Monday, April 20, 2009

Software agents for virtual browsing and virtual presence

With so many places to go and so many things to see and do on the Web, it is getting almost impossible to keep up with the proliferation of interesting information out there. We need some help. A hefty productivity boost is simply not good enough. We need a lot of help. Browser add-ons, better search engines, and filtering tools are simply not enough. Unfortunately, the next few years holds more of the same.

But, longer term we should finally start to see credible advances in software agent technology which help to extend our own minds so that we can engage in virtual browsing and have a virtual presence on the Web so that we can effectively reach and touch a far broader, deeper, and richer lode of information than we can with personal browsing and our personal presence.

Twitter asks us what we are doing right now, but our online activity and presence with the aid of software agents will be a thousand or ten thousand or even a million or ten million times greater than we can personally achieve today. What are each of us interested in? How about everything?! Why not?

The gradual evolution of the W3C conception of the Semantic Web will eventually reach a critical mass where even relatively dumb software agents can finally appear to behave in a relatively intelligent manner that begins to approximate our own personal activity and personal presence on the Web.

It may take another five to ten years, but the long march in that direction is well underway.

The biggest obstacle right now is not the intelligence of an individual software agent per se, but the need to encode a rich enough density of information in the Semantic Web so that we can realistically develop intelligent software agents that can work with that data. We will also need an infrastructure that mediates between the actual data and the agents.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, April 13, 2009

Using Data Unions as repositories of personal data

In order to facilitate the development of open garden social networks it is necessary to have a safe place for consumers to place their personal data, not just where it can be stored and accessed, but also to control access and to provide a reliable digital identity. Many years ago I thought up a scheme I called a data union, kind of a cross between a data bank and a credit union, which would provide exactly that form of reliable and safe storage for a consumer's personal data. I finally wrote up a rough, summary description back in 2005, but I have not yet pursued the concept any further.

The intention is not so much to store a consumer's bulk data such as documents, photos, media, etc., but simply to store and control the attribute information that might be needed for online transactions and promotion of products and services, such as name, address, phone numbers, social security number, age and birth date, gender, interests, and whatever. The intention was to give the consumer great control over exactly what personal information is available to whomever.

It would be a natural extension to have a data union safety deposit box, which would be a modest amount of digital storage, maybe in the megabytes or a "few" gigabytes, sufficient for documents, valuable images, etc., but not intended for full-blown personal storage.

A data union would be an ideal repository for online digital identity credentials, or at least as a digital identity validation service. For example, the consumer could approve an entity with which they are willing to transact and then the consumer could provide a transaction code to that entity which the data union could verify.

A data union would enable the consumer to be as open and visible and transparent or as closed and hidden and secretive as they wish.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Open garden social networking vs. walled gardens

I am truly tired of social networking sites that are walled gardens, requiring some form of registration and holding my personal data hostage by maintaining it behind the walls of the "walled garden." What is the alternative? Is there an alternative? No, there is no alternative currently, but in the longer term we can hope that developers and entrepreneurs will recognize that open garden networks have distinct advantages over walled gardens.

The esence of an open garden social network is that users maintain their data wherever they want as long as it can be crawled by whatever sites wish to aggregate that data. Since the data is maintained publicly, it can easily be shared by more than one social networking aggregator.

The immediate technical obstacles are that: 1) the average consumer has no obvious public location to store their data and 2) we do not have a technology and public infrastructure in place for consumers to "sign" their personal data to associate it with their digital identity.

Who knows, maybe open garden social networking will take off in another five or ten years.

One of the key benefits of open garden personal data is that it will open up vast new opportunities for innovation in open garden social media since each innovator can piggyback on the existing (in the future) public open garden infrastructure rather than need to go through the time and expense of reinventing the wheel unnecessarily for each new social networking aggregator site.

-- Jack Krupansky