Future of the web

This chart from 2007 shows the trajectory of the web future moving in a straight line from where we are now (or were in 2007) to the future of web 4.0 and beyond. But I don’t think that the future of the web will such a simple story.

Innovation always comes unexpectedly and from the periphery. What we know will be changed by the next wave of innovation just as our world was changed by web 2.0 and its associated new business models.

What is termed web 3.0 is pretty much here already and is merely being tweaked. But it is the next generation of web that is up for grabs. I’m watching out for the next disruptor. It might not even be a cutting edge technology. Instead it might be an existing technology used in a new way or in a new context. Remember that mobile phone text messaging was old technology that resonated in a new way with younger mobile phone users and generated an entirely new business model.

None of us know what the next generation of the web holds. But we do know that work being done now in artificial intelligence, new interfaces (like Microsoft Surface), wearable computing and semantic computing are all possibilities.

One thing is certain, the next big thing will surprise us in one way or another. Once it is here it will seem obvious, but as usual it isn’t obvious until it gets here. That is the way of the future.

News is really changing

There has been much talk of the death of mainstream media and the impact of the blogosphere on news gathering and journalism.  People have pontificated long and loud about the rise of citizen journalism.

But it seems that many have failed to see the breadth of this change. Thus not only is how we collect and disseminate news changing – from print newspapers and magazines to other kinds of news gatherers like citizen journalists and bloggers.  We are also seeing an evolution in the way that mainstream media can be consumed and brought together with other non-traditional news sources.

people-browsr.jpgA really interesting example of this changing nature of visualisation of mainstream news and the ability to link it to informal kinds of news (like microblogging) is Peoplebrowsr.

This application is still in alpha, and it is one of the more interesting ones that I’ve seen in the past few months.

While it has a bunch of really neat features that my inner geek loves,  there is one that has really got me thinking.  It is the one where you can click on a mainstream news source – like CNN – and then click on keywords in the newsfeed to find out what people are saying about that keyword on Twitter. This is a really revolutionary capability. It means we can move from formal news media sources to informal discussions about the news within a single interface.  Further we can then interact directly with those informal discussions.

In the screenshot below is the CNN news feed on the left and then upon clicking the phrase “John Updike” the panel on the right shows the tweets on that phrase.

Here we are seeing social computing technology being used to mashup mainstream media with information about social news in a new way.

And so the news revolution continues…


Hard work beats talent

I have seen many young, fit, intelligent people with a fine education, sound values and good family behind them. But they do not realise that what they make of them every day from now is up to them.

Many people with those advantages do nothing with their lives. It is up to each of us to choose every day to do something with our life. You do not need a grand plan – very few people actually have these.

Whatever it is you do, you need to work hard at it and be enthusiastic. Find some things in your life that you have a passion for, and don’t forget, that on your deathbed, you will never wish to have spent more time at work.

“Press on: nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Calvin Coolidge (1872 – 1933)

Stages in the Learning Journey

Speaking with friends who are educators of the young one, thing has become apparent. The idea that learning is achieved by building foundations or layers of knowledge is passe. The MTV generation want their learning pre-packaged and easily digested. No more learning the basics and practising them to become expert and then moving on to the next stage. The idea that one commences by becoming an apprentice and then progressing to journeyman and on to a master is no longer in favour.

In fact, our educational institutions are loathe to say that some people are cleverer or more highly skilled than others. Heaven forbid we should damage a fragile ego by telling a person the truth about their capabilities! Students are no longer assessed objectively against their peers. Instead, all students are held to be equal, in spite of manifest differences in outcomes and abilities. This reduction of all to the level of mediocrity means that it is harder than ever to find people who excel in technical areas.

One friend who teaches computer science in high school noted recently that students think that just because they know how to build a web page or load some photos on a web site that they know a lot about technology. But he argues, they do not know how a computer works, they do not know how to write programs, they do not understand the fundamentals of computing. In effect, they are users of a utility in the same way I am when I turn on a light. I do not know how it happens, the light just works when I flick the switch. Now this is not a bad thing. Not everyone in the world needs to know about how the utility of electrical lighting is made and delivered. It is just important that one understands the limits of one’s own knowledge and capabilities.

To attain mastery in technical domains requires many years of learning the craft, not just book knowledge but also hands on experience. As noted recently in a computer magazine:

“Here is the message to all aspiring security experts out there: You must first master the craft in the area that inspires you, whether that’s networks, operating systems, databases, languages, whatever. Do your apprenticeship, get to journeyman level, and be excellent. This may take a few years. Along the way, read the security books, grasp the concepts. But there are no shortcuts if you want the credibility that is so necessary to make a positive difference in this world.”

(Peter H. Gregory, Computerworld 22 Sep 2004)

This advice is not only appropriate for security practitioners, but for all technologists. You need to live and breathe the technology for quite a while to attain the kind of tacit knowledge required to become expert.

In my experience, during times of crisis the gut feeling of of an ‘expert’ is worth 100-times the book learning of the less experienced. We need to respect the wisdom and knowledge of those technologists who have invested the effort (not just time served) to master their knowledge domain.

The coming integration of IT and biotechnology …

I just saw Susan Greenfield – a.k.a. Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield – on a television chat show. She is a pioneering scientist, entrepreneur, communicator of science, policy adviser, and an extremely interesting presenter of complex ideas. She seems to be intelligent, vivacious and wears makeup and nice clothes. All of this must really annoy many of her peers amongst the male scientists in the UK (especially the grumpy older ones).

Her most recent book is Tomorrow’s People (ISBN: 0713996315 ), and in it she warns that the coming integration of IT and biotechnology will have such a profound effect on the way we think and live that “we are standing on the brink of a mind makeover more cataclysmic that anything in our history.”

This is an area that will confront each of us in the near future. The technology to integrate bio-technology into human beings already exists and is near to commercialisation. We are already microchipping our pets, how long until someone says we should do it for children? It will seem like a good idea at the time. But it really is the thin end of the wedge. Prof. Greenfield is right, we do need to give serious consideration to how we want to use this technology. Otherwise it will change our lives profoundly in ways we may not like.

2004 Commencement Yale Class Day Speech, by Ken Burns

Ken Burns makes some excellent points in this speech, I’ve picked out some highlights – click here to see the entire text (in PDF).

Now more than ever we in the western world should heed speakers like this. Ken speaks of a United States that has inspired many over the years. It would be a pity to see the US become that which it hates, forgetting it’s history and what has made it a great nation.

Nothing could be more dangerous than this arrogant belief, brought on and amplified as it is by a complete lack of historical awareness among us, and further reinforced by a modern media, cloaked in democratic slogans, but dedicated to the most stultifying kind of consumer existence, convincing us to worship gods of commerce and money and selfish advancement above all else.

Now we are poised to fight that war again, and perhaps again and again, this time culturally, where the threat is fundamentalism wherever it raises its intolerant head. The casualties this time will be our sense of common heritage, our sense of humor, our sense of balance and cohesion. The ultimate stakes, though, are just as great as those Abraham Lincoln faced–the Union and very survival of our country.
* * * * *
So, I ask those of you graduating tomorrow, male or female, black or white or brown or yellow, young or old, straight or gay, to become soldiers in a new Union Army, an army dedicated to the preservation of this country’s great ideals, a vanguard against this new separatism and disunion, a vanguard against those who, in the name of our great democracy, have managed to diminish it.
* * * * *
So what do we make of all this? Let me speak directly to the graduating class. (Watch out, here comes the advice.)

As you pursue your goals in life, that is to say your future, pursue your past. Let it be your guide. Insist on having a past and then you will have a future.

Do not descend too deeply into specialism in your work. Educate all your parts. You will be healthier. Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism.

Don’t confuse success with excellence. The poet Robert Penn Warren, who taught here at Yale for many years, once told me that “careerism is death.”

Travel. Do not get stuck in one place. Visit Yellowstone or Yosemite or Appomattox, where our country really came together. Whatever you do, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Listen to jazz music, the only art form Americans have ever invented, and a painless way, Wynton Marsalis reminds us, “of understanding ourselves.”

Give up addictions. Try brushing your teeth tonight with the other hand. Try even remembering what I just asked you.

Insist on heroes. And be one.

Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all — not the car, not the TV, not the computer, I promise.

Write: write letters. Keep journals. Besides your children, there is no surer way of achieving immortality. Remember, too, there is nothing more incredible than being a witness to history.

Serve your country. Insist that we fight the right wars. Convince your government that the real threat comes from within, as Lincoln said. Governments always forget that. Do not let your government outsource honesty, transparency, or candor. Do not let your government outsource democracy. Steel yourselves. Steel yourselves. Your generation will have to repair this damage. And it will not be easy.

Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country — they just make our country worth defending.

Do only, as Emerson suggests, whatever “inly rejoices.” Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, “God in us.” Remember, most of all, that only love multiplies.
Ken Burns – Walpole, New Hampshire

Yale Office of Public Affairs

Australia is a Broadband Backwater

Daniel’s points are all too true! Australia is a broadband backwater and it is all due to the incompetence of Telstra. They have a number of practices that have worked against take-up of these solutions. So much for the clever country?

Daniels Blog:

It says that by 2008 only 13% of Australians will have broadband.
It’s not surprising really, Telstra can’t even ADSL enable my 3 year old estate that is less than 20 km from the CBD of a major city. The report by IDC sites a service in France: ‘consumers could get a bundled service offering free phone calls, 2Mbps ADSL and TV ‘for about a third of the price of what you could get in Australia’

I think the root of the problem is simply Telstra. It should never have been privatized, now instead of providing a community service, it is concerned with meeting shareholders expectations. Instead of ADSL enabling my housing estate which would have taken a long time to repay the outlay, Telstra opt for the minimum requirement of just ensuring basic telephone services.

Most Australian’s don’t really understand why geeks and IT professionals hate Telstra so much, some of our friends think that I’m being totally unreasonable when I say that Telstra has made Australia a primitive technological nation. What these people don’t usually see is the high cost of basic services (how often does Telstra put up your phone bill?), the late adoption of services and poor customer service. “