10 October 2009


Web2.0, a definition

People ask me what Web2.0 is. This is my explanation, hope you find it useful. It's hopefully a bit more readable than the definition on wikipedia. I also follow this with some information about Web3.0.

You may have heard the term Web2.0, a term first used in 2004. If you ask an expert what it means you'll probably get differing answers depending on who you ask because there is no real clear definition of it. So this is my one.

There are two main feature of Web2.0 which distinguish it from sites that aren't Web2.0.

  1. Web2.0 is about people creating their own content for publishing online

  2. it is also about the supporting technology for this content

It is easier to explain Web2.0 if you set it in context of what there was previously.

In the early days of the web, despite it originally being conceived as a document sharing and editing environment, the editing part rarely happened. Early sites were generally about a company, organisation or individual producing content, publishing it on their website and then people reading that content or transacting with it, e.g. reading the news on-line or buying a book.

However, following the emergence of blogs it became easier for larger number of people to author their own content and have others comment on it, just as you can do here. Similarly, Amazon allowed others to post their own reviews. This activity, together with the very long standing Internet tradition of news groups, forums, bulletin boards and so on going back to the 1970's - all these came together to form the early implementation what we now call Web2.0.

When you consider that most people think of Web2.0 as twitter, facebook and other similar sites they think of it as a social platform which allows them to publish their own content easily and share it with their friends. However, this facility has been around on-line for almost 30 years. In 1979 with the invention of usenet groups it was possible to easily share content online and from my own personal experience I used to run a mailing list called Gaelic-L that was founded in 1989 and allowed people with similar interests to share content with their online connections even way back then. In 1990 I also proposed an early browser with user generated content and personalised news, based on the fact that many people were by that time doing much of that anyway.

Web2.0 is therefore more than just being able to publish content and share it with your friends, this has been possible for decades, it's about the types of technology that make it happen as well and how these combine together. In the early days if I wrote an article in a newsgroup, people might reply to it. With Web2.0 you can not only reply to it but you might be able to vote on it and even edit the original, this is how wikipedia works - people collaborate together using a wiki as a tool for sharing information. The articles in a wiki are often authored by several people rather than just one. Similarly it wasn't just that blogs made it easy for people to write their own content, the platforms they used to write their blogs held and published the content in a structured way and this allowed the content to be easily reused in other contexts using a technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). What this means is that you didn't have to go to the blog to read the post, you could pick up the notifications of new posts via an RSS reader or another website entirely. Sites can also publish a programming interface called an API which can support the same functionality as RSS and more besides. RSS feeds are particularly useful at following new content - e.g. new news article, new blog posts or more specialised searches such as new jobs matching your requirements on a job board. API calls are better for more generalised searches e.g. "how many twitter users are based in Edinburgh" or "Who posted the first tweet about Michael Jackson's death" or "give me the data to plot a graph of the number of times President Obama's Nobel prize was mentioned in the hours after the announcement was made", etc.

As an example of RSS in action, my posts here automatically feed out to twitter and friendfeed. My friendfeed is then published on my facebook pages. This sharing of data across many sites and applications and interpreting the content in different ways is one of the key distinguishing features of web2.0 over web1.0. This is quite a long post, too long for the 140 character limit for twitter, but the connection between my blog and twitter takes care of that. Similarly when I post something new to the photo sharing platform Flickr, it also appears via a link on Twitter even though twitter doesn't directly support photos - the sites all interact with the same content but in different ways.

Taking this example of data sharing further you can combine (mash) information from different sites to produce something new, this is called a mashup. An example might be pulling in data from Google maps, geotagged photos from Flickr, public rights of way information from the government or council and accommodation information and reviews from a hotel booking site. Combining this information together using the publicly available data would allow you to show walks overlaid on a map together with examples of the views you could expect to see along the way and recommended places to stay en-route.

So Web2.0 is about people creating content (blogs, photos, statuses) together with the supporting technology (facebook, wikis, twitter) allowing this content to be shared, connected and reused in many different ways. It isn't really about endless "beta", rounded graphics, pastel shades and large fonts although these are incidental elements of the Web2.0 scene.

Just as there's no single definition of Web2.0, there is even less clarity about what might come next for Web3.0. The leading consensus is this will be about the semantic web. This represents a bigger challenge than web2.0 because it is about taking the largely unstructured and often ambiguous content on the web and tagging it in ways that allow it to be more clearly defined and reused. For instance if I type London Bridge into Google, there is no way at present to distinguish if I meant the actual bridge itself, the railway station with the same name, the underground station with the same name, the hospital with the same name or the bridge that got shipped to Arizona. Another example is differentiating text with a particular meaning from the same text that occurs by coincidence - e.g. a Digital Will is a type of Will (a legal document for when someone dies) that covers digital assets such as your emails, photos, MP3s, on-line contacts, etc. However, if you search for this term in Google you get some references to both the legal document but also the same phrase occurring in entirely different contexts such as "Digital will overtake print" and "Western Digital will move to Irvine". The semantic web will not only help to classify how words are used from a linguistic point of view but it will also allow content to be queried as data - for instance on a restaurant website you could mark-up your opening hours and this would allow people to search using a semantic search engine for restaurants open at a particular time of day. The biggest challenges faced by Web3.0 are in agreeing the common vocabularies and then deploying them effectively across the billions of web pages that already exist.

As you can see, although Google is quite good at being able to find pages containing certain terms it is currently very poor at making sense of the data in a structured way. This is because without the data being marked up in a semantic way (either through the use of markup directly or by attempting to deduce the context), it is an exceptionally difficult task for a search engine to provide this functionality. Web3.0 will make this job a lot easier but the means by which Web3.0 will emerge is still unclear. What we do know though it that it should make searching for information a lot more powerful and specific. Google is also exceptionally poor at searching sites that already have structure - for instance if I wanted to find a hotel room for tonight I would use an accommodation search engine and Google would find me the site which listed the accommodation rather than the accommodation itself. Google can't tell me what rooms are available tonight but it can point me towards sites that are likely to have this information. This will all change with Web3.0 and the use of intermediary sites will significantly decline as the information they hold begins to open up to more generalised search engines.

I hope this has been helpful. If anyone is looking for a Web2.0 or Web3.0 specialist, please get in touch via craig@siliconglen.com, twitter, facebook or linkedin.

I do Internet things, manage large websites, play around with language, campaign for good causes, try to explain things and have fun singing along the way (not all at the same time!).

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19 June 2009


Business plan tips for angel finance

I'd been looking around for a while for tips on how to write a good business plan to attract angel finance and finally found this useful guide on bytestart. Would welcome comments on this and any additional guides like it that people know of.

many thanks


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13 August 2008


Back to work by working together

My idea on the show us a better way government website. £20,000 prize to be won by making better use of government data.

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17 July 2008


Using twitter as a free trade platform

Buy and sell anything online using Twitter for free.

I thought this was worth a try. Twitter has taken off because it is short, simple, easy to use and readily accessible from a number of different platforms. It's so easy to post a short tweet when that's all you want to say rather than a long blog article. It's more immediate and like SMS is particularly useful when you have a short message or series of short messages to put out quickly. Microblogging is taking off, even the Prime Minister uses it. Having received a twitter message from a government minister earlier today, it seems to be an effective way to reach people.

However, rather than considering Twitter as the SMS equivalent of blogging, what about using the Twitter API via sites such as tweetscan to scan the entire twittersphere for anything of interest? Twitter needn't just replace blogging - the free posting to a large audience via Tweetscan and others could rival other free advertising platforms such as Craigslist (ugh) and Gumtree (also ugh), both owned in part by Ebay. It needn't stop there - if enough people set up twitter wanted feeds you could list for free on Twitter rather than paying to list on Ebay.

Paying for such a service is a problem with no feedback mechanism but it's no worse than currently exists with Craigslist and Gumtree.

However, let me suggest a format. This is based loosely on the XML content I receive in RSS feeds for jobs etc and seems to work well enough for that.

You have 140 characters. I suggest the "tweet trade format" as follows (illustrated by examples)


Supposing you have a mobile phone for sale in Mt View California. The listing would look like this:
SELL: Nokia E61 (Used) :$50 http://tinyurl.com/siliconglen Mountain View/CA/US 2008-07-20

Maybe you want to buy a house?
BUY: House 4 bed :$500000 http://www.example.com/moredetailshere Sunnyvale/CA/US 2008-08-31
The price here being the maximum

Supposing you have a job listing, this is a service listing so comes under the LIST category. Contract Project Manager in London, UK for £500 per day.

e.g. LIST: Contract Project Manager Agile PRINCE2 :£500pd http://tinyurl.com/siliconglen London/UK 2008-07-20

The "where" would end with the 2 letter ISO country code (ISO3166). If the item is relevant to a global audience then WW could be used (world-wide) as in WWW (world-wide web).

e.g. WANT: Domain for Web2.0 startup :$10000 http://www.example.com/contactme 2008-08-21
The price here being the maximum price willing to be paid.

Dates would be in international ISO8601 format. That way Americans and Europeans will have the same format and we don't get confused over 04/07/2008 being the 4th of July or the 7th of April.

The URL could of course point to a page on your own site, your blog, a listing on Ebay, a listing on Craigslist or Gumtree or for an item wanted, you could give more detail about what is you want by linking to a similar item on Ebay, Amazon, whatever. It could also link to an openID page for people to contact you, mine is https://getopenid.com/siliconglen

If you think this is a great idea, drop me an email - I'm compiling a mailing list of interested parties who think being able to list products and services on the internet and sell them /effectively/ for as much as it costs to list a webpage in Google (ie nothing) is the way to go and I'm keen to build up a userbase to convince prospective investors that this will take off. It has a long way to go past twitter listings, this is just an early toe in the water.

If anyone wants to build a tool to build up the listing in the standard format via a webform, then drop me a line.

Then with these listings, you can search for them simply using http://www.tweetscan.com or use Tweetscan to sign up for email alerts when something matches what you are looking for (just like eBay favourite search notifications). You can also use tweetscan to search up a search and associated RSS feed for it.

I can see this format evolving over time, but that seems enough for a starter. Comments welcome.

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16 July 2008


Yahoo: How to take on Google and Microsoft

If I said that I know of a way in which Yahoo could dramatically improve its search capability, take on Google in areas that Google is currently completely hopeless and become the market leader in a global area of search far more valuable than searching for mere web pages, do you think someone from Yahoo would look up my LinkedIn profile to see that with my background I might know what I'm talking about, pick up the phone and invite me down to London to 125 Shaftesbury Avenue London WC2H 8AD for an informal chat with the view to hiring me on a contract basis to implement this?

Google's obviously not too far away at 76 Buckingham Palace Road London, SW1W 9TQ so if there's no call then it's a short tube ride away to both Google and just round the corner Microsoft at 100 Victoria Street London SW1E 5JL if Yahoo aren't interested in turning themselves around.

Worth a try eh? Might even be as far ahead of its time as a touch screen browser and personalised news in April 1990.

Craig (craig at siliconglen.com)

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20 January 2008


Why Silicon Glen isn't Silicon Valley

I came across this interesting report from 2004 covering the Scottish investment scene and it goes a long way to explain why Scotland isn't home to as many successful startups as it deserves. Not much has changed in 4 years and to put some figures on it, we are apparently we are only working at 20% of our economy's potential:

A 1993 MORI poll in Scotland estimated that there were over 90,000 latent, or would-be, entrepreneurs and business owners in Scotland, who were frustrated in their ability to act on their aspirations by a range of factors, including the absence of role models, difficulties (actual and perceived) in accessing resources, particularly finance, and lack of knowledge about the process of business formation. Based on figures from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) research programme around 5% of the Scottish adult population is actively engaged in business ownership or in activities being undertaken with a view to entering business ownership. This is around one half of the level experienced in the US and around one-third the level in other small open dynamic economies such as New Zealand.
Actually achieving this increased level of entrepreneurial activity will require a quantum shift in culture and attitudes in Scotland, which may only be achievable over a generation: as the experience of the business birth rate strategy in Scotland has demonstrated, this is not a ‘quick fix’ option. Specifically, access to finance is consistently cited as the prime obstacle to entrepreneurial activity in the GEM reports, and also in our research and contact with potential entrepreneurs. As it is, at present Scotland is working at perhaps 20% of its entrepreneurial potential.

Next time I have a decent idea, I'm off down to London. We have some of the brightest ideas in Scotland, some of the best graduates and even some of the world's largest banks. Yet we struggle at 20% of our potential. Why should I as an entrepreneur waste my time with a funding sector that isn't fit for purpose?
Our view is that the 90,000 “frustrated entrepreneurs” identified by a 1993 MORI poll (a figure consistent with the GEM data for Scotland a decade later) do not become active entrepreneurs largely because the funding landscape is not only too empty, but is also perceived as empty by those looking to enter it. While market participants respond (with some accuracy) that it is in fact not empty, and that sensible ideas well advised can usually find a funder, this accurate opinion is not helpful to an individual who is in full-time employment during normal working hours, has few or no contacts with the market, has little understanding of how it works, has little spare time to find out, and has a perception that entrepreneurial success relies on unique and specific skills that they may not have and may not be able to acquire.
A Darwinian approach to entrepreneurship would demand that these 90,000 aspiring entrepreneurs be left to live or die on their merits – let the fit survive and the rest remain in employment. Such Darwinism is, however, founded on the false premise (a) that this process will ‘weed out’ weak ideas and businesses, which is economically efficient, and (b) that entrepreneurship ought by definition to be hard and difficult, not least because today’s successful entrepreneurs and investors did indeed have to face harsh and difficult environments, and associate success with difficulty.
This Darwinian approach to the creation of an entrepreneurial economy is flawed, as can be seen from the failure of the Scottish economy to significantly raise the level of new business starts and the rate of formation and growth of high-potential companies over the past decade. A funding landscape that was visibly and obviously rich in sources of risk capital for businesses of every kind would remove a major constraint (real and perceived) on the formation of new entrepreneurial ventures. As such, it would provide an environment for the successful transformation of the culture of the Scottish economy into one in which entrepreneurial activity is seen as a legitimate career option and economic role.

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13 October 2007


Program it all

Will we see increasing programmability and customisation around the home? If not just to meet the needs of the consumer perhaps any company seeking to market environmentally friendly products would prefer to be selling products that can be easily upgraded and adapted?

Please vote for this idea on crowdspirit...


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24 July 2007


Call centre clear thinking

I got called by Dell today. Several times I had to correct the person on how to pronounce my name. Cockburn is a 700+ year old Scottish name that is pronounced Coburn. It is even advertised on national TV, Cockburn's special reserve is the UK's best selling Port (Fortified wine) and every advert details how to pronounce the name.

Yet I get countless contact centres who ask me for my name, I pronounce it correctly and then they pronounce it the way it is written in front of them, seemingly deaf to the fact that the owner of the name has just told them how to pronounce it. Some even say "well it must be spelled incorrectly here, I'll just change it for you", not realising that doing so would then mislabel my addressed mail.

Goodness knows what difficulties they have with pronunciation with some of the more difficult names from Eastern Europe, Africa, Arab speaking countries and so on. How embarrassing it must be for those customers and how needlessly difficult for contact centre operators.

How much simpler life would be if the customer record had a separate field where the phonetic spelling of the customer's name could be written in.

At last, no more mispronunciations. It also has the other advantage that if the company ever starts using voice recognition then the phonetic encoding of the field is likely to be more accurate than the original.

Why does no one do this? Sounds like a good idea to me.


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14 December 2006


London Underground overheating

This will be my first blog post from the PDA and as I type this I am on a very warm London underground in the middle of December. I can well believe the horror stories of overheating in the summer, especially during rush hour and three trainloads of people queuing ahead of you before you can get on a train,

The problem is caused by hotter air in the Tube failing to rise (as hot air does) quickly enough, coupled with insufficient cooler air from outside replacing it, and insufficient air circulation generally, especially within the trains when the doors are closed. I offer the following as a possible solution and welcome comments on it.

1. Have a system which derives at least part of its power from solar energy.

2. Pump cooler air from outside (possibly augmented by air conditioning) into the gaps between stations such that it flows along the lines, pushed by the trains, into stations. Said air could be sucked in from the street level drainage system.

3. Complete the air cycle by using fans to suck the air out of stations by installing such vans in escalator shafts.

4. Dramatically improve the circulation in trains by having air scoops at the front of the train (where there is high pressure) and feeding this into each carraige separately via units in the carriage ceiling - there is currently a fair bit of spare headroom there that could be put to better use.

5. Install ceiling fans with mesh guards in carriages.

My 2p worth anyway, Ken Livingston are you listening?

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28 November 2006


Crowdsourcing for consumer products - Web 2.0 hits manufacturing?

Crowdspirit launch on Techcrunch. Using Web 2.0 collaboration for inventing and improving consumer electronic products.

read more | digg story

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11 October 2006


Biggart Baillie Innovation Award 2007

Calling all innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs in Scotland - the Biggart Baillie Innovation Award 2007 launches today.

Brief terms and conditions:

There is no limit to the number of entries an individual can submit but each entry can only be submitted for one category.

All entrants must:

See the link for more details.



26 April 2006


Banish the Post Office queue

Every time I go to the post office there's a queue. No matter how much they try and keep the queue length down, inevitably you get stuck behind someone doing something complicated with a bank account, car tax, recorded delivery and so on. This morning there was at least 10 people in the queue and only 2 people serving.

I've come up with a solution to queuing for those of us with simple things to do such as post a letter or parcel, it's called weigh and pay and it's done by a machine.

  1. You place your letter or parcel on a set of scales to weigh it.

  2. You then indicate where you are sending it.

  3. You are then automatically given a list of postage options and expected delivery dates and choose one.

  4. You then pay for the postage, via an electronic payment method

  5. The stamps or postage vouchers are automatically printed

So simple, why has no-one thought of this before? It would create an express queue for people wanting to do simple things and the post office needn't even be open - ideal for post offices in supermarkets where the supermarket is open and the post office is closed.

The machine to do this is similar to the one you can use to buy train tickets with - select destination, available fare and payment method except the post office one has a set of scales built in. It isn't much different to the in-house systems available to businesses, so why is the post office so reluctant to make it available to the public and save the public's time?

There you go, I've just saved people worldwide millions of hours of time standing in queues. contact me if you want to send a donation...

Next please!

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