Why I am a die-hard fan of Steve Jobs but don’t like iStuff

As anticipated, Steve Jobs biography authored by Walter Isaacson has become a best seller in Amazon, in fact as of now it holds number one position at Amazon’s top 100 book list. After reading this book, I came into the conclusion that this book is a must-read for anyone interested in technology and arts or even for the ones who just love reading inspirational books.

Personally, I am not a fan of iStuff but a die-hard fan of Steve Jobs! I know it might sound a bit contradictory but so were most of the aspects of Steve Jobs’ life. Through out his life he sought for spiritual peace of mind in Zen mediation, Buddhism but also was ruthless to his colleagues and friends when necessary (and also when it was not necessary!). He had this binary world view that any given piece of work or thing is either “shit” or “amazing”! There was absolutely nothing in between these two extremes of the spectrum. He was the perfect example of a perfectionist.

Few days ago, after Steve Jobs died someone asked me “…everyone is talking about Steve Jobs, who was he anyway?” Well obviously I got slightly annoyed by the fact that s/he did not even know who Steve Jobs was but I also realised its a bit difficult to describe him in one title! I mean, yes he was the CEO of Apple but was he an engineer or a designer a businessman or a visionary? A lot of people may say he was all of those but to me that’s not really an answer. He was not a universal genius or polymath like Leonardo Da Vinci. I would define him more as a 21st century renaissance man. Even though he has a lot of patents however still we cannot really say he is the creator of any particular Apple product or Pixar work. In the book, there are several examples of how at times he claimed credit for the work that actually was done by someone else.

“Genius has side effects” – I think this is the best way to explain the seemingly odd sides of his character. I am a die-hard fan of him because his life story makes me to believe that I do not have to be a master of any particular domain to do great works! This belief is so important for me because both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies are so called “multi-disciplinary” degrees which eventually made me a perfect example of  “Jack of all trades, master of none” (at least as of now). But when I look at his biography, it reminds me that we can still do great works without being a super genius in a particular field. Over and over again Steve Jobs “made dent in the universe” by distorting the reality of genius people around him (in other words making them believe in impossibles and infinite human potential).

Now, why I don’t like iStuff? Technically speaking Steve Jobs made Apple product design “integrated” as opposed to product designs of other companies like Microsoft, Google which are “fragmented”. In other words its “Closed Technology Approach” vs “Open Technology Approach”. Critics say Steve Jobs was a “control-freak” and I think its true and this control-freakness is also reflected in Apple products. I am not going into detail discussion of Open vs Closed technology but all I want to say that, “Closed Technology (in this case “Apple”) is not for the 99%.” Yes I agree, Closed Technology offers arguably better design, security, service but if you go to a third world country and talk about why they should adopt Closed Technology its like asking people to buy expensive nutritious foods when they are dying of hunger! Electronic gadgets may malfunction which is quite acceptable. But its less acceptable when you buy an expensive product and Apple products are expensive! After the antenna-gate issue of iPhone 4, Steve Jobs admitted in his presentation “..we (Apple) are not perfect”. So, if you know you are not perfect and its impossible to be perfect then what about that struggling (financially) fresher who just have found his newly bought iPhone is not working and cannot get it fixed just by popping into any nearby electronic shop? I dont know about other countries but I used to work for a mobile phone company in Japan who used to sell iPhone (I believe they still do) along with their other line of products. If any customer had any trouble with any of those “other phones” we used to simply send it to our engineering department and get it fixed! But if it was an iPhone..oh God! We had to call Apple and get sandwitched  between the burst out of the customer and Apple’s “Terms and Conditions”! The bottom-line is that all those user friednliness, aesthetic value of Apple products might be very important but the consumers are just paying too much for these. I dealt with so many iPhone users who use iPhone case (so aesthetic value is mostly gone because its covered now) and/or cant afford mobile Internet usage cost (whats the point of having a smart phone then?) and/or not even interested in using smart phone features. They all were just victims of iHype!

Apple’s Apps Store (from a developer perspective) has showed us that Apple can maintain control and openness at the same time. I hope someday Apple will apply this sort of balanced approach to its all product and service designs. And regarding the price, I think at some point they will be forced to decrease the price to remain competitive against Android!

I read somewhere in Steve Jobs biography that someone sent an email to Steve Jobs criticizing Apple’s Closed Technology approach. Unlike most of the CEOs Steve Jobs at times used to personally reply some customer complaints and in that case he did. Steve Jobs defended his Closed Technology approach and they exchanged coupe of emails. In the last email Steve Jobs asked that person something like “…by the way, what have you created in your life or you just criticize others’ creations?” Oops! .

Does Open Data really need to be Linked (Data)?

So, what is the next wave after Web 2.0 (aka Social Web)? If we ask this question to the inventor of the web Tim Berners-Lee most probably the answer would be Semantic Web. The vision of Semantic Web is to transform the web into a distributed database system where all the data in the web will be interconnected and machine readable. Some Semantic Web evangelists are so optimistic about the future of Semantic Web that they are using the terms Semantic Web and Web 3.0 almost synonymously! According to Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of Semantic Web, the web should have the functionality of connecting all of its data to each other as Linked Data just like the hyperlinks of webpages in the present web architecture. Tim Berners-Lee is also a pioneer of Open Data movement. As Open Data are published in public domains, it offers the perfect playground for Semantic Web and Linked Data supporters.

In practice all the Open Data publishers do not necessarily care about publishing their data as Linked Data. However, Tim Berners-Lee led W3C recommends the Open Data and/or Government data publishers to put their data on the web as Linked Data (and it helps W3C in their progress towards Semantic Web). According to Tim Berners-Lee “The term Linked Data refers to a set of best practices for publishing and connecting structured data on the web”. This idea of Linked Data is also associated with Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of Semantic Web.

Image source: www.w3.org

Some Open Data publishers follow W3C recommendation and publish their Open Data as Linked Data. Therefore apparently the Open Data available in the web can be divided into two categories – Linked Open Data and Non Linked Open Data. So, the question is, does Open Data really need to be Linked? And, Who needs Semantic Web?

At this moment, perspectives towards the Open Data vary from organisation to organisation according to their organisational nature and motivation behind publishing Open Data. For instance, according to Local Government Improvement and Development (UK), “The idea behind Open Data is that information held by government should be freely available to use and re-mix by the public”. On the other hand, W3C emphasises more on the technical aspects  and standard of data publishing while discussing about Open Data. W3C’s approach towards Open Data is influenced by the Tim Berners-Lee’s Linked Data concept.

In technical terms, Semantic Web refers to the use of specific W3C Semantic Web open standards (RDF, OWL, SPARQL, GRDDL etc) that have been developed for data integration over the web and to make the web data machine readable. From an abstract point of view, the purpose of Semantic Web is to create a web wisdom that leads to a global knowledge society. There are a number of projects in the web that are following W3C Semantic Web open standards and developing interesting applications. DBPedia is one such project that extracts the structured data from the textual content of Wikipedia. DBPedia aims to convert Wikipedia content into structured data using Semantic Web technologies so that people can get easier access to Wikipedia’s knowledgebase and perform sophisticated queries. DBPedia’s Ontology is not limited into one single domain. It has RDF links with other Open Data knowledgebases like OpenCyc, WordNet, Freebase, UMBEL, MusicBrainz etc. The link-space created by RDF links between DBPedia and other Open Data websites can be considered as a miniature version of ideal Semantic Web where all the data are interlined across different domains and websites.

However, not necessarily all the Open Data publishers publish their data as Linked Data. In fact, Linked Data and semantic web have a lot of criticism as well and for various reasons not everyone supports the idea of publishing Open Data as Linked Data. For instance, Pachube does not publish their Open Data as Linked Data. As of now, Pachube uses Folksonomy (user generated tags) to categorise the type of data feeds published as Open Data in Pachube platform. Pachube is not using any automated machine generated and readable “Ontology” to classify the Open Data.

RDF is not the only option available for putting a machine created Semantic Layer on the data. Triple tag or Machine Tag is another tagging system used by Flickr and Delicious to add machine generated semantic information to their photos and bookmarks.

From the above discussion we can see that there are two methods available for knowledge representation and document indexing in the web – Ontology and Folksonomy. The difference between Folksonomy and Ontology is that Folksonomy is created and used by human whereas Ontology is created and used by machines. However, new concepts have been emerging that combine both Folksonomy and Ontology together rather than choosing one of them and dumping another.

Almost all the Open Data projects are using either Folksonomy or Ontology for their content/data classifications. As it was mentioned earlier, by combining both of the methods together into one standard we can make our web more structured. If we can decide on one standard then the similar Open Data projects can share their resources with each other just like DBPedia. Therefore, the answer of “Does Open Data really need to be linked data?” is probably YES as it makes Open Data more structured and searchable, but they all better follow only one standard technology (e.g. RDF or Machine Tag) for making their Open Data linked. However, transforming the entire web into Semantic Web is too challenging and its feasibility and necessity are also questionable.

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