One big news flying over the blogosphere this past weekend is the first public announcement of Twine. Richard MacManus at Read/WriteWeb asked whether it is the first mainstream Semantic Web application.
I have not gotten the chance to test the beta myself yet, and I know that neither do many of my readers too at this moment. By analyzing released information in various blogs, I would like to share my first impression of Twine. I may post a follow-up of this post later when I get to know better about Twine. Unless otherwise mentioned, the figures used in this post are from the references I cite at the end of this post.
Twine in a nutshell
This is my one-sentence impression on what Twine is after reading all the referenced posts.
Twine produces a personalized knowledge network for every user by allowing them to find, share, and organize information from people they trust.
As usual, I unfold this sentence so that we may peek the core of Twine.
Twine produces knowledge network. This is the main goal of Twine. That a knowledge network versus a normal social network is What-You-Know versus Who-You-Know. Peter Rip had a fairly well explanation of this issue.
The knowledge networks produced by Twine are personalized. This clause actually has two folds of meanings. If we only read these words, it tells that Twine leverages the management of personal knowledge and improves the usage of knowledge for individual users. If we think of this expression deeper, very likely the knowledge management inside Twines may hardly run across the boundaries of individual knowledge networks at the semantic level. In fact, "personalization" is a comparatively weak term in the realm of knowledge management because globalization is much harder than personalization. But certainly this claim from Twine is reasonable and understandable. (It would be less believable if Twine claims that it could effectively manage knowledge across all the knowledge networks.) Indeed I have already been very much impressed on this claim Twine has made.
A knowledge network in Twine allows users to find, share, and organize information. The keyword in this clause is users, i.e. humans find, share, and organize (with help from machines) rather than machines find, share, and organize. It shows that we are still half way to the real Semantic Web.
Information in a knowledge network is from people who are trusted by the owners of the knowledge network. Obviously, the quality of any knowledge network is related to the quality of its content. The quality of content is, however, related to whether the information providers are trustworthy. Recently, Paul Miller and I had a talk and both of us also agreed that the trust issue must be fundamental to any form of networks on the future Web. Obviously Twine has already addressed this issue for its knowledge networks. How does Twine actually has modeled and implemented trust? This is an interesting question waiting to be revealed.
Impressions from Released Screen-shots
Now we look at two screen-shots and take a close feeling about Twine.
The first screen-shot shows a standard front page of a Twine. The design is familiar to other Web 2.0 sites. The page contains various imports, which could be seen as widget components. On the right side, there are standard tags and list of friends. In general, this screen-shot hardly reveals why Twine is more than another Web 2.0 site.
I am a little bit disappointed about this front-page design. The most important shortcoming is that there is lack of new thought in the design. It is hard to convince me that this site is a new-generation product as it is advertised.
This second screen-shot reveals something new. Typically, it shows an automated annotation mechanism behind the screen. It seems that the Radar's semantic engine can automatically annotate new imports based on existing user-specified tags. Annotated data are stored in RDF files, as Twine is advertised. The interface does not reveal whether there is an underlying ontology management mechanism that may automatically upgrade taxonomies based on users' activities. From the pragmatic point of view, I guess that there might be pre-constructed small ontologies or taxonomies (e.g. learned from Wikipedia) in Radar's semantic engine. Based on user-specified tags, the Radar's semantic engine can automatically (or semi-automatically) select proper taxonomies for users. Then these taxonomies become the seeds for further annotation and query requests.
This screen-shot demonstrates that Twine is beginning to distinguish itself from the other Web-2.0 products. The integration of semantic-web technologies brings new elements to the design and further enriches user experiences on leveraging web information management.
From the two screen-shots, we have seen the use of novel semantic web technologies in Twine. The main problem is, however, that Twine seems only mechanically lay the techniques together. What is the philosophy underneath these techniques and what kind of revolution can these improvement bring to the world? Unfortunately, Twine does not provide a clear answer. As the result, "Twine looks like it's just del.icio.us 2.0," quoted from Tim O'Reilly's comment for his own post about Twine. This is also exactly my feeling after carefully reading all the discussions about Twine up to now.
Semantics behind Twine
Which philosophy does Twine want to bring to the world? This is the grand question to Radar Networks and Nova Spivack.
What I can see is that Twine is still aiming to leverage a web of platform. Certainly this goal is timely and exciting at this moment. But if Twine stops its goal only at the web of platform, Twine is not (and will not be) a Web-3.0 product as it is advertised. Twine is an excellent Web-2.0 product; or maybe we could call it a Web-2.5 product because it shows inevitable distinction to many other Web-2.0 products. But unfortunately, it is not a Web-3.0 product because Twine so far does not bring us revolutionary thoughts. Web 3.0 is more than just a plain layout of new technologies. Web 3.0 must be a revolutionary layout of new technologies. A revolutionary layout means to bring a new philosophy to the world; but Twine fails in this ultimate goal.
To understand revolution, let's compare the current Twine to the Google when it was risen and we can understand the lack of Twine at present. The greatness of Google is not because of its PageRank algorithm. Nevertheless is the algorithm a magnificent contribution to the world, Google changes the philosophy of the Web. Google redefined itself to be a center hub of a social network of users who use Google products instead of defining itself to be a traditional entry-portal to the Web. This upgrade of philosophy lifts Google from a 1.0 company to a leading 2.0 company. This is called revolution. So far Twine has not shown a sign of this type of revolution. By the way, I am not sure whether Yahoo had really understood this revolution until now.
If Radar Networks would like to welcome my comments, I would suggest changing the name "Twine" to "Twin". Check dictionary again if you are curious of these two words. Email me if you really want to know my opinion, which is hard to be explained in short sentences and out of the focus of this post. (Certainly I do not insist on literally changing the name. But they'd better change the philosophy underneath the name if their goal is really about Web 3.0.)
Twine is an exciting product. Although this Twine beta is not a Web-3.0 product yet, it is already one of the greatest Web-2.0 products up to the present. Moreover, we must not neglect that Twine still has a huge space to grow before it gets out of its beta version. Twine has the potential to grow to be a real Web-3.0 product. The question is what kind of ultimate philosophy Nova Spivack and his peers are preparing to bring to the world. Let's be optimistic to the future of Twine.
- Twine official website, Twine Introduction
- Nova Spivack (founder of Radar Networks), What a Week!
- Danny Ayers, Radar Networks decloak: Twine
- Nicholas Carr, Twine: a social network with brains
- Dan Farber, Radar Networks weaves semantic Twine
- Martin LaMonica, Radar Networks' Twine: Semantic Web meets information overload
- Brad Linder, Twine: A social network built on the semantic web dls interview
- Richard MacManus, Twine: The First Mainstream Semantic Web App?
- Paul Miller, Web 2.0 Summit - tying it all together with Twine
- Chris Morrison, Radar’s Twine: A semantic complement to Google
- Tim O'Reilly, Web2Summit: Radar Networks Unwinds twine.com
- Shelly Powers, Semantic to Go
- Peter Rip, Initial Experience with Twine
- Julie Sloane, Radar Networks To Unveil Its Semantic Web App, Twine
Many other related discussions can be found at here.