Friday, April 25, 2008

ZCubes: towards Web 3.0

A few weeks ago, I have a nice conversation with Joseph Pally, CEO of ZCubes. Joe is a very keen person and full of energy when discussing his product. He introduced me the company and demoed for me some most recent advances on ZCubes services. I must say that ZCubes is one of the most amazing startup companies I have ever seen. The product services are fantastic.

ZCubes services basically allow a user to drag any piece of data or services on the existing Web into a self-defined ZSpace and then seamlessly compose the dragged items to be a coherent new Web page. Through this effort, ZCubes services help transform the current publisher-oriented Web to the future viewer-oriented Web.

ZCubes in a Nutshell

ZCubes services begin with the construction of ZSpaces---a personal space that stores individually dragged Web items. Users can create as many as ZSpaces as they want. After users drag Web object (which could be an entire Web page or a specific figure or table in a page) into a created ZSpace, ZCubes services can compose these dragged items to be a ordinary Web page.

When dragging an object from an existing Web page, ZCubes produces a default ZWrapper (not an ordinary frame, thanks Joe for correcting me) that encapsulates the dragged object. The ZCubes services can automatically detect the type of the dragged objects and then apply the respective type of HTML encoding to contain the object in the frames. One uniqueness of ZCubes is that all ZWrapper elements are assumed as image items so that users can freely place them in a ZSpace by mouse. This technique greatly helps ordinary users to construct Web pages with creative designs.

Besides these basic functions, ZCubes has also invented an innovative Web-driven spreadsheet that is equipped with hundreds of build-in functions. During the demo, Joe showed me that the new ZCubes spreadsheet could compute better than Microsoft Excel in several situations, let it alone that this spreadsheet can be seamlessly embedded into the Web.

Remaining Issues

ZCubes is fantastic but there are also a couple of rooms to improve it.

One drawback of the current ZCubes is the miss of social effects. By using ZCubes, users obtain the freedom to re-compose the existing Web by their own perspectives. Because of this freedom ZCubes has claimed itself to be a "Web-3.0" age product. A problem is that, however, the ZCubes-generated pages are more like Web-1.0 style pages than Web-2.0 pages. There is basically no community-element among ZCubes-generated pages. Moreover, users have no ways to transport the associated Web-2.0 social tags automatically with the dragged items even if the items are obtained from Web-2.0 resources. In a broader sense, this latter issue belongs to the general topic of data portability. But we cannot deny that it is a flaw that ZCubes may want to resolve in the future.

Another problem of ZCubes is the handling of its user interfaces. ZCubes has given users a great deal of freedom to re-compose the Web. But the freedom given by ZCubes is probably too much for ordinary users to handle. In short, ZCubes has provided so many functions in various ways that they are not easy for unprofessional users to learn. Better user interface design would be an emergent issue for ZCubes.

The last issue I want to address is the engaging of data semantics. Generally believing, a real "Web-3.0" product must contain the processing of machine-processable semantics. In other words, the product must show its way towards the ideal Semantic Web. Twine from Radar Networks is a typical example in this category. Until now, ZCubes has not shown its progress in this direction. How to augment ZSpace to be not only a graphical container of HTML components but also an aggregator of machine-processable semantics would be a milestone for ZCubes becoming a real "Web-3.0" age product.

Final Address

In two days, I have gone over two leading "Web-3.0" services---Twine and ZCubes. Through two different approaches, the two services are focusing on one common thing---to enable a better organization of online information. Both the efforts demonstrates my prediction that the Web is indeed in the way of transformation from the publisher-oriented view to the viewer-oriented view. Radar Networks and ZCubes are currently in the front of this trend of transformation. The accomplishment of this transformation would be an important signal of Web 3.0.


Anonymous said...

The use of vector graphics in ZCubes is noteworthy, and a departure from most web applications I have seen.

Anonymous said...

Very fascinating piece of software!


alexandra said...

power of this product to enhance and integrate the word editor, spread sheet, power point & image editor to a web-based platform itself is remarkable. which i believe is the path to web 3.0.

Anonymous said...

interesting one. equally good for non programmers.

Anonymous said...

if it does calculations on a webpage that is a real twist.

Anonymous said...

exactly the calculation on the web with full excel power is a clear winner.
- M Garcia