Thursday, November 27, 2008

GoodRelations allow Semantic Web to improve E-Commerce

Martin Hepp, a professor at Universität der Bundeswehr and also affiliated at the STI Innsbruck (original DERI Innsbruck), recently released a 15-min Webcast that introduces a recent work of the GoodRelations project and explains his vision on bridging e-commerce and the Semantic Web.

I have known Martin since 2006 when I was an intern under his supervision at Innsbruck, Austria working on the multi-million-euro MUSING project. Since then we have kept close relationship with each other and co-authored several papers. Martin is a sharp and kind scientist. With his dual background on business and computer science, Martin is passionate on improving the efficiency of e-commerce by the Semantic Web technologies. I feel glad to watch his accomplishment of the GoodRelations project.

In brief, GoodRelations "is a lightweight ontology for annotating offerings on the Web." A little bit more detailed, the GoodRelations ontology is a lightweight vocabulary that can be used for describing the details of offers made on the Web in a machine-readable way. In particular, it may allow users to specify the relationships between "(1) Web resources, (2) offers made by means of those Web resources, (3) legal entities, (4) prices, (5) terms and conditions, and (6) the aforementioned ontologies for products and services." The targeted users of this ontology include Web shops, product manufactures, and software developers. After briefly examining the content of the ontology, I must say that it is an impressive product and I look forward to more real-world use of this product in the future.

Back to the talk itself. Martin has emphasized the audience of the talk to be the general public. After having listened to it, I agree that anybody with some basic knowledge of World Wide Web can easily understand the talk without the need of any particular technology background.

One of the key points Martin mentioned in the talk is his view of the primary limitation of the current Web. He believes that "the loss of the data structure [of the data stored in its original source] over the Web" is the main problem. Because of this loss, it is fairly difficult for people to reverse engineer the displayed Web data into its initial structure. The Semantic Web addresses a solution to the problem by allowing Web data carrying its initial data structure when traveling over the Web. This is a very clear and convincing explanation of why we need the Semantic Web.

Why do the data producers need to care of this "overhead" of producing extra description of the data structure? This is a common argument against the Semantic Web. To the end, it seems that it is a user's problem in contrast to a producer's problem. Hence why should the producers spend their extra cost to produce the portable structure of the data when the effort seems not directly benefit themselves? Martin also provided a fairly good answer to this question in the talk.

Martin agrees that just by adding the semantic description to data it might not necessarily improve the ranking of the pages in search engines. However, the effort does provide extra support to the data producers because by doing so the pages may become more accessible to a wider range of queries, especially a wider range of "related" queries. It thus means connecting more related customers to the producers. This is why the data producers should spend their extra time and money to perform this technology.

At present, GoodRelations has been officially supported by the Yahoo! Search Monkey. I am impressed by learning this news from Martin too.

Anyway, the talk is worth of listening and the ontology is promising of use. Just check it out by yourself and try it if you are a commercial data producer. Please let me know how you feel of it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

ǝɔıʌɹǝs ƃuıʇsǝɹǝʇuı uɐ 'ǝlʇıʇ dılɟ

˙ɟlǝsɹnoʎ ʇno ʇı ʎɹʇ ˙unɟ ɹoɟ uɐɥʇ ǝɹoɯ pǝsn ǝq ʎɐɯ ǝɔıʌɹǝs sıɥʇ ʇnq ˙unɟ ɹoɟ ʇsnɾ

Just for fun. But this service may be used more than for fun. Try it out yourself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Golden Time of World Wide Web is coming

I have justed read a great post by Drake Bennett at, which is titled "Depression 2009: What would it look like?" Despite of this inevitable modern depression, this post actually delivers an implicit message that the author himself might have overlooked. The golden time of World Wide Web is coming!

The post is unquestionably excellent and everybody should read it carefully, more than once at least. There is, however, a regretful flaw in the article. Despite of the many differences between this "21st-century depression" and the old Great Depression at 1930s compared by the author, he forgot to mention the most critical and fundamental invention that distinguishes the two depressions---World Wide Web. Astonishingly, even Tim O'Reilly missed this distinction too in his post of recommendation.

In the post, Bennett repeated emphasizing that people who lose their jobs are going to stay at home watching TV for "free time is one thing a 21st-century depression would create in abundance." But wait a minute! Why not the people staying with computers and killing time on the Web in contrast to watching dumb TV shows? This distinction is incredibly crucial. By watching TV these jobless people could hardly produce any substantial value to the society. On the contrary, Web 2.0 has allowed people making substantial contribution to the world even if they are "jobless."

Before this 21st-century depression, most of the regular Web-2.0 content creators are either the less-experienced young generation (who have much free time to kill) or the few computer geeks (who are passionate on the Web). Due to this 21st-century depression, however, the Web is going to welcome a great force of new Web content generators who are more experienced in real life and with much greater diversity on the professional background. From the positive aspect, these people are freed from their previous labor work so that now they can be more actively participating into the creation of a new world. A truly blooming age of the Web is coming.

In this time of depression, the last thing we need is another depressive news. By contrast, we need to seek hope out of hopelessness and we must look for chances from crisis.

So, Web companies and Web investors, now it is your chance. You are going to have more users who are more experienced in real life. The input by these new users would significantly improve the quality and diversity of the Web content. Are you going to grasp this opportunity? Have you noticed their compelling capability of producing (comparing to the earlier regular Web content generators)? Are you able to provide these people new ways of value production from home?

The golden time of World Wide Web is just ahead. Thanks to the Web, we should all be wishful but not be depressive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Web evolution has to have a purpose

Most recently at the Web 2.0 Summit, Al Gore requested that "Web 2.0 has to have a purpose." I believe, however, though it is hard to tell whether Web 2.0 must have a long-term purpose in Gore's expectation, Web evolution as a nearly ever-lasting progress has to have a purpose.

Web 2.0 may already have had a short-term purpose, i.e., to engage more regular users actively into the Web content generation. By this mean, this short-term goal has been fulfilled by all the Web-2.0 practices till now. If one has to ask whether Web 2.0 has a long-term purpose as Gore expects, he must first think of a question: how long could Web 2.0 itself last? In fact, many people have already predicted that the Web might enter its next stage (Web 3.0?) after this economic crisis is over. Hence it means little to assign a long-term goal to the short-term Web 2.0.

On the other hand, Web evolution will last long time. Likely the process of Web evolution may last as long as the Web still exists. For this long-term progress, we thus has to ask this question: what is its purpose? There must be a deterministic purpose for any event that lasts so long, isn't it?

The purpose of World Wide Web evolution is to realize the immortality of human mind.

This belief is actually another interpretation of the Postulate 2 of my proposed model of Web evolution. Moreover, it is the reason beneath what I tell the religionary side of World Wide Web.

In this world, some people use the Web to make self-interest; some other people use the Web for entertaining; the rest might just kill their time on the Web. But an in-depth reason that lead all of them onto the Web to do these things instead of being somewhere else is because they may eventually leave their trace of activities in this virtual world. Before the Web, we have billions of people whom we have no ways to check the existence. After the Web, the existence of any Web user is checkable, at least in theory, even if he has been passed away.

When our bodies are turned into ash and there are no evidences in the real world about our ever existence, the Web preserves our mind forever discarding how great (or tiny) the mind is. This is thus the realization of the immortality of human mind. This is an intrinsic desire of nearly every human being. This is why the Web is so attracting.

I can imagine quite a few readers might still doubt of this exclamation. The Web is still at its very early stage of evolution. We are going to watch how the evolved Web being more and more able to embody human mind in higher and higher quality. This quality incrementation is going to be the main thread for anybody to study the progress of Web evolution.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The way to watch Web evolution

Web evolution is not mysterious. Here is a straightforward rule to check whether a proposed design of the Web would be the next generation of World Wide Web: checking whether the new proposal precisely solves the center problem of the current Web.

For example, if we ask whether some proposal (such as the Semantic Web or the Mobile Web) would be Web 3.0, what we need to do is to check whether the proposed Semantic Web or the Mobile Web precisely solves the central problem of Web 2.0. It is just that straightforward.

The Web evolves forward but not jumping ahead. A new era always and only begins when it solves precisely the center problem of its instant former stage.

What is the central problem of Web 2.0? This is another topic and I will write a separate post on this particular issue later.

In summary, the following is a formal way to check Web 3.0, if anybody is interested.

1) Identify a fundamental of Web 2.0 that without it being fundamental Web 2.0 is no longer.

2) During Web 2.0, the number of instantiation of this fundamental must bloom. The blooming, however, would inevitably lead to certain severe trouble.

3) To solve the trouble, we will have to substantially modify the fundamental. In consequence, Web 2.0 loses its credential and the Web enters a new era, which could be Web 3.0.

World Wide Web spreads like religions

I have previously claimed that according to its eternal goal the World Wide Web is a religion-like existence. Most recently, however, Michael Doebeli and Iaroslav Ispolatov at the University of Vancouver had a paper called "A Model for the Evolutionary Diversification of Religions". In the paper, the authors described the spread of religions in the way of the spread of viruses. After reading the paper, I would rather say that the spread of World Wide Web is closer to the spread of viruses. Or if the authors assessment is proper, World Wide Web spreads like religions.

The following is quoted from the paper.

"Religions are sets of ideas, statements and prescriptions of whose validity and applicability individual humans can become convinced. Thus, individual minds are the hosts of religious memes, which can exert considerable influence on the behaviour of their hosts."

In fact, we can apply nearly the identical statements on the construction of Web content and its impact to the content creators. The information on the Web is sets of ideas, statements and prescriptions of whose validity and applicability individual humans can become convinced. Thus, individual minds are the hosts of these Web memes, which can exert considerable influence on the behaviour of their hosts.

When we spread user-generated content over the Web, we spread the belief about the soundness of the information. A typical example is Wikipedia. Though we know that many Wikipedia authors are not professional and they have bare obligation of the correctness of their input, we often cite the Wikipedia entries as if they are the absolute truth. Unconsciously, we have applied the religion-like confidence onto the Web. When the Web spreads, it grows in the same momentum as a new religion grows. Moreover, the generated Web reacts to the people who create it as if it is a religion.

The relation between the Web and religion is an interest topic on Web Science and especially Web evolution that is worth of many future explorations.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

swing between big and small

In his recent Harvard Business Publishing post titled "Obama's Seven Lessons For Radical Innovators", Umair Haque had a few insight on how the business might walk into the future.

yesterday, we built huge corporations to do tiny, incremental things - tomorrow, we must build small organizations that can do tremendously massive things.

In fact, the swing between big and small is a natural phenomenon that exists not only in the business sector but also in nearly any domain sector. A similar statement was claimed at least as early as 14th century in a great Chinese historical novel named "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (Chinese: 三国演义; pinyin: sānguó yǎnyì). The novel is based upon events in the turbulent years during the Three Kingdoms era of China, starting in 169 AC and ending with the reunification of the land in 280 AC. The novel is one of the greatest oriental literature not only because of its living story and characters but also because of the war strategies described in the book. For many Japanese and Chinese businessmen, Romance of the Three Kingdoms along with The Art of War are in the short book list of must-read.

At the beginning of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the author had written the following:

话说天下大势,分久必合,合久必分。[Said the general trend of the world: when being separated lasts long time it would be united, while being united lasts long time it is going to be separated.]

In the other words, the swing between big and small are constant cycles.

After the long time period that corporations compete to be bigger to survive, being big starts to gradually lose its superiority in innovation. By contrast, being big becomes, again, the obstacle of technological advancement. On the Web, many times we have witnessed the fade of innovation once a small venturous startup is acquired by some big company.

This phenomenon is not new at all in history. Just about two to three centuries ago, our ancestors had witnessed how the big landlords tried to buy the small but aggressive industrial factories into their own territory, and they also had witnessed how some comparatively bigger factory owners tried to acquire smaller factories and then mechanically link the factories together with the lack of long-sight plans. The old-style landlords thought that by acquiring new innovations they could still maintain their old glory. The new-style capitalists thought that by purchasing the newer inventions they might strengthen the leadership. Unfortunately, however, neither of them was right.

When we are in an age of innovation (or an age of great transition), we'd better thinking less of acquiring innovation, but growing proactively with innovation!

This is how being big is swinging to the side of being small.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

To Thinking Space Readers

Dear readers,

Thank you for loving this blog. Due to some tough schedule, however, I would not be able to blog much until at least the end of this year. I am going to miss you for a while.

Thinking Space will bring you back more exciting posts in the new year of 2009.