The Indieweb – I’m taking control

Being a control freak I’ve never been that comfortable with with the rise of Facebook and the likes of Twitter, Google and a host of other companies that provide really useful services.  Being ‘old’ skool the only way to publish anything online (outside of BB’s) was to own your own domain.

There are more than enough reasons for anyone to have a concern about using these easy sites not least the question about who really owns your data, that stuff you write and post, I mean … did you really read the terms and cons (pun intended) before you signed up and started writing and sharing your pictures, photos and life with the world?

The Indieweb movement is about empowering you, me and others to take back control.

Whatever the reason, you’re done with sharecropping your content, your identity, your self.

Our content is becoming more important, and sometimes even critical to our lives. It is not secure in the hands of random ephemeral startups or big silos. We should be the holders of our own data.

So .. IF I’ve got this right this is my first article that will get POSSE’d and be capable of having you dear reader comment from where you read it and those comments appear back here on MY blog.

Lot’s more to learn, Lot’s to play with and many happy/frustrating hours tinkering ahead.  Stay tuned and join in the fun.

Semantic search & social research is affecting your business

In a web sense semantic means nothing more than getting machines talking to one another and understanding what is being ‘said’, which when applied to ecommerce gives us efficiencies and options that lead to (among other things) improved security and cost savings or/and better profits.  In other words. lots of improvements in lots of places but many just see or focus on the benefits to search and being found in search engines (SEO).

There’s lots of technical stuff and strange language linked with the ongoing research and development behind and underpinning ‘semantic’ technologies. You’ll obviously want to see what they can do for you (see the link near the foot of the this article) but a quick jargon free perspective to give you a slightly better understanding won’t hurt.

Web semantics in part has it’s roots in the quest for artificial intelligence.  Science has effectively been teaching computers to understand things and the meaning of things. And to be fair science is still trying to get it right.  But we have come a long long way though in 40 odd years.  Even in just the last three.

What classes as semantic or ecommerce research?

For one example, not so long ago, back in April, artificial intelligence researchers working on learning theory were trying to teach computers about regret. They

“think that by teaching computers to reduce regret, they would essentially be teaching them to evaluate all the relevant variables surrounding an outcome in advance. This would allow them to do things more efficiently …
Algorithms that can learn in real time and produce results with the least “regret”…”

What’s that got to do with search and commerce?

Many people with an online business presence don’t give a second thought to how things are stored and found on the web, they just ‘know’ their business needs to be found on Google and preferably on the first page, at the top.

Business owners might associate with the word ‘algorithms’ or updates as something that affects their search rankings or like-ability in search results pages. Some may even associate them with mobile and social networks, social media or all of the other very broad customer communication channels in general. Just think all things digital, getting data from A to B, how can it be filtered and by who?

Will current SEO marketing practices suffer search regret soon?
Can smart thinking solve the being found problem or ease the blow?

In this video Google talk about some of the improvements to its search algorithm.  Read on after watching for something they don’t tell you.

It may have seemed obscure at first, reading about ‘teaching computers regret’ while trying to explain how ‘semantic technologies‘ will help your business.  Consider then just for a moment another headline back in April (2011);

Working with funding from Google. Tel Aviv University hope to make computers understand what it’s like to pursue an outcome only to be disappointed

That headline came from Programming Regret for Google .  (How popular was that news item? as far as I can see that page was only bookmarked in delicious 3 times – not a great indicator I know but all will become clear)

Search, like semantic development, changes daily – how often may surprise you (if you didn’t watch the video above).  At the same time in April as the press release above, Scott Huffman and Amit Singhal of Google were interviewed by Glenn Chapman (AFP), there may be some posturing in the interview but a couple of bites are

“At any given time, some percentage of our users is actually seeing experiments,”

Said Huffman.

while Singhal said

“Google’s search is tweaked, on average, twice in a working day.” “We just do it in small steps that go unnoticed.”

What I found intriguing was there was no mention of the regret algorithm in that “Google hones search edge to stay sharp“ interview.  In some respects with hindsight the interview plate had potatoes but no meat.  Incidentally  there were almost 200% more (8) Delicious bookmarks for the AFP Google interview than the ‘real news’ that day.

So about now a good question might be to ask “what would Google want you (or it) to regret?”

A better question might be

“What am I doing right already and what will I want (or need) to change soon?”

These search and find algorithms or filters that get used for displaying search results will have origins in the same realm as Natural Language Processing or NLP.  Along side remember,  if you work with The Web rather than trying to beat the search engines everyone benefits.

Just as there are new search algorithms there are also new web and business disciplines that have emerged and are evolving at a rapid pace because they are so effective at getting results in today’s web of data.   Based on years of computational research and thinking these disciplines will or already have paths or routes of say least resistance or best effect mapped into a ‘semantic algorithm‘.  No, this doesn’t mean the computers can’t do it all for you but you can make it simpler, better and more efficient for yourself and your business.

Here’s the link I mentioned earlier – The team over at Network Empire have pulled the pieces together, there is a smarter semantic way of building a web presence that works the web for you. You’ll find the answers you’ve been looking for (and more) on the inside.

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Long Live The Web of Linked Data

We are all dependent on the right data getting to the right place at the right time.  There can’t be a person on the planet who hasn’t been affected by computers.

The internet as we know it and the things we can do with it (or on it) are only limited by the imagination (and funding).  People will still want to consume data, people will still need services, want to buy or sell things and be entertained.  People want to feel safe.  People like to trust and trust is something that is built.

To try and help you understand the bigger picture you need to think of the internet and the web as different things.  For a moment of light relief  to explain how this change is starting to help one generation  ‘Semantic Web vs Web 20‘ has to be seen.  (what was Web 0.1 ? then)

The Internet is what we’ve had the Web is what comes next.

It comes as a shock to most to find out that the internet isn’t as clever as they thought it was.  Everyone assumed that because all of these pages linked to other pages they liked or they could watch videos on, or read etc. etc. that this was the ‘intelligence‘ of computers or programs.   What we had was what people created for us to use based on what they had available 20 years ago.

In laymans terms “20 years in to a 50 year plan of development, computers can finally understand things”.  Read in: now watch what you can do help make it better.

Many, in all walks of life , forget that the web was invented by someone. His name is Tim Berners-Lee and the reason we have the web and it’s guiding principles need to be understood by everyone who uses it.  The web embraces us all and reading recent comments on the 20th birthday of the web

The Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity—and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending

highlighted facts and concerns we all share, Long Live The Web makes compelling reading. As he says “”Why should you care? Because the Web is yours.”

Look at it from their map of the world.

The public and private sector share the same goals and networks.  If everyone is heading down the same technology improvement path isn’t it great to know that all computers can speak a common language.  Now we know that, we can start asking for things and contributing to it’s improvement.

With the end line “invest your way out“, the comments of Craig Barrett are a wonderful insight into business and how our lives and our existence are shaped by the cogs of the investment wheel. “Technology Only Moves Forward” was part of a day of talks when the Irish Technology Leadership Group visited Ireland last year.

There are some great key takeaways in pointing the way forward by Tom Murphy.  The two final quotes well worth taking on board.

It’s always been about making life better

There has always been discussion and development and it has to an extent been hindered by what to call it, the technology. Jamie Forrest says in ‘The Next Phase is Not Web 3.0’ that it is all about context that we won’t call it web 3.0.

Talk to the man on the street about The Semantic Web and eyes glaze over.  To be fair Where the semantic web stumbled, linked data will succeed is excellent but even linked data isn’t understood throughout the supply chain. What can’t be argued is

Linked data is, at last, bringing the discussion around to the user. The consumer “end” trumps the semantic “means.”

What do people need?

Understanding.  As a rough guess I’d say 99.9% of the world population don’t have a clue about the possibilities of what the web can do for them now that ‘computers’ can ‘understand’ ‘things’.  If it helps to create a mental time line of Win3.1, 95 & 98, XP, Vista, 7  so they can relate to ongoing improvements,  it’s a good place to start.

Add to that an image of the earliest telephone and compare to what they have in their hand today.

To make all of this existing infrastructure work and cope with increase in demand means everyone follows the same basic open standards which are free to use, anyone can contribute to a common improvement.  With all sectors inventing the same wheel rolling down the same path using the same data for the benefit of people, people are concerned about security.

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I want a button to press that does it all for me.

Got your coffee made?

As promised yesterday – 1996 to now – a cuppa coffee version of the history of how  (I hope)

As the early web technologies have improved, innovation has flourished from open source academic roots.  Many of the common web tools people use daily like email, social networks and online shopping all have origins in shared core open principles and material.  There are now lots of programmes and apps that all (or should) essentially help do the same thing.  Make our lives easier or to provide fun or give us more time to do the important things.

a chart to describe the search engine market
Image via Wikipedia

So here’s the odd thing (at least one of them) – Not being able to find something in the web.

The graph here shows The share of  search volumes the bigger search engines had back in 2008.  There was though a time when Google didn’t exist and the corresponding intelligence of the day was which companies were dominant players based on giving access to the internet,  Internet Service Provision.  They controlled what they let you see on of the internet.  AOL has a huge market share.

I remember in the mid 90’s finally getting my computer  ‘online’ using a 27k modem only to be disappointed because I couldn’t find anything as you were stuck with what your ISP had available and search engine research technology was just about in nappies.   I also remember the day I was with my mate Steve and ‘the news’ said we could finally go somewhere to find something … only there was nothing there to see …  as far as the web was concerned (according to that search engine) it didn’t even have a reference to the town I lived in … and it should have! I’d got two web pages that mentioned it 🙂  It was funny though when I think back but the question even then was how do we get our sites to show up.  In the early days it really wasn’t a problem 🙂

The real value of deep research depends on how much you need an answer the works.

During one of my first ‘proper paid projects’ I was asked to add a search engine to a website so people who did eventually find the site could then find what they were looking for.  It was a novel but logical idea given that many customers at the time wanted one or two pages at most, just in case the internet did take off.  Here however was someone who had thousands of pages of useful information to share but people couldn’t find what they wanted easily if at all – but again all of the information was there – and so began my research into how things were found in (not on) the web and the web technologies that made it possible.

Back then as there wasn’t an app for that I’d cobble together freely available code from here and there to get something working but very quickly there were easier quicker ways to do the same thing as different groups and demands came to the market and software companies started answering the call for a better way to do something or to do something differently.  An improvement in one bit of software generally meant something else needed updating and then came competition from new and emerging technologies and forks in software development, it’s been an interesting time since 1996.  While programming is essential and I’d learnt to hack code to get something working, programming was moving too fast, I’d never keep up but at least I knew where it would be in the future.

My earliest research showed that because there are common principles on which the web was founded the web was only heading one way – in the right direction as far as I was (and still am) concerned.  It’s what people would do with the web that was and sill is always a concern.  The plain fact was, if the mathematicians and the statisticians could get enough data to analyse using the first phase of language processing software, eventually they could teach computers to understand the meaning of things.  Once computers could understand a thing it could then see if the original thing was related to or could be used by another thing to improve something somewhere else.  It was labelled by some as ‘smart computing technology’.

The cost of coming to market half ready

From a very high level viewpoint I could see that major investment of time and funding was being pumped into a number of related technologies that were going to converge at some point in the future, but the research also showed it would be cheaper, easier and more profitable to wait for their collective power to mesh.  With a limited budget you have to wait – well I did, partly,  if you accept that more borrowing isn’t the solution. You see you still have to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening to the flow of data.

So what’s all this got to do with beta testing?

Five or so years ago I was playing around with a search algorithm in some test software that I think was linked to a proposed way of filtering data to improve find – not search.  I was looking for something that linked two ends to my middle so to speak.  Where was the missing link. I knew what I wanted, I knew when I wanted to do something but what were the best options to do it?  Was anyone working on the missing piece to my find puzzle?

I wish I could remember what the search terms I used in my filters were (or even my filter settings) but I eventually got a warm positive lead after lots of fun tweaking.  Here apparently was a site that held a key to solving an almost impossible problem.  I was more than happy to investigate and delve deeper.

Oh boy what a find!

Imagine how I felt five years ago.  I knew that just building websites and commerce platforms to compete in Google and other search engines was not really the holy grail for small business owners who wanted to find customers through search engine optimisation, yes it kept your bills paid but what was more important was having the right people finding the right site at the right time, all of the time.  And a better solution was just round the corner.  Battling in the search engines were and for a while yet still will be current and necessary because essentially there was only one working search technology. Only they had the power to sort through all the crap out there and give you the best options as they see the web.  You can spend lots of money and time trying to influence search results but in the longer term the internet we’ve got started as research for the ‘find and filter technology’ that was part of what was coming next.

Essentially I knew the way the Web works and how people connect and work with it would be changing.  #

So back on the beta testing topic … five years ago when I found that site that had the seemingly impossible answer that web commerce needed,  I met (not physically) a small group of people with a set of ethical principles and software that had the power to influence (or subject to budget dominate) any web marketplace you choose to enter online,  if you had all of the other pieces of the supply chain in play.

A bit more of the history for a sec – From a programming view point there would always be the need to use multiple modules to perform any task.  A blog for example is lots of modules that fit together in a framework that obey the rules of the web, there are core modules that need to be there and there are other modules that when chained together offer customisation capabilities.  If all of the modules speak the same language you can bolt bigger blocks of modules together.

Five years ago things didn’t work together very well, managing all of the programs that run or controlled anything in any business was time consuming.  Apparently … the site I found was the closest match that would help me link up and control all of my web modules throughout the whole of the commerce supply chain.

Meta more focus

I’m not going to go through the changes during five years but suffice to say there has been this amazing transformation which has morphed from a beast that over delivered in giving raw quality data (that’s not a bad thing) into a web smart business intelligence research tool and strategy that still over delivers  essentially telling you how to best build or reinforce your existing web foundations while identifying where your potential customers are and how they can find you. It also tells you who your web competition is, where the web competitors are and how much influence or market share they currently have … and then at the end of that phase a brute of a server (at the press of a button) works out how you need to position yourself, where you need to be, what your web presence needs to say and what you need to do when, to compete profitably in that web-space or network, country, county or town.  Then you need to implement the tasks step by step to make it happen.  1 – 2 – 3 | 1 – 2 -3

I’m really proud that I get to beta test new evolutions and my head has been flitting in and out of test mode for about the last week or two.   I love the beta simplicity for planning and blueprinting.  Wow wow wow.  It’s a good feeling to know that some people still believe in quality and take the time to invite people to help make things work simpler and slicker.

The beauty of bugs

As expected there have been bugs  to be found and dealt with, some are fixed, there are a few in the queue to do.  Some cause annoyance but nothing breaks or can wait a while and some still need looking at but on the whole things are ready to roll out in to the first phase of pre release.

I can’t think of any one in the commerce supply chain who won’t see the benefit to them or their business at one or more levels of operation once they have it at their finger tips.

Sure there’s always the risk if you skimp on your learning or initial web based research and you don’t fill in the blanks as you go but in general the facts stack up in your favour following the process through to conclusion. Learn the basics, grasp the reasoning, start and finish step one, learn about step two, start and finish step two. Four stages in all.
In many respects I think its fair to say that secret-name-technology 🙂 will open the door and change the future for any business or brand when used correctly while working with the web.

I’ll try to add some pictures in my next post and make it shorter 🙂  Where’s my cup of coffee cup gone?

I’ll leave you with a link to an excellent video that shows how the web works now.  It’s in a piece I wrote in July 2010 giving an insight into why Google would buy a company called Metaweb – Easy to watch, easy to grasp .. essential for commerce

What next if you are in business? Go watch :) It’s ingenious once you know how. How simple do you want it?

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My secret life as a beta tester.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve done everything at least once.  Just not in the right order and not on the same project.

I’ve loved watching how web technology has progressed.  Since the middle of the 1990’s when I first dipped my toe in to the internet I’ve been called a web site designer, I’ve set up servers and nameservers, hosted sites, controlled networks and had to dabble with data transit.  I’ve built sites, improved sites, promoted and marketed sites, monitored, analysed, tweaked and generally been through the whole process of web commerce through the supply chain.

I’ve even tried to lean to write succulent copy, video editing for promotion and laughed lots of times at the pitch promises of so called push button solutions. It has to be said though that I’m happiest when I’m doing my initial business intelligence research or beta testing the software that makes it all work. You’ve been at the bleeding edge too right?

On my next post grab yourself a coffee, it’s not often I post but now I’m ready to add something new to the web – You see on re-reading I had a dilemma – was I saying too much in one post?
I wanted to talk about something but by not explaining the general background of where some knowledge and reasoning comes from the importance of what I’m beta testing may be overlooked by those who could benefit most from it.  Small businesses that want to compete and prosper online.  In any marketplace, at any level, with almost any budget.*

So before finishing that post off I went and made myself a coffee just so I could be sure it didn’t take longer to read than it takes to have a drink during a well deserved break and be worth the read.  Basically I had this thought that I had to give you an idea of the history (as I experienced it) that has helped you to find and read this sentence because it will then help you make a lot more sense of the step change in machine readable data technology that is beginning to impact commerce efficiency and effectiveness (Your business and the way you live.) I’m going to make a few tweaks because you can either be flattened by this change or get it right first time. In Web development cycles something that has been called the web of linked data or semantic web started rolling forward and building momentum.

Linking Open Data dataset cloud as of July 14t...
Image via Wikipedia

What we’ve got web-wize currently, in the form of commerce and social networks really took off and started running on Web2 type technologies and architecture.  They will continue to do so for a while yet. They will continue to flourish as the mesh between the semantic or web 3.0 technologies (basically best described by A man called Nova Spivack in 2008 as 10 year cycles – there will be a cycle after 3) which importantly have at their core security and verification of facts. A simple way to consider things is ‘If it isn’t a fact it doesn’t exist but it could be proven’. When you take that to the next step you realise you have to exist, your business has to exist but how does the Web verify it?

In “Making Better Sense Of The Semantic Web”   I wrote

“Once data can be read and is understood by the new web, the way you control your research, advertising, marketing, search and business in general will never be the same.  Used in the right way and in the correct context we can genuinely expect more effectiveness, better efficiency and see benefits all round.”

The third cycle.

The third investment cycle has now had momentum for a few years and the uplift of data for filtering is not stopping anytime soon.  The coming wave of developments using structured data technology herald the rise of new ways of finding what you want.   The Web is there for you to use.  Why would you use a search engine to get help when you can ask the web to solve your specific problem?

So … what I’m really saying is there is another web out there that already knows things and can think for itself.  The Web can only help you if you work with it. What do you think the Web knows about you already?  Better still how does it think it can help you?

It won’t hurt to wait another day to find out a bit more so I guess it’s time for another coffee me thinks.

In the mean time if you want to know why the phrase ‘dave likes cookies’ helped social networks take off or how hashtags came into being or what links are meant to be and how it’s going to help you (even if you don’t fully understand it) do go watch the video I posted in September 2008.  Don’t let the title put you off!  It’s a nine min video that reminds you about 3rd grade English language.  You’ll get the point though within five mins 🙂

BTW this next bit relates to the (*) when I said above I can help small businesses that want to compete and prosper online.  In any marketplace, at any level, with almost any budget.* which you’d probably forgotten about.

* If you are a one man/woman band or very small business you should be prepared to inject/invest a minimum of £10K for other project costs (on top of having to learn how to use it) and then if you have your facts and figures right you should be able to double that investment in at most a year, probably within six months.  You should begin to see measured improvements from month two.  While it is possible for one person to do everything that needs to be done (research, graphics, design, build, copy, marketing, promotion, sales, tracking, delivery, analysis, feedback etc.) the time saving element of employing others to handle routine or specialist aspects can not be over looked and this technology can hook into it all.  It’s also fair to say that currently the more funding you inject in to defining your structured web presence and profile from the outset using this technology will mean the returns will compounded as you build on your original growth.

I ‘ll be back tomorrow with a cuppa coffee version of the history of how.

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