Friday, April 13, 2007

What's the Significance of "The Mainstreaming of Web 2.0"?

During the Churchill Club's ninth annual Top 10 Tech Trends Debate last month in Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers legend John Doerr – best known for investing early in Compaq, Netscape, Symantec, Sun Microsystems,, and Google – observed that the venture capital industry funded more than twice as many Web 2.0-related deals in 2006, involving nearly twice as much money, as it did in 2005 – a trend that he did not expect to slow down any time soon.

At the same event Roger McNamee, cofounder and partner of Integral Capital Partners, called for "Web 2.0 applications that really move people's lives," which prompted Nexaweb's founder and CTO Coach Wei to blog that a company like his own provides an implementation of the fast-emerging Web 2.0 technology stack, which Wei defines as an Application Client Container | Internet Messaging Bus | Enterprise Mashup Server.

"I am lucky to be involved with quite a few Web 2.0 companies beyond Nexaweb (such as VisibleMeasures and HeyLetsGo)," wrote Wei. "I see tremendous untapped market/customer opportunities."

I was reminded of all this when reading VC Peter Rip's recent post on "the mainstreaming of Web 2.0" – a process that he contends is reached when there is no longer a profitable point of friction between the Present and the Future:

"Profits accumulate in the gap between What Is and What Is Possible. Web 2.0 is now firmly in the category of What Is."

Rip goes on to map the next stage of building out of the New Web:
"The hard problems in the vision of a true web-as-platform involve all the usual hard computer science issues. How can we normalize information from disparate sources to make it interoperable? How do we get to a lingua franca without waiting for moribund standards (think CORBA and SOA)? How can we then manage the transition of legacy information and services into this world of interoperability?"

According to Chad Jackson too, Web 2.0 is "the current stepping stone in the evolutionary process to the future where media is completely integrated and user-interaction becomes effortless."

Tim O'Reilly, whose "Blogger's Code of Conduct" recently made it to the front page of The New York Times, flags up that the real issue, while we wait for that future, is that "there is still huge opportunity in bringing Web 2.0 principles to mainstream business."
"I was at Thomson (Westlaw etc.) last week, and they are studying Web 2.0 like there is no tomorrow, and getting a good understanding of how it will apply to their business. Ditto many other mainstream companies. is working hard to build a business platform for network applications, and I'm sure that there are others."

"Where are the enterprise applications?" O'Reilly continues, before adding:
"What does the open, network-enabled supply chain look like? What does the Web 2.0 insurance company look like? What does the web 2.0 credit card company look like? (Especially when they realize that they are most likely a phone application.)"

Tim O'Reilly, whose Web 2.0 Expo with CMP Technology starts on Sunday in San Francisco, believes that Mashups – which he defines as "brute force web data access, manipulation, and display" – are going to be superseded by Meshups – "natural data access, manipulation, and display" – in lock-step with the gradual realization by the broader Web user base that the Semantic Web is really about a global data integration and data generation effort.

As O'Reilly puts it:
"The Web is moving beyond unstructured and semi-structured blurb, it is becoming a bona fide database."

This "web of data" (to use Tim Berners-Lee's own characterization) inevitably, is already being dubbed "Web 3.0" – or, to use O'Reilly's descriptor, as the "Data Web (Semantic Web Layer -1) frontier."

As Indus Khaitan, Sr. Manager of Enterprise Marketing at Symantec, notes: "Web 2.0 is just a stepping stone for the Semantic Web."

For anyone with an interest in the future of the future, it promises to be an intensely interesting week here in San Francisco.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Are We Blogging Each Other To Death?
– A Part-Response to Nick Carr and Dan Farber

Thanks to GrokDotCom's Jeffrey Eisenberg, attention has re-focused on this blog, originally posted 08:00 November 24, 2005. Eisenberg asks his own readers "Do you think [Geelan] has a point? Do you agree with him, think he's nuts, or what?" so it will be interesting to see who says what, 18 months on...

"For a journalist, technologist, politician or anyone with a pulse and who doesn't know everything," wrote Dan Farber on Monday, "blogs matter." Then, in almost a textbook demonstration of why in fact they don't, Farber adds:

"Every morning I can wake up to lots of IQ ruminating, fulminating, arguing, evangelizing and even disapassionately reporting on the latest happenings in the areas that interest me, people from every corner of the globe."

That "even" says it all. Dispassionate reporting would certainly be the exception rather than the rule. So in what possible way, then, is this testimony to why and how blogs "matter"? Farber is mistaking energy for insight, prevalance for significance, and quantity for quality. He might almost have written that every morning he wakes up with a column to fill...and an abundance of free material with which to fill it, served right up onto his desktop by the RSS reader of his choice. Every lazy journalist's nirvana, in other words.

It is no wonder then that Nick Carr, he of the first Web- then world-famous "Does IT Matter?" essay, jumped on Farber's hymn to the wonder of it all and mused:

"Experiencing the blogosphere feels a lot like intellectual hydroplaning - skimming along the surface of many ideas, rarely going deep."

At the risk of being uncharitable to Carr (sorry, sir!), this is a prime example of what my old Cambridge University friends would call self-iteration. In other words, Carr himself skims along the surface in his blog, without going deep, in order to demonstrate that one of the perils of the blogopshere is intellectual hydroplaning.

Let us then instead don a snorkel and mask, or even a full-fledged scuba, and head down beneath the surface. For there is definitely more (and less) to blogging than meets the eye.

Farber's notion of the blogosphere as comprising "self assembling communities of bloggers" who "hold a kind of virtual Socratic court, sorting out the issues of the day in a public forum, open to anyone, including spammers" is wildly fanciful. Shades of Jerry Garcia, in fact – for don't all self-respecting Dead-heads subscribe to Garcia's fantasy that "Once in a while you can get shown the light/ In the strangest places if you look at it right"?

The blogosphere is not nearly as noble a place: mainly because, of course, it isn't a place (unlike Socrates' ancient Forum) and therefore isn't subject to some of the basic advantages of, for example, ID verification. Nor can anyone look anyone else in the eye, across the blogosphere.

Anonymity can muddy the waters of almost any debate – yet the blogosphere is full of it, from Groklaw's "PJ" to PC Magazine's "Robert X. Cringeley." And as if that weren't enough to contend with, anonymity is compounded in six cases out of ten by the kind of vehemence more often associated with the bar-room than the Forum. Bloggers, it very often seems, are all legends in their own minds; they commit arson every day in their imagination, burning down the previous day's lies and distortions. Worse still, so many bloggers suffer from what Albert Camus called "the sign of a vulgar mind," namely the need to be right.

Why would anyone think that RSS, a wonderful enabling technology beyond a doubt, could somehow kiss the frog of human intolerance and ignorance and transform it into a prince of insight and wisdom? Beats me. "Groupthink," history shows us, can often in and of itself be worrisome. Just post to Groklaw that the emperor incorporated in Somers, NY, has no clothes and watch the brow-level of the replies/ripostes/flames sink...slowly at first, then faster. Or post to a Java user group that C# rocks...and watch the selfsame thing happen.

I would go so far as to say that, on a bad day anyway, there would seem to be an inverse ratio between an opinion's worth and the ease with which that same opinion can be expressed and disseminated. But it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so I am going to end this brief entry with an upbeat thought about, not blogging itself, but the superset of which I believe it forms a (tiny) part...that of insight capture.

Insight capture merits the full weight of all our attention and expertise in the publishing industry, because it is only through trapping "the best of the rest" that we shall ever achieve the promise of the bumper sticker: 'None of us is smarter than all of us.' Unfortunately insight doesn't reside in blogs any more than wisdom resides in Fortune cookies. Insight is more chaordic: it occurs wherever opportunity meets preparation, at conferences, in airplanes, on trains, in private e-mail exchanges. Above all, it takes place in context. If there were a way of capturing such epiphanies, if one could but scale them up so that humanity could benefit from epiphany-en-masse, then that would be quite another pair of shoes. But waiting for the Epiphany Machine to come around makes waiting for Godot look reasonable by comparison; and anyone who thinks blogging is the light at the end of the tunnel of collective consciousness has failed to spot that it's much more likely to be the headlight of an oncoming train called The Techno-fad Express.

It's a medium, neither more nor less. An interesting one. A disintermediated one. But it is not any kind of hopeful message in and of itself. Blogging is to human insight as reading glasses are to human hyperopia. An enabler, a tool. It is a neat way of capturing disparate viewpoints, but not of synthesizing or critiquing them. For that we need other, still-emerging tools such as those that TBL is developing along with the supporters of the Semantic Web.

That – let us call it Web 3.0 – is still a long, long way away. Let us just hope, before such tools are ready to become mainstream, that we shall not already have blogged each other to death.

[Originally Posted 08:00 November 24, 2005]

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Social Computing Is Turning the Web Upside Down and Inside Out

Since most any two words can and will be put together in this world, what with us being Homo Loquens and all, it's easy just to shrug when you hear new colloquies like "social software," "social networking," or "social computing" and dismiss them as just three more inevitable permutations in a world of whirling words and phrases.

But this time, trust me, things are different. "Social computing," far from being just a random word-combo along the lines of wannabe duos like "air walking," "base jumping," "text messaging" and suchlike, is that fabled "New New Thing" (a reference to Michael Lewis's invaluable book of that name, documenting Netscape's Jim Clark's serial Webpreneurship in the heady days of the Internet Boom 1.0).

In other words, Social Computing is turning the Web world upside down and inside out.

Before I explain how and why, let us just lay to rest one other ghost. There will be those who, out of nothing but the sheerest prejudice against computer geeks and geekdom, suggest that "social computing" is a blatant oxymoron, right up there with "benevolent despotism." I have no truck with such bigots. On the contrary, computing - it turns out - is one of the most social technological innovations in the last thousand years.

Think I'm exaggerating? Read on.

Social Computing has been defined as centered on "software that contributes to compelling and effective social interactions" (

At IBM Research, where the premise of the Social Computing Group is that it is possible to design "digital systems that provide a social context for our activities," the group characterizes social computing thus:

The central hallmark of social computing is that it relies on the notion of social identity: that is, it is not just the data that matters, but who that data "belongs to," and how the identity of the "owner" of that data is related to other identities in the system. More generally, social computing systems are likely to contain components that support and represent social constructs such as identity, reputation, trust, accountability, presence, social roles, and ownership.

What's the big deal? Why am claiming that Social Computing is right up there with Quantum Mechanics in terms of its likely impact on our modern world?

The answer to that question has already been hinted at by Forrester, which has published a slim, 24-page report on Social Computing subtitled "How Networks Erode Institutional Power, And What to Do About It." And it has been succinctly explicated by Dion Hinchcliffe.

Published in February of this year, the Forrester report notes:
To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.

Then, linking it directly with "Web 2.0," Forrester nails its colors to the mast by drawing a very telling analogy to help people wrap their minds around the raw disruptiveness of Social Computing:
"Web 2.0 is the building of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s; Social Computing is everything that resulted next (for better or worse): suburban sprawl, energy dependency, efficient commerce, Americans' lust for cheap and easy travel."

Hinchcliffe reiterates this point, noting that one thing is clear, namely that the technologies of the modern Web are indeed reshaping our society, particularly of the younger generations that spend so much of their time there.

"The consequences could be dramatic," Hinchcliffe avers, "in the same way that the highway systems fundamentally disrupted the railroad industry."

Anyone wishing to explore further can click through on any of the below.

Further Reading on Social Computing

Magazine: Social Computing Magazine