Web 2.0 and the Future of Pervasive Computing

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Web 2.0 Going Public

In an earlier post I discussed that the Web 2.0 phenomenon was still nascent. Although I still believe that we will have to wait a wee bit longer before Joe Public starts to pick up on the wave, it is not that far off. Check out the recent coverage of Meebo, a web-based IM service, on CNBC. In this newscast they interview Seth Sternberg discuss the massive increase in venture funding for Internet companies. This video snippit also features commentary by David Hornik. David was one of the Top 5 VCs for Web 2.0 according to our friends at TechCrunch. Anyhoo, my spidey-sense is tingling-this web-slinger has to jet.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Big Brother Looking to Expand Product Line

Privacy has become increasingly important in our information-driven economy. Google's Eric Schmidt received quite a bit of press regarding the issue during the somewhat comedic CNET debacle. Privacy is not an issue that is limited to the private sector, however. In fact, some of the most serious threats to our privacy as Americans do not come from the private sector, but instead from are very own government. A recent article appearing in the Washington Post discusses moves by the government to create an "exception" to the privacy act stating, "The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence." Deemed by who? What does it mean to be "related to foreign intelligence"? Anyone else see some large loopholes that could be subject to potential abuse? Whatever happened to the "checks and balances" we learned about in 3rd grade. We need to ask ourselves these questions as our leaders make the decisions that will inevitably impact the future of this country. The government is in a tricky situation. On one hand they are charged with defending the safety of the American people. On the other hand, they are also charged with the duty of protecting our individual liberties. It is not an easy balancing act, but I suppose that is what they signed on for. I just hope for the sake of posterity that we move carefully as a nation and do not lose sight of both sides of the equation.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Future of Future Casting

During the holiday I had the opportunity to revisit a couple interesting posts and articles discussing the future of computing. As an avid science fiction fan and technologist, it is always fun to see what other curious minds think is "next."

There are certain predictions that we can make with some degree of safety. Processing power, memory, and bandwidth will undoubtedly get cheaper. Information will become more ubiquitous. The distinction between man and machine will continue to become more blurred as the fields of genetics, computer science, and robotics advance. Although these predictions are exciting, they are high level and fairly obvious. Simple economics ensure that they will come to pass. Market demand will lead firms to create better technologies to improve our abilty to communicate, interact, and live longer.

When future-casting becomes really interesting is when we try to make more specific claims. China will be the next world super power and Mandarin, not English, will be the world's language. We will connect to computers via neural interfaces and live in cyberspace. Although this is an excellent exercise and has served to fuel the creativity of generations of young innovators, it is really hard and--often--wrong. Why? Because future-casting is fundamentally flawed in nature.

Human beings are boundedly rational (Herbert Simon--see the pic!). We overestimate the effects of popular trends and underestimate the effects of disruptive technologies. Any sci-fi fan worth his salt is familiar with the impetus placed on the role of space travel and atomic power in the work of Arthur C. Clark, or Issac Asimov. I currently do not travel to space for vacation. And, contrary to popular belief, I do not have an atomic belt that powers my wearable devices. We overestimate our ability to move in a short-run horizon and wildly sell ourselves short in a longer term horizon. During the dot-com boom many folks thought that pervasive computing would happen overnight, but within this same century machine-powered flight was widely accepted as impossible. My entire life is not automated by online software agents (yet), but I most certainly know that I can travel anywhere in the world in a matter of hours via cost-effective air transportation.

Because we are boundedly rational, we make predictions in the face of imperfect information. More importantly, perhaps, because of this state we ignore innovations in fields outside of our domain that will radically impact our lives. IBM most certainly did not fear the transistor when it was a huge clunky, kind of working, mess in Shockley's lab. DEC did not fear the PC when Altair released a hobby kit that essentially let you automate a bunch of flashing lights. The phone company did not fear that some small companies laying coaxial cable to deliver television signals more effectively than antennas would threaten their dominance of voice communications.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, however, this may change. Pervasive computing promises to extend our collective intelligence. We will no longer function as boundedly rational beings. Instead we will be a community with access to an ever-growing corpus of collective knowledge that allows us to overcome the mental limits nature has imposed upon us. This will lead not only to a better understanding of where we can go, but also accelerated progress towards a better future. Perhaps there may be a future for future-casting after all.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Windows Days are Numbered

As the costs associated with broadband and storage have decreased, applications that were traditionally bound to the desktop have moved to the web. People have grown tired of paying for constant upgrades, dealing with security threats, and patching their machines. They don't want software. They want services. And, by the way, they want them to just work. So what does that mean for the fate of the Windows operating system as it exists today?

The days of dominance are over. The Windows Desktop is no longer are a point of control for computing. The web is the new platform. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the web is distributed, loosely coupled, and decentralized. Competitors have already started to chip away at the Microsoft Empire. This free for all is only going to get more messy as entrants continue to be funded by opportunistic venture capitalists.

The traditional OS will soon go the way of the dinosaur. There will no longer be a separate desktop and web browser. There will be a single browser to an always-on, ubiquitous, personal information cloud. This browser will leverage resources both locally and on the web. The operating system will be more like an exokernel that exposes hardware level services to the browser such as native rendering. As a stepping stone towards this vision, perhaps a new architecture will be Linux/Browser combination. Computing will be seamless and pervasive. The distinction between the network and the computer will no longer be noticeable. Sound like a dream? I assure you it is very real and just around the corner.

What will Microsoft's role in the new world be? I don't know. They are definitely making the right moves of late. But I do know this--Windows days are numbered.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

RSS is not Magic (yes, there is more to do)

Everyday I am hearing more about RSS. RSS is the cure that we have been waiting for. RSS will transform the web into a world of happy feeds that we can mix and rearrange at will. In fact, there are a number of VC-backed companies that have sold investors and the media on that story. I hate to break it to everyone, but that ain't gonna happen. RSS is not the answer. Don't believe me? Then why all the fuss over MSFT SSE?

Don't get me wrong, RSS is definitely a step in the right direction. Previously we were stuck trying to distill data from unstructured web pages using machine learning techniques. Yuck. With RSS, we now have a simple structured format to access published data. Many popular web-based services such as Flicker, Blogger, and Delicious publish data via RSS. Since everyone is using a simple and structured format, distributed data is much easier to leverage for programmers. By making it easier for programmers to manipulate data, we have now opened the door for a whole slew of services that add value to the user experience. For instance, RSS readers like let us avoid traveling to multiple news sites. So what is missing?

Where do I start? If you are like me, you have a hundred feeds that you follow over time. Like me, you also may feel a bit overwhelmed. How can we distill the relevant information in context at any given point in time? We can't. We are back to the same search game as we were before. Granted the number of things to search and organize may be less, but that does not change the complexity of the machine learning problem. How do we integrate feeds? Does the title of the feed tell us that information? Does the channel, or item name, serve as a primary key? How do we know how data and terms from one feed relate to another? Better yet, RSS feeds are essentially a one-way pipe. What if data changes relating to a story? How do we get around that?

The answer to all of these questions (and more) is simple--not RSS. Like HTML, RSS is a good stepping stone technology. It is helping people get used to the idea that they can control information on the web. It is helping us identify novel use cases for information sharing and reuse. It is solving some real problems right now. But RSS is not magic. Just as HTML alone has not proven to be the optimal solution for creating web-based applications, at the end of the day we will need a better framework than RSS for integrating data in the emerging Web 2.0 world. That is my two cents. Back to work for this web-slinger. Be good.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Web 2.0 Buzz Meter Part Deux

As promised, I am starting to actually graph the increasing proliferation of the "Web2.0" tag on the ever popular social bookmarking site. I will probably start to be a bit more strict about when I take measurements, etc. I think in a couple months this graph may look really interesting. In particular, as the next round of VC backed Web 2.0 folks start to emerge I think we will see some neat patterns emerging in tag growth. There do seem to be a couple places where use grows a bit faster. Check out October 15th and November 9thish. It might be interesting to comb through the news and see if there were any events that may have triggered the change. Anyway, enjoy the funtastic graph. I will post something a bit more thought-provoking (depends who you ask) later! For now, this web-slinger needs to get back to work. Later fan-boys.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Slashdot v. Digg--Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0

Paradigm shifts inevitably involve a changing of the guard. Sometimes the old guard bows out quietly. Sometimes they manage to make the leap. Other times, however, they fight to the last drop. We are in the midst of such a shift as we transition to the next generation of the web.

The war was officially declared when Google partnered with Sun. The battles are at hand as we speak. AOL is on sale. Microsoft is moving to the web with Live. One of the most heavily watched battles of course is GOOG v. MSFT. This fight will inevitably result in a flurry of innovation from not only these companies, but also from smart new-comers that manage to sneak in amidst the chaos that is about to ensue. Look out because the next Amazon, Ebay, and Google are probably hiding somewhere and waiting to pop up.

While these larger battles are stirring, another battle is brewing. It is not as high-profile. The public at large may never hear of it. But, this battle is particularly near and dear to those techies that have grown up with the web--Slashdot vs. Digg. If you refer to the chart above, supplied by Alexa courtesy of Wired, Digg (blue line) is catching up, fast. For those of you who are not familiar with Slashdot, shame on you. But, being the nice guy I am, I will tell you what is in a nutshell. Slashdot is "news for nerds." Nerds submit news sites to a moderator who, in turn, posts the best of the stories for folks to read and comment upon. This is undoubtedly on the list of news sites read by anyone who considers themselves to be a technologist.Well Slashdot is to Web 1.0 as Digg is to Web 2.0. Like all Web 2.0 services, Digg is driven by the masses. There is no moderator. In their own words, "Digg is a technology news website that employs non-hierarchical editorial control. With digg, users submit stories for review, but rather than allowing an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do."

Will loyal Slashdot users defect en masse to this new site? Will brand loyalty prevail? Only time will tell I suppose. Regardless, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. The fate of all geekdom is at stake.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Microsoft's Impact on Web 2.0

"Ten years ago Bill Gates told his company, 'The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the future. That widely cited memo helped fuel the dot-com boom, Web 1.0. A Gates memo revealed last week confirms that Web 2.0 has arrived. “This is an except from the beginning of a highly read and hotly debated article appearing in Investor's Business Daily. The article was written in response to an internal memo that was "leaked" to the press. This memo has an accompanying note that was issued by Ray Ozzie.

What can we make of Microsoft's public epiphany? Simple--the world is changing. Web 2.0 is real. This is not to be taken lightly. This public declaration has effectively triggered a period of sustained innovation that will surely shock the world. The Redmond-based software giant has restructured their entire company to respond to the threat associated with the massive proliferation of web-based services that threaten to displace the crown jewels that Microsoft has historically controlled in the old world of the desktop. They have declared that they are moving their billion dollar empire towards the vision espoused by the Web 2.0 community and fueled by Google, Flickr, and Delicious. Appropriately, Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie, a recognized innovator in the groupware and collaborative software space has been hand-picked by Microsoft to lead the charge into Internet services.

Ih short folks, next year will be an amazing time for software. We have seen the first round of homegrown web-based services reignite innovation on the Internet. A larger round of investment is being issued as we speak. The next round of companies will unleash the true power of a service-oriented web. Couple this round of innovation with the incumbent battle brewing between technology giants such as Google, Microsoft, Sun, Yahoo, Comcast, and IBM and it is clear that this new wave will be, to say the least, disruptive. Unlike previous battles, this one is for all the bananas--the web as a global platform for all information. Stay tuned for more updates. Back to work for this web-slinger.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Convergence is Coming....Web 2.0 and SOA

Some folks have finally stumbled upon the great convergence occuring in the software industry. No, it is not voice and data--although that is huge and part of a larger trend towards a pervasive computing environment. I am talking about Web 2.0 and SOA. I find the recent discussions surrounding this topic to be extremely humorous given the fact that our outfit has been preaching this for some time to a largely deaf audience.

The first person that I saw commenting on this topic was Dion Hinchcliffe. If you have not already checked out his blog, you should--he tends to cover quite a bit. In short, it's all about services baby. The web and the enterprise are moving towards the same thing. In the enterprise, they are talking about SalesForce. On the web, they talk about Google Maps. In the enterprise they talk about "On-Demand" computing. On the web, they are talking about the "Web as a Platform." In the enterprise, they talk about composite applications. On the web, they talk about remixes, or mash-ups. If you think about it, the web is swiftly becoming the single largest deployment of a service-oriented architecture on the planet. Freaky right?

There are still those that would argue that the Web 2.0 movement is driven by fundamentally different forces. Joe McKendrick states that, "to a large extent, Web 2.0 is external, highly social, and driven by consumerism and personal computing/communication needs. SOA is internal, and all about corporate enterprise development and productivity." Although on the surface this seems to be a valid point, I tend to disagree.

If you dive into it a bit deeper, the Web 2.0 and SOA movements are driven by the same force--users. It is not about consumerism vs. productivity. It is about letting users get things done. Users want to access information anywhere. Users want to be able to quickly leverage information from multiple sources. Users want to share information with peers. It does not matter where users are, all that matters is that the same fundamental set of technologies and paradigms are needed to address their need both inside and oustide the enterprise.

This convergence will disrupt the very foundations of our current computing infrastructure. It should be fun to see how incumbent players react. Don't be surprised if your view of the Big 3 (GOOG, MSFT, YHOO), as well as SUN, IBM, and Comcast change forever. That is all for this web-slinger. Nuff said.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Web 2.0 "Buzz Meter"

I started to run this little experiment a couple weeks ago. I set up an RSS subscription in my Thunderbird Client to grab the documents that users tagged with the term "Web2.0." This was initially just for my daily research. However, I quickly became fascinated with the explosion in tagging activity and started to jot down the growth of tags, occasionally writing down the time, date, and tag count. I have listed my "findings" below. In summary the count has exploded from 406 on Oct 15 to nearly 5000 today (Nov 2). That is over a 10X increase in 2 weeks. This is by no means intended to be a proper experiment, as I have not instituted any formal controls. However, it is absolutely amazing to watch. I will occasionally post the results of my running experiment to this blog for you guys. If you are good I will even slap it into an Excel Graph for your visual pleasure. Have a good one fan-boys. Back to work for this Web-slinger. Be good.

Hoo-Experiment #846
Delicious Web 2.0 Tag Count

406 – Oct 15 @2:17PM

433 – Oct 15 @2:28PM

470 – Oct 15@4:36PM

485 – Oct 15@5:20PM

506 – Oct 15@6:30PM

540 – Oct 15@9:39PM

723 – Oct 16@10:41PM

800 – Oct 16@11:57PM

921 – Oct 17 @3:12PM

998 – Oct 17@7:01PM

1028 – Oct 18@2:29PM

1160 – Oct 18@11:21PM

1258 – Oct 18@9:47PM

1594 – Oct 21@2:45PM

2230 – Oct 23@2:52PM

2572 – Oct 24@12:07PM

2624 – Oct 24@4:33PM

2666 – Oct 24@9:51PM

2937 – Oct 26@11:32AM

3266 – Oct 27@10:29AM

3311 – Oct 27@11:07AM

4366 – Oct 31@10:25AM

4975 – Nov 2,@9:03AM