Archive for July, 2010

xWeb

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Naming things is important. It’s easier to say “web 2.0″ than “participative, fragmented content, conversation-driven web”. Unfortunately, names give shape to concepts that are often imprecise. And, once named, marketers, consultants, and buzzwords galore come running to “monetize the synergistic affordances of web 2.0 [or whatever]” Earlier today I caught a twitter post about “crowdsourcing the longtail of training content”. ugh. Sometimes words hurt more than they help.

Still, naming things can help to mark a turning point. Or a good name can draw attention to changes and give them a defined form that can be used to capture significant trends. Web 2.0 was one such turning point. In the field of learning, Stephen Downes’ elearning 2.0 article was another.

We are now at a period where technological advancements are beginning to coalesce into something more definitive than a random collection of innovations like FourSquare, semantic web, and augmented reality.

Steve Wheeler kicked off a conversation last week with his presentation on web 3.0. Downes replied suggesting Web X (for web eXtended) would be a good title. A great term – but unfortunately, it sounds like web ex – the online meeting vendor. We need another term. I’ve been thinking about xWeb. But my reaching for clever words was not in isolation. Today Rita Kopp posted on the eXtended Web. Like the development of the terms PLE, connectivism, elearning 2.0, and even web 2.0, xWeb doesn’t represent novel insights. Instead, it gives form to a topic that many people are grappling to define.

What is the xWeb?

xWeb is the utilization of smart, structured data drawn from our physical and virtual interactions and identities to extend our capacity to be known by others and by systems.

This is an imprecise definition, but it’s a start. Many elements are involved, as xWeb builds on previous iterations of the web/web 2.0. What is unique with xWeb is the way in which it will transform how we work, learn, and interact with each other and with information. At one level, it is a maturation of the web – a natural extension of current trends with technology and the internet. At another level, it involves a negotiation of two key questions that I continue to grapple with:
1. What does technology do better than people?
2. What do people do better than technology?

With xWeb, we are rethinking what we have to do as people and starting to rely on what technology does better than we possibly could.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to capture the nature of the change around technology. I’ve blogged some of those thoughts here (and on elearnspace), included others in presentations and papers, and captured others on delicious.

Some of the recurring themes:
augmentation
aggregation
semantic web
location-based services (geoweb)
data overlay
smart information
visualization
social media
open data and data in general
Internet of things
cloud computing
mobile technologies
Analytics and monitoring

And, to that list, we could add filtering, recommender systems, distributed “like this” tools, annotation tools (diigo), wearable computing, and so on.

These comprise the key themes at the centre of the xWeb:

1. The physical and virtual worlds are blurring – as evidenced by augmented reality browsers (Layar) and services like Yelp and Foursquare
2. Data is being laid on top of physical objects (digital graffiti and contextual/historical overlays as well as the 3D web)
3. Data is becoming more intelligent – rather than simply pointing to other sources (as with urls), data is now beginning to quantify the nature of that connection.
4. Physical objects are projecting their presence into the digital (the internet of things)
5. Data is increasingly stored in the cloud, permitting better access across a range of devices
6. Data is increasingly open, permitting new/novel combinations by end users…Google maps was one of the first examples of the power of openness, many examples have followed (including open street maps)
7. The abundance of open data, new data sources (social media, sensors) and numerous data uses (overlay, digital graffiti, and social networks) sets the stage for advanced analytics about end users or the current state of mind in a society (such as Twitter trends). Connections mean things. As connections between people, people and data, and data/data become more abundant and explicit, we can gain new insights into what people are thinking and how/why they are acting.
8. Smarter data with better analysis sets the stage for personalization and adaptation of content/socialization/product provision.
9. Data+analysis+personalization requires the formation of predictive computation: “because you are in this demographic, like these types of movies, are friends with these people, you will like this particular coffee maker”. Instead of searching for data, data finds us. In a sense, data knows us.