Welcome!

Machine Learning Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Mehdi Daoudi

Related Topics: Machine Learning , Agile Computing

Machine Learning : Article

Smart Browser, Where Art Thou?

In 1998, I got my hands on Mitchell Waldrop's book called 'Complexity'. Ever since, I've been on an amazing journey...

In 1998, I got my hands on Mitchell Waldrop's book called 'Complexity'. Ever since, I've been on an amazing journey discovering one of the most profound developments in modern science. Complexity, or more formally, the study of complex systems, is about unifying themes that run through all modern scientific disciplines including physics, biology, economics, ecology, linguistics, and sociology.

John Holland, one of the fathers of complexity science, coined the term Complex Adaptive Systems to characterize ant colonies, societies, cells and ecosystems. He pointed out that the agents in these systems are adapting to the surrounding environment by building models and by learning. And as Jeff Hawkins summarized in his book 'On Intelligence', the human evolution has been about the progressive invention of various forms of memory. Genes, brains, language and books are all examples of this.

It is obvious that memory plays a critical role in human intellect and human interactions. Yet today our  interactions with computers, and the web in particular, are disappointingly stateless. We keep going back to the Google search box and re-entering the same stuff over and over again. The computer simply has no idea what we are looking for and how to help us find it. Ah, you'd say, but how can it? Don't we need artificial intelligence for that? My claim in this article is that no, we do not. Instead, we need to get inspiration from complexity science and focus on usability and productivity.

Bookmarks are flat, the world is not
Let’s start by looking at the way we currently remember things on the web. When we find something interesting we create a bookmark. If we are web 2.0 savvy we tag it and send it to del.icio.us. Sounds good, right? Not really. Say we find an interesting book on Amazon, a wine to buy for a friend's birthday, or a restaurant that we’d like to visit next Valentines day. The moment we bookmark the site, the rich concept like a book,  a wine or a restaurant instantly disappears. Instead what we have left is the link: a piece of text that will not be meaningful a week from now. Why not? Because we do not think in terms of links. We think in terms of concepts like books, wines and restaurants.

The links that we store as the clues to deal with the massive amount of information out there, are just not enough. We need to capture and store the semantics of a thing that we find interesting. If it is a book, then we need to remember that it is about globalization and that was written by Thomas Friedman. If it is a wine, we need to capture that it was a mix of Petite Syrah and Zinfandel and that it came from Boggle winery in California. If it is a restaurant we need to remember that it is Asian fusion cuisine near Times Square in New York.

There is a minimum set of attributes that actually defines a thing in our brains. Without these attributes, the objects carry no meaning and we can not remember then. By now, as a society, we have accumulated countless of bookmarks that we will never revisit. We also lack the tools to help us clean them out. So we are trapped with collections of information that we can not re-use.

Tagging all the way
It is important to capture the right amount information to create meaning. It is also important to facilitate meaning via a taxonomy. This is a fancy word, but frankly, Yahoo! got it right since its early days. Things and concepts need to be organized, because people thrive on structured information. The problem, however, is that the web directories are static, but our personal taxonomies aren't. Like any complex system, our understanding of the world and our semantics constantly changes.

The recent invention of tagging has the potential to solve the personal taxonomy issue correctly. For managing this evolution tags are much more flexible than folders. For example, if something was  called OLE, we can retag it as ActiveX, but fundamentally it remains the same piece of information. Moving stuff from one folder to another is incredibly painful, but renaming a tag is easy.

To be successful, tagging needs to become pervasive and it needs to be built into the browser.

There is huge productivity gain in that. When we need to find something, we can just think of a tag or concept and instantly narrow our search space from thousands of things down to a handful. And no, it is not the same as folders and bookmarks. With folders, we always focused on the hierarchy and must decide into which folder or sub-folder to save the link.

The truth is that it was always a losing game, because James Gosling's blog could go into either a Java folder, a Blog folder or a Movers and Shakers folder. With tagging, we can quickly find a link to  Gosling's blog just by thinking about any one of these concepts. This is natural, because this how our brain organizes information and it is so fast that we cringe at the thought of expanding yet another folder.

Got memories? Use them wisely.
Suppose now that the browser can capture the information, preserve semantics and offer rich support for tagging. Assume also that the browser lets us painlessly find things that we once liked. What else do we need to have in place to have a more productive online experience? We'd like the browser to use the information that we’ve already stored, to help us find relevant new information.

For example, say we bookmarked the movie 'Memento' on the Internet Movie Database site. Our smart browser created a movie bookmark, stored the director, the names of the stars, the year and the title of the movie. It also helped us tag this movie with 'Crime', 'Drama', 'Mystery' and 'Thriller' tags.

The next day, when we are perusing our movie collection, we decide to rent this movie on Netflix. Instead of going to netflix.com, typing the title of the movie and then selecting it from the list of matches, we just want to be able to right-click on the movie in our organized collection and select 'Rent on Netflix'. Or, when we want to find more movies by the same director, Christopher Nolan, we click and select 'Find more movies by Christopher Nolan'. If we wanted to see a video about the star Carrie-Ann Moss, we should be able to right-click and select 'Show videos with Carrie-Ann Moss on YouTube'.

All of this is possible, because the browser has the concept of a movie and its attributes built right in. This is not artificial intelligence, it is simply hard-coding. But it is the kind of hard-coding that is not wrong, because it leads to a huge productivity boost. In addition to handling the everyday concepts, the  browser also helps the users tag every piece of interesting content, to make our browsing world wonderfully connected.

Because we tagged the movie 'Memento' we can now instantly search for 'Thriller' in books on amazon, find podcasts about 'Crime' on Odeo or find what people recently tagged as 'Drama' on del.icio.us. If we are looking at Madonna's music, we can instantly find her latest album, along with latest pop and dance music. If we are looking at an iPod, we can instantly find other products by Apple, other iPod models and pictures of iPods on Flickr. This is not AI, this is common sense.

Microformats and the long wait for semantic web
We have been talking about this functionality for years. Sir Tim-Berners Lee has been pushing hard for a Semantic Web since the early days of the web. We need semantics on the web, HTML just does not cut it. The loss of structure and semantics caused by HTML leads to a loss of productivity, and, frankly, a waste of our time. How and when do we get to the Semantic Web?

The answers are not so clear. The reality is that we have billions of HTML pages out there. Our best bet right now are microformats, which insert XML-like semantical information into HTML. Microformats are actually the right approach, because they offer us hope and a road to the Semantic Web. It is not a straight road, however. We need more tools that help us extract semantics and annotate existing web content with microformats notation and we need to invent microformats for everyday things like books, movies and wine.

While the industry is struggling to standardize, the end users continue struggling to find and organize their information. The browser needs to step in, in the meantime, and help the users. Building semantics into the browser is a good thing and it is the right thing because every one already uses a browser. We do not need to have a centralized uber-intellect trying to answer all of our questions. Instead we need a personalized browser on every desktop, in every cell phone and pda, focused on saving time for an individual user. This distributed model works well in computers and complex systems.

But we are going to get there, right?
So who is working on making the browser smart? Surprisingly, the heavyweights seem to be on the sidelines. Perhaps the bloody battles of the Netscape vs. Microsoft browser war still bring bitter memories or perhaps something is being build in complete secrecy. Who knows? But we do know that there are people working on the problem in the open. Here are some examples.

First, notably, there is Flock (http://www.flock.com) – the browser for you and your friends. Flock is on a mission to integrate with the best web services to help people better collaborate online. Flock helps us manage our del.icio.us and Shadows bookmarks, work with photos on Flickr and post to various blogs.

Flock's strategy for integrating Web Services involves a so-called topbar, which you can see in Figure 5 above. The topbar changes depending on which service the user is interacting with. For example, the topbar can display Flick photos,Yahoo! maps or News. The jury on the usability of this is still out, but the guys at Flock definitely get the productivity vibe. They work hard to make things simple - that’s for sure.

Another example of building smarts into the browser is the Attention Recorder from Attention Trust (http://www.attentiontrust.org). This non-profit has a lot of prominent web 2.0 people as its members, including Michael Arrington and Stowe Boyd. The organization produced an Attention Recorder extension for Firefox, which simply records each URL that you visit, stamps it with a timestamp and stores it in one of the approved services. The premise and the promise of the Attention Trust organization is to deliver personalization based on the user's attention. Here is the quote from their Principles:

When you pay attention to something (and when you ignore something), data is created. This "attention data" is a valuable resource that reflects your interests, your activities and your values, and it serves as a proxy for your attention.

Right now, this is still in the beta/data collection phase, but it is obviously heading in a very interesting direction.

The last example is a brand new startup called adaptiveblue, of which I am the CEO. The vision of adaptiveblue is to develop new browser technologies that deliver a personalized web experience, enhance productivity and save time. Our first product, the blueorganizer Firefox extension, is now in private beta. The blueorganizer addresses most of the issues discussed in this article. You can learn more about it and try it, by visiting http://www.adaptiveblue.com.

The smart browser circa 2010
We do not know who is going to get there first. It does not matter. What matters is that we can get done what we need to get done, despite the accelerating pace of our society. Increasingly, we spend more time working on the web. Sooner or later, everything will become the web. So it is important, that the one tool that we use to interact with the web, the browser, raises the bar and helps us out.

What we need is for the browser to 'understand' what we are doing and to save us time. To do that, it will have to know about what we have looked for in the past and what we are looking for now. It will need semantics. To achieve these ambitious goals, the next generation of the browsers will need to: 

         Embed the basic everyday life-concepts like books, movies and electronics

         Not lose important information and preserve semantics

         Encourage and simplify tagging of the content

         Continuously build and update the set of user experiences

         Focus on usability and help the user do things faster

         Embrace the design for productivity model

How can we get this smart browser now? We need to ignite another browser war. The smart browser will be born in the battle of web giants and startups. It will be a product of imagination, struggle for standards and long sleepless nights. But at the end of the day, like all great inventions it will be worth it because it will make our life easier.

More Stories By Alex Iskold

Alex Iskold is the Founder and CEO of adaptiveblue (http://www.adaptiveblue.com), where he is developing browser personalization technology. His previous startup, Information Laboratory, created innovative software analysis and visualization tool called Small Worlds. After Information Laboratory was acquired by IBM, Alex worked as the architect of IBM Rational Software Analysis tools. Before starting adaptiveblue, Alex was the Chief Architect at DataSynapse, where he developed GridServer and FabricServer virtualization platforms. He holds M.S. in Computer Science from New York University, where he taught an award-winning software engineering class for undergraduate students. He can be reached at alex.iskold@gmail.com.

Comments (6) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Alex Iskold 05/27/06 12:00:11 PM EDT

Will,

I've been following Flock pretty closely for the past 6 months - you've been doing interesting and important work. Usability is certainly critical and something that can make or break a product like this. I will keep checking it out and and will send you my feedback.

Alex

Alex Iskold 05/27/06 11:56:43 AM EDT

Tony,

Thanks for your comment. It is difficult to cover everything in one article, but I think that google labels are great example of tagging. With respect to where things are stored, I also agree. The profile needs to be stored on the server. The browser needs to fetch this profile from the server and create personalized web experience on the client side.

Alex

Will Pate 05/26/06 03:24:30 AM EDT

Hey Alex,

Thanks for mentioning Flock. Our first beta, Cardinal, will be coming out soon. Our new director of User Experience, Will Tschumy, has been spearheading some major usability improvements that you should see in the release. We're continuing to try and make things simple, as you said. If you check out the beta, we'd love to know what you think.

Cheers,

Will Pate
Community Ambassador, Flock

TonyL 05/25/06 09:52:54 PM EDT

Thanks for the good article on the future of browsers. I was wondering how come you make no mention of gmail's great 'labels' feature which is essentially email tags. Secondly, the gmail tags are stored on the server and not in your browser... is that where we finally want the web (X.0) to go where all the sites we use store the tagging information so we don't have to move our browser profile around from machine to machine we use?

AJAX News Desk 05/25/06 06:19:53 PM EDT

In 1998, I got my hands on Mitchell Waldrop's book called 'Complexity'. Ever since, I've been on an amazing journey discovering one of the most profound developments in modern science. Complexity, or more formally, the study of complex systems, is about unifying themes that run through all modern scientific disciplines including physics, biology, economics, ecology, linguistics, and sociology.

AJAX News Desk 05/25/06 06:11:04 PM EDT

In 1998, I got my hands on Mitchell Waldrop's book called 'Complexity'. Ever since, I've been on an amazing journey discovering one of the most profound developments in modern science. Complexity, or more formally, the study of complex systems, is about unifying themes that run through all modern scientific disciplines including physics, biology, economics, ecology, linguistics, and sociology.

@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dataloop.IO, an innovator in cloud IT-monitoring whose products help organizations save time and money, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Dataloop.IO is an emerging software company on the cutting edge of major IT-infrastructure trends including cloud computing and microservices. The company, founded in the UK but now based in San Fran...
Building a cross-cloud operational model can be a daunting task. Per-cloud silos are not the answer, but neither is a fully generic abstraction plane that strips out capabilities unique to a particular provider. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Wolf, VP & Chief Technology Officer, Global Field & Industry at VMware, will discuss how successful organizations approach cloud operations and management, with insights into where operations should be centralized and when it’s best to decentraliz...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Mike Johnston, an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io, will discuss how to use Kubernetes to setup a SaaS infrastructure for your business. Mike Johnston is an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io with over 12 years of experience designing, deploying, and maintaining server and workstation infrastructure at all scales. He has experience with brick and mortar data centers as well as cloud providers like Digital Ocean, Amazon Web Services, and Rackspace....
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sudarshan Krishnamurthi, a Senior Manager, Business Strategy, at Cisco Systems, will discuss how IT and operational technology (OT) work together, as opposed to being in separate siloes as once was traditional. Attendees will learn how to fully leverage the power of IoT in their organization by bringing the two sides together and bridging the communication gap. He will also look at what good leadership must entail in order to accomplish this, and how IT managers ca...
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Jared Parker, Director of Financial Services at Kinetica, will discuss how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich inf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud computing technologies. Ge...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
Wooed by the promise of faster innovation, lower TCO, and greater agility, businesses of every shape and size have embraced the cloud at every layer of the IT stack – from apps to file sharing to infrastructure. The typical organization currently uses more than a dozen sanctioned cloud apps and will shift more than half of all workloads to the cloud by 2018. Such cloud investments have delivered measurable benefits. But they’ve also resulted in some unintended side-effects: complexity and risk. ...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outlyer, a monitoring service for DevOps and operations teams, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Outlyer is a monitoring service for DevOps and Operations teams running Cloud, SaaS, Microservices and IoT deployments. Designed for today's dynamic environments that need beyond cloud-scale monitoring, we make monitoring effortless so you...
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann and Aruna Ravichandran have been named Co-Chairs of @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo 2017. The @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo Silicon Valley will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Have you ever noticed how some IT people seem to lead successful, rewarding, and satisfying lives and careers, while others struggle? IT author and speaker Don Crawley uncovered the five principles that successful IT people use to build satisfying lives and careers and he shares them in this fast-paced, thought-provoking webinar. You'll learn the importance of striking a balance with technical skills and people skills, challenge your pre-existing ideas about IT customer service, and gain new in...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CrowdReviews.com has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CrowdReviews.com is a transparent online platform for determining which products and services are the best based on the opinion of the crowd. The crowd consists of Internet users that have experienced products and services first-hand and have an interest in letting other potential buyers...
DevOps and microservices are permeating software engineering teams broadly, whether these teams are in pure software shops but happen to run a business, such Uber and Airbnb, or in companies that rely heavily on software to run more traditional business, such as financial firms or high-end manufacturers. Microservices and DevOps have created software development and therefore business speed and agility benefits, but they have also created problems; specifically, they have created software securi...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud taking place June 6-8, 2017, at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long developm...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, I provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading the...
While not quite mainstream yet, WebRTC is starting to gain ground with Carriers, Enterprises and Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) alike. WebRTC makes it easy for developers to add audio and video communications into their applications by using Web browsers as their platform. But like any market, every customer engagement has unique requirements, as well as constraints. And of course, one size does not fit all. In her session at WebRTC Summit, Dr. Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President, Head of C...
In their general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Michael Piccininni, Global Account Manager - Cloud SP at EMC Corporation, and Mike Dietze, Regional Director at Windstream Hosted Solutions, reviewed next generation cloud services, including the Windstream-EMC Tier Storage solutions, and discussed how to increase efficiencies, improve service delivery and enhance corporate cloud solution development. Michael Piccininni is Global Account Manager – Cloud SP at EMC Corporation. He has been engaged in t...