“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for November, 2006

Dynamic Contexts or “tell me what you do and I’ll provide you relevant information”

Posted by direwolff on November 28, 2006

A friend was kind enough to forward me a copy of Bear Stearn’s Media Equity Research PDF report titled, The Long Tail: Why Aggregation & Context and Not (Necessarily) Content are King in Entertainment (11/27/06). Wish I had a link to pass along as it’s a pretty interesting report worth reviewing. While the individual parts don’t necessarily reveal anything that those who pay close attention to what’s been happening on the Internet, would find new, the break down of the television entertainment value chain and its evolution, was useful in making the point of the title. In part, the point of this article was focused on the impact that technology is having on increased competition in distribution (replacing the Economy of Scarcity with the Economy of Abundance) and on content creation (hence creating the Long Tail), it went on to explore the idea that since “Infinite Choice = Overwhelming Confusion”, the role of aggregators and filters likely increases. Some of the listed filters included brands, editorial discretion, ratings, user recommendations, and software. It’s here that the report goes on to talk up the roles of Google/YouTube, AOL, Yahoo! and “Others To Be Determined” as aggregators, and how general entertainment networks are at risk. The report shows some useful stats that help build this case. I also think the metaphor of the growing importance of aggregators and filters can be applied to more than just what’s happening in TV entertainment.

*FLASH*…and suddenly my mind tuned in on a different perspective. In the same way that we’re seeing technology impacting the content creation resulting in the overwhelming increase of content of all sorts (text, music, and video), and we’re seeing its impact in opening up the “shelf space” so as to create unlimited distribution, it is in this vain that I see context getting a tech overhaul as well. Effectively, this means enabling people to create or select contexts dynamically, either on purpose or because of where they are. In other words, still have access to all of the content, but view it contextually which would effectively determine how the information would be sorted and presented.

Imagine if with all of these partner deals that Google and Yahoo! have with site affiliates, they took into account what that site does. Let the site’s topical focus play a role in the sorting of the results of any searches performed from there. If I’m on an autmotive site and I go up to the little search box and type “rack”, the results shouldn’t be the generic search results from an uncontextual search, but rather results that are contextually relevant. If the technology was up to snuff, then the deeper I got into the site, the more context the search service would get. Mind you, there should be controls to either disable this or remove context levels (just because I’m on the engine page of the automotive site doesn’t mean that I want my rack query to be relevant to engines, automotive relevance is just fine).

It’s time that context with its various colors, plays a more important role in information management and search, than simply the aggregation of content or the means by which it’s distributed.  It needs to play a role more similar to what we see with contextual advertising. Some times context is based on the site and some times it’s based on the person (ie. behavioral targeting). While I’m a fan of recommendations or “the people like me bought or listened to or read or watched…this” relevance, I’m not a fan of that in search, which has been termed social search. I’d rather get restaurant recommendations from a real foodie than a friend who prefers to indulge in burgers and hot dogs. But you get the idea, context is important and determines relevance of information.

Going to the next level means letting people set the context they’re in whenever they are going to do an activity or search for something on the Internet. Am I in my product manager role for Dell when I search for “apple” (computer) or in my godfather role helping my 7 year old goddaughter find information for her book report? Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about ;-)

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Posted in search & categorization, Technology | 2 Comments »

Northern Light Business Search Engine…lacking

Posted by direwolff on November 27, 2006

Perhaps I’m giving this search engine more attention than it deserves, but as I was checking out business focused search engines I came upon Northern Light’s offering and was particularly interested by their Business Search Engine offering. Individuals can subscribe for $9.95 per month or $4.95 per use. Corporate licenses exist for $5,000 per year for up to 50 people.

So I decided to check out the quality of its information as they boast a pretty impressive number of sources, in their own words:

Search full-text articles from 1,400 trade journals and 22,000 business websites. A total of over 100 million pages of business research content.

While the access to the trade journals wasn’t possible without being a registered users, “Business Web Research” was accessible. Decided to check out their industry segments and picked “Automotive & Transportation”. This took me to a page with various news items from a number of sources like PRNewsire, BusinessWire, UPI, Reuters, New York Times, Bloomberg, Forbes, BusinessWeek, various other pubs as well as several Asian publications. These all looked to come from published RSS feeds from each of these publishers and indeed were all on topic. With that first success I decided to keep digging and followed the “Companies” link among several related subject links.

The 32 companies listed were indeed all automotive or transportation companies. While most of these were car companies, there was a listing for Lear Corporation which is an automotive interiors company. In researching Lear [NYSE: LEA] a bit further, I found a list of 24 companies that they list as competitors and there are 33 companies that list themselves as producing competitive products to Lear. As I mentioned, out of the 32 companies listed on the Companies page, most were car companies, but only 4 listed made up names from the 24 competitors that Lear has. I’d say not listing the other 20, or in the case of those who produce competitive products, the other 28 companies in this space, is a pretty significant dropped ball.

As I scrolled down the page it showed different news categories for each company, but some companies had nothing listed. This struck me as odd, especially when I found such significant companies as Goodyear with no information listed. I decided to check out Feedster for “Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company”, to see if I’d find any RSS news related to the company. The top 3 results all pointed to versions of the following story:


Union takes case to YouTube
CLEVELAND – The United Steelworkers union is turning to the popular video-sharing site YouTube to question the safety of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. tires being made while union workers in the United States and Canada are on strike….

From Knoxville News Sentinel business articles39 wordsPublished 2 days, 2 hours ago


Now, I’d think that this was a significant enough story to make it into Northern Light’s news section for Goodyear, especially given that it appeared in several newspaper sites’ RSS feeds.

The links available for the other companies were basically stored keyword searches for every mention of the company in the news, in publications, and in the “Business Web”. I checked out the DaimlerChrysler links. First the “DaimlerChrysler in the News“. At the time I looked at the results list consisted of 10 coming from the Asia Pulse, the Australian Business Intelligence, the Knight Ridder/Tribune, and the RWE Business News Information Service newswires. These require a fee to be viewed, but they appear as simple keyword matched results no better than you can get for free from any search engine. Perhaps access to these wires makes it more challenging to get, but in the case of the Knight Ridder/Tribune content, that’s likely to be picked up by search engines on the news sites that use this feed.

Next I clicked on the “DaimlerChrysler in Publications” link. The results here were a smattering of free and fee-based results. Again, nothing impressive about the fee-based sources and certainly nothing here that couldn’t be had off of traditional search engines.

The third basic link was to “DaimlerChrysler on the Business Web“. OK, these results were basically segmented from some trade magazines, university sites, general business sites, and some corporate Web sites, not to mention the DaimlerChrysler site (oh please!…was that last one really necessary?).

Not to bore you too much further, but I did find other sections where one could drill down into sub-folder levels from selecting news, publications or Business Web search results at the industry level, but given that everything seemed to continue to use keyword matching, I found it wanting and in many cases yielding irrelevant results. No wonder the state of the search engine industry is so dismal with so much opportunity for better approaches just begging to be explored. Basically, between RSS feed search engines and services like Google’s new Custom Search Engine (CSE) and Rollyo where one can limit the sites to be searched, it felt like I could put in a little time and basically build myself a CSE that is no worse than what Northern Light would want me to pay $9.95 per month for. Think I’ll pass on their offer as I don’t *get* the innovation here.

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“Live to Die Another Day” showing off some funky kitesurfing

Posted by direwolff on November 26, 2006

Just happened to be channel flicking this evening and about 45 minutes from the end of the movie, there’s this great scene where Bond (Pierce Brosnan in this case) after being chased down in his icemobile by a some sort of heat seeking beam from outer space, ends up on the side of a glacier cliff hanging by the usual icepick and thread. Just as the beam melts the ice away and he’s about to fall into the ocean far below, he somehow manages to get on what looks like some sort of cross between a snowboard and a wakeboard, and pops out a paragliding parachute which could pass for a foil kite, and down he goes. Of course, only to pop up on top of a massive wave and kitesurfing his little booty off. Pretty impressive considering he was holding the lines of the kite/parachute directly with his two hands. His kitesurfing form on the wave was pretty good too.

This is probably no biggie to all of you who have seen this movie, but given that it was my first time catching it, I was pretty awestruck by the fact that kitesurfing made it into a Bond movie. Does that mean our sport has become mainstream already?

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Hilary Schneider making an immediate impact at Yahoo!

Posted by direwolff on November 20, 2006

Only a few short months ago, the high flying executive from what until recently was Knight Ridder, joined the ranks of Yahoo! and in no time flat she’s paying dividends. Bringing Hilary Schneider (who was heir apparent to Tony Ridder, taking over the reins of Knight Ridder) in to run Yahoo!’s Marketplaces was an excellent move on Yahoo!’s part, as she truly understands the classifieds business and how online can impact them, better than any other newspaper executive. Hilary was a trend-setter as head of Knight Ridder Digital and really lead the charge in such investments as CareerBuilder, Classified Ventures,, Tribe, and other online initiatives. She wasn’t afraid to try new things. She’s well respected in her industry and her rolodex in the newspaper industry is fantastic. With Yahoo!’s announcement today of the deal with 150 newspapers, I can tell you that it’s got Hilary’s fingerprints all over it.

Here’s one of the quotes from the article that I particularly like:

Dean Singleton, head of MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post and the San Jose Mercury News, called the arrangement a “transformational” deal, according to a statement.

Transformational indeed. It may be noteworthy to point out that Dean worked for Hilary at Knight Ridder. The Denver Post and the Merc were both sold by McClathy to MediaNews Group as part doing the acquisition of the Knight Ridder properties earlier this year. Hilary had been instrumental in working through the integration issues of her cyberspace investments with the newspaper sites despite a lot of resistance with each newspaper’s management team. Some embraced the online world, like the Merc who did a lot of pioneering here, but the yang to their ying came from some of the Philadelphia publications where it was like pulling teeth to get them more involved. But Hilary persevered.

With Yahoo!, she has the wonderful advantage of understanding the newspaper customers and what makes them tick, and with her leadership at Yahoo!, I believe that she’ll be able to provide the company a viable set of products which should really help advance Yahoo!’s local presence in ways that some of the other large portal players will not likely soon duplicate.

I did find it a shame that the press release about the 150 newspaper deal had a Terry Semel quote but no Hilary Schneider quote, which in that world I believe would carry a lot more weight.

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Congresswoman Sekula-Gibbs, interesting perspective on her actions

Posted by direwolff on November 19, 2006

I just happened to catch this article about Republican Congresswoman Shelly Sekula-Gibbs’s staff walkout shortly after being elected to office this year. Specifically, 7 of her aides which she inherited from our favorite hopefully-soon-to-be-a-convict, former congressman Tom “Don’t” DeLay. While I don’t know anything about Sekula-Gibbs and is the first time I’ve read anything with her name in it, I was amused by the above referenced article’s tone not to mention the comments from many who were quoted. Most noteworthy quote was the following:

“Now she’s going to be tainted with this story for her entire time in Congress,” [Gary] Polland said. “And if she decides to run in two years, the story will be, ‘That’s right, Shelley was in Congress for six weeks and ran off all of DeLay’s staff.”

Gary Polland is a former Harris County Republican chairman so I can understand this posturing, but to suggest that somehow having DeLay’s staff leave you be a bad thing, really talks to the depth of the bonds of corruption. It’s almost as though DeLay could have killed someone and still they’d be standing behind him. Please! Anyway, for whatever typical elected official faults Sekula-Gibbs may have, I’d say she’s at least exhibiting good character, and the fact that she’s calling for a congressional investigation into these aides for deleting files from the office’s computers shows some guts too. Good for her.

My second favorite quote is:

The former aides have declined to discuss their departure. But former DeLay chief of staff David James broke his silence Thursday after Sekula-Gibbs accused the aides of deleting files from the office’s computers and demanded a congressional investigation.

“Never has any member of Congress treated us with as much disrespect and unprofessionalism as we witnessed during those five days,” James said.

At a boy David, delete files from computers and suggest that you’re being treated unprofessionally and with disrespect. Looks like he learned a thing or two from his former boss. Hopefully he’ll get to join his former boss wherever they send those who are ethically bankrupt.

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Healia Health Search Engine Wins Search 2.0 Shootout Award at the Search Insider Summit

Posted by direwolff on November 16, 2006

What a great accomplishment. Under full disclosure, I’m an advisor to Healia so I’m naturally biased here, but Tom Eng, VMD, MPH (founder & chairman) has been working his butt off for several years now building what is the best healthcare search engine I’ve seen yet. When putting his search engine in head-to-head evaluations against the likes of Google’s health-focused search engine, Kosmix, Heathline, and Yahoo! Heath, (which has happened at some prospect engagements), Healia really comes out shining.

Among Dr. Eng’s many accomplishments, he has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, books and book chapters, and abstracts on a wide range of health and technology issues. He has worked previously at the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Peace Corps, the US Senate, and two state health departments. Needless to say, the guy knows his stuff and has put together an excellent team to go out and make it easier for people to get better informed about healtcare matters.

I know the whole team at Healia is very excited at being recognized, and rightly so as they have been working quietly in stealth mode for a few years until approximately 3 months ago. Now, they’re slowly getting more and more attention as was expected and they deserve. Here’s their press release announcing their performance at the Search Insider Summit:

Healia Health Search Engine Wins Search 2.0 Shootout Award at the Search Insider Summit

Healia Recognized as the Most Exciting and Useful Search Engine

BELLEVUE, WA — (MARKET WIRE) — November 16, 2006 — The Healia health search engine ( won the “Search 2.0 Shootout Award” at the Search Insider Summit in Palm Springs, California on November 12-15, 2006. Healia was selected for the Award over four other “disruptive” search technologies by popular vote of Summit attendees as the “most exciting, original, and useful [search] offering.”

The Summit brings brand marketers, agency decision makers and search marketing experts together to explore the search marketing trends and strategies.

See the full press release at:

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Mainstream Media going the way of Retailers, ’bout time!

Posted by direwolff on November 16, 2006

In the Spring of 1994, I joined a new group at Reuters, where I was tasked with exploring the business opportunities for Reuters on the Internet. What a gig. This was my first job straight out of the MBA program I had just completed where I radically changed my career direction from being an systems analyst to hopping into the biz dev world. I couldn’t believe they’d pay someone to do this job. Heck, I would have done it for free or just lunch money if they had offerred it to me that way. While I have many memories of those days, the one feeling that stands out the most, was how incredulous it felt that so many large companies, whose products and services could be made more easily accessible over the Internet, were resisting it so.

Two categories of companies really surprised me the most. First it was the retailers. Here was a group that was already accustomed to having a catalog business running in parallel to their physical stores, and for some reason instead of running, they were crawling up to the starting line of (at the time) the Information Superhighway. To this day, I credit Amazon‘s success to the “wait & see” attitude of all of the big retailers. Even Barnes & Noble, who was the most obviously threatened by this new start-up’s foray, stayed on the sidelines for a while before finally jumping in. Just given B&N’s brand, they would have commanded significant attention and customers early in the going, but instead, they sat it out and Amazon ran away with the category. Sure, there were several other causes for Amazon’s success, but this benchwarming attitude by most retailers during the first year or two that retail start-ups came into being, really hurt them.

Mainstream Media had already been doing the dance with the online services like AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and a host of other smaller players. However, they kept the good stuff away, in part because of bandwidth issues and the limited broadband adoption, at least in the U.S. But as things opened up more, and broadband deployments increased they still withheld their content from being made accessible online. Video being the content that lots of people wanted to share and discuss contextually. When the water cooler discussions moved to the Net, discussions about what happened on the Jay Leno Show the previous night with people who might have missed it, really could use the context of the video. Well, with the advent of services like YouTube, only a couple of years in existence, it has been interesting to see how users have effectively forced the hand of media companies (through piracy of all things) to begin opening up the vaults and making that video content accessible, as text has over the past 8 to 10 years now.

While it seemed obvious to many of my new media (by the standards of the mid ’90s) peers, that media companies with video content should be making that more easily available as there are plenty of ways to monetize this, and people like Fred Wilson talked up the idea of microchunking as the way to go, it was YouTube that forced every one’s hand. And so today’s announcement from Comedy Central, that they plan to facilitate syndication of their own content is welcomed while also being one of those “I told you so” type of events that also makes you wonder, “why did it take you so long to do this?”. I guess all that matters is that they’ve done it, and for that we’re all grateful and hope this is the beginning of all video content companies open things up like this.

Next up, the wireless carriers opening up their platforms more completely (see every other country for examples of what this means). That’s one that’s way beyond its time.

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OJ and the vicious cycle of publicity

Posted by direwolff on November 15, 2006

Let me start by saying that I’m a hypocrite to what I’m about to talk about by the simple fact that the link I’m going to provide to a story about OJ is in itself publicity for what I’m deriding. However, OJ’s guilt or innocense is of no concern to me and I didn’t follow the case close enough to know what is true or not true in any of the proceedings. Since inherently I don’t believe our legal system cares about this question either, my points here are not support or put down what OJ has done. What I’ll be deriding is the article that was written and I’ll be linking to it giving it the credence it doesn’t deserve.

What pisses me off (today) is when a mainstream media reporter starts a rant about how our society is so bad because it (or as he puts it, “we”) supports the ability for a person he believes to be a cold-blooded killer, to make money from his crime, and does so by affording publicity of the alleged criminal’s works. The title of Michael Ventre’s piece on MSNBC is “OJ isn’t the problem…we are“, though one gets the feeling that he has excluded himself from the very “we” he proscribes. He spends a good bit of this article talking about the aweful nature of OJ’s acts, his belief in OJ’s guilt, and goes through various adjectives for OJ ending on psychopath.

None of this is so aweful, but where I reach a level of disdain is in the sub-text of his piece that says “Our society lets ex-murder suspect profit obscenely from alleged crimes”. As I see it, Mr. Ventre’s article has 13 ads on the first page and 11 on the second, not to mention several links to other areas of the MSNBC site, none of which I presume are provided as anything less than commercial opportunities (unless the MSNBC site has now become a non-profit entity – possible of course, but not likely). Every time someone reads the story, the ad revenue counter goes “ca-ching!”. In other words, Ventre’s article in itself not only helps promote OJ’s book and upcoming TV interview (that’s it, tell a kid they can’t touch what’s in this cabinet and see how long it takes to get to that object), but then goes on to monetize the very issue that he raises his ire against. Talk about throwing “stones in glass houses”. So by Ventre’s perspectives, every one else should monetize OJ’s alleged crimes, except OJ himself, or does he mean that he alone as an author above the law should monetize OJ’s predicament?

The sickness is inherent in what our society values unfortunately, hence why it’s so difficult to get out of the paradox that Ventre’s article falls into by its very being.

Yes, we live in what can some times be regarded as a sick society, but wouldn’t it have been better simply to give no air time to the OJ matter if Ventre truly felt the way he claims? Wouldn’t keeping a lid on OJ’s new book and TV interview have been the high road to take? Why not let those who like to keep up with Fox TV and books about alleged killers fend for themselves, and keep those higher brow folks who prefer to get their news from MSNBC avoid being afflicted with news of cheesy and unethically regarded individuals like OJ? Well it seems that Ventre has kept those folks from that fate by an attitude that at best can be considered hypocrital and at worse reprehensible in the tone of his moral indignation. Can you say Ted Haggard?

“Sorry Michael, but that article was pretty inappropriate for someone who claims to feel as you do.”…not that he’ll ever read my blog ;-)

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LinkedIn & SixApart, worse SPAM offenders

Posted by direwolff on November 14, 2006

Let me qualify the title of this post by saying that their SPAM offense is that they have either directly provided my e-mail address or have had someone unwittingly usurp it from their system, but in any case, they are both responsible for a significant increase in SPAM which even Gmail’s tough SPAM filters are unable to detect. I’ll explain how I know that they’re the sources of this offense.

I have my own domain name, and where registration is required I use the e-mail nomenclature of the service’s name @ my domain. This means that every e-mail address for any service I’m registered with is unique to that service. I don’t use it any where else. It was because of SPAM issues in the past that I decided it was time to determine where the sources of these leaks were and begin to hold them accountable. I’m still working on the latter part. I once picked off a SPAM message from a Marketwatch advertiser and with the help of their team we got down to where the leak had occurred and it was sealed. They took the matter very seriously and dealt with it accordingly.

After seeing the first of the LinkedIn related SPAM messages come several months ago I notified their customer service group. After several interactions they simply kept denying their involvement in the leak and would ask for sample e-mails but never seemed to be doing anything about it. After a while, responses died down from them. I even e-mailed their VP of Marketing, whom I know and thought would take immediate action, but nothing, not even a response to this issue which is now bringing me 5 to 10 SPAM messages per day just from their designated e-mail address. Even identifying these messages as SPAM on Gmail has not stopped them from coming (we all know spammers are getting smarter, but other SPAM does get caught which makes this an insiduous problem). I haven’t gotten around to advising SixApart, but in their case, it’s related to their TypeKey identity service which is used when posting comments on some blogs. Given that the e-mail address is not posted anywhere, one has to wonder how a spammer is getting this TypeKey e-mail address. This one is almost more mysterious than LinkedIn, since with LinkedIn a connected contact could view my e-mail address and pass it on. With Typekey, there’s no obvious place that the e-mail address gets displayed.

Most people wouldn’t realize that this is happening because if you’re using your regular e-mail address for these services then you don’t know who the source of the leak to a spammer is, but it’s becoming clear that some services need some real tightening up if they’re to continue gaining our trust. To me the most shocking part is that where I would expect this to happen on some cheesy fly-by-night social network, LinkedIn and SixApart (Typekey is an identity service for Pete’s sake!), are the last two places I would have suspected having such lax security and information privacy. Wonder what else they’ve divulged about me? Hmmm…

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Posted in Online Community, reviews | 2 Comments »

Excellent synopsis of the Semantic Web’s weakness

Posted by direwolff on November 13, 2006

While I’m subscribed to Nova Spivack’s blog, I don’t often get to keep up with it as much as I would like, and have missed many of his recent postings about the Semantic Web. It wasn’t until my rant on John Markoff’s article last night, that I decided to get caught up with Nova’s writings, as I know he’s a bright guy on these matters, so he must be seeing something in the Semantic Web to keep his interest.

Well, what was most refreshing about his blog is seeing one of Nova’s posts titled The Ontology Integration Problem, that accurately articulates the problems with the Semantic Web that he and his team are facing. I say refreshing because at least it’s clear that Nova is taking a realistic view of the Semantic Web’s strengths and weaknesses in whatever he is planning to deliver with Radar Networks. I have been working with the team that developed Readware, which takes a very different approach with their technology to solving similar issues to the Semantic Web’s focus, but during that time they quickly identified this as one of the significant stumbling blocks that the Semantic Web would face that Readware does not and will not. In a nutshell here’s the paragraph from Nova’s post that captures it best:

The dream of the Semantic Web vision is that someday there will be thousands or millions of ontologies around the web, and millions of instances of them. And these will all somehow be integrated automagically, or at least if they aren’t integrated on the semantic level, then there will be magic software that embodies that integration. In any case, the hope is that someday intelligent agents will be able to freely and seamlessly roam around harvesting this data, squishing it together into knowledgebases, and reasoning across them. But neither harvesting, nor squishing, nor reasoning can really take place without some level of semantic integration of the underlying ontologies. Yet, how will all these disparate ontologies be connected? Unless mappings are created between them, instead of a Semantic Web, we’ll just have millions of little semantic silos. Maybe some company will succed in making the biggest silo and that will be “the” semantic web to most people. That might be the best solution in fact, but I’m not sure that is really what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind! If that is not the solution that the semantic web community wants, then the integration issue needs to be solved sooner rather than later. The longer we wait to solve this, the harder it will get to solve it later on, because the number of ontologies is increasing with time.

His points here have been echoed my many other folks I know who have also undertaken the application of the Semantic Web’s principles to address broad problems. They all eventually run into the same challenge that Nova and his team at Radar Networks have. What’s missing is that Semantic Web has no foundational ontology from which to relate these disparate siloed ontologies to each other. If they do figure out a solution to this, it will most likely be a patchwork or an effort dominated by committees making arbitrary decisions on these matters.

This problem has actually been solved but it requires a different way of thinking about it as well as the need for a unification theory that I believe the team behind Readware has figured out, but required a very different way of thinking to reach the solution, not to mention an unusual combination of skills. The solution is rooted in some things that Warren Weaver once said which I refer to in a previous post. Readware has a working system demonstrating this and we will soon deploy applications that leverage the use of this technology to address the problems that Nova refers to above in a robust and scalable manner.

The next few months should be a lot of fun all around in this space.

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