Thursday, February 07, 2008

Resource Portability | The Path towards Next Generation, Series No.2

During Web evolution, I have argued that the primary contradiction that drives Web evolution is the contradiction between unbounded quantitative accumulation of Web resources and the limited resource-operating mechanism at the meantime. We need to recognize this primary contradiction at the stage of Web 2.0 to predict the post-2.0 Web.

Explicit Ownership Declaration over Resources on Web 2.0

Unlike on Web 1.0, Web-2.0 resources are always specified with explicit declarations of their ownership. On Web 2.0, we know exactly the person who specified the tag, who adopted the widget, or who made the comment. This ownership declaration over any piece of Web-2.0 resources is explicit and unambiguous. In comparison, the same type of ownership declarations over Web-1.0 resources is generally implicit and often specified in anonymous ways, and thus many times it is ambiguous to precisely determine the ownerships (since the owners themselves may leave no identities).

There is a reason why on Web 2.0 the explicit declaration of user ownership becomes essential. In my previous post on a simple picture of web evolution, I explained that Web 1.0 did connect all Web users to a common destination, which is the Web itself. On Web 1.0, however, there is a clear distinction between Web readers and Web writers. On any Web-1.0 page, the role of writers and readers are generally disjoint. This distinction gradually disappears when the Web evolved to be Web 2.0. On Web 2.0, an arbitrary Web user may simultaneously be a reader and a writer to any 2.0 site. Such a role transformation then brings a new challenge---we must precisely decide who owns which resources on Web 2.0. On Web 1.0, by default only the writers own resources because readers cannot write in general. But when readers can also write on Web 2.0, the previous default scheme works no longer. By contrast, an explicit ownership declaration mechanism must be implemented to fulfill the new situation.

Resource Portability

When the amount of Web resources with explicit ownership declarations increases indefinitely on Web 2.0, which kinds of troubles are we going to handle in the future? This is the central issue that will lead the Web to the next generation.

In the second part of my Web evolution article that was written in last April, I had argued that when regular Web users had authored more and more resources over varied sites on the Web, they would ask for a centralized management mechanism over their "owned" resources. Part of this issue has been recognized by the new workgroup of DataPortability.

The initiative of DataPortability Workgroup is to allow regular Web users freely carrying their own data over the Web. For example, at present Web users may have to repeatedly copy and paste identical personal information at varied Web sites to claim their identities. This requirement is surely annoying. To make the situation be even worse, user may feel especially dreadful when they have to update some of their general information at all of their registered sites. The DataPortability initiative is to resolve this annoying requirement by making data themselves be more and more portable automatically to varied sites.

Nevertheless is the effort of data portability timely and critical, it is not the complete problem we face when the Web evolves to the next generation. As we have discussed earlier, the central issue is how to allow users managing their "owned" resources properly. Improving the portability of Web data is a very important step towards this general request; but it is not the general request yet. To reach the eventual goal, we need to implement a new mechanism that well manages ownership, beyond portability, of data. Moreover, this ownership management issue is not only about data, but also about other resources such as services. Thus I am more favorite to the term "resource portability" than the "data portability."

Automatic Character Switch (ACtS)

There are two basic paths of resolving this issue of resource portability. One path is to make the resources be presented in more portable formats; and the other path is to produce a mechanism that aligns user-owned resources to particular community standards. While most of the current data portability efforts focus on the first path, I am going to discuss my thoughts on the second path.

The key of resource portability is the switch of ownership over resources instead of the deployment of resources. For instance, when a user make a comment on a blog, who should own this comment, the commenter or the blog owner? By default, the current mechanism is that the one who owns the physical storage space of the comment owns the comment. Most of the time, the comment belongs to the blog owner. Many other times, however, the comment may actually be owned by a third party who provides the space for the blog owner. In very few extreme cases, the commenter actually owns the comment. This reality theoretically contradicts to the comment logic that the one who makes the comment (i.e. the commenter) should be the unquestionable owner. Will the improvement of portability of comments solve this problem? Not precisely since the problem is not really about whether the comment is portable but it is about who should own this piece of user-generated resources.

The fundamental assumption underneath the current environment indeed has no problem. That is, the one who owns the physical storage of a resource should be granted the ownership of the resource. Following this assumption, we need to let any Web user have a piece of Web spaces that can store their "owned" resources. In our previous example, whenever a Web user leaves a comment in a remote site, the commenter should actually store this comment in his own space instead of the remote site. By contrast, the remote blog site should be added an RSS-type feed that brings the comments to the proper location. This mechanism allows the ownership of the comment clearly belonging to the commenter, and the commenter has the full control of updating or even deleting the comments based on their own interest. At the same time, the commenters might be granted an option to leave their comment out of their own spaces (i.e. storing them on remote site as it is done currently). By choosing this option, the commenters agrees giving up their ownership over their generated resources (the comments in our example).

A center component in this described environment is the home-spaces (comparing to homepages) of the Web users. By storing the resources in their home-spaces, Web users exclaim the ownership over these resources. When users connect to a registered site (i.e. be willing to participating to the social activities in the specific community), it is a process of casting the respective stored resources in home-spaces to the community convention. This process, as I names, is Automatic Character Switch (ACtS).

In each home-space, a Web user may store many resources that are related to varied sites (communities). When this Web user join a site, there must be a communication between the site manager and the user to decide which resources are of interest and thus could be casted to the community view and contribute to the community. This is the key of the ACtS technology. Apparently, ACtS is similar to a Web operating system. But indeed it is not an operating system since it does no more "operations" than "managing" the switch of ownership over resources. This mechanism may eventually solve the resource portability problem and leads the Web to the next generation. For readers who are interested in this idea, more discussion of ACtS is in my article of Web evolution.

Previous Installments in this Series:

No comments: