Our eldest one is turning seven soon and for him it is hard to imagine the pre-Web area. Sometimes he asks me but how did you do this or that without the Web? and quite often I must admit I don’t know the answer. Maybe some of the things we do nowadays were simply non-actions some 20y ago, like updating Twitter ;)
Anyway, let’s remind ourselves that the essential idea of the Web was doing ‘Hypertext over the Internet’, and TimBL was not the only one who had this idea. However, as far I can tell he was the only one who was successful on a large scale with sustainable and tangible outcome.
One thing that bothers me is that we are mentally still subscribed to the document-centric point-of-view. And, as a result, an application-centric point of view. What do I mean by that? Well, imagine a piece of paper and a pen. I can virtually do any kind of illustration and notes on it. I don’t need to get another pen to create a table; I don’t need a second sort of paper to draw a picture, etc.
And yet, we’re still used to think along this line. If you don’t believe me: even the latest, coolest Web application suites, such as GDocs essentially forces you to decide up-front, which kind of document you wanna create. Shouldn’t we have overcome this?
The good news is: we’re now able to overcome the document-centric POV, due to what Linked Data enables. I won’t focus on the technical details or their evolution for now but on what I call result-centric. This essentially means that one is interested in the result of an action rather than by the means it has been achieved. A little analogy might help: say, you want to travel from Galway to Madrid and the only requirement is that it has to be as cheap as possible (hey, I’m a researcher – time doesn’t matter, but budget constraints). So, what counts at the end of the day is that (i) you arrive in Madrid and (ii) you’ve spent as little money as possible. This might mean you have to switch from plane to bus to train, maybe, but anyway, the result matters to you, not which kind of transport medium you’ve used. Same with certain, if not all kinds of tasks on the computer. Frankly, I don’t give a damn if I have to use this or that application. I might just need to write a report, including figures and tables and the more efficient I can do this, the better. Today, this likely means I’ve got to use some two or three applications (which I have to know, to pay for, etc. – yey, TCO do matter).
Coming back to Linked Data, which essentially enables ubiquitous and seamless data integration, one can imagine a new class of application: general purpose viewing and editing – a truly result-centric way of working with the computer. In fact, the first generation of the ‘read-only’ case, Linked Data browser, such as DIG’s Tabulator, OpenLink’s Data Explorer or Sigma are available already.
What we now need, I think, is DDE/OLE done right. On the Web. Based on Linked Data. Addressing security, trust, privacy and billing issues. Allowing us to move forward. From document-centric to result-centric.
As an aside: this post was influenced by a book I’m currently reading.