Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Clicks = Metadata: from Search History to Web History

A few days ago Google announced your slice of the web. This seemed like an obvious move to do. I used to wonder about why a browser itself wouldn't have done this before. If someone knew all the sites someone was visiting, that was naturally the browser. Once again the browser industry lost this opportunity and once again Google took it with a toolbar that extends browser functionality to track visited sites.

Why is having users browsing history so important? Michael Wesch expresses it in a very artistically way in his video "The Machine is Us/ing Us", specially when we says: "Think of the 100 billion times per day humans click on a link ... teaching the machine":

Some practical uses of the web history that you can notice out there. When you search for something if there's a page within the results that you visited previously, it will show you something like '2 visits 7:52pm' or just the time of the last visit if you only visited once. I guess they'll switch to '4 hours ago' which is more user time friendly.

Now their searches that already were user sensitive if you had your personal history switched on, will become widely sensitive to all of your web logged navigation. It sure is powerful. Not to mention augmenting ad sensitivity and user targeting to a whole new level.

I believe this is huge. This is the personal memory of your web accesses, which is like being able to track back ... your thoughts!

On one side I love this functionality, in a sense I was missing it and waiting for it to be out there for my own use and convenience (my bad memory as always ;). But, on the other side, there is today only one company in the world that owns this information (obviously with user permission). Google was the first and only company that will be benefiting of the realization that clicks = metadata.

Of course it's adding to the feeling of great but scary ... as like Michael Welsh said, every click is teaching "The machine", the question now is: who is the machine????

update: it'd be nice to have a word cloud and some graphic stats

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Is technology the seventh kingdom in life?

This is the affirmation Kevin Kelly's talk on Evolution makes looking at technology's place in evolution. He brilliantly asks himself "What does technology want?". He reviews the different kingdoms as different ways of hacking life and he theorizes about technology being the seventh kingdom after animalia. He evaluates the characteristics of evolution itself: ubiquitous, diversity, specialization (going to general to specialized purposes), drift towards complexity, sociability (moves to increase co-evolution).

I do agree a lot in his realization that there is a need to place technology somewhere in the traditional view of life kingdoms. There is something radically different happening since technology emerged that begs for a redefinition. It's even hard to determine the exact time when technology emerged. The moment life starts it will increasingly start to interact with its environment. The moment life starts to modify its environment in any way, the destiny of technology is traced. The interaction with the media will evolve and eventually it'll become more and more sophisticated until one day it'll involve an external non biological source of energy. Once an external source of energy is invented machines are just going to happen along the line. Eventually machines will want to connect and socialize to become smarter. It seems like the evolution of technology is just a natural outcome of species trying to re-assure their survival by modifying and controlling their environment. I think of it as an inevitable evolutionary path. Just the normal development in the infinite game of life.

Is technology the seventh kingdom in life?

This is a very controversial affirmation for me and the way I was seeing it before listening to his talk.
I have trouble believing that technology is the seventh kingdom as technology doesn't happen on its own. Technology -in a significant way that is changing the face of the Earth and the interaction between the rest of the kingdoms- is being created and generated by humans. Technology is a product of human evolution. Technology is the glue that is keeping humans together. I used to believe that the turning point in drawing the line between kingdoms ought to be traced in humans and not in technology. My theory was more that humans have to be the seventh kingdom as they hacked life in two ways substantially different than any other kingdom before them:
1. they have the capacity to create technology that operate on their own non-biological source of energy (not their food nor their composition is biologic).
2. the technology they create, acts as the glue to make a connected super organism that is more than the sum of its parts. This thought was reinforced by a comment that Ray Kurzweil makes in his TED talk as well on the evolution subject. This amazing talk on evolution, less controversial and more factual, goes a little bit over the history of how unicellular species went to multicellular ones by hanging out together and connecting themselves more and more.

Also, another argument in this direction is: where do cyborgs stand? Humans are increasingly becoming cyborgs and as they do so they would not seem to be in any of the two kingdoms exclusively (nor animalia nor technology) but a mix of both.

On the other side, I'm starting to see Kelly's points in defining technology as a kingdom in itself. Technology seems to have it's own drive. It seems to hack life in a totally different way. It does follow the rules of ubiquitous, diversity, specialization, complexity, sociability. Maybe one day it'll achieve the ability to be born, reproduce and maybe even die, which used to be the definition of being a live being. So, maybe, it's just my human self centered-ness that makes me see it as humans have to be the new kingdom ...

If we go with Kelly's definition, should we drive the conclusion then that silicon based life is a new and even more evolved path than biological life itself? Is this going to change when technology and biology mix as it's about to happen soon with genetics, nano biological robots, etc?

A lot to think here ... I'd like to know sociologist and antropologist point of view on this one too as I'm totally coming from the biologist evolution perspective ...

Going flash and webservices

We released today our new home page. Given the nature of the site being real time and sports related we needed to have some level of dynamism that was best served by a flash design. The web services were developed with GeneXus, which made it really great to maintain all the advantages we get of having a great database modeling tool. We did have some issues consuming the web services from flash. For some reason the web service output as it is generated by GeneXus is not exactly the format that Flash was expecting and thus we could not consume it from Flash the easy standard way, we had to go to a more manual way of consumption.

We decided today to limit the number of times we're calling the web services to limit bandwidth consumption, so after a while the website stops refreshing and keeps a static look unless the user interacts in some way. We will not be able to do this for the inside leader board (this should be one word all together but no dictionary takes it) as people will use it specifically to do the automatic refresh and they will keep it ongoing as they play.

There are two concerns at this point.
The first is, as we get ready to change the look of the internal pages, we face the decision of how to integrate HTML aspx pages with flash components. The obvious is to reuse the flash header, menu and footer, although being that the header has the login embedded we already had some issues right there. Furthermore, we have to decide which inside page flash components are going to substitute aspx components and which ones ought to stay. It's like OK, where do we draw the line?
The second one, is the refresh issue. We have some loading time every time the page refreshes, when we show the borrowed progress circular animation we borrowed from Mozilla. It gets kind of annoying after a while specially when you go to an internal page and then come back and you have to go through the loading times again and again ... I'm thinking we need to implement some type of cache for these flash components but of course it's hard with flash limitations to do so. I thought of saving some xml as web services return values so Flash can read the xml of the last web service execution so the first time it loads it can get data from the xml instead of pulling the web service. Talking to our Flash expert in our software factory in Uruguay, South America (grande Mauro!!), we are not sure this would make a difference. Probably we'll do some testing soon. Another route is never leaving a Flash movie then you only load the first time. I don't think we'll go that way specially because of concerns about tabbing and other forms standard behaviors hard to emulate in Flash, as this is usually one of Flash's weak sides.

We're really happy with how the website turned out, the development was very fast and the result pretty stunning (borrowing some of our users comments). We'll keep experimenting and having fun with this type of interface that will allow us to have ajax like behavior in the home page with most likely a nicer look and lower development nightmares (yes, as in love with ajax as I used to be, I'm suggesting Flash is a better, more natural tool to make web 2.0 developments than ajax is).

Friday, April 06, 2007

Web 2.0's Evolution to Semantic Web

There's a great discussion of Web 2.0 versus Semantic Web that I've been following.
I'm kind of happy to see a discussion like this happening and to see Tim O'Reilly wrapp up with this kind of thought: "Metaweb strikes me as an evolution because it's a kind of next gen hybrid between semweb and web 2.0.".
This is shedding some light for me in the debate I was having recently about why Semantic Web does not seem to be progressing as we all like it to (although there's good signs that it might after all). If the two main arguments of why would be inner comlexity versus market interests, I'm leaning to think that complexity is a big part of it although of course there could be a combination of both.
Anyway, when I had to choose one conference to attend this April/May around this subjects, I decided I'd go to WWW instead of a Web 2.0 Conference. It was mostly a curiosity and cost/benefit based decision, but after seeing Mark Birbeck's arguments as well as James Hendler's I'm pretty happy I did. Can't wait to be there embedded on the semantic world.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In my grandma's memory

It is with immense love and appreciation that these days I am saying goodbye to my grandmother in the physical dimension.
Among all the things she gave me in life, there is one particular day that I think changed my life forever. I remember as a kid I was a little too energetic and easily bored. I guess I was complaining of being bored without even paying much attention when my grandma's answer stroke me as an amazing world opening in front of my eyes. She asked me, how can you be bored with your whole mind to explore? As long as you can think, a freedom nobody can ever take back from you, you can't be bored. Immediately I realized how right she was, how could I ever get bored? so many things to think about.
This was an incredible gift I'm of course passing on to my six year old as we already had once this conversation. Interestingly enough I can't recall she mentioning being bored many other times after that ...
To my "abuelita" I can only say thank you for every moment of peace and love we shared, for an amazing strength and for making me feel like I was in the safer place on earth by her side. In the words of my little one in her attempt to say "gracias": "chachas, chachas, chachas".