Blogs for Conversations

Curt Siffert writes about something I echo:

I want meta-conversations that we can redirect to our blogs on demand. When I write a post that is topical in some way, I want to ping a conversation about that topic. (We’ve got topicexchange, but that isn’t a collection of conversations; it’s a collection of blog entries designed to elicit conversation.) The conversation is going on before I ping to it, and after. But when my blog entry pings the conversation, that ping would be considered part of the conversation. Everyone participating in the conversation would see that ping and be able to read my blog entry. And then the best part of it would be that any further conversation following up to that ping would automatically be showing on the comments section of my blog entry.

What does that mean? It means that you don’t necessarily have to be reading my weblog in order to post a comment to it. It also means that people who read that entry out of my built-in-audience can find my weblog entry and the discussion it inspires just by reading my weblog; and commenting on it will be also sent to the meta-conversation and read by a much wider audience of people.

Bosak on UBL

UBL stands for Universal Business Language. Jon Bosak is known as “the father of XML.” His vision on how XML can serve as the base for business interactions:

Bosak suggests replacing traditional EDI with a multi-layer package, built on standards at all levels:

  • transport – the Internet
  • a document-centric architecture – XML
  • royalty-free XML B2B tag set – UBL
  • royalty-free B2B infrastructure – ebXML
  • royalty-free office productivity format – OpenOffice
  • open-source software

    Bosak described the combination of open source software and open standards as critical to making this project feasible – “Open source may be the way to get this off the ground, enabling later commercial possibilities.”

    Bosak noted several key advantages of ebXML for open source development, particularly its exemption from an IBM patent on electronic trading partner agreements, courtesy of the UN/CEFACT and OASIS involvement in the development process. Combined with the similarly royalty-free Universal Business Language (UBL), a vocabulary for describing business documents, developers can create standard business communications systems without concerns over intellectual property. Some tools, notably freebxml, are already available.

    These low-cost systems can then make it possible for small businesses to join global trade networks and their cheaper transaction costs without the up-front investment of EDI. Bosak hopes that a more open global trading network will mean a more equitable globe, bringing SGML’s social values to many more people than ever worked with SGML.

  • This is the approach we need to take for our eBusiness suite in Emergic.

    Making Computers Understand

    Washington Post has a story on Eli Abir and his company, Meaningful Machines, and the progress being made in enabling computers to decipher the meaining of sentences.

    Abir’s challenge — and that of computer science — is how to help machines “understand” context in human language, to get around the ambiguity created when words mean different things depending on usage. “Bar” means something different when we say “the corner bar” than when we say “she raised the bar” or “he passed the bar.”

    There have been several approaches to helping computers grasp those distinctions. One is a “grammatical” method that tries to tag every word and apply language rules. Another is a statistical system that makes word-to-word comparisons in previously translated text and then consults the matches later to calculate probable meanings when it encounters each word again in untranslated text.

    Abir’s approach involves a variation of the second method. His company spent last year encoding his ideas into software algorithms that perform novel forms of pattern analysis that rely on phrases — rather than words — as the core unit of meaning.

    Abir’s system analyzes huge amounts of previously translated text — such as United Nations documents — and breaks matching sentences from different languages into paired fragments or phrases, storing them in a database. It also collects information about words that frequently turn up on either side of those phrases, in “overlapping” sentence fragments.

    For example, Abir’s algorithm identifies and stores recurring associations or fragments such as “baseball player,” “baseball game” and “autographed baseball.” It then looks at words on either side of those fragments — “threw” or “won” — and stores those language pairs in the database, too. That creates a kind of jigsaw puzzle, which it uses to disassemble sentences in one language and reassemble them in another.

    Technology’s Future

    Has Technology Lost Its ‘Special’ Status is the question being asked by many, including NYTimes’ Steve Lohr.

    The question is stirring a lively debate among industry analysts, investors and economists. The answer will be important not only for technology companies, but for the economy as a whole. The industry represents about 10 percent of the economy and roughly 60 percent of investment in the kinds of equipment that companies buy to run their businesses.

    Since the 1960’s, spending on information technology computer hardware, software and services has on average increased at two to three times the rate of economic growth, said John Gantz, director of research for IDC, a technology research firm. So the issue is whether that multiplier will prove to be alive and well in the future.

    That assumption about technology’s special role is questioned in a provocative article this month in The Harvard Business Review, titled “IT Doesn’t Matter.” The article asserts that information technology, or I.T. for short, is inevitably headed in the same direction as the railroads, the telegraph, electricity and the internal combustion engine becoming, in economic terms, just ordinary factors of production, or “commodity inputs.”

    “From a strategic standpoint, they became invisible; they no longer mattered,” Nicholas G. Carr, editor at large of The Harvard Business Review, wrote in the article. “That is exactly what is happening to information technology today.”

    That realization, according to some analysts, will mean a slower rate of investment in technology over the long term more in line with the pace of economic growth instead of double or triple it. “That’s the debate is technology just another crummy factor of production dressed up in new clothes or is it really an agent of continuing change in the way we do business and communicate?” said Stephen S. Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley.

    Mr. Roach, a skeptic on technology, added, “My view is that it is a modern-day version of a factor of production.”

    The present markets for technology may be maturing, but the new markets for technology are just emerging. They are in the consumers and SMEs in the world’s developing countries, who have so far been left out of the value chain. Their lower purchasing power is made up by their numbers. They represent the next big opportunity for tech companies, but few are waking up to this “invisible” market.

    Intel’s Communications Bet

    WSJ reports on Intel’s 7-year scenario for technology growth:

    Intel President Paul Otellini predicted that 1.5 billion personal computers by 2010 will have wired or wireless broadband Internet connections. By the same year, the industry will have shipped 2.5 billion portable phones with computing performance beyond today’s fastest personal computers, he predicted.

    Mr. Otellini said the industry already has blown past an earlier target, set four years ago by Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett, of one billion cellular handsets and one billion “connected” computers, though few boast broadband speed.

    Communications has become an Intel mantra, in part because the company already accounts for most of the microprocessor chips that serve as brains in desktop and portable computers. The most astonishing growth, the company says, is in the wireless-networking technology known as Wi-Fi — the centerpiece of Centrino, a bundle of chips for laptop computers that Intel has been marketing heavily.

    While public “hotspots” offering Wi-Fi service are expected to double to 100,000 in 2004, sales of devices called access points to offer such capabilities for consumers and businesses should grow to 20 million from roughly 10 million during the same period, analysts estimate. That “disconnect” in projected growth rates, Mr. Otellini said, points to a startling spread of Wi-Fi in homes and offices.
    Growth in advanced phones, he argued, also will drive phone companies to install massive numbers of server systems for sending messages and images to those devices.

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    Fuel Cells

    The Economist writes:

    Miniature fuel cells, which generate electricity by reacting hydrogen with oxygen, can do much better than batteries – at least in a laboratory. The question is whether they can ever do so in the real world.

    The key to making fuel cells small is to replace the hydrogenor, rather, to deliver it in a non-gaseous form, since it is hardly practical to fit portable electronic devices with pressurised cylinders. In the long run, there may be ways round this, for instance by absorbing the gas in metal hydrides or carbon nanotubes. But in the short term the solution seems to be to deliver the hydrogen as part of a hydrogen-rich compound, such as methanol. This is a liquid, which means it is easy to handle. Sachets of methanol fuel, purchased at newspaper kiosks, rather like refills for cigarette lighters, could be inserted with little fuss into electronic devices.

    Fuel cells could be the way to meet the increasing power requirements of laptop computers and other portable devices in the future.


    Heath Row describes an interesting idea:

    What I would like to be able to do is create a Web page adjacent to my blog that compiles ongoing posts from blogs that I frequent — something akin to LiveJournal’s Friends post aggregator, which handles LiveJournal posts from people you link to as friends as well as outside RSS feeds… or Stephen Downe’s Edu_RSS, which collects feeds from sites that he’s identified as appropriate for that aggregation page.

    Think blogroll or bookmarks, only with recent posts all on the same page, including links back to the original, independent blogs. You could add and remove sites that are part of the syndicated compilation as your reading roster changes, and posts would be displayed in chronological order regardless of their source sites.

    Think of this as a parallel blog page, a reflection of your blog, a “MirrorBlog”. We are doing something like this in BlogStreet.

    TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Building Blocks: Blogs (Part 2)

    Steven Johnson built on the thinking of using blogs for information management further in the Salon article of May 2002:

    The beautiful thing about most information captured by the bloggers is that it has an extensive shelf life. The problem is that it’s being featured on a rotating shelfI don’t always want to know what ber-blogger Jason Kottke happens to be thinking about this morning — I want to know what he thinks about the page I’m currently reading, or the paragraph I just wrote. If I stumble across a page 10 weeks after Jason wrote up a description of it on, his description is just as valuable to me as it was 10 weeks before — in fact, it’s probably more valuable, because I’ve come across the page on my own personal journey. But as it stands now, to figure out if Jason’s referenced the page I have to copy the URL and paste it into the search engine on If I’ve got 20 or 30 bloggers that I’m following, I’ve got to paste that URL into 20 separate input fields.

    But the bloggers needn’t be anchored to the headline-news mentality. Think of them as less like a newspaper substitute and more a kind of guardian angel, hovering over your shoulder as you surf. Punch up a URL and if Jason, or Andrew Sullivan, or Sopsy has an opinion about that page, you see their comments in a floating window alongside your main browser window. It’s a simple enough trick: Sites like Blogdex are already tracking blog-borne references to different URLs. All your browser would have to do is send an additional request to a database of blogged URLs anytime you pulled up a page: If there’s a match — if one of the bloggers you’re following has referenced the URL — their comments get sent back to your machine and appear in the floating palette.

    You define a few “guardian” Bloggers, perhaps by checking a box when you visit their site. You also instruct your software to watch the activity on sites maintained by “friends” of those key bloggers. You tell the software that you want a medium level of intrusiveness: In other words, you want the system to point out useful information to you, but you don’t want it constantly bombarding you with data at every turn. And then you start using your computer as you normally do: surfing, writing e-mail, drafting Word documents.

    The first steps in this direction are already being taken by blog analysis sites like Blogdex, Daypop, Feedster,Technorati and our own BlogStreet. No single one of them has the answer, but it is possible, for example, to combine BlogStreets neighbourhood analysis tool to limit the search space on Google to a specified list of blogs. Or better still, imagine if one of these sites can start building up a database of blog posts being done by the bloggers. That could provide a central repository of blog posts to be searched with a neighbourhood as filter. This could even be extended to a peer-to-peer approach if the various blog tools offered a web service via XML and SOAP to offer a search for a specific word or phrase and returned the results in a manner which could be aggregated. To make this even more effective, one could even set up an RSS feed on specific search terms for a blog.

    The point is that the blogging ecosystem is now ripe for harvesting. Over the past two years, there has been a critical mass of bloggers who have mapped out the information space. Even as they have done their work (and continue to do it) individually, the tools and technologies are now available to provide each of us personalized maps and paths to navigate the world of information.

    Next Week: Constructing the Memex (continued)

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