It’s no secret that we have a problem. The American political
system is a bit secretive, quite inefficient and wastes a good
amount of our resources. Such is the nature of gigantic
Like any problem, to solve it we must first quantify or count
it. With large groups of people involved, any such quantification
must be very accurate and very easy to understand at a glance.
This notion is nearly synonymous with a concept that David
Stephenson refers to as transparent government, or “using Web 2.0 apps … to allow informed debate on policy
alternatives, to find convergences (possible synergies—and wasteful
overlaps), and to allow people with particular interests and/or
expertise to contribute to issues.”
Thanks to the evolution of the web and internet applications,
we’ll soon take a big leap in our ability to simulate super-complex
political systems (especially if they are computer-dependent). Two
fundamental, yet eminently do-able, steps remain to be taken:
1) make the majority of government information
2) put emerging semantic web applications to work crunching this
Change will swiftly follow if we can accurately and neatly
organize political relationship trees, decision patterns and
funding flows into a digestible “graph” that anyone can easily
re-sort and view a million different ways from a billion different
Twine creator and CEO Nova Spivack wants to change the world by enabling a much, much smarter Web. In the meantime, as Twine enters its public beta phase, he’s more than happy to help guide Web-based content through the baby-steps of back-end development, simultaneously allowing millions of users to “leverage collective intelligence to better share and discover information around their interests on the Web.” If indeed Spivack makes the right moves and successfully generates the requisite critical mass, his company Radar Networks could grow to a billion $+ valuation inside a few years, rising up to compete against the likes of Google in the contextual advertising market.
In this exclusive interview with Spivack (full transcript available at bottom) MemeBox’s Venessa Posavec asked some tough and comprehensive questions about Spivack’s vision of the semantic web, the near-term future of Twine, and the future of what Spivack calls the Intelligent web.
Some choice excerpts include:
On the future of the semantic web:
“It is about fundamentally upgrading the quality of the data on the Web.”
The Intelligent Web “is rather far off in the future still, in 2020 and beyond.”
On the trajectory of Twine:
“We’re seeing people spend extraordinary amounts of time on Twine, because interest networks are so sticky. When people can congregate efficiently and meaningfully around shared interests, amazing things can happen. This is what we are building, ultimately – a platform for networks that are about what you know – not who you know.”
“Our agenda for the next 12 months is to move from our present invite-only beta to an app that is ready for ‘prime-time’ use by mainstream consumers. This is mainly accomplished by working on usability. We need to make Twine easier for ordinary consumers to quickly understand and use. We also have a large number of improvements and new features to add. We hope to launch next major version in October 2008.”
“It is possible that Twine will become your primary touch-point for content on the Web, in part because of the intelligence that we can bring to the table. But we mostly think of Twine as a hub of collective intelligence, and Twine plays nice with e-mail, browsers, bookmarking tools, RSS, wiki-style editing, video, photographs, etc.”
On Twine as a potential Google killer:
“[B]ecause intelligent applications like Twine can understand context and even make inferences from that context, they can deliver a whole new kind of advertising that provides real value, in the context of what a given user is actually interested in.”
Here’s the full transcript of the fascinating and revelaing interview:
MemeBox: What is the macro significance of a semantically organized web?
Nova Spivack: The Semantic Web is essentially made up of a set of technologies designed to help the Web to become a place where information exists in a format that software applications can easily understand. By making information more accessible, software will in turn become increasingly able to understand and organize that information automatically and intelligently.
In other words, the Web, and the software that runs on top of it, will become smarter, and more intelligent. Not as smart as humans perhaps, but much smarter than, say, your word processor is today.
MemeBox: What are some potential applications of the semantic web?
Nova Spivack: I think that collective intelligence is the main thing that the Semantic Web is enabling, and Twine is a great example of a tool that is moving us towards a new paradigm that we’re calling “interest networking.”
Twine helps people keep up with what matters to them, by teaming up to organize, share, and track information with networks of people who share their interests. Twine is like a social network for sharing, organizing and finding knowledge. It helps individuals and groups achieve smarter, more productive, collective intelligence. This is interest networking. It is networking with other like-minded users around the topics that you care most about.
As background, a “Twine” is a place for your interests. It’s the next step beyond a file server, wiki, personal home page, or database. Users can create a Twine for any group, team or community. Twines can be private and personal, private for groups, or public for groups and communities.
The most popular Twines right now represent an array of interests, with names like Foodie Extraordinaire, Alternative Medicine, The Art of Filmmaking, Science Fiction Depot, Oddities Around The World, Sustainable Living, Humor and so on. The #1 most popular Twine is just called “Cool,” actually – it has 1,500 members who all contribute the coolest stuff they find around the Web. It’s easy to get lost in “Cool” for hours.
But that’s just the public Twines. There are private Twines for conferences, school groups, corporate teams, families, and much more. And there are thousands of Twines for more esoteric interests. In fact the smaller Twines are some of our more interesting use cases – there are only so many people in the world who are intensely interested in British cartoonists, but they are all finding each other using Twine.
The “intelligent” part of Twine is what it does under the hood, so to speak – automatically classifying and labeling documents, web pages, e-mails, photos, videos, etc. and connecting the relevant pieces to each other like a trail of breadcrumbs.
Twine also looks at individual users’ interests, understands their preferences without ever having to ask, and suggests new Twines to join, or other members of the community to connect with. Some of my favorite user stories are about two people connecting and forming a friendship about a shared interest that they never could have otherwise known they had in common.
Summary: Spivack’s observation that the web is saturating the world (rather than just enabling a super fast web that the world and humans can enter) reinforces the idea that our system as a whole is amplifying its total intelligence and capabilities, rather than just supporting the digitization and “upload” of everything. It’s a basic, yet profound distinction that fundamentally changes how we expect the future to unfold.
Nova Spivack has posted some interesting thoughts up on his personal Twine, noting that “The Web is starting to spread outside of what we think of as ‘the Web’ and into ‘the World.’” He points out that “the digital world is going physical”, an idea that opens up an array of new futures previously not imagined by thinkers who’ve largely focused on digitization and inner space as the inevitable human destiny. Spivack concludes that “Beyond just a Global Brain, we are really building a Global Body.”
This thinking resonates with me because it moves away from a human-centric view of the future (digitization is good because we can live forever) in favor of a more systems-centric explanation (the system as a whole is getting smarter for its own reasons). It also makes sense in the context of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with good friend and EvoDevo systems thinker John Smart about the direct relationship between A) our collective drive to tunnel toward Inner Space (nanotech, chemistry, energy efficiency, etc.) and B) our drive to expand into Outer Space (exploration, space travel, universe mapping, manufacturing, resource discovery).
An increasingly intelligent, self-orgainzing web that furthers growth of both the Global Brain, a concept originally advanced by Francis Heylighen in 1995, and what Spivack calls the Global Body, seems like the necessary tissue connecting our Inner Space and Outer Space focused appendages. In other words, the web that Spivack observes is not only concerned with creating better simulations, but also with expanding reach and bettering physical capabilities.
This jives with the idea that the point of the game of life, including the human-created web, is to ensure the survival of our global system via knowledge gathering and expansion, and less with the species-centric view that the future is solely about digitizing ourselves and escaping our biological chains. If in fact we are living in a system that purposely or automagically (to borrow a term from another futurist colleague, Jerry Paffendorf) seeks to increase control over its perceived environment (COPE) in order to ensure survival and expansion, then the creation of a web that serves this system, rather than just its human components, seems perfectly rational.
From this perspective, a merger between the web and physical world makes a lot of sense as it accelerates the input, sorting and output of information, resulting in increased system quantification and knowledge generation. In other words, a world-as-web + web-as-world boosts both our collective intelligence and capabilities.
Of course, this sort of thinking steadily pulls us down the rabbit hole to a place where the physical world can be viewed as web and the web as increasingly physical. But, then again, we’re due for some serious paradigm shifts, aren’t we?