Friday, June 06, 2008

We are in a new transition, part 2

By two parts, I response to the Harmonious Age suggested by Adam Lindemann. In the first part, I describe its philosophy by civilization evolution. In the second part, I explain the impact of this theory to Web industry. This is the second part of my response.

World Wide Web, the new-age Watt steam engine

At the end of the 20th century, an Englishman Tim Berners-Lee invented how information could be transferred easily over the Internet by using hypertext. The invention is named World Wide Web. This invention is bringing human society to a new age.

Two centuries ago, another Englishman James Watt invented a machine called Watt steam engine. The machine made use of steam at a pressure just above atmospheric to drive the piston helped by a partial vacuum. This invention is more than another technological innovation. By contrast, the invention is a formal mark in history that capitalism had replaced feudalism. Because of Watt steam engine, industrial production was upgraded from the traditional, low-quantitative handicraft work to the modern mass production. Modern industry started emerging above the surface. Also due to this upgrade, capital (the base of modern industry) replaced land (the base of traditional agriculture) becoming the key asset in human society. Human civilization thus evolved from feudalism to capitalism.

World Wide Web is the modern-time Watt steam engine. Due to WWW, information industry is upgraded from handcraft, low quantitative production, elite-conducted work (by professional journalists, photographers, software programmers, etc.) to machine-powered, mass production, plebeian-conducted work (by every regular Web user). Information industry is evolving to its postmodern stage---Web industry. With this upgrade, mind, the base of information industry, is replacing capital, the base of traditional industry, to be the key asset of human society. Human civilization is evolving from capitalism to a new age.

Mind asset, the essential issue

Mind is always an asset. The potential productive power of human mind is known to be overwhelming. Nearly none production could be done without the participation of human mind. Furthermore, people has realized the power of mind for long time. Modern education is a typical effort that people are trying to make a product line of high-quality mind asset.

On the other hand, however, we often experience difficulties when trying to effectively use mind as asset. Unlike land or capital, individual mind is essentially intangible except for the owner of the mind. Presenting mind explicitly in formal ways is a long-time hard problem. Without explicit, formal presentation of mind asset, we cannot efficiently connect and compose varied mind asset and we cannot well measure the value of mind asset. The issue of mind aggregation is particularly critical because individual mind is often too shallow to be high quality.

Among all the others, the issue of mind-asset presentation is the central one. A formal, tangible presentation of mind asset is the key to let mind asset be circulating. Circulating mind asset is then the basis of the new civilizational transition.

Web resource, new presentation of mind asset

In tradition, we have developed varied forms of mind presentation. For example, books, tapes, drawing artifacts, buildings, etc. Through these forms, humans embody mind and preserve the embodied mind to be asset.

There are, however, at least four common problems in these traditional forms of mind asset.

(1) [cost] It is costly to produce mind asset in these presentations, and it is generally more expensive to share mind asset in these forms. In consequence, only the mind asset produced in superior quality (such as best books or artifacts) can be widely spread and shared.

(2) [strength] None of these presentations last long time. They can hardly survive from various natural or man-made disasters such as earthquake or war.

(3) [quality] By adopting these traditional presentations, we may embody mind in its static and passive aspects. But the forms are not good enough to embody the dynamic and active (which is the more valuable) aspect of human mind, let it alone some deeper implicit aspects of human mind such as self.

(4) [measurement] We do not have generic, objective methods to measure the value of mind asset in these traditional presentations.

If an asset is costly to present even in its low-quality form, with weak strength to survive longer, and unable to be measured objectively of its actual value, surely it is not a reliable asset for public to own and share. This problem is fundamental to information industry since mind asset is actually its base. The invention of World Wide Web solves the problem.

mindW3C defines World Wide Web to be "the universe of network-accessible information, the embodiment of human knowledge." This specification expresses three facets of the Web. First, the Web is a place for people to embody their mind. Second, the Web is a network of embodied mind. Third, through the Web people may access each other's embodied mind.

In particular, the mind asset on the Web is presented by Web resources, which are independent pieces of embodied human mind that can be used for producing. Note that this definition of Web resource is not a common one. In common (such as the one in Wikipedia), a Web resource is any object on the Web that is referenced by an URI. Such a definition has not precisely described the essence of Web resources if we compare it to the W3C definition of World Wide Web. By contrast, my new specification is directly based on the W3C Web definition. A Web resource may be a collection of Web data, a Web service, a Web link, or a mixture of them. A Web resource could and should be referenced by an URI, but a Web object referenced by an URI might not immediately be a Web resource unless it may produce. (more descriptions of my interpretation of Web resource are at here.)

the issue of cost

Comparing to producing the traditional forms of mind asset, Web resource production is cheap. The Web is a free and open place for everyone to embody mind. Web resources are presented in digital form, and digital form consumes very few natural resources. Hence in total Web resources are inexpensive to produce. Moreover, sharing Web resources also costs little. In consequence, we can now afford spreading and sharing the embodied mind even if it is in inferior quality.

the issue of strength

Web resources can last long time. Due to the low cost of digital copy and the flexibility of resource transmission on the Web, we may ideally preserve any piece of embodied mind nearly forever. In addition, World Wide Web is a virtual world. Hence it has great strength to survive from most of the real-world disasters, either natural or man-made.

the issue of quality

The most important improvement Web resources have made beyond the traditional forms of mind asset is their presentational quality.

In the traditional forms such as books or video tapes, we can introduce a mind as well as how it works. For example, a stock-market expert may write a book about what stock is and the timing of buying and selling stocks. But the book would not (if ever possible) tell the mind-asset consumers (the ones who read the book about stocks) the exact judgment of stocking selling the author would do in real time cases. The book readers have learned from a book the general principles. But it does not mean that the readers can consume the mind asset as well as the author does in real life. There is a natural gap between the presented value of the mind asset in the book and the real value of the mind asset in real world. This gap of knowledge understanding is a typical difficulty of mind asset measurement.

To solve the problem, on the Web people can program their mind (a typical dynamic mind asset) so that the production of their embodied mind could be precisely predictable by adding real-time parameters. In our example, stock-market experts can program their thoughts so that the program always produces the identical decision in the same real time case no matter who use it. This type of mind asset thus has higher quality than the standard static mind asset because it is more productive in use.

Moreover, on the Web we may embody a special type of mind asset that we rarely have successfully expressed before. It is self.

Self, self-consciousness, or self-awareness, is "a personal understanding of the very core of one's own identity." Due to self everybody is unique. By self, different people may develop varied use of the same knowledge. We thus have the variety of human mind. Self is so unique that nobody can embody the self of the others. The embodiment of self shows the ultimate value of a person, and hence it represents the respect of humanity. As a typical mind asset, self plays a critical role in many fields of World Wide Web, such as the implicit Web and Web evolution.

the issue of measurement

By presenting mind in Web resources, we are able to objectively measure its value as if we measure the value of capital asset. As we know, though there is a large variety of capital asset (such as stocks, real estates, etc.), we can uniformly measure its value by testing the capital asset in free market. In the similar way, we may objectively measure the value of a mind asset presented by Web resources. On the free Web, the value of a Web resource can be arranged completely by the mutual consent of producers and users.

Web Industry, platform that mind flows

While World Wide Web is a network of embodied mind, Web industry is the platform that mind flows. In the real capital world, modern industry (represented by the manufacture industry) takes capital as input and produces capital with greater value. In the virtual mind world, postmodern industry (represented by the Web industry) takes mind as input and produces mind with greater value. This analogue tells the essence of Web industry.

Web companies are the factories that produce Web resources. They may primarily produce data resources such as Amazon, or service resources such as Facebook, or link resources such as Google. Discarding all the superficial distinctions between each other, all Web companies are taking a few mind assets as input and producing a few mind assets as output. Ideally, the value of the output mind asset must be greater than the value of the input mind asset. Mind is the blood flowing around the system of Web industry, which is similar to that capital is the blood flowing over the system of manufacturing industry.

Web companies also partition their work load and cooperate to each other the same way as the other industrial corporations do. Take the traditional manufacture industry as an example, some corporations (such as iron puddling factories) pretreat crude materials and produce refined materials or parts while some other corporations (such as automobile manufactures) take refined materials and parts to produce further manufactured products. In similar, some Web companies (such as Blogger) are to help people embody their mind into Web resources from scratch while some other Web companies (such as are to take the already embodied mind as input (such as a blog post in Blogger) and to produce higher quality mind assets that can be consumed better by end users.

There is, however, a unique restriction of Web resource producing and consuming in Web industry. Due to Web evolution, neither the production nor the consumption of Web resources may beyond the evolutionary stage of World Wide Web at the meantime.

Web resources produced in quality higher than what can be efficiently consumed at the meantime is overqualified. Yahoo! Directory is a typical example. The quality of link resources produced by Yahoo! Directory was generally beyond what Web 1.0 users could efficiently consume. Hence the service became very expensive to maintain. Eventually, Google Search replaced Yahoo Search being the leader of Web search industry thought the actual quality of link resources produced by Google Search is lower than the quality of link resources produced by Yahoo! Directory. (This is, however, not necessarily the end of the story. Y!OS is the newest step Yahoo is taking for Semantic Web. Will Y!OS eventually tend to produce overqualified Web resources again? We have this concern.)

On the other hand, Web resources produced in quality lower than what can be efficiently consumed at the meantime is underqualified. The examples in this category are plenty. In the age of Web 2.0, many Web-1.0 companies have to update the quality of their produced Web resources to the level of 2.0 or otherwise their market share is quickly taken by their Web-2.0 startup competitors.

Because of Web evolution, mind asset production is so dynamic that no company (including Google) can stick to one product quality for long. Web companies have to upgrade the quality of their produced mind assets with the progress of the Web every few years in order to just survive. Hence Web industry is indeed a business type with high risk and high payback.

We are in a new transition

We are in a new transition. The widespread of World Wide Web is the trigger of the transition. Because of the Web, the first time in history human mind becomes a critical circulating asset in society that ordinary people can buy, sell, produce, and share. The rise of mind asset will eventually push the human civilization evolving from the age of capitalism to the next.

We are still at the early stage of this transition. In similar, the Web is still at an early stage of its evolution. The Web companies that lead the progress of Web evolution will simultaneously be the leaders of human civilization in this transition. Until now, we have seen a few of these leaders such as Google and Facebook. They have led not only new technologies, but also the change of culture in our society.

Based on what we have analyzed, to be a leader of Web evolution is actually less about doing business in a particular realm such as "Web search". By contrast, the success is primarily determined by whether the founders of company have (either actively or unconsciously) well foreseen the quality of Web resources (or mind asset) in the next generation. Google approaches the quality through Web search while Facebook approaches the same quality by social networking. Neither of the success is due to the path they choose to take because at the same time many other companies were taking the same path as they did. The key of their success is the distinction of the quality of Web resources the two companies produce.

Which companies may be the next in the list of success? Though we don't know the names, one thing is certain---the ones understanding the resource quality upgrade of Web evolution may get the better chance to be the winners. Such a successful company might be another Web search company, might be another social networking company, or might be a company with a brand new focus. As we have said and I emphasize it again, the particular path taken by a company is not the deterministic factor. Different founders may have their preferred realms of interest. To the end, the variety of human mind allow us to approach the same goal in various paths. The actual key to the success is whether the founders are capable of foreseeing the progress of Web evolution, especially the progress of Web resource (mind asset) quality upgrade. Neither over-qualification nor under-qualification may clinch a winner. It can only be a perfect hit of the right quality.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Just WOW. Great, deep, insightful post like always! Keep up the good work, Yihong! ;)


Yihong Ding said...


Thank you. It has been quite a while. How is your company going? Wish you all the best and keep on the good work too. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Yihong, well done on writing this series of posts. You give me a lot of credit, but in reality you have refined and enhanced my thoughts with your own deep thought, insights and knowledge. Thank you for teaching us so much.

Yihong Ding said...


Thank you. I think I have learned very much from your thoughts. Both of your Imindi service and the description of Harmonious Age bring me many thoughts. They help me hook up many isolated minds in my brain so that I finally obtain a coherent picture of evolution.

We are in an exciting period of human history. Now it is the time to bring the world something extraordinary and something few had even imagined before. We may not always have this type of chances. Since we are lucky, however, it is thus our duty to make it happen. I am glad to have the chance be with you. And I believe in the future of Imindi.


Yihong Ding said...

By the way, Adam, I will need a few more time to reply your email. I have a friend visiting me this weekend so I do not have time to reply.


Unknown said...

Hi Yihong,

I happened to see your comment on Tim O'reilly's blog post today and followed the link to your blog. What a great thought on Web transition!

Thanks to your historical review of the Web evolution, I now have clear picture in my mind about what's going on in the current Web arena.

This is a Web philosophy, which can be a mind guide in the next 5-10 years for anyone who's interested in the Web and human society development.

I am now reading Amy Shuen's Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide. It gives me an understanding of strategy for a Web business startup.

What I want now is the practical execution of a Web startup. I may not be able to get it from anyone else, except myself.

Anyway, I'd love to read more your mind about the Web transition and exchange with you the ideas/minds/practices.

I wonder whether you have any research/analysis on Web industry in China?



Yihong Ding said...


Thank you for being interested in my writing. We are in a great transitional period and it is the time for any innovative people to start a Web business by themselves. As I said, however, Web business is a domain with high risk but also high payback. Hence I wish you the best luck on pursuing your chance. Moreover, if you would like to consult with me about your plan of startup, I am willing to lend my hand.

You have also asked about my knowledge of Web industry in China. Unfortunately, however, I have not gotten many chances to study the Chinese Web industry. As a Chinese myself, it is indeed a pity. I will figure out more time to study the Web industry trend in China later. In fact, by the request of one of my friends I will write an essay about the LinkedIn strategy on Chinese market in a few days. If you are interested in the issue, please keep on watching Thinking Space.

In my mind, to develop a Web business in China would be different from developing a Web business in US or other western countries. You are going to face more challenges as well as obtain more opportunities of success. The challenges mainly lay on the side of immature free market and hence many theories of Web evolution might need to be revised accordingly at the execution level when they are applied in China market. The opportunities mainly lay on the easiness of engaging a huge base of human mind. As I said, mind asset is the main input resources as well as the primary output product of Web companies. With a huge and cheap mind base to explore, China Web startups have better chances to succeed in novel production than western startups. The problem is, however, whether the founders of China startups may have the same honorable vision of western startups to lead the revolution of society. If the founders only think of producing more money but neglecting all the other factors such as morality, their companies could never be great in history, let it alone leading the revolution of society. This is a problem of many Chinese startups that are nothing but pure money-driven machines.

Please feel free to exchange your mind with me if you would appreciate my suggestions.



Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of a good specialty metals company that can produce custom made metal parts?