(revised at May. 24, 2008)
(revised at Sep. 26, 2007)
This series is a step-by-step introduction to a view of web evolution. Many of us believe in the evolution of World Wide Web. Very few, however, have thought in depth why and how the Web evolves. I believe that World Wide Web is a self-evolving system which follows objective evolutionary laws. Hence the main goal of web evolution research is to discover these laws.
There is, however, a debate between whether the Web evolution is an objective process or whether the Web evolution is a human-guided process. From the philosophical point of view, this debate is equivalent to ask whether the progress of human history is determined by the general public or by the few heroes in history. If it is general public that determines history, we may thus be able to predict the future of history by figuring out the objective laws by summarizing the behaviors of general public. On the contrary, if it is few heroes who determine history, the future of history is basically unforeseeable. In person, I support the former viewpoint. Heroes in history are the ones whose behaviors happen to match the objective laws of evolution. On the basis of this philosophical belief, I exclaim the existence of objective laws of Web evolution.
In the beginning
Everything has a beginning, so does World Wide Web. In the beginning a man invented World Wide Web. His name was Tim Berners-Lee.
Objective evolutionary laws, however, do not applicable at the very beginning of an evolutionary event. The closer to the origin point, the less applicable the evolution laws are. In the opposite direction, evolutionary laws gradually dominate the progress of the evolution.
At the very beginning, when Tim Berners-Lee wrote a private program for himself to share documents through a network, it was unlikely that he had explicitly followed any evolutionary laws. When Berners-Lee was the only contributor at the beginning, there was no obligation to his development. No evolutionary laws made sense at the moment.
Later on when more contributors joined to the development of WWW, gradually they felt the demand of a formal organization to coordinate everybody's contribution. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) thus came to the world. Subjective willingness of individual developers started to be pressured by group willingness. This transition simultaneously indicates that objective laws started to be formed to guide the further progress of World Wide Web.
The Web keeps on growing. After it engages billions of contributors, a question becomes critical---could the progress of a project in such a scale still be controlled in the hand of a single organizations such as W3C?
If the answer to the previous question is yes, I can then reasonably infer to a conclusion that all the theory of "invisible hand" by Adam Smith must be wrong. Any billion-people-involved, long-term project must have its own evolutionary laws. At this super-large scale, solely human guide becomes unrealistic. In fact, we have already gotten an example to verify this claim.
Both Semantic Web and Web 2.0 were proposed to the public almost simultaneously at 2001. The proposal of Semantic Web was exclaimed by leading scientists such as Tim Berners-Lee himself and with the full support from W3C. After it was proposed, thousands of the best Web researchers all over the world started working for this vision of Semantic Web. On the other hand, Web 2.0 was suggested by few thinkers such as Tim O'Reilly and there were no formal organization behind to lead its progress. After seven years, the real-world practice shows the success of Web 2.0 while the practice of Semantic Web is still inside research labs.
This Web-2.0 phenomenon strongly suggests the existence of objective laws of Web evolution. The execution of these Web evolution laws is beyond the willingness of any individuals or any special interest group.
In summary, World Wide Web has grown mature enough to be a self-organizing system whose growth is determined by objective evolutionary laws instead of particular willingness of any individual humans or individual organizations. This recognition is the foundation of Web evolution research.
The next: Three Evolutionary Elements
Saturday, July 14, 2007
(revised at May. 24, 2008)