uTOK is a knowledge community system allowing people to post and read notes on top of any Web page, thus creating a new layer of knowledge above the World Wide Web. The uTOK name means – Users’ Tree of Knowledge. I joined uTOK at May 1999, two months after it's inception. First as a developer on the client team, later as the VP R&D of the company, while still developing the subsequent versions of the product. We developed the product in 6 months, raised $5 Million, grew to 30 employees and opened 3 offices (Tel-Aviv, San Francisco, New York). uTOK had 50,000 users from more then 100 different countries, 1200 user created groups and 350,000 user notes posted on 15,000 URLs. The product won major awards, the press wrote about it, and it was praised by the users that used it. In April 2001 uTOK stopped operating, because we were not economically viable. Here is a short overview of the uTOK product and technology.
uTOK is a client server application. The client is a stand-alone application that is active whenever the user is online. The small client window ‘listens’ to the browser (Netscape, Explorer), and for every web page the browser loads – the uTOK client displays the number of user notes previously posted on that particular Web page or Web site (Figure 1).
If the user wants to read some of the notes, he clicks on the button to open a window with the notes headers. The user can filter the headers based on Date, Topic, Group, Author or Rating (Figure 2).
The user can read the existing notes, comment to any of them (Figure 3), write a new note or just continue to browse to other Web pages. The notes are stored on the uTOK server, and the Web site owner has no control over them. The notes do not tamper the Web page design or layout; they are viewed in a separate window, above the Web page (Figure 4).
If a user decides to comments on an existing note, the original author of the note will receive an automatic notification, that a comment has been posted to one of his notes. The Notification will link him directly to the commented note and to the relevant Web page.
In order to control the quality of information In the system while maintaining a democratic system and freedom of speech, we have invented a democratic rating system. On every note, every user can vote, either ‘Thumbs up’ or ‘Thumbs down’. The voting data is calculated on the server, and based on it each note receives a rating score, displayed on each note by a stars system, between 1 star and 5 stars. When a note rating score is below 1 star – the note is being automatically deleted from the system, because users has identified it as SPAM. The notes rating were also reflected on the user that has posted the note. Every user had a user rating, which is the aggregated rating of all the notes he had posted. This created a ‘social status’ hierarchy in the system, so some users are ‘5 stars’ users and some are ‘1 star’ users.
Groups were another concept in the system. Users could join groups they feel they are associated with. The groups are user created, so there were many groups in many diverse topics. Some examples: ‘Movies are better then life’, ‘Bookworms’, ‘PC Hardware Discussions’, ‘Philosophers’, ‘Individuals’, ‘SPAM Busters’, ‘News of the world’ etc. The groups gave users something to belong to, creating a spirit of brotherhood. Groups were ‘horizontal’, meaning they were not limited to one Web site, but the same group existed all over the Web. When a user posted a note, he had to sign the note by one of the groups he is registered to. By signing with a group name 2 things had happened: an automatic notification had been sent to all the group members, so they can come, read the note, view the web page and participate in a discussion if they wish. The second thing that happened was that the note was automatically added to the ‘group posted notes list’, this list was published on the uTOK web site. This features created a tremendous effect. The groups became ‘traveling groups’ of people that are not online in the same time, but still feel they are doing things together. Also, a dynamic index of the Web was created. Every group had its own group page, were statistics were displayed, such as: the groups most favorite web pages, the group most active users, the group most high rated notes, the group most low rated users etc.
The outcome of the various features was that a new way was defined for intimate group interaction over the Web. Users had new ways to access unbiased users’ knowledge, and meaningful relationships were created between strangers. Some users even defined it as the place that enables you to find your soul mate.
Read more about uTOK in the different sections above (Awards and Press, User Reviews, Docs and Papers and uTOK Links).