The New Web

This is probably one of the best blogs/columns I read this year. After reading it, I sat thinking about how true it all is. The New Web is just the beginning. Just like the Web before, this will change almost everything we do from getting news to buying stuff to entertaining. For once, it is the participants who decide what the game is. Here are my favorite fragments from this Time’s Person of The Year.

The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter.

Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana?

It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person.

The New Web is taking shape. It will go by different names and evolove into something none of us foresee. You can call it Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 or Semantic Web. But it is not the technology (though that may help). It is the people. Augmented by technology. As Doug Engelbart would say, it is the co-evolution of people and technology. They aument each other.

Wishing you all a very Happy and Prosperous 2007.

It is You

  • You – The Author/Editor/Reader of Wikipedia and millions of wikis around the world
  • You – The Social Bookmarker, the uninhibited knowledge sharer
  • You – The Wonderful Creator and Consumer of countless videos and other content
  • You – The Citizen journalist sharing thoughts and commentaries using millions of blogs
  • You – The Tagomizer, with a few clicks, classifying information and helping countless others
  • You – The Virtual Channel for spreading information and knowledge
  • You – The Collaborator of all those wonderful open source software and free services
  • You – The author of the intercreative Web
  • You – The Student and the Teacher, teaching while learning

It is The Global You. You are a mini-cosmos and embody everything great about humanity. It is You that Time magazine has chosen as the person of the year for 2006. It is so fitting. Just for being there and doing what you do. For just being You.

Happy 2007.

We Need A Different Kind Of News

How come there is so little news about  Seymour Papert, Doug Engelbart and others great people? After hearing about Seymour Papert’s accident, I felt sad. I hope he recovers fast. News about him is not that easy to find.

I am trying to track information about Papert’s recovery and even went and created a Google alert. I got just one alert with some old news in the past three days.

There is something funny about news in this world. We get so much more of what we don’t want. When you really need information we like, things that we care about, we really have to dig for it.


Patti Foley of MIT News Office was kind enough to send me this link to track Seymour Papert’s health updates.

Solr – Open Source Enterprise Search Server

We have been using Lucene for a while. It is embedded in our InfoMinder product (mostly for filtering content). I was happy to find an entire Enterprise Search solution called Solr. It is an Apache project (in incubation) and seems to have some great features.

Solr is a standalone enterprise search server with a web-services like API. You put documents in it (called “indexing”) via XML over HTTP. You query it via HTTP GET and receive XML results.


  • Advanced Full-Text Search Capabilities
  • Optimized for High Volume Web Traffic
  • Standards Based Open Interfaces – XML and HTTP
  • Comprehensive HTML Administration Interfaces
  • Scalability – Efficient Replication to other Solr Search Servers
  • Flexible and Adaptable with XML configuration
  • Extensible Plugin Architecture

There seems to be even hosted solutions for Solr.


What can you do with Solr?

By buying a box and hosting Solr on it, you may have a simple Search Appliance. This can be used by enterprises for document search in the intranet. It can also be used as the backend of a content management system or a wiki. It will be interesting to play with this tool. It is also a potential backend for lots of Search mashups.

Update: 26th Jan 07

Tim’s question about hosting made me go back and search the web. Here are some good resources I found in the process:

Solr: Indexing XML with Lucence

Public Websites using Solr

Accidental Complexity

I just started looking at TurboGears for a web application, we are building. I needed a light-weight framework and since I love Python, I decided to try something with TurboGears. Normally when I try something new, I first try to find a book in O’Reilly’s Safari (for which I have been a subscriber for a few years). There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • A book on Safari is a kind of leading indicator that the technology is going someplace
  • If someone cares enough to write a book (which takes a while), it may be a technology worth looking at

I found one from Prentice-Hall, a publisher of quality books.

The good news is that many, perhaps most, of your problems don’t stem from what Fred Brooks (in his famous essay No Silver Bullet) called the “essential complexity” of the task. Instead, many of your problems are imposed on you by your programming language, your database tools, the nature of web development, and the framework/tools you are currently using.

That might not seem like that’s good news to you. But it is! Nobody can solve the essential problems of your application for you. Those problems are unique to the application you want to write, and there’s no way around solving them yourself. Fortunately, lots of people are working on TurboGears to move all the accidental complexity of your application into the TurboGears framework so that you don’t have to write that code any more. They do this because all of that accidental complexity applies to their projects, too.

When someone promises to take care of the accidental complexity and leave you to deal with the essential complexity of your application, how can you refuse? It is at least worth a try.


Jon Udell’s Move to Microsoft

Wow. This is significant. Jon is one of my favorites in the tech industry. I always cherish our first meeting (when he was at BYTE) and enjoy my conversations with him. His great insights into the technology are always valuable. I hope to see him more since I visit Seattle/Redmond often.

Why Microsoft? Jon says in his blog:

I’m often described as a leading-edge alpha geek, and that’s fair. I am, and probably always will be, a member of that club. But I’m also increasingly interested in reaching out to the mainstream of society.

For those of us in the club, it’s a golden age. With computers and networks and information systems we can invent new things almost as fast as we can think them up. But we’re leaving a lot of folks behind. And I’m not just talking about the digital divide that separates the Internet haves from the have-nots. Even among the haves, the ideas and tools and methods that some of us take for granted haven’t really put down roots in the mainstream.

Over the years I’ve evangelized a bunch of things to the alpha-geek crowd: Internet groupware, blogging, syndication, tagging, web architecture, lightweight integration, microformats, structured search, screencasting, dynamic languages, geographic mapping, random-access audio, and more. There’s a purpose behind all this, and Doug Engelbart saw it very clearly a long time ago. The augmentation of human capability in these sorts of ways isn’t just some kind of geek chic. It’s nothing less than a survival issue for our species. We face some really serious challenges. The only way we’re going to be able to tackle them is to figure out how to work together in shared information spaces. I’ve chosen to align myself with Microsoft because I think it has the scale, the resources, and the business incentive to help me empower a lot of people to learn how to do that.

Jon is one of the most creative people I know. His “light-weight and agile R&D” in technology is what makes him unique. And has the power to really explain complex technology in the simplest possible way. He combines the best of a techie with the best qualities of a good teacher. He will make a great evangelist.

Microsoft is really, really lucky to have him.

Prayers for Seymour Papert

Seymour Papert is one of my heros. His book Mindstorms got me interested in Tools for Learning. I just read in Andy Carvin’s blog that Seymour Papert had an accident and in grave condition. I pray that he has a speedy recovery and gets back to full health.

Latest Update:

25th Dec 06

I just found this on wikipedia – an effort to send virtual flowers to Seymour Papert wishing him speedy recovery.

And here is a virtual get wel l card you can sign.

17th Dec 06

Flown back to Boston

Sunday, Dec 17, 2006, Page 5

It was a terrible coincidence that has focused attention on one of Vietnam’s worst problems: In the past week, motorbikes hit and killed two beloved professors on the streets of Hanoi.

One, the president of Hanoi National University, died a day after he was struck during an afternoon stroll near his home.

The other, a professor emeritus from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, is in a coma after being run down on a busy street in front of his Hanoi hotel.

A chartered plane yesterday flew technology and education expert Seymour Papert, 78, back to Boston, along with family members, a nurse and a neurologist.

Papert, in Hanoi for an international mathematics conference, had been talking to a friend about ways to solve Hanoi’s traffic problems when a speeding motorbike hit him on Dec. 7.

Seymour Papert in a coma after being struck by a motorbike
Top MIT scientist injured in Vietnam Boston Globe
MIT technology expert in coma after Hanoi traffic accident Eyewitness News

Product Fantasies – Part-1

Once in a while I fantasise about products. I know that it shows a sick mind, but what can I do? I do fantasise about other things too but that is a very different topic for a different blog.

So I have been thinking about this product. It may already exist, but if I knew it is there, I would instantly use it. For lack of a better name, let us call it Composite Document Editor, Multi-edit or BuddyEditor (if you want a more friendly name). It has the following features:

1. It can be used in two modes – personal and shared. In personal mode, it stores all the files in an area where I specify – a local disk, an usb drive or an internet drive. In shared mode, I assume it needs to be out on the Internet somewhere so that others  should have access.

2. The editor should let me edit text, put in pictures, some audio, video, a bit of flash animations, some diagrams and pictures.

3. In addition it should allow me to add my own objects – spreadsheets, tables, concept maps and such.

4. It should be possible to save this in some XML or RDF or XTM format (or a combination).

5. The objects in the document should be semantically inter-related (I can specify the semantics and relationships through properties or tagging or whatever mechanism.

6. The editor should have a knowledge of some of the objects I insert – like contacts (FOAF or vCards), Calendars or others , I make up. I am willing to be disciplined about how I specify and define these objects.

7. I want this thingy to have some Wikiness. This allows everything I type to go into a wiki on my system. So when I take a fragment or two and mail it out, the email package gets a copy.

8. I want a simple version,  a subset of Microsoft Word or something like an html editor with a bit more oomph.

9. I should be able to use it as an independent free floating window on my desktop, staying on top all the time (if I choose to), or as a sidebar in my browser.

10. I should be able to drag/drop stuff into it from other documents, web pages and other apps.

11. It should be programmable. I can use some scripting language like Java-script or Python or Ruby.

12. I should be able to automate certain sequence of things like macros in Vi or other powerful editors.

13. It doesn’t have to be one product, but can be different products, but I need only one editing surface.

14. When I leave it and come back, it should have the ability to remember where I was and go there, even to the cursor point.

15. I should be able to mark portions of the document and dispatch it to different destinations – blog, mail, IM or an app.
16. The most useful feature would be to have this thing as my blog editor, my email client editor or a standalone package.

If I have it, I would use it for writing notes, revising them and storing them for personal use. I may even use it for writing some simple documents.

Today I use the following editors:

  • An HTML editor in WordPress (takes care of most of my minimal editing needs but not very extensible)
  • Moin-moin wiki as my daily log, idea log, note taker, resource db (store links and notes)
  • I use Google Scratch pad (part of Google Desktop) as  floating note taker in meetings and while browsing and cut and paste it to my wiki.
  • My email editor (which is the single most heavily used editing surface)
  • Once in a while, I clip images and text from the web using Snag-It
  • Once in a while, I do spend the time, to draw concept maps using an open source concept mapping tool

I would like to combine all my editing needs into one neat little package, I can use everywhere.

If you find anything like this, please let me know.

The Next Decade is the Cambrian Explosion of CyberSpace

From Paul Saffo’s essay on Farewell Information, it’s a Media Age

The next decade is the Cambrian explosion of cyberspace, and like the Cambrian explosion 4 billion years ago, most of these novelties will go extinct as quickly as they arrive, but the minority that survive will have a disproportionate impact on the shape of the web – and our lives – in the years to come.

Paul argues that media is the organizing principle, with a difference.

In the TV era, it was hard, if not impossible to participate, but now in the new world of personal media, the exact reverse it the case: it is hard to merely be a bystander.

On intertwining of the Cyberspace with real space…

Combine wireless connectivity with position awareness, GIS and other sensor technologies, and it is obvious that the symbolic world of cyberspace and the “real” (physical) world will deeply intertwine. In a decade or so, we will take it for granted that there is an invisible cyberspace overlay atop everything we see in the physical world, and we will count on that overlay to help us navigate through life.

Possibility of new applications – endless:

Once your phone or handheld knows where you are and is in constant touch, the possibilities for new and stranger applications is endless.

Shift from product to subscription and the blending of products and services:

Obviously the web’s evolution will have a huge impact on business models and in more than one dimension. But one aspect is especially interesting. The seemingly tired 1980s notion of the “service economy” may come to pass in surprising ways as the web enabled a transformation of products into services.

The subscription model neatly encapsulates what is really going on here. The notion of “service” is as dead because it assumes there is a clear distinction between product and service. In fact, product and service are blending into something new and so deeply integrated that one can no longer tell where the product stops and the service begins.

A shift – From few and large to many and small:

We have replaced the big company monoculture with a new creator-centric business ecology in which the success of the big players is directly dependent on the participation and good will of multitudes of small players.

From consumers to creators:

Blogs are but the most prosaic indicator of this trend, with more interesting examples elsewhere. Once upon a time, encyclopedias were written by professional writers and editors; today they are created by amateurs logging into wikis like Wikipedia.

This essay is almost a year old, but almost reads as if it was written yesterday.