Sunday, March 7, 2010

The welling up of knowledge

I was reading an essay on Edge by noted computer scientist David Gelernter entitled "Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously" and ran across a reference to the concept of information welling up in the context of his conception of lifestreams. He wrote:

Ten years ago I described the computer of the future as a "scooped-out hole in the beach where information from the Cybersphere wells up like seawater."  Today the spread of wireless coverage and the growing power of mobile devices means that information does indeed well up almost anywhere you switch on your laptop or cellphone; and "anywhere" will be true before long.

That's an interesting concept. Rather than explicitly accessing data by going to its source or explicitly searching for it, all one need do is create the proper situation (the well) and the data simply appears or wells up, welcomed but not directly or explicitly bidden per se.

So, we have a collection of concepts here, in my view:

  • knowledge wells (or data wells or information wells) which are places where information can simply materialize (or the data equivalent)
  • knowledge welling, the incremental (or streaming or merely "seeping") appearance of data in a knowledge well (or data well or information well)
  • welled knowledge (or welled data or welled information), which is knowledge that appears in a knowledge well
  • wellable knowledge (or wellable data or wellable information), which is knowledge that is somehow prepared or packaged or published in a form that makes it readily distributable to knowledge wells.

At a simplistic level, a knowledge well could simply be a search query directed at some data source, but to truly fulfill Gelernter's vision, something far more sophisticated is needed. What that something might be I cannot say at this time.

Curiously, maybe there is a community collaboration angle there as well, since the term reminds me of the famous The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link known as The WELL. Whether or not a connection between the two concepts would make sense would depend on how specific and narrow one wants to define the terms. One could define a simple RSS feed as an information well, I suppose. One could define the Twitter public timeline as an information well. Sure, one can tap into any "conference" on The WELL, but then that is a fairly narrow information stream. Somehow, a Gelernteresque knowledge well would have a more global, blended un-focus, I would think.

Thinking about how information might well up reminds me of a concept I considered years ago, something I call GMWIMW, for Give Me What I Might Want, a mythical filter for information on topics that I do not even know about yet. That would be at least one type of knowledge well that I would be interested in.

-- Jack Krupansky