What is Wrong with the Tech Journalism

Illustration: Tech Jornalism, Calling Names The problem is with the journalists who write about the web, with their understanding of the subject and literacy of the web in general. The final drop of encouragement for writing this essay was an article by Jonathan Richards in Times Online titled Web 3.0 and beyond: the next 20 years of the internet.

Web is not a software that is developed and released in versions. Actually, the “versioning” of the web is the worst thing that could happen to the hype of the internet. In the particular article, the author was informed by “Mr Spivack, the founder of Radar Networks, a leading Web 3.0 company” that the cycle of the web development is ten years.

Think of “Mr Einstein, the founder of General theory of relativity, a leading Physics 2.0 theory” saying that the cycle of physics development is 30 (or any other number) years until the Physics 3.0 which concentrates on strings and membranes in an eleven dimension environments. Can you see the absurdity of such statements?

The web is demand driven, and not developed by superduper Silicon Valley companies.

The first email message was sent in 19721 by Ray Tomlinson – a long time before 1990 when Tim Berners–Lee proposed the idea2 of hypertext linked nodes which is the web we know today. Since the very beginning of the web, it has been used as the means of communication between academics, scientists and recently everybody in the world. Before the hypertext were email groups where scientist exchanged ideas, asked questions and solved problems. Web has been a social network since the early days. How is the web 2.0 more social then web at its birth?

By People for People

The early adopters of the web from the general public were the computer enthusiasts in the 90’s who used email lists to ask questions and help people they had never even met. In the spirit of sharing knowledge, people created web pages to summarize the questions and answers collected in the email lists. University professors created home pages with personal information and publications.

To publish a web page one had to know the hypertext markup language and have an access to a web server which was connected to the internet. Programmers used existing programming languages (such as Perl and C) to create software that would make updating existing websites easier. The next step in the internet communication was forums, which in fact were more organized and better manageable email lists, but had a software–type back end. In 1995 Rasmus Lerdorf wrote a simple programming language particularly for web called PHP/FI (Personal Home Page / Forms Interpreter) which made creating dynamic websites much easier.

Please, Come In

There was a growth of home pages for businesses and individuals as more and more people realized the power of publishing and finding information on the web. Initially, however, individuals used the web for finding the information not publishing. But the more accessible it became for general public, the more people realized the possibilities of finding like minded people. Car collectors found photos and information they would never have read in magazines. They realized that publishing their own car photos and old repair manuals might be of use for other web users.

As the demand for personal web publishing grows even more today, programmers write software that makes it very simple even for those who have never written a single line of code. In the spirit of openness and sharing, most of the software is being released for free and open–source, which means that those who are willing to learn and understand the code behind the program can improve or adjust it, and give it back to the community.

It should be clear from the above examples that blogs and personal publishing is not a phenomena of web 2.0, but rather simply what happens when more and more people discover the web as a platform for their work and ideas. Reason for publishing is our desire to express thoughts, work and ideas, particularly when there is an audience that will enjoy it, discuss and love it.

A car mechanic, who would never have thought of writing a book or an article for a magazine, can now publish his engine improvement tips on the web in a form of text, audio or video. And nothing can be more satisfying than receiving an email from a person in an opposite side of the world saying “thank you”.

Calling Names

Illustration: Semantic Web Since Tim O’Reilly used the term web 2.0 in 2004, I have been really curios if the next version he will suggest would really be web 3.0. Like, what is wrong with 2.1 or 2.7? It turns out that numbers are not so good anymore, therefore, lets use something creative, such as the “semantic web”, which Nova Spivack suggests. But ohh… what a pitty, the idea of semantic documents has been around since 1970’s when Charles Goldfarb, Ed Mosher and Ray Lorie thought of GML — a way of representing structured data. GML is also an idealogical parent of HTML by Tim Berners–Lee and XML3 in general.

GML, XML4 and HTML seem to be another set of buzzwords that shouldn’t be used when writing for general public, but they all share a very simple and important idea that everybody should understand.

To illustrate the point, lets consider an example of a travelers diary which consists of periodical entries that have title, date, location and body. Here is how such document could look:

<diary author="Sinthy Martines" language="en">
 <post location="us">
 	<title>Its Hard to Get Up</title>
 	<date>23.10.2007.</date>
 	<body>The sun is down, I am up.</body>
 </post>
 <post location="lv">
 	<title>Folk Dancing?</title>
 	<date>17.09.2007.</date>
 	<body>Is is really so popular here?</body>
 </post>
</diary>

Now, does it really look like a kind of rocket science to you? It is all written in plain English, but in fact it illustrates what the web is all about — the beauty of semantic documents. Tags enclosing the data explain the meaning of data that is inside them.

One could easily write a program that searches all diaries for entries published in English and written on June 23, 2006 in Latvia. Think of possibilities that such semantic data provide for understanding and analyzing the information about the places, events and people.

Current State of the Semantic Web

The fact is that semantic mark–up is used in all websites and RSS feeds on the web already. Search engines make use of semantic mark–up to find websites that are relevant to your search queries. Linked and semantic documents are the building blocks of the web.

Many people might not have heard of MusicXML, MathML or Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) formats that exist already and take the idea of semantic content description to mathimatics, music and graphics accordingly.

Conclusions

Don’t call it web 2.0 just because people are creating communities, sharing photos or writing diaries and articles — the idea communicating and sharing knowledge was the reason why Word Wide Web was even created. The more people have access to internet, the greater is the chance of someone actually taking time to write an article about events and processes that are important to the individual.

Don’t call it web 3.0 because some company is working on a ‘natural-language search’ which will make use of semantic data available on the web. Google is already using its enormous brain power and financial resources for making the best possible use of existing web content.

Call it simply the Web — the best thing that has happened to communication and information.

p.s. if you really can’t ignore the use of web in versions, please don’t call podcasting, blogs, AJAX and RSS feeds the “technologies” of the web. This will simply make you incompetent in the eyes of those who actually create websites.

Footnotes & Further Reading

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One Comment

  1. Great piece and I agree absolutely. One of the most annoying things about the reaction to my tirade about how some people are using the ideas of “Web 2.0” was people claiming I hate or fear the Internet. As an online journalist since 1998, that’s plainly ridiculous.

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