Semantic web for real – ZACK

This is a post about the next generation use-driven application. I've written a lot within the company about how I want our products to evolve – particularly limiting myself to a vision which is within reach of what I see around the web (otherwise no one can relate to it). I've been cautious about speaking in a limited way, but this post is a radical call to something vastly different. I'm not the inventor, I'm just standing on the shoulder of a great people and commenting on my perception of the future.

This new environment and approach I will call: ZACK. I need a name that can protect the names of the innocent… oh, and to avoid lawsuits. 😉

I am writing as if I am speaking to the inventor of ZACK.

Procedural? Class? Conversational and organic!

In blogs we all persist with a conversational style of marketing. But ZACK will not happen in a spontaneous combustion of conversation. ZACK will not come out endless conversations, even though it's structure is conversational. That is medium/message thinking. No, I think it will happen out of being used. All you have to do is start letting people use it!

Rather than create YAPLCL (yet another programming language and a class library) and making people use the "improved" class library and having them add on to it, you've done something entirely different. You've made the beginnings of an environment in which people can extend language and meta-sets of words can construct visual things, movement, time, spatial oritentation. If you don't have these things, it will come in time because they all grow out of the language – just like in the real world.

I don't know HOW you built ZACK, but I do see why if enough OSS people got excited by ZACK, it would be extended out of sight.

As far as I can think about it, you're built something that is made out of actual language. All languages have certain core words out of which all the others are built. Wherever ZACK is introduced, it will grow from there organically – sort of like how a fractal can keep expanding from one starting point on a page. So bothering existing organizations is not a good investment IMHO, just let people start using it.

Needs centric

The reason this is so different is that while Gates thinks it's about being "user-centric" (read: User-centric part #1) it is in fact about being needs-centric. For some people that's research, some need a market (market-centric) and some have other needs. In a system where the meaning of a word is contained within the word, all the various knowledge needs of a real person would be met by a system like this.
Or in other words, it's about being like eBay (focussed on helping people doing things) or being like that big marketplace company which is allowing it's users to write their own code and upload it so that they can sell services to each other. Cool.

But ZACK goes beyond those walled systems. ZACK is community, a market and it is conversation driven from the ground up. It was built using words and it will be extended by extending the words it uses into more meta-words. The more ZACK is used, the more it's extended. The more ZACK gets extended the more it's used. Viral to the max.

I can't imagine how this gets built… I am not a coder. 🙂

I don't know how you'd express the relationships between things in order to indicate context, but my simplistic guess is that the relationships between words (the object) are basically a new kind of "inheritance" between words, so the context is expressed as words. Word feeding off words feeding off words. Words are only useful when surrounded by other words. Words are unintelligable unless surrounded by other words. Word placed together become phrases. Words are the building block of ZACK.

For those reasons, I don't see how you avoided an indefinite loop either or gobbling up far too much processing power either – a high level word (meta-word or combination word) could "consume" or "depend" on thousands of words. heheheh. The mind bogggles.

Making money

I won't tell investors they can make money off it (other than with IP and licensing – which will alienate the very people who will make it grow). Why won't it make the inventors money? Because if ZACK is free and all a person needs is a server to store it on, and then data can flow freely from it to the other ZACK servers. Perhaps you can sell ZACK identities and the locations of words (which are really objects like hyperlinks, or names, or DNS) and ICANN would indeed be the people who could implement that.

Sure some people will make money. Of course. Amazon. People who sell things. That's normal. And unless Microsoft invents this or buys the company owning it, they should be afraid. The only people who will love this are the people who have learned to live in the OSS world of consulting.

IBM will be big winners. They jumped onto Java. They will jump onto this. They will advise British Airways on how to build words that people can use in their writing so that airline details show up right there in the document. (I can hear Microsofties complain that this is "smart tags" but it's totally better and different). At first British Airways will tell the ZACK (the architecture) to protect the component, IOW don't let anyone grow it. But in this day and age of mashups, see Semantic mashup artistes, they will either open up or be pushed aside by the hordes of "word growers".

What we have seen in firefox through the creation of extensions will pale by comparison. And if building an extension is as simple as understanding the words, and even better if I already know some of those words, then anyone can contribute extensions. It will explode. People may prepare for meetings by defining the words they use and synching their partners applications beforehand.

Controlling the meaning of words

Controlling the meaning of words will more than ever before be the way to control society. The US government will be excited. They have not been able to control the internet for a long time and now the internet IS the mainstream (sure it's inefficient, sure it's largely just a platform waiting for a truly good application – but it's still the mainstream at the moment). But if the US Govt can regulate ZACK by law then they can at least HAVE A HOPE of regulating thought again – by controlling the meaning of words used.

For a while FOX NEWS TV was the mainstream – they redefined the meaning of words on a daily basis. But now the mainstream (for word invention and meaning) is blogs – they are wild, wooly and uncontrollable.

If ZACK channels the mainstream, and if the meaning of words is *in* ZACK (not just is ZACK, but is also contained by ZACK, that is to say, through constant use and recombination language actually evolves within ZACK) then they (the Govt) have a chance of re-influencing the mainstream again. They have one place – a pressure point – through which meaning can be controlled: ZACK.

Diversity won't protect it. Even if too many people create alternate words and meanings, society still drives us all to collect behind one or two political parties, one cool event, the coolest RSS icon – the others languish fighting over the leftovers. It happens over and over again.

The dynamics will be interesting. ZACK will no doubt allow me to replace one meta-word with another meta-word, because the new one performs the same function, but because of a different meaning, it gives me new options and the end result is a different output than what I had before. ZACK will offer me other words that other people have created that appear to fit in. Perhaps I will be able to try before I buy… but in the end like with Firefox, most extensions will be free.

But even in a free for all medium like the internet, only a handful of websites end up being dominant. and the same may be true of ZACK, because just like the internet is not walled off (like AOL was) we still only visit a few places. Surfing ZACK will be different because you're always IN the ZACK application, but the information will be more recursive, more like Dave Winer's vision for OPML, where you're always in the OPML browser, but RSS feeds and websites and OPML entries all blur together and you just keep drilling down down down as you surf more and more, finding what you want.

However ZACK is different, you don't surf for interest. It's market driven, needs driven, want driven, interest driven. Right now you surf to find something to use. When I surfed for the first time on a green screen at a business I worked for almost 15 years ago, I wondered what to surf for. I was told there were TONS of things to see. I wasn't motivated. ZACK will let you surf things to USE them. If I can't find one, I can make one – and republish it.

Everything is a compound word or a meta-word

But back to the money side of things – ZACK will offer to sell my meta-word or compound-word for me, but in the end the mystery that is Linux, Firefox extensions and OSS will gradually destroy that market. "For sale" components will need to move further and further up the tree as the OSS free-as-in-beer crowd gobbles the low hanging fruit and moves up the tree.

In ZACK, every"thing" is like a hyperlink – except the thing *is* the thing, it's not a representation of the thing. A hyperlink can be edited and improved and republished. The other users can choose to be notified of upgrades to hyperlinks. Since ZACK is simply a compound of invented words (with only the very core root or stem words being protected) the number of notifications of possible upgrades expands astronomically as the words are upgraded through the larger number of visitors. Words are upgraded by inheriting from other words. The number of notifications would rise to become a real problem. The wiki and slashdot approach (where users contribute by coting onthe usefulness of words) and notifications below a certain level don't display. See, Relevancy! Relevancy! Devel… err… Relevancy!

Growing language by using and extending language

Or, I am only notified of the alternatives when I want to extend something. Or even better what if ZACK could track my behaviour and my goals and try to help me achieve my goal. If it was that functional (in terms of having functional "words") then it could bring to my attention recently published words that suit what I am trying to build.

That requires very high level behaviour words. The word "behaviour" itself is a compound word and once it is "invented" in ZACK, it can be used and "grown". Most words will be grown by users. Once grown they can be used. ZACK should track my behaviour and experiment with words to find the one that matches my need. The words that must have been grown in order for this to happen include: need, goal and action. Each are compound or meta-words, so many other words need to be grown first. ZACK will ship with a basic set of root or stem words and users will grow it from there.

It won't push any one major language since users will quickly port each word across to their own language, in the same way that the magnificent wiki project is gradually growing (through it's contributors) into many major languages.

The impact

ZACK has the potential to impact

  • knowledge gathering and storing and use
  • application development
  • the diversification of language away from English
  • the rapid expansion of the number of word in use
  • rapid expansion of IP owned by individuals rather than companies
  • the identity-ownership relationship will be maintained even while the IP is being replicated thousands of times around the ZACK-web (by comparison to how blogger lose their ownership of their posts, see blog content ownership and control)

Hard to beat

ZACK will be very hard to compete with, because:

  • people have a tendancy for to gravitate to one solution, especially if that solution provides everythng they want
  • the better ZACK "grows" words, the faster it will consume existing knowledge and language and extend it
  • even if the intial "growing" process is cumbersome, the "growers" (the users, the Firefox extension builders) will grow a better growing process. The better the growing process, the more people it's accessible to. The more people, the more contributions and the more growth.

I'd like to hear thoughts and feedback.

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One Response to “Semantic web for real – ZACK”

  1. kurtcagle Says:

    ZACK sounds quite interesting – may give HELEN a run for its money 😉

    I think in the long term (10-15 years) the software “industry” is pretty much doomed, save within the consulting space, and that particular space will be dominated not by proceduralists but by metamagicians, artists, semanticists and philosophers. Indeed, it may actually mark the first time in more than 2500 years that one could actually make a decent living as a philosopher.

    — Kurt


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