Web 2.0 Publishing and Happy 1.0, Computing Now!
When asked to put together a special issue for our first anniversary of Computing Now, I must confess that there were a dozen or so stray thoughts circling in my head. To be entrusted to this task as a member of a highly capable and visionary board was, indeed, a great honor. Alas, this was precious weeks ago, and my thoughts were, “How am I going to do this AND deal with the usual insanity that accompanies the end of the academic year?” Nevertheless, I agreed to the task and in typical fashion, I began to panic. Seriously, how does anyone do justice to a topic like Web 2.0? Nevertheless, to see how Web 2.0 has changed us, it pays to consult the Wikipedia article on it (incidentally, the “I’m feeling lucky.” response from a Google search for the phrase. For another interesting read, take a look at Tim O’Reilly’s article that helps to see examples of Web 1.0 and 2.0.). And then I realized that in this assignment lies a bit of a history lesson for all of us.
We all know that the dawn of Web 1.0 (yes, I did press the rewind button) was supposed to be the great disruptive moment in publishing. It was just before then that Tim Berners-Lee arrived at the seminal ideas that would one day shake the computing world senseless. The date? Around 1980. The technology? A distributed variant of hypertext to facilitate the sharing and exchange of information among scientific researchers—an overlapping set of folks who read our publications. In 1980, I was not even taking my first sip of Java (the language) but just on the verge of tinkering with assembler languages (on processors today’s youth know little about) and BASIC. We were on the verge of ubiquitous internetworking, but, aside from a few research institutions, this was largely a playground that eluded most of us who were still tinkering with modems and dial-up, myself included. And it’s for this reason that Web 1.0, when it finally started trickling in in the 1990s and the world was taken by storm with the arrival of Mosaic, was all the more dramatic. Not long thereafter, there were numerous prognostications about the end of “commerce” and “news” as we knew it. It was unlike anything that had been seen since the railroads and the Industrial Revolution. Then a crash sound is inserted here, the inaudible sound that afflicted most investor portfolios (even my meager one).
At this point, I remind everyone that the Web was created to allow for the sharing and exchange of information, primarily among scientific researchers. But it has been a long time coming, and the rest of the world seems ahead of us in some ways (confirming my belief that those who invent technology are often among the last to use it or are ineffective at doing so). Sharing and exchange is good to a certain point, but how the heck are you going to pay for it? For those of you who are new to Computing Now, our board includes editorial board members representing all IEEE Computer Society magazines, and we’re definitely thinking about this question. In my case, I represent Computing in Science and Engineering, which is copublished by the IEEE Computer Society and the American Institute of Physics. Well before I was asked by CiSE‘s editor in chief at the time (Norman Chonacky) to serve on the editorial board, we knew that our future—at least in part—needs to involve the Internet. We know that our publication shares something in common with the CS’s various publications: we have content that our readers truly want to read, and we work hard (as volunteers in our case) to continue producing nothing but the best. We also share another common attribute: Our content isn’t available to everyone who might want to read it. It’s locked out to anyone but our subscribers. So there’s a clear need to try something new, because we and the rest of the world know that the future is a hybrid one. The debate won’t begin or end here, but suffice it to say, Web 2.0 (back to the present) has reignited the discussion about publishing. If anything else, it’s also helped us get one step closer to Tim Berners-Lee’s dream, not to mention the dreams of others before him (see Vannevar Bush’s article “As We May Think” from the Atlantic, where he foreshadows many of the same ideas).
In this special issue, we take a look at Web 2.0 and publishing.
In a recent “At Issue” (login required for full text) column, Bill Feireisen and I (as members of the CiSE editorial board) engaged in a lively point-counterpoint about the magazine and the Web. Feireisen discusses the critical need for publications (ours) to use the Web to enhance our content beyond what can be done on the printed page. In the counterpoint, I say fine, but we need to think carefully about how to optimize impact for a small publication such as CiSE. Simply moving to the Web doesn’t change fortunes, and great thought and understanding of your content is critical for taking advantage of a world where “clicks” end up in your bank account (maybe).
In “Web 3.0 Emerging,” (login required for full text) Jim Hendler takes a look at Web 3.0, which basically entails the notion of the Semantic Web (a W3 effort). While the ideas are still being developed, we know that these ideas will be important to the future of publishing, which is plagued by problems of impermanence (broken links) and relatively unstructured information (HTML instead of XML). Hendler presents a strong case that Web 3.0 is already making progress in terms of technology, applications, and even investor interest to boot. If anything else, we know what it’s going to look like and must start thinking about it in everything we do.
This issue also includes Hendler’s excellent 3-part editorial series, “Reinventing Academic Publishing,” where he talks about a holistic vision for publishing that’s about not just technology but about the enormous potential for scientific communities (think social networking). This approach is already gaining traction in journals such as Nature. If anything, it would seem like models are emerging for a meaningful coexistence of print and Web publishing.
In “When Web 2.0 Becomes Uh-Oh,” Greg Goth takes a look at the critical importance of understanding cross-organizational issues (where an organization could be any group—nations, businesses, religions, and so on) when building Web or online communities. The Web has a tendency to make us oblivious to the real differences that exist between us, and great caution must be exercised when building applications, especially those with mashed-up services. Relying on such services (for instance, populating a list of countries in a Web interface, which is seemingly harmless) without careful review and testing can result in embarrassing situations for companies and organizations.
Bernardo A. Huberman takes a look at crowdsourcing and attention (login required for full text). It’s an interesting read about a subject that’s close to our hearts (or eyes). We publish information to get the attention of others and encourage them to cite work to bring attention to it. As social phenomena become more prevalent, attention will rise to the forefront in much the same way it plays out in academic publishing. Those who research are obviously obsessed with it when it comes to matters like promotion and tenure, but it’s just as important in the social networking space, especially when it comes to having social capital.
In sum, the Web is here to stay and will impact everything we do here at the IEEE Computer Society (and similar societies, such as the CS’s parent organization, the IEEE, and ACM). Yet we have merely scratched the surface, despite making many strides forward. Anyway, here’s to Web 3.0 and Computing Now 2.0. We know that you’re going to like them once they get here. As always, we look forward to hearing from our dear and intelligent readers (as Jim Hendler puts it) as we continue on these adventures in publishing.
George K. Thiruvathukal is an associate professor of computer science at Loyola University Chicago in the Computer Science department, where he also serves as computing director and co-director of the Emerging Technologies Laboratory. His research and teaching interests include computing history, parallel and distributed systems, programming and markup languages, and free and open source software. He also has extensive multidisciplinary interests, including digital humanities, music, environmental science, and bioinformatics. He holds a PhD from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He also serves as an associate editor for Computing in Science and Engineering, co-published by IEEE Computer Society and the American Institute of Physics. He’s a member of the IEEE Computer Society and the ACM. He is also the coauthor of High Performance Java Platform Computing. To contact him, please visit www.cs.luc.edu/gkt.