Friday, May 22, 2009

Linking is a Good Thing

Twenty years ago, Oxford University graduate Tim Berners-Lee wrote a memo to his boss while he was working at CERN. This memo was an information management proposal for a distributed hypertext system that we now know of as the World Wide Web. Note the major feature that he describes which was not video blogging nor banner ads nor even online chat. The major feature in this proposal was hypertext or "human-readable information linked together in an unconstrained way."

This past February, the same visionary gave a presentation at the annual TED Conference where he was still advocating for more or less the same thing. This time, instead of web pages linking to each other, the data that feeds web pages should also be available online and link to each other. This is what is called Linked Data.

Linked Data is collectively intelligent. Individuals contribute relationship information when they link. This relationship information aggregates into fantastic models of our world. Models that help researchers, journalists, and ordinary folk span problem domains in order to solve new and ever increasingly complex challenges.

But there are barriers in the adoption of Linked Data whose measure of success and effectiveness will depend directly on its ubiquity. One big problem is that many organizations value their data and quite naturally wish to protect it. Propriety and intellectual capital are profound cultural barriers to linked data that I, for one, do not understand how to overcome. I think that it's going to be a little more of a challenge than simply to ask you to stop it.

Here is another, even bigger, cultural problem to Linked Data. In our current web society where page rank is the coin of the realm, nobody wants to provide links anymore. Linking is passé. When you link out to another site, you contribute to their page rank. If you compete with that site, then that diminishes your page rank. It's some weird mind-share zero sum game. It's the new variation on the tragedy of the commons all over again. You're so protective of your own page rank that you dare not provide outbound links. Thus, the original, fundamental, collectively intelligent value of the World Wide Web is tragically subverted by individual or organizational greed. This mindset has gotten so bad that many sites automatically flag your content as spam if it includes a link in it. I link a lot in my posts so I can tell you from first hand experience that many prejudiced people will dismiss you as a spammer if you provide a link, even if you are linking to something that you have no official relationship with.

Once again, this noble visionary has provided a map to a more intelligent world but we are going to have to revisit our current values in order to completely embrace the gifts that he has given us.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Implementing Virtual Worlds in Business

I occasionally cover stories on enterprise focused virtual worlds technology because I believe that it shows some promise and could, therefore, become a relevant trend. Last week, I attended an event in Second Life hosted by Nokia on this topic.

This event had a question oriented talk show format in which representatives from IBM, Linden Labs, Nokia, and Remedy Communications promoted their respective company's efforts in enterprise virtual worlds.

I hope that I don't have to explain who IBM and Nokia is and why they might be interested in enterprise virtual worlds. IBM hosted their own two day conference on the subject not too long ago. Their representative at this event was Zha Ewry who is a male using a female avatar in a professional role.

Linden Labs is the company behind Second Life. They host a public grid and sell the platform to companies who want a virtual world behind the firewall.

Remedy Communications is a marketing company who specializes in developing marketing collateral in virtual worlds. They have recently become a reseller for Rivers Run Red who competes with Linden Labs in what they brand as the immersive enterprise collaboration space. Their representative at this event had an avatar named Dusan.

Someone from Sun Microsystems was supposed to be here too but never showed up. Considering their recent change in leadership, I can only assume that there was a sudden and last minute change in plans.

One of the biggest things I learned at this event is that there are now several video sites devoted to enterprise virtual worlds. Metanomics takes on an education based approach to fostering corporate appreciation for virtual worlds. will be launching later this summer. They have both an entertainment and a business focus and are a spin off of SLCN. All of these Internet video broadcast sites feature shows exclusively filmed in Second Life.

One of the advantages to a virtual world event is the presence of a back channel in which the attendees can comment amongst themselves while the event is taking place. The presenters get to monitor the back channel in real time. I learned in the back channel about an European conference called MetaMeets about the present and future of virtual worlds (also called the 3D web).

I go into more details on the content of this talk in my blog at the Toolbox for IT Knowledge Sharing Community.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Living in the Facebook Downline

Just ran across this NY Times article on an emerging trend in social networks where Facebook and Twitter are openly and actively encouraging third parties to consume their services and re-purpose their content. The article then covers several startups who are feeding off of this social knowledge ecosystem.

With regards to this ecosystem, what I have seen in the wild are three patterns. A lot of UGC sites now permit you to post non-anonymously via some kind of federated login system. The second pattern is publishing content in multiple places such as micro-blogs on both facebook and twitter. The third pattern is profile synchronization across multiple social networking sites.

With federated login (sometimes called single sign on), you don't have to register at every site that requires registration. Instead, you can participate on a site as a registered user by logging in to an already existing account that you have. Under the covers the system, where you have an account, shares some knowledge about you with the system you are trying to use. Both Microsoft and Sun Microsystems tried their hand at federated login over a decade ago. Both failed miserably. Today's big players at single sign on are Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. Google and Yahoo use the OpenID technology to carry this off while Facebook uses its own Facebook Connect technology.

In the second pattern, you post some content and the system provides a way for you to immediately promote your content on the various popular social networking sites. Originally, this was called Viral Marketing where the system would volunteer to spam your friends if you would let it access the address book or contact lists from your main-stream email accounts. In this iteration, you are presented with options to send facebook notifications or tweets.

The need for the third pattern has risen only very recently as people start spending a lot of time updating their profiles on all of the social networking sites that they use. This trend is still fairly recent but two examples that come to mind are Disqus and Gravatar.

As to the startups referenced in the original NY Times article mentioned in paragraph one here, I would be a little nervous in investing in these companies. After all, they use the facebook and twitter back-ends as their main entre whereas these other companies see it more as the icing on the cake. I mean, what are they going to do if Facebook ever decides to shut down their free API?