March 30, 2006

Web 2.0 By Paul Boutin

More questions about what "web 2.0" means.

I think "web 2.0" is a pretty easy concept to understand.

Back in the 90s I found a few people who really "got" the web; who really understood what was important, what wasn't, how it worked, how it didn't, what you could expect, what you couldn't. I'm not saying these were the only people who were smart about the web. Or that they were the originators of all the ideas. But they were the ones that I discovered, and who I knew instinctively were right, and who I shamelessly stole my ideas from.

For me, "web 2.0" means one thing : vindication of those people and those ideas. Pretty much everything (good) in web 2.0 is really a playing out, in one form or another, of things those people were saying around 8-10 years ago.

So who are they? I'm sure you're not likely to very surprised by the list. Maybe you'll be more surprised by some people I missed out on.

Anyway, in no particular order :

Jakob Nielsen : intensely at war with all the bad UI design of the web, particularly from designers who mistook it for print or TV. Ajax and other web 2.0 design fashions may not be Nielsen in letter, but they are in spirit. Web 2.0 is more with the grain of the media. (Of course, that's partly because the media has become closer to what they want with CSS and standards pushed by Firefox.)

Philip Greenspun : his book on database backed web-sites pretty much covers most of what you need to understand about the synthesis of technology and community at the core of web 2.0 thinking. There's a reason I call mash-ups "Greenspun 4 models".

Chris Locke : Those Cluetrainers knew how this was going to affect business and the market. Is there a blogging-for-business book now which really has much more insight than "Gonzo Marketing"?

Eric Raymond : developing all the ideas about what we now call "peer production" in the context of thinking about hacker culture and open source.

Dave Winer : Starting from an insistence that the web was a place for everyone to be a speaker, journalist, publisher rather than a consumer of content, Winer simply put the theory into action, promoting a world where everyone can (and often does) aspire to be a speaker, journalist and publisher. Web 2.0 is a step-change in public participation, and we learned that mainly from Dave.

And someone I missed at the time, but who was developing some of the profound ideas. Ward Cunningham, invented wiki and contributed important ideas to xtreme / agile software development philosophy. The "lite" development strategies behind quick and cheap web 2.0 services are due to Cunningham and friends.

If you understood and accepted what these people believed, sometime around about 1999, then nothing in web 2.0 is likely to have been a surprise or confusion to you.

Finding New Sources of Strategic Advantage : HBS Working Knowledge

Finding New Sources of Strategic Advantage : HBS Working Knowledge

March 26, 2006

UML for SemWeb?

In a comment I wrote

I wonder whether anyone considers adapting Poseidon etc. for SemWeb modelling.

March 25, 2006

Aggregators and BitTorrent

Dave Winer:
It's time for all aggregators to learn how to do BT. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

March 22, 2006

Embrace and extend Wikipedia?

I thought Winer wanting to get OPML Editor talking to wikis was a smart-move, in the sense that it showed how fast he moved when he became aware of potential rivals to his world-outline project, and was planning to make an alliance.

Nevertheless, I didn't think that the result would be all that exciting. But some people seem to find the idea compelling.

However what got me thinking is this. Wikipedia pages are trees. They have a TOC, sections and subsections. What would it mean if I could edit wikipedia in my OPML Editor.

Well, first, that I'd likely have my own local copy of my ideal version of a page.

And, second, that updating the central server (Wikipedia), would be a matter of hitting a "sync" button.

Now imagine fighting an edit-war on a Wikipedia page, armed with this tool, against someone who's going via the browser. I think the guy with the OPML Editor is going to have a big advantage. It's going to be trivially easy to simply keep my version of the "truth" locally and keep hitting "sync" every time someone tries to change it.

In fact, if the editor allows batch updating of dozens of pages, people going through the browser won't have a chance. OPML Editor based users will own Wikipedia. In essence, Wikipedia will just become one hosting node in the world-outline.

I think I was wrong when I said that Wikipedia wouldn't be affected by the OPML campaign. How much does the successful ecological balance on wikipedia depend on a slow network; a roughly egalitarian speed of access for editing the pages?

Might the OPML Editor actually have the capacity to destroy this fragile ecology as we know it?

March 21, 2006

OPML to Wiki

Phil (yesterday) :
Aside : I don't think Winer really "gets" wiki. If you want to take him on, that's the front to do it.

Dave (today) :
How long will it be before there's a wiki that supports the MetaWeblog API? ...

Anyway, send me a pointer to such a wiki, and I'll try to get the OPML Editor working with it. If there are problems, I'll document them, and when they're fixed, I'll try again.

Dave may not be trying to "win", but he's sure as hell determined to "succeed". And connections are the secret of that.

Strategic! :-)

Dave on war

Dave responds to the last piece.

Phil why are all your analogies about wars and fighting? I’m actually a creative person, always have been. Does someone who writes a book try to defeat anyone? I don’t think so. I think they want to express something. I want new tools to exist for people with knowledge to be able to share it with others and to build on other people’s knowledge.

Good point. I accentuate the conflict here on this blog, not because I'm interested in stirring up trouble, but as one analytic technique. I probably spent too much of my life studying evolutionary game theory. And I tend to see history as formed by the clash of competing ideas, strategies, classes and technologies.

But that's not the only perspective. I think conflict can be useful to help understand what happened, and what will happen, but there are other filters too. No question that Dave works as hard as anyone to build bridges, increase interoperability and allow people to communicate.

And making connections is pretty much the meaning of life in the rapidly arriving network society.

There should be analyses of platforms in terms of construtive, non-zero-sum deal-making and creative expression, rather than merely in terms of competition as though it was all some kind of sports event.

Well, let's see if I can find a way to do that.

Dave Bonaparte

He he! I get some link-love from Dave Winer. There goes my credibility ;-)

Actually, I am a trifle embarrassed, because I've just finished writing a response to something Danny said, where I've been, generally, complimentary of Dave. So now this is gonna look like reciprocation. It isn't. It was mainly written before I saw that link, and it hasn't been substantially changed since. (Y'all believe me, right?)

Actually, who knows what Dave will think of this? ;-)

For the record, I'm not a friend of Dave's, I only know the virtual Winer through reading DaveNet and Scripting News, and nothing of the real one. In the past I've admitted to being a "fan". And intellectually I'm an admirer. I think he's consistently smart and right about a lot of things to do with the internet and software industry; although there's plenty of stuff I disagree with too.

But most of all, I'd claim to be a "student" of Winer. I watch him carefully. Like everyone else, I have an interpretation of what he thinks and does - which is obviously open to criticism, comments are welcome - and I have an interest in trying to keep the story as accurate as I can, for my own benefit. In many ways, he's a role-model I want to learn from. In some ways, he's a model of what to avoid.

Anyway, here's what Danny said.

If I interpret Phil's this line correctly in the context of the rest of his comment ... he's placing Winer on the side of pragmatic tool builders.

Which is odd given Winer's history of extremely idealistic format building.

Not exactly. What I'd suggest is that Winer understands, maybe better than anyone, how these things work as an "ecosystem". Primarily he's a "platform" builder. It's not that any particular piece of his platform is necessarily all that great, but he knows that he has to produce all the bits and he knows how put them together.

Look carefully. Whatever Winer is promoting, he always has a tool and a format and some kind of hosting or central server and he's "dog-fooding" it and talking it up on his blog and he's finding new, quick-win, applications to extend the platform and he's making new connections into a user community and he's on the offensive, smacking down any potential rivals or threats to his authority.

(That last bit isn't particularly pretty, but who's to say it isn't part of the success of the things he's promoting?)

The point is that other people don't have this perspective. They just make a format or a tool and hope the other bits fall into place. Or they dream of an entire ecosystem that's way beyond their capacity to build. Or they are corporations pouring money into a bloated, late and unwanted attempt to enclose this new platform for their own profit.

Dave is fascinating, and probably unique, as an individual who's smart (and rich) enough to put together an entire platform pretty much by himself. (OK, by definition an ecosystem needs other people; but Dave puts it together : he co-ordinates, leads, bullies, entices, flatters, does deals etc. He makes it happen.)

And his hubris is spectacular. From a standing start last year, he's co-ordinated all his resources to launch an assault on the "permanent, trusted, hierarchical data-repository" market. He has a simple little editor which people are using and already seem to love. He has partners creating various OPML viewers. He has people talking about OPML for reading lists, OPML for attention data (in the "year of attention"), an OPML network of world outlines, OPML as a replacement for traditional CMS, live outlining for intra-corporate communications etc. He knows who his enemies are (DMOZ, Wikipedia, and to a lesser extend Google) and he's already spinning against them. He knows who his friends are (librarians, a significant alliance with WordPress which essentially turns it into a generic hierarchical database server). You can even see Edgio as a cheeky attempt to steal Paul Ford's vision from under Google and the SemWeb's nose. How long before Edgio is accepting "stores" written in OPML?

Compare this with what the SemWeb community has achieved over the last (what?) 7-8 years? This is a project / community invented and led by THE guy who created the web. (How much better publicity can you get than that?) It's full of super-smart, super-enthusiastic people. They've written gallons of code. Libraries for every language I can think of. Dozens of programs that let you enter, query and manipulate RDF data. There've been several attempts to build real popular applications for RDF (eg. FOAF).

And they're still promising that the tools, applications and users are coming "real soon now". At some point you have to suspect it's not lack of effort or tactical ability which is holding them back, but lack of a plausible strategic objective.

[Ed - that's as far as I got before seeing Dave's link. The rest was written later. So you can start assuming some sycophancy creeping into the mix.]

I'll stick my neck out and make a few predictions. (And you have permission to quote them and laugh if they all turn out to be wrong in 5 years ;-)

I think the SemWeb has got very little time left before it finds itself side-lined. Of course, it's got a lot of momentum so it's not going to disappear over-night, it will even continue to grow and gather new users, but as the amount of machine-treatable metadata in "web 2.0" explodes over the next couple of years, the proportion that's part of the SemWeb (ie. in RDF, marked-up with URIs who's "meaning" is defined in OWL ontologies) is going to be infinitesimal.

That's why smart pragmatists like Danny are, quite sensibly, trying to make bridges between their technology and the users who actually have the data. But these attempts are being sabotaged (eg. by Shelley who is missing one of the golden rules of establishing a platform), and it looks like Danny's too polite to fight his corner. ("Fair enough" indeed!)

Instead, this is Winer's game (again). Publicly hosted OPML hierarchies are going to roll right over DMOZ this year, by which I mean they'll exceed DMOZ in popularity. They'll give other silos of expertise (, Squidoo) a serious fright. OTOH, they won't make a dent on Wikipedia. (Aside : I don't think Winer really "gets" wiki. If you want to take him on, that's the front to do it.)

Within two years, most major blogging clients will be exchanging reading-lists, blogrolls and attention data with each other and online aggregators, memetrackers etc. in OPML; scutters will be crawling raw OPML for "who-likes-who" data; and FOAF will be gone. And FOAF was the greatest hope for a genuine popular RDF application.

It's not that I think everything is all going Winer's way. My guess is that the most popular OPML Editor by then probably won't be Dave's. He doesn't seem interested in cultivating a community of developers for the editor itself, which strikes me as a strategic error. Someone will take his code (or write their own) and pretty-it-up for the mass-market. [Note that Dave hasn't made a connection with the whole Getting Things Done cult. (Unless you count moving to the Mac.) There's no great OPML-love on 43 Folders (I can't even find the Editor in its wiki). And these guys are obsessive about outliners. But they're much more driven by aesthetics.]

On second thoughts, maybe Dave doesn't really care about the Editor. In practice, Dave's business model seems to be "create platforms, sell ping-servers". (Which casts some light on the whole Winer / Cadenhead fallout, doesn't it?)

But that's another story. The point I want to make here is that Winer is Napoleon, and the poor SemWeb people don't even know they're at war.

Or rather, they know something is up. They know they're hurting, and that people seem to keep getting inexplicably excited by stuff they consider obviously inferior to their grand project. They complain about the crappiness of Winer's format, or the obnoxiousness of his personality, or that it's "only" because of the free publicity he gets on his blog, or his infantile fan-club, or that he's rich. What they don't see is the master strategist playing the game.

Let's be clear. Winer isn't mainly attacking the SemWeb - it's incidental to him. He's likely to be far more perturbed by more practical rival formats like Atom, defending himself against losing the server business (like he lost the podcast-server business), and fighting off the big companies.

The damage he's doing to the SemWeb is a side-effect of him being a smart SynWeb operator in the inevitable conflict between SemWeb and SynWeb. But there are plenty of others willing to play a SynWeb strategy if Winer were to retire.

March 18, 2006

Tools and the SemWeb / SynWeb debate

Danny responds to my latest SemWeb rant. I really don't like being boring, but this subject interests me a lot (and I quite like all the rhetorical flourishes) so I'll indulge myself with some further responses. But to be clear, I'm not dissing Danny, I have a lot of respect for what he does both technically and as a SemWeb advocate.

But I would suggest that these things are well on their way. ... But the real application is the Semantic Web itself, in the same way that a browser isn't interesting without the web behind it.

I'd suggest that they're not well on their way at all, because he misses my point about what a tool "is".

A tool is not simply a program that manipulates a data-structure. It's something which solves an existing problem. Something which is the "best tool for the job". Or at least the prefered / preferable solution to the problem. I might be able to open a beer-bottle with a pen-knife, but a pen-knife, however well made, is not a tool for opening beer-bottles. The inner-technology has to, in some sense, match or "afford" the outer usage.

The trouble for the SemWeb technologies is that there are almost no problems for which they have any real distinguishing advantages over the SynWeb ones. (This is assuming my distinction between SemWeb, as the place where the meaning of a piece of meta-data is fixed a priori by attaching a URI to it, and the SynWeb as a place where meaning is determined later according to context and convention. As far as I can tell, Danny does still agree with this distinction?

Regarding formats without tools, I think you've got a fallacy in suggesting RSS and OPML are somehow special. Which came first, the RSS aggregator or RSS?

No, I certainly wasn't trying to suggest RSS and OPML are special. They're interesting only in the sense that they are succesful examples of the SynWeb, and what you could call the "Winer" strategy.

Heh, your choice of the word "parasitic" is a bit ironic, because you could say the OPML Editor and RSS apps are parasitic on the web, and the Semantic Web is an extension of the web.

Balderdash! ;-) The web is a wonderful example of doing the right thing. It's a "worse is better", funky little hack which combines an easy to use tool (the browser) with the simplest protocol which could possibly work, and a slightly fuzzy, problematic mark-up language, to solve a real-world problem : how to share documents over the internet. It disregarded mainstream academic Hypertext theory (how do you avoid broken links? answer : we don't) and the complexities of client-server architectures of the time. Consequently, it spread like wild-fire, adding many incremental improvements. It's survived (and thrived) for nearly 20 years with incompatible, buggy browsers and multiple specifications for HTML. (There are now three "official", incompatible versions of HTML from the W3C alone.)

The Semantic Web isn't an extension of this at all. It's basically a naive assumption about how meaning works ("hey! if we all use the same code-numbers for things then we'll know when we're talking about the same stuff") and a crowd of enthusiasts engaged in the Sisyphan task of trying to make anything useful from this assumption; while, all the while, casting covetous glances at the meta-data which is being generated by people who aren't burdened with the responsibility of inventing common code-numbers and ontologies.

Final point on what I meant by "tools trump formats / processes" because both Danny and Scribe have picked up on it. I'm not saying you can do without common formats. Of course a format is absolutely essential. What I'm saying is that the "goodness" of the tools is more important than the "goodness" of the format for the adoption and survival of the combined pair. Because it's the tools which are the interface to the outside world : the users.

March 17, 2006

Genesis III

I'm arguing with Danny Ayers again.

My latest take on tools vs. formats.

Oh well, I'm getting repetitive, but still, as everyone's still OPML-bashing. :-)

Getting data out of OPML and RSS 2.0 is SynWeb rather than SemWeb, because the decision as to what the information "means" is decided by the scrapers (following usage conventions) rather than by explicit URIs added by the data's creators.

Tools trump formats and processes. The funny thing is not simply that this is *true*, but that the entire history of computer science can be interpretted as one long war between pragmatic tool builders and idealistic format / process builders. And the tools win every time. And the idealists *still* haven't noticed.

A format without a tool is like a technology without a business model. It has no interface to the wider, user, consumer community. It is not ecologically "fit". It can't feed itself on user attention or money but must be kept on life-support by optimists.

The SemWeb people are great programmers. They spend all their time writing code. How come they never actually produce any "tools"? Because all the tools they produce are explained like this : "this is a great tool because it uses a better format / process". That's not a "tool" or an "application". Because tools / applications have an inner-world of their technology, and an outer-world of their usage. And they have a story that mediates between the two. That explains *why* this technology is necessary for that usage.

SebWeb programs have an inner-technology *and* an outer usage. But they have no story that joins the two together. A story that says "this technology is *also* for that usage, but better (by some internal criteria)" isn't the same thing. This is why they must be parasitic on the story provided by real tools like the OPML Editor and various RSS generators, consumers.

March 03, 2006

Iranian oil bourse story

Here's another kind of platform war.

There's a story going around the net that Iran is starting an oil bourse, where people can trade oil in Euros instead of dollars.

Read here for the geopolitical effects, including some of the theories of how this influences the current US build up of rhetoric against Iran; and here for some fairly good criticism.

I'm not sure which of these positions is more plausible, but what I am convinced by is that the petrodollar ecosystem is as much a platform as the Windows or iPod ecosystems are. And that, there could be a platform war fought between it and a petroeuro platform, and if so, generic platform war strategies would apply.