Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Web Evolution

(last updated, June 10th, 2008)

Many people agree on Web evolution, but few take it seriously. As a term, "Web evolution" is commonly used. But few people have thoughtfully studied its principles, i.e. why and how the Web evolves. Even after the initiative of Web Science, Web evolution, supposed to be a major branch of Web Science, is still lack of considerable attention. For example, Wikipedia, the most popular online encyclopedia, does not have an entry of Web evolution till now (last checked June 10th, 2008). We need to change this situation.

A Brief History

One of the early attempts of formalizing the concept of evolution on the Web was done by Tim Berners-Lee, the father of World Wide Web. In 1998, he explained the importance of evolvability of Web technology. In short, we need to preserve spaces for Web technologies so that they can be continuously upgraded to compromise new requests. According to Tim, "evolvability" is one of the two fundamental goals of all W3C technologies (the other goal is "Interoperability"). Berners-Lee also emphasized that the key evolutionary issues at the meantime should be language evolution and data evolution. Within the context of his discussion, the term "evolvable" was actually closer to the meaning of "extensible" than the meaning of "evolutionary".

A more recent discussion about Web evolution was at the panel "Meaning on the Web: Evolution or Intelligent Design?" at Edinburgh, Unite Kingdom during the WWW-2006 conference. This panel invited five well-known web researchers, Ron Brachman, Dan Connolly, Rohit Khare, Frank Smadja, and Frank van Harmelen. In the description of this panel, it was written as follows.

"should meaning on the Web be evolutionary, driven organically through the bottom-up human assignment of tags? Or does it need to be carefully crafted and managed by a higher authority, using structured representations with defined semantics?"

The evolution of meaning specifications on the Web is a central issue of Web evolution; and this issue is particularly critical to the vision of Semantic Web. But this panel still did not touch the very core of Web evolution, i.e. what the essential driving force of web evolution is and how this force really drives the Web forward.

Very recently at WWW 2008, we finally have a workshop organized by the WSRI that focused solely on the study of Web evolution. Nevertheless is it a big step forward, most of the accepted papers in the workshop still focuses on describing the various phenomena of Web technology evolution rather than digging the fundamental reasons that drive the progress of Web evolution and how these reasons may drive the Web forward in the future.

Formal Study of Web Evolution

To the best of my knowledge, the article "Evolution of World Wide Web, a historical view and analogical study" is the first attempt to explain the essence of Web evolution on the ground of a theoretical study. The first draft of Part 1 was posted at January 12, 2007, and the first draft of Part 2 was posted at April 27, 2007. The Part 3 is still in progress. The Part 1 describes an analogical comparison between the growth of World Wide Web and the growth of humans. The Part 2 makes a scientific abstraction of the analogy discussed in Part 1 and concludes a view of Web evolution by two postulates and seven corollaries. Furthermore, in Part 2 we have also applied the newly abstracted Web-evolution theory to predict the path towards the next-generation Web (or Web 3.0 in someone's mind).

We have taken a great deal of effort to write and revise the articles. But it is simply too broad and sophisticated project to make it perfect in short time. Hence at the same time, I have authored a compact series about Web evolution in ten installments here at Thinking Space (the whole list of the post is attached at the end of this post). This series is more updated than the original article.

Brief Summary of the Web Evolution Theory

If World Wide Web does evolve, we believe that the progress of Web evolution must obey the general law of Transformation of Quantity into Quality, which is a general law of any evolutionary process in the world. In particular to the case of Web evolution, the general law is shown as a spiral advancement that consists of unstopping quantitative accumulation of Web resources and successive qualitative stage transitions. On the Web, whenever the quantity of Web resources reaches a certain level so that the amount becomes too many to be efficiently operated by the Web resource operating mechanism at the meantime, the Web will demand an upgrade of Web resource operating mechanism (a qualitative transition) to ensure the continuity of Web evolution. After the qualitative transition is done, the Web then start a new round of quantitative accumulation of Web resources at a higher level. The transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is a typical example of this theory.

Although the general law of Transformation of Quantity into Quality explains the path of Web evolution, it does not explain the reasons beneath the unstopping quantitative accumulation of Web resources. In other words, why does such a unstopping quantitative accumulation of Web resources happen and never stop? The answer to this question is related to the human aspect of World Wide Web. To the end, World Wide Web is a project produced by humans, contributed by humans, and serving humans.

The fundamental power of unstopping human contribution to the Web is laid on a nature of mankind---the desire of being known when alive and still being remembered after death. Human is a social creature. The invention of World Wide Web helps satisfy the deep concern of humanity itself. This fulfillment is the fundamental momentum that drives the resource accumulation on the Web.

This theory of Web evolution is not flawless. Many arguments might be debatable and amendable. The main purpose of this work is to bring the world a fresh new vision of Web evolution. In fact, Web evolution is not just about the Web, it is indeed about all humans and our society.

A View of Web Evolution

1. In the Beginning …
2. Three Evolutionary Elements
3. Two Postulates
4. Web Evolution and Human Growth
5. Evolutionary Stage
6. Qualities of Evolutionary Stages
7. Trigger of Transition
8. Beginning of a Stage Transition
9. Essence of Web Evolution
10. Completion of a Stage Transition


Anonymous said...

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My e-mail is in my profile.

Yihong Ding said...

Sure, I have dropped you an email and please check.

Anonymous said...

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Is this possible?

Anonymous said...

Very good journey and experience!

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