Saturday, September 29, 2007

Update Announcement

Thinking Space emphasizes on discussing genuine thoughts particularly about the Web-related topics. The thoughts thus may not always be flawless. Therefore, occasionally I update some of the old posts with substantial revision.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Web Space

For casual readers, the term web space could be harmlessly understood to be personal owned web site such as a space of a homepage. This is an imprecise expression of this term. But it would not harm you to catch the main idea in most of the posts in Thinking Space that has used the term web space. I will explicitly emphasize the meaning of this term if the precise interpretation of web space is particularly required in a post.

(You do not need to read beyond this point if you are relaxing yourself on reading.)

The formal understanding of this term in Thinking Space is based on the view of Web evolution. The last installment in the series "a view of web evolution" tells the formal definition of this term.

A web space is a personified composition of web resources.

First, a web space is a composition of web resources. A web space is not a space of pre-allocated memory, and nor is it a random virtual space on the Web. A web space refers to a particular collection of web resources that are well organized under certain discipline.

Second, a web space is personified. By personified, the resources in a web space are subjectively assigned by the owner of the web space. These assignments of resources in a web space are reflection of consciousness of the owner.

By combining the two points, a subjectively arranged composition of Web resources represents a disciplined and self-complete subset of consciousness of the owner. By disciplined, there is reasonable logic behind the composition. By self-complete, this composition must have satisfactorily expressed a fact. At last, the expression is a subjective interpretation that only reflects the consciousness of the owner, and hence it may not necessarily be an objective fact.

Ultimately, we can personify a composition as we have described to be a virtual person. This is thus the philosophical thought beneath a web space. With this philosophical understanding, we may derive a few analogues as follows.

(1) We can watch a person. In similar, we can read a web space.

(2) We can tell more facts to a person. In similar, we can write more data to a web space.

(3) We can educate a person meanings of the facts he has learned. In similar, we can semantically annotate content in a web space and apply the annotation with proper logic reasoner. By this way, we also educate a web space as if it is a virtual person.

Can we extend this list? Yes, please, try it by yourself.

This post is part of the collection of terminology, which explains several heavily used terms in Thinking Space.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Completion of a Stage Transition, A View of Web Evolution, Series No. 10

(Revised May. 25, 2008)

Finally, we have reached the last general question about the Web evolution process. How do we know that a stage transition has done? This is an essential question because we, especially the Web industrial companies, need to know the timing to adjust their particular strategy at different period of Web evolution. I exclaim that we are now (May 25, 2008) in the middle of the Web-2.0 stage. The transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 had already finished. What is the reason beneath this claim? This final corollary answers the question.

Corollary 7: the completion of a stage transition of Web evolution is visible by the emergence of a new form of Web space.

We have mentioned the term "Web space" many times in the earlier installments. But we cannot formally define it before defining Web resources and WebROM. This is why we are only able to give the term a complete definition until this end.

A Web space is a personified composition of Web resources. A Web space may contain various web resources in a great deal of number. But the addition of every piece of Web resource must be intentionally addressed by the human owner of the Web space. That is, human owners add a piece of resources into its Web space for some reason and totally by their own willingness. A Web space is not a random collection of Web resources done by machine without any purposes. By this specification, a Web space on the Web may be analogized to a virtual person in the virtual society of World Wide Web.

When human users materialize their consciousness on the web, they produce new Web resources. In particular, personalities are materialized to be pieces of data resources; capabilities are materialized to be pieces of service resources; and friendships are materialized to be pieces of link resources. By explicitly formulating the ownership over the specified web resources, we get Web spaces.

The transformation of external display is often the ultimate consequence of internal transition. This is a general rule applicable to both of human growth and Web evolution. When humans grow up, their external figures changes accordingly. Quite many parents overlook the internal changes happened inside their children. But few parents may miss the external change of figures happened in the body of their children. In similar, only professional Web experts may sensitively catch the initiative of Web stage transition by knowing the progress of WebROM. But the majority of the ordinary Web users should have no difficulty to observe the upgrade of Web spaces. Through this upgrade, everybody knows that we are now at a new evolutionary stage that is upgraded from the previous one.

At Web 1.0, the typical form of Web space is homepage. At Web 2.0, the typical form of Web space is personal account. We do not need to have professional computer science knowledge to tell this difference.

Web Space Transformation from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0

Web-1.0 resources are typically raw data, hardcoded links, and passive, non-portable services. These resources are anonymous. The primary goal of Web-1.0 spaces is to properly display all these resources. Hence a standard web page is the convenient form of Web-1.0 spaces. With respect to individual web users in person, Web-1.0 spaces are typically homepages.

Due to the invention of AJAX, Web-2.0 resources become typically labeled data, labeled links, and active, portable services. To hold all of these higher quality resources together properly, we need to have a particular specification of ownership. (Self-consciousness starts to be explicit.) For example, Web-2.0 users must demand the distinction of their own tags from the tags made by the other people. Due to this requirement of ownership declaration, the 1.0-style anonymous Web spaces become no longer suitable to the changing environment. As the result, the 2.0-style Web spaces are personal account that are named so that all the Web-2.0 quality resources can be well bound to their owners.

Web Evolution: moving forward

At present, the new Web-2.0 spaces has already been well formed. By our last corollary, it means that the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 has done. Then the next question is---what is going on next?

By the Corollary 5, since at present there are still signals of next-generation WebROM. We can safely exclaim that we are at the middle of the Web 2.0 stage. By the Corollary 4, we know that the main task right now is to accumulate Web-2.0 resources. The faster we can accumulate the resources, the quicker the next transition will come. Hence the most valuable technology at this moment is the technologies that can accelerate the accumulation of Web-2.0 resources. The companies that can do better on this goal are the successful companies in this particular period of time. As far as now, we can see a list of the names in this category---Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Twine(Radar Networks), and a few others. (Note that this is why I insist that Twine is at most Web 2.5 but not 3.0. Its main purpose is to accelerate Web-2.0 resource accumulation instead of produce Web-3.0-quality resources.)

At the same time, however, in order to avoid the same dot-com bubble we have experienced during the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, we need to start the research about the next WebROM immediately. The progress of this research very much depends on how well the researchers can understand the grand picture of Web evolution. (And this is why the study of Web evolution is so important.) At the last time, Web 2.0 was only recognized after the burst of the dot-com bubble. It was too late. This time, we hope that we can recognize it before the next bubble. To the best wish, due to the early recognition of stage transition of Web evolution, we may eventually avoid all the potential bubbles in front.

But one more thing we need to understand about Web evolution. From the beginning, I have emphasized that any objective evolutionary event is out of the control of humans. Hence we do not need to dream that we might have the ability to change the standard process of Web evolution. For example, no Web-3.0 company can succeed if the Web itself has not been ready for Web 3.0 yet. For the advertisement purpose, it is fine for any company to declare itself to be at next generation. But as serious researchers, we should know that no company can succeed beyond the stage of the Web itself at the meantime. The companies that actively knows the progress of World Wide Web will have the biggest chance to be success in this highly competitive field. From another angle, we see the importance of Web evolution research.

Final Words

Finally, we have finished this long series about Web evolution. We have developed two postulates and seven corollaries to describe the entire progress of Web evolution. This theory is to help us not only recognize the present, but also to foresee the future. By this theory, we know that the future of World Wide Web is not random. On the contrary, the future of the Web is very much predictable if we can carefully study its present and the past.

After this series, I am going to start a new series on the next-generation Web. Let's watch together how this theory may help us walk to the next generation.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gartner rejects the temptation of Web 3.0

GartnerA very recent post told that Gartner touted Web 2.0, but scoffed at its sequel. "There are a lot of constituencies trying to hijack the term Web 3.0," Gartner fellow David Mitchell Smith said Thursday at Gartner Web Innovation Summit in Las Vegas. In particular, David referred to the vendors pushing forward virtual worlds, semantic Web and mobile web.

I totally agree with this response from Gartner. The term Web 3.0 is still too early to be assigned to any new progress about World Wide Web. As I presented in my web evolution article, we are at present still in the middle of the Web 2.0 stage. The critical transition to Web 3.0 has not started yet. And at present we still have only few unclear visions about what Web 3.0 really might be.

One thing is certain. Web 3.0 is not the Semantic Web. Neither is Web 3.0 a collection of virtual worlds, nor is it the mobile web. If we really have to predict what Web 3.0 might be. Most likely it could be a mixture of entry-level Semantic Web that can be visualized by virtual worlds and accessed through mobiles. If this vision could be realized, several new inventions as important and valuable as blogs and wikis must be done. These inventions might include such as the embedding of semantic specification into virtual worlds and the interpretation and specification of semantics through mobile devices. Beyond these specific inventions, we also need to first resolve cross-site ID identification (possibly the adoption of OpenID) and cross-site identification about authority of information (not yet resolved). We are still far away to Web 3.0.

Please don't tie Web 3.0 tight to Semantic Web. Yes, please, as Gartner has disapproved.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Essence of Web Evolution, A View of Web Evolution, Series No. 9

essenceA consequence of the last corollary is the recognition of the essence of web evolution.

Corollary 6: the evolution of World Wide Web is essentially the evolution of Web-resource-operating mechanism.

If every stage transition of Web evolution begins with an qualitative upgrade of WebROM, the progress of Web evolution must be synchronized to the progress of WebROM evolution. By this mean the progress of WebROM is the essence of Web evolution.

If WebROM is such a crucial character in Web evolution, by the Corollary 3 we must be able to find a mapping from it to a fundamental character that is the essence of huamn growth. Indeed there is one, the WebROM is respect to the self-consciousness.


self-consciousnessSelf-consciousness (or self-awareness) is "a personal understanding of the very core of one's own identity." Self-consciousness represents a person's recognition of which resources belong to oneself. We can hear people saying such as "this is my hand" or "this idea is at first thought out by me" or "I can do it". All of these comments point to one critical value of human beings---the recognition of self, or self-consciousness.

At the philosophical level, a person is not a random collection of various personalities, capabilities, and friendships. If we randomly put a set of personalities, capabilities, and friendships together, it is not a person at all. A person to be a person because of the existence of self-consciousness. "These are MY personalities; these are MY capabilities, these are MY friendships. To be together, it is ME!" Self-consciousness is the deepest concern of self. Self-consciousness is the most fundamental identity of individuals.

In similar, the philosophy beneath WebROM is to claim the authority over particular collection of Web resources. A random set of Web resources does not necessarily mean anything. Only if a set of Web resource is properly allocated based on the guide of certain WebROM, such a set of Web resources constitutes a proper meaning. This is what WebROM is really about. (see the following figure)
explanation of self-consciousness
The origin of human self-consciousness is still in mystery. Fortunately, this is not what we need to know to study Web evolution. By contrast, we do need to know that the maturing of self-consciousness is essential to human growth. This claim has been suggested by varied psychologists and anthropologists (e.g. here). The maturing (or evolving) of the self-consciousness allows humans to be master of resources with higher and higher quality. For example, children can handle only simple emotions such as like and hate, or simple behaviors such as do and not do, or simple interpersonal relations such as friend and enemy. Adults, by contrast, can handle complicated (higher quality) emotions such as love and irksomeness, or complicated (higher quality) behaviors such as devote and quash, or complicated (higher quality) interpersonal relations such as ally and rival. Thus, the growth of humans is essentially the maturing of humans' self-consciousness. By the Corollary 3, the evolution of WWW is essentially the progress of WebROM.

The next: Completion of a Stage Transition

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Semantic Web: Difficulties and Opportunities

This post responses to a recent post by Alex Iskold which focuses on the difficulties of realizing semantic web. I am not opposite to Alex's claims. In fact, the problem of realizing semantic web is not just difficult, it is VERY difficult. Besides what Alex said, however, I have several other additions after reading his post.

Realizing Semantic Web: is it a human project or an evolutionary event?

I believe that this is a common bias. Many people think of realizing the Semantic Web as a great human project that is similar to the famous Apollo program. The Apollo program aimed to "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." In fact, these two things are very much different to each other.

An apparent difference between Apollo program and constructing semantic web is that the latter is not just a goal attempt, but a process of transformation resulting from the arising of mutant forms. We are not designing and then building a semantic web based on the design. As what Alex mentioned in his post, this type of human designs is hardly practical. This is why "for the past decade [Semantic Web] has been a kind of academic exercise rather than a practical technology."

In contrast to achieving a well planned goal, we are experiencing a process of transforming the Web through a consistent filtering of its mutant forms. When individual persons or groups of people create a new form of web applications, they create a mutation of web segment. The fate of this mutation is determined, however, by the public votes instead of the dictating power of any single organizations. This mutation filtering mechanism follows the standard law of natural selection, i.e., only the favorable traits could be kept and become flourishing during an evolution but the unfavorable traits become less common. This is the way we are approaching for the Semantic Web.

A realized Semantic Web must be more than a web of data.

W3C gave the Semantic Web a short and simplified explanation --- a web of data. Nevertheless this explanation illustrates the goal of Semantic Web, it is somehow misleading to web developers who want to build semantic web.

The point is that if we purely focus on constructing a web of data (even though this is what we want to build), the Semantic Web cannot be built. Constructing a web of data requires user participation. This is not a third-party task but requires the participation of all information contributors themselves, i.e., almost all of the web users.

A crucial demand is willingness. How can we make users be willing to explain the meanings of their contribution to machines? The answer to this question is not by saying that we need to have automated semantic annotation tools. These automated semantic annotation tools are certainly important. But the more crucial one is why users need these tools and ontologies. The resolving of this willingness issue is fundamental if we really want to make Semantic Web be real. In comparison, Web 2.0 becomes popular due to that users are willing to adopt these Web-2.0 products.

Normal web users may not care of whether the Web is a web of data. But they do care of whether by communicating to machine agents these machine agents can proactively work for them. Proactive machine agents can understand their masters' requests and execute the requests on the web by themselves. The implementation of this proactivity is at least as essential as creating interlinks among data if someone wants to truly construct a semantic web. This implementation is a key to ensure user participation.

For people still doubt about the implementation of machine agents that can understand semantics, I repeat the claim at the beginning --- think of this task as an evolutionary event but not just a goal attempt.

The Commercial Side of Semantic Web

Alex raised several questions about business challenges to Semantic Web. He had one sentence that was precise --- "The way the semantic web is presented today makes it very difficult to market."

We are not right on the target. We cannot market Semantic Web by only expressing it to be a web of data. This standard explanation is less marketable because it has no direct association to consumers. In comparison, watch the following three sentences.

"Users can travel from one web site to another by clicking on hyperlinks." This is interesting and users are willing to explore more information. So World Wide Web is marketable.

"Users can freely exchange their opinions by blogging and leaving comments at remote sites." This is also interesting and users are willing to have free spaces exchanging ideas without restrictions. So Web 2.0 is marketable.

"Users can educate machine agents by guiding them learning semantics. Then these machine agents can help their masters do what they have learned." This could be interesting and users would be glad to "educate" machines by specifying data with machine-processable semantics once they are ensured that their work is for themselves but not for the meaningless (to themselves) web of data (who cares). This is a philosophic shift of targeting from a web of data to individual machine agents. A web of data would be automatically weaved when these machine agents start to communicate and work on the web. This is a practical way to market, as well as construct, Semantic Web.

Please allow me repeating my vision of semantic web at a previous post, a simple picture of web evolution. Web 1.0 connects real people to the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 connects real people who use the World Wide Web. The future semantic web, however, will connect virtual representatives of real people who use the World Wide Web.


The realization of Semantic Web is an evolutionary event but not just a goal attempt. This understanding is essential to the construction of semantic web. Therefore, we'd better forgetting about either simple bottom-up or top-down approach since this is not a single project. Many people are simultaneously created mutations of the current web. The most favorite ones will be adopted by the public and the Web evolves. Any enforcement that the Semantic Web must be on this form is likely to wane in this natural selection process.

Selfishness is a main obstacle on realizing semantic web. At the same time, however, it is also the key to market Semantic Web.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beginning of a Stage Transition, A View of Web Evolution, Series No. 8

(revised May. 25, 2008)

In this installment, we start to examine how we may observe a stage transition of Web evolution in the first place.

Corollary 5: the initiative of a stage transition in web evolution can be recognized by a qualitative upgrade of the Web-resource operating mechanism.

People have produced many valuable Web resources on the Web. The Web-resource operating mechanism (WebROM) is the methodology of declaring, displaying, and transmitting particular collections of Web resources on the Web.

In this corollary, a qualitative upgrade means that newly upgraded WebROM is going to effectively and efficiently support Web resources with new quality. Certain quality Web resources can only be effectively consumed by its respective WebROM (or the WebROMs at the higher evolutionary stages), and they can hardly be effectively consumed by the WebROMs at the lower evolutionary stages. I will adjust this claim later in this installment.

WebROM vs. WebOS

The specification of WebROM is different from the often-heard Web operating system (WebOS). The vision of WebOS is on the basis of that the Web as a platform. If the Web is just a platform, we may construct a uniform operating system that can effectively handles global namespaces, Web-wide resource discovery and management, remote process execution, authentication, and security. The execution of any new Web applications could be guided by such a WebOS. It is similar to that any new PC applications could be effectively managed by PC OS such as Microsoft Windows operating system. Certainly the Web development could become much more efficient if we can make such a WebOS be available.

A problem is, however, that the Web is an open world, which fundamentally contradicts to a personal computer environment that is a closed world. In an open world, we generally have no restrictions on duplicated resources or the potential of mixing Web identifiers with varied references. An open world also means a theoretically infinite large space of search. Hence a global (i.e. Web-wide) resource allocation methodology is too expensive (if possible) to achieve. These problems are main obstacles to produce a WebOS.

The vision of WebROM is on a difference basis of that the Web as a society. In a society, we have loose conventions about Web resource allocation and operation. But the detailed implementations of the conventions are open to individuals. For example, in our society we have federal laws that are general conventions of all the members in our society. A specific execution of these laws, however, is often interpreted slightly differently at varied local places due to their particular local condition. In an open world, nobody can predict all circumstance and hence such a flexibility of interpretation is crucial for the stable of society. Based on this analysis, WebROM is only described at the level of methodology comparing to that WebOS is tending to implement at the level of method.

If the Web is a society, which type of a society it is? In general, there are three basic types we could choose to develop our WebROM methodology. It could be a dictating society, a democratic society, or an anarchistic society. Among the three options, a dictating web is too hard to maintain because basically it mean a WebOS. On the other side, an anarchistic web is too difficult to manage since it has too few rules to follow. Therefore, a democratic web is the one we should and could achieve.

The Beginning of Transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0

The intention of WebROM at Web 1.0 is to declare and reference various Web resources. In particular, the main implementation of this methodology happens to be the HTML encoding. HTML allows users uniformly declaring various resources onto the Web. Based on this technology, we have produced Web browsers to uniformly displaying the declared Web resources. In addition to HTML, we have also developed auxiliary WebROM methodologies such as PHP and Javascript at Web-1.0 level for the same goal of 1.0-WebROM. But these additional resolutions are not the fundamental.

In comparison, the intention of WebROM at Web 2.0 becomes to efficiently executing various specified Web resources. The main implementation of this methodology happens to be AJAX. Unlike other 1.0-level WebROM implementations such as PHP and JavaScript, the primary purpose of AJAX is not about initiating Web resources. By contrast, it is about initiating Web resources that can be executed independently. This fundamental change of philosophy causes the effective support of newer quality Web resources---the Web-2.0-quality resources. This is why the invention of AJAX is milestone comparing to other ones such as PHP and JavaScript.

To be clearer, we briefly compare the traditional PHP to AJAX and see their difference on the level of WebROM.

PHP is a well-designed computational language that supports dynamic Web pages. PHP helps dynamically access Web resources when there are too many of them on servers. Hence the purpose of PHP was to improve the quantitative management of Web resource. The invention of PHP significantly accelerated the quantitative accumulation of resource on the Web. Based on this recognition, the invention of PHP aggravated the the primary contradiction of Web evolution by allowing faster quantitative accumulation. This philosophical consequence is different from being a transitional trigger of Web evolution.

The invention of AJAX has a complete different philosophical meaning. In the last installment, we mentioned that the direct technological consequence of the primary Web-evolution contradiction at the level of Web 1.0 was typically represented by the page-refreshing problem. To solve this problem, we expect a mechanism that allows computers to execute and only execute the particularly required pieces of resources in a web space while keeping other resources in the same web space untouched. By following this philosophy, AJAX allows Web resources in any single Web space to be transmitted piece-by-piece on the basis of user request. Hence AJAX solves (by contrast to aggravate) the primary contrition of Web evolution at the 1.0 level. This is why the invention of AJAX became the trigger towards Web 2.0.

Another way to demonstrate the AJAX was the trigger of transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is that AJAX has encouraged the prevalence of new-quality Web resources. For instance, before AJAX Web-2.0-quality resources, such as Web widgets, were hard to be prevailed. Web widgets are portable chunks of code that can be installed and executed within any separate HTML-based web page by an end user without requiring additional compilation. In theory, the execution of Web widgets does not necessarily depend on AJAX. Supposing there is no AJAX, however, all Web widgets in the same Web space may have to be reloaded synchronously when every time one of them is asked to update. This execution overloading is the major restriction that Web widget could not be popular on Web 1.0 because their installation could hardly be scaled. AJAX solves the problem and makes Web widget be a standard type of 2.0-quality Web resources.

By these discussions, we can learn that the invention of AJAX indeed represents the initiative of the stage transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0.

The next: Essence of Web Evolution

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Simple Picture of Web Evolution

(this post is adopted by ZDNet's Web 2.0 Explorer)

simple picture of web evolution
This picture above shows a simple abstraction of web evolution.

The traditional World Wide Web, also known as Web 1.0, is a Read-or-Write Web. In particular, authors of web pages write down what they want to share and then publish it online. Web readers can watch these web pages and subjectively comprehend the meanings. Unless writers willingly release their contact information in their authored web pages, the link between writers and readers is generally disconnected on Web 1.0. By leaving public contact information, however, writers have to disclose their private identities (such as emails, phone numbers, or mailing addresses). In short, Web 1.0 connects people to a public, shared environment --- World Wide Web. But Web 1.0 essential does not facilitate direct communication between web readers and writers.

The second stage of web evolution is Web 2.0. Though its definition is still vague, Web 2.0 is a Read/Write Web. At Web 2.0, not only writers but also readers can both read and write to a same web space. This advance allows establishing friendly social communication among web users without obligated disclosure of private identities. Hence it significantly increases the participating interest of web users. Normal web readers (not necessarily being a standard web author simultaneously) then have a handy way of telling their viewpoints without the need of disclosing who they are. The link between web readers and writers becomes generally connected, though many of the specific connections are still anonymous. Whether there is default direction communication between web readers and writers is a fundamental distinction between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. In short, Web 2.0 not only connects individual users to the Web, but also connects these individual uses together. It fixes the previous disconnection between web readers and writers.

We don't know precisely what the very next stage of web evolution is at this moment. However, many of us believe that semantic web must be one of the future stages. Following the last two paradigms, an ideal semantic web is a Read/Write/Request Web. The fundamental change is still at web space. A web space will be no longer a simple web page as on Web 1.0. Neither will a web space still be a Web-2.0-style blog/wiki that facilitates only human communications. Every ideal semantic web space will become a little thinking space. It contains owner-approved machine-processable semantics. Based on these semantics, an ideal semantic web space can actively and proactively execute owner-specified requests by themselves and communicate with other semantic web spaces. By this augmentation, a semantic web space simultaneously is also a living machine agent. We had a name for this type of semantic web spaces as Active Semantic Space (ASpaces). (An introductory scientific article about ASpaces can be found at here for advanced readers.) In short, Semantic Web, when it is realized, will connect virtual representatives of real people who use the World Wide Web. It thus will significantly facilitate the exploration of web resources.

A practical semantic web requires every web user to have a web space by himself. Though it looks abnormal at first glimpse, this requirement is indeed fundamental. It is impossible to imagine that humans still need to perform every request by themselves on a semantic web. If there are no machine agents help humans process the machine-processable data on a semantic web, why should we build this type of semantic web from the beginning? Every semantic web space is a little agent. So every semantic web user must have a web space. The emergence of Semantic Web will eventually eliminates the distinction between readers and writers on the Web. Every human web user must simultaneously be a reader, a writer, and a requester; or maybe we should rename them to be web participators.

In summary, Web 1.0 connects real people to the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 connects real people who use the World Wide Web. The future semantic web, however, will connect virtual representatives of real people who use the World Wide Web. This is a simple story of web evolution.

Special thanks to Ying Ding, Martin Hepp, and Omair Shafiq at DERI Innsbruck and David W. Embley at Brigham Young University who had discussion about ASpaces with me.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Quality and Quantity

Quality and quantity are two fundamental definitions in Marx' philosophy. Marx believed, however, that every being could be uniquely decided by its quality. Thus, quality is the basic character or nature of something. When the quality of a thing is changed, this thing is no longer itself. Quality is the first division of Being.

Quantity is a variable amount of a thing, where the amount does not affect the quality (the basic nature) of what the thing is. A quantitative change may or may not cause the alteration of quality. The range of quantitative change that keeps a thing remaining being itself shows how stable this thing exists in its context. Quantity is the second division of Being.

Beyond Quality and Quantity, there is Measure, the unity of quality and quantity. Measure is the qualitative quantum, to which a determinate being or a quality is attached. A being can be completely decided by the measure of how many quantity with typical quality. Measure is the third division of Being.

On the basis of previous understanding, we may computationally measure any existence in quantity by carefully defining the presentation of their quality though some time these definitions are hard to be made. I believe, however, that this is a (if not the) philosophical foundation of any computational science. Furthermore, my view of web evolution is also on the basis of this philosophical belief. In particular, the quality measures of web evolution stages are defined so that web evolution progress becomes a computationally decidable process.

More exploration on this field should be a major topic of Web Science. More discussion of quality and quantity in Marxism can be found at here.

This post is part of the collection of terminology, which explains several heavily repeated terms in Thinking Space.

Lessons Learned from Yahoo's Mistake

Yahoo was a phenomenon, but no longer. What is its problem? Jeff Jarvis had a fairly good summary about Yahoo's mistake by comparing the declining Yahoo and the rising Google. He pointed out that "Google is a platform. Yahoo is a portal. Google is a network. Yahoo is a destination. Google is a tool. Yahoo is a thing."

Yahoo still follows an old and out-of-date philosophy---controlling web resources and making profit based on the dominating power. Yahoo tries to be a portal, through which normal web users can access the public web. Yahoo at present is still trying to win back its dominating position of being the leading portal that web users can get best information from the Web only if they pass through the gate of Yahoo. Unfortunately, however, this dream is out of date.

In short, portals are out of date. This claim is, however, not the same as Jeff's "portals are dead." Out-of-date at here means that constructing portals is hardly still a good way to make money. For non-profit purposes, however, building portals certainly remains being a simple and convenient solution.

Portals are out of date because they are "destinations" and "things" rather than "networks" and "tools." By being either destination or thing, a portal is a site that is independent to users' participation. For example, Yahoo plays like a dictating nanny who believe that she could fully represent all the babies. As an web-entry portal, Yahoo answers user requests and barely facilitating mutual information exchange between information requesters and providers. This is a standard Web-1.0 style of design.

With emergence of Web 2.0, Google has started changing its role from a traditional web-entry portal to a central hub at a distributional network. Google continuously provides new services to allow web users building their own sites and facilitating information exchange among these sites. As the result, Google develops a network of Google users. The ones who join this network automatically make Google to be the central hub due to that Google is the service provider, but not because Google is the gate to the public web. This role change makes Google be more user-friendly. In users' eye, Google is not a dictating nanny, but a kind big brother. Users are happy to join and share information using this friendly network. This is a typical Web-2.0 style of strategy.

Old institutions die hard. Certainly Yahoo is still one of the leading web companies at present. But if its basic strategy about who it is would not be upgraded soon, its leading position is going to be shaken greater and greater. Using an old Chinese idiom, a big bug with one-hundred legs must not die soon. Unless something deadly happens inside its body, one can hardly kill such a bug in real. This strategic mistake, however, is a deadly internal reason to Yahoo.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Trigger of Transition, A View of Web Evolution, series No. 7

(revised May. 25, 2008)

Until now, we have discussed the methodology of evaluating the progress of Web evolution. At this post we start to address another critical issue of Web evolution, why does a Web-evolution stage suddenly start to transit towards an upper level stage? More formally, we are going to study the mechanism underneath the quality upgrade in the progress of Web evolution.

Corollary 4: a stage transition of Web evolution is caused by unbounded quantitative accumulation of Web resources with the quality of the old stage.

Based on the Postulate 1, we can immediately drive to this corollary.

The contradiction between unbounded quantitative accumulation of web resources and limited resource-operating mechanism at the meantime is the primary contradiction of Web evolution. We will discuss the details of resource-operating mechanism in the next installment. Right now please simply think of resource-operating mechanism to be a mechanism that operates Web resources.

When the current Web can no longer efficiently process the greater and greater number of Web resources with the current quality, we have to upgrade the quality of Web resource so that they can be more productive, more initiative, and less vulnerable. Hence we need to have a new resource-operating mechanism to deal with the new-quality resources. This is thus the trigger of a stage transition in Web evolution.

Example: from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0

The evolutionary transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is an evidence of this corollary. The transition was triggered by the rapid expansion of 1.0-quality resources on the Web. On Web 1.0, web publishers continuously added new resources into the Web. Before the dot-com bubble, the speed of adding new resource onto the Web had been so rapidly that the Web-resource-operating mechanism at the meantime could no longer efficiently manage the newly added resources. Many new Web companies had produced useful resource (as they might think) to the public and it was impossible for the public to effectively consume these resources with such a quality using the technology at the meantime. This is a fundamental reason beneath the dot-com bubble and it showed that the chance of an evolutionary transition on the Web had been mature. The Web must have such a transition to maintain its continuous progress. By this mean, we have Web 2.0 after the dot-com bubble.

At the technological level, let's watch in details what really had happened at the meantime. When there were more and more 1.0-quality resources available on the Web, the average quantity of Web resources within a single web page also increased gradually. This phenomenon was reasonable because people do want to contain more interesting stuffs in their pages. When readers were enjoying richer content on web pages, however, a pain was grown stably as well. Page refreshing became a more an more annoying issue. In tradition, the entire content of a Web page would be reloaded simultaneously whenever the page was refreshing. The page-refreshing time was nearly in proportion to the quantity of resources in a page at the meantime. Hence we could expect that the richer and the more diversity the content was, the longer a page-refreshing takes. At the same time, however, many page readers might only be interested in refreshing a tiny portion of a huge page. This page-refreshing issue gradually became the crucial issue that prevented the Web from evolving forward. This was thus the particular technological trigger that led the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0.

To solve the addressed problem, Web developers implemented a new resource-operating mechanism, which was eventually named AJAX. We are going to discuss how AJAX solved the problem in the next installment. But due to AJAX, many Web-2.0 quality Web resources started to prevail. These 2.0-quality Web resources could not be popular before AJAX because they were too costly to be managed by the old 1.0 Web-resource-operating mechanism. The invention of AJAX finally led to the second flourishing time of World Wide Web after the time before the dot-com bubble. This new age is well known to be the Web-2.0 era.

But AJAX is certainly not our ultimate answer to Web evolution. The quantity of 2.0-quality resources is going to increase unbounded as it has done before with respect to the 1.0-quality resources. At this time, AJAX may not solve the problem again because itself becomes an old representative. To the end, this primary contradiction we mentioned at the beginning of this installment is the main driving power of Web evolution. The Web evolves because such a contradiction always exist and it exists continuously into a higher level.

The next: Beginning of a Stage Transition

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Machine Morality

machine moralityNew terms emerge every day, especially in this rapid-evolving web age. Machine morality is about ethical decision-making of machines. At first glance many readers (including myself) must think it being about Sci-Fi novels. In fact, however, scientists have really started to study this issue seriously. Wendell Wallach, who is a Lecturer at Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, claimed that "We are just a few years away from a catastrophic disaster from an autonomous computer system making a decision." Is this claim overstated?

No matter whether the previous claim is overstated, it is realistic that people are starting to rely on machines to make more and more decisions in the future. At present, these decision-making requests are mostly on the pure technical realms. In the future, however, it is very much possible that these decision-making questions would be extended to the ethical realm. If we cannot stop people issuing such types of questions to machines, we'd better thinking of how to handle them at the beginning. This is thus why machine morality is a real problem.

A problem is whether morality could be quantitatively calculated. What is the threshold between being moral and being immoral? There are too many similar questions in the realm of computational philosophy. The advance of this field could be very interesting for the future web.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Blend of Future --- some thoughts after the "10 Future Web Trends"

At the Read/WriteWeb, Richard MacManus told about his thought of the top ten future web trends. Despite of this well-written post, the author misses something at the end. Certainly there is only ONE future web instead of TEN future webs. As a long-time reader of Read/WriteWeb, I am more interested in MacManus' view about how these ten trends could be mixed well into one big design. Before waiting for MacManus' response, here is my ONE blend with MacManus' TEN condiments.

This blend is adhere to my consistent vision of web evolution. In this vision, the entire web is considered to be a group of virtual children, who has unique identities of themselves but may or may not do actions or has social with other virtual children. At the same time, human web users are addressed as parents of these virtual children. Not surprisingly (or surprisingly to some people), this vision well blend MacManus' TEN into ONE. In this post, I will not follow the same sequence as MacManus did, though I still keep the original sequential numbers for reference.

The evolution of World Wide Web is similar to the growth of a society of children. Parents need to take the responsibility of raising a new generation. As its return, this growing-up new generation can bring more and more surprises to the parents.

2. Artificial Intelligence --- living spirit of children

A living world needs living spirit. Artificial intelligence, as the name suggests, is a simulation of living spirit. Unlike the current web which is an idle world, the future web will be a living world. By being a living web, web nodes can act by themselves based on pre-specified (or even gradually learned) semantics. The realization of this dream (which is indeed the same dream of semantic web) requires the achievements on artificial intelligence. This is a certain direction to the web future.

1. Semantic Web --- real society (playground) of children
3. Virtual Worlds --- visible societies (playgrounds) of children
9. International Web --- society of parents

Living children needs a playground to act. In particular, such a playground is also a container of a society of these children. Physically, Semantic Web is such a playground. Mentally, the Semantic Web represents a living society of machines. With the augmentation of machine-processable semantics, artificial intelligence becomes useful and producible on the web. Otherwise, (artificial) living creatures without playground are incapable of acting. This is why Semantic Web is another certain trend.

Humans are also visual creatures. Humans are often LESS interested in what they could NOT see. Visualizing playgrounds of machines thus becomes an essential issue. The success of Second Life has shown the profit of this achievement. But Second Life is just the beginning of this trend.

If Semantic Web represents the real society of machines and virtual worlds represent visible societies of machines, shouldn't these two technologies be welded together? (More thoughts about this topic could be found here.)

The real world is and will still be dominated by humans. (I am not assuming any Sci-Fi pictures that robots are going to replace real human beings.) So International Web is another trend of future. Though physically the Web will become a world of active machine agents, it is still a world of machine agents that are controlled by humans. Children's world is a reflection of their parents' world. On its reverse, however, a children's world may also affect the constitution of their parents' world. The study of how a virtual world might affect the real human world will become more and more interesting and substantial with the evolution of World Wide Web.

4. Mobile --- natural communication between parents and children
5. Attention Economy --- commercial link between parents and children

When there are a virtual world and a real world, we need connections between the two worlds. In order to facilitate the life in virtual worlds, we need to strengthen the connections between the two worlds. By applying our metaphor, these connections are natural communication between parents (human web users) and children (machine agents). Mobile technologies are essential for humans to contact their virtual children effectively at anywhere and anytime.

One difference between raising human children and machine children is commercial motivations. As we know, child-education is fairly expensive. Due to inborn nature, humans can educate their own children disregarding the cost. This attitude is, however, generally inapplicable to the education of machine agents. This is indeed an essential obstacle on realizing semantic web. The emergence of attention economy is one of the initial steps to break this barrier. When humans can satisfy the balance between contributing to machine-processable semantics and gathering respective benefits, this attention economy technology enables a commercial link between parents (human web users) and children (machine agents). This trend is another important direction to the future web.

6. Web Sites as Web Services --- adding active capabilities to children
8. Rich Internet Apps --- gathering richer resources for children
7. Online Video / Internet TV --- an example of raising children with special capability
10. Personalization --- raising unique child

These last four predictions on MacManus' list are valuable evolutionary trends about future web nodes. Certainly we can tell more than these four trends in this category. Due to the limit of slots, however, these four selections are critical ones.

Both Web Sites as Web Services (WSaWS) and Rich Internet Apps (RIA) focus on enhancing the execution capabilities on future web nodes. The purpose of WSaWS is turning descriptive web nodes to be executing web nodes. It is similar to raising newborn babies (inactive) to be young boys/girls (active or proactive). In addition to the execution capabilities, we need more executable resources to demonstrate these capabilities. The purpose of RIA is thus gathering more resources for individual web nodes to execute. With the merging of online and offline applications, we are trying our best to exploit all possible resources for machines to execute.

Online Video/Internet TV belongs to another sub-category of web-node evolution. Besides enhancing general execution capabilities, we expect to produce special-purpose future web nodes. A typical example is the construction of video-displaying nodes. This type of nodes becomes especially interesting because of the huge traditional entertainment business realm. But still this realm is only ONE of many profitable business realms. The merging of WSaWS into traditional business realms is an important trend of future web.

Finally, the trend of personalization allows web evolution touching to the heart of individual web users. Not only companies, but also individuals are preferring to build their personalized brands on the web. If companies are trying to selling what they have, individuals are more about trying to buying what they want. Both are typical brands in different senses. This trend of personalization will eventually lead to highly variety of future web nodes. When children grow up, don't their individual personalities become diversity? The future web will definitely be more beautiful and exciting than the current one due to this trend.


As several comments at Read/WriteWeb pointed out, these 10 trends by their names are only about the web in near future (such as 2 to 5 years) rather than for a long-term period (such as more than 10 years). But if we can watch deeper at their sharing core and blend them together as a united web, there is a greater uniform picture of web evolution. Though the names of particular technologies would be varied from time to time, the general direction of web evolution is clear and certain. This general trend of web evolution is indeed the most crucial one that we must understand, no matter we are businesspersons or research people.

For other predictions about 10 particular trends of the future web, Stephen Downes, who had predicted that Semantic Web would fail, again posted his varied version. It is fun to read the differences. Does anybody have other suggestions?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Qualities of Evolutionary Stages, A View of Web Evolution, series No. 6

(Revised May. 25, 2008)

Quality is a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something. The last corollary tells that the Web evolution stages can be measured by quality. Now we are going to resolve what the particular qualities are.

Corollary 3: the quality measurement of characteristic variables of Web evolution can be defined analogously to the quality measurement of the respective characteristic variables of human growth.

This corollary is obtained from the Corollary 1 and Corollary 2. Since every evolutionary stage of the Web can be well mapped to a particular stage of human growth, we can certainly define the measurement methods for Web evolution in an analogous way of defining the measurement methods for human growth. The two varied evolutionary procedures, however, share a mapping of their quality evaluation methodology.

Three Basic Types of Web Resources

Based on the discussion of three basic evolutionary elements of WWW, Web resources have three basic types---the descriptive type (static content, data resources), the functional type (dynamic behavior, service resources), and the interconnective type (interconnective link, link resources). The three resource types are mutually independent to each other. A data resource can exist without being used by any service and connected by any link; a service resource can exist without having any data and being connected by any link; a link resource can exist without being used to connect any other resources. Because of this fact, we need to have varied quality and quantity measurement for each of the individual type of Web resources.

Based on the Corollary 3, we can map the three types of web resources (descriptive, functional, and interconnective) to three characteristic variables that measure the growth of human---personality, capability, and interpersonal relationship. To simplify our presentation, we substitute "interpersonal relationship" by "friendship" in the future discussion. In particular, personality of human is descriptive type and hence it maps to data resource on the web; capability of human is functional type and hence it maps to service resource on the web; and friendship of human is interconnective type and hence it maps to link resource on the web. We will justify these mappings in more details shortly later. By these mappings, we can analogically define the quality and quantity measurements of Web evolution on the basis of the quality and quantity measurements of human growth.

Two Fundamental Views about Quality Measurements

There are two fundamental views when measuring human growth---the individual point of view and the community point of view. By the individual point of view, a person grows up by improving the qualities of personality, capability, and friendship himself. By the community point of view, however, a person's growth is about the person's incrementally taking (and producing) varied resources from (and for) a community. Within a particular stage of one's growth, a person takes (and produces) certain quality of resources from (and for) community by quantity. Within a transitional period of one's growth (i.e. one grows up from a lower stage to an upper stage, e.g., growing up from newborn to pre-school), however, the person suddenly gains the ability to take (and produce) resources of a higher quality from (and for) community. By the Corollary 1, Web evolution can be measured in the same way.

Quality and Quantity Measurements of Human Growth

Measurements of Personality

From the individual point of view, personality is the complex of all the attributes that characterizes a unique individual. For example, a person's personality is a complex of his emotion, knowledge, customs, etc.

From the community point of view, however, every personal attribute is a descriptive resource that belongs to a community. For example, my emotion and knowledge are resources of the community I participate. They are the resources that are consumable by the other community members (certainly, however, including myself). By this community view, there is a clear mapping between human personality and Web data resource.

By the community point of view, the personality of a person is a unique, personalized subset of descriptive community resources. In terms of humans' growth, this definition describes a measurement of quantity and quality about personality.

The quantity of a personality is measured by the amount of descriptive community resources the personality possesses. For example, from the individual point of view John learns more knowledge. This is, however, equivalent to say that John possesses greater quantity of shared knowledge resources from a community. From the individual point of view Peter thinks of a new theory. This is equivalent to say that Peter has produced a new knowledge resource for community. Moreover, Peter automatically possesses the new resource by having produced it himself.

The quality of a personality is measured by the highest quality of one's possessed descriptive resources. The quality of a descriptive resource is then measured by the degree of productiveness the resource supports when it is used. More productive descriptive resources are with higher quality. For example, between patience and impatience the former one is a higher quality personality resource and the latter one is a lower quality personality resource. Impatience is generally less helpful for producing more valuable community resources. On the contrary, patience is a high quality resource that is preferred by community for more resource production. In similar, impatience is a personality resource we have with us when we were born. But patience is a personality resource we obtain when we grow up.

Measurements of Capability

From the individual point of view, capability is the ability to execute a specified course of action. For example, Alice can knit; knitting is a capability of Alice.

From the community point of view, every personal ability is a functional resource of a community. A functional resource is a resource that may consume the other community resources and produce. For example, Alice owns the functional resource of knitting, which consumes community resources such as Alice's labor and patience, and eventually produces product such as sweater. By this community view, there is a clear mapping between human capability and Web service resource.

By the community view, the capability of a person is a unique, personalized subset of functional community resources. In terms of humans' growth, this definition presents a measurement of quantity and quality about capability.

The quantity of a capability is measured by the amount of functional community resources the capability possesses. For example, from the individual point of view Alice learns more capabilities. This is equivalent to say that Alice possesses greater quantity of functional resources from a community.

The quality of a capability is measured by the highest quality of its possessed functional resources. The quality of a functional resource is then measured by how much initiative the functional resource is when consuming community resources (of any type). The functional resources with greater initiative have higher quality. For example, Alice can clean room by being asked to do it. This passive house-cleaning capability is with low quality. By contrast, Mary actively clean room without being asked. This active house-cleaning capability is with high quality. Again, we see that the active capabilities are not born-with but requiring people to grow up to certain age to obtain.

Measurements of Friendship

From the individual point of view, friendship is the connections of a person to the other persons in a society.

From the community point of view, every connection among persons is an interpersonal resource. Hence we also see a clear mapping between human friendship and Web link resources.

By the community view, the friendship of a person is a unique, personalized subset of interpersonal community resources. In terms of humans' growth, this definition presents a measurement of quantity and quality about friendships.

The quantity of a friendship is measured by the number of interpersonal community resources the friendship possesses. For example, from the individual point of view Peter makes more friends. This is equivalent to say that Peter possesses more interpersonal resources from community.

The quality of a friendship is measured by the highest quality of its possessed interpersonal community resources. The quality of a interpersonal resource is measured by how vulnerable its connection is. The less vulnerable connections have higher quality. For example, the friendships between pre-school kids are generally with less quality than the friendships between college students. The friendships between pre-school kids are built upon loose foundation, such as they are living in the same neighborhood and have attended the same school. But the friendships between college students are built upon much stronger foundation such as common interest and beliefs (e.g., the common interest of classic music and the common belief of pursuing democracy). In comparison, the friendships of the former type are more vulnerable to the change of external environment than the ones of the latter type.

Quality Measurements of Web Evolution

By carefully define the quality measurements of human growth, by the Corollary 3 we can analogically define the quality measurements of Web evolution.

(1) The quality of a data resource is measured by the degree of productiveness the data resource has when it is used by the public. For example, the Web-1.0-quality data resources are raw data without labels; the Web-2.0-quality data resources are human-tagged data. Hence Web-2.0 data resources have higher quality than Web-1.0 data resources have because they are more useful for production.

(2) The quality of a service resource is measured by the degree of initiativity this service resource has when consuming Web resources (which could include itself). For example, the Web-1.0-quality service resources are passive (or reactive) and non-portable; the Web-2.0-quality service resources are active and portable. Hence Web-2.0 service resources have higher quality than Web-1.0 service resources have because they are more initiative to do their work.

(3) The quality of a link resource is measured by the degree of vulnerability the link resource has. For example, the Web-1.0-quality link resources are hardcoded and each of them links between only two nodes; the Web-2.0-quality link resources are labeled and each of them simultaneously connects many nodes. Hence Web-2.0 link resources have higher quality because it is much more difficult to totally delete them from the Web (they are less vulnerable).

Final Address

The Corollary 3 is actually a general methodology for studying the progress of Web evolution. A difficult of Web evolution research with respect to others such as natural evolution is that the Web is too new to have long history for us to study. This is why the analogical methodology become particularly useful and helpful. Without a fair reference, the research of Web evolution might simply be trapped into fortune-telling. However, from Corollary 1 to Corollary 3 we declared a scientific methodology that can lead the research of Web evolution into a formal track. This is a standard scientific way to study events that will happen but not happen yet.

The next: Trigger of Transition