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Web 2.0 Plays Big at Analyst Event

Clint BoultonReporter's Notebook: Usually high-tech conferences are a confluence of keynotes, sideshows and overbearing marketing hyperbole.

Last week's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., featured keynotes by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, and a bizarre experiment where a HP disk array was literally shot to demonstrate its resiliency.

Analysts' shows are great.

There is something for everyone and you generally dodge the marketing hyperbole that typically pervades a high-tech show, where vendors tout their wares and try to sell you on why their niche product is better suited to work than the other vendors' niche products.

I didn't feel anyone's agenda being forced down my throat as I sat in on a dozen sessions offered by Gartner analysts discussing the pros and cons of anything from search to virtualization.

But there were some consistent themes.

I happened to find myself in many sessions concerning Web 2.0 technologies, where advanced search tools, blogs, social-networking sites and mashups reigned supreme.

Web 2.0, according to experts, will move users into a more interactive realm of consumer, and ultimately enterprise computing.

Be Careful What You Search For

When you think of search technologies, you usually think of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft. Maybe you've noted the blockbuster search deals these companies have sign to leapfrog the competition in pay-for-click advertising and related areas.

This is the goodness. Such competition leads to better, more reasonably priced offerings for consumers and enterprises. But some well-documented badness exists, too.

Click fraud is an evil, illegal practice, with perpetrators tricking people and businesses into paying for more clicks than they should.

As search becomes more sophisticated, hurtling along at the breakneck pace of Web 2.0 technologies, you can bet people will find ways to conduct illicit, unethical practices and capitalize on them.

During one of the sessions last week, Gartner analyst Whit Andrews said we should be prepared for so-called "denial-of-insight" attacks.

The traditional assumption is that a search engine will help a user find, or at least get closer to finding what he or she is looking for.

But with the increasing number of ways to generate money through clicks, enterprises need to be on the lookout for denial-of-insight attacks. Think of them as denial-of-service attacks, but specifically for search.

In these transgressions, users will seek to affect search engine logs because of their status as apparent proxies for customer interest, and recommenders for subsequent visitors will use malicious means to affect these systems.

"People are going to lie," Andrews said. "They're going to build false histories to obscure their real intentions."

He said that by next summer, a piece of software will be released that will yield 99 false search results for every one true search result, helping perpetrators obfuscate information from a user.

Andrews also said people will pretend to be someone else when they search to hide their own identity or make someone look bad, such as when a disgruntled employee uses his or her boss' name in a Hotmail account.

Worse, a perpetrator may promise to present dirty search results to a retailer unless they get money.

Moreover, illegitimate users will use legitimate search terms to obscure legitimate users' real searches.

That's pretty scary. Search is so popular because it's easy and generally trustworthy and accurate. Can you imagine when search queries start spitting back false information? Yikes!

Make Way for the Mashup

While it's tough to have to be wary about searching the free Web, there are a lot of good things appearing on the Web, now and in the not-too-distant future.

You can't mention the Web 2.0 zeitgeist without discussing mashups, composite applications consisting of two or more applications in one, according to Gartner analysts.

The ability to combine two application services, such as a mapping application with an e-commerce application, can cut a swath through the field of walled-off applications, allowing users to conduct transactions or get other valuable information in much shorter periods of time.

Gartner analyst Gene Phifer said mashups use a variety of public interfaces, including application programming interfaces (APIs), Web service calls, JavaScripts and RSS to source the content.

"You correlate two different sets of data between two Web sites," Phifer said.

Phifer said Zillow.com is a popular mashup, combining the mapping technology with real estate information all over the U.S. to determine a home's value.

This tool is popular with buyers and sellers, acting as a quick guide to save users' from performing complicated calculations in dumb spreadsheets.

Phifer said users can look at a neighborhood and find out how much the homes are valued at first blush, as well as how many bedrooms, baths, etc. they have.

"I can do this because I'm matching up not only a map but tax role-based information to determine the value and other details about the house," Phifer said.

That's just one example.

Another real estate site, Redfin.com, allows users to find a home, cut a deal and sign the papers, because the site includes an ecosystem of bankers and loan facilitators working together.

"That's a new business model," Phifer said. "That's something that the Web 2.0 world enabled that could never be done before, because these guys are using the Web to interoperate between different Web sites."

There are also mashups of Wikipedia and mapping applications, such as Wikimapia.org, which will give you a bird's eye view of your hometown or a city you're traveling to.

What's great about a mashup is that it is a fully tangible application that demonstrates how the Internet can be made into one big service-oriented architecture .

If we can combine multiple applications to conduct tasks more efficiently, we've essentially succeeded in making SOA a success; the notion that services are combined, consumed and exchanged is a powerful proposition for universal distributed computing.

What can be more exciting than using the Internet to make what many believe to be a marketing buzzword a reality that can help users find what they're looking for?