Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Web 2.0 and the Singularity

How Web 2.0 is reshaping information and its management.

Nomenclature and Beyond

Web 2.0 is another title, in a long line of titles, taking advantage of the feel good factor attached to a second home coming. It is the ideal comeback name for the resurrection of the internet after the Dot-Com burst when all gloom and doom was forecast for the web.

Officially, a name coined by Tim O'Reily, it was gradually popularized by the mainstream media and helped spawn many suffixed version 2s in its wake.

Web2.0, and all its surrounding context and its transition from web1.0, deal with one thing, information and its flow. A commodity since early on in Human history, Information has been constantly traded. From word of mouth to written form, from simple words to complex diagrams; information and the industry around it reflect the evolution of the Human race.

The arrival of the Personal Computer; powerful, yet completely subversive to human inputs, was a seminal event offering a single physical unit that could outperform humans in certain areas with amazing speed. Eventually, its single unit status, was the real hindrance to the aforementioned progress. Its real power would emerge only when more than one unit were combined or networked. Just as the true purpose and value of information lies in its flow – the device's value progressed as it started connecting to other devices. Enter the Web, or to be more precise Web 1.0.

Fundementally, as a way to collect and consume information, the initial internet era had content and relevance, but as an interactive medium, it needed better delivery mechanisms and better form. This state of the web where function was mismatched with form, and delivery meant dial-up, was the age of Web 1.0.

The WWW, was like the Wild Wild West at the start of the coast-to-coast migration in America, to borrow a real life example. As, in the west, the land became productive due to two main changes – Railroads and Settlers, similarly, Web 1.0 always had potential, but it is now, with Web2.0 that the potential is finally being realized.

The connectivity, accessibility and networking that the Rails provided, drove the settlers in, in the west, and similarly with Broadband and Terrabytes, Flash and Ajax, Social Worlds and Virtual worlds, Mashups and Wikis, Podcasts and WebCasts; the web is literally being defined and populated by its networked users... who are settling in droves.

In a way, Web 1.0 was a precursor - a laying down of the wires, protocols, systems, guidelines and possibilities, and Web 2.0 is the realization of those possibilities; where instantaneous connection, communication and collaboration are its sine qua non.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Distributed Authoring Aiding Content Management_Part 1

Organizations and federal governments are grappling with loss of talent and institutional knowledge due to workforce retirement and aging which are inevitable changes.

In mature organizations, more and more experiential and tacit forms of knowledge are held by the very resources that are transient; thus making the capture and retention of that knowledge - critical to the continued success of the firm - difficult if not impossible. Holding this knowledge in traditional forms of content repository was possible if user unfriendly till now, but with the exponential rise in information and siloed ideas, it is increasingly difficult, out-of-place and impossible to keep up.

Add to this the emerging workforce – the Millenials, growing in a wired world and conversant with cutting edge collaborative technologies; find it increasingly frustrating to deal with well intentioned but archaic ways and means of knowledge exchange and transfer.

One of the ways to address this is to refashion the way we look and offer solutions for enterprise knowledge management and learning. As such I propose an Enterprise Distributed Authoring (EDA) as an aid to established knowledge management efforts in firms to enhance authoring, repository, management, retention and ultimately exchange of knowledge in the enterprise.

The success of Wikipedia and its success in evolving from an unreliable source to an academia accepted reference storehouse is a case in point. This readable and writable platform provides the ability to create, change and move documents on a remote server by/to distributed authors and its users.

Practically, technological barriers to the creation of such a platform are very low, but change management issues have to be addressed. Clear and tangible goals as success metrics at the start have to be set. Business-focused metrics, implementation metrics - whether the information is used in practice, how current the information is - and also cultural metrics should be analyzed. The change from static categorization to dynamic categorization is also a significant plus point that can be further explored.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Ripples in the Pond

All predictions are pointing towards integration, to a point where the line between disparate services and applications might blur so much that integrated offerings employing multiple applications & tools will become seamless.

This is already the case with personalized pages like iGoogle and NetVibes, but new technologies have added a whole new dimension to this concept. Mashup sites like Yahoo Pipes, and radical new versions of search sites like Cuil, Google Base are all stretching the boundaries of the Web.

With ever smarter devices on one side and ever expanding and intricate networks on the other....the stage is being set for a new web, where the twin hurdles of geography and time will somehow be eliminated. If it does, maybe then it'll be time for another version change. Talk is rife of web 3.0, shouldering the great expectations of Symantic web and Linked data. But until this functionality has a viable form and until it delivers...Web 2.0 it is.

The Rock in the Pond

Was the Web a different place before Google? It might just be true. You had search engines and content but somehow you could never get what you were looking for because you couldn't exactly search, or search exactly! Google put an end to that, allowing users to talk to the net, for what they wanted, without the pretense of being all things to everyone.

It was the first and still is the best marriage of form to content, and interestingly, when Google first came online, the interface was a big draw and design enthusiasts as well as professionals commented on its Apple like austerity. The fact was, the makers of Google did not know HTML, and just wanted a quick interface (3).

Nevertheless from that hermetic visage, what has spawned, is a whole new way of experiencing the web. Since it became the de facto Yellow Pages for the web, everyone started setting shop and waited to be found. If Microsoft and IE represented the flag bearer of the Web 1.0 world - Standardized, Static, Desktop bound, Google is the masthead for Web 2.0. And more than that, its presence and story have been inspirational to individuals with nothing to show but ideas.

The effect of all this, has been a phenomenal lowering of the entry barriers to putting your 'stuff' online, and virtually, new technologies being born a minute. The impact has been so ruthless in some areas where middlemen operated that there has been literally a wipeout - ask the Air travel ticketing agents, and the Real estate agents! Additionally, participating in this online world was greatly facilitated by other entrants in the scheme of things. Applications that made the web that let you make the "stuff". Sure, Google provided a mechanism to search, but for the new interactive web, what was needed was a relevant form for the tremendous potential. The Wild Wild Web needed Rails. Enter Ruby on Rails.

It is impossible not to notice Ruby on Rails. It has had a huge effect both in and outside the Ruby community... Rails has become a standard to which even well-established tools are comparing themselves to. -

“Ruby on Rails is a breakthrough in lowering the barriers of entry to programming. Powerful web applications that formerly might have taken weeks or months to develop can be produced in a matter of days.”
-Tim O'Reilly, Founder of O'Reilly Media

Ruby's success has been phenomenal along with some scaling problems, but even then its single most persistent achievement has been its adoption and use by some of the best web 2.0 apps online. There is no doubt there will be better ones to follow, but each successor will only add to the demystification of web programming - and that's a big achievement!

The Big Pond

Picture this - the biggest collective memory of ideas, actions, thoughts and feelings. Web 2.0 is soon becoming the best realization of a collective memory of human history and endeavor. Of course, that's overstating it a bit, but let the data speak - a Terabyte used to be big until recently - well, YouTube contains 530 Terabytes of videos as of end 2008. Hold the press! - We have the Peta Byte? That’s the amount of data that is processed by Google servers every 72 minutes! The English Wikipedia is 25 times bigger than the next largest English-language encyclopedia. As the July edition of Wired termed it - “The quest for knowledge used to begin with Grand Theories. Now it begins with massive amounts of data. Welcome, to the Petabyte Age!"

In this age of information overload; the basic flow of information - top-down since time immemorial with gatekeepers managing the flow of information - is changing, and fast! In whichever field you look at - science, art, literature, commerce, and entertainment, the browser has changed the dynamics. Imagine a million minds with a billion ideas able to express, connect, collaborate and then create.

In the book "The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age-John Horgan ", spoke to top living scientists who surmised about their dilemma of grappling with the reality of a slow down in discovery and inventions. So when the fundamental source of empirically derived knowledge looks like drying up, where do you go?