Barack Obama has made a really inspiring speech last night. I was moved by the speech as well as by his personality. No matter whatever, a black president candidate himself is already a change. But it is not enough. America does need more changes than a real black president. When US people are moving into a new age that the ancestors have never imagined, however, they are facing the restoration of the spirit of their ancestors. This is the change that Obama tries to advertise, and I fully agree to him.
Obama advocates that "American is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future." This is the right goal Unite States has pursued for centuries though the goal has been damaged by the Bush administration.
As what Obama spoke, US is wealthy but not due to its economy, US is strong but not because of its military force, and US is wise but not by its superior-quality universities. By contrast, the greatness of US is because this nation, from its beginning, is the flag of freedom and justness and the land of people who not only believe in the spirit but also fight for keep up the spirit. This is thus the American Spirit, where the American dream is.
This type of freedom and justness is, however, damaged by the Bush administration. From its swinging diplomatic policy to China to the invasion into Iraq, the Bush administration has shown the world that US has been a nation that is not only selfish and unfair to justness but also foolish to count more on its military than its spirit of freedom to defeat enemy. This misconception of American spirit must be changed, as Obama proclaimed.
Another thing I likes Obama is that he advocates to support more on small business and startups than big companies. We are at the door of a new age. In short time, we may start to embrace a new type of economy. In fact, during the Clinton Administration US had already positioned itself correctly in leading the trend of information revolution. 9/11 and the dot-com bubble had unfortunately paused the process. However, it is the Bush Administration that officially changed the policy and switched the attention of the whole nation to the traditional economic realms such as oil production. US must change it back to the right track that Bill Clinton has done and Obama advocates. On one side, it is the rise of mind business. On the other side, it is the execution of renewable energy policy.
Moreover, the mentioned track is the way to solve many other problems such as poverty and education. The rise of mind business would give regular people more chances to live by the power of their knowledge. The wealth of the society can be more fairly distributed to people. We will be at a society that wealth is no longer inherited by capitals from parents to children, but through knowledge from one generation to the next. People will not be decided by their born family but by their hard work of knowledge learning. By this change, general poverty could be controlled and active learning would be encouraged. By this change, United States of America may at its next Spring of glory.
CHANGE! We do seek for it.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
As we all know, the annual scholarship for a graduate student is not much. Hence it is exciting to see that the value of my blog is nearly my PhD annual scholarship income. A question is, however, where could I cash it? ;-)
Monday, August 25, 2008
Blogging is a type of social communication. Through mutually read and write into a common Web space, blogging essentially builds the blog-author-centered social networks that facilitate information sharing among Web users. Nevertheless, blogging is a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon. It is blogging that gives Web 2.0 the nickname "read/write web".
When Web 2.0 is passing, we may start to think of a question---what the future of blogging might be. Blogging may need to evolve. There are two basic reasons.
First, it has become harder and harder for new blogs to engage readers. To human readers, exploring new blogs is tiresome. When older blogs continuously increase their territory of information occupation, there are basically no mechanisms on this Web to foster young blog sites growing. As the result, information monopolization has gradually been dominant in the blogosphere. This consequence is, however, fundamentally contradicting to the intuition of blogging.
Second, there are lack of tools to explicitly discover and to benefit from the social networks constructed through blogging. Therefore, neither is it straightforward how the blog owners may gain from hosting these networks, nor it is clear how the commenters may benefit from contributing to these shallow networks.
How to solve the problems? Sarah Perez at Read/WriteWeb suggested the future of blogging lying on lifestreaming services such as Twitter and FriendFeed and possibly also more advanced personal services such as Dopplr. Nevertheless are these services improving the quality of blogging, they are insufficient to solve the two main problems I mentioned for the future of blogging.
The real solution to the problems must take care of two sides---engaging more interest of exploration and rewarding contribution (to both of the original authors and the commenters).
We need to inspire people to think more and to think actively. Only through active thinking, people are willing to explore new mind. This action of exploration is fundamental for fostering creative new blogs, and thus maintaining the health growth of the entire blogosphere. Hence new Web services of thinking (other than reading, writing, searching, sharing, gaming, etc.) have indeed been a new, but critical request on the Web.
We also need to encourage the development of services for shallow social networks (the ones with few members and simple goals). When currently most of the developers are thinking of contributing to the mainstream social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, few have seriously worked for supporting shallow social networks such as the network of a personal blog site. Google is working on some project serving for this purpose but it is insufficient. To the end, Google actually focuses more on its competition to Facebook than really serving the end users. We need more creative thoughts on how to really reward people when they do have contributed to the entire human knowledge.
Posted by Yihong Ding at 3:07 PM
Saturday, August 23, 2008
O'Reilly radar is a principal site exploring the very frontier of technologies. Recently, it publishes an index of themes that O'Reilly believes about the future. In contrast to review all the list, I want to share a few of my thoughts on the Web-related topics.
Without a question, every Web 2.0 success shows the value of collective intelligence. But is collective intelligence panacea for launching new Web services?
(1) Collective intelligence is not necessarily the most crucial factor of collectivism, let it alone being the only one factor. There are many other factors about collectivism, for example, collective behavior and collective identity. The future of the Web will not be just about collective intelligence.
(2) Overemphasizing collectivism may cause prejudice of judgment. We should look for a balance between collectivism and individualism.
Open Beyond Source
The fundamental of open source is actually an alternate of collectivism. Through open source, different people can voluntarily contribute to varied aspects of a common project. Open source is actually more than project collaboration. For example, the linked data achievement (by the Semantic Web community) is another typical application about open source on data collaboration.
Besides open source and open data, can we also open "mind"?
Nat Torkington has quoted that "every 100ms of latency costs Amazon 1% of profit." If this is true, the data strongly supports to develop efficiently Web Ops technologies.
But there is a problem. World Wide Web is an open system in contrast to desktop computers are closed systems. Therefore, Web operating system is probably an inappropriate term since open systems are too unstable to be uniformly operated.
On the other hand, what may happen if we think of the entire Web to be an operating system? That is, instead of inventing certain external Web operation protocols, we let the Web operate itself. By this thought, every Web service is part of the Web Ops functions in contrast to existing extra specific Web Ops services to operate the Web.
Social networking becomes popular at Web 2.0. Unquestionably it represents a huge trend of demand from regular users. People want to be social and they expect to know more people through the Web.
A problem is, however, that why we have to firstly be "friends" in order to share information. In the other words, sharing common interest does not necessarily make two people be friend and vice versa. This misconception of friendship is a critical problem in the current implementation of social networking.
We have already discussed this one too much. But the time of Web 2.0 is passing.
I am not sure what O'Reilly's view about Money/Web. To me, however, the topic is mainly about how the Web may produce wealth for mankind in general. Adam Lindemann and I have shared the thoughts of mind asset, which could be an interesting issue to explore under this cup.
World Wide Web is no longer just about linked computers. It is now about all kinds of devices linked global wide. Until now, however, devices other than computers are nothing but terminals of the Web. Will some day new devices invented to be central nodes of the Web besides being the terminals?
On the Web, we are actually rebuilding the real world into a virtual environment. Google Maps and Google Earth are in the vanguard. But we still have a long journey to go to really digitalize our real world into the virtual world known as the World Wide Web.
Clean Energy Tech
Though the topic seems unrelated to the Web, isn't mind another form of clean energy? If it is, then the Web is related.
New User Interfaces
Will the Web always be primarily linked through regular data connection? Are the regular hyperlinks necessarily be the primary structure of the Web? These are actually the question for new user interfaces. They are more crucial than switch the interface from desktop computers to mobile devices.
Web 2.0 solves information overload by engaging more human interaction. In consequence, however, the solution causes a new problem of identity overload, i.e., every Web user has multiple identities on the Web at varied Web 2.0 site. Solving this identity overload problem is going to be critical of the future Web.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
(The previous installment: Web 2.0)
It is hard to imagine how a barely 10-year-old company has been the logo of our age for several years already. But Google has done it. Google has so far satisfactorily solved two major demands of our age---information overload (through Google search) and generic globalization (through being the leader of Web 2.0).
However, does it mean that Google has become invincible? Sramana Mitra has cautiously denied this supposition, and I agree to her. Google is at its peak. The age of Google is passing.
Negative side of Google
Nothing in this world is perfect; so is Google. Inevitably, here are three major negative impacts Google has brought to this age.
1) loss of think
Is Google changing how our brains physically work? Garett Rogers, however, is not the only one who questions it. Nicholas Carr, a well-known thinker and writer on cutting edge technologies, also asked the same question at The Atlantic. The title of his article is: Is Google Making Us Stupid?
"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." (Google's corporation mission statement)
Ironically, this divine mission statement of Google is where the problem seats. If we go over the history of mankind, only one another human behavior is comparable to Google's mission, i.e., the behavior of producing fake gods.
Google dreams that one day the interface of google.com might not just be the magic door Ali Baba approached and search queries through the interface would be more than "open sesame." By contrast, the interface would be the Gate towards the God while search queries be individual pleas to the God. When this divine mission would be fulfilled, Google must have had been indistinct to God.
Instructed (implicitly or explicitly) by this philosophy, Google behaves itself like any of the other man-made gods. These man-made gods anesthetize human mind by telling them thoroughly trusting what these gods say. Hence extraordinary, individual thinking becomes discouraged while blind following is encouraged. This is what Nick told that Google is making us stupid since we are losing the intention to think actively because of Google, as many previous man-made gods have done (and are still doing) to us.
2) neglect of individuals
Google's objective Web search policy has overlooked the value of individuals. In general, Google encourages collectivism overtaking individualism.
In the prefect world Google rules, individuals have the right of free speech but their voices may hardly be heard unless the voices have enough large of volume (i.e., enough number of votes on the Web). In general, the Long Tail effect is only applicable to the unpopular topics. To the major popular issues, low voices would simply be neglected as if they are the truly negligible long tails discarding the real quality of content the low voices may have.
The world Google rules is where rich people get richer. Although this philosophy is a common fact in the real world, there is lack of mechanism of balance in the world Google rules to control the spread of the unevenness. In the real world, we have government using its compelling power to make balance between rich and poor. But there is no such a government-like force on the Web Google rules. As the result, the unevenness of Web resource deployment could only be more and more severe. If the age of Google last longer, the Web will be full of all kinds of monopolies while single regular individuals may totally lose (in contrast to gain) their voices.
3) discouragement of creativity
In the world Google advocates, true value is more about popularity than intrinsic personality. That is, it matters less on how valuable the content is. The one that really counts heavily is how much popular a content is linked. Though it is true that many times we may trust public votes from people, which is the secret about the wisdom of crowd, truly novel creation rarely gets popular at the beginning.
In long term, the philosophy represented by the PageRank algorithm is a discouraging factor to human creativity. Many times, we humans indeed intentionally look for unpopular answers to expand our mind. Such a human behavior protects and leverages human creativity. However, Google generally discourages this performance.
Because of the three major negative impacts Google brings, it is unlikely that Google may keep on its incomparable dominance over the Web for long time. Very critically, Google cannot solve these problems by itself because they are based on the fundamental structure of the company. Therefore, the age of Google will pass. It is inevitable.
We must save the Web. By saving the virtual world, we save our real world and eventually ourselves. Google has made great contribution for the Web evolution. When time goes on, however, the negative effect of Google is gradually beating its positive impact. Now it is the time to seek for CHANGE.
Change should be done in varied ways. For example, we must encourage users to think more rather than to search more. Moreover, we need to foster individuals and empower some government-like force to stop the ever-increasing trend of monopolization of information distribution on the Web. At last, we look for the renaissance of delicate semantic analysis over content in contrast to the superficial analysis of link popularity, through which novel creation may become more accessible for people looking for innovations.
Subjective search (represented by such as Mahalo and Delver), Semantic-oriented services (represented by such as Hakia and Open Calais), and think-prompting services (represented by such as Imindi) will be the fresh forces in the next evolutionary trend. Look for better balance between subjectiveness and objectiveness (or between individualism and collectivism), better mixture of meaning accuracy and link popularity, and better blend about active thinking and passive searching will be the main melody of the future Web.
We should not regretted of the passing of the age of Google. Google will remain to be a great company as Microsoft is still. However, we need new forces to lead us to walk beyond Google could lead us. After the age of Google, we will only obtain a new age that is more brilliant.
- Imagining the Google Future (CNN Money)
- Is Google Making Us Stupid? (Atlantic)
- Is Google changing how our brains physically work? (ZDNet)
- Is Google invincible? (Alt Search Engines)
- Google is God (Buzz Machine)
- Web search is going to change (Alt Search Engines)
- Is Keyword Search About To Hit Its Breaking Point? (TechCrunch)
- Alternative search engine and the "subjective web" (Alt Search Engines)
- Nick Carr reckons Google’s is not the model to emulate (Nodalities)
- Google vulnerable to alternative search engines? (Read/WriteWeb)
- Is Searching a Social or Solitary Activity? (Alt Search Engines)
- A Struggle Over Dominance and Definition (The New York Times)
- Web search, is Google the ultimate monster? (Thinking Space)
Monday, August 18, 2008
(The previous installment: open sesame)
Google is a legendary company of Web search. However, it would not have been a legend if there were no Web 2.0. On the other hand, Web 2.0 might not have been so phenomenal if there were no Google. Google and Web 2.0 are twins. If we watch closer to the rise of Google, its path synchronizes with the rise of Web 2.0.
Because of Google, Web 2.0 rapidly catches the mainstream attention. Because of Web 2.0, Google grows to its full potential.
Even until now, Web 2.0 is still a debating issue. Despite of its great success at the industrial realm, many academic researchers (even a few high profile industrial leaders) still doubt of its real value. They still think Web 2.0 to be just a hype, a buzzword, an illusion, or solely a marketing term.
I had previously a thoughtful post about what Web 2.0 is. In the post, I analyzed varied discussion of Web 2.0 and concluded that Web 2.0 actually tells World Wide Web to being at the second major stage of its evolution. At this new stage, the Web digitalizes humans participation through collective intelligence, explicit ownership declaration over Web resources, and portable Web services. At the front-end, Web 2.0 is a Read/Write Web. At the back-end, Web 2.0 is a web of platforms.
From all these analysis, we can tell that Web 2.0 has rich and concrete intent and it is measurable. Therefore, it is definitely not just a hype of business cycle or an illusion. Web 2.0 is an inevitable stage of Web evolution that we cannot bypass.
From AJAX to GMail
At the previous installment, we mentioned one side of Google's success---PageRank. As I said, PageRank started the legendary journey of Google. But it is another factor that finally pushed the company into the list of legends. This second factor is AJAX, the core technology of Web 2.0.
AJAX solves the problem of asynchronously processing varied resources in one Web page. In short, AJAX eliminates the processing overhead of enforced synchronizing of multiple resources in the same page. Because of AJAX, the Web has been decomposed from pages as resource units to portions of pages as resource units. Informally, we may also say that AJAX makes the Web evolve from a web of URLs to a web of URIs. Such an evolution makes the Web be very different from before.
Although GMail is not the first AJAX application, it is the first influential AJAX application at the global scale that demonstrates the power of AJAX. By the success of GMail, AJAX caught the mainstream attention. With the wide adoption of AJAX, the rise of Web 2.0 became unstoppable.
GMail is a phenomenal product. The use of AJAX makes GMail be an interactive platform. Unlike the traditional email services such as Hotmail or Yahoo Mail (the versions before GMail), GMail let users feel that they are performing a regular desktop functions since the page refreshing issue has been nearly eliminated. Therefore, the first time in history two email users feel that they are using a shared desktop and interactively messaging each other. GMail becomes a platform for emails users more than simply an email service. This fundamental upgrade to the intent of email makes GMail immediately be popular among the Web users, let it alone the significant larger storage spaces GMail promised for its users.
The success of GMail brings tremendous number of volunteered advocates of Google. Since GMail, "powered by Google" starts to be a trademark of novelty, modern style, and cutting edge.
By this sense, we would rather say that it is GMail instead of Google search that indeed makes Google be outstanding out of all the others. The new Web search competitors may clone every detail of Google search. However, none of the competitors would be able to clone the success of GMail because it is an issue of timing. Once we have passed the timing of the Web 2.0 initiative, it would not come back again.
Google's legend began with the timely objective, link-oriented Web search methodology. But it was the adoption of AJAX that finally titled Google the forerunner of Web 2.0.
After GMail, Google continuously produces new Web-2.0 products such as Google Map, Google Talk, and, more importantly, AdSense and AdWords. Moreover, by quickly acquiring a few leading Web-2.0 services such as Blogger and YouTube and merging them into the Google framework, Google enhances its leading position about Web-2.0 resource production. Therefore, Google and Web 2.0 have become nearly indistinguishable. As long as Web 2.0 continues, no other companies might have the chance to pull Google down from the seat.
For new startup companies that are ambitious to be the next legend after Google, there are many lessons they can learn from Google's story of success. No matter whatsoever, however, there is one critical point any new startup must learn, i.e., the timing of Web evolution! Though Google is the king of Web 2.0, it would unlikely be the king again at the next stage of Web evolution. Companies that truly understand Web evolution and are capable of recognizing the timing of a new stage would have a much better chance of being a new legend after Google.
The success, however, does not matter the particular business done by the companies. Google is indeed first of all a Web-2.0 resource producer and then secondarily a Web search service provider. AdSense and AdWords are typical examples. Through Web 2.0, Google utilizes Web search. It is not, however, that through Web search Google utilizes Web 2.0. The key here is Web 2.0. Through Web 2.0, a company can utilizes many things other than Web search.
On the other hand, for the ones that still deny to honor Web 2.0 even until now, they would not have a chance of being the next legend because Web evolution would only award to the ones who respect it, just as Google has done.
Do all of these declare that Google is unbeatable? In the next installment, I will share the weaknesses and limit of Google. Google is certainly far away from truly invincible. But we must first know the art of combat.
(Next installment: the future)
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Sustainable development is a critical issue in the current world. Especially to the newly developed nations such as China, how to really achieve a more sustainable mode of development is a central topic to the government. When the discussion of sustainable development is focusing on the issues such as environment and energy, another crucial issue is generally overlooked, i.e., morality!
A few days ago when I briefly introduce my understanding of China for the Thinking Space readers, I have mentioned that the general loss of morality in Chinese society would be a crisis for the future sustainable development of China. The recent news about the secretly substituted voice/face of two child singer/performer at the open ceremony of Beijing Olympics reconfirms the urgency of this issue. It is fine to have one performer at the front stage while another real singer sings at the back stage. It is, however, a shame not to tell public the truth at the first place. Someone criticizes that it is a disgrace to the spirit of Olympics. Indeed it is worse than a disgrace to Olympics. It is sad for the future of China, and hence it is a bad sign to the world.
An economic development cannot sustain without the protection of morality. It would otherwise simply cost too much to maintain the stability of a society when it is unevenly wealthy and immoral.
If a pretty and sweet 9-year-old "model child" could perform a fake singing at the stage so naturally without even a little bit shame on not mentioning the name of the real voice, what does this model represent? For tens of millions of Chinese children who listened to the song, watched the performance, and literally took the young girl as their model, what have they learned from this show?
If the new generation of China will take this performance as model, China is not a nation anybody should be afraid at all.
Immorality can never sustain continuous growth in healthy way. This is a lesson for a person, a nation, and for any company too.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
(the previous installment: The Age of Google (1))
It is an old Arabic story. By accident, a poor Arabic young man named Ali Baba overheard a message spoken by a group of thieves---forty in total. From the message, he learned a tremendous amount of treasure hidden in a cave. The magic spell to open the cave was "Open Sesame." Ali Baba thus entered the cave with the secret spell and took some of the treasure home.
World Wide Web is the cave full of treasure. The search engine sites are the magic doors. The user-specified keywords are, however, the "open sesame."
Among all the magic doors, Google is the most marvelous one. Google has standardized the way of ranking online information. Before Google, we had diverse standards to rank the relevancy of information on the Web. Because of Google, the standards converged. This convergence is an important sign about the age of Google.
Subjective ranking vs. Objective ranking
In primary should ranking be subjective or objective? This was (and probably is still) a crucial debate in the realm of Web search. The issue is not only a technological argument but also a business decision.
Technologically, in the time before Google the performance of subjective ranking was generally incomparable to the performance of objective ranking. Yahoo was providing significantly better relevancy in its search results than the other search engines which performed objective ranking methods. Although due to the subjective policy Yahoo's execution expense was higher, its superior quality of search results made the cost worthy.
On the side of business execution, from the beginning Web search was coupled with the online advertising business model. Popularly, Web search engines were selling their first few related search results to certain advertisers; such a policy was once the basis of online advertisement. The subjective ranking search engines apparently executed the policy better than their objective competitors because the former ones selected relevancy subjectively anyway. There was nearly no extra cost for subjective search engines to embed the business model into their framework. On the contrary, the objective search engines might have to execute two policies in parallel to reach both the technological goal and the business goal. Therefore, the overhead of subjectively deploying advertisement reduced the advantage of objective ranking in its low cost of execution.
Google cleverly resolved the dilemma on the side of objective ranking. As the result, objective ranking declared the victory over subjective ranking, at least until the present. (Be note that now the subjective search strategy is striking back. Represented by Mahalo, the subjective search policy is reclaiming its momentum. I will analyze this phenomenon in the following installment of this series when discussing the challenge Google faces.) Another consequence of the resolution is what we all know: the victory clinched Google's championship on Web search over the previous leader Yahoo.
What Google did was actually on two folds. One fold was at the technological side on which Google implemented a brand new objective ranking policy that significantly improved the performance. We will discuss this fold a little bit later in this post.
The other fold was the revision of the online advertising business model. We have known that the previous online advertising business model favored subjective search. Since Google's technology belonged to objective search, the company was trying to discover a new business model that was more compatible to the objective search. Finally, Google invented AdSense and its sister program AdWords. There have been many discussions about the two programs. In fact, at the next installment I will discuss the two programs again. At here, however, the discussion is solely on the impact of the two programs to the combat between the subjective search and the objective search.
AdSense and AdWords reshaped the online advertising business model from the subjective judgments made by the search engines to the objective decisions made by the run-time mapping between search queries and advertising words. Please be note that this change did not indeed have improved the performance of advertising in the sense of technology. It, however, brought two critical improvements for online advertising business: (1) it decreases the unit cost of deploying an advertising word, hence by spending the same amount of money advertisers may now ask for more advertising words associated to their advertisement; and (2) it is implicitly empowered by the effect of the long tail since objective search automatically associates any unpopular deployment of the advertising words to the advertisement.
In order to thoroughly exploring the advantage of objective ranking, Google made another great decision. Google abandoned mixing the search results with advertisers' product links. Google displays all search results in order purely by their objective ranks. By contrast, advertisers' links are laid separately in such as the side bar of the page of the related search results. By this revision of advertisement deployment, Google won the name of integrity and objectiveness on Web search. This fame has been a crucial part of the foundation for Google's business success.
Cluster weighting vs. Link popularity
Another debate of Web search is between ranking by cluster weighting and ranking by link popularity.
In short, ranking by cluster weighting is to classify documents based on the measurement between typed keywords and predefined clusters of information. The implementation of the methodology may be machine learning or the mathematical analysis of vector computation. Ranking by link popularity, however, is to measure the relevancy of documents based on how popular the document is linked in the Web. More popularly linked ones are assigned greater value of relevancy.
Certainly, as many of us know, Google is a supporter of the latter policy. The PageRank algorithm is a famous representative of the thought.
In theory, however, we should expect that cluster weighting must be superior to link popularity on ranking search results. Essentially, cluster weighting methodology directly looks for the content relevancy, while link popularity just indirectly reveals the favorite of relevancy through human activities. In the other words, the truth itself is always more correct than people's vote of the truth. If we can directly reveal the truth, we do not need to rely on the secondary votes to guess the truth.
The problem is, however, whether we are truly able to compute the truth or even if we could, how much the computation would cost. This is where the problem of ranking by cluster weighting is.
The beauty of PageRank is to greatly avoid the complexity of vector computation between search keywords and content keywords. The mentioned computation is very costly in both of run-time execution and off-time optimization requirement. By investing the same amount of money to store and analyze the topological structure of World Wide Web, Google believes that it might gain more reward than investing on cluster weighting computation. Indeed, Google proves itself.
In essence, public voting is probably the most cost-efficient way to approach the truth when the truth is unknown. Public voting does not always reveals the truth. But if the truth is too expensive to be revealed, public voting is what most of the people accept and it generally reveals something that is close to the truth. This is the same philosophy of democracy. So actually Google was excising Web 2.0 implicitly even before Web 2.0. In person, I believe this is an important reason that Google eventually became an early leader of Web 2.0.
But ranking by cluster weighting is not dying. The policy is actually preparing its strong fightback now. Semantic search is the modern mutation of this traditional policy. As many people suggest and expect, semantic search (if it be realized) would certainly outperform the current search executed by Google. But how to reduce the execution cost remains to be a grand challenge. We will discuss more about semantic search in the following installments.
In summary, Google's "open sesame" is to explicitly execute low-cost objective ranking over implicit, free, subjective ranking (link popularity) performed by regular Web users. This is a model putting "objectiveness" on top of "subjectiveness of the crowd."
However, the business success of this "open sesame" was still not enough for Google to be an age. Google might have been just another successful company if nothing else happened. There is another crucial reason that eventually pushed Google from a successful company to a legend. At the next installment we are going to discuss it.
(The next installment: Web 2.0)
Sunday, August 10, 2008
As I continue reading Seth Lloyd's fabulous book Programming The Universe, a thought strongly takes me over and I cannot get rid of it. Is the W3C interpretation of Semantic Web a realizable plan according to the second law of thermodynamics?
In general, the central point of the W3C interpretation of Semantic Web is to upgrade the present Web of linked documents to the future Web of linked data. From the view of useful information (i.e., entropy with respect to the second law of thermodynamics), entropy of the system (i.e. the entire Web) must be inevitably decreased.
Certainly, however, World Wide Web is an open system in contrast to a closed system. Thus the mentioned systematic decrease of entropy does not directly violate the second law of thermodynamics. However, in order to truly decrease the entropy of an open system and maintain a low level of entropy systematically, the system must continuously be added useful work from outside of the system. To World Wide Web, human mind is the only available resource for the external useful work, and we must add an assumption that humans are not part of World Wide Web (will this assumption be hold all the way to the future?).
Even with all the previous assumptions, the W3C interpretation of Semantic Web still has a few intrinsic difficulties. In his book, Seth pointed out that the cost to decrease the entropy of a system is significantly high, let it alone that the W3C interpretation of Semantic Web asks not only to maintain the low entropy environment for long time (and potentially forever) but also to continuously push the systematic total value of entropy being lower and lower. It thus must demand unbelievable large amount of human mind to be the external useful work so that the goal can be fulfilled. In the other words, this requirement fundamentally contradicts to the optimistic declaration popularly among Semantic Web researchers that we may figure out a few low-cost, fabulous Semantic-Web killer applications and suddenly the dream of Semantic Web comes true.
The second law of thermodynamics tells that such a type of low-cost, fabulous Semantic-Web killer application simply may not exist. Or otherwise, they are typical perpetual motion machines of the second kind. Based on the second law of thermodynamics, it is theoretically impossible to build these perpetual motion machines. (If someone believes it to be possible, he will eventually discover the need of the amount of external input being quickly beyond the original expectation, just like Powerset has experienced.)
Does this observation sentence the death of Semantic Web? I still don't think so. To make Web content be more machine-executable is not impossible. However, we may need to have new thoughts of how semantics might be cost-efficiently added to the Web. In the other words, whatever tools we build should not violate the second law of thermodynamics, or otherwise the business would not be sustained (such as Powerset).
More and more, I tend to the vision of human-directed Semantic Web in contrast to the traditional vision of machine-enhanced Semantic Web. By this new vision of Semantic Web, we abandon the assumption that humans are excluded from the Web. By contrast, we allow humans and the Web together be a comparatively closed system in contrast to the Web alone be a open system. In this comparatively closed system (it is not a truly closed system since it still excludes the supporting equipments such as power plants), we may experience controlled systematic increase of entropy in exchange of a few local, conditional decrease of entropy. It would be a much less perfect Semantic Web than the W3C interpretation. But it would be much more executable, realizable, and it will bring concrete benefits for human users. I look forward Imindi to be the first real-world example of this vision.
- a philosophic view of the second law of thermodynamics
- entropy (Wikipedia)
- perpetual motion (Wikipedia)
If we have to pick just one company of our age, it could only be Google. Google to us is more than a phenomenon. It is our daily life. To many of us, using Google search is like spelling Ali Baba's "open sesame." By just typing a few simple keywords, a magic door opens and tremendous value of treasure on the Web becomes available. Indeed, however, Google is beyond just a gate to treasures. Google itself is also another extraordinary treasure maker. We are at the age of Google.
By being the symbol of our time, two years ago at The New York Times Google was questioned by Richard Siklos with "GOOGLE: mate or menace?" After two years, however, the question remains. Hence we may want to ask:
1) What has Google brought to us?
2) Is Google truly invincible?
3) How much longer will this Google legend last?
By focusing on answering these three questions, I start this new short series (comparing to the length of the series of Web evolution). I expect the series to bring us better understanding on not only the strengths of Google and the benefits the company has brought to us, but also the weaknesses of Google and the negative impacts the company has taken to the mankind.
Discarding whatever the conclusion I may draw at the end, Google is a modern marvel. The goal of the series is not to question Google. By contrast, it is to question us whether we may pass beyond the height Google reaches. Only by learning from the history, we may have better chances to advance beyond the forerunners.
(the next installment: Open Sesame)
- A Struggle Over Dominance and Definition (The New York Times)
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Tomorrow is the open ceremony of Beijing Olympics. The slogan of the game is "One World, One Dream." Nevertheless is it a well spoken perspective, it misses (but also indicates) a more important topic: do we also have "One Realization" to our "One Dream"?
Ironically, this slogan is an accurate description of the present China. We have no other choices but to live together in the same world. By living in the same world, we are truly capable of weaving a common dream such as getting better education, obtaining better medical care, being richer, and having the freedom of speaking. However, do we really have a uniform realization to the dream equally for every member of the society?
One World, One Dream. It is not enough to satisfy the poor hearts when their dreams have no hope to be realized.
One Dream, One Realization. This is actually the real slogan that Chinese people are looking for; it is also what people all over the world are expecting; and more importantly, it is the true spirit of Olympics! Olympics is the place where dreams become true rather than a place just for people to dream.
Can we declare the new slogan after the Olympics?
No matter how Chinese government will do, however, we as Web researchers are working on the goal illustrated by the new slogan. From Google to Facebook, we are experiencing to make the Web be more open and allow regular people to be able to realize their originally intangible dreams on the more and more user-friendly Web.
Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, who started One Dream for every mankind in the One World. Thanks to Google, Facebook, and many other innovative Web companies, we are also approaching One Realization. That is, every human being in this world will have the inalienable rights to realize their dream!
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
This is the second time I post outside of the theme of this blog. The first time is at May this year after Si Chuan earthquake had taken away the life of tens of thousands people. This time is right before the open of Beijing Olympics. Both posts are about China, where I was born.
Beijing Olympics is an important event to Chinese people. It is a demonstration of the rise of new China after a nearly two-century-long painful and humiliating history. As a Chinese myself, I feel happy and proud of the nation and especially of the Chinese people. At the time when we enjoy the games, there is, however, a question worth of thinking---where will the country go afterward?
China, still a nation of mystery in many western people's mind, how to understand this country properly?
History---a double-edged sword
When mentioning China, the first thought jumped into mind is probably its long history. China is the country in the world that keeps the longest continuous record of a single nation. Many other great ancient nations such as ancient Egypt, ancient Babylonia, ancient Assyria, ancient Persia, ancient Greece, ancient India, and even Rome and the Ottoman Empire, have disappeared in history. China is the only nation that continuously survives from the ancient time till now. Though there are several dynasties in Chinese history, it is mainly about a new emperor overthrowing an old one. The nation continuously preserves one culture, one race, and one tradition.
China has a glorious history of culture. Among the many, the most well known contribution of Chinese to the world are Confucianism (Chinese: 儒家; pinyin: Rújiā) and the Four Great Inventions of ancient China (Chinese: 四大发明; pinyin: sì dà fāmíng), which are compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing. We can say that the Four Great Inventions had built an essential part of the foundation that brought the entire human world into the modern age, while at the same time it is Confucianism that preserves the spirit of Chinese tradition and keeps the nation uniquely survives over thousands of years.
The ancient Chinese culture is also the foundation of the oriental culture. From Japan, Korea to Vietnam and other southeastern Asia countries, there are many marks of ancient Chinese culture intrinsically in any of these individual oriental cultural traditions. Informally, if the tradition of Rome represents the western culture, the tradition of China represents the eastern culture. By this mean, the history of China is truly a wealth for not only Chinese but also all human beings.
But history, especially long history, does not bring only positive effects. To China, its long history is also a burden.
For hundreds of years, Confucianism brings the country a comparatively harmonious public environment. By the instructions from Confucius (Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ), a harmonious society is the one that "master be like master, servant be like servant, father be like father, and son be like son. (Chinese: 君君、臣臣、父父、子子)" Confucius concluded that if in a society everybody just be the best of the role he is, it must be a stable and harmonious society. This theory thus becomes the foundation of governing in Chinese history till today. Because of the society-wide harmony and stability brought by the Confucianism, in short time period (with respect to history, i.e., several hundred years) Chinese people were able to live well and have the sufficient supplement for technological invention and business development. In this sense, Confucianism is the reason behind the glory of ancient Chinese culture.
However, does this philosophy continuously brings only the positive impact to the nation, even after thousands of years? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
In Confucius' harmonious theory, innovation is, however, generally discouraged since by essence any innovation is a rebel to the present tradition. Innovation theoretically contradicts to that "master be like master, servant be like servant, father be like father, and son be like son." On the contrary, innovation is to encourage servant to be master and to support son to be father. Due to this conflict, innovations, especially the technological innovations that are the momentum of culture evolution, gradually lost its driving force in Chinese culture. After two thousand years of Confucianism, the ability of innovation in China was nearly disappeared. Such a loss directly caused the misery of Chinese history in the nearest two centuries.
Now, ostensibly China is moving back to this old Chinese tradition after the painful Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the last century. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have led the so-called Hu-Wen New Administration in order to bring China a new harmonious society (Chinese: 和谐社会; pinyin: héxié shèhuì). Has the new administration learned from the history and would be able to avoid the negative side of Confucianism so that China is entering another glorious period of time? We hope so and let the history itself tell.
Communist Party---where debates are
When talking about the modern China, we cannot avoid a sensitive topic---Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From the supporters' point, CCP is the savior of China from the hand of intruders as well as the hope to the future of China. From the adversaries' point, CCP is an ugly monster that humiliates its people, discards basic human rights, and is a factor of instability in the world. Chinese Communist Party, the term itself is where many troubles start. In order to understand New China, we must understand CCP, how this party governs the nation, why this party can continuously govern the nation, and how to look for the future.
Nearly from its beginning, Chinese Communist Party is not about the real communism invented by Marx and extended by Lenin. Chinese style communism is actually a modern-age Confucianism. The essence of Maoism (Chinese: 毛泽东思想; pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng) is class struggle, in which reflects Confucius' teaching that every class of people must willingly stay at its natural position. That is, the ruling class (originally the industrial workers) be like leading class, the auxiliary ruling class (originally the peasants) be like auxiliary ruling class, and the ruled class (originally the landlords and the capitalists) be like ruled class. United Front (Chinese: 统一战线; pinyin: tǒng yī zhàn xiàn) is the fundamental policy of CCP. This policy is very much different from the classless society asked by Marxism or Leninism.
Through United Front, CCP governs the nation. CCP is very good at uniting a greater percentage of allies to fight against "a small truck" (Chinese: 一小撮) of adversaries. In order to reach the state of United Front, CCP is negotiable at anything, even if the thing might be "fundamental" in communist theory because indeed nothing is more fundamental than United Front. This essential difference distinguishes CCP from many other communist parties, such as the former Soviet Union Communist Party. And this is why many other communist parties argue that CCP is not the real communism; and truly they are right! CCP is not really about standard Marxism. By contrast, Confucianism is its core while Marxism is just the cloth.
Using any method and prepared to make any compromise to collapse opponents' union so that our side outnumbers the enemy, this is the philosophy of United Front, and this is why CCP can continuously govern China. CCP is a true master of compromising and uniting (and this is also the spirit of Chinese culture). Western political analysts often say that there are millions of city workers out of their jobs and the Chinese government cannot last long in this situation. Millions of adversaries is enough to overthrow the government of any western country. But it is far less than enough to throw down CCP because the party has successfully united billions of Chinese peasants in the countryside into its United Front against the city adversaries. Why are the peasants in countryside willing to join the side of CCP? The tradition of Confucianism still works.
Believe it or not, or dislike it or not, CCP will keep on its dominating power at China in the predictable future. Hence no serious business or political decisions at present should count on the assumption that CCP would be out of the stage. The only thing that is countable is changes happening inside the party. When more and more Chinese learn from western culture and when the influence of Confucianism starts to decay, China will be better and better though it is still governed by the CCP.
Morality---the real crisis
The real crisis at the modern China is not CCP but the general lack of morality.
Though its origin is debating, morality is a fundamental element of human society. A society may engage wealthiness in short time period by immorality. Any sustainable growth of human society, however, can never be kept long without morality.
In order to preserve morality, people must believe in the existence of the absolute objective truth. Moreover, the absolute objective truth must have the power to suppress any evil. In the other words, people have to at least believe in the existence of God, no matter how the God may be defined in their mind. Atheism fundamentally contradicts to morality.
It is not hard to explain this contradiction. To real atheists, they trust nothing more than themselves. Even though some time they may admire somebody so much that they become the followers of the person, it is still they themselves who make the decision instead of the followed one being God (and hence the followers will have no other choices but to follow). Therefore, to the end what the atheists truly trust is only the judgments made by themselves. Atheists are the God of themselves. By being their own God, morality becomes private toy since everybody may have his own standard of it. Derived from the former statement, absolute objective morality does not exist.
Unfortunately, both Confucianism and communism belong to atheism. Confucianism tells that it is generally impossible to understand the absolute truth; hence we do not need to waste time on thinking of this mission impossible. By contrast, we only need to take care of the things we can handle and handle them properly. Confucianism is an implicit atheism. On the other hand, communism explicitly declares the nonexistence of God.
The coupling of Confucianism and communism is probably the worst combination ever in the world in terms of morality. Communism declares that God does not exist, and Confucianism forbids people to rethink whether God exists. Therefore, the atheism in modern China reaches its extreme. Individualism of morality is the most popular philosophy in modern China.
"I don't care if it's a white cat or a black cat. It's a good cat so long as it catches mice." The most well known quote by the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is a typical example of the modern Chinese philosophy. The value of anything is decided by its immediate consequence. The potential impact into the future is unimportant since we may "not be able to" predict.
The sustainable development of China is under serious question due to the gradual loss of public morality. This is the real crisis.
Censorship---a moral issue
Since Thinking Space is about World Wide Web, I contribute my last thought of China on the topic of Web content censorship.
The worst part of censorship is you cannot say what the worst part of censorship is under censorship.
Many people in western countries criticize the general Web content censorship policy in China. The Golden Shield Project (Chinese: 金盾工程; pinyin: jīndùn gōngchéng) is the name of the online content censorship plan. It actually blocks many popular western sites such as Wikipedia and Blogger (it means that my posts are generally outreached by the Chinese people, what a pity, and I learned it after I had started up this blog for more than a year, even more pity, sign... )
The purpose of content censorship is to filter out "bad content" so as to maintain the purity of the Web. You can say that it is quite a moral desire, especially when we just discussed the crisis of morality in China. The question is, however, which content is "bad"?
By enforcing the filtering of serious political critiques but overlooking the widespread of pornographic information in Chinese online environment, the original moral intuition has become totally an anti-moral action. By this mean, we must say against to this censorship policy.
The relationship between World Wide Web and morality is a very complicated issue. Censorship is just one of them. Should the Web be continued under no government? Should we allow ourselves, especially our children, be exposed under free attack from the true morally bad content? Do we indeed require any sort of public censorship in addition to the parent control button on individual Web browsers? They are big debatable questions. To the best of our expectation, we hope the Web will be more and more a healthy place for us to explore than a disgusting platform of trashes.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
If there is a service that is used the most frequently by most of the Web users, it must be email. The invention of email is often thought to be the killer application of Internet. Without email, the adoption of Internet might have been delayed for several years.
Recently, however, email seems facing a little bit challenge. With the rise of new services such as instant message, wiki, Twitter, and all kinds of social networking functions, email is already no longer the solely primary choice for online communication. How should email be improved to satisfy the rapidly evolving Web?
First of all, we should not try to construct some super-email service that integrates all kinds of new service functions from IM to social networking. It would be a monster too heavy for users to drive, as Alex Iskold pointed out in his post.
Here are a few features I believe a new-generation email should be equipped. Email does not have to replace the other services. But email does need to improve itself.
editable after sent
Twine builds a very useful feature in its email service---users may edit its already-sent email. At least to me, this is a great feature. I am not sure how many of you have the experience that you want to revise an email just sent out. I often have. I believe that the feeling is especially regular among writers whose mother tongue is not English.
Moreover, many time I feel that I may only catch certain error after it is officially sent. This feeling might be based on some psychological reasons. But anyway, sending out an email containing improper verses or uncaught typos is not only embarrassing but some time also deadly if the email is important such as a job application.
Therefore, an upgraded email service should allow the senders to be able to revise and update their sent messages, especially before the mail being opened by the receivers. Twine is ahead on this service. But there are certainly other ways to solve the problem besides Twine's solution. For instance, we may simply allow users to send a new message to "replace" an old sent message. If the sent message has not been opened yet, the server can simply "replace" the old one by the new message; or otherwise, the sender may notice the server either deliver the "replacing" message as a normal new message or omit it totally.
I would suggest such a feature called "replace" be a new basic email function side-by-side with send and obtain emails.
Gmail allows users to label received emails. But why not encourage email senders to tag their messages at the first place? The title of email could not say much. With sender-generated tags, however, it greatly helps receivers filter their messages. And it also helps catch spammers when they abuse tags.
video email channels
A problem of combining video with email is that video files are often too big for emails to carry. But why videos must be sent. With the tagging function I just mentioned, regular email services may open a separate video email channel that allows people to record and listen to video emails. The regular email can simply be used to exchange the entry-point of the message in the channel with tags so that receivers may know what the shared channel is about.
There are actually more thoughts but I am a little bit tired of blogging more. One certain thing is, however, that we do expect a new-generation email as many other analysts have mentioned (see the referenced resources).
If only we may open our mind and think proactively, innovation is everywhere. Thinking Space is a place of creative thinking. I always believe that the value of a person is not mainly about what he has thought out. By contrast, the true value of a person is about what he is capable of active thinking and thus be able to continuously invent new ideas. Again, this human ability is the value of mind asset, a gift that every human being owns but only through everlasting practices it becomes more and more valuable.
Friday, August 01, 2008
The newly updated delicious.com (former del.icio.us) has brought people another round of interest about social bookmarking. Nova Spivack, the founder and CEO of RN/Twine, just posted his thought of the topic in his public Twine. After reading it, I still want to ask a question: why do we bookmark?
According to Mathew Ingram, bookmarking should already have been out of fashion. Once people have bookmarked a few links using social bookmarking services such as delicious.com, how many times do they really go back and watch their bookmarked items again? Based on Mathew's observation, the answer is very few and nearly to zero. Then the immediate conclusion must be that bookmarking is generally nothing but wasting of time. What value may we gain from bookmarking when we actually never watch the items bookmarked?
To response to Mathew's argument, Nova suggested Twine---his own baby---by saying that Twine will actually bring the experience of bookmarking to another level. Hence bookmarking is not about to die. By contrast, bookmarking is about to evolve.
I agree to Nova about evolution of bookmarking. Bookmarking is still a useful and valuable generic function that many Web users look for. There is just too much useful information on the Web and by nature our brains simply cannot remember everything. Bookmarking is always valuable but it also does need to evolve since the current bookmarking technology simply does not meet users' expectation. Is Twine really the solution as Nova advocates?
I don't want to make any judgment. Instead, I just want to share some experiences on how I handle my bookmarked items.
As many others, I often bookmark. I have used several bookmarking tools, from the most traditional IE and Firefox bookmarks to Furl to MyBookmarks to Digg to Twine to Google Reader. Weird that I have never really used delicious (I have a login on the site, however) even though it is the most popular service in this category for quite a long time. Google Reader + Twine + Firefox 3.0 bookmarks + Blogger is the best combination I have experienced until now though it is still far less than being satisfied.
In general, this is what I do.
1) Using Google Reader to grasp potential information of interest, staring the items that I do feel interesting.
2) Using Twine to categorize the items that are interesting, the majority of which is from the stared ones in Google Reader and a few others from random reading on the Web.
3) Using Firefox 3.0 bookmarks to record only the few links that I do frequently browse, access, or reference.
4) Writing blog posts (primarily it is at here Thinking Space though there are a few others places) that digest the bookmarked items into my own thoughts. After blogging, I will delete the bookmarked items from my list since they have already been part of my own thinking.
The reason I explains this process in this detail is to derive an answer for the question I raised at the beginning: why do we bookmark?
My answer is: I bookmark to absorb others' thoughts and turn them to be my own knowledge. Hence a real revolutionary bookmarking service should contain all the four steps I just mentioned but not just any one of them.
An ideal bookmarking service should have (1) an information collecting pipe such as Google Reader, (2) an information categorization and crude digest unit such as Twine, (3) an information winnowing repository such as Firefox 3.0 bookmarks, and (4) an eventual information refining factory such as Blogger. This is how bookmarking can really be useful and Mathew would never complain again.
Again, does anybody sense the term "mind asset" emerged again in this paradigm? Maybe it is a joking. I do feel, however, that someone would better having me help produce such a service. In fact, it could be revolutionary if one does have the vision of mind asset or it might be just another mixture of existing services---novel but not illuminating enough (and hence hardly be a great business success).