This is a white paper I wrote for BagTheWeb in 2010.
Part 1: A Web connector to link information islands
The Web is a network of nodes (webpages) connected by links (hyperlinks). These nodes evolve with user-generated content. Enriched and enhanced by user-generated content and user actions on websites, the Web has entered a booming era nicknamed Web 2.0.
Links, however, remain unchanged. Websites are still linked by hyperlinks as they were in the early 1990s. RSS, tagging, and mashup are the only emerging technologies improving the Web’s linking structure. Hyperlinks are static because only webpage builders can create them. Ordinary users cannot easily do so.
In 2008, Nicholas Carr said in his book The Big Switch, “The World Wide Web has truly turned into the World Wide Computer.” But that is not quite true yet. Links serve only limited linking needs between websites, but cannot satisfy the linking needs of ordinary users. Websites remain primarily separate information islands. People rely on search engines to locate information.
BagTheWeb offers a new way to democratize the information architecture of the Web for ordinary users. As a Web connector, bag releases the power of hyperlinks to everyone. Even though you are not an editor or a registered user of a website, you can still link content on any websites together by using bags.
At TED 2009 conference Tim Berners-Lee said, “It’s not just about the number of places where data comes. It’s about connecting it together. And when you connect data together, you get power in a way that doesn’t happen just with the Web with documents. You get this really huge power out of it.”
When the user-generated links become as popular as user-generated content, the user crowd will be editors of the Web. Consequently, the Web will become smarter with its information islands connected by bags.
Part 2: A new approach to organizing information
Organizing information is an important and common task in the lives of human beings and in the life of a society because we organize to understand, to explain, and to control with order. People have used three approaches for organizing information on the Web: classification systems, chronological order, and folksonomy (a.k.a. tagging).
People use classification systems in both the physical and virtual worlds. For example, classification is the main method to organize books in libraries or categorize living things in biology. The hierarchical tree structure of a classification system is also applied in designing the information architecture of individual websites.
Chronological order is a classical approach for organizing information in human society. This approach is also a common method used in the design of Web applications. The email system was created using chronological order. In the late 1990s the blog system was designed with reverse chronological order. As social network sites became popular, chronological order has been applied to feed readers, micro-blogging sites, lifestream sites, and other web applications.
According to the “Folksonomy” entry on Wikipedia, “Folksonomies became popular on the Web around 2004 as part of social software, such as social bookmarking and photograph annotation. Tagging, which is characteristic of Web 2.0 service, allows users to collectively classify and find information. Some websites include tag cloud as a way to visualize tags in a folksonomy.”
Basically, BagTheWeb not only creates a platform to enable people to organize information easily but also organizes information using an innovative approach: relevancy linking. The new approach surpasses chronological order, classification, and folksonomy.
Relevancy linking is our approach to developing the bagging platform. A bag is a collection of grouped Web links and bag links. Our bagging system involves two-level architecture. On the first level, any webpage can be linked into a bag and connected to other Web links based on the theme of the bag. On the second level, the group of links in a bag can be connected to other groups of links in other bags as bags are linked.
By arranging the relationships between Web links and bags, people can organize online information in a new way, different from traditional approaches.
Our bagging system is not designed by using the chronological approach. Instead we focus on the relationship between items because we learn by connecting.
The bagging system has no categories and subcategories. Any bag can be a starting point on the information path. People can arrange information in a free structure and can design their bag’s network in any format. Imagine a bag as a Lego block that can be assembled and connected in many ways to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings, and even working robots. People can arrange bags to construct their personal information networks in any way they desire.
Tagging and bagging differ. Tagging is used to archive individual resources for re-finding, but bagging is designed to collect individual resources to create new contents with new meanings. A bag is not a simple aggregation of individual resources but a new creation that has its own theme resulting from ordering and editing. In addition, the semantics of the connections between bags is richer than that of tags.
Part 3: A new Web utility
Bagging will soon become as common a Web utility as information finding, blogging, and information sharing are today. It empowers users with a new capability—collecting and assembling webpages. Bags built by users are immediately useful for them and for the Web community.
Bagging is expressing
Social bagging is a new type of personal publishing somewhere between regular blogging and microblogging. It can also work in concert with regular blogging and microblogging within your daily Web life.
Microblogging has been a popular online utility. As people become active on microblogging sites, they spend less time on regular blog sites. We are not sure whether that is good or bad. If you are worried about which tool is a better choice for your personal Web life, you may like bagging as the third option.
Regular blogging requires a significant amount of time to write a meaningful post. Microblogging is usually used for communication and sharing links instead of for providing meaningful content. Social bagging provides something in between. It is easy to build a meaningful content bag in a short time through bagging.
An easy-to-use Web utility, bagging saves time in contrast to regular blogging. We know that when many people blog, they merely want to express their opinions on what they read or encounter. On BagTheWeb, you can save Web links on a topic to a bag with your personal opinions expressed as bag descriptions. You can even write posts to express your thoughts and put them in a bag. Our post feature is similar to the regular blog post but easier to use. It is organized by bagging, not reverse chronological order, which is used by regular blog software.
You can also use bags to store reference links for your regular blog posts. If you just want to comment on a topic that emerged from related web links, it is enough to build bags. If you have further thoughts on any topic, you can go ahead to write a regular blog post.
Bagging is sharing
Sharing is the soul of Web 2.0 and more and more sharing tools are coming to us everyday. Most people use microblogging sites to share Web links. One-click sharing tools are also popular. We have so much fragmented information but not enough filters.
Bagging is a simple filter that uses an easy approach—sharing after bagging. If you want to be a good sharer, don’t share anything too hastily. Just put the information into bags and build connections. Then share your bags with your friends.
Bagging is collaborating
People can build bags for business and personal purposes, including learning, activities, and projects. Domain experts can build bags around their expertise. If you are working with a group of people, your group can build bags and link them together to form a useful information reference pool.
Bagging is contributing
Bags benefit the whole Web community. One by one, bags created by users will connect the Web more meaningfully. Self-motivated users will enthusiastically create bags to link related webpages to benefit the entire Web community, similar to their participation in writing Wikipedia entries.
Part 4: The shared brain of the planet
A lot of people believe the Internet is similar in structure to the human brain. In October 2003 Barrett Lyon started the Opte Project, aimed at providing a useful Internet map employing visual graphics. The following image was the project’s first full Internet map.
The below image represents the neurons of the human brain (courtesy of Paul De Koninck from www.greenspine.ca).
The brain has neurons and memories. Connections among the neurons of the brain are very important to human beings. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California, said at TED 2008: “There are 15 or 20 cortical areas that are changed specifically when you learn a simple skill like this. And that represents in your brain, really massive change. It represents the change in a reliable way of the responses of tens of millions, possibly hundreds of millions of neurons in your brain. It represents changes of hundreds of millions, possibly billions of synaptic connections in your brain. This is constructed by physical change.”
The Web is similar in structure to the human brain. The webpages are like neurons and the links between webpages are like synapses. According to Wikipedia, an adult human brain is estimated to contain from 100 to 500 trillion synapses. In December 2009 a Netcraft Web server survey revealed about 175 million Web sites. In July 2008, the folks at Google said their systems hit a milestone: 1 trillion unique URLs on the web. Jeffrey M. Stibel, a brain scientist and serial entrepreneur, said in Wired for Thoughts, “To be sure, it would have to grow much more to catch up with the brain’s 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections, but the Web is on track to grow much faster than the human brain.” We agree with his viewpoint.
BagTheWeb will make a significant impact on the Web by opening a new way to form inter-webpage relationships and enhancing the fundamental structure of Web linking.
Bag is an easy-to-use tool for presenting your mind. When you collect and link relevant webpages together, you are thinking about some topic. When you add a webpage to an existing bag, you activate your memory about that topic. The bag can be updated any time. Imagine a bag as a mirror to a part of your brain that expresses your thoughts.
Your network of linked bags is a mirror of your brain because your bags can connect just as your neurons link together. Each bag expresses part of your memory and thoughts. Your entire bag network presents the big picture that is your mind.
Your bags can link to the bags of others. It’s difficult to imagine your neurons linked to others neurons, but it is easy to imagine people connecting their minds by linking their bags.
Finally, let’s say, “If we had a billion users, that will be the shared brain of the planet.”