Sunday, April 29, 2007

Progress of World Wide Web: Evolution or Intelligent Design (revised, second draft)

Evolution or intelligent design? This is a grand question since the publication of the Origin of Species. Now this question moves to the realm of World Wide Web. Will the web evolve forward by its internal laws or will the progress of WWW be decided by the intelligent design of leading web scientists?

One thing is certain. The origin of WWW was by intelligent design. Furthermore, every single web technology was, is, and will continuously be designed by humans. It is unlikely that on some day the web may create new technologies totally by itself without humans' supervision So is there anything wrong in our question?

Our question is not about which party (humans or the web) is going to create web technologies. In contrast, it asks which party is going to decide the fate of new web technologies, i.e., which technologies can survive and which ones wane. If the fate is decided by some objective laws of WWW, the web is in evolution since it matches the view of Darwinian natural selection. Otherwise, if the fate of new web technologies will continously be decided by the preferences of small groups of web elites (as it used to be), the web is on the hand of intelligent design.

I believe in web evolution. Though the web once was dominated by intelligent design, such a time period had already ended. In order to explain the reason, we can take a look at general proceeding patterns of more progressive events.

Many progressive events have two distinct periods in their lives. One is the initiative period, and the other period is afterwards. Due to the significant rate of chaos, the principles dominating in the initiative period is often different from the principles dominating afterwards. As a typical example, the Big Bang theory tells that many natural laws generally guiding our universe at present were not effectively applied during the initiative of the universe. Furthermore, even the famous evolutionary theory of species presented by Charles Darwin was only an abstraction of the observations about the natural phenomena long after the real origin of species. Many researchers (even if they are Darwinians) have agreed that it needs modifications (and thus there are already several at present) to explain the evolutionary events close to the origin of this world.

During its initiative period, a progressive event generates a greater and greater momentum on its further advancement. For the events such as the progress of universe and nature, the generated momentum eventually becomes so great that they become insensitive to the external forces. Therefore, it begins the respective evolutionary laws.

This similar progressive pattern is applicable to the World Wide Web. At the beginning of World Wide Web, there were few web users. Hence individual innovations could be compatively easier to deviate the advance of WWW. This was the initiative period of WWW.

When the web continuously grew and eventually it was engaged by hundreds of millions of web users who contribute their data and services on the web, it became harder and harder for individual persons or organizations to lead the progress. Based on the general Law of Transformation of Quantity into Quality, when the number of web contributors was over some threshold, the quality of WWW changed. It would no long be controled by intelligent designs. On the contrary, it is intelligent designs that must obey the intrinsic evolutionary laws of the WWW. Otherwise, new innovations would not be adopted to the public, at least at the meantime.

The emergence of Web 2.0 and the slow realization of Semantic Web shows that this threshold has already been reached and passed. As we know, W3C is the most important leading organization of World Wide Web. Many of its guided intelligent designs had greatly impacted the formation of the current web. Beginning at the late 90s, W3C initiated a new project that was aimed to a future of World Wide Web, which was well known as the Semantic Web. Due to its exciting descriptions of the future (see this great article on Scientific American) and the reputation of W3C, very soon this Semantic Web project was engaged with hundreds of most talented web researchers all over the world. After these several years, however, this Semantic Web paradigm is still on the state of lab experiments. What is the reason? Certainly, the problem must not be about its vision. The vision of Semantic Web is great and unquestionable. The real problem is, however, because the realization of the Semantic Web is beyond the timetable of web evolution. The web may had already passed its initiative period before the proposal of Semantic Web. Then it has already started progressing on its own timetable rather than controlled by intelligent designs. And this is the key point about the slow adoption of Semantic Web to the public.

We can get the same conclusion on the other side, which is the emergence of Web 2.0. To a suprise of many web researchers, especially the devoting Semantic Web researchers, the quick adoption of Web 2.0 is an ironic fact. The number of devoting Web 2.0 "researchers" is quite short-numbered. Many of the Web 2.0 pioneers are programmers, journalists, publishers, and all kinds of people you name but few of them are leading "scientists" of World Wide Web. By this group of sort of "less-professional" and loosely cooperated reseachers, Web 2.0 becomes a fashion in just a few year (almost the same length of years when Semantic Web was struggling).

How could Semantic Web lose to Web 2.0 in competition? Is it because Semantic Web technologies are more complicated? Maybe, but this was not the crucial reason. Both Semantic Web and Web 2.0 began with simple methods and they could have equally attracted normal web users and grass-roots web developers. With better cooperation, more leading scientists, and the influential W3C, Semantic Web surely should have beaten Web 2.0 to the corner. It should be Semantic Web, instead of Web 2.0, that becomes the current phenomenon. The only reason that can well explain this dramatic hype of Web 2.0 is that: the web itself had made the choice. WWW has its own timetable that is guided by the web evolution laws. On its own schedule, Web 2.0 was a right innovation at the right time, while Semantic Web was not (it was beyond the time).

Web evolution laws matter. This is the most important lesson we should have learned from this Web 2.0 hype (and the slow adoption of Semantic Web).

No comments: