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Here’s a glimpse into a future where interest networks are liberated from documents and social networks.

Past: Connecting People

The social dimension of the Web imparts a powerful influence on knowledge acquisition. People discover each other through the intersections of documents they create.

Unfortunately, this is a terribly protracted process. As Howard Bloom points out, “When we try to find each other, and try to find the knowledge we get from each other, these days it’s as difficult as getting from New York to California in 1848.” (1)

Howard offered researchers some suggestions to address the problem, such as personal software agents, completely under our individual control, connecting people and their knowledge. These agents would work continuously, whether we’re engaged as active participants in the process or spending our time elsewhere.

But as Howard put it, “It takes us years to write the stuff that we write. We create condensed knowledge in a form that we could never give to you on the fly…We need to make sure that the connect time between you and me goes down to seconds, not months.”

Future: Connecting Interests

Note how our perspectives on knowledge-sharing networks are tightly, almost inextricably tied to connecting people. To connect thoughts, we must connect thinkers.

However, for knowledge acquisition, the goal isn’t connecting people, it’s about connecting knowledge. Today, the social dimension acts as an intermediary in the process. It’s like going to a friend to get their input into a task and ending up spending the rest of the day hearing about their vacation. As social animals, it’s a welcome distraction to be sure, but also extremely time-consuming.

Interest networks are created by people and are ultimately in the service of people. But to interoperate, interest networks don’t need people. It’s this capability of semantic interoperability that promises to reduce the friction between our ideas. For a really fast and fluid exchange of ideas, you can’t have people in the middle, slowing things down. People should perform those functions that only people can accomplish: creating truly new thoughts and making complex decisions.

Interest Networks as a Disruptive Innovation

This is reminiscent of a common pitfall with any disruptive technology: The technology is first applied to an existing process, rather than allowing the technology to augment and even displace the process itself.

When the telephone was first invented, many assumed it would inherit the modus operandi of the telegraph. They imagined that people would dictate their messages to a telephone operator, for the operator in turn to verbally pass along the message to the recipient. At the time, the telephone seemed confusing, prone to failure, and needlessly complex.

Of course, the telephone didn’t need that antiquated process. Its new technology demanded a leap in imagination.

Researchers and entrepreneurs in semantic technology need to leap, as well. If the goal is connecting knowledge rather than socializing, it is wasteful to apply the “telegraph” model of social networking to the “telephone” model of interest networking. The two are complementary and easily integrated, but they are also independent.

How do we shorten the distance between our ideas? By recognizing that interest networking is not semantically-enhanced social networking. This is the essence of pure and frictionless knowledge networks. Semantic representations, the language of thought, provide a medium that makes knowledge tangible. And unlike simple documents, these highly structured models provide the ability for computers to “read” our ideas and mediate across the ideas of different people.

Decoupled from documents and social networks, the connect time between our ideas can go from months to seconds.

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