Saturday, March 17, 2007

Can “Tomtom” be wrong?

Tomtom is the name of mon petit amie GPS that gently guided me from Amsterdam to Brussels, Antwerp, Stuttgart and then lost me through Frankfurt.
What went wrong? Interfaces! Of course, the weakest link in the chain is and will always be the interfaces. What happened with Frankfurt is that Germany has more cities with names starting with Frankfurt than I had information about. I saw the first two options that were Frankfurt and Frankfurt (ODER) and didn’t notice the little down arrow was black instead of grey. Then, as the first one was north and a similar distance I expected it to be I assumed that was the Frankfurt I wanted to go. Something seemed to be wrong for a while, some signals here and there that were starting to be red flags, but in the wise words of my co-worker “tomtom never let me down before … can’t say the same about you … “ ;) So, we trusted tomtom against my instincts and we got lost in the middle of the German country in pursue of a little town called “Frankfurt”. In the end, tomtom was right, given the input information we gave it.
This little anecdote left me thinking of interfaces, particularly human to machine interfaces, although, now that I think about it, interfaces misunderstanding is the cause of most of human to human interaction issues as well. An area that sooner than later will become critical as we rely more and more of our lives on all sorts of little thinking devices. As I was mentioning in my previous post interfaces are going to be changing a lot in the future, but I have a feeling that the essential issue might remain unsolved for a looooong time.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Web Evolution

A little bit of history of the web makes me think of a clear path of evolution that I see this way:

1. The Static Web
This was the first expression of the web and it was doing all it was created to do. The web was a way of hyperlinking documents and that's what we had originally. It already had a great potential, the concept of a growing shared network was powerful in itself. The light protocol was appealing. The glorious simple tagged language spreaded rapidly. Page indexes were the search tool of this era.

2. The Dynamic Web
Around '94 we started seeing dynamic applications on the web. IRC DHL was one of the first companies that offered shipping tracking and it was very innovative at the time. The way most dynamic applications were created originally was with CGI. It was like an extension, a gateway built into the http protocol. I'd say it was our first attempt to patch the web and extend it into something else, much more powerful of it's original intent. Along came many others: asp, php, aspx, servlets. Javascript was a great advancement too, bringing client side programming into the picture. Still in the monolithic era, the web pages were submitted on their totality and refreshed in the same way. As far as search portals were the tool at this time.

3. The Social Web (known as Web 2.0)
This is the era of user as a content provider. Here were born most of the current collaboration tools: wikis, blobs, social nets, resulting in collaborative, powerful communities.
Sometime during this web, the monolithic web era finished and the web started to have little interactions in what was eventually named as ajax. This flexibility was a turning point, this was a great moment in the establishment of the web as a platform, as it was acquiring one of the main characteristics it's competitor had to their advantage (windows desktop environment). At this point the concept of thin client is without a doubt the way to go.
As far as search the tools (almost tempted to use this word in singular) of this era are search pages with intricately secret formulas and interesting revenue models exploiting the inefficient search in a disorganized information world.

Post-monolithic eras:

4. The Relational Web
This is the web services web, rest web, the mesh ups web, pipes web. This are applications talking to each other and collaborating to make information more integrated and more meaningful to the end user. There's also a turning point in the device expansion at this point where the concept of computer is more irrelevant and replaced by the net concept. Any device that gets me into the net is basically taking the place of what was the computer before. Here is where we're at right now.
Not sure about search evolving much in this era ... maybe as pipes are built we see more vertical searches in different tools for different domains.

5. The Semantic Web
This web is the web of meaning. There will be some type of common understanding of some type of relevant meaning outside of languages and countries specifics that will make the web an infinite source of knowledge. We'll go from having information to having "Thoughts". It really will work increasingly similar to querying our own brain, except for one little detail: interfaces. The search will change dramatically as we can search by meaning in a web that is meaning enabled. I doubt the current search revenue model will hold.

I'm amazed to see that the browser as a tool almost had no evolution along the first three eras, it might be limitations in the protocol itself that dis-allow the browser to evolve ... but I doubt it, I believe it's more circumstances that caused this.
Another thing to notice is that web evolution is accelerated (it'd be nice to quantify how accelerated it is, some more date facts should be added ...).

Obviously, we have to wonder ... What's next? New interfaces that enable us to "think" in the net: our "extended collective brain".
We should expect most probably a change in technologies. We all love the web, but as bad as it sounds, we have to think of its death some day. It already went far from reaching its own limits. Plus, the media soon will have changed too much, the speeds will have changed, 3D worlds, audio and voice will have evolved so much that we'll need a new protocol that supports that better and was created with this world in mind. Also to be considered are all the advances in medicine and in human-machine integration that is making us increasingly cyborgs.
So, I'm thinking mostly about user interface changes, our need to communicate with "the computer", which at this point is losing so much relevance yielding to became more "the net", is going to be totally different and will need native protocols that support it. So then users can extend them to promptly (why can't you say fastly, if you have prompt and promptly? some day we'll have a consistent logic universal language too ;) reach its own limits again and again ...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Perception curiosities

Listen to this video with your eyes on and off and see how you hear different things:
Try it yourself

I used to say as a joke that I can't wear dark glasses because I can't hear well when I do. The truth is, it's real for me and here is an explanation why.

A similar thing happen when you walk in front of the Pisa Tower or even the Ripley "Believe it or not" Museum. You see something out of shape and your eyes and specially balance sense try to compensate for what doesn't make sense, it's an amazing effect.

Video is becoming non-sequential media

One of the great things about youtube and all the big media around the video industry is that now we can expect video to evolve into something that is starting to be interesting. Proving that there is a huge potential market for this industry is attracting industry players that will give video capabilities that will convert it on the future collective memory it needs to be. (maybe it's the chicken or the egg old question where the attractiveness of the future capabilities of video is attracting the players in the first place as well). Anyway, what will we see soon that will change this media and its implications and uses?

1. Adding metadata both automatic and manually. Automatic metadata would be time information, GPS information. Also, there is software out there to manually add tags to specific areas of videos, such as Mojiti or Cuts.

2. Tracking objects inside video. There are already some software out there that tracks any particular object through videos. An example of a company working on this for security cams is Vigilant Video. Also in the photography realm there's Riya that is doing an amazing job in the same direction recognizing faces and tracking characters throughout different photos. They have a visual search that is very promising as well. There is also software to do video text recognition applied particularly to digitize text embedded in videos. Also, in this area, there's great potential for advertisement as it allows to do ads placement on videos.

3. Audio digitalizing, getting text of the audio. Voice recognizing both in audio and video. This will probably take a little more time, but it will come and the impact will be huge.

The main effect this of making video a non-sequential media is in terms of search potential. This will mean you can search for the video and specific instant where Bush said "The only way we can win is to leave before the job is done." in the video Greeley, Colo., Nov. 4, 2006.
The changed already started when video was tagged and community shared. I believe the next step will lead us into a new type of collective memory where we will be able to search our personal or collective video/audio database in a more similar way we do with our brain memory (tempted to say internal memory versus external memory).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The relational web

It's been very exciting to hear about Yahoo Pipes! I have to admit this is the first time I got impressed by yahoo other than by the cool innovative name at their time.

It feels good personally as well as I predicted this was something that needed to happen in these terms: "Right now it's like we have applications (tables in a simile with relational database world) but we can't link to other applications as we should. To me applications need to grow in the same direction relational databases did." when thinking on the web as a platform last September. I really didn't think much more about it and it's a very pleasing surprise that Yahoo was the company to come up with this.

I'm still thinking that the semantic web is really where we all want to go, and pipes are really just a subset of what could be done with the semantic web. It's hard to understand why we're not moving faster in that direction. I can think of two explanations but not sure which one is the right one if not both:
1. We're not technologically ready, meaning it's too complicated to agree to standards for the semantic web, to find a nice user interface (which yahoo did!), etc.
2. It's not in the industry leaders interest to have a semantic web. This is definitely true for google, but not so true for microsoft, yahoo and others in need of better techniques and market share. I doubt Google doesn't see the potential, I believe it's more about it having the secret search formula to find things in a disorganized web. What would be so unique about google when the web is a semantic place and everything makes sense, nobody will need secret formulas. If this explanation were to be right we'd be saying the industry leaders are not paying any attention to semantic web because they are either challenged by it (google) or they are ADD, unaware of it's potential (microsoft, etc).
The third explanation would be to think that semantic web is not the future web at all, I've seen there are people saying this as well but haven't read much about their points yet.

Anyway, to my current understanding the relational web seems to be one step further until we can reach the semantic web ...