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Books & Articles I wrote.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Jerry Kaplan's StartUp and Web 2.0

After "The Search", the next book i have chosen to read is a book written by Jerry Kaplan (anyone have a link to his blog?) called StartUp. It's 10 years old, but you learn a load about the past if you bother to listen to its lessons (so long as you don't let it drive every decision you make).

I have also read many blogs, articles and even books mentioning things like web 2.0, web 3.0, search 2.0, search 3.0 and so on. I think versioning-wise this is fine. Trying to get all the features in the next release (whether 1.0, 2.0 and so on) to finally make X work (whether search, ecommerce or whatever) is a pointless task. It's easily done, but it's much better i believe to think of the whole thing as an interative process which will iterate each time everyone gets their "heads" in the same place (RSS took a while for adotpion but is core now). In view of this, I read the following in the prologue in Jerry's book (i'd love to know if this remains as important to him as when he wrote it):

[Jerry is talking with his Ph.D advisor Dr. Joshi about a problem he encountered]
"Perhaps you should try a different approach, Jerry."
"Like What?"
He pointed to the clock on the wall. It was round with no numerals, only single tick marks for the hours. "What time is it?"
"Four-Thirty". I thought he was pointing out that the hour was up. Instead, he walked over and rotated the clock a quarter turn to the right.
"Now what time is it?" In its new position, the clock looked exactly as it had before, except for the position of the hands.
"Seven forty-five"
"Are you certain? Rotating a clock doesn't change the time, does it?" He had a point, but i didn't know what to make of it. "It only says four-thirty because someone decided that's what it means. What's on the wall is a dial with two hands, yet what you see is the time"
I was still confused. He sighed and then continued. "All that's happened is that you've walked to the edge of the great mosaic of human knowledge. Up until now you've been living in a world full of ideas and concepts that other people have set out for you. Now it's your turn. You get to design a piece of the mosaic and glue it down. It just has to fit with what else is there. And if you do a good job shaping your tile, it will be easier for the next person to fit around yours."

There is a great lesson in that last part. The power of the web can only really be harnessed by building on each prior version of whatever was there in the first place. Being open allows that next person to build around you. We shouldn't worry about being the single dominating company in the world - we can be such a company by being the aggragate of the work that is buiding the web. The worlds largest limited company :) Everyone can get their 15 minutes of fame, make their small fortune and let the next person do the same, perhaps only to build on what they have. It's a pretty exciting future in that way - the question has to be (1) will people continue to strive to be open and (2) will the smaller businesses creating such tolls be happy to build, sell and reinvent or will they want to try to keep control? I don't necessarily think the two are mutually exclusive - Microsoft for example provide RSS feeds on much ofthe content you previously could only find on their site or at MSDN - many others are doing the same. Should be interesting!

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Search for Search

Around 10 minutes ago i finished reading "The Search" by John Battelle.

Update : I just discovered that Scoble had the same idea that more could be added to the book in terms of where things are going. More here.

I really enjoyed the book. Some have said it doesn't go deep into search technology itself, but i actually enjoyed some of the background into how the search companies came to be and having went from lycos to altavista and then google it was fascinating as i could relate back to my experiences. I was even able to recall quite vividly the University days on the Sun Sparcs when no real search facility existed and the very, very eary days of a directory structure by the founders of Yahoo. I never started using internet technologies until around 1991 (when i started at at university and go really bored with a Physics class i was attending) - so the book is one of the I have read that co-incided quite well with my own experiences.

Now, my interest in in Semantic Search and this was only briefly touched on near the end of the book and I do feel there is a lot than can be said about the area - it was covered in less than 15 pages. The possibilities of Semantic search are huge and over the years (it was the first thing i started thinking about it when i discovered Xml in 1998) I have started to see platforms to semantic search - from the current Google style to the ultimate typed universe whjere everything has a URI. This may be useful as a follow on paper, but i really do think there is a lot of phase transitions between the progression from Google to taghop/furl/delicious to semantic web concepts. Vertical Search is one of them, but how long before we need a search engine to find oneof the millions of vertical search engine so that we can then perform a query?

It's maybe not a book, but i'd like to see some of the great minds in search and related areas come together for a collaborative discussion and paper on how things could progress. The book was very well researched and layed out, yet i still get the impression that noone really knows (or understands) where search may next go. It is said to be only 5% complete, but little is said about the other 95% - thisis where it could be very interesting indeed.

A final point. John mentions in his Epilogue about his clickstream as he tried to understand the meaning begind "immortality" (weird - i did the same search, and got the same results, but with a Wikipedia entry which may have been useful to him). However, i do believe much of what comes from a clickstream is tacit - there is meaning in it, but at the moment it is some collective meaning in the person who mined the links rather than the aggregated content. Enter taghop.

A major reason i started taghop was to capture this kind of tacit information - what meaning was derived from this clickstream - what conclusions can you say and references to the sites you used. As muchas the clickstreams are useful, i don't believe that search technology will be able to derive this kind of human understanding anytime soon.

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