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~~~ Ramana Rao's INFORMATION FLOW ~~~ Issue #8 ~~ Dec 2002 ~~~~~

~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~ December 2002 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~> Radial Thoughts 2002
0. Progress through Knowledge and Understanding
1. Blogs
2. The Semantic Web and Representational Technologies
3. The Duality of Content and Social Network Analysis
4. Web Services
5. Homeland Security and Government Intelligence
6. Beauty and Utility, Anticipation, and Connected Intelligence

~~~ Radial Thoughts 2002 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are only a few grand perspectives that have given meaning
to almost all human lives. Across history. Across the mass of
humanity that now huddles and beats upon the planet. The grand
perspective that has me in its grip is the possibility of
progress through knowledge and understanding.

The simple picture that I return to again and again focuses on a
single person. Indeed, interacting with other people and lots of
material and knowledge stuff in the world. But nevertheless, I
look most closely at the person and see eyes, a brain, and hands.
And an impulse to make sense of the world and express or use the
sense made to better self and do good for others.

A different angle focuses on the inherent social nature of
humans. And though I once anticipated shifting my focus from the
cognitive to the social, now I think it's less a matter of the
distinction cutting, than the perspectives blending in any real
situation of design, business, or social activity. For example:

All of these are about enabling humans to better direct their
individual and collective attention in interacting with
represented knowledge in service of their goals.

A little abstract ... and so I wonder. Do you see what I see in
some the following happenings?

1. Blogs. It seemed impossible to avoid the "Blogs have arrived"
articles. I "blogged" a little myself, alas, just a little. In
penitence, I guess, I offer a Star Tree of around 200 Blog
articles and resources:

~> http://radio.weblogs.com/0109072/
~> http://radio.weblogs.com/0109072/2002/12/24.html
~> http://www.ramanarao.com/lib/blogworld/startree.html
~> http://www.peterme.com/archives/00000222.html

2. The Semantic Web and Representational Technologies. I think
that many things said about the Semantic Web will not turn out as
stated at least in the short term (e.g. agents performing magic
of various kinds for us), but Knowledge Representation is a
powerful idea that cannot be ignored. The Web world is sorting
out the relationship between documents for humans and structures
for machines. Machine processing does not necessarily mean full
automation. Rather, the clearest short-term prospects are
related to augmenting and focusing human activites.

A number of disciplines have explored representational structures
from simple lists to complex formalisms in support of the entire
range from simple human tasks to complete automation. For
example: The Semantic Web activities face a great challenge in
integrating an extensive base of knowledge and practices and a
melange of issues from the practically necessary to the
theoretically thorny. It is not going to be easy to drive this
all toward a coherent standard framework that has any shot of
going mainstream.

~> http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00048144-10D2-1C70-84A9809EC588EF21
~> http://ftrain.com/google_takes_all.html
~> http://www.semanticweb.org/knowmarkup.html

3. The Duality of Content and Social Network Analysis. Both
documents and people are messy things that don't yield to
simplistic reduction. In trade and analyst parlance, documents
are often called "unstructured data." Most of the time, I can
sit quietly, letting pragmatism hold me back from protesting too
much. Other times, I can't help but say: Tsk, tsk, would you
call knowledge work, "unstructured work"? Would you call Robin
Williams, an "unstructured wit"?

Neither documents nor people are unstructured. It's more like
they are hyperstructured. Social hierarchies and Hypertext tends
to focus on the formal or explicit connections, but in fact,
there are many more connections amongst people
and documents that aren't visible or even known.

Discovering such connections opens the door to many new
possibilities. Content analysis is about understanding the
connections within and across documents, while social network
analysis similarly looks at connections across people. Content
analysis technologies for "content mining", "fact extraction" and
"link analysis" are crucial in leading-edge arenas, where
"investigation" is a key act. For example, in government
intelligence and drug discovery.

~> Social Network Analysis

~> Managing the Connected Organization

~> Linked: The New Science of Networks

4. Web Services. There has been lots of talk about Web Services,
Loose Coupling, SOAP vs. Rest. Frankly, some of it seems to
create more confusion than anything else, particularly as big
vendors jockey for position. Yet, I think the situation on Web
Services, in strong contrast to the Semantic Web, is more like it
was with the Web between the release of Mosaic and the Netscape
IPO. Without really explaining, let me offer the following:

Document Web : data : sharing documents
Web Services : program : sharing services
Semantic Web : metadata : sharing knowledge

For Web Services, the goal is clear and simple enough---to build
a distributed software architecture that allows for independent
parties to use and build on the services of others. The basic
protocols and concepts are falling in place, though there are
important issue like security to work out. The basic ingredients
also seem to be in place to allow Web Services to see mainstream
diffusion over the next couple of years. The real issues are
related to the collective learning that will happen as systems
are deployed and the marketplace settles into sustainable
business models.

~> http://www.stencilgroup.com/ideas_scope_200106wsdefined.pdf
~> http://www.webservices.org/index.php/article/articleview/429/1/61/
~> http://www.sandhill.com/enterprise_research.htm
~> http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/webservices/2002/04/12/execreport.html

5. Homeland Security and Government Intelligence. There is no
societal effort with a greater need to figure out how to
effectively use information. The most challenging issues aren't
really about the technology and generally relate to how we can
protect ourselves from one another. The Public from the
Government, Americans from Foreign Terrorist, Law-abiding
Citizins from Criminals. The possibilities for danger, abuse,
and waste abound.

Though I really don't know what to think about all of the debate,
I can not imagine barring the government from pursuit of the
technologies of investigation. It is about figuring out what is
happening before the consequences grow greater and greater at
each stage of escalation. Issues of privacy are well worth the
attention the press and the alert are giving them. At the same
time, I feel we have to start from a platform belief that the
government is fundamentally there to serve the citizenry. We
will never know all that is happening inside the biggest firewall
of all (the ones inside the beltway made of stonewalls and air).
The way to manage potential evils is through legal and political
restrictions. I do not trust that any technological mechanism
can be reliable enough to make abuses impossible.

~> Making the Nation Safer
The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism

~> Darpa Total Information Awareness
[4.5 MB PDF on TIA architecture]

~> Total Information Awareness and Privacy:

6. Beauty and Utility, Anticipation, Coincidences and
Connections. In April, I went to the Computer Human Interaction
conference, once my primary research venue, for the first time in
five years. I gave a plenary at the CHI | AIGA Experience Design
colloquium on Beauty and Utility. One part of the talk examines
the phenomena of caricaturing Jakob. I ran into Jakob Nielsen in
Denver airport on the way to the conference, and this fall I ran
into Don Norman in the Chicago airport, who is working on a book
about Emotion and Design. Seems connected.

~> http://www.ramanarao.com/talks/2002-04-aiga-chi-forum.pdf

~> Don Norman on the value of beauty, fun and pleasure in design

Coincidences have been happening a lot to me this fall. As I
travel, it's hard not to run into somebody I know or somebody
that I need to know. Webster defines coincidence:

"the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by
accident but seem to have some connection"

We tend to be amazed by coincidences. But you can't count the
coincidences that don't happen. So if more coincidences are
happening it must be because there are more coincidences to be
had in the world into which you have put yourself. The occurrences
"seem to have some connection" because you neither quite have or
do not have access to structures that must be in the world.

Another less accidental-seeming happening: In response to the link
to a Phil Agre essay, a reader recommended an essay by Mihai
Nadin, who was a presenter at a conference in Germany years ago.
I had seen the essay a while back, but somehow had moved on
without reading it. Now it seems the perfect time to offer it to
you, along with another coincidental connection I made at the
same conference at which I met Mihai.

~> Anticipation by Mihai Nadin

~> Derrick de Kerckhove

I wish you all a happy new year.
Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.
Copyright (c) 2002 Ramana Rao. All rights reserved.
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