Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is Web 2.0 cycle coming to its end? yes and no

Chris Shipley and Richard MacManus have recently posted their thoughts on whether the Web 2.0 cycle is coming to the end. Both posts are written thoughtfully and they are definitely worth of reading. Here are a few of my comments on their thoughts.

"Web 2.0 Cycle", an ambiguous term

In her post, intentionally or not, Chris used a vague term---Web 2.0 cycle. She argued that "The Web 2.0 Cycle Has Come to a Close."

Actually there are at least two different Web 2.0 cycles. One cycle is in terms of the evolution of World Wide Web. The other cycle is in terms of the evolution of Web business, which is indeed Chris wanted to talk in her post. Though the two cycles are closely related, they are different from each other in terms of the timing of the beginning and the end. The end of Web 2.0 does not mean the end of Web 2.0 startups. This is a mistake in Chris' post.

In his response, Richard sensed the difference but unfortunately he had not explicitly spoken them out. Richard agreed to Chris that Web 2.0 as "a solid Web platform for applications and services" was coming to the end, but he disagreed to the claim that the Web 2.0 cycle was coming to the close. I support Richard in his point. If someone asks me whether Read/ (a typical Web 2.0 company) is coming to its close, my answer is no.

We must not be confused. I have also predicted the initiative of Web 3.0 just a few days before. But it does not mean Web 2.0 companies are going to be out of business soon. Web evolutionary cycle and Web business cycle are too different things. Web 2.0 as an evolutionary stage is about to pass. But Web 2.0 business as a typical model continuously serves an irreplaceable role on the Web. This role is not going to decay soon and thus Web 2.0 companies will stay much longer than Web 2.0.

Role of Web 2.0 Business

Web 2.0 companies construct the societies of basic individual functions on the Web.

For example, at Web 1.0 a webmaster can upload a video to its own site. What Web 2.0 business does is to build a site that allow everybody shares their uploaded videos. A typical successful company in this category is YouTube.

Why do I name it is a basic individual function? If we think of that there exist individuals on the Web, video represents the eye of individual. At Web 1.0, every individual may have its own eye. On Web 2.0, these eyes starts to communicate to each other. YouTube is a society of these "eyes" in contrast to a society of the individuals of the "eyes".

But we need to have a society of "eyes", don't we? By sharing what each individual sees, all of us see better than before. This is the power of social networking and this is why Web 2.0 business is valuable.

By this understanding, we can now easily explain why Web 2.0 business will last longer than Web 2.0 itself.

Web 2.0 is about to pass because the intrinsic contradiction in its fundamental---the ever-increasing number of identities vs. the lack of mechanism to manage these identities. By solving this contradiction, the Web will enter a new stage that is very different from Web 2.0 and new business that is very different from Web 2.0 business will emerge too.

But the changes predicted before does not mean Web 2.0 business is going to be close. By solving the identity problem at Web 3.0, we still need communities for each individual functions, or we still need communities for varied roles of each individual. Web 3.0 will bring everything up to a new level. But the lower level communication is still the foundation. This is why Web 2.0 business will not only survive, but also keep on growing in the future. The relation between Web 3.0 business and Web 2.0 business would mainly be complementary instead of contradictory. RWW is going to last long time. ;-)

"Free" will no longer be fundamental

In her post, Chris predicted that the age when "Web content and applications are free" was to be closed. Richard disagree to the point. But this time, I stand with Chris.

Free might be "a business model". But even it is, the glorious time of this business model is passing.

Someone would argue that nobody likes to pay for using Web services. That's true! And it is why "free" has been successful so far. But things are changing.

Let me ask a question: you certainly do not want to pay for consuming the content created by the others, but do you want to get paid by the others who consume the content created by you? Answer it honest and think of the success of Google's AdSense.

Here is a shift. With Web 2.0, more and more users become not only the Web content consumers but also the Web content producers. As consumers, they want "free". As producers, however, they want to receive something in exchange of their hard work on producing the "free" content. That is, they actually do not want their knowledge to be "free". This shift is the reason why free as a business model is not going to be fundamental in the future.

The rise of mind asset is inevitable. When individuals have spent so much on developing their unique mind, it is time for them to be rewarded. Before Web 2.0, there is no chance. After Web 2.0, chances have become tremendous. Knol, Mahalo, chacha, and a few others have already been the pioneers, though none of them have intentionally understood the real magic of mind asset. When some company truly gets the magic, its product is going to shaking the world.

"Free" is great. But pure "free" is passing. "Paid" is not evil. Actually, only through "paid" the quality of the Web can be improved tremendously and eventually everybody will be happy.

For people still do not believe it, let me quote a history of mankind to end this post.

As we all know, in the very early time of human society, humans lived in a crude communist society. Everything was free to the tribe members. With the evolution of the human world, however, this situation changed. Private property emerged and many things became not free. People started to know that in order to obtain something valuable from the others (even if they were tribe members), they had to pay. Such a change is not a retreat but a significant improvement of human society. It was the first time in human history that individual's knowledge became valuable, and hence learning and education became valuable, and hence humans evolved.

On the Web we are going to experience a similar progress. Don't need to cry for the lost of "free". We will only obtain a better Web and a better human society after it.

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us." (Ecclesiastes, 1:9-10, Bible, KJV)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Online Identity: what is it?

With the hype of Web 2.0 and social networking, online identity has been a popular term. The management of online identities, however, is gradually becoming a severe problem. Identity overload is a fundamental problem of Web 2.0. To solve it, we need to have a better understanding about the details of online identity.

By definition, identity means the distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity. There are three key terms in this specification---individual, distinct personality, and persisting entity.


An identity (no matter whether it is "online") is for an individual. Therefore, an individual person must exist before his identity exists. Although this derivation is trivial, do individuals always exist?

In the real human world, the answer to the former question is trivial. By nature, humans exist as individuals. Nobody lives due to the live of another person and nor does anybody lives because of the existence of any natural or social context. Being removed all context and relatives, an individual person is still himself. Being added any context or relative, an individual person remains also just himself; no more, no less. Every human being is a unique individual, or he is a unique, though shallow, image of God.

When we look for the answer on the Web, however, it becomes very different. Can anybody tell an individual person on the Web? Most of the time, we cannot. Most often, on the Web we may only tell a portion of an individual. For example, at YouTube we may tell an individual eye, at LinkedIn we may tell an individual hand, and so on. But does a unique individual person ever exist on the Web? Generally the answer is no till now.

Then back to the initial derivation stated at the beginning of this section. If online individuals even do not exist, how is it possible to produce online identities for these individuals?

Distinct Personality

An identity is about personality. This is an important catch of meaning because a common misconception says that an identity is such as a name or a social security number. In fact, either a person name or a SSN is just a reference to some real identity instead of the identity itself.

We may clarify a few important thoughts after insistently distinguishing reference to identity from identity itself. For example, identity is unique not due to the uniqueness of references. In the other words, whether references to identity are unique actually does not matter much; identity (if it is identity) is always unique discarding how it is referenced.

But there is a problem---personalities in general are not unique. As we know, varied persons may have the same personality. Hence identity is not just about personality, it is about distinct personality.

When identity is about distinct personality, online identities must be about the distinct online personalities. Moreover, the distinct online personalities are not the same as the references to the distinct online personalities. That is, an URI (or URL) is not and should not be an online identity because it does not determine any real distinct personality, even if the personality is online.

Persisting Entity

An identity is an entity. By being entity, identities are verifiable. Note that it is not verifiable in general to everything that is about personality of an individual. But if a thing belongs to an identity, the thing must be verifiable. Beyond, an identity is not only verifiable but also persistently verifiable. That is, an identity must be a persisting entity.

The property of persistence shows the existence of a constant methodology of identity checking. In the other words, we do not have to enforce the uniqueness of URL in order to perform identity maintenance. Allow me explain it using an analogue. I can always identify whether a woman is my wife not by checking her name, her look-like, her SSN, etc, but through the direct communication between us. I identify her by her unique personality and such a personality is actually an persisting entity.

Discussion wrap-up

So have we answered what online identity is? Not yet. But at least we now have a few insights about the answer.

1) We need to have online individual before assigning online identity to individual.

2) Online identity is not reference to online identity.

3) Online identity is an invariant on the Web.

4) Online identity can have very rich content (because personality is rich).

5) There exists an objective, constant method to verify online identity.

Any more words? Yes, on Web 3.0 the issue of online identity will be generally solved.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Twine public profile

Just noticed that Twine has released open profiles of its users. Check here for my profile at Twine. But I think Twine should at least send an email to its users to alert them that their profiles have now been public.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil Search

Beginning from the last night, Cuil (pronounced "cool") starts to hit the headline of many technological blogs.

New Design of Interface

Cuil is experiencing a new design of magazine-style search-result display interface other than the "standard" list-style display of Web search results. The following is a screen shot by typing my name into the Cuil search. This change of design potentially may mean much more than attracting eyeballs.

In an earlier post at Alt Search Engines, I shared that a critical but often overlooked issue in the current Web search is the production of link resources, i.e., how to better formulate the generated links according to the user search requests. To clarify the issue, let me explain it using a metaphor. If one has a brilliant pearl but present it inside a crude lunchbox, how good it might be known? A brilliant pearl needs to have a well-designed box (such as the right one) that matches its superior quality. It is exciting to watch a breakthrough on this issue by Cuil.

This new design provides Cuil lots of potential. For example, each of the short related story shown at the first page of result could be more than just Web links. By contrast, it may be an entry point to a related Web thread and each story is describing the theme of the thread. A combination of Web search and Techmeme-style stories may bring Cuil users very different experiences from using, such as, Google for search.

New ranking and privacy

Another exciting thing to watch is that apparently Cuil has performed a different algorithm on ranking its search results. After Google's success, ranking based on objective link popularity is generally accepted as the foundation of page rank on the Web. Cuil, however, seems trying to apply a new standard of ranking over its stored over 120 billion (as it claimed) Web pages. As the result, from the previous figure we can see that the rank of my related links is very different from the rank of links returned by Google. Discarding the performance until now (anyway, Cuil is launched barely for one day but Google has optimized its results for more than a decade), I strongly support Cuil's attempt. We want to have an alternative solution which does provide us DIFFERENCE. On the other hand, if a new search engine ranks the Web the same way as Google, how could we be convinced that it might do better than Google? Therefore, no matter whatever Cuil has chosen a correct path to walk and we wish it the best luck in the future.

Cuil also claimed some exciting news about its advanced privacy protection technology. Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land uncovered that Cuil search engine would not log IP information. Be note that Google, Yahoo and all perform this IP log in their search engines. Cuil's claim helps protect users' privacy on both of the publishing and surfing on the Web. I recommend this improvement especially to the places where information censorship is rigorous.

Still long way to go

Despite of all the improvements, Cuil still have a long way to go before it may indeed threaten Google. For example, it seems that search engine repeatedly looks for the same links and there must be some severe bugs about how to break a circles in graphs in its algorithm.

The following is the second page of the Cuil search results by input my name. Comparing to the first page in the former figure, we can see that the second page repeats quite a few links that have already shown in the first page. I have tested Cuil by the other queries and it seems that this is a bug generally occurred.

Certainly Cuil has more than this problem. But I am still looking forward to its future. Although Sullivan only showed "cautiously optimistic" to the future of Cuil, I think the value of Cuil would not be the precision of its search results. I agree to Sullivan that it is hard to believe that Cuil can do significantly better on bringing back more accurate results than Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft by employing the similar infrastructure of Web search. On the other hand, however, Cuil does show us that it may help build final link resources in better quality. Only if Cuil can continuously convince people that it can bring people alternatives (even though no better results) that they can hardly get from Google, Cuil would be a success at the end because we want to hear different voices.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Programming The Universe, Part One

I have just finished reading the Part One of a remarkable book by Seth Lloyd, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. The title is Programming the Universe. Although it says "programming" in title, readers, however, do not really need to know how to program before they may understand the content. The book introduces some newest progress on quantum computing in an illuminating way. Despite of the easiness of reading, the book shows compelling mind of the author that may lead advanced readers into deep thinking of the future about not only the computers but also the Web.

Here are a few quotes from the Part One I feel greatly impressed. Moreover, I have made a few comments on each of these quotes. I will post again about the Part Two of the book once I finish reading it. This book is really a great one for anybody who likes to think deep.

Information-processing revolution

"Every information-processing revolution is associated with a new technology---the computer, the book, the brain, DNA. These technologies allow information to be registered and processed according to a set of rules." (pg. 16)

Actually, it is not only a sequence of technology evolution but also a sequence of the evolution of mind presentation. DNA is the basis of biological bodies. Hence it is where mind is based. Human brain is where mind generates, books are where mind embodied externally in physical form, and computer programs are where mind embodied externally in digital form.

The author, however, neglected another important technology related to the information-processing revolution. It is World Wide Web. The Web is more than a computer, and it is more than a large cluster of computers. The difference between information processing through the Web and the information processing through computers is the same as the difference between information processing through computers and information processing through books. On the Web, we are a very different set of rules of information processing from the rules guiding the information process in a personal computer.

Precision and the amount of information

"If you have an infinite number of alternatives, then you have an infinite amount of information, ..." (pg. 21)

In fact, to any question we can distinguish answers from a digital computer or from the nature. What we need to do is continuously asking for more details of the answer. Any digital computer (no matter how powerful it is) has a limit of its computational precision. That is, it may only provide information until certain amount of quantity. By contrast, the nature essentially have no limit on its ability of telling the details.

On the other hand, an ideal quantum computer would be indistinguishable from the nature. If we ask a question to both an ideal quantum computer and to the nature, we cannot distinguish their answers because both of them have the ability of provide infinite details. Ideally, quantum computers support ultimate precision of information description.

Can such a type of quantum computers be truly built? Probably not or otherwise we would have reconstructed the whole universe. But it at least shows the compelling computational power quantum computers may have, which is beyond many of us can imagine.

Meaning of information

"If you don't know how a message is to be interpreted, then you don't know its meaning. ... Meaning is a bit like pornography: you know it when you see it." (pg. 25)

"... for computers, ambiguity is a bug. ... The ambiguity of human language is not a bug, it's a bonus!" (pg. 27)

Meaning is a popular but confusing word that we watch frequently now due to the timely discussion of Semantic Web. In the book, Seth stated his viewpoint: meaning actually does not exist until a message is measured by a pre-specified interpretation procedure. When we agree to a meaning, actually we commit to the procedure of interpretation prior to the coherence of the results of interpretation.

Moreover, Seth pointed out that ambiguity in nature is the basis of variety of the nature. When single digital computers generally prohibit ambiguity, we actually have lost the ability to describe a powerful feature of the natural universe. By Seth, quantum computers may regain this power of computation. Before the age of quantum computing, however, can we, at least partially, implement ambiguity through World Wide Web?

It is hard to answer the previous question. On the other hand, it is almost sure that the current W3C-version Semantic Web is not favorite to ambiguity. Is it a major drawback in the current Semantic Web project according to the vision of quantum computing in the book?

Uncertain and inscrutable aspect of computing

"In fact, it is just when we behave rationally, moving logically, like a computer, from step to step, that our behavior becomes provably unpredictable. Rationality combines with self-reference to make our actions intrinsically paradoxical and uncertain. ... Computers certainly possess the ability to reason and the capacity for self-reference. And just because they do, their actions are intrinsically inscrutable." (pg. 36)

Although I have learned the theory of computation in college, it is still a refreshing of mind for me to read Seth's discussion about the reason of uncertainty existed in computing. Actually, uncertainty in computing is not caused by any irrational statement or illogical derivation. By contrast, uncertainty is a natural existence only if we have self referenced ourselves, which is a legal and normal action in computing. For example, when I have specified a link back to my own blog, in theory Thinking Space is already uncomputable when somebody wants to arbitrarily reason over the site using digital computers.

My question is, however, can the Web solve this basic problem of computation to a new extend if we don't treat the Web as a cluster of digital computers? The difference between the Web and a cluster of digital computers is that the Web is indeed a society of humans plus computers!

Information and energy

"... in the story of universe told in this book, the primary actor in the physical history is information. Ultimately, information and energy play complementary roles in the universe: Energy makes physical systems do things. Information tells them what to do." (pg. 40)

"Entropy is the information contained in a physical system that is invisible to us." (pg. 41)

"Free energy is energy in a highly ordered form associated with a relatively low amount of entropy. ... The relatively small amount of information required to describe this energy makes it available for us: that's why it's called free." (pg. 42-43)

"... it's clear that energy and information (visible and invisible) are the two primary actors in the universal drama. ... Energy is conserved. Information never decreases. ... To do anything requires energy. To specify what is done requires information. Energy and information are by nature (no pun intended) intertwined." (pd. 44)

The discussion between energy and information is an interesting and very informational part of the book.

As we all know, the First Law and Second Law of Thermodynamics are two fundamental laws that describe the universe. In short, the First Law tells that the total amount of energy in any closed system is conserved, and the Second Law tells that the total amount of entropy in any closed system never decreases.

In the book, Seth illuminatingly mapped entropy to information. Since entropy is a measurement of the workable energy in a closed system, entropy is equivalent to information that describes the details of the system. Therefore, the Second Law may be reinterpreted as that the total amount of information in any close system never decreases.

In order to make things be more interesting, let's watch Adam Lindemann's original discussion of Harmonious (Mind) Age and my explanation of the Harmonious Age. Actually, Adam expresses the shift of human society in terms of energy and emphasized that human mind is a new state of energy that may eventually lead to a more harmonious stage of human society. By contrast, I interpreted the same thing using mind in its aspect of information and emphasized that the ever-increasing amount of mind/information in the world must eventually lead to a stage that mind becomes the primary type of asset of human society. By this evolution, humanity would be more respectful in general since the value of individuals will be finally measured by the superiority of their mind in contrast to the amount of land or capital they have occupied.

What a harmony between our discussion and the analysis in Seth's book!

Order from chaos (the butterfly effect)

"Chance is a crucial element of the language of nature. Every roll of the quantum dice injects a few more bits of detail into the world. As these details accumulate, they form the seeds for all the variety of the universe." (pg. 50)

Doing quantum computing is like throwing many dice simultaneously in parallel. We may be sure that one result must be what we expect. But we don't know which one of all the results is the one until it discloses itself. Actually, this is also how the nature performs.

At the same time, I would like to ask whether the Web is, will be, or should be operated in this way too. If we do view the Web to be humans plus computers, probably we may achieve this quality of computation even before the eventual realization of quantum computing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Revolution Behind Google Knol

Google has announced Knol to the public. When many discussion of Knol focuses on the potential head-to-head competition between Google and Wikipedia, I want to explain the action from a different angle. Hence the title of my analysis become---the revolution behind Google Knol.

First of all, Knol is about authorship. Any Web user can author a knol about what he/she is passionate on. The philosophy behind is that everyone is an expert of something and thus everybody is qualified to author something. Moreover, Google declared that Knol is (or will be) equipped with powerful community tools so that it would not be solely the original author(s) but also anybody who has the same passion to contribute to the knowledge composition. So far it seems that Knol is just another Wikipedia. But the following improvement not only distinguishes Knol from being the Wikipedia II, but also put Knol into a category of revolutionary products ever.

Google decides to provide the Knol authors with a revenue share through the AdSense program.

Readers may be confused on why this is a revolution. Isn't AdSense already a program for years and with millions, if not billions, subscribers? Certainly, it is. But this time, combining AdSense with Knol means different.

By its original design, AdSense is just an advertisement service to prompt Google's leading position in the online advertisement market. By joining the AdSense program, Webmasters may receive a few unexpected, extra money from hosting their original sites. Though this service is a great exploration about Web business models, it is a little bit flattery to call the service revolutionary in its initial thoughts.

By combining AdSense with Knol, some magic chemistry happens. The first time in history, explicitly abstract knowledge (despite of its shallowness) is immediately converted to be monetary asset. The rise of mind asset---this is what the revolution really is about.

In this modern age, children start to learn knowledge even before they go to school. Then they continuously develop their mind in various aspects during growing up. Eventually, however, only a small portion of their mind may bring them monetary payback, i.e., the so-called professional knowledge---the portion of mind related to their professional work or paid jobs. Most of the other mind is simply wasted. People may have spent much time and money to build up the unprofessional portion of mind (and these mind may be very much valuable to the other people). But until now very few people can really receive physical benefit (especially monetary benefit) from the unprofessional portion of mind. The announcement of Knol starts to change this situation.

Before Knol, people have already been able to freely embody their mind, either the professional portion or the unprofessional portion, online. From Wikipedia to squidoo, many sites have been profitable by asking for the free contribution of user generated content. On the other hand, the human volunteers at these sites receive nothing but a few questionable "fame" by embodying their mind online. Certainly, the value between the generation of mind and the embodiment of mind is imbalanced. Human mind has never been seriously treated as worthy personal asset that has its monetary value.

After coupling Knol with AdSense, Google admits (no matter it is intentionally or unconsciously) that any human mind is worth of certain amount of money. Moreover, Google evaluates the amount of equivalence between embodied mind and currency money through AdSense. In the other words, AdSense plays as a standard to measure how much money certain embodied mind is worth. Popular embodied mind (such as Britney Spears) may be evaluated by Google be more valuable than the others since they are searched and viewed more frequently. Despite people may argue whether such a measurement of the value of embodied mind is fair or it might be improved, this progress itself is revolutionary because it realizes a concept---mind is a type of circulating asset the same as capital!

Google has made a small step, but human world has made a great step. In a previous post, I have predicted the rise of mind asset in the progress of Web evolution. Knol is a concrete signal that this prediction is coming true. Through Knol and AdSense, we are still far away from measure the fair value of human mind, let it alone to produce high-quality mind asset so that it may worth more. But this is still an exciting beginning, when any mind (discarding its shallowness) is generally seen as an asset.

A few more thoughts I wonder

Competing to get the authorship of popular topics in Knol is a way to make extra income, especially for somebody who is knowledgeable. Unlike setting up a random personal site, embodying mind in Knol is guaranteed to be popular if the content is popular (watch the story of reaching Page 1 on Google in 24 hours). Make money by your own knowledge, this is a divine intuition.

Comparing to Knol, Microsoft's Live Search cashback is so clumsy a program. Though both companies try to get more user engagement by paying users, Google pay users to grant for their knowledge---a honorable and bright side of humanity, while Microsoft tries to amplify the greediness of users for paying less to obtain more---a dark side of humanity. "Don't be evil", I am glad to see that Google proves its informal corporate motto again.

Many current analysis focuses just on Knol and Wikipedia. In fact, however, the first sacrifice of Knol might be squidoo, a company whose motto is "Everyone’s an expert on something!". Wikipedia is still too popular and powerful to be shaken by this new initiative. But for little niche players such as squidoo, its time may come to the end. This action is another sign that niche-domain companies must try to either grow up faster or sell themselves quicker to the big brothers. Or otherwise they may not survive long even if once they are seemly to be successful.

At last, Adam Lindemann, Galen Kaufman, and I are thinking of producing a variety of mind asset for end users. Imindi, a company full of genuine products, is going to amaze the world. One of the key mission of Imindi is to help ordinary people build their mind asset. Google Knol has shown us a positive example of mind asset construction. We believe that during the Web evolution, any mind of ordinary people will eventually be some sort of general-purpose asset that can be shared, delivered, and transacted among people.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Magic or Power of Mind

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration. A recent show posted at TED brings me great interest. It is by Keith Barry, who is known as a "mind magician". After watching the show, I would like to ask a question---does the power of mind ever exist or are they just magic tricks?

I have no answer at this point. But here are two good references after you have watched this fascinating show. One is from MindHacks and the other is from Wired.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Failure and Success of Web Startups has a recent article telling the reasons behind ten Web 2.0 ideas that are, unfortunately, failed. At the meantime, I had a few private conversation with Riza Berkan at Hakia about how to improve Web search to the next level. I found, however, that some thoughts may really help new Web companies, especially the Web 2.0 startups, to survive longer in their journeys. Hence I would like to share them in this post.

A key point I shared with Riza as well as Charles Knight at Alt Search Engines was that a Web company needs to not only make itself be a good service provider but also be able to make other services be better. Make others be better, this is a key implicitly declared by Web 2.0.

To lead to the point, I share with Riza and Charles a story about NBA. NBA fans know that every year the league chooses a player to be the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the past season. There are certainly many debates on whom the MVP of the year should be. A key issue among the debates is usually only about one question---there is a player who played the best by himself and there is another player who makes his team the best in the league, which one would you elect to be the MVP?

Fortunately, in general most people agree to that the one who makes his teammates better is more valuable than the one who himself is the best player. This is actually a general rule even if for Web businesses.

Let's then watch the 10 failures exampled by Discarding any specific reason behind each service, all of them have a common problem---each of them may be a good service by itself, but none of them have facilitated their products enough to improve the other services in the world. No matter is it as little as RSSCalendar or it is as giant as Windows Live Expo, the key for a new startup service to catch up with a forerunner is the quality of its service, where the quality is not just about how well itself is but more about how well it may improve others. Unless a new startup service is significantly better than the same service provided by a forerunner, rarely it can defeat a forerunner because few people would like to switch to a new service when the old service can serve at the equivalent quality. However, the situation would be different when many other services start to use the new service as their partners. People are willing to join a service that has more integration with other services they also have subscribed. This is thus the power of collective force.

In summary, for either new startups or existing Web services, a key issue they need to be aware is how their services or their products (either data or links) may be easily used by the other services and improve these other services. From one side, it is an example of engaging collective forces (a main issue of Web 2.0). On the other side, it is a realization of Web 2.0 to be a generic platform that every service upon it is eventually composed to each other (another main issue of Web 2.0). Hence, do not just think of end users. Please also think more of the other potential peer services. Not just make your own service be better. But also adjust the service product so that other services be better because of you. This thought might decide either success or failure of a startup at the end.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Evolution of Web Search

I have a guest post about Web search evolution at Alt Search Engines.

In short, the main point of the article is as follows.

There are two basic types of quality Web search engines need to be aware.

1) There is a quality about how well the search results produced to match the user requests.

2) There is a quality about how a search engine has produced the link resources based on the search results so that the produced link resources are more feasible to be further manufactured.

I argue that it is the second quality that drives the evolution of Web search.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The initial signal of Web 3.0

For more than a year, I have studied the laws of Web evolution. A few news in recent months have already made me think whether the transition towards the next generation Web (or Web 3.0) has started. Finally, a break news at the last weekend becomes the last straw.

This break news is about Jason Calacanis' official announcement of retirement from blogging. For readers who are not familiar to him, Jason is a symbolic person in the Web 2.0 age. He founded Weblogs Inc. and He has also joined Sequoia Capital and organized TechCrunch50 together with Michael Arrington. Although I do not agree to their argument that "DEMO needs to die," it does not decrease any of my respect to either Jason or Michael. They are visionary pioneers who always make big actions. With such a background, I would like to ask the objective meaning (in contrast to subjective thoughts) of Jason's retirement from blogging statement with respect to Web evolution.

To answer the question, there are a few other "coincidental" events we need to watch altogether. Here are they.

    a) the prevalence of the general idea of Data Portability

    b) the emergence of companies that start to "rethink" the Web such as Imindi and Genome

    c) more Web celebrities who start moving away from the traditional blogosphere such as Nova Spivack

I claim that there are intrinsic coherence beneath these seemly irrelevant news, i.e., the transition from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 has started. This interpretation tells the unconsciousness side of Jason Calacanis' action of retirement. Maybe Jason himself has not been consciously known, his action is an initial signal of a stage transition in Web evolution.

Data portability intends to solve the central problem in the Web 2.0 infrastructure---managing the ever-increasing quantity of Web 2.0 resources. Too many duplications of online information (especially such as the duplicated personal identities in varied subscribed Web 2.0 sites) have gradually cause more and more troubles for both of the individual users and Web industrial companies. With the implementation of data portability, we may solve most of the data duplication issues and significant release the pressure of Web object identification.

If we project data portability onto Web industry, it is more than opening up platforms or publishing APIs. By contrast, it demands rethinking of the basic infrastructure of the Web. Data portability will remodel the Web from a gigantic platform (2.0 stage) to a uniform playground (3.0 stage). The process is similar to that asynchronous data processing remodeled the Web from a generic file system (1.0 stage) to a gigantic platform. Both Imindi and Genome are trying to develop a new form of products grounded upon the new thinking, which make them be different from the other Web 2.0 peers. However, I am certain that there must be more new rethinking in the stealth mode besides the two I know.

On the other hand, if we project data portability onto individual practices on the Web, we are going to see the transformation of Web spaces from blog (2.0 stage) to the next form (3.0 stage), which is similar to the transformation from homepages (1.0 stage) to blogs. Both Jason and Nova claimed that they would adopt another form of Web space besides blog to communicate with people. Jason said that it would be a new form mail list and Nova claimed it to be Twine. If we look at these two forms in details, Jason's solution focuses more on privacy, distraction from time wasting, and higher quality of communication. Nova's solution focuses more on uniform control over various identities. Both points are related to the problems Vlad discussed in his Genome proposal. What a coincidence!

Probably Jason is just tired of continuing to blog for too many readers and Nova is just trying to advertise the product of his company. But unconsciously their actions have illustrated one thing---we are entering a new transitional period from Web 2.0 to 3.0 now. Web 2.0 is about to be passed.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mind, Unconsciousness, Emotion, some coincidence in our life

This is a great short talk. It makes me think of many things, especially how we might explore the power of mind. If we may construct a mind network, it will bring us unbelievable power that steam engines cannot compare.

The talk takes just a little bit more than 8 minutes. Moreover, Linda Stone has a brief recommendation of this talk too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

DEMO versus TechCrunch: credit, money, and passion

In 18 years, DEMO continuously proves itself to be a leader that helps entrepreneurs showcase their novel products as well as venture capitals meet up with new startups that are of great potential. At this fall, however, DEMO is going to face a real "head-to-head" competitor. After DEMOfall 2008 was announced from Sept. 7-9 at San Diego, TechCrunch50 declared to be hold from Sept. 8-10 at San Fransisco.

The main melody of the story is credit, money, and passion. In specific, it is DEMO's credit versus TechCrunch's money, plus passion from the attended companies.

The focused debate (apparently) between the two organizations is the $18,500 demonstrator fee required by DEMO for each selected company versus free attendance for every selected TechCrunch50 company. Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, even shared with the media by saying that "Demo needs to die." Is TechCrunch an angel fighting to the evil old dragon DEMO? Certainly not. Both sides are equally businessmen/women.

Many people has been distracted by Arrington's comparison between "pay to play" and free to play. Even Chris Shipley herself defended palely by only repeating that "the fees may well establish those that pay it as serious about their products in the minds of the press and venture capitalists that attend." Fair argument, but less than strong and convincible enough.

In fact, Shipley should ask the question back directly and clearly---isn't the admission to DEMO worth more than $18,500?

Moreover, Shipley should add---any successful (or at least claimed to be successful) businessman/woman should have the ability to convert the DEMO admission ticket to at least $18,500 endorsement, it is a demonstration to both of their passion to the product and their business skill of marketing!

On the basis of the 18-year-success credit, DEMO and Shipley can exclaim the previous two points in loud voice. The credit of their conference is worth more than the money they ask. And the money they ask is not at all a debt but instead providing a chance for young entrepreneurs to show the world that they are not only passionate to the product but also ready to be real businesspersons.

On the other hand, by waiving such a fee, TechCrunch50 also waives a chance to help young entrepreneurs raise their ability of decidability, which is far more important and valuable for the young entrepreneurs in a long term than being waived an amount of $18,500. It is an ability to survive under pressure and an ability to extend a business by grasping a tiny oppotunity such as an admission ticket to DEMO.

For venture capitalists, if there are two young startups,
    1) both of them have good product with great potential,
    2) neither of them has money,
         and hence ...
    3) one decides to go for the free TechCrunch50,
    4) the other one decides to use the DEMO admission ticket to raise $18,500 endorsement and attend DEMO,
Question: which one would you pick to invest if you can invest only one of them?

The one that takes the pressure and has demonstrated its ability of converting a tiny chance to business success deserves being given a prior consideration.

Please allow me quoting myself to conclude the post. Free is a nice feature, but free is not always good and healthy for the growth. Some time, and many times, paid demonstrates more than free, especially when it is a time for demonstration!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Enough ants may bite an elephant to death

A traditional Chinese idiom says that enough ants may bite an elephant to death (Chinese: 蚁多咬死象). The idiom perfectly describes the strategy beneath Yahoo's newest Web search service---BOSS (Build your Own Search Service). Google is facing the most severe challenge ever in its history.

As we all know, until now Google is likely unbeatable by its dominating power on Web search. Neither Yahoo nor Microsoft, nor even Microhoo, may compete to Google head-to-head. Google is a huge elephant and nobody may even shake it.

Although even a leopard cannot fight an elephant, by raising a huge amount of ants they may bite the elephant to death. Yahoo thinks so, and I agree to it. Google can easily defeat any individual competitor, but Google cannot beat the united force of all competitors. It is the power of collectivity. Brilliant strategy, Yahoo!

On the other hand, however, this action is a double-edged sword. If the ants are so many numbered that they may bite an elephant to death, certainly they can kill a leopard without a question. Therefore, Yahoo search itself might be swapped out of the market even before the decaying of Google search.

A few people may be curious on why Yahoo search might be hurt. Isn't Yahoo that is the service provider of BOSS? If Amazon can make great deal of profit from its public Web service, how could Yahoo's public service eventually hurt itself? To answer this question, we must take a deep look at the difference between Yahoo' service product and Amazon's service product.

Amazon self-produces a large amount of data and makes itself be a huge data center. Amazon Web services allow users accessing and using Amazon's data for varied purposes, including business purposes. To the end, however, Amazon controls the source of data. Hence Amazon have the control over all of its service users.

Now let's turn to Yahoo. Surely Yahoo also produces data, but original data production is the secondary task in Yahoo. Primarily, Yahoo indexes the Web. In contrast to Amazon as a data-resource producer, Yahoo is primarily a link-resource producer. The problem of a link-resource producer is that it actually does not have the power of controlling the linked data. In short, Yahoo knows links, but Yahoo actually does not own the linked data. Because of this reason, any niche search engine may use Yahoo infrastructure to build up a self index of links in its niche domain during the steal mode. After the niche search engine comes to public, it can primarily works on its own index and just using Yahoo infrastructure to be a reference checker. The key point here is that links are normally not the end data users look for.

Does it mean that Yahoo has done a work only hurts others but not benefits itself? Not at all. The key point is that Yahoo must not try to charge the search flow through its opened infrastructure ever after, even if some search flow is for commercial purposes. Be not like Amazon Web services because they are totally different (thought they are similar on surface but completely varied in essence).

Yahoo should make itself be the biggest player over its own free and open search infrastructure in contrast to make itself be the leader of its not totally free and not totally open search infrastructure. Or in other words, Yahoo makes itself to be the largest ant instead of a leopard. If Yahoo can keep on its strategy in this way, Yahoo will have a chance to not only compete to Google, but also defeat Google at the end.

Keep on your great work! Jerry, your passion is truly respectful!

For readers who want to learn more details about BOSS, here are a few resources they can start for looking.

  • Read/WriteWeb: Search War: Yahoo! Opens Its Search Engine to Attack Google With An Army of Verticals
  • Yahoo! Search Blog: BOSS -- The Next Step in our Open Search Ecosystem
  • Between the Lines: Yahoo’s desperate search times call for open source
  • VentureBeat: Yahoo opens up its search platform to third parties, Me.dium takes the plunge
  • GigaOM: Yahoo, Now Offering Search as a Web Service
  • TechCrunch: Yahoo Radically Opens Web Search With BOSS
  • zooie’s blog (a BOSS team insider): Yahoo! Boss - An Insider View

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Invariants on the Web

Invariant is something that does not change under a set of transformations. The picture on the right shows Pappus’s Invariant in geometry. The invariant tells that by following certain rules the three intersection points shown in the figure are always collinear no matter how people may draw the two lines and locate ABC and DEF in the lines respectively.

Invariant study is fundamental to any scientific research, especially when the research domain is as complex as World Wide Web. Invariants are supposed to be constant within the specified research scope. By well understanding the invariants we may effectively improve the knowledge over many complicated issues. Therefore, it is unsurprisingly for us to see the discussion of invariant study in the new Web Science Research Initiative.

In "A Framework for Web Science", the flag article of Web Science, Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues have carefully studied several invariants on the Web. In particular, one invariant is outstanding among all the others. The one is URI (Uniform Resource Identifier). In the paper Berners-Lee et. al. had focused on discussing which invariant represents the binding of semantics with declared objects. There was no final best solution concluded in the paper, however, the one closest to the best was URI.

In varied programming languages we have widely used an invariant, which is declared name. In programming languages such as Java or C++, "each unique object (i.e. with distinct semantics) is declared with a distinct name in one program. By referencing a name, a program accesses the semantics behind the name." Hence declared name is taken to be invariant.

On the Web we are currently using another invariant. "Web researchers decide to use location binding to solve the problem, i.e. URIs and URLs. By default, identical URIs reference the same semantics. Identical URIs on web is the same as identical declared names in programs. However, the name of this URI is varied, i.e. name is no longer an invariant. In constrast, URI becomes a new invariant."

The authors, however, pointed out that indeed neither of the two was proper invariant on Semantic Web (or on the future Web). "The difference is, however, that the requirement of machine understanding," said by the authors. We actually have no ways to promise the consistency of the meaning to which a URI points. It is the same as we cannot enforce users to consistently bind the same name to any unique object on the Web.

Although with the problem, the authors did not provide a satisfactory answer to the problem in their paper. By contrast, they simply emphasized that "W3C suggests that do not transfer URI to another object. That is, whenever you create an object, giving it a unique URI. This requirement is thus the same as that whenever we create a new object in program, make sure we give it a unique name." In other words, please do not change the referred destination of any URI though anybody has the right to perform such a change. This passive resolution is not a satisfactory answer. Deprecated URI has gradually become a severe problem when more and more Web applications start to assume URI to be invariant on the Web. May we have an alternate, active answer to the question?

The figure above shows three basic components when we bind semantics with certain object. They are the declared name, the object itself, and a link connecting the two sides. So which one of them is truly invariant when they are presented on the Web?

As the paper has discussed, neither the declared name nor the link (i.e., uri) is true invariant. "Apple" may be fruit or a software company. We have no way to restrict a handpointing to a fixed destination.

The only exceptional one is the object itself. Although by nature an object can only be itself and it is automatically an invariant to itself, how can we present this invariant besides name and link? This is thus the problem.

We humans have so customized of binding semantics with declared names that we have almost forgotten some more intrinsic binding beneath the surface.

When we are binding the declared name "apple" with the object apple, we are actually making a semantic computation in our brain such as to determine whether it is a fruit with red or yellow or green skin and sweet to tart crisp whitish flesh. For people, a name is not just a name, but also a computational procedure in human brains. It is actually not the name that identifies an object, it is the procedure that identifies the object. The declared name is only a named shortcut referred to the particular procedure in brain. When we convert the procedure to machines, it is an epistemological process.

The picture above shows the new paradigm of semantic binding on the Web. The left side is changed to a particular epistemological procedure (which could be implemented in various ways such as the one we have suggested). Unlike names, these procedures are unique since they can unambiguously answer either yes or no for any identification request. Based on these epistemological procedures, Web links (such as URIs) are upgraded to be Web threads. The Web threads connect the same Web into a varied layer. Moreover, from the philosophical and economical aspects the construction of epistemological procedures and Web threads would be the basis for the production of mind asset.

In summary, epistemological procedure and Web thread are invariants on the Web. Through Imindi, we are going to demonstrate the world something extraordinary happening on the Web.

UPDATE: related reading about URI, "What do people have against URLs or URIs?" by Kingsley Idehen.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Secret behind Powerset Acquisition

So it has been. Finally, Microsoft and PowerSet reached an agreement of acquisition. It is a deal about $100 Million in total. A question is, however, why does Microsoft acquire Powerset?

I have been at Redmond face-to-face talking with a few Microsoft Live Search top engineers two months before. None of them, however, seemed sympathetic to the coming of Semantic Web. At the same time, however, Microsoft people did emphasize that they expected to walk in a different way from Google because Google is too powerful in its research capability to compete. Does this newest acquisition mean Microsoft suddenly changed its mind and decided to compete Google by adopting Semantic Web? I don't think so. In order to discover the secret behind this acquisition, we may need to look at and think of the following coincidental events related to the acquisition.

1) PowerSet went live to the public only at May 12.

Paul Miller thought "$100million seems like a poor return for those Powerset investors" since the investors have "injected their $12.5million way back in 2006." I agree to Paul's argument based on the assumption that Powerset is a novel semantic search engine full of potential. A question is, however, whether the Powerset approach is indeed full of potential despite of its novelty.

The ones who know the best of the answer to the previous question should be the Powerset investors mentioned by Paul. Especially after Powerset has already been public, its long-term potential must have already been thoughtfully studied by the investors. We can be confident that all of these investors are bright and knowledgeable; and moreover, they are not philanthropists. If all of these analysis are sound, there is only one conclusion we can draw---the potential of Powerset is limited.

Until now, the application domain of Powerset is limited to Wikipedia. As other technology analysts also pointed out, the Wikipedia pages are consistent in their format and there are people dedicating to polishing the English writing of many pages. Powerset's self-limitation of its service only to such a special external site indicates the existence of severe technology difficulty in its approach and it is hard to conquer. I, myself, is a Semantic Web researcher (and particularly on semantic annotation). Thus I very much understand the problem encountered.

With all the concerns, unless Microsoft really thinks of taking Semantic Web as its long-term strategy (which, however, might not be a bad idea), this acquisition is questionable to Microsoft's short-term goal. Hence it becomes confusing---is Microsoft really thinking of going long or going short? Or, maybe, Microsoft plans to take both since it just has too much money.

The investors of Powerset are not foolish, and nor should we assume Mr. Ballmer of Microsoft be so. Then what did Mr. Ballmer think when he made the decision of acquisition?

2) This deal came after the break of Microsoft-Yahoo deal.

By looking for acquiring Yahoo, Microsoft was planning to hit Google in the front. After the attempt failed, Microsoft finally decided to attack Google from the back by acquiring Powerset. This is the real story behind the scene.

Microsoft is looking for the market of online advertisement, everybody knows it. The dominator of the market at present is Google. In order to compete Google, the fastest and also the most effective way for Microsoft is to buy the company in the second place of that market, which is Yahoo. But Yahoo defended insistently to Microsoft's acquisition. Should Mr. Ballmer then abandon the plan? No, or otherwise he must not be the Ballmer. Here thus comes the acquisition of Powerset.

3) Yahoo's SearchMonkey opened up for developers at May 15.

I have said that SearchMonkey is Yahoo's strategy to come back. Although I also predicted negative to the full success of this ambitious project (partial success is however believable), Microsoft has no patience to wait for the natural death of it.

The best way to accelerate the death of SearchMonkey is to defeat the plan directly. By acquiring Powerset, Microsoft may launch a competitive Semantic Web service for SearchMonkey. SearchMonkey itself is already too ambitious. By short of volunteered developers all over the world, the date of its failure thus could be counted. At that moment, Microsoft may go back to the table and buy Yahoo in a much cheaper value. The difference would certainly be greater than $100 million.

4) Google declines to bid for acquiring PowerSet.

In the whole story, Google's situation is quite subtle. From one hand, Google certainly does not expect Microsoft to acquire Yahoo. Hence Google would not be willing to see Microsoft acquiring Powerset.

On the other hand, however, Google does not believe in Semantic Web either. Competing price of Powerset with Microsoft is meaningless for Google. The reason is simple. Neither Microsoft nor Google is really interested in Semantic Web. Microsoft buys a Semantic Web company only to attack Google from the back. If Google attends the competition, Microsoft may just raise the bid and let Google win it. Then Microsoft can simply go for another Semantic Web company. Powerset is surely not the only one who does Semantic Web technology! Google has no chance to win this battle unless it buys all of the Semantic Web companies, which is totally nonsense for its lack of interest in Semantic Web.

I have to say that Microsoft's strategy is very brilliant. The strategy directly hits Google and Google has no effective way to fight back. Now the only pity sacrifice is Yahoo again. But probably it may beg Google to save it once more.

In summary, by acquiring Powerset Microsoft has done an excellent move towards the next acquisition of Yahoo and eventually be closer to beat Google. How would Google and Yahoo take this challenge? The story is to be continued ...