Web 2.0 and the Future of Pervasive Computing

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In the Year 2006

Many members of the blogosphere have taken a stab at predicting the major happenings in 2006. Like any good conformist, I am going to also give it a shot. Below I have fired off a representative set of 30 techno-centric-ish predictions listed in no particular order. I could probably go for more, but I don’t feel like spending all of 2007 trying to take my foot out of my mouth. Read at your own risk!

1. Yahoo’s stock hits $65
2. Amazon’s stock hits $70
3. Google’s stock drops 20%
4. AOL files to go public and/or is acquired
5. Riya, YouTube, and Facebook are acquired
6. MSFT Vista/Office has less than stellar adoption rates and signals end of the desktop era
7. MSFT creates their own advertising network service to compete with Google
8. Google releases office productivity software/services
9. Google takes a huge step towards providing an "integrated" experience for users
10. Comcast and other tech-giants trial network-centric computing as a subscription service
11. A major social network will open their API and disrupt other “gated” communities
12. Skype downloads top 500M. My father will tell me about VOIP
13. Apple partners with XM and/or Sirius to:
13a. Let you listen to satellite radio from your IPod
13b. Buy music you hear on the radio on-demand
14. The satellite radio firmthat partners with Apple sees 10% increase in stock
15. Wave of heavily funded VC-backed Web 2.0 platform start-ups emerge
16. Advertising revenue associated with “traditional” publications continues to plunge
17. Traditional media giants and private equity investors rush to buy Web properties
18. Major network news anchors will publish blogs for “mom” and “dad”
19. A location-aware mobile service hits the mainstream
20. A multi-modal phone is released that makes it easy to use IP, cell, and other networks
21. Established web “stack” weakens as non-GYM aggregation services gain traction
22. A “Greasemonkey” for the masses emerges
23. Somebody hacks a popular console network to work with a game from another platform
24. Viable business models for remix applications and web services begin to emerge
25. A popular film is released via an on-demand TV, or IP service before a theater
26. Fortune 500 companies factor Web 2.0 into their IT strategies
27. Remix culture goes mainstream as media become increasingly atomized and open
28. Real Semantic Web technologies and services make their way onto the WWW
29. Market research firms popularize a global SOA using Web 2.0, SOA, and SemWeb memes
30. Web 2.0 makes cover of mainstream periodicals as Tim Berners-Lee re-enters the spotlight

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dot-com Bust Fueled Google Growth?

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a very astute partner at one of the nation's leading venture capital firms. One of the topics that we discussed was the rise of Google. People attribute the success of Google to many factors. They had the best technology, they had razor-sharp focus on the search market, or they have the brightest minds on Earth building their platform. All of that, of course, has clearly contributed to the phenomenal growth of this Stanford University spin-out. But one thing that has not been broadly addressed by the media is that maybe, just maybe, Google has achieved a great deal of their success because the bubble burst. What? This guy must be crazy. Hold your horses. Give me a chance to explain.

Google was founded during the height of the dot-com boom. At the time, there were a number of extremely large and well-capitalized players with tested and scalable search capabilities. Household names like Yahoo, Excite, and Yahoo dominated the web. There were probably 30+ major search engines. Competition was rampant. When the dot-com axe finally dropped, the web community recoiled and stopped innovating. More importantly, many established and would-be competitors sold out, or burned out, as venture dollars dried up. And, unfortunately for many companies, ad revenue was not sufficiently high to maintain a positive cash flow during the downturn.

After the crash, as the rest of the world withdrew to nurse their wounds, Google kept on trucking. They improved their search engine. The online population kept growing at accelerating rates. Click-through volume became high enough to justify advertising as a serious business model. And all the while Google kept silent, avoiding attention from incumbent players as they built one of the largest computing platforms on the planet. After the dust settled from the fallout, folks started to creep back to the web just in time to watch Google go public and say, "I thought they were just a search engine?"

Not as crazy as you thought, am I? I suppose timing is everything. Many thanks to that friendly VC for spurring thought-provoking discussion. Good stuff. My spidey-sense is tingling. Back to work for this web-slinger.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fun Mouse Gesture Plug-in for Firefox!

My brother Cyrus "the Virus" is currently finishing up a stint at Georgia Tech in Hot-Lanta. At Tech, he is involved with a research project involving gesture recognition. He is actually busy hacking away right now creating a role-playing game that let's you cast spells in the game using hand gestures. Pretty awesome right?

For those of you that are not familiar with gesture recognition technology, it is pretty simple in principle. Essentially, instead of using standard input/output devices like a mouse, or keyboard, you can leverage hand gestures as a mechanism to control computer software. Remember how Tom Cruise could navigate through all those "mental pictures" from the psychics on that huge police monitor in the 2002 movie Minority Report just by using his hands? That's gesture recognition!

Anyway, during his wacky research he stumbled across a mouse gesture recognition plug-in for Firefox.This thing is a cool as hell. Essentially you can control your browser using "mouse gestures." Mouse gestures are analogous to hand gestures. For instance, if you hold down the "right-click" button on a standard two button mouse, drag to the left (think back), and then release you can navigate to your previous page. Similarly, to go forward you perform pretty much the same operation except you drag to the right (think forward). There are a bunch of other cool things you can do like open tabs, minimize the window, etc. For those of you that really like to use your mouse, this is a pretty neat add-on to an already cool browser environment. As we move forward towards a world of pervasive computing, alternative human-computer interfaces like gesture interfaces, voice interfaces, and even neuro-silicon interfaces (Matrix) will become increasingly important.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bloscars 2005 - Best Web 2.0 Blog Nominees

The year is quickly coming to a close. As the curtains go down on the show that was 2005, I think it is appropriate to recognize some folks that have made the Web 2.0 corner of the blogosphere a bit more interesting for the rest of us. In order to honor the achievements and contributions of these fine netizens, Convergence (me) is holding the 1st Annual Bloscars. I will post the "winners" after New Years. Without further ado, let me introduce this year's Bloscar nominees.

Best VC Blog:
Best Product & Company Coverage Blog:
Best Analysis & Trends Blog:
Best Design Blog:
Weirdest Blog:
Disclaimer: The Bloscars are in no way affiliated with the Oscars. Any likeliness, or similarity to the Oscars is purely coincidental.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Structured Blogging Goes Live!

Structured Blogging has finally gone live and promises to herald a new generation of online application that will output structured information for machine consumption. The gist of it is that this new technology will enable people to create blogs in a manner consistent with the current user experience, but now the content in blogs is more explicitly structured for programmatic consumption. What is particularly exciting is their support for RDF. According to the folks at Structured Blogging:

Structured Blogging is a way to get more information on the web in a way that's more usable. You can enter information in this form and it'll get published on your blog like a normal entry, but it will also be published in a machine-readable format so that other services can read and understand it.

Think of structured blogging as RSS for your information. Now any kind of data - events, reviews, classified ads - can be represented in your blog.

As the web becomes increasingly service-oriented, the increasing "metadata-ization" of unstructured content will make it easier for clever developers to create a new breed of remix applications leveraging distributed services and data. The folks at Structured Blogging have some pretty good participants involved. I agree with Richard McManus

With any luck, Structured Blogging will quickly gain some momentum due to the plugins - and before you know it will go mainstream.

Regardless, very exciting stuff. Kudos to Marc Canter and Phil Pearson!

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tagging Signals Larger Trend

With the recent acquisition of by our friends at Yahoo it is safe to say that tagging is here to stay. As you all know tag-mania has swept the web. Services such as, technorati, flickr, and youtube have popularized this new form of "organization." Although the increase in metadata has proven to be effective in some cases, things are definitely starting to get messy. How many of you are getting a bit overwhelmed with multiple "tagspaces", each with hundreds of tags. The problem is that tags simply let you know that a concept "is related" to a document, photo, or video. However they do not tell you "how" this tag is related to a document. Peter Merholtz of Adaptive path seems to agree that tagging is not the ultimate answer stating:

tagging systems are not a panacea; they present many potential drawbacks. With no one controlling the vocabulary, users develop multiple terms for identical concepts. For example, if you want to find all references to New York City on, you'll have to look through nyc, newyork, and newyorkcity.

Perhaps more importantly is the fact that, at present, tags have no relationship to one another. This leads to serious information overload and confusion as the global tagspace explodes. At Clearspring, we believe that tagging is just the beginning. Soon there will be a convergence between formal ontologies and the emerging tagspace. Folks like Clay Shirky have argued that the tagspace is a replacement for formal ontologies. I disagree. I think that both efforts fuel one another. As Martin Dugage so nicely pointed out:

They [ontologies] give a community of people the ability to develop a common meta-classification model that sits on top of existing ones and bridges them together. An ontology can define "nyc", "newyork" and "newyorkcity" as synonyms, define "Time Square" as included in "nyc" etc. In a sense, ontologies allow communities to build a common language from the ground up, which is essential in knowledge creating environment. Top-down norms can be introduced later when language can be "industrialized" for larger communities.

In order to meet the demands of an increasingly information hungry society, it will be necessary for Web2.0ers and SemWebbers join forces to tackle these types of problems. There are those of us that have already crossed over to join the ranks of this emerging community. I think you will see more soon.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

The Future of HTML, Text, and the Web Browser

Standards bodies are now trying to make sure Web 2.0 has a direction. This article discusses the future of HTML and the standard setting efforts of WHATWG.
In this two-part series, Edd Dumbill examines the various ways forward for HTML that Web authors, browser developers, and standards bodies propose. This series covers the incremental approach embodied by the WHATWG specifications and the radical cleanup of XHTML proposed by the W3C. Additionally, the author gives an overview of the W3C's new Rich Client Activity. Here in Part 1, Edd focuses primarily on two specifications being developed by WHATWG: Web Applications 1.0 (HTML5) and Web Forms 2.0.
For those of you that are not familiar with their efforts:
It [WHATWG] is a loose unofficial collaboration of Web browser manufacturers and interested parties who wish to develop new technologies designed to allow authors to write and deploy Applications over the World Wide Web.
I commend the group for their realization that we need to address the creation of web applications. I also am happy to see an increased movement towards richer functionality. However, my fundamental problem with this and other efforts is that they assume that our current web browser environment is good enough. I assume that is because folks that have made investments in the current environemnt are shaping the standards.

I recently spoke with a friend of mine about this issue, Rafael Bracho. Rafael is the CEO of Abgenial (very cool company) and was the founder of Active Software. And I think we agree that the current browser environment is not the final answer. Does anyone else think that it is a bit weird that our current browsers force developers to transform server-side objects into XML, send XML over to the browser environment. just so someone can parse the XML and put it BACK into objects for manipulation?

I love Firefox. But, all good things most come to an end. Especially in software. I agree with the folks at Flock that think it is time for a change in the browser environment. The current browser was designed for a text-centric, publication experience. Instead of hacking Firefox to accomodate the new world of service-oriented, information sharing, why don't we start thinking about a new browser?

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sneaky Google "News" Mashup

Google is undoubtedly the hottest company on the web. As mashups are all the rage, I have decided to do an ongoing mashup of "news" about Google and brainstorm about their direction. For this first installment, I am just going to try to jot down a couple facts and links to get the creative juices flowing and see what pieces of the puzzle we have to play with. I will follow up with a synthesis soon.
  • Changed the name of Google Desktop Search to Google Desktop
  • Created a unified login for Google Services
  • Has roughly $7B in cash
  • Has over 20 services from search to mapping
  • Acquires Picassa, Keyhole, et. al
  • Begins to implement rich client functionality and personalization online
  • Hired former BEA software guru Adam Bosworth and x-BEA J2EE guys
  • Hired Semantic Web guru and former Netscaper Guha
  • Reportedly 64 data centers with over 100K machines
  • Purchases large amounts of dark fiber
  • Creates WiFi service with "Secure Access" service
  • Rumored to be bidding on purchase of AOL division of AOL/Time Warner
  • Rumored to create "portable" data center: 5000 processors, 3.5 petabytes/box
  • Partnership with Sun Microsystems
  • Announced commitment to developing Open Office
On a high level, it is obvious that Google has embraced the vision of the web as a platform and is actively moving to become the Microsoft of this net-centric new world. In order to accomplish this goal they are quickly creating the services and infrastructure necessary to fuel a web-based computing platform. The next steps will almost certainly be to create a set of services with a productivity bent, as well as moves to create an integrated online experience. Also, do not be shocked to see Google make the leap from consumer-oriented services to enterprise services in the near future. As software infrastructure becomes increasingly commoditized with open source, I think we will see the lines blur between the enterprise and the rest of the world. I have more thoughts, but unfortunately, I also have to work! Tune in for more on this topic. If anyone feels like contributing facts, theories, and other information to this little thread--go for it!

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Regulations & Computing - Laws are Weird

The progression of computing is not in the hands of technologists alone. There are many forces shaping the technology landscape, such as the DOJ and FCC. In order to understand the direction that technology is moving towards, we must also understand the role that socio-political forces will inevitably play in the evolution of computing. In 1984, these regulatory bodies changed the course of history when they declared that the most powerful communications company in the world, AT&T, would have to break-up their operations. This breakup signaled the beginning of what would become a massive period of change in the telecommunications market. Local communications, once a heavily guarded jewel in the Bell Empire was, for the first time, open to attack. The next blow to Ma Bell came in 1996 with the Telecommunications Act. This act required telecommunications providers to interconnect with entrants at any feasible point within the network. This opened the flood gates for what would become a full-scale attack on the AT&T's last remaining stronghold, the long distance market.

As Ma Bell desperately tried to salvage the remains of her crumbling kingdom, cable providers slowly built up their strength. Unlike the telephone companies, cable companies have not suffered from the same level of regulatory constraints. Phone companies must lease their high-speed Internet lines to competing ISPs because they provide a "telecommunications service." Unlike the phone companies, cable companies have not been forced to open their networks to rival ISPs because the FCC has deemed cable an "information service." Leveraging their protected status, cable companies like Comcast has built up a veritable empire. Comcast now offers a vast array of integrated services such as digital cable, high-speed Internet access, and voice communications. Rumor has it the Comcast is even looking at buying a stake in former dot-com giant, AOL. Even more odd perhaps is that SBC, one of the "Baby Bells" is now buying back it's parent at a deal valued upwards of $16B in attempt to stay competitive.

Does anyone else find it to be odd how the FCC staunchly opposed one communications monopoly and has now effectively bolstered the rise of another through their creation and enforcement of policy? Laws are weird.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

YubNub-A Command Line for the Web?

There have been a ton of web-based services popping up of late. Some of these services have been useful. Some of these services have been nothing but really fancy features. I have been tracking the proliferation of these services and, like any good geek, actively use many of them. One service that I have found to be incredibly useful is YubNub. YubNub is a command line interface to online web-services. If the web is a giant computer, think of YubNub as a type of terminal. The cool part is that the commands are generated guessed it...people. YubNub is a great project and is most definitely endemic of the paradigm shift that is taking place as the web transforms into a computing platform. I will put up a list of all the "Web 2.0" services on the blog sometime soon. Back to work!

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