Thursday, June 21, 2007

Moving toward machine processing---the certain destiny of web evolution

This is indeed not new. But I had some strong feeling to say something after reading a new post at the Read/WriteWeb. In the post, Alex Iskold discussed a new, but common, phenomenon after the rise of Web 2.0---attention distraction.

Nevertheless Web 2.0 provides us powerful facilities to build virtual social network on the web, there is downside of this advancement. Unlike the previous ages, we become more and more easily "being caught alive" on the web. As a result, we are distracted regularly. We may often have to interrupt the normal work flow to handle exceptions, an inevitable negative side-effect of "being popular." This phenomenon is addressed as the problem of continuous partial attention.

This "continuous partial attention" is a very interesting issue, especially when we think of it by the view of web evolution. In this view of web evolution, we analogize the progress of World Wide Web to be the growth of humans. In particular, we have analogized Web 1.0 to be a society of newborns, Web 2.0 to be a society of pre-school kids, and the ideal Semantic Web to be a society of educated people. In fact, this analogy can also well explain the reason of "continuous partial attention" on the web and foresee how this issue could be solved gradually with the evolution of WWW.

We are seldom interrupted by newborns. In fact, though newborns may cry, we can ignore them if we want because they do not have the ability to interrupt our normal work flow. On Web 1.0, machines can deliver emails (a type of interruption) to us at any time. But we can choose ignore them at run-time and only choose to take care of them in our scheduled time. Our normal schedule is kept as usual in the environment of Web 1.0.

When children grow up, parents start feeling pain of "continuous partial attention" caused by their kids. Especially pre-school kids, they still do not have much ability to do things by themselves. But unfortunately (or fortunately), they have learned limited knowledge and started to request. They ask questions and require accompanies playing with them. Moreover, they deliver messages. Thought this is often thought positively, these messages are indeed irregular interruptions because these kids often ask for the highest priority to the handling of their delievered messages. This is what we have encountered at present, as in Alex's post, the issue of "continuous partial attention" on Web 2.0.

On Web 2.0, machines have been augmented by limited knowledge. They are equipped by various widgets and active functions. At run-time, we (as virtual parents of these machines) are often interrupted by the messages delievered by these kids from the other parents (other web users). The prevalence of Twitter only worsens the already disturbed schedule. We are often caught alive online; and we often have no choice but interrupt our regular work flow to handle these exceptions so that we can maintain a good relationship in the constructed online social network. This is a pain to have growing-up children; and this is a pain to all Web-2.0 dedicators.

How to solve this problem? Certainly we do not want our children going back to their newborn stage. As well, we certainly do not want to switch back to Web 1.0 or shut up ourselves from online only to avoid this "continuous partial attention" issue. In contrast, we want our children to grow up and start to be able to handle things, from simple to complicated, by themselves. For humans, this process is called education; and the people after this process is called the educated people. For the web, this process is called annotation (or adding semantics); and the web after this process is called the semantic web. We need to educate machines. Let them understand semantics, from simple to complicated. This is the certain direction of web evolution.

In summary, continuous partial attention is a certain side-effect in the process of web evolution. In this Web 2.0 stage, the severity of this problem will reach its peak. But this problem will be gradually solved during the process of web evolution when more and more machine-processable semantics are added to the web. Though it may not be solved totally (just like in our real life we cannot totally avoid being interrupted), it would not be a serious problem in the future web with rich machine-processable semantics.

Trackback list:

*** Continuous Partial Attention: Software & Solutions

*** Dealing with partial attention issues

*** Supernova 2005: Attention


Benjamin said...

Thanks for this article. Very enlighting. I combined this and some other articles I found in another one into a new article on my blog:

Chris said...

You are right that this is a natural byproduct of the evolution of the web - just like sunlight is the result of the sun's thermonuclear reactions.

That's why we invent sunglasses :)

At Particls we are building the same sort of filter for CPA

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