Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Holy Grail of the Net: The OS


Digg and Bit.ly almost got it right. The web is a fast growing mass of information as we all become broadcasters instead of mere receivers. How can we make sense of this humongous mass of data/information? Until we build an intelligence larger than our own, we'll harness our existing intelligence. Like Kevin Kelly said, we are a hive mind. And what's most precious in a hive mind? The swarms. Detecting the swarms is the holy grail.

Google did it for a while, as long as many people are linking to something, that something becomes relevant. That worked for a while, when things were slower on the net and less people were broadcasters. But, this is not enough for today's world. Twitter made that clear. As Michael Welsh magnifiscently expressed in his "Web 2.0 - The machine is us/ing us" video we are teaching the machine. Not only with links but with twitter re-directions, re-twits, social network buzz, and many other new ways to come.

How can we harness our own intelligence to detect the hive's top swarms? Well, so far we tried many ways. Digg.com was very successful for a while using crowdsourcing and having people to digg news they considered relevant. Bit.ly is going one step further by analyzing the statistics on the shared links and trying to make sense of the most "organically" digged news. These partial ways of measuring instant web activity can have limited success.

Who is always there witnessing all of our web activity? 99.9999% of our web activity is witnessed by The Browser.

Google knows this better than anybody else. They know their current system of detecting relevance by the links is not keeping up with the future of the web. The main reason for that being that they need to poll (crawl) the web in order to find new activity, new data. This is a highly inefficient method, no matter how powerful you are, you will always be one step behind. It needs to reverse the direction of where data is coming. It needs data to push into their databases -not to be pulled.

Google had a first attempt at getting to this data when they launched "your slice of the web", web history, back in April 07. But that was not nearly enough and people's adoption of the little toolbar (which was one of the great things to do before having your own browser) just didn't happen. At that time I was wondering why hasn't a browser itself done this: "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." (a little ego rush for me, gosh, that was almost vision ;).

So, what's next? It's very obvious, the next thing is The Browser. And sure enough, Google did it! In September 2008, Google launched Chrome. If you thought Chrome was about competing with Internet Explorer and competing against Microsoft, you got that one wrong. Chrome is about competing with twitter and all the next things that might capture the swarms which in the end is the holy grail of the web. It's search becoming instanstaneous, something Google can't miss on. TechCrunch has a glimpse of this problem on their post "The Real Time Search Dilemma: Consciousness versus Memory".

But, with the spreading of the Netbook Google had an incredible double opportunity, and of course they took it! Not only would they be able to make their browser user's base expand but also by becoming a platform they would be able to go beyond the web, capture the net itself. So, sure enough again, in July 2009, Google promises to deliver the Google Chrome OS by the second half of 2010. It you thought Chrome OS was about competing against Microsoft, think again. In my opinion, that is only a side effect, a by-product. The holy grail of The Net is the OS as the holy grail of the Web is The Browser.

The mobile market being one of the fastest and ubiquitous markets out there was not left out of the plan, Android will deliver the stats for the mobile world.

This is the future of search. No bing, twitter or no other little application will hardly be able to overcome and/or acquire this advantage. Anybody else is behind, because Google has a brilliant master plan, and it's executing the plan in an accurate way with extreme expedite targeted deliveries without missing one opportunity.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Social Transparency


One of the most striking characteristics of the web, which I think was almost one of the most important ones in it's adoption as well as fast evolution is: transparency that leads to hackability. I actually wrote something about it in the past that had some nice little idea inside regarding sharing chunks of server side code.

I still remember the feeling when after years of programming in the dark, times changed and the web opened the curtains and we could see from the back door. It was great! You could go to a web site, see something you liked, hack it, re-mix it and make it your own so that others could hack it as well. That level of exposition, of transparency was later on less important as people starting to openly share their code and their tricks in the web itself, but it all started with parts of the code being open for everybody to see.

Hackability is becoming an extending concept growing to other areas such as product design with demands of hackability.

Right now, I'm getting kind of the same feeling from the social networking side of the web. It is very special to have access to the social dimension of people that sometimes we knew in another capacity, or were not even that close to start with, or people that we had completely lost touch with.

This open window into other person's lives is impacting us in profound ways. I guess most of us have a normal tendency to show the best of ourselves out to the public. Some people think of this as faking it. The way I see it, people are not faking, they're just exercising being the best they can be. Potentially this habit of "being nice" will involve most of our time as most of our activities will start involving this social networking dimension.

As habit becomes being ... eventually, technology -through transparency- will make us better.

In relation with this subject,
Blown to bits seems to be a promising book on the future of privacy, identity and personal control in this new era where social networking is around (haven't gotten it yet). [via Dusan@scrumdesk]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Disintermediation


After reading "Is Amazon Taking Over the Book Business?" by Time Magazine I was left thinking a lot about how the economy is changing and where it might be going.

Historically, the book industry would be a long supply chain. In order for a book to be published there used to be a myriad of roles involved: agent, editor, publisher, printer and bookstore.

Now, we're seeing Amazon, the clear market leader in their sector, starting to absorb more and more of those roles. In Time's article words: "Amazon could become the LiveNation of the book world, a literary ecosystem unto itself: agent, editor, publisher, printer and bookstore. It probably will."

My first reaction usually is to try to extrapolate, and so I did. And my next question was: Are we witnessing the disintermediation of the economy as we become digital? Disintermediation defined by wikipedia as "the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: 'cutting out the middleman'".

I believe this is a trend that will continue. For the music industry this Harvard article around Michael Jackson's story does bring up the point of how the music industry is broken. It actually refers you to a video on the Zombieconomy which is pretty cool and describes how capitalism itself is broken. An the reason it's basically broken is that capitalism is based on intermediaries under-counting (and minimizing) costs and over-counting (maximizing) benefits.

From this perspective, disintermediation seems good. Now, can things begin looking better as the industry is shaping towards giant almost monopolistic software companies aggregating markets? I believe they do. How? The way I see it, there are two advantages to how in the long term disintermediation (even if monopolistic) induces a new economy:

1. It's easier that it becomes more obvious to people the fact that one unique company is holding the holly grail for a hole vertical market.
2. It's easier to reproduce this model by the people itself by launching open source software cooperatively operated counterparts.

The way I see the future going is that disintermediation is the natural evolution of capitalism in the digital era and it paves the road for "massintermediation" (would that be the right name?) which would be the people for the people cutting off the intermediaries up to their last chain's link.

It's specially interesting to see what will happen when you threw in other digital era properties such as the net's transaparency that would allow for cooperation in a clear fair way.

There are already out there organizations such as Free Software Foundation founded by MIT professors working their way into open source software with new ethics.

I'm probably projecting too far away and I'm not saying this will happen tomorrow. Just thoughts in the collective mind ...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Programming for Kids


This summer we enrolled Nicole in a Programming for Kids 4 day camp for 9 to 13 years old.
It was really cool, I loved the way teachers framed it.
What they did is give them tons of different tools in a way that each kid could find what was more appealing to them.

They started with the old logo turtle, a classic. It's great, it gives the kid the clear concept of commanding the computer to do something and right away seeing the results. UC Berkley Logo. Download at: http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~bh/

Next they went through Just Basic, I guess just so kids know how yucky programming can get ;) Download at: http://justbasic.com/

Then, they explored Cow Maze, a german web based game that teaches kids to think like a computer. In Nicole's words "addictive".

The Second day they got to the star of the course: scratch! This MIT created software and web community is the coolest tool for kids to do real programming that feels like a game. The hackability of the community makes it very powerful as they can download projects from other kids, remix them and upload them. Inspiring!!

Later on the class they explored Alice which didn't totally do it for Nicole ... The teachers were so cool as to mention Randy Paulsch's Last Lecture (to parents) as he was a part of the Alice's team.

Last day of class they showed the kids StarLogo TNG and Greenfoot, I guess those were a little on top of my daughter's head at this time. This tool is best suited for kids in the 13 to 16 age range.

Also, they explored linerider.com and fantasticcontraption.com.

All in all, a great experience and a great introduction to programming!!