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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Maturing of the Implicit Web

Comments (27)

I’ve been fascinated with the notion of the Implicit Web since I determined that I was tired of my computer (and the Internet in general) being stupid.  I wanted it (my computer as well as the Internet) to pay attention to what I, and others, were doing.  Theoretically “my compute infrastructure” should learn, automate repeated tasks (automatically), figure out what information I actually want, and make sure I get it when I want it.

In 20 years, I expect we will snicker at the idea of having to go search for information by typing a few words into a text box on the screen.  It’s way better than 20 years ago, but when you step back and think about it, it’s pretty lame.  I mean, I’ve got this incredible computer on my desk, a gazillion servers in the cloud, this awesome social network, yet I find myself typing the same stuff into little boxes over and over again.  Ok – it’s all pretty incredible given that it wasn’t so long ago that people had to rub sticks together to get fire, but can’t it be amazing and lame at the same time?

Several companies that I’ve got a personal investment in that play in and around the implicit web recently came out with new releases that I’m pretty excited about; each addresses different problems, but does it in elegant and clever ways.

The first – OneRiot – came out with a new twist on using Twitter for search.  OneRiot’s goal is to provide a search engine for the real time web.  To that end, they’ve historically gotten their data on what people are looking at from a collection of browser-based sensors (anonymous, opt-in only).  They’ve built a unique search infrastructure that takes a variety of factors, including number of people on a specific URL in a particular time period, freshness of the content, and typical content weighting algorithms.  A little while ago they realized that people were tweeting a huge number of URLs, mostly via URL shorteners (which are loathed by some very smart people.) Twitter search addresses keywords in the tweet, but it doesn’t do anything with the URL’s, especially the shortened ones.  So, OneRiot built a pre-processor that grabs tweets from Twitter’s API that include a URL, tosses the shortened URL into OneRiot’s search corpus (which expands the URL and indexes the full page text), and then references it back to the original tweet.  It also correlates all tweets with the same URL (including re-tweets) across any URL shortened service.  Now, imagine incorporating any URL data that’s real time that has an API, such as Digg.  Aha!  It’s alpha so forgive it if it breaks – but give it a try.

The second – AdaptiveBlue – has released their newest version of Glue.  Glue is a contextual network that uses semantic technology to automatically connect people around everyday things such as books, music, movies, stars, artists, stocks, wine, and restaurants.  It uses a browser-based plugin to build this contextual network implicitly.  When you are on a site such as Amazon, Last.fm, Netflix, Yahoo! Finance, Wine.com, or Citysearch, the Glue bar automatically appears when it recognizes an appropriate object, categorizes it, and let’s you take specific action on it if you want.  Glue has been evolving nicely and now includes the idea of connected conversations between friends (e.g. talk about whatever you like regardless of the site you are visiting), smart recommendations (e.g. implicit recommendations), and web wide top lists of the aggregated activity of all Glue users.

In addition, we’ve finally found a company that we think is attacking a wide swath of the problem of the Implicit Web the correct way, at least given today’s technology. We hope to close the investment and start talking publicly about it early next month. 

For now, I expect the applications around the Implicit Web to continue to fall into the early adopter / you need to see it to believe it category (where it’s harder to explain than just to show).  In the near term, if you are interested in this are, try out OneRiot and Glue – they are both evolving and maturing very nicely.

  • http://www.artistdata.com Brenden

    Glue is a fantastic concept. I've been meaning to dig into it a bit more and this post served as a nice reminder. Set up was relatively easy, although it took a bit to figure a few minor things out, and I'm still not sure what my "LinkedIn ID" is.

    So far my impressions are very positive, but it does feel a little big brother-ish since it feels like its recording everything I'm doing. I'm interested to see what the trade off there is, and how my web experience is improved in exchange for that data.

    Thanks for the post. Looking forward to hearing about the new investment.

    • http://www.getglue.com Fraser

      Hi Brenden,

      Thanks for the kind words about Glue. I have good news for you re. the 'big brother-ish' concerns:

      - because Glue is object based, it is only active on popular sites about books, movies, music, etc.

      - on all other sites Glue is completely inactive

      - the initial parsing occurs on your local machine. no information is shared with the server unless you visit, say, a movie on Netflix

      - and even then you have full control over your data so you can easily delete a connection between you and an item

      Hope this helps!

      Would love to hear more of your thoughts on the product as you explore: fraser at adaptiveblue .com

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jonathanjoseph jonathanjoseph

    Thought provoking as usual, Brad. And while I know that you are far smarter than I, I remain skeptical that any near term technology can solve the implicit web problem.

    And its for the same reason that Cuil, Powerset, et al will never challenge Google. While semantic/natural language search is far superior to keyword/Boolean search in theory, in practice the technology does not work effectively at web scale. Similarly, I do not believe that any horizontal algorithm can find what I am looking for without my intervention (i.e. the kinds of semantic content discovery companies that debuted at the recent DEMO).

    I think many would agree that the leading practicitioner of the implicit web to date is @Gabe, and Techmeme is not only vertically oriented but I found it very telling that he recently added a human/editorial function. And I believe that there will not be any algorithm or technology that can solve this problem by itself in the short or medium term.

    I think both vertical focus and editorial intervention will be required for any real adoption. $.02

    • http://markgslater.wordpress.com mark slater

      jonathan – i agree here. I saw a concept at Brown U 6 years ago that promised to deliver on the semantic web. I think we will see tiny pieces of NL being deployed – not a 'catch all' killer app.

      It also requires more contextual data sourcing – it cant just come from the web – it needs my location, or it needs my action.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/scott_yates498 Scott Yates

    It will take a while using that OneRiot tool to see if it works for me, but I have to say my first impression is that the thing really works and is so damn fast. Nice to see an early release of something new that works so quickly.

  • Brian

    Hey Brad, have you tried Popego.com? It analyzes your online activity and builds an interest profile about you to recommend you stuff. It's still beta but looks very promoising.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    I haven't seen it but I will take a look.

  • http://www.tuneyfish.com Scott Golembiewski

    Hi Brad, I went to your Beers & Boulder in Seattle event and when I was there met one of the guys from reQall and we were having this same sort of conversation. I'm glad we did because I've been using their iphone app lately and its basically just like what doctors use to record their office visits, transcribes them and does some other cool stuff.

    I didn't expect it to be so intuitive but for instance one of my reminders I recorded to myself was something to the effect of: "this evening get the code that so and so needs to make changes before tomorrows meeting" and the interesting thing was I had an email in the evening about that message, and one in the morning as well.

    Also on the way home yesterday, I noted the time, the mileage on the car and where I was. I'm terrible about keeping track of mileage for tax purposes and other things like that so, I'm trying to get this thing to "learn" that when I give information like mileage it can track the expense.

    I could really see this type of thing being extremely useful say you are packing for a trip, you record something like "leaving for LA tomorrow, flight is at 7:00AM arrives at 8:30AM" then everything starts to get arranged for you so that when you wake up you have an email stating what you need to do before you leave, and when you arrive in LA it has transportation, restaurant and hotels you've stayed at. They call you when you arrive and they already know where you need to be, how you'd like to get there and things you might like to do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Great examples!  I expect there will be a lot more of this type of stuff, along with real wiring for it between applications, appearing over the next few years.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Adam_Lindemann Adam_Lindemann

    Brad, this is a great post and I completely agree with what you have written. I hope you don`t mind me mentioning an investment that my partner and I have made in building a new technology/product over the last three years that I think you will resonate with based on the themes in this post. It was actually chosen as one of the 50 finalists at TC50 in 2008 but did not launch because we learnt that whilst the technology and engine was strong the UI/Userbility/Value Proposition was not. We have since spent that last 9 months improving these things and are getting ready to roll out. I was wondering what is the best way to contact you about this? Thank you!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Just send email to be – brad@Feld.com

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Adam_Lindemann Adam_Lindemann

        Thanks Brad. I will.

  • thejimgaudet

    I can wait for all these new RTW SEs to come out. I just checked out worio.com. Kind of an upgrade to Delicious, but while I am looking in my bookmarks, I get new bookmarks related to my tags. I like that and it keeps me on their site…

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    For years, AI has been limited not by technology, but by human acceptance and the gap between engineers and users. Look a your DVD remote. Try talking to your Microwave.

    Will take at least a generation of re-educated users and then only in some demographics.

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    Thanks for the post. Looking forward to hearing about the new investment.

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    Hi Brian, I have tried Popego.com and really happy with using it.

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