Saturday, August 29, 2009

Core Interest

Interest is something with the power of attracting or holding one's attention. When one claims a thing being his core interest, however, he scarifies everything else to protect his holding of the thing of interest.

Dai Pingguo (Chinese: 戴秉国), a State Councilor of China, talked about the core interests of China in the recent US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue. He stressed that China’s core interests were "safeguarding its basic systems and national security, maintaining its sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as ensuring its sustained economic and social development." I will not comment on this statement. But let's think of what Hillary Clinton might have said if she had had to address the same question. What would have happen if she had said that the core interests of United States being security, territorial integrity, and economic growth?

Core interest is different from the most urgent issue to be solved.

Now let's think of another question. Were World Wide Web a nation, what would be its core interests? In the other words, what are the decisive reasons that drive the Web evolution?

I have a very short list in the following, and you may comment on your own opinions.

(1) A healthy environment of growing up that any new Web node may be popular by a definite period of time and by a definite amount of effort.

This is essential to the evolution of the Web. If the Web is solely a place where the rich gets richer, it can hardly evolve. There must be ways of balancing. It is not only because people want to be social that social networking becomes such a critical technology in the Web. The Web itself demands the technology for its evolution. The technology of social networking allows any newly produced Web resource (distinctive to the humans who produce the Web resource) to grow up being popular in definite period of time. It thus fosters the healthy growth of the Web.

The same philosophy is beneath the other key technologies in the current Web such as Web search and Web syndication. In the other words, the Web always demand the invention of new technologies that helps the growing popular of newly produced Web resources. Or we may interpret it in another way. If a company wants to abuse the technologies to formulate a pure rich gets richer pattern in the Web, it will fail in definite time of period as well.

(2) A fair environment of competition that the unpopular resources have chances of being popped up without the prerequisite of having been popular.

Believe it or not, unpopular represents creativity and innovation. The Web needs to foster the technologies that allow people to access the unpopular resources that may be kept unpopular forever.

This is a crucial topic especially to the society of Semantic Web or the community of linked data. A well linked web of data does not means the every piece of data in it is weighted evenly or can be accessed equally. When we request a semantics, some time we expect to get the most popular resources of the semantics and some other times we do not. More importantly, don't we need to add a layer of the innovative potential over all the linked resources so that it may facilitate the access to the innovative but unpopular mind?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lily's Learning Code

It is exciting when your wife also starts to blog. Well, here it is---Lily's Learning Code.

My wife, Li, is an associate professor in Computer Science at University of Arizona, the Sierra Vista campus. She is particularly interested in studying various learning methodologies that include both of machine learning and human learning. In the new blog, she will share with the readers her discovery as well as the progress of her research in learning and education. If you are interested in this topic, or especially if you are a CS major college student who are interested in studying more of the subtle details of how learning is performed by humans and how we are using computers to simulate human's learning behavior, you may think of adding Lily's Learning Code into your daily reading list.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Microsoft-Yahoo Deal, Part 3 (the chapter of Google)

In part 1 and part 2 respectively we analyzed what the deal may bring to Yahoo and Microsoft. Yahoo sells the weapon it uses in a lost battle (to the "don't be evil" enemy) by a price (not cheap) to Microsoft, which dreams of reopening the search engine war to against the same enemy based on the gained "scale" the deal assigns. In this post we thus discuss the "don't be evil" buddy---Google.

Should Google be afraid of the "scale" Microsoft pursues and is likely to gain by the deal?

By the first glimpse, Google should. Microsoft will obtain a decent increase in "scale" because of the deal. The combined MicroHoo (Bing) search engine will host 3 out of every 10 Web searches comparing to Google's 6 out of 10. This new figure may persuade the online advertisers investing more on optimizing the results returned by Bing. Google needs to be worried of this trend, doesn't it?

On the other hand, however, Google should feel released. Microsoft has chosen the Google way when coming to the battlefield. Microsoft could have invented revolutionary new business model about Web search by utilizing its superior desktop operating system; but it did not. By contrast, Microsoft looks for fighting in muscle on capital and manpower.

Microsoft has proved successful records in defeating powerful opponents. For example, to defeat Lotus Microsoft utilized its asymmetric advantage on synchronizing the upgrade of the office software with the upgrade of the mainstream operating system (Windows, a Microsoft product). It was impossible for Lotus to catch up the pace. The continuous improvement of the desktop office software demanded heavily on the OS support or otherwise the implementation would be very expensive. With Microsoft's dominating the desktop OS, Lotus simply had no chance to win.

In another example, Microsoft defeated Netscape in the first round of the browser war. This time, however, it was Netscape that made the first mistake by having overlooked the effect of Web evolution. In the late 90s, by still being excited of its success in the first tide of World Wide Web Netscape failed to recognize the fact that the sustainable Web evolution demanded Web browsers to be free. That Web evolution could be sustained is critical to the healthy growth of all the Web companies, including Netscape, even until now. When Netscape finally realized the problem, there was few time left for it to figure out an alternate business model; and apparently Netscape did not accomplish the goal anyway. At the meantime, in his book The Road Ahead Bill Gates foresaw the future of the Web to be the "information highway". The model suggested that free information transportation through the "highway" (i.e. free Web browsing) with the charged information hosting at every exit of the "highway" (i.e. non-free software, especially the operating system, for hosting the information to be transported). Guided by this view, Microsoft started a journey on heavily investing in developing the next stage desktop operating system that well supported the network communication while at the same time it built a high-quality but free Web browser (Internet Explorer) to satisfy the visionary picture. Although history tells us that Gates did not indeed interpret the Web evolution entirely right, the vision at the meantime was superior enough to defeat Netscape. More importantly, Netscape had no way resisting Microsoft's attack because (1) it did not have the experience on developing the cutting edge operating systems, and (2) it could not figure out the real trend of Web evolution better than the vision of Gates.

Both the examples show us that Microsoft won the critical battles because it had creatively utilized its most powerful weapon---Windows operating system. Otherwise, it would be much more difficult, if ever possible, for Microsoft to defeat the powerful top dogs continuously in one and another very much profitable business sector. (In the other words, a legend never is a miracle but a creative work.) In the coming new battle, however, the first time we see Windows playing no role! My question thus is, how would Microsoft be possible to win the battle against a top dog in a very much profitable business sector, again, by without utilizing its most powerful weapon into the battlefield? The gained "scale" actually will do nothing but lead Microsoft deeper and deeper into the racing track Google invents. Since the battle is inevitable anyway, Google must have felt released on to be competed in this way.

Google's new opportunity

Not totally, but I agree to Jeff Jarvis in his Guardian column that "... Microsoft picked the wrong fight" (I tend to disagree on the Yahoo part because I believe Yahoo is the winner of the deal). In the other words, Google is getting a great opportunity to take and consolidate the leading position in the world of information technology because of the mistake Microsoft made.

As I have repeatedly argued, the key is to discover the correct path of Web evolution. No single company, even if it is as great as Microsoft or Google, could resist or detour the flow of Web evolution. History proves that only the ones that follow the Web evolution may succeed or even survive because Web evolution essentially is the aggregated will of all mankind.

Web evolution demands a revolutionary new operating system to distribute the Web resources. This is what Microsoft misses and Google apparently senses. Moreover, Web evolution demands that the end users would benefit from this switch through building up their own mind asset, or even to build up themselves. Web search is only a temporary solution to the demand fitting the current stage of the evolution. It is far less than the eventual resolution. Pitifully, Microsoft, as the dominant giant of desktop operating system, still does not understand this point.

Apparently, however, Google seems get the point. The attempt of creating the Chrome OS is not as simple as competing Microsoft, as many analysts told. It is indeed to move forward to the next stage of Web resource distribution, the stage beyond what Web search may provide.

In conclusion, when Microsoft's main attention has been distracted by this MicroHoo deal and the Bing search engine, Google is getting an extremely precious opportunity to truly lead the world of IT into a new era. This is thus what the deal brings to Google.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Link in Linked Web

Kingsley Idehen posted a thoughtful article on URI, URL, and linked data this weekend. In the style of Q&A, the post concisely answers some of the most confusing questions about linked data. It explains the subtle distinction between URI and URL when dealing with the linked data. Moreover, the post implies that "a new level of Link Abstraction on the Web" is likely needed for us in order to efficiently consume the linked data Web.

After I left a comment for the post, however, I feel the issue deserve a second thinking. Before approaching forward, I pasted the main section of my original comment to Kingsley's post in the following.

Another thought I have, however, is that we may have three, in contrast to two, fundamental definitions on describing the Web. The two well-known ones are data and service; or in RDF we define Class and Property respectively. Until now, we assert the third one---link---to be nothing but a special form of data. The reality is, however, that this special form is so special that we may consider to give it a little bit honor so that it becomes the third member of the fundamental building block of the Web. That is, a link is not a data, and nor is it a service, but a link. Or with respect to your post, a URI is not a data, but a form of link, PERIOD.

I believe that this distinction, once it is made, could be important as well as valuable. A trick thing here is that, following this distinction we can start to think of other forms of links that is beyond URI (which is just a binary model). By contrast, we may start to invent the links in higher order, such as the link of links (metalink) or the thread of links (group link). Be honest, if the Web is moving towards a web of linked data (and I believe so since the Web data is more and more interconnected), we must breakthrough this traditional thinking of the link model. The key is, however, from today we start to think link to be link but not a data.

World Wide Web: from the dualistic view to the ternaristic view

The thought that Web link is a fundamental element of the Web that is independent to data and service was originated when I wrote a model of Web evolution. (Actually, it could be traced back to January 2007 when I first started to think of how the Web evolves.) By observing the evolution of the Web, more and more I felt that data, service, and Web link are three equivalently fundamental elements of the Web. This interpretation of the Web is different from the classic dualistic view of the Web in which the Web is said to be built upon two fundamental first-class entities: data (which expresses the static description) and service (which expresses the dynamic action). In this classic dualistic model, Web link is a special second-class member that is partially static description and partially implied by dynamic action.

RDF is a typical design according to this dualism philosophy of the Web. In RDF, relation (RDF:Property) is a first-class entity along with the normal object entity (RDF:Class). While class expresses the static fact of the Web, relation expresses how the static facts are interacted to each other. Both the elements are equally fundamental. Two models with the identical classes may not necessarily be equivalent to each other since the properties that are among the classes could be different.

Now we need to start discussing a few subtle implication of this philosophical view of the Web.

By the dualism philosophy, a relation is first of all a service and secondary a link. For example, suppose there are two statements: (1) Mary is a teacher of John, and (2) Mary is a friend of John. Mary and John are two objects. "teacher-of" and "friend-of" are two relations. Philosophically, however, the primary meaning of each of the relations is a typical service defined in between the two objects. In the first relation, Mary provides a teaching service for John, by which a teacher-of relation is established. In the second relation, Mary provides a friendship service for John, by which a friend-of relation is established. Be note each of the links is a consequence of the respective service (and there could be other consequences as well) in contrast to a prerequisite of the service. The dualism philosophy tells that service implies link and every link must be a consequence of a service. Moreover, no link actually makes sense if no services imply the link. Every link has a reason, which is a known service, conceptually (means that the service is unnecessarily implemented, however).

There is also another side of Web link according to this dualism philosophy. Once a link is implied by a service, it becomes a data. Unlike service that always leads to an action or a production, link describes certain static fact, which by the dualism philosophy is a data.

Therefore, link, which inherits the features from both of the first-class entities, is a special secondary entity in the dualistic view of the Web.

The ternarism (3 fundamental elements to model the world) philosophy to which I prefer may describe the same Web but in a different picture. By this philosophy, a link is not the consequence of a service and neither is it an unique type of data. A link is a link, which in the ternaristic view of the Web exists without the need of being implied by a service or being stored in the form of data.

In the dualism world, wherever there is a link, it must exist a data that represents the link and a service (implemented or not) that implies the link.

In the ternaristic world, however, when there is a link, it may or may not exist a data that represents the link, and it may or may not exist a service (let it alone implemented) that implies the link. A link is nothing but a pure connection among (could be more than between) the things.

In the dualism world, that one thing is linked to another thing is always due to some reason. In the ternaristic world, however, link is a matter of natural connection that does not require a reason to be existed. A link is as fundamental as a data or a service.

As we know, the Web is a world of information. Following this ternarism philosophy, the Web we understand becomes different world from what we normally think by the dualistic view. It tells that in the world of information, data reveals the encapsulation of information, service reveals the action and production of information, and link reveals the transportation (in contrast to connection) of information. Under this view, any Thing in the information Web is composed by three fundamental elements---data, service, and link. The data elements contains the information, the service element enables the production of the information as well as the interaction of the information to the other things, and the link element determines whether or not the information being able to be passed to another Thing.

By the ternaristic view of the Web, when we say there is a link from Thing A to Thing B, it means that the information carried by Thing A can be directly transported to Thing B without the help of any other information carrier.

By the ternaristic view of the Web, when there are no links between Thing A and Thing B, it means that unless there are additional information carrier participated in the transaction, the information carried by A cannot be passed to B. Once properly the additional information carriers joins the protocol (possibly in both sides), a link in higher order can be established between A and B.

By the ternaristic view of the Web, there is always a link (i.e. a direct link in the classic mean) between any two things though the link is often in higher order, i.e., it is often not a binary link that involves only the two designated things.

The regular Thinking Space readers may have found that this ternaristic view of the Web is also influenced by the quantum theory. Unlike that in the dualistic presentation of the Web we often need to perform an expensive computation to discover a link (concatenated by several direct binary links) between two objects in the Web, in the ternaristic presentation of the Web any two objects are directly linked, but possibly linked in varied orders. Moreover, I realize that we may directly apply many classic quantum theories to the Web if we start to think of the Web in the ternaristic view, which I will share later in the other posts.

Does the ternaristic view actually reveal the more intrinsic fact of the Web? I do not know. But there is one thing I feel certain. Link is not a simple issue. By better understanding the nature of link in the information world, we may eventually release the tremendous power of computation that we might not even imagine now. For the companies that aim to monetize linked data (such as Kingsley's OpenLink Software), it would be even more valuable for them to rethink the nature of the links that they are working against every day.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Microsoft-Yahoo deal, Part 2 (the chapter of Microsoft)

The part 1 tells how I believe that the deal actually offers Yahoo a chance to be reborn. In part 2, let's turn to Microsoft, the other side of the deal.

On the contrary to what they think of Yahoo, many analysts gave Microsoft more or less the positive evaluation about the deal. The mainstream opinion is that the deal will give Microsoft "the scale", which the company eagerly looks for but lacks until now, in order to compete Google. In a BoomTown interview by Kara Swisher, Satya Nadella, the SVP of Research and Development at the Online Services Division in Microsoft, confirmed the point. "[Search] is a game of scale," Nadella said.

Nadella is right; so are the many analysts. Web search is a game of scale. The problem is, however, how to approach the scale in contrast to simply purchase to a greater scale. Scale itself is not the panacea. The way of scaling, or how to scale, is really the issue. It is this "how", however, that makes me feel hesitate to congratulate Steve Ballmer enthusiastically.

Microsoft gains scale from the deal. Because of the gained scale, however, Microsoft is likely trapped itself into a Google-directed game. Forgive me repeating myself again. You can never defeat Google by executing in the Google way; even though it is Microsoft. This is the core of the problem.

To express my point better, let's take a look at the issue in two folds.

(1) Let's study how Google is invading the Microsoft territory, in particular MS Office and Windows.

Within their own dominant territory, Microsoft and Google are conceptually exchangeable. It is safe to say as well that "you cannot defeat Microsoft by executing in the Microsoft way." Both Microsoft and Google are the rule designer and the rule maintainer in their own territory. Nobody may seriously threat, let it alone defeat, them in their own field if the challenger is competing in the rules created by these monopolies themselves.

Google understands this point. Hence Google says, "well, let's play the game in some new rules." With this thinking, Google turns the Office software to a set of Web services whose basic and the most frequently used functions are free to the public. The plan is that it may gain a large enough user base by the free services, Google can thus provide the users more sophisticated data processing or analyzing services (which will not be free in either the sense of user subscription or the sense of advertisement augmented) surrounding the user-generated data, which is produced by the free services.

The plan tells that Google has invented an important game-changing point. The behind story is that Google decides to replace the service-oriented monetizing strategy on the Office software (which Microsoft controls) by the new data-oriented monetizing strategy. In the new strategy the service to produce data becomes free, while the services that consume the produced data will NOT be free.

After the initial (still moderate so far) success, Google is continuing the invasion into the deeper core of Microsoft---the Windows operating system. Again, Google realizes that it is impossible to compete Microsoft directly in the rules Microsoft executes. Therefore, Chrome OS is a very different operating system. It likely will not support operating many of the desktop-oriented tasks. In exchange, Google pays nearly the entire attention to improve and facilitate the way of utilizing the Web resource consumption from any arbitrary terminal. By providing the users a free operating system that can access and consume the Web, what Google plans is to grasp the control of directing and managing the flow and distribution of the Web resources to the end users. Once (or if) Google reaches the goal, we may not even imagine at present how great the new market will be. This is, again, a game-changing policy.

Google proves its creativity in competing against Microsoft. It competes but not follows the rules Microsoft controls. Now we may understand better why Microsoft is doing wrong (or at least not as good as Google).

By publishing Bing and dealing with Yahoo, Microsoft plays like a game chaser instead of a game changer. Yes, there are tactical inventions within Bing. By studying the Bing architecture from 5000 feet high, however, we find that Microsoft has indeed invented nothing but to copy the success of Google search in insignificantly different ways. Microsoft, or the combined MicroHoo, search is certain to generate a few buzz. But to defeat Google, or even to battle a significant decent share out of the mouth of Google, it will be unlikely.

(2) Let's study again the "scale".

Scale does not equal to make profit, at least it does not necessarily be immediate to generate revenue. Twitter is a typical example. Despite we do not deny the potential of the service, in reality it has taken the Twitter investors long time to look for a proper business model, and they are still seeking.

Certainly, however, Web search is a much more mature field. Microsoft believes that it has already fully understand how to monetize Web search as long as it gains enough size in scale. The method is the business model Google invented and is executing now. Thus by "scale" Microsoft means is to gain a large enough base of the daily visitors to its search engine so that the number could be large enough to ensure decent profit to the advertisers in the Microsoft search platform.

The thought is reasonable and actually has no problem at all if it is thought by anyone else except Microsoft. Pitifully, Microsoft might have forgotten one thing---what Microsoft lacks the least is the scale in terms of the number of users. Microsoft has a product whose user base is greater than any other software product or service, and its name is Windows. In contrast to dealing with Yahoo and then trapped itself into the running track Google trademarked, what Microsoft really needs to do to reach a compelling, Google-scared, scale is to convert its own users instead of to purchase the Yahoo users. By doing so, however, it really requires innovation that Microsoft probably lacks.

Let's take a back look of what Microsoft has done. During the first tide of Web hype (the years prior to the dotcom bubble), Microsoft had seen the business opportunity on user consuming the Web resources. At the mean time Microsoft believed Web browser be the answer. It seems that it was the Web browsers that connected the users to the expected Web resources. By this vision, Microsoft created Internet Explorer.

At the same time, however, the Google founders saw the things differently. (As well as the Yahoo founders, but Jerry Yang's vision was too much ahead of its time, unfortunately.) Larry and Sergey noticed that it was not the browsers that directed the traffic; it should be search engines that are independent to the browsers. The understanding changed the entire game. Soon search engine replaced Web browser becoming the most profitable business model on helping user consuming Web resources.

History repeats. Still the same issue of user consuming Web resources. This time Microsoft believe it finally got the point: search engine matters more than browser. But again, the recognition is too late because the Web does not stop in its origin; the Web evolves forward uninterruptedly. By the passing of Web 2.0, the most glorious time of the traditional Google-style Web search is passing. Ironically, Google itself actually has shown us a little bit hint by announcing the light-weighted Chrome OS, which could be independent to the search engines. Indeed the issue is much more profound than simply Web OS. But I would rather not tell too much in this post since it is distracting.

The main point here is that Microsoft misses the key. The key is not search; the key is to help the Web resources be properly consumed. Or even a step further, to help ... [omitted intentionally] (I bet Google might know what I had not typed here but Microsoft must not.) Search, the same as browse back in 90s, is only a path to the gold mine instead of the gold mine itself. Web evolution is driving us closer and closer to the golden mine itself, by which means that we must always be ready to adjust our strategy whenever a milestone of Web evolution is passing.

To seek for scale is not problem. That Microsoft seeks for the scale in this way is pitiful.


In the May 2008, I was invited to be interviewed by the Live Search team along with 27 other PhD students in US and Canada. Before the interview, I had already some thoughts on leveraging the Live Search to compete against Google. In addition to the post I wrote on April 29, I also had produced a private PowerPoint slide that was sent to the Live Search team (which was never discussed ever after, however). In the slides, I briefly introduced the Live Search team a broad picture on why and how Microsoft might win the battle against Google. Now when I look at the slides again, it is still fresh to myself though certainly I could do the slide much better after another year of studying and thinking of the issue.

Unfortunately, after I reached Redmond I found that actually Microsoft was not looking for genuine ideas but to find fresh mind who could help implement their made-already plot (or even to excuse themselves that their plot was the right approach to go for). I did not fit the suit since my thought could not syndicate with theirs.

Until today, however, I still felt regretted of the trip. Microsoft is truly the one that may overtake Google. But it is not in this way as the MicroHoo deal told. Microsoft has overlooked a critical value in itself, which I would rather not share in public. Now with the Yahoo deal, it seems that the last chance is taken away.

The deal grants Yahoo a chance to be reborn. At the same time it seals probably the last chance for Microsoft to defeating Google.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

About the Microsoft-Yahoo deal, Part 1 ( the chapter of Yahoo)

It is already not a news. But it is worth to thinking of it again.

Microsoft and Yahoo have reached a deal. Despite all the jargons used, the center of the deal is as the follows. Yahoo will hire Microsoft (through the Search Engine Bing) to run the Yahoo search by rewarding Microsoft 12% of its annual searching revenue. In return, Yahoo saves the cost of operating an independent division of Web search.

After the deal was announced, the stock market and the technology blogsphere generally questioned Yahoo's decision. Shares of Yahoo dropped 11% after the deal was announced. Jason Calacanis wrote a thoughtful article criticizing why Yahoo had made another mistake. In general I lean to Jason's main point when the lesson is told to the new startup entrepreneurs. On the other hand, however, I have a few different thoughts on this deal that I believe worth of sharing.

1) Yahoo, not a definite loser but a chance to be reborn

I admire Carol Bartz. She is definitely smart and courageous, probably more than many of us think she is. In Chinese, there is an idiom called 壮士断腕. Translate it straightforwardly: a brave man (or woman) is willing to cut his (or her) own wrist to save himself (or herself). Yes, it is painful or deadly-like to cut the wrist by oneself. If the cut is the only chance to save his (or her) own life, however, a brave man (or woman) will execute the action without a hesitate. Carol Bartz is such a brave woman.

It is pitiful. But the truth is that there have been no other chances left for Yahoo to be able to be reborn by not cutting its own wrist, i.e., the once-glorious Yahoo Search.

In his article, Calacanis made very good points on why the business of Web search was too important and too valuable to abandon. Don't make me wrong. I agree to Jason. The difference between us two is that I believe Yahoo was unable to adopt this suggestion, though in the heart it was very much willing to do so.

Be realistic. Yahoo has already lost the war of Web search. Yes, to admit being a loser is painful. But not to admit the lost is more than stupid. There has been no future for Yahoo in the domain of Web search. Why? A simple reason I have repeatedly talked in this blog: you cannot defeat Google by executing in the Google way! Yahoo is not able to invent a new schema of Web search beyond the framework Google has invented. SearchMonkey and BOSS caused a few buzz. Although being highly expected, time has proved that both the technologies are still too immature to make serious threat to Google. Moreover, for years Yahoo has developed itself a gigantic base of domains to run. Its scale can no longer sustain by keeping itself in this lost-already battlefield. The only future of Yahoo is---cut the wrist to seek for another chance of reborn.

There is a key consequence of this deal that is barely mentioned until now. By giving up the Web search to Microsoft, Yahoo no longer is a Web portal, but to become a pure online data resource producer and possibly a growing major online service producer. This is probably the most critical strategic decision Bartz has made. Why is it important? Three reasons are listed in the following.

a) Commercial Web portal is dying and has no future. By giving up Web search, finally Yahoo can jump out of the illusion to restart a new life.

Ironically, the existence of the Yahoo search consistently pulls Yahoo back to the old age, the age prior to Web 2.0. Yes, in recent years Yahoo search has invented quite a few new technologies. Among the big three (Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft) Yahoo is the one most willing to embrace the new Semantic Web technology. And so on. But all of these changes in Yahoo are tactical in contrast to strategic. The main frame of Yahoo is consistently being a major (or even the) entry point of World Wide Web, which indeed has become nothing but an illusion by the rise of Web 2.0. The sad thing of Yahoo is, however, that the illusion is ineluctable as long as Yahoo search still exists since it has become a company culture despite all the changes happen outside.

Finally, Yahoo search is gone, disappeared, in the wind. Although the link remains, it is now driven by Microsoft. In the other words, even if there were still an entry point to the Web, now it is Microsoft instead of Yahoo that holds the guidance. An old chapter of Yahoo finally ends.

b) By starting a fresh new chapter, Yahoo has great chances to win back its old-time glory.

Don't be confused. Yahoo has never been lack of innovation in new technology. This is a key distinction between Yahoo and some other losers, such as AOL. Jerry Yang is consistently a great visionary, probably often too ahead of the time, however. Yahoo engineers are superior too. The invention of SearchMonkey and BOSS (and many others) continuously proves so. The real problem is as we just discussed, Yahoo is trapped into an unrealistic illusion that may eventually lead itself to nothing but collapse. By cutting the wrist, however, Carol Bartz forces Yahoo to wake up from the illusion. The surgery is so painful that Yahoo can dream no longer. Once it truly wakes up, however, I bet the future of this innovative company.

c) In the new chapter Yahoo may become a great online producer of linked data, and thus eventually leads the technological innovation again.

Producing easy-to-link and feasible-for-search data is becoming a new realm of business. Soon it can grow to be as large as the domain of search or even greater. Linked data, especially when linked data is going to be integrated into the social networks, will release tremendous power on wealth production. Essentially, it will weave scattered individual intelligence into the aggregated engines of intelligent production. Because of human creativity, we may aggregate the linked intelligence in ideally unlimited ways. Therefore, a tremendous force of new-age jobs is assembling. By leaving the lost battlefield of Web search, now Yahoo has a chance to write a fresh new page in history, especially when Yahoo has already been one of the biggest (or probably the biggest) online data resource producer for long time.

From the beginning, Yahoo addresses itself a data producer in contrast to Google positions itself a link producer. This essential difference failed Yahoo in the battle against Google. This same difference, however, may eventually save Yahoo from the lost and re-rise being stronger. I believe Carol Bartz had visioned it and I wish her all the best in the journey she will lead Yahoo into the future.

If Jerry Yang was the father so that Yahoo was born, I wish Carol Bartz be the mother through whom Yahoo would be reborn!

This Microsoft-Yahoo deal is an important moment in the evolution of World Wide Web. In the part 2 and part 3 of the post, I will continue my thoughts on this deal, but on the chapters of the other two companies involved---Microsoft and Google.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Think beyond Build-A-BearVille (the Second Life for kids)

My daughter, Vania, loves to play Build-A-BearVille, the virtual world of Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc. After watching her playing several times, I find that the game is truly addictive to kids (especially to the girls) as many adults have been addicted to Second Life.

I suppose all of the Thinking Space readers must have had more or less experiences on the online social networking communities. By contrast, there are indeed a few very interesting innovation in Build-A-BearVille that are worth of sharing and thinking. Build-A-BearVille demonstrates something beyond its domain.

1) Virtualize the real world into the virtual world, and monetize the connection between the two worlds

The most impressive service provided by the Build-A-BearVille is to build a stuff animal in the real Build-A-Bear workshop and it immediately becomes a living pet of yours in the virtual Build-A-BearVille world. More than that, after declaring the birth of the pet Build-A-BearVille automatically provides you a well-designed virtual condo that both of you and the pet may live happily ever after together in the virtual world. This is the primary business model of Build-A-BearVille. (And you can imagine, we build a bear for Vania because of this game.) But it means more than the bears.

What Build-A-BearVille suggests is indeed that there exists a bridge between the virtual world and the real world. Unlike Second Life which sells virtual lands or the traditional online shopping sites which sells only the real products, Build-A-BearVille monetizes the connection between the virtual world and the real world. That is, once we have a thing in the real world; we may also want it in the virtual world (and be more fancy since in the virtual world it can be given life that is impossible in the real world). In similar, once we have experienced a virtual product in the virtual world, we may want it in the real form in our real life as well. This connection between the real world and the virtual world could become an even greater market than simply the virtual world stuffs or purely the real world products.

Imagine it. In the future, whenever one buys a real thing, the thing automatically becomes part of his belongs in his virtual community. Whenever one tries to buy a real thing, however, she may first experience it with very cheap (or free) price in her virtual life until being satisfied.

Many times, we do not really want to have a very different second life in the virtual world, which is too much unrealistic. By contrast, what we often expect is to have an adjustable clone of our current real life. By this way the virtual life becomes an experimental bed of the real life in which we may try varied options that are too expensive to test in the real life. More importantly, by which we may test the consequence of many of our decisions before we truly make them real in the real world (which will be unchangeable).

2) Make vocabulary be controlled

Unlike the adult social networking sites, Build-A-BearVille does not allow "free" speech. By contrast, all the allowable sentences and phrases are pre-built. The users can choose the phrases they want to say by selecting instead of typing.

The motivation of this design is obvious to the kid sites such as Build-A-BearVille. First, many of its users (the young kids) may not even be able to type, or at least to type correctly. Second, it ensures that the community is well guarded in good manner, only! Therefore, the parents become more willing to allow their kids playing the game.

My thought is, however, why not make the vocabulary in the adult social sites be controlled as well. And there are reasons.

First, controlled vocabulary brings more discipline. A social site (unless it is Facebook) needs to have a focus. To allow anything often leads to do nothing well, and then the users are getting bored. The controlled vocabulary will force the users to the theme of the site. Although it looks like that the users lose the freedom of speech, it increases the efficiency of getting the work done.

Do not try to hold the users indefinitely in your site by adding many meaningless fancy services. Remember that time to anybody is precious. So speed up the process. Let the users know what they can do/say and what they cannot do/say immediately without exploration. When a site does this, it keeps the right users to itself and establishes a strong and stable community.

Second, controlled vocabulary preserves virtue online. It helps building a great environment so that every user comes with happiness and leave with delightfulness. The users can be certain on what will NOT occur when coming to the site. This effect could be much greater than it seems.

Third but definitely not the least, controlled vocabulary enables strong support on user data mining and many other user data analysis services. With controlled vocabulary, it is much easier to build a network of the linked data. Therefore, the site is able to develop much better domain-specific services for the users that are very hard to be implemented without the restriction of controlled vocabulary.


Since our Web itself is in its childhood, we often learn more from the design of the sites for kids than from the sites for adults. The intelligence of the machines that the Web is upon is closer to the kids than to the adults. This is thus why I feel the beauty of Build-A-BearVille. Try it you may get more inspiration.