Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I'm making a difference

"I'm making a difference" is the name of a new initiative from Windows Live Messenger to promote their Instant Messenger client platform at the same time that they share "a portion of" the ad revenue with some of the big fundraising organizations.

When I wrote some time ago about the long tail of philantropy, I describe something very similar to this implementation MS Live is now launching.

The main differences between what I had in mind and what MS Live did are:

1. I was thinking in using an universal IM client. Something like Pidgin 2.0 that is open source and could be modified to hold google ad sense for instance.
2. Almost 100% of the revenue in such an effort would go directly to the beneffiting organizations, just maybe leaving a minimum operative budget for the running of the program.
3. The organizations I had in mind were more diverse and not necesarily as big as the ones they choose.

1 and 2 would make a whole lot difference, but still this MS Live is a nice initiative.

Windows Vista Easy Transfer

As my husband got a new computer this weekend I got ready to go through the long messy process of migrating his files when I luckily glimpsed this nice little tool called Easy Transfer in his new Vista.

It detected the old computer was XP and transferred itself over the net, in the second attempt (it has some password generation and typing on each end involved) it was sending all the selected files over the net and after a while it said it was done. That's when the surprise came on. After installing MS Office 2007 (downloaded 60 day trial from the web) voila! outlook was completely set up with all the accounts, rules, email history, everything was ready to go.

The easy transfer will move:
. User accounts
. Files and folders
. Program data files and settings
. E-mail messages, settings, and contacts
. Photos, music, and videos
. Windows settings
. Internet settings

The migration was the highest point on Vista so far as right after the computer was all setup, being multiple times better hardware than the old one, the performance was pretty much ... the same as in the old computer. I guess that's only a little detail ;)

Friday, May 11, 2007

My new italian friend Domenico introduced me to Bookcrossing, a website that brings together the virtual and physical world by allowing members to release books "into the wild" to be found by others. I love this concept. Right now where I live in Temecula there are 16 books released! Can't wait to release couple books and start my hunt as well.

Banff, interesting stuff

Some interesting ideas from the Banff conference:

1. CSurf, a context-driven, non-visual web-browser. This web browser for people with visual disabilities helps readers optimize their web navigation based in a very innovative concept of context semantic matching. Once the user clicks on a link they speed up the reading of the linked page content starting directly with the block that has more relevant semantic similarity to the original link block. Their technology seems likely to be the basis for a mobile browser as well. I asked the question and the answer is they're already thinking on CMobile which would address this market. They also have a very cool geometric analyzer to recognize blocks within a page that seems highly reusable for other page analysis purposes. CSurf will be launching soon and we'll keep an eye on it as well as the CMobile version.

2. Ryen White, with Microsoft Research, presented a prototype of a search log analyzer that tries to identify behavioral patterns in users performing web search tasks in order to be able to offer personalized search interfaces/tools depending on the adopted patterns. It was basically a log based study based on browser trails.

3. Marius Pasca from Google presented an optimization to the traditional analysis of data for textual info from document collection based. The innovative thought is to consider that people is providing knowledge when looking for knowledge, therefore he conducted a study mining information from search logs to deduct information about particular attributes (company name, city name, country population) of classes (company, city, country) instances (apple inc, Rochester, USA). There seem to be questions as far as the temporal variations of query logs, but it seems like one viable research path for mining text info from logs.

4. Geospatial and temporal RSS tracker. This middleware tool has a very interesting approach in the sense of thinking out of the box and attempting to make news readable in a different way and richer content than the traditional newspaper linked into html. They considered adding geographic and temporal navigation of news. They used the typical Google powered map (similar to twittervision) including a nice picture in picture for associated relevant locations. Their heuristics and rules to mine the location out of the rss are pretty arguable as they can easily confuse location aboutness and source location.

5. Data mining of information intent on emails from Carnegie Mellon. Their VIO (virtual information officer) attempted to data mine intent from emails suggesting the suitable form to perform the action required in the email and populate the related fields. One thing I liked from their approach is that it is in their words "precision biased", meaning that this system will only suggest when the probability of making a relevant and appropriate suggestion is way above some threshold. Better doing nothing before doing something that might be wrong in another words. The system is first trained ("system domestication") to do form suggestion, field suggestion and field value suggestion. They obtained about 17% to 31% improvement.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mountain escape

After 2.5 hours of hiking up the Banff Sulphur mountain here are the wonderful views from the top. I'm so glad I escaped this morning the conference and enjoyed this great hike! Exhausting but very rewarding indeed.

Undo feature on the web

I Just noticed the undo in blogger's apply label functionality and it clicked into an interesting user interface issue we're starting to see more addressed on the web. This is a very much needed feature that is very powerful in terms of user interface and we should all be looking at it sooner than later.
Of course we'll expect GeneXus to provide this to us soon as far as transactions goes ... although it might have to be the work with pattern that implements such a feature as it involves maybe more of one object.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Social and Collaborative Construction of Structured Knowledge

This was the title of one of the workshops I attended.

I was pretty shocked by the contrast between the academic and the commercial worlds (the latter was really under-represented in this meeting) on their views of how to collaborate to construct structured knowledge.

Most if not all of the solutions presented on this workshop were tools designed to have a group of scientists to collaborate on building ontologies. Why scientists? basically because to build an ontology which is the agreed form of storing structured knowledge you pretty much have to be a geek or an engineer of some sort.

Jamie Taylor from MetaWeb was my favorite talk. Their goal is rather ambitious: Represent all human knowledge. They are using some type of proprietary graph based on ontologies which they totally hide from the user through a very nice ajaxed interface. The end user can define the objects and properties they want extending on top of a few basic types: int, string, language string, date, object. I'm hoping to get my invitation to test soon as I don't totally understand who has the right to modify what yet, apparently they have some sort of sandbox, but not sure how the procedure is.

Anyway, the talk was very interesting in itself because of the following facts:

1. He used the story of "the stone soup" to make his point about how it's all about multiplying a scarce resource through the community (in this case data).

2. There were plenty of references to interesting concepts or facts.
. One of them was Bradley Horowitz's post stating that the collaborative websites have three types of users: creators, synthesizers and users pointing at how loyalty should be developed towards creators but also the focus should be on being a community at all scales to become sustainable.
. Another about Duncan Watt's experiment on Cumulative advantage, stating the inner unpredictability of the winner in a community based world.
. Also, Stuart Kauffman on "The search for the laws of self-organization and complexity" talking about NK networks.
. In addition, Gary Hamel on his book Leading the revolution" stating that "radical innovation is the competitive advantage for the new millennium".

3. He explained their business model which is innovative and interesting. Basically they build Freebase and promise it will be an eternally free source of information. On top of that they created Metaweb which will build and sell services on top of Freebase. Their philosophy seems super open (in reality as they will provide APIs for information retrieval not only for data entry) and they are into the non-zero-sum game which is a definite plus.

4. He was open on how freebase is doing it by:
. Focusing a lot on the User Interface as that's all the users will have. Every assertion missed is lost.
. Planting lots of seed data.
. Using a model of canonized objects to avoid duplicates where there is only one object per person, etc.
. Having a good politic model and being lousy coupled (APIs and UI hiding complexity).

A great fun talk packed with all sorts of information!

Tim Berners Lee keynote at WWW2007

Sir Tim was not an impressive speaker, nevertheless his talk had good food for thought.

He introduced concepts such as web science and the accompanying philosophical engineering.

He showed what seemed an innocent diagram with an iterative cycle that goes something like this: given a a web related engineering problem there are two parallel components to the solution being the social and the technical component, then the cycle goes from the micro to the macro adoption through some magical process (defining magic as something we don't have an explanation for yet) and eventually issues arise (a merely expectable result of entropy) and there's some magic or creative solution there as well. He ran the cycle with some examples that made it less cryptic, such as the email and search business, semantic web. The social component was new to the picture and he joked about something like "if you didn't realize the importance of the social component on the web engineering process you're not the smart geek your mom thought you were". Typical ironic English humor I guess.

Then he wondered about the shape of the web and declared the web is a fractal although not a 2 dimensional one.

Finally he went over the challenges:
. identity, information policy, privacy, trust models, transparency
. collective quality assessment, meritocracy
. new devices, an interesting concept: devices as a portal to the web "abstract space"
. user interface
. collective creativity

He was asked two interesting questions:

1. About how to make sure the semantic web will not get contaminated with spam. He answered that transparency and authentication would prevent it as well as he noticed that spam happens more naturally in a push environment as the email and not so much in a pull one as the web is (tell Google about it ;), not too agreeable, but anyway).

2. About how should we see the web as a whole as a collective consciousness. He answered after some in-understandable yada yada that "if you're a neuron you have no idea what the big brain is thinking, so if you're a neuron just enjoy". It was a pretty cool answer for me as it inherently draw a parallelism between the cell/brain and the person/web pairs which is no secret I love :)

I wanted to send a post live from my cell but the f@#! data connection on my verizon didn't want to work from Canada ...