August 19, 2004

Solve Just Enough To Be Useful

Philosophy By: ams

Dare Obasanjo:

A technology doesn’t have to solve every problem. Just enough problems to be useful. Two examples come to mind which hammered this home to me; Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web and collaborative filtering which sites like Amazon use…

If you read the descriptions of the Xanadu model you’ll notice it has certain lofty goals. Some of these include the ability to create bi-directional links, links that do not break, and built-in version management. To me it doesn’t seem feasible to implement all these features without ending up building a closed system. It seems Tim Berners-Lee came to a similar conclusion and greatly simplified Ted Nelson’s dream thus making it feasible to implement and adopt on a global scale. Tim Berners-Lee’s Web punts on all the hard problems. How does the system ensure that documents once placed on the Web are always retrievable? It doesn’t. Instead you get 404 pages and broken links. How does the Web ensure that I can find all the pages that link to another page? It doesn’t. Does the Web enable me to view old versions of a Web page and compare revisions of it side by side? Nope.

Despite these limitations Tim Berners-Lee’s Web sparked a global information revolution. Even more interestingly over time various services have shown up online that have attempted to add the missing functionality of the Web such as The Internet Archive, Technorati and the Google Cache.

Here at CommerceNet we are grappling with the problem of solving just enough about decentralization to be useful in many commerce settings. More on that to follow in coming months…

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