It seems that the current trend in Internet services is all the rage about meta information; ways to find the information you want. These services come in various guises; some collecting pictures or movies, collecting and classifying links or finding out what other people are looking at. The quintessential application right now must be the search engine and Google is in the forefront with this, as well as with many other current meta information processing applications. But what is the next level? The next evolutionary step in information processing?
Is meta-meta-information enough?
The obvious answer would be that we need meta information about the meta services; a way to search, handle and collect this information. Which meta services are the people I admire using? But is that really enough? It places a big burden on the individual trying to keep up with the information flow. Tagging and such helps the situation a bit, but it's still way to much for one person. I already feel slightly overwhelmed right now, trying to keep up with everything that happens in my current domains of interest at the moment. It seems to me that meta services for finding meta information wouldn't be enough, since it doesn't solve the underlying problem of actually helping to manage the information.
Are there any alternatives?
The development in services from this point on seems to revolve around two solutions; the semantic web, RDF and all those shenanigans, and intelligent agents.
The semantic web is a collection of technologies - some that exist and some that don't, yet - that enables more collaboration and interaction through Internet. Typical examples include ontologies for classifying information, two-ended links, user annotations and other ways to include self-description in the data itself.
Intelligent agents are probably the easiest AI application to rationalize, since it doesn't require strong AI, and it's obvious how helpful they would be. Intelligent agents are typically cast in the same box as semantic web, but I feel that intelligent agents (IA from now on) could probably exist and be effective without semantic web metadata. What makes IA more or less necessary very soon, is that automating handling of information is the solution to the meta-meta-problem. Most of my current meta information handling is done with the help of programs that I have customized in various ways to make information easier for me to handle, but manually customizing handling of meta meta information suffers from the same problem as manually tagging spam; it is just too much information. IA could help, by first getting to know the habits and interests of it's user, and then extrapolating what information would be useful and what could be thrown away.
Is semantic web or IA enough in it's own right? Could the one solve the problem without the other? I think not, or at least not solve it permanently. I believe semantic web tech will enter Internet before IA, but I don't believe the information flow will be solved without them. At most, semantic web will buy us one or two years to catch our breath. IA is interesting technology, and we really need it now, especially if are a knowledge worker.