Welcome!

AJAX & REA Authors: Sebastian Kruk, RealWire News Distribution, Harald Zeitlhofer

Related Topics: AJAX & REA, Web 2.0

AJAX & REA: 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 [email protected]

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.

Cloud Expo Latest Stories
Every healthy ecosystem is diverse. This is especially true in cloud ecosystems, where portability and interoperability are more important than old enterprise models of proprietary ownership. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Mark Baker, Server Product Manager at Canonical/Ubuntu, will discuss how single vendors used to take the lead in creating and delivering technology, but in a cloud economy, where users want tools of their preference, when and where they need them, it makes no sense.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudian, Inc., the leading provider of hybrid cloud storage solutions, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudian is a Foster City, Calif.-based software company specializing in cloud storage. Cloudian HyperStore® is an S3-compatible cloud object storage platform that enables service providers and enterprises to build reliable, affordable and scalable hybrid cloud storage solutions. Cloudian actively partners with leading cloud computing environments including Amazon Web Services, Citrix Cloud Platform, Apache CloudStack, OpenStack and the vast ecosystem of S3 compatible tools and applications. Cloudian's customers include Vodafone, Nextel, NTT, Nifty, and LunaCloud. The company has additional offices in China and Japan.
The emergence of cloud computing and Big Data warrants a greater role for the PMO to successfully manage enterprise transformation driven by these powerful trends. As the adoption of cloud-based services continues to grow, a governance model is needed to orchestrate enterprise cloud implementations and harness the power of Big Data analytics. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Mahesh Singh, President of BigData, Inc., to discuss how the Enterprise PMO takes center stage not only in developing the appropriate governance model but also in collaborating with key stakeholders to ensure a successful transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TechXtend (formerly Programmer’s Paradise), a leading value-added provider of server and storage virtualization, and r-evolution will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TechXtend (formerly Programmer’s Paradise) is a leading value-added provider of software, systems and solutions for corporations, government organizations, and academic institutions across the United States and Canada. TechXtend is the Exclusive Reseller in the United States for r-evolution
The consumption economy is here and so are cloud applications and solutions that offer more than subscription and flat fee models and at the same time are available on a pure consumption model, which not only reduces IT spend but also lowers infrastructure costs, and offers ease of use and availability. In their session at 15th Cloud Expo, Ermanno Bonifazi, CEO & Founder of Solgenia, and Ian Khan, Global Strategic Positioning & Brand Manager at Solgenia, will discuss this shifting dynamic with an example of a top European Telco provider. Find out how they are leveraging the power of acloud-based consumption model services to offer more value to the mass market and enable a new revenue model that embraces the true meaning of the Third Industrial Revolution.
In today's application economy, enterprise organizations realize that it's their applications that are the heart and soul of their business. If their application users have a bad experience, their revenue and reputation are at stake. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Anand Akela, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Application Performance Management at CA Technologies, will discuss how a user-centric Application Performance Management solution can help inspire your users with every application transaction.
Come learn about what you need to consider when moving your data to the cloud. In her session at 15th Cloud Expo, Skyla Loomis, a Program Director of Cloudant Development at Cloudant, will discuss the security, performance, and operational implications of keeping your data on premise, moving it to the cloud, or taking a hybrid approach. She will use real customer examples to illustrate the tradeoffs, key decision points, and how to be successful with a cloud or hybrid cloud solution.
Cloud computing started a technology revolution; now DevOps is driving that revolution forward. By enabling new approaches to service delivery, cloud and DevOps together are delivering even greater speed, agility, and efficiency. No wonder leading innovators are adopting DevOps and cloud together! In his session at DevOps Summit, Andi Mann, Vice President of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies, will explore the synergies in these two approaches, with practical tips, techniques, research data, war stories, case studies, and recommendations.
The 16th International Cloud Expo announces that its Call for Papers is now open. 16th International Cloud Expo, to be held June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
14th International Cloud Expo, held on June 10–12, 2014 at the Javits Center in New York City, featured three content-packed days with a rich array of sessions about the business and technical value of cloud computing, Internet of Things, Big Data, and DevOps led by exceptional speakers from every sector of the IT ecosystem. The Cloud Expo series is the fastest-growing Enterprise IT event in the past 10 years, devoted to every aspect of delivering massively scalable enterprise IT as a service.
Hardware will never be more valuable than on the day it hits your loading dock. Each day new servers are not deployed to production the business is losing money. While Moore’s Law is typically cited to explain the exponential density growth of chips, a critical consequence of this is rapid depreciation of servers. The hardware for clustered systems (e.g., Hadoop, OpenStack) tends to be significant capital expenses. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Mason Katz, CTO and co-founder of StackIQ, to discuss how infrastructure teams should be aware of the capitalization and depreciation model of these expenses to fully understand when and where automation is critical.
Over the last few years the healthcare ecosystem has revolved around innovations in Electronic Health Record (HER) based systems. This evolution has helped us achieve much desired interoperability. Now the focus is shifting to other equally important aspects – scalability and performance. While applying cloud computing environments to the EHR systems, a special consideration needs to be given to the cloud enablement of Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), i.e., the largest single medical system in the United States.
In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Mark Hinkle, Senior Director, Open Source Solutions at Citrix Systems Inc., will provide overview of the open source software that can be used to deploy and manage a cloud computing environment. He will include information on storage, networking(e.g., OpenDaylight) and compute virtualization (Xen, KVM, LXC) and the orchestration(Apache CloudStack, OpenStack) of the three to build their own cloud services. Speaker Bio: Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Source Solutions, at Citrix Systems Inc. He joined Citrix as a result of their July 2011 acquisition of Cloud.com where he was their Vice President of Community. He is currently responsible for Citrix open source efforts around the open source cloud computing platform, Apache CloudStack and the Xen Hypervisor. Previously he was the VP of Community at Zenoss Inc., a producer of the open source application, server, and network management software, where he grew the Zenoss Core project to over 10...
Most of today’s hardware manufacturers are building servers with at least one SATA Port, but not every systems engineer utilizes them. This is considered a loss in the game of maximizing potential storage space in a fixed unit. The SATADOM Series was created by Innodisk as a high-performance, small form factor boot drive with low power consumption to be plugged into the unused SATA port on your server board as an alternative to hard drive or USB boot-up. Built for 1U systems, this powerful device is smaller than a one dollar coin, and frees up otherwise dead space on your motherboard. To meet the requirements of tomorrow’s cloud hardware, Innodisk invested internal R&D resources to develop our SATA III series of products. The SATA III SATADOM boasts 500/180MBs R/W Speeds respectively, or double R/W Speed of SATA II products.
As more applications and services move "to the cloud" (public or on-premise) cloud environments are increasingly adopting and building out traditional enterprise features. This in turn is enabling and encouraging cloud adoption from enterprise users. In many ways the definition is blurring as features like continuous operation, geo-distribution or on-demand capacity become the norm. NuoDB is involved in both building enterprise software and using enterprise cloud capabilities. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Seth Proctor, CTO at NuoDB, Inc., will discuss the experiences from building, deploying and using enterprise services and suggest some ways to approach moving enterprise applications into a cloud model.