, and solve the deficiencies with statistics and other advantages of scale in a Semantic Web-ey Platform... :-) “But I predict that we'll soon see a second wave of social networking sites, or upgrades to existing ones, that provide for the encoding of additional nuance. In addition, there will be specialized sites -- take Geni, for example, which encodes geneaology -- that will provide additional information about the relationships between people. Rather than there being a single specification capturing all the information about relationships between people, there will be many overlapping (and gapping) applications, and an opportunity for someone to aggregate the available information into something more meaningful.”Too right, Tim. But I'd definitely suggest that those building the second wave should be talking to Talis, to Radar Networks, to Metaweb and to some of the other proponents of a new and far more Web 2.0-inspired Semantic Web paradigm. There are way too many synergies there to ignore...Dan Brickley's comments in response to one aspect of Danny's argument are also interesting; “Let me clear something up. Danny mentions a discussion with Tim O’Reilly about SemWeb themes. Much as I generally agree with Danny, I’m reaching for a ten-foot bargepole on this one point: 'While Facebook may have achieved pretty major adoption for their approach, it’s only very marginally useful because of their overly simplistic treatment of relationships.' Facebook, despite the trivia, the endless wars between the ninja zombies and the pirate vampires; despite being centralised, despite [insert grumble] is massively useful. Proof of that pudding: it is massively used. 'Marginal' doesn’t come into it.”Too true. I've complained about Facebook, too [for example here and here]. But I use it, and millions of others use it. And it serves a purpose. That doesn't mean it can't be better.Turning, finally, to Alex' post; “The first problem is that RDF and OWL are complicated. Even for scientists and mathematicians these graph-based languages take time to learn and for less-technical people they are nearly impossible to understand. Because the designers were shooting for flexibility and completeness, the end result are documents that are confusing, verbose and difficult to analyze.”Well, yes and no. That's what tools are for. And in a large number of cases the RDF may actually be auto-generated as part of some process of aggregation or value addition of which the data creator or manager need have no explicit awareness. The RDF may very well be generating an aggregation of tiny snippets of data from large numbers of transactions; the interaction of a single user with a single resource doesn't have to result in a whole RDF document of its own. More on that later.And, also from Alex; “Going back to John Markoff's example of a computer booking a perfect vacation, one can't help but think of a travel agency. In the good old days, you would go to the same agent over and over again. Why? Because just like your friends, your doctor, your teacher, the travel agent needs to know you personally to be able to serve you better. The travel agent remembers that you've been to Prague and Paris, which is why he offers you a trip to Rome. The travel agent remembers that you're a vegetarian and orders the pasta meal for you on your flight. Over time people learn and memorize facts about life and each other. Until machines can do the same, knowledge of semantics, limited or full is not going to be enough to replace humans.”Exactly. And that's where network effects, collective intelligence, behavioural observation and all the rest kick in. The knowledge comes from observation of an awful lot of behaviour; not from having the traveller fill in some long-winded and tedious form detailing an RDF graph representation of their travel preferences for all situations. Context matters. I, for example, want a window seat on short-haul flights, and an aisle seat on long-haul flights. It's not a simple preference one way or the other. I don't have a preferred airport to depart from, as so many other factors come into play. I'll go to a more distant departure airport for a better departure or travel time, for example. I won't always travel with the airlines I've got frequent flier cards for... but they don't have to be cheapest before I can or will. It's more complex than that. Current systems don't understand. “Perhaps the worst challenge facing the semantic web is the business challenge. What is the consumer value? How is it to be marketed? What business can be built on top of the semantic web that can not exist today? Clearly the example of instant travel match is not a 'wow.' It's primitive and, in a way, uninteresting because many of us are already quite adept at being our own travel agent using existing tools. But assuming that there are problems that can be solved faster, there is still a question of specific end user utility.”Talis. Radar Networks. Joost. Metaweb. Garlik. Need I go on? (I can... :-) ) “The way the semantic web is presented today makes it very difficult to market. The 'we are a semantic web company' slogan is likely to raise eyebrows and questions. RDF and OWL clearly need to be kept under the hood. So the challenge is to formulate the end user value in ways that will resonate with people.”Absolutely right! SWEO is part of the answer. Companies like ours getting out and showing what can be done, and why it's valuable is crucial too... and we're getting there.And to answer my initial question; No, I don't think everyone is confused by or about the Semantic Web. We do, though, have a lot of different niche views of value (or lack thereof), clamouring for attention. These overlapping - and not necessarily incorrect - perspectives certainly could appear to be a result of confusion, if viewed from the outside. Language is a complicated thing, and these are complex ideas. Describing one with the other requires a number of iterations to arrive at clarity, but we're getting there.There's a lot more to say, but this post has now gone on long enough (especially as I initially meant to simply point you at some interesting blog posts...).

October 31, 2007 by Paul Miller

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Building Brand With Web 2.0 Tools

If you’re familiar with Twitter, you’ve probably figured out there’s some interesting things you can do with these types of SMS-based apps. If you’re a power Twitterer all of you know it’s way more than “what am I doing”. Jaiku’s the other one, and although essentially both provide the same capabilities, I give an aesthetic edge to Jaiku for its slick looking badges.  That aside, while working on a community project yesterday, we started thinking about how these tools can benefit the business. If you extrapolate what’s being done  by some of the big brands, it’s pretty easy to see the evolution. Take ZDNet for instance. Their approach aggregates all of their blogs into one Twitter feed. Using something like TwitKu, (screenshot below) I get a pulse of what ZDNet is covering that hour. And ZDNet knows most people won’t have the inclination to subscribe to all of their blogs, so they give us options. That’s an important notion when building your business case. Always give the user options. If you want to be a media company, act like one. Show me how to consume, repurpose, mashup, and deliver your content not just in ways you want but ways I want.Other companies, including Dell and the NYTimes, also use  use Twitter to push out all sorts of content, from product updates and discounts to industry information and news. And isn’t it a bit ironic that the NY Times is so prolific on Twitter? They came across as a skeptic back in April. So know that we know there’s some real-world scenarios for this stuff, the question becomes how to best incorporate these communication tools into an integrated and cohesive marketing strategy? I’d suggest start by stripping away all the Web 2.0 monikers and buzzwords and boil it down to content and communication. From there think about what everyone else is thinking about. How do I come up with creative ways to distribute my content? After that, think about how to be a facilitator. Once a brand becomes a trusted information source or content provider, conversations happen. Tools like Twitter and Jaiku can drive those conversations.  And conversations build brand.

October 31, 2007 by Randy Smythe

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Seriously, what is wrong with Comcast?

Back in January I wrote a blog entry discussing my desire to cut back my cable television and rely more on iTunes, Netflix, Joost, etc. I asked Comcast to simply disconnect my cable TV but keep my Internet.

July 5, 2007 by Alan Graham

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No iPhone for me, thanks to AT&T!

Not content to simply spy on Americans without a warrant, AT&T has taken a bold move forward and decided to work with the MPAA and RIAA (two of the most hated organizations on the planet), to eliminate copyrighted materials being transmitted between parties on their network.Tip o' the hat to Doc Searls suggestion...

June 14, 2007 by Alan Graham

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Pandora politically correct?

File this under funnny?I'm listening to Pandora Radio through my Sonos today when up comes a track from one of my favorite artists, Cock Robin.

June 13, 2007 by Alan Graham

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