January 21, 1998

from the Friends-of-the-Revolution dept

Categorizing & Networking Everything

By Brian Day - January 21, 1998

I wanted to spend some time talking about two emerging technologies which are not well known but that are likely to have a large impact on a wide variety of industries. Sorry for the long silence, I have been recovering from vacation.

Categories Rule
The first technology is "meta-data", which has most recently reared its head in the form of something called XML (eXtensible Markup Language). What is meta-data? Well; it is data describing data...

BORING!!! Hang with me on this one. :-)

What is cool about meta-data is it allows you to digitally describe an item (maybe a good or a service). If we all have a common manner for describing items (categories and attributes) then we should all be able to quickly find what we are looking for (whether it is a paragraph on "Intelligent Agents" or the cheapest copy of "War and Peace". I know..., I know... how are we ever going to standardize on a set of categories for everything in the physical world when we can't decide if we want are burgers broiled or fried? (I like mine broiled) The cool thing is that it doesn't matter. Here is a silly hypothetical example:

I create a "standard" and define it as:

item code
a hotdog = 100
a hamburger = 200

Anyone using my searching mechanism will find all the goods that adhere to my standard.

Bill Gates creates a "standard" and calls it the "Open Category Standard" and defines it as:

item code
a hotdog = "hotdog95"
a hamburger = "hamburgerNT"

Anyone using Bill's searching mechanism will find all the goods that adhere to his standard and get a free copy of Internet Explorer.

Then Yahoo! sets up an a category system and define it as:

item code
a hotdog = "hotdoo!"
a hamburger = "hambooligins"

But being the clever folks that they are, they also convert any request on their searching mechanism into the both my "standard" and Bill's "standard" and submit all three. They have superseded our categories and will likely win most of the customers.

So who wins? The category keeper. If Yahoo! can extend its huge lead in the categorization field into product and services, then MY.YAHOO will be the largest marketplace on the internet. Why will people take the time to go to a web-site that they are unfamiliar with, when they can find and purchase the same product from the comfort of their MY.YAHOO page? Excite is fighting back with it's purchase of Seattle's Netbot (makers of Jango) which is a leader in the Agent technology used for searching meta data. Microsoft is very aware of all of this, and is the driver behind the XML specification. In fact, mid last year they developed a method for processing transactions using XML with Intuit called the Open Financial eXchange (OFX). Uugggg....

A COMmon (I mean CORBAn) language ?
For all the hype surrounding Java, I have yet to see my refrigerator talking to my toaster. Consumer device manufacturers have struggled to fit the ~5-10MB Java Virtual Machine into their tiny little boxes, and programmers have struggled to make the new fancy phone (with Java) speak to the 1950's washing machine. There is hope. A semi-new technology will make it much easier for devices and software to be aware of each other. At the center of the communication is an Object Request Broker (ORB). The ORB is alerted whenever a new ORB enabled device (a refrigerator) is on the network and becomes aware of the types of things (methods) you can make the device do (1. open the door, 2. change the temperature). As a programmer I can see that there is a refrigerator on the network, and that I can do one of two things. I do not care what type of chip the refrigerator is running (platform independent) and I do not care what language the software was written in on the refrigerator (language independence).

So what...

Well there is an ORB standard emerging called CORBA which is made up of many small companies (the good guys) and as usual there is a group, I mean a company called Microsoft, that has their own standard called COM. This is both a threat and a blessing to Java in that it will be much easier to connect to older systems and existing software (by putting a CORBA wrapper around it) but it will also de-emphasize the language that you choose to write in. What it means for you and me is that systems will work better.

So who wins here? Small Object Request Broker companies like VisiGenic. If you are using Netscape Navigator, type in "about:" and notice VisiGenic's logo.

Friends of the Revolution
by Brian Day

A column that comes out every so often, and talks about something or another... To subscribe to Friends of the Revolution email bcd2@cornell.edu

The information contained in this newsletter reflect the opinions of Brian Day, and do not represent actual fact. Any decisions made based on these opinions is your own fault. Yadda...Yadda... Yadda...

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