Smart web, dumb web
Suppose you consult a Webpage, looking for a major national park, and you find a list of hotels that have branches in the vicinity of the park. In that list you see that Mongotel, one of the well-known hotel chains, has a branch there. Since you have a Mongotel rewards card, you decide to book your room there. So you click on the Mongotel website and search for the hotel’s location. To your surprise, you can’t find a Mongotel branch at the national park. What is going on here? “That’s so dumb,” you tell your browsing friends. “If they list Mongotel on the national park website, shouldn’t they list the national park on Mongotel’s website?”
Suppose you are planning to attend a conference in a far-off city. The conference website lists the venue where the sessions will take place. You go to the website of your preferred hotel chain and find a few hotels in the same vicinity.
“Which hotel in my chain is nearest to the conference?” you wonder. “And just how far off is it?” There is no shortage of websites that can compute these distances once you give them the addresses of the venue and your own hotel.
So you spend some time copying and pasting the addresses from one page to the next and noting the distances. You think to yourself, “Why should I be the one to copy this information from one page to another? Why do I have to be the one to copy and paste all this information into a single map?
Suppose you are investigating our solar system, and you find a comprehensive website about objects in the solar system: Stars (well, there’s just one of those), planets, moons, asteroids, and comets are all described there. Each object has its own webpage, with photos and essential information (mass, albedo, distance from the sun, shape, size, what object it revolves around, period of rotation, period of revolution, etc.). At the head of the page is the object category: planet, moon, asteroid, comet. Another page includes interest-
ing lists of objects: the moons of Jupiter, the named objects in the asteroid belt, the planets that revolve around the sun. This last page has the nine familiar planets, each linked to its own data page.
One day, you read in the newspaper that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has decided that Pluto, which up until 2006 was considered a planet, should be considered a member of a new category called a “dwarf planet”! You rush to the Pluto page, and see that indeed, the update has been
made: Pluto is listed as a dwarf planet! But when you go back to the “Solar Planets” page, you still see nine planets listed under the heading “Planet.” Pluto is still there! “That’s dumb.” Then you say to yourself, “Why didn’t they update the
What do these examples have in common? Each of them has an apparent representation of data, whose presentation to the end user (the person operating the Web browser) seems “dumb.” What do we mean by “dumb”? In this case, “dumb” means inconsistent, out of synch, and disconnected. What
would it take to make the Web experience seem smarter? Do we need smarter applications or a smarter Web infrastructure?