Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Online Desktop versus Offline Web

Today there is an interesting post on the Read/WriteWeb: Point/Counterpoint: Which is better, an offline Web App or an online Desktop App? In the article, John Milan and Richard MacManus made a debate on which one is better for the future---offline Web applications or online Desktop applications. This is an interesting article, and many of the comments are worthwhile to read too.

I have also made some comments to the authors. In general, when users work offline, they are on their private life. On the contrary, when users work online, they are on their social life. Both sides, however, are fundamental parts of the human life.

An offline Web application is to take a part of social activities to a private space; and an online Desktop application is to take a part of private bahaviors into a social domain. In our real life, we see both of these phenomena regularly. Most of the time, which one is better does not depend on the method itself. In contrast, it is more about WHO makes the decision. Some people like to let everyone know their privacies; they definately like to use online Desktop applications. Some other, however, like to hide their soical activities as many as possible to be private information; and they will prefer to having offline Web applications. So which one is better? It does not depend on either researchers or developers. The answer can be very much different from one person to another. This is why both strategies have their customs.

Moreover, I would like to analyze this debate from the view of web evolution. By this view, the rise of web applications is a phenomenon of web evolution rather than a pure advancement on web technologies. At the beginning, web and desktop were two comparatively independent environment because web was only a network of newborns (virtually, see my article for the explanation). Desktop applications were crucial for users because they could not hand their assignments to "newborns" to do. The starting of the web evolution cycle (typically the emergence of Web 2.0) begins changing this thought. More and more desktop applications can now be done on the web. This trend is going to continue when web grows to be a network of more and more matured virutal people.

Does this trend result in the death of Desktop applications? Absolutely not. No matter how much we would like to be soical, we still need private spaces where live the Desktop applications. We always have something that is so private that we do not want to share. Even if we have discussed before that how deep we would like to clone ourselves, there is always something that we do not want to be cloned (if ever they become cloneable). Moreover, there are also some social activities that are private. We do not want others to know that we have these social activities. All these reasons make us believe that Desktop applications will not die and some web applications need to go offline.

Human society is complicated. Humans are the most complicated creatures of all. If anyone wants to categorize all human behaviors by a simple model, very likely it may not work well.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The religionary side of World Wide Web

(Revised at Sept. 29, 2007)
World Wide Web is a religion. But please don't be panic if you are either an atheist or a fundamentalist. World Wide Web is not a "standard" religion. It is a religion-like Atheism. World Wide Web directly addresses the fundamental of all religions --- the seeking to eternity.

Every religion is an attempt to answer one essential question: what does eternity mean to us? The difference among various religions including Atheism is basically the different answers to this question. To Christians the answer is Jesus Christ; to Muslims the answer is Allah; to Jewish people the answer is Jehovah in the Jewish Bible; to Buddhists the answer is transmigration of the soul; to atheists the answer is that there is no eternity, one's life terminates immediately after death without any form of successors. To WWW users the implicit answer is that we can keep ourselves mentally eternal on the Web.

Almost everyone, no matter whether they believe in Gods or which God they believe, agrees on the existence of immortality. There is, however, difference between physical immortality, spiritual immortality, and artificial immortality. Many religions believe in spiritual immortality; our soul can last forever after the death of body. Some religions even seek to the chance of physical immortality; let body live forever. In contrast, both atheists and theists accept certain form of artificial immortality, i.e., transferring one's consciousness (except self-awareness) into an alternative media that can be assumed staying forever. The fundamental difference between artificial immortality and spiritual immortality is that the latter one also includes the resurrection of humans' ultimate identity --- ones' self-awareness.

Humans have experienced artificial immortality in many forms. Writing books, composing musics, producing artifacts, building constructions, and worshiping antecessors are several typical forms to achieve artificial immortality. We regard ourselves being artificially immortal when our consciousness is kept in history and remembered by our posterity through our publications and artifacts. Based these inherited work, later generations can restore part of the precious consciousness of their ancestors. By this sense, these ancestors reach certain level of immortality though they cannot reclaim the ownership over these consciousness (i.e. the restore of self-awareness).

World Wide Web is a revolutionary new way to achieve artificial immortality. In history, artificial immortality was a reachable but expensive goal. Only the greatest work of mankind could be kept; let it alone the requirements of surviving from wars and natural disasters. But the invention of WWW gives normal persons a cheap and convenient way to keep their consciousness in history for long time. This is the first time ever normal people have a chance be remembered by not requiring great thoughts. Anyone can materializes their consciousness on web even if the thoughts are silly. This is poor man's revolution.

By this sense of artificial immortality WWW is like a religion. Religions addict people into them by the promise of providing immortal future. In similar, WWW addicts web users into it by the promise of providing artificial immortality on the Web. This satisfaction of intrinsic nature of mankind is an essential reason (or probably the most essential reason) why World Wide Web engages such a great success in history. Faith and intrinsic desire are the ones that can never be evaluated by money and time.

This faith to artificial immortality is the fundamental driving force to web evolution. In one of my previous posts, I presented that web evolution is a history of incrementally cloning the consciousness of individual web users. The goal of web evolution is to improve this cloning procedure to its deeper level. Ultimately, we may be able to mentally resurrect any web user by the preserved consciousness. If this time could ever come, no one will die with respect to the others. Pitifully, however, everyone of us could still not live longer than our one life, with respect to ourselves.

Friday, March 23, 2007

retrievr: an interesting progress on image search

retrievr is a new image search service that let users find flickr images by drawing rough sketches of them. It is not searched by keywords or meanings. In contrast, it is searched by visual effects. For example, when I upload my own photo to the site, it returns me a set of black-and-white pictures that has similar visual effect as my picture.

I am not sure how this technique can be used in real-world cases. But it is fun to play with it. If retrievr creates a Web-2.0 community and allow users voting and sharing their results, it may greatly help them improve their technique and bring up more creative ideas on how to use this cool technique on real world applications.

Thanks for JurijMLotman pointing this site and its mother site SystemOne to me. They are doing really cool stuffs. The web indeed becomes more and more interesting.

Will the Semantic Web fail? Or not?

(updated Dec. 21, 2007)

A recent post by Stephen Downes has led to quite a few discussion on whether or not the Semantic Web will fail. There are a few supporters, but more opponents.

The center of the debate is on Stephen's premise: the Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating. Many Semantic Web researchers decline this assertion by saying that the Semantic Web technologies do not rely on agreements between businesses. This counter-statement is, however, true and false. Certainly, we may say that businesses can develop their own ontologies and store their own data in their own RDF files. In short, they do not have obligations to pre-agree anything. But then the problem is: how would we gain by without agreements? Note that automatic ontology mapping is still a problem that is too hard to be practically solved in the foreseeable future.

I am a Semantic Web researcher and I believe in the future of the Semantic Web. But some of the Stephen's viewpoints are indeed good. Semantic Web is not going to be realized inside the ivory tower. The success of the Semantic Web does not depend on how good our ontology reasoning algorithms have been implemented, or how well our ontology languages have been designed. All of these issues are important, but an even more important one is how we can persuade normal web users starting annotating their own data. Annotated data are the real center of the Semantic Web.

Fortunately, Web 2.0 has already led users to the realm of tagged Web content. This is a realm dreamed by Semantic Web researchers who, however, have never succeeded in bringing the regular Web users to this realm. Now a critical challenge is how we may transfer this Web 2.0 impact into the Semantic Web realm. (Or on its reverse, how the Semantic Web research can be merged into this Web 2.0 phenomenon.) If we could succeed on this challenge, the Semantic Web would be the Web 3.0, 4.0, or x.0. Otherwise, the Web 3.0 might be on another route that starts to run away from this Semantic Web community in the ivory tower. Certainly there will be a web engaged with semantics in the future; but whether it is this Semantic Web that suggested by W3C depends on what Semantic Web researchers are doing at present.

Will this Semantic Web research fail? Or not? If the Semantic Web researchers can be humble enough to admit the shortcomings of the Semantic Web proposal and start to learn from the success of Web 2.0, the Semantic Web will succeed. Otherwise, the Semantic Web will fail because nobody can win a Web battle when they are standing on the opposite side to millions of real-world users because it is these normal users who really decide the future of any Web technologies.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How deep do we want to clone ourselves?

For individual web users, the evolution of World Wide Web is a history of incremental self-cloning (mentally, of course).

The traditional WWW (or we may call it Web 1.0) allows web users to create homepages to describe themselves. These homepages can show who they are and what they care about. Human readers may understand them. But there is no directly mutual communication between readers and homepages. So basically, Web 1.0 allows users to mentally clone themselves as babies.

Web 2.0 allows users to create personal accounts on various web sites. By subscribing to a web site, such as this one "," we can not only post information describing ourselves, but also enjoy community-specific services provided by individual community organizers (such as various blogging facilities here on ""). Moreover, these Web-2.0 accounts can actively perform various services for their owners by web feeds and widgets. From the individual point of view, it means that these accounts contain deeper implementation of humans' capabilities. This is why we can say that Web 2.0 allows users to mentally clone themselves as pre-school kids, a higher level of self-cloning mentally.

Tracing this orbit, future web evolution is going to more and more deepen this self-cloning of human web users. Users can materialize their mind, capabilities, and interpersonal relationships at deeper and deeper levels on the web. And these materializations can be behaved more and more close to their real-world copies, who are the original web users. So from one side, these online personal homepages or accounts are the virtual children of the web users. On the other side, they are actually are the mental clones of users themselves.

Now the question is: how deep do we want to clone ourselves? Do we really want to fully clone our thoughts? Will this trend lead to thinking machines? Will the nighmare of terminators become true some day? We don't know the answers yet. But the web is moving towards the answers of these questions.