content management


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Talis Group, long at the forefront of Semantic Web and Linked Data efforts, announced that it has decided to pull the plug on Talis Systems, with its Consulting and Linked Data platform Kasabi – and will focus just on their education arm.  Their own words echo those of many others in the space, when they noted they have “invested an incredible amount of time and effort in playing its part to help foster the vision of a web of data.”

As a result of such efforts “… many more organisations are now seeing the benefits of applying semantic web technologies to help publish, share, and create value from data.”  Their release goes on to say “… there is a limit to how much one small organisation can achieve…” and that “… the commercial realities for Linked Data technologies and skills whilst growing is still doing so at a very slow rate, too slow for us to sustain our current levels of investment.

Many are quick to assume that this is an indicator that Linked Data and Semantic Web are being relegated to the same pastures as AI, or are making other sweeping comments.  Instead, I would argue that this is more an indicator of two other things.

First, it is a commentary on the success of their evangelization — with their being somewhat a victim of their own success.  As a result of all the noodling, sharing, teaching, pushing of Talis and others who took the early risks and made early investment, the “big guys” (while saying they weren’t interested) were observing and the evolution of the space.  As such, they have made acquisitions (think Powerset, Metaweb and Siri, among others) and have openly embraced what Talis, for one, has been promoting (think schema.org).  In so doing, they have moved the game to another level.  In that regard, it is not an abandonment of the capabilities, but a business decision as to the way forward for them – as a product versus service.

Image representing Powerset as depicted in Cru...       Image representing Siri as depicted in CrunchBase       Image representing Metaweb Technologies as dep... (images from CrunchBase)

Google Flavored Knowledge Graph

Google Flavored Knowledge Graph (Photo credit: inkdroid)

Secondly, it points to the difficult and ongoing question as to where motivation lies for businesses to expose their data.  In a business context, controlling one’s data is (like it or not) power.  And APIs have been a means of opening up bits that a company deems in its interest to make available.  In the same way that Web2.0 essentially facilitated the masses having their own voice, in their own control, RDFa, GoodRelations, and schema.org are examples of that happening for businesses and their data as well (think Best Buy).   Mind you, the rendering of the Knowledge Graph on any particular subject/search demonstrates just how simple it is now (everything is relative!) to structure what you want to expose, for the consumption by others.  This begs the question: Do we need another platform?

The Semantic Web and Linked Data are not going away.  It is all just getting more usable (though there’s quite a ways to go), and the the concept of linkages does not stop at the firewall – but rather at whatever limit is set by those deciding to expose.  (Note, this can also be phrased as “the limits chosen by those who control the particular data in question” – but that introduces another discussion topic entirely, which is whose data is it anyway).

 

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Our latest Semantic-Link discussion was interesting in that it touched on some distinct but deep topics that tend to recur in our discussions, namely: usability, privacy and the old standby – the definition of semantics itself.

I won’t spend any more time on the definition of semantics beyond that the consensus (for purposes of this discussion) was that it means “meaning”, with contexts including: linguistic/NLP related word-meaning semantics; and the other being compliance with W3C standards – or architectural Semantics.  In essence, the latter is what enables a machine version of the former.

The focus was actually a conversation with guest Nova Spivack, and his more current efforts, including Bottlenose and StreamGlider. (Next time we’ll have to let Nova do more of the talking, as we only really had time to dig into the first of those.)  Bottlenose is intended to help people manage and interconnect their interaction across the multiple electronic realms in which they operate.  While Nova mentions that the system doesn’t currently make use of W3C standard architectural Semantics, it does use ontologies to relate topics and navigate meaning.  This is particularly visible in Bottlenose’s Sonar – which renders a visualization of the active topics, hash-tags, and people around you, with adjustable time-horizon.  If you’d like to try it out during the private beta, visit Bottlenose.com and you can Sign Up using the Invite Code: semanticlink.

Listen to podcast here: Semantic Link Podcast – January 2012

As mentioned above, two key items arose from the discussion – the matters of privacy, and the question of transparency.  In the case of privacy, would it become an issue, from a business intelligence standpoint, that others could more easily see the topics that someone is discussing or investigating – especially if such a tool could cross multiple networks/platforms in finding patterns.

As is often the case in these Semantic-Link discussions, the question of “how much should be exposed about the use of semantics” arose.  There is of course a balance between active vs viral evangelizing of semantics, and the cost of exposure is simplicity and usability, while the benefit is flexibility and control, for those who can handle it.

The answer itself is complicated.  On the one hand, technologies need to evolve in terms of leveraging semantics in order for people to really benefit from the underlying semantic capabilities.  At the same time, those same people we’re talking about getting the benefit shouldn’t have to understand the semantics that enable the experience.  Paul Miller, host of the podcast, also wrote about this issue.  I’ll add that Investors do to like to hear that their company is using unique and valuable techniques.  So too, though, is it the case that any company making use of semantics likely feels it is a competitive advantage to them – a disincentive to sharing details of the secret sauce.  .

As mentioned during the podcast, this is a matter of which audience is being addressed – the developers or the masses.  And in terms of the masses, even that audience is split (as is the case with almost all other software users).  There are the casual users, and there are those who are hardcore – and when we’re talking about masses, there are many many more people would fall into the casual camp.  So from a design standpoint, this is where usability really matters, and that means simplicity.

So in the case of Bottlenose, for the time being they’ve chosen to hide the details of the semantics, and simplify the user experience – which will hopefully facilitate broader adoption.  There may too be room for a power-user mode, to exposes the inner workings of the black-box algorithms that find and weigh associations between people, places, things… and let users tweak those settings beyond the time-frame and focus adjustments that are currently provided.

Mentioned by Nova was the LockerProject in which personal data could potentially be maintained outside any one particular network or platform.   This of course helps on the privacy side, but adds a layer of complexity (until someone else comes along and facilitates easy integration – which will no doubt chip some of the privacy value).

Personally, I’d love to see the ability to combine slices of personal activity from one or multiple platforms, with tools such as Bottlenose, so that I could analyze activity around slivers or Circles (in the case of Google+ usage) from various networks, in any analytical platform I choose.

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The December episode of the Semantic-Link podcast was a review of the past year, and a look forward.  The framework for the discussion was:

  • What company, technology or issue caught your attention in 2011
  • Are we “there” yet?
  • What are people watching for 2012

Notable attention grabbers were: schema.org and its impact on who pays attention (i.e. SEO space); linked data (and open data); increase in policy maker awareness of the need to pay attention to interoperability issues; commercial integration of technology (ontologies plus nlp capabilities) to leverage unstructured content; and of course Siri (a key example of such integration…).

In terms of where we are in the progression of the semantic technology realm, the general sentiment was that Siri represents the beginning of inserting UI in the process of leveraging semantics, by making the back end effort invisible to the user.  And looking forward, the feeling seems to be that we’ll see even more improved UI, stronger abilities in analysis and use of unstructured content, greater integration and interoperability, and data-driven user navigation, and Siri clones.

Give a listen, and be sure to express your opinion about a) topics that should be covered in the future, and b) the ways you would like to interact or participate in the discussion (see dark survey boxes).

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Andreas e Michael

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During the recording of the December podcast of the Semantic-Link (as of this writing, soon to be posted), I emphasized the general need for enablement of the general public to begin contributing and consuming linked data – without having to have much, if any, technical wherewithal.  The real explosion of the Web itself came as a result of wysiwyg authoring and facilitation of posting content and comments by just about anyone with a web connection.  Similarly, de-tech-ification of where the web is going from here is what will pave the way to getting there.

There are standards and tools now for the related underlying componentry, and what is needed is user-interface development that will usher in the explosion of linked-content generation and consumption (as web2.0 did before).

Toward this end, Andreas Blumauer writes about a new version of PoolParty’s WordPress plugin that extends an in-page Apture-like approach, to use and contribute to the LD ecosystem.  This (coupled with other elements such as SKOSsy) is an example of the type of  UI gateway that is needed in order to enable the general public to participate – with systems that generate and digest the linked-data-age information currency.

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Marbles - Schulenburg, Texas

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While I’m still actually waiting to get “in”, I have a couple of comments regarding Google+, from outside the Circle.

From descriptions of this Google Social Networking effort (following Orkut, Wave and Buzz), key elements as of now are: Circles (think of them as groups of people within your network); Sparks (which are topics or areas of interest); Hangouts (video chat rooms); Huddles (group chat); and Instant Upload (automatic mobile photo syncing).

Considering potential for integrating capability across product areas has always been most intriguing to me.  In serving them up “together”, G+ makes it that much more likely for capabilities to be used together.

First, and I think most interesting, is the way that the concept of Circles melds the idea of a network of friends/connections with tagging/categorization so that, without having the clunky thinking of classifying or inviting people to groups, the user is able to achieve the elusive sense of having multiple personas representable within one system.   Some people maintain their professional network in one system (LinkedIn, for example), and their personal network in another (e.g. facebook).  Others maintain multiple accounts in a single system in order to segregate their “work” online presence from their “family” or “personal play” selves.  For those who already maintain multiple Google accounts, G+ lets you log into multiple accounts at once.  I have yet to see how well you can interact in ways that cross over account lines.
Image representing Twine as depicted in CrunchBase

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The second area of note is the way that Sparks re-frames the idea of Alerts in a way that subtly shifts the nature of the material that results from them from being one-off emails or links — that you might dig into or forward on — to material that relate to particular areas of interest, which presumably parallel or align with groupings of people you associate with around those topics.  Twine had used the approach of integrating topic areas and social groupings for alerts – but these were groups that potential recipients would have to join.  In G+, the “proximity” to the Circles aspect, and the fact that those Circles are unique to the individual, and don’t require reciprocation, make for a compelling scenario for the “push” side of the equation. (At the same time, I see some potential issues in terms of “pull” and management by those on the receiving end).

Together, Sparks and Circles could take us a lot closer to a dream system I yearned for a few years back, that I referred to as a Virtual Dynamic Network.  In this, rather than having defined groups that you would need to join (which would send you related material along with much you would prefer to do without), material you both receive and send would be routed based on what it is about and how it is classified. I would love to see distinct sets of controls for in-bound vs out-bound content.
I won’t know until I get to try it, but ideally G+ will enable you to tie Sparks to Circles for you.  I’m also hoping you’re able to group your Circles – to relate and arrange them even hierarchically (consider: a large Circle for your work persona, which might contain multiple Circles for various client or team categories; or a large personal Circle, with sub-Circles for family, local friends, remote friends, classmates – all with overlap management to avoid multiply-sent content).

Hangouts and Huddles are by nature “social” already, for which you’ll presumably be able to seamlessly leverage Circles.  As with topical material, Instant Upload brings your photo content automatically one step closer to where you are sharing.  Success of all this as a social platform depends significantly on integration between the parts for seamless use by a user across capabilities – for example, adding someone who is participating on a video call or chat right into one or more of the Circles touched or represented by the other participants on that call or chat.

Ripples

Image by Bill Gracey via Flickr

Leveraging other capabilities such as linguistic processing of AdSense (and G+ may already have this in the works) it would not be a stretch for the content in your interactions to generate suggestions for Sparks which you could simply validate — places or people in photos, words in chats, terms that show up in content within Spark items.  From there, it wouldn’t be far to being able to interact with your life through what I might call a “SparkMap” — reflecting relationships between terms within your areas of interest.

 

UPDATE: I’m now in, as of Friday afternoon, July 8. So now I’ll be playing, with more ideas to come…

Additional links:

  • How to Get Started with Google+… (socialmediaexaminer.com)
  • A good ScobleEncounter listen (scobleizer on cinch.fm)
  • Quite a collection of tips growing on this public google doc
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    This is an update to the Drupal-related portion of my 2/7/11 post:

    Semantic Web Bus or Semantic Web Bandwagon?

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    Stéphane Corlosquet posted some background regarding his research, and a link to his masters thesis, on and paving (or at least mapping) the way to inclusion of RDFa in Drupal 7.

    The latter does a good job outlining the matter being addressed — in a a pretty digestible way even for the lay person — along with the way to get there.  Of particular note is the emphasis on facilitating the leveraging of it, as evidenced by the existence of its Chapter 4, focused on usability and adoption.

    After all, this effort finally represents the technical equipping of content — through the work flow and processes of non-technicians  to generate that content — so as to be technically consumed.  This is how most of our every day systems operate (think about the behind-the-scenes code that is incorporated into Word, for example, when the bold or italics button is pressed.

    Once we arrived at the participatory phase of the Web, this type of invisible facilitation/enablement within everyday processes — in a usable way, no less — became an essential pathway to its semanticization.

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    I’m finally getting a break from chipping ice and shoveling snow, so before the next round comes in, I wanted to get this post up about our second episode of the Semantic Link podcast.

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    In brief, we had an interesting discussion around how we anticipate Drupal 7 will impact the landscape and why – specifically its built-in ability to generate semantic annotation of content. To date there has been a chicken-and-egg situation, where the development of semantic-consuming applications has been waiting for consumable content – while efforts to generate semantic content have been awaiting the incentive of there being systems to consume, digest, and expose it. Call it CM-antics or C-Mantics – either way it is easier than saying “CM Semantics” – but perhaps it’ll reduce some of the antics.

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    Other parts of the conversation included discussion of how semantic solutions find their way into companies; and about the way that semantics has influenced the division of labor and the definition of IT roles within companies (CTO vs CIO) due to its changing the nature of information itself, and making it more of a technology – or part of the machine itself.
    Other parts of the conversation included discussion of how semantic solutions find their way into companies; and about the way that semantics has influenced the division of labor and the definition of IT roles within companies (CTO vs CIO) due to its changing the nature of information itself, and making it more of a technology – or part of the machine itself.

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    Give a listen, and enjoy: Semantic Link – Episode 2

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