June 7, 2009

Digital Object Architecture and Internet 2.0

There is an interesting interview in Government Executive, 18 May 2009, with Robert Kahn, one of the founders of the Internet.

In this interview Mr. Kahn introduces a vision for an Internet 2.0 (my term) based on Digital Object Architecture (DOA) where the architecture focus is not on the efficiency of moving information around on the network (or information packet transport i.e. TCP/IP), but rather on the broader notion of information management and on the architecture of the information itself.

The article states: Mr Kahn “still harbors a vision for how the Internet could be used to manage information, not just move packets of information” from place to place.

In DOA, “the key element of the architecture is the ‘digital element’ or structured information that incorporates a unique identifier and which can be parsed by any machine that knows how digital objects are structured. So I can take a digital object and store it on this machine, move it somewhere else, or preserve it for a long time.”

I liked the comparison to electronic files:

“A digital object doesn’t become a digital object any more than a file becomes a file if it doesn’t have the equivalent of a name and an ability to access it.”

Here are some of the key elements of DOA:

  • Handles—these are like file names; they are the digital object identifiers that are unique to each and enable each to be distinctly stored, found, transported, accessed and so forth. The handle record specifies things like where the object is stored, authentication information, terms and conditions for use, and/or “some sense of what you might do with the object.”
  • Resolution system —this is the ‘handle system’ that “gives your computer the handle record for that identifier almost immediately.”
  • Repository—“where digital objects may be deposited and from which they may be accessed later on.” Unlike traditional database systems, you don't need to know a lot of the details about it to get in or find what you're looking for.
  • Security at object layer—In DOA, the security “protection occurs at the object level rather than protecting the identifier or by providing only a password at the boundary.”

The overall distinguishing factor of DOA from the current Internet is that in the current Internet environment, you “have to know exactly where to look for certain information” and that’s why search engines are so critical to indexing the information out there and being able to find it. In contrast, in DOA, information is tagged when it is stored in the repository and given all the information up front about “how do you want to characterize it” and who can manage it, transport it, access it, and so on.

To me, in DOA (or Internet 2.0) the information itself provides for the intelligent use of it as opposed to in the regular Internet, the infrastructure (transport) and search features must provide for its usability.

As I am thinking about this, an analogy comes to mind. Some people with medical conditions wear special information bracelets that identify their unique medical conditions and this aids in the speed and possibly the accuracy of the medical treatment they receive—i.e. better medical management.  This is like the tagging of information in DOA where the information itself wears a metaphorical bracelet identifying it and what to do with it thereby yielding faster and better information management.

Currently, we sort of retrofit data about our information into tags called metadata, but instead here we have the notion of creating the information itself with the metadata almost as part of the genetic makeup of the information itself.

Information with “handles” built into as a part of the information creation and capture process would be superior information for sharing, collaboration, and ultimately more user-centric for people. 

In my humble opinion, DOA has some teeth and is certainly not "Dead On Arrival."


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