“4137X˙CH01˙Akerkar” 2007/9/17 10:57 page1—#1
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Introduction to Web Intelligence
Introduction to Web Intelligence
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1.1 Historical Perspective
When the Chinese pounded linen to make paper, they unwittingly provided a medium for
spreading and storing knowledge. Then five and a half centuries ago, a German goldsmith
named Gutenberg invented the printing press. Who could have predicted the impact of the
printing press, which was initially devoted to publishing religious books, to be so great? Who
could have imagined that books, once owned by the few and treasured as symbols of wealth
and power, would one day be accessible to everyone? The Gutenberg press, with its wooden
movable-type printing, brought down the price of printed material, making it affordable for
the masses. Many newer printing technologies, such as offset printing, were developed based
on Gutenberg’s press. It remained the standard medium for the dissemination of knowledge
until the twentieth century.
Now we are living in extraordinary times again. The modern world is being turned upside
down before our very eyes. The electronic phenomenon of the last 50 years has matured very
quickly into an online revolution that has fundamentally changed our world. But there is a
huge difference between what happened in Gutenberg’s time and now. We are dealing with an
accelerated rate of change—change that is happening not only quickly, but also pervasively.
In 1834 British mathematician, economist, and engineer Charles Babbage conceived the
first general-purpose programmable computer, the Analytical Engine. It was a mechanical
device designed to be constructed out of thousands of precisely machined metal parts. Because
it would have been enormously costly to build, and there was no urgent need for such a
computer in Babbage’s day, the Analytical Engine was never completed; only small portions
of it were built from Babbage’s engineering drawings after his death. This did, however, mark
the beginning of the computer era, even though computers didn’t become an integral part of
our lives until only relatively recently. Consider for a moment that the Internet is about 40
years old, the microelectronics explosion happened only 30 years ago, the desktop computer
appeared only about 25 years ago, the World Wide Web is really only a little more than
a decade old, and that ubiquitous wireless Internet access is only now becoming a reality.
Despite only relatively recent developmental history, we are facing an information explosion
on the World Wide Web, making it necessary to build a better Web—an Intelligent Web—that
will help users easily realize their information and commercial needs.
1.2 Toward an Intelligent Web
The past few years have produced an enormous amount of written information, resulting in the
advent of massive digital libraries. With the advent of the World Wide Web, publishing is no
longer the domain of a small number of elite scholars. Now almost anyone who has something
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