At Thinking Space, the term Web resource has its particular meaning that is different from some other common definitions of Web resources, such as the one defined in Wikipedia.
In common, a Web resource is anything that has an identity, typically the identity would be a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI).
The Web resource used in Thinking Space has its different definition that is derived from the study of Web evolution. By contrast to be an identifiable object on the Web, a Web resource in Thinking Space is specified to be a self-contained piece of productive information on the Web.
1) A piece of information on the Web is a piece of embodiment of human mind. (based on the WWW definition by W3C)
2) By "productive" a Web resource can be used for producing or manufacturing. Hence a Web resource is not just a random piece of embodied mind, but a piece of mind asset.
3) By "self-contained" a Web resource can be transmitted from one place to another on the Web alone without information loss. Or in other words the interpretation and usage of a Web resource is not ambiguous. By this property, a Web resource represents a unit of mind asset that has its consistent value.
Based on this definition, a Web document is usually a Web resource, and so is an independent Web service or a Web link. By contrast, a single word such as "adam" is often not a Web resource because its meaning is generally undecidable without a local context, i.e., it cannot be transmitted alone on the Web without information loss.
Informally, we may say that a Web resource by the Thinking-Space definition is a piece of intentionally produced item on the Web that is with consistent value and can be unambiguously reused and further manufactured.
In general, a Web resource could and should be associated with an URI. By contrast, however, anything that is referenced by an URI may not immediately be a Web resource (based on the Thinking-Space interpretation).
This post is part of the collection of terminology, which explains several heavily used terms in Thinking Space.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
At Thinking Space, the term Web resource has its particular meaning that is different from some other common definitions of Web resources, such as the one defined in Wikipedia.
Monday, May 26, 2008
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
It is the slogan of the US United Negro College Fund since 1972, and recently mentioned again by Prof. Peter Doherty. Moreover, Prof. Doherty emphasized in his article, "With a population of only 21 million, can we afford to waste a single, talented person?"
I happen to read across this article and this slogan. They shocked me because I was just writing my newest post about mind asset. This is a brilliant slogan and so is the comment made by Prof. Doherty. We indeed cannot afford to waste any single person. In fact, nobody is not talented. Everybody is just talented in different way. Mind asset is the most valuable wealth in the world but being overlooked for long time. We need to change this situation.
（also read the article in Chinese, translated by the author himself)
By two parts, I response to the Harmonious Age suggested by Adam Lindemann. In the first part, I describe its philosophy by civilization evolution. In the second part, I explain the impact of this theory to Web industry. This is the first part of my response.
We are experiencing a new transition of civilization in human history. This is the first time since the last industrial revolution from late 18th to early 20th. I do not distinguish the first industrial revolution from the second industrial revolution because the two individual ones are consecutive phases of the same transitional event. After the industrial revolution, human society finished the transition from feudalism to capitalism. At present we are experiencing the next transitional movement from capitalism forward. The destination of this transition is unknown yet, though it seems unlikely to be either socialism or communism. Adam Lindemann prefers the term Harmonious Age to describe the coming new age. Or we may just simply name it the new Web age. If someone is from ivory tower, a likewise academic name may be the mindlist society.
From feudal society to capitalist society
A transitional period of civilization has its symptoms. To understand the symptoms happening at present, however, we need to first understand the symptoms happened before. By comparing the symptoms in last transition to the symptoms at present, we may have better understanding of the present status.
Feudal society was typically known for its overwhelmingly agrarian economy with limited money exchange. Due to the agrarian economy, land was the key asset in feudal society. By tightening people to land, landlords were the ruling class in feudal society. Kings or emperors, normally known to be the biggest landlords, were the society leaders. Feudal nations were ruled by these kings and emperors. In general, every feudal nation simply self-supported itself by its own agrarian economy and there were few economical communication among these feudal nations. The fundamental infrastructure of feudal society is a set of independent kingdoms.
At late 18th, feudal society was coming to its end at global wide. The invention of mass-production machines such as Watt steam engine was the trigger. These inventions appealed liberating humans from land for the sake of the emerging modern industry. Capital gradually replaced land to be the key asset of society. At the same time, it appeared a new class of people---capitalists.
After more than a century of wars and revolutions, capitalists finally defeated landlords to be the ruling class of a newly formed society, which we all know now to be the capitalist society. The owners of industrial corporations (the capitalists) became the leaders of the new society. The leaders of capitalist nations are either capitalists themselves or (more often) the representatives of certain groups of capitalists. There is, however, generally no place for kings or emperors in capitalist society.
Unlike the old-time agrarian economy, modern industrial economy demands close cooperation among varied corporations since no single corporation can just complete support itself without help from other companies. Hence the fundamental infrastructure of capitalist society is a network of mutual-dependent corporations. Unlike the territory of a feudal nation is measured by the size of land, the territory of a capitalist nation is measured by the strength and influence of its capital. For example, Japan is more influential than Brazil and Israel is more influential than Egypt in capitalist economy though the land of the former nations is much smaller than the land of the latter ones.
Ordinary people in capitalist society are tightened to capital instead of land. Every working-class people is first bound to his/her trained profession. The fate of a profession is, however, decided by capital. The professions that help produce more capital are encouraged by the society and thus more people run to take these majors. On the contrary, the professions that do not or no longer help improve capital generation are diminished and thus less people become willing to learn them. By Adam Smith, the flow of capital is the invisible hand which controls all aspects of capitalist society.
The following table summarizes what we have discussed so far.
|feudal society||capitalist society|
|most valuable asset||land||capital|
|society organization||independent kingdoms||mutual-dependent corporations|
|society leader||king/emperor||corporation owner|
Capital, the wonder and the problems
The rise of capital was a fascinating wonder in history. Capital frees human from the fastening of land. Capitalists demand people to be free of moving from one land to another so that they can have enough opportunities to hire people with certain skill for capital production. In feudal society, this request meant a great deal of freedom to ordinary people. Even until now, this demand is still a crucial piece of the foundation that supports the freedom in capitalist nations. The continuous increase of capital production cannot be promised without this freedom. (US people may need to think more of it with respect to the current immigration debate.)
On the other hand, however, capital is near-sighted and selfish.
Short-term payback is crucial to the flow of capital. The lack of short-term profits can easily kill a long-sighted visionary capitalist without a question. An analogy is probably the best way to explain the reason behind.
If land is solid, capital is liquid. A business oppotunity is a hole on ground. Unless the size of the hole is at least equal to or the better be greater than the size of the solid, we cannot push the solid into the hole (even though there is indeed a hole on ground). By contrast, liquid can easily flow into any hole disregarding of the size and depth of the hole. This difference explains why capitalist society is better than feudal society on producing wealth.
At the same time, however, liquid flow is near-sighted. Liquid immediately flows into the nearest hole. Even if there is another hole that is bigger and deeper but a little bit farther in distance, liquid will not flow into the farther one before it has filled the nearest one. Furthermore, it is not easy for liquid to get out of a filled hole and flow to another. This near-sighted problem of capital has caused many economic disasters in the history of capitalism such as the Great Depression.
Capital is also selfish. In general capitalists only look for the professionals (be note, not necessarily the humans, for example, if robots can do a profession better than humans, capitalists will definitely hire robots but fire humans) that can produce more capital. Except of incremental capital generation, nothing else is more important. Capital serves only itself.
In the job market of capitalist society, ordinary people are always in a passive position comparing to the interest of capital. A job oppotunity in capitalist society is rarely about what an ordinary person want to do. By contrast, it is solely about which profession helps produce more capital. What ordinary people can and should do is to study the skills that are demanded by capital. The value of an employee is determined by how much he can produce capital through his profession. Essentially, capitalism turns humans to be various standard screws that can be flexibly assembled in various assembly lines at anytime and at anywhere. Some screws are expensive to be made (and thus these people can get high salary) while some others are cheap to be made (and thus their salary is low). This is the only difference among all the screws. Capital does not serve for the interest of screws.
In compatible to this capitalism, the modern education system mainly focuses on training scientists and engineers but not thinkers. Scientists and engineers are the various standard screws we have just discussed. Capitalists do not need thinkers who have their own ideas because screws do not need to think beyond their own function.
After the flourishing time of great thinkers from late 18th to early 20th, capitalist society is engaged by plenty of scientists and engineers but fewer thinkers. Moreover, the specialty realm of a particular scientist or engineer becomes narrower and narrower in time. Using our analogue, screws are made more and more for special purpose.
With the advance of technologies, we also start to invent new machines that can replace the function of some special-purpose screws. Hence we start to lose many job opportunities for human employees. For instance, the invention of automatic assembly line has significantly reduced the number of manufacture workers in factories. To the end, if one day machines can satisfactorily take all the job professions, why do we still need human in this world? Or to the least, we only need to have the capitalists live in this world and all the other people become meaningless to this capitalist society.
The advance of a human society is to reduce the meaning of humanity in the society. This is an ironical dilemma in capitalist society. This dilemma is caused by the overlooking of a central issue of human society. The issue is human itself.
Human, the missed issue
Humans are not screws. Although this statement is so simple that even first-grade elementary school students can understand it well, it is so hard in civilization evolution to truly make humanity be the key asset of a society. In fact, we have never succeeded in this goal before.
At feudal society, humans were subordinated to land. Kings obtained people by occupying land. Kings generally did not care individuals but only the total number of people in their land. If a king lost an ordinary John but be replaced by an ordinary Peter. It often did not count a loss (neither a gain) for the king because the humanity of neither John nor Peter was critical. The size of land and how much fertile land they own were more critical issues to the kings.
At capitalist society, humans become subordinated to capital. Capitalists obtain people by occupying capital. Individual professions have become an important criteria to evaluate the value of a person. But still the issue of humanity is not critical. Capitalists would rather to replace a human with a machine immediately only if the machine can do the same profession the human does. The actual willingness of an ordinary John is not a consideration of capital. If one screw no longer fits, just throw it away and replace it with another screw which fits. This is the fundamental philosophy of capitalism.
Isn't it a pity that a human society does not really care of humanity as a first-class asset?
Mind, the asset of humanity
So what is the asset of humanity? To answer this question, let's start with examples.
I am a computer science professional, so I know computers. If I write a program that executes in my computer, I know that it will execute the same way and produce the same answer in the other computers. It is not just computers that have this property. All machines are the same. If we have "educated" (i.e. programmed) a machine to do a function, we can be sure that this machine will do the same thing, no less and no more, all of its life.
Now let's switch to a similar scenario but with different participants. We have a class of students and there is a teacher educates them. Ideally, if the students were machines, after the class we would have a group of students with the same knowledge who could use the knowledge to do the same thing and produce the same answers (since they are taught by the same teacher at the same time in the same place). But we know this is not the case. If the class have 30 students, you can expect 29 (the last one was sleeping at class so he does not count) different ways of using the learned knowledge and having produced varied or even contradictory results.
What is the difference between these students and machines? Humanity. Creativity of human makes everything difference. By pushing identical knowledge into the brains of many people and teaching the same skills to the bodies of these people, we are not producing identical professional workers. By contrast, we can expect countless ways of combining knowledge with skills so that the production could be different from one person to another only because these people are humans. This is the asset of humanity, and thanks to this asset we have our diverse world.
If we are allowed to use only one term to describe this asset of humanity, I choose mind. It is mind that represents the real value of each person. Different people can have the same knowledge and with the same skill. But they still bring the world different production because they are distinct persons. John is not Peter, Peter is not John, and neither of them is a screw. If we allow them freedom, they can produce varied fascinating products for us even if they have the same "profession". This is the value of mind asset.
Unlike capital, the mind asset is long-sighted and generous.
Let's apply our analogy again to explain the long-sighted. If land is solid and capital is liquid, mind is gas. Because it is gas, it can fill everywhere simultaneously disregarding the distance of a hole. A little liquid may fill only one small hole. But a little gas can fill all holes no matter how big they are. This is the power and value of humanity.
Mind is also generous. Land is to produce more land, so we have wars. Capital is to produce more capital, so we have the diminishing of humanity. But mind is to produce more mind. Since mind is the value of humanity, we will have a better harmonious age---which is what Adam Lindemann declares.
Harmonious Age, the future?
If the Harmonious Age is the future, the following table describes the change we will see.
|feudal society||capitalist society||harmonious society|
|most valuable asset||land||capital||mind|
|society organization||independent kingdoms||mutual-dependent corporations||interactional mind groups|
|society leader||king/emperor||corporation owner||thinker|
Mind is going to replace capital becoming the key asset in the new society. This replacement does not mean that capital is going to be valueless. Land is still a very much valuable asset in capitalist society. The only difference from feudal society is that land is no longer the key asset. In similar, capital will continue to be very much valuable asset in the coming harmonious society. But capital will no longer be the key asset. In feudal society, people who had land owned capital and mind. In capitalist society, people who have capital own land and mind. In harmonious society, however, people who have mind asset will own capital and land. So the change is the sequence. But everything still has its own value.
Because mind becomes the key asset, the fundamental infrastructure of human society is going to change respectively. Corporations that serve for capital is going to gradually retreated to the secondary place, as in the previous transition nations that serve for land were retreated to be behind corporations. At the same time, new organization forms such as mind groups will start to rise.
A mind group will be a group of people leading by the new-age thinkers. Thinkers at the new age are the ones who know the art of composing various mind to produce. (For example, they are the ones like Adam Lindemann that is simultaneously capable of thinking and practicing.) These mind groups will become the new and most powerful productive forces (term used by Karl Marx and it has an alternative presentation "productive powers of labour" used by Adam Smith) in human society.
In this new society, the role of corporations will change in the similar way as the role of nations has been changed since feudal society.
In capitalist society, corporations belong to nations but at the same time they are independent to nations. Large corporations have their interest cross the border of many nations. The leaders of large corporations have at least the same influential as nation leaders, and they are often even more influential than the leaders of many small countries.
In similar, in harmonious society the mind groups may be bound to corporations but they are also independent to corporations. The memebers in mind groups will be able to decide their own fate but no longer allow corporations to decide their fate alone. Large mind groups can have their interest over varied corporations simultaneously. Great thinkers who are the leaders of large mind groups will be the true society leaders. In capitalist society, nation leaders must get support from capital, and hence the support from capitalists. In harmonious society, both nation leaders and corporation leaders must get support from the leaders of mind groups. Corporation leaders will be elected by the support from mind groups as well as the nation leaders in capitalist country must be elected by the support from companies. Since mind groups represent more free willingness of people, we can see that the control of society is gradually moving back to the hand of normal people.
Is this Harmonious Age indeed the future? Where are the mind groups? More important, how is the mind asset presented? Land is physical (so it is solid) that everybody can see and touch. Capital is not exactly physical but it can be measured by money in our hand (so it is liquid). But what the presentation of mind asset is and how we may use it for production. These are the crucial questions and I am going to address them in Part 2.
However, I will make a few hints here when concluding this Part 1. Commonly agreed, the start of the last society transition was the invention of Watt steam engine by James Watt. This invention made the foundation of the modern industry, which became the platform of the flow of capital. Hence we should expect a similar invention happened if the vision of Harmonious Age is really sound. Indeed, we have one. The new-time Watt steam engine is called World Wide Web, and the new James Watt is named Tim Berners-Lee. We are going to discuss more in Part 2.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
I have just finished a total revision of my series of Web evolution in Thinking Space. The changes include many internal rewritings and even the change of titles of several installments. If you are interested in it, at the following I have attached the links to all the ten installments.
Moreover, this revision is compatible to my feedback about the Harmonious age. Be together, the two parts composes a complete vision about the new Web from both of the philosophical view and the technological view. The next question is how to engage them into the real-world development. I would be glad to discuss with anybody who is willing to explore the path towards the next generation Web (commonly known to be Web 3.0). Now it is the timing to start up real Web-3.0 solutions by my judgment.
If you are interested in discussion, please either leave a comment with your contact information in this blog or feel free dropping me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A View of Web Evolution
1. In the Beginning …
2. Three Evolutionary Elements
3. Two Postulates
4. Web Evolution and Human Growth
5. Evolutionary Stage
6. Qualities of Evolutionary Stages
7. Trigger of Transition
8. Beginning of a Stage Transition
9. Essence of Web Evolution
10. Completion of a Stage Transition
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Both TechCrunch and VentureBeat reported that Microsoft would announce a new search advertising model, which pays users who use the Live Search engine to search and eventually finish an online transaction. Is this a brilliant idea? Or not?
One week ago, I was at Redmond with the Live Search team. In Live Search, there is a group whose job is "to explore all the crazy ideas." The group picked me to interview and asked about my "crazy ideas". Unfortunately, however, I did not have any crazy idea except of a fairly novel vision suggested for Microsoft to compete with Google. In short, my suggestion was a totally un-Google Web search strategy that the Live Search crazy-idea people could not catch where my craziness was. As the result, they were not impressed by idea that did not sound crazy. Now I see what the Live-Search-craziness is.
The philosophy beneath this "crazy" idea is straightforward: when there are two sites from which we could buy the same product, we often choose the site that gives me more discount when checking out. Since Microsoft has lots of money, why not directly buy searchers from Google?
Is the idea "crazy"? Crazy, indeed.
I would like to quote a comment written by a reader (Tyler Wright) of TechCrunch. He has made a very cute analogy that points to the problem of this "crazy" idea---
"GM and Ford offer cash back to buyers, and they’re on their way out - and losing credibility daily.. Sounds kinda similar."
Ah-ha, this is the problem. GM and Ford often do more discount and promotion than Honda or Toyota does. But the discount and promotion seem do not really save their fate. Why does Microsoft believe that discount and promotion would save it from Google?
A deeper thought behind this strategy is that "online search" and "online transaction" are actually two varied phases. At the online-search phase, we look for a good search engine that can help us find what we want quickly and conveniently. During this phase, we also frequently look for advertisement provided by the search engine. By contrast, at the online-transaction phase, we simply want to finish the transaction as quick as possible. But at the same time, an extra bargain is alway appreciated. Very few people, however, will continue looking for product advertisement when they are checking out (because they are tired of long-time shopping).
By the former analysis, I cannot see why I should abandon Google for being my search engine, while at the same time I can use Live Search to check out. If many Web users adopt this simple strategy to maximize their benefits, I cannot see how much Live Search may gain by this scenario. To the end, Live Search could gain a few net-flow from Google due to the final check-out transaction. The problem is, however, this extra net-flow gained by Microsoft does little help for prompting advertisement in Live Search. This is thus the key of the entire issue.
Sorry, I am still too calm to be crazy.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
(you may also read the post in Chinese, translated by myself)
The Harmonious Age is an interesting philosophical view written by Adam Lindemann. Adam is a liquid thinker whose thoughts are compelling while at the same time he is also a clear-mind businessman who is very practical in action. It is hard to find the two great characters within one person simultaneously.
I am particularly blogging this thought here because the derivation of this thought fits well to my philosophical view of Web evolution. In the later posts, I will explain the similarity in more details and especially on explaining how Adam's thought means in a broader picture of the new industrial revolution we are experiencing at present. But in this post, I just want to first introduce what he think that "we are moving through the transitional period between the Industrial Capitalistic Age and a new age that might be described as the Harmonious Age."
One more word before proceeding. It is interesting to notice the similarity between the Harmonious Age used by Lindemann and the Harmonious Society slogan named by the current Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, though I am quite certain that there is no necessary link between the two. The theory of Harmonious Society has been the foundation of the so-called Hu-Wen New Administration that leads to the current economical boom in China. With this successful comparison, could we expect Harmonious Age be another great theory to lead us to a new Web age?
The following is written by Lindemann. My interpretation will be posted in later posts. Please keep on watching if you are also interested in it. Trust me, it could be more interesting than you thought.
Before the 1800s there was a feudal society where wealth was stored in land and real estate.
After the 1800s and the industrial revolution wealth began to be created on a massive industrial scale. In this industrial capitalistic society, wealth was stored in a financial system that created many different types of money.
Real money such as cash, stocks and shares and bonds. It was the mind of man that harnessed the awesome laws of nature as well as its energy and resources to fuel this industrial capitalistic society.
However, mankind is reaching a limit to its ability to harness the natural physical resources of the earth such as oil, gas and other fossil fuels and hence growth is becoming unsustainable. The fundamental problem is that man based his survival at odds with an not in harmony with the natural renewable balance of nature. The mind of man did not truly understand the symphony of live on earth - it tried and succeeded somewhat in being clever and failed to be wise. This was a time of division in knowledge and hearts and minds. It was a time of artificial abundance for some and fear and scarcity for others. It was a time of nation states and world wars.
The 21st century will be an age where man achieves wisdom and learns to work in harmony with the natural physical and spiritual laws of the universe such that we live in balance and harmony with the earth and each other. It will be a time of the fusion of knowledge, hearts and minds. It will be a time where the illusion of scarcity will become replaced by the reality of abundance. It will be a time of peace and sustainable life for humanity on earth.
The key to understanding this shift is to realise that its all a mindset. Money=Energy and Energy = states of matter. The feudal society can be seen a solid. The industrial capitalistic society can be seen as liquid and the new age of the 21st century and beyond can be seen as gas.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
In my newest post at Semantic Focus, I described the difference between building semantics and building the Web. A real Semantic-Web company needs to demonstrate its ability on both aspects instead of only one of them. By simply adopting RDF, a company cannot automatically become a Semantic-Web company.
Friday, May 16, 2008
As you may know, Thinking Space is a place we discuss World Wide Web related topics. Very rarely I post other topics beyond this theme. But this time, I have to do so for the recent massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake at SiChuan province, China. Tens of thousands people have been dead and more are injured. These people need help, and please help them as you can.
The following is a slide show made by my friend Oliver Ding.
Please Help Earthquake Victims In China
From: OliverDing, 8 hours ago
As you may have known, a massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake rocked central China's Wenchuan County at around 14:00 5/12/08. The death toll was more than 19,500 by 16: 00 May 15th Beijing time, and much more were injured. The figures still continue to rise:
Many of the victims were children!! Children died when they are in school! Many of them are the only child in a family! The entire Chinese nation is fighting with the disaster!
We need help from the world!
Please find the kindness in your heart and help whatever you can!
Monday, May 12, 2008
The realization of Semantic Web becomes a chick-and-egg dilemma. Without Semantic Web applications, we can hardly build Semantic Web data. But without Semantic Web data, who are going to implement the useless Semantic Web applications? If Semantic Web really represents the future of the Web, we must have overlooked something crucial.
In a recent post at Internet Evolution, I emphasized again that the missing link is the role of humans in the Web. Semantic Web has been thought by many researchers to be equivalent to a web of data. This is thus the problem. Semantic Web is a web of data. But a sole web of data is not sufficient to be Semantic Web. They are not equivalent. The problem is that in the expression of "a web of data" humans disappear. It is this miss that causes the dilemma of Semantic Web.
This connection between WWW and humans seems has been puzzled by many people, including even top researchers. Last Friday, I had tried to ask this relation to a principal researcher at Microsoft and he did not give me a satisfactory answer either. I bet, however, that this connection is quite straightforward to many Web-2.0 people. Again, we are sorry to see the big gap between the industrial Web 2.0 and academic Semantic Web.
More details of my arguments can be watched in the original article. As usual, many thanks to James Johnson who helped edit my post.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
The past weekend I attended a special event organized by the Microsoft Live Search team. The Live Search team invited 28 up-to-graduate PhDs from US and Canada to come to an on-site interview. The uniqueness of this event is that nearly none of the 28 candidates have been telephone interviewed by the team before and many candidates (including me) even have not submitted a resume to Microsoft before being invited. The Live Search team searched out these candidates (probably through the Live Search) and invited us. The theme over the event is straight and clear---beat Google!
About the Trip
In general, the trip is full of pleasant. The Microsoft recruiting team have organized a wonderful event. It is warm, joyful, and with exciting surprises. Thank you, Erin Bucholz (my direct contact recruiter), Jared Singer, Rondell Honcoop, Ben Mercer, and others (sorry I am not good at memorizing names).
Each of the 28 candidates is a selected one with a particular background that is related to Web search. For instance, there are candidates with the background of query optimization, distributed computing, image processing, data mining, natural language processing, and so on. My particular background is labeled Semantic Web. Moreover, I found that I was the only candidate invited to this event with the primary background as Semantic Web. It is exciting to be in a group of young scientists of varied disciplinary areas while at the same time with a focused general theme.
Microsoft has arranged most of the candidates (including me) staying at Westin Bellevue, a modern 5-star hotel that is adjacent to upscale shopping centers. The general environment of the hotel is superior. The guestrooms are luxuriously furnished in modern style---clean, simple, straight, and with modern decor.
At the very morning of the interview day, Microsoft sent a limousine (a 14-passenger Navigator model I believe) to pick up the candidates to the campus. It was a slight surprise to everybody and we were joking to attend a party rather than an interview event.
The Interview Event
In this interview event, the Live Search team has scheduled three group discussions and four-round individual interview for every candidate. All the three group-discussion leaders are well-known Web researchers from Microsoft Research. They are Yi-Min Wang, Chris Burges, and Paul Viola. There are totally more than 10 individual interviewers. Each of them is a program leader with a particular focus on Live Search. Microsoft was indeed serious to this event.
Yi-Min Wang is a passionate speaker. He has a strong passion on competing Google. At the beginning of his session, Wang briefly introduced himself and described a general paradigm of Web search from the industrial point of view. In short, Web search is about finding a matching between billions of Web pages and billions of search queries, while at the same time the numbers of both pages and queries are increasing.
After the brief start, the rest of the session was focused on questioning and answering. In particular, when answering a question Wang described his experiences on fighting to fake Web pages, which was once reported by The New York Time. This topic also led to many discussions of a broader issue of the online advertisement business model and the risk of this popular business model.
I asked a question to Wang how he thought of the factor of humans in his described grand picture of Web search. His answer was primarily focused on the user interface issue. Nevertheless did I agree with his points, he had neglected mentioning the connections between Web resources (such as data, services, and links) and the humans who create or own these resources. I thought that the factor of these connections should at least be another critical issue with respect to my question. But time for question answering was limited and thus he might just not have enough time to expand his discussion.
The session with Burges was slightly different from the previous one. Burges began by asking every candidate why they came to this event. I answered by quoting myself a motto---"We may beat Google, by not by following the Google way." Microsoft is thinking of defeating Google on Web search. Hence I am very interested in coming to hear how Microsoft would approach this goal and I am willing to share with Microsoft how I think this goal could be approached. I would be glad to join them towards this goal together.
The addressing of "beating Google" does not mean at all, however, that Google is bad or evil. It is only about that we need competition to improve Web search better and better. Eventually Web users will be the biggest winners. With the same purpose, I have shared my viewpoints with the CEOs of Mechanical Zoo and Imindi (two ambitious startup companies but with great potential) in the last two weeks. Max Ventilla (Mechanical Zoo), Adam Lindemann (Imindi), and I have shared this common belief---by not following the Google way, we may approach alternative fascinating solutions for Web search and Web knowledge reorganization. Again, I shared this motto with Burges and he told me that it was also exactly what he believed.
Burges did a brief slide show for us about his new role at the Web search team and the Microsoft Live Search ranking algorithm. After his talk, I asked how he would compare the Microsoft ranking to the famous PageRank algorithm used by Google. He replied that the real ranking algorithm used by Google has already not been the original PageRank for long time. The very core of the Google ranking algorithm is a top secret. But Microsoft is catching up.
I agree with Burges. The PageRank algorithm is too raw for real-world products. To get high quality search results, Google must have done a significant revision of this general algorithm. The revision might have been so great that the eventual Google ranking used now may actually no longer be named the PageRank in its standard sense.
On the other hand, however, the PageRank algorithm reflects the Google's philosophical vision of World Wide Web. Google evaluates the Web to be a network of linked nodes where the importance of individual nodes is primarily determined by the linking popularity inside the entire network. This philosophy is the fundamental of "the Google way." Hence by "not following the Google way" it means that we need to think of the Web in a fairly different picture from the one Google thinks. I have such a different picture described. Adam Lindemann of Imindi shares a very similar vision as mine. But what is the picture that Microsoft thinks? Burges had not directly addressed an answer, and neither had Wang. Unfortunately, I have not gotten another chance to explore this issue deeper with another Microsoft developer or researcher in this trip.
In the third session, Paul Viola did a formal presentation to all the candidates in lunch. His talk was primarily on how to do a good research particularly in an industrial company rather than in an academic institute. He made several constructive suggestions for young scientists and engineers. The talk is informing and helpful. Due to the time constraint, however, we have no chances to ask him specific questions.
After the lunch, we came to the most fun part of the event---the swimsuit competition (i.e., individual interviews).
All the interviewers are excellent leading developers and researchers at Live Search. They are very well experienced and more important, they all have the passion on what they are doing (at least for the four who had interviewed me).
The four-round individual interview is scheduled into four main topics---research background discussion, coding, algorithm, and design issues. At each round, a candidate got to talk to an interviewer for about 45 minutes. In general, I have done a fair but not an excellent interview. I have described my thoughts to them, written a few lines of code, and solved some problems. At the same time, however, there was a problem I could not figure out the final answer to the end. I had tried to think of it from all angles except of the angle the interviewer looked for (and it is not a familiar territory of mine, what a pity).
In short, I had emphasized two points about the future of Web search: (1) the switch from the "God" role to the "Guru" role of search engines, and (2) the importance of "proactiveness" in the next-generation Web search. I emphasized to the last interviewer (a kind lady) that we were not just searching the Web. By contrast, we are searching the evolving Web; and this is a key when thinking of beating Google. If Live Search can think of the Web evolution a step further beyond Google, Live Search would get a better chance to beat Google.
The final decision of this interview event will come to me in few days. No matter whatever, however, I appreciate this oppotunity and it gives me a chance to hear the first-hand opinions about the future of Web search from the most frontier industrial developers and researchers as well as from many peer PhD candidates all over the North America, let it alone that I had a wonderful journey at Seattle.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
I happen to read across a blog post titled "Branding Yourself with A Blog". I sincerely recommend this post to everybody. Blogging is not just for fun, it is a way to brand oneself. Take myself as an example, through my blogging at Thinking Space, Semantic Focus, Internet Evolution, and several other places, I have branded myself to be an active thinker and researcher on the most frontier Web technologies.
There is another interesting reading recently. Jeff Jarvis in his post "more writers than readers" tells that now there are more online writers than regular daily newspaper readers. Although this claim is less shocking than saying that online writers are outnumber online readers [I am sorry for the previous miss-reading of Jeff's post. I have revised my statement respectively. The main idea I want to express, however, is still in Jeff's post, I believe.], the phenomenon still shows a silent migration of where the value of the Web is. More Web users start to recognize that the Web is a place not only for reading, but also for publishing, and eventually for branding and prompting themselves. Hence people are willing to write more onto the Web, not for attracting many readers, but for engaging potentially only few person who indeed appreciate the presented brand.
Combing both the post I just cited, we may draw an interesting insight: World Wide Web is not just for browsing, it is for branding yourself! One more step towards the center of this thought---World Wide Web is where to build latent personality that we could hardly do before the age of the Web.
World Wide Web is a network of pages, World Wide Web is a collection of data, World Wide Web is a pool of services. But most intrinsically, World Wide Web is a web of people. This specification is not just about the fact that World Wide Web connects people. More critically, World Wide Web itself is a web of literally specified latent personalities of the people who have participated to the Web. This recognition supported by the content of the two cited posts matches perfectly to the view of Web evolution I authored.
Friday, May 02, 2008
In the recent Web 2.0 Expo, Yahoo exclaimed an ambitious "open" strategy (or Y!OS or short). Yahoo is going to rewire itself to be a real Web 2.0 company, i.e., a new Web platform (by contrast to a Web portal previously). As a platform, Yahoo will provide users lots of standard services so that ideally all the hidden data that Yahoo holds now will be open to the public. Will this new policy bring Yahoo a new life?
Y!OS, the positive side
The most positive signal delivered by Y!OS is that finally Yahoo understands Web 2.0. Does someone remember when Yahoo bought Flickr? It was March 2005. Three years after the Flickr purchase, Yahoo decides to rewire everything by the Web-2.0 format---a format Yahoo should have already learned from Flickr back to March 2005. But still, this action is a positive sign, isn't it?
Another good news is that we may get free access to the complete Yahoo! Directory, the once most valuable hierarchical online resource repository in the world. Yahoo has spent great amount of money on building, organizing, and maintaining this repository (and I doubt any future organization would spend such a great deal of money on this same goal again). As a researcher on Semantic Web and Web evolution, I rate the value of Yahoo! Directory to be no less than the value of Wikipedia when counting both on prompting the evolution of the Web.
Y!OS promises to provide users much freedom and many social services. Users can design fascinating products based on the Yahoo platform. Comparing to Facebook as a platform and Amazon as an online content provider, the Yahoo platform will be unquestionably larger than Facebook and contains richer data than Amazon. The success of the Facebook platform and the Amazon Web services thus suggest that Y!OS might have a bright future in front.
For readers who want to know more about Y!OS, here is a video that is worth of watching.
Y!OS, the negative side
Will Y!OS finally save Yahoo from its slide in recently years and put Yahoo back to the list of most competitive innovators? Maybe or maybe not. In order to achieve this goal, Yahoo needs to think of the following issues first.
A problem of Yahoo for many years is that the company often tries to design "big" projects that are too big to be well scaled. The original Yahoo! Directory is a typical example. Indexing the Web formally in a hierarchical structure is great, but could it be scaled with the technology at the meantime? In similar, Yahoo must try to avoid the same mistake again with this ambitious Y!OS project.
For example, the size of Yahoo platform will be greater than the size of Facebook platform. To the end, Facebook is only a social networking site. All the services based on Facebook platform are focused on prompting better social networking. This focused theme makes Facebook platform be efficient and effective and the scalability issue could be reasonably controlled. But what is Yahoo platform going to project? Very "broad", this is the only word I can say. Yahoo claims that the company is leading in at least seven major vertical realms. Hence I suppose all these seven vertical realms would certainly be included in the Yahoo platform; and I am quite sure that Yahoo would not just stop at the seven (by its tradition from the beginning Yahoo likes to claim everything). Does Yahoo have a well-designed plan on how to really manage all of these complicated issues of multiple realms and the cross-communication between the realms? The Yahoo platform could be a mess (as if the classic Yahoo! Directory) at the end.
On the other side, the complexity of Yahoo data is much greater than the complexity of Amazon data. Amazon focuses on selling products and hence the majority of its data is well formed and the semantics of data are narrowed in a few fields. In consequence, Amazon is able to process its services in huge scale efficiently. By contrast, Yahoo is originally a generic Web portal and thus it contains a mixture of data in various forms and to highly diverse aspects. This difference means that Yahoo services must be more complex than Amazon services in order to well process the underlying data. Yahoo may accomplish this duty, but unquestionably it is not an easy task to address in short time.
By Y!OS, new Yahoo = Facebook + Amazon. This is a great proposal.
But is the project too ambitious to practice in real? We do not have an answer. By the history of the company, however, I feel a little bit pessimistic on the plan. This plan is too huge to be well executed. In comparison, Google's strategy to build individual products solidly one-by-one rather than designing generic open services upon a general platform might be a slow but more effective and convincing approach. But time will tell which strategy would indeed be the better.