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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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silver balls...

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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

Image via CrunchBase

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.

    Artist's impression of the US Gerald R. Ford-c...

    Image via Wikipedia - (turning the big ship)

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    It is a sad day, but it seems Yahoo! is shutting down delicious (see also).

    Del.icio.us has been a reliable web-based bookmarking resource that has not only enabled bookmarking in the cloud, so bookmarks could be accessed from any computer you happen to be using, and sharing them with others.  It facilitated multi-tag classification of them, so that you could zero in on what you’re after by triangulating with related words in your own naming convention, and breaking free of traditional, hierarchical folder storage structure.

    It has been a great resource for researching the language that others use to describe the topics and pages you are interested in, and has allowed, if not encouraged, the development of worldviews and, though some scoff at the word, folksonomies.

    While this news is a shame, the truth is that the resource has not been leveraged, and some say it has been neglected, since it was acquired in 2005, which happens to be when I began making use, about 5,000 bookmarks ago.  I recently signed up for Pinboard (which has a one time cost of about $7 right now, and offers an auto logging archive for an annual subscription).  The thought of paying for something you’ve done for free might bother some, but Barry Graubart makes an interesting point in his post on this subject when he says “remember that the lack of a business model is what required Delicious to sell to Yahoo, who neglected it.”

    I’ve long been compiling material for my (in progress) book entitled “Long Term Short Sightedness”.  I’ll have to be sure to save some room to write about this decision by Yahoo!

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    Day 191: Sticky Notes Mean ProductivityImage by quinn.anya via Flickr

    If you haven’t already encountered Google’s newly released Sidewiki, it is a web annotation feature accessible via browser plug-in or their toolbar – and is essentially a means for people to comment on pages and, unlike tools for making notes for just yourself (like sticky notes on your screen, or the electronic equivalent), these comments are visible to others who use it and visit those pages – right on the page with the content.  This isn’t a new concept, but one that gives cause to consider the “traditional” dimensions of web experience.Generally speaking, users of web resources have typically thought of the pages they view as being depicted in the way intended by the owner of the domain (or page).  If we want to get philosophical, ownership of the rendering of the page, it could be argued, is the user’s – and plug-ins empower such customization, as this is referred to.

    Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

    Similarly, functionality of a site is has typically been considered by users to be provided/delivered by, and/or controlled by the site owner.  In the context of beginning to think of rendering as being other-webly (i.e. from other than the provider), the same holds true with respect to functionality.  The functionality being added to the experience here is around the ability to comment, and to see comments of others, about the page.

    This starts to bring home the concept that the browser is acting as the actual platform, rather than the page/site itself.  In this case, we’re talking about the bringing together of the page’s content with toughts or opinions about the page – or about things that are on the page.  So in essence, what sidewiki adds is a virtualized forum – where the forum content is in the hands of Google rather than those of the owner of the site – but is displayed alongside the content itself.

    Image representing AdaptiveBlue as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase

    This is not altogether different from what AdaptiveBlue’s Glue does – though there are a couple of key difference.  In both cases the user must be using the plug-in in order to see or add content – akin to joining the community.  And in both cases the comment / opinion content that is generated as a result, is in the control of the plug-in provider.  The first, and most notable difference (for now, at least) is that sidewiki “acts” as if the user generated content is about the page which it annotates, while Glue’s emphasis is on the asset to which the page refers.  The key benefit of the latter, in the cases where the commentary relates to an asset referenced on the page, is that it decouples the item referred to from location which makes reference to it.  This translates to Glue displaying  the comment on any page in where the same item is found, as opposed to just being seen on the same page where the comment was made.  This difference won’t likely persist, and seems more a matter of emphasis/focus and positioning.

    Since the annotations are only visible to users making use of the particular service used when making the annotations, the more of these services we see, the more fragmented the sea of commentary.  The next level may be about “aboutness”, and differentiation by the ability to determine relatedness of otherwise unassociated commentary and content – and making the virtual connection between the two for the user.

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    Someone recently shared DarkCopy with me.  This seemingly has little to do with my recent writings, and some would call it silly – but under the surface, it is pretty relevant.  Some of  the key drivers of the things I’ve chosen to write about include: efficiency, productivity, drivers of value, usability, tools for enablement…

    So many of our environments tend to promote wearing no blinders, so you don’t miss anything that might be relevant.  In contrast (particularly relative to my previous post), this is a “simple” tool that lets you make efficient use of your computer for writing – a place that can otherwise prove to be the most distracting place to work (if you don’t count just being within voice-reach of one of your kids or your spouse, or the phone or your pda, or…   Sorry, I’ve got to go; my phone is ringing, an important email just popped up, and someone is at the door.  I guess I should have been writing this in DarkCopy!).

    There’s no question, we’re all trying to figure out how to keep up with the things we’re interested in. One of the tricky parts is finding it all; trickier still, is keeping up with it.

    There was a good question posted to one of the semantic-oriented sub-communities in which I participate (SWNYC with its static store) . The answer happens to bridge a number of interesting areas within information access and sharing, communities and their architecture and tools, ease of use, user centricity, interoperability, and of course the semantic space.

    The post essentially asked: “Other than reading blogs, what online community can I join in order to keep up with (and participate in) general and technical discussions relating to the semantic web (tools, architecture, query and storage engines, ontologies… )? Most of the forums seem to be application specific, or are sparsely attended. Where can I find the online version of our wonderful meetups? Where do you semantic web people hang out online?”

    My response, there, was essentially that “the hangout” is fragmented into pockets which are focused on particular subtopics – be they oriented to a particular industry or sector, element of architecture, phase of process, geography, company / product or application. I’ve listed (down below) some of the related links I shared where there is a good amount of activity for this particular space, but I went on to make two points, which I expand further upon here:

    1. When you participate through one means of interaction (e.g., meetups, conferences), extending interaction through offshoot means of engagement (e.g., email lists, forums) in combination can broaden, deepen and enrich sharing, and can transform an event into a community. (Of course, the number of participants, and the period across which they participate, go to whether you consider it to be an exchange, a community, or a mess, but that is another discussion). Affording a group of people the means of fluidly integrating their exchanges, across modes of interaction, is a key to community vitality.
    2. If you can handle the load of it, a feeder for your personal information funnel can be built by joining numerous online lists relating to your various areas of interest – across the sectors, elements, process phases, geographies that might touch those areas of interest. This is where it gets interesting, but it can be ugly too – and a real burden to keep up with, organize, maintain and manage. If you were monitoring just blogs, readers such as BlogBridge can enable the task, tracking all your feeds of interests together, providing visual tools for managing and making use. For communities though, while there are platforms that integrate useful capabilities within a community, none seem to enable integration across communities – and particularly across community platforms and modes of communication.

    The approach I describe in item two philosophically takes a semantic approach to the matter: let in all that you think may have relevance, and filter down from there. Taking this a little further brings me to a concept I’ve been mulling for some time – a dynamic virtual community. Through actual semantics, content would be exposed dynamically, from within all sources identified as relevant, you see just the material that aligns with what essentially amounts to your then-current interests – no walls, just windows.

    There is, after all, only one exact “you” – and that “you” doesn’t perfectly align with any one community or set of communities. Your interests cut across community barriers, and you may only care about subsets of material within each. Imagine a contextually tuned portal revealing interactions (from stories, events, emails, community posts, blog entries) that relate to what you care about, at a level of complexity that suits you, from participants you’re interested in. An example I like is one where a members of a plumbing society see content coming from an agricultural community, when the latter happens to be discussing irrigation systems.

    In this ideal world, through natural language processing, concept extraction, ontology navigation and management – you would have the ability to dynamically discover interactions of interest and those things that match your unique perspective, and which evolves over time with you. Most of us could never figure out how to create such a thing, but when the pieces get put together (to enable the things we all do or want), many of us will surely take advantage of those enablers – and it is then that the Semantic Web will be.


    As I mentioned up top, here are some active lists that carry on the semantic discussion:

    While the initial question sought communities rather than blogs, some such sites bubble to the top as being particularly relevant within a domain. For the semantic space, Paul Miller’s Talis blog and podcasts have a good flow of interviews of interesting people – in fact, today’s was an interview with Tim Berners-Lee (transcript). He’s now also doing a related column on ZDNet. ReadWriteWeb also provides great coverage of interesting material.
    Again, you face the overload issue, but tools such as BlogBridge can help you to try to keep pace while you monitor them for material that catches you. [Posting comments to them may not seem like community interaction, and posting to your own blog with trackbacks can feel a bit solitary too. All together though, this interaction is a feeder to anyone whose community view includes them.]

    OK, so I got busy with some other things, but never took my eye off the ball. Speaking of which, we now have confirmation of our ideas, in that they’re expressed in the description of the newly released Twine. Parallel it is to the integration of blog and wiki, tagging, natural language processing to not just match by tag, but to “understand” and contextualize. This functionality belongs within elicitative frameworks now, to draw out the metadata through process enablement.

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