Semantic Web Light Beer

Image by davidflanders via Flickr

This was to be a pre-conference post to give an overview of what to expect during the week-long, 150-or-so session Semantic Technologies Conference – a gathering of all things semantic.

I wanted to mention a few “views” by which you can consider the landscape, to help navigate the more than 150 sessions:

  • Sector / Industry (such as e-gov, health/life science and pharma, publishing, financial…)
  • By stack-/layer-cake component (the individual technology or standard)
  • By function performed (search, data integration, dynamic categorization…
  • Technical Level – from highly technical, to purely business focused
    W3c semantic web stack

    Image via Wikipedia

And there are related “tracks” that can help you follow any one of these. Whether you’re interested in what the Semantic Web is in general, intricate architectural aspects of the various segments of the semantic web layer cake/stack (RDF, OWL, SPARQL…), it’ll be covered during the week.

Since it is now under way, I’ll mention a few of the points made during the Semantic-Link live podcast on Sunday, an opening sessions that I was part of.  In particular, I wanted to touch on the “Advice to new attendees” (who represented a surprisingly massive portion of those who had already checked in for the week) included [full mp3 here]:

  • Talk to anyone about anything.  This is an extremely diverse, giving, open and accessible group of people.  (Andraz Tori of Zemanta added: while it is great to see people you haven’t seen in a year, don’t talk to the ones you know.  Meet and talk with new ones!).
  • Try to sample from the uniquely WIDE variety of topical material covered.  It is rare that you’ll find the range of material that is accessible.
  • Don’t try to get deeply into the intricacies of each component of the stack.  Instead, get enough of a sense of how each of the components relates to one another – so you can then consider the context of anything you encounter here.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk out of a session you determine is not for you, and head into another you were considering.
  • Value the hallway conversations as much as the sessions themselves.
  • Decide whether you are trying to learn everything and anything you can – or if you are seeking out specific solutions or material to justify an agenda – and navigate accordingly.

One topic released too recently to be on the agenda, is the arrangement between Google, Bing and Yahoo around the common use the Microdata vocabulary (vs RDFa or Microformats), which is less expressive and easier to implement.  The question put out during the opening panel discussion was whether this good, bad, important, unimportant… to the Semantic Web community.  The only consensus of the panel was that it will generate much discussion on all sides of the matter during the week – and that is a good thing.  Christine Connors added that the SEO world will likely jump on this standardization for annotating – and a cottage industry might emerge around people offering to annotate pages.   From my own relatively non-technical perspective, it is strategically positive for the Semantic Web.  To the extent that this opens up the floodgates and generates masses of annotation, there is then much more to be worked with, for RDFa to be added where higher degrees of expressiveness are still desired – and these will surely emerge.

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Symbol for languages. Based on Image:Gnome-glo...Image via Wikipedia

If this isn’t one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen…

You probably thought it was Jetson’s material that someone could speak one language into a phone, and you could hear it in a different language on the other end.  Pretty great stuff, translation on the fly.  Think about looking at something that is written in a different language, and being able to able to see it in another, without having to go look it up somewhere!

That’s exactly what the Word Lens app from Quest Visual does – which you’ve got to see to believe (if not understand)!

I don’t know if this is exactly right, but “bastante salvaje” if you ask me!

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Every now and again, I’m asked why one post or another of mine seems to be off on a tangent from “the usual”.  In these cases, it seems that while I’ve stayed true to the theme of connecting ideas to create value, the exchange for that value isn’t as obvious or direct.  To me, these are the times that are most interesting – involving translation of the currency, whether to or from knowledge, experience, or goods.  It is that value translation that is at the heart of the Second Integral.

I’ll speculate now that this will likley prove to be one of those times.

While walking through Maplewood, NJ last weekend, I came upon a new store in place of one that had recently closed.  I ventured in to see what it was about, and discovered it to be an art/craft boutique, with lots of hand crafted and nicely made/decorated items.   A woman approached me and asked if I needed any help, and I asked if these were all things made by people locally.  She was Cate Lazen, and she turns out to have been the founder of Arts Unbound, the organization that opened this “pop-up” store.  She answered my question, saying “well, yes, and everything in the store was made by people dealing with a disability of one sort or another.”

With a part of my brain dedicated full time to triangulation, I found myself automatically thinking about the coalescence of purposes here.  On the one hand, people with disabilities, engaging in artistic work as physical therapy, an expressive outlet, to perhaps generate income, while gaining pride, satisfaction, experience… all through their creative art.

Art as therapy itself is clearly valuable – but what struck me as particularly interesting was its combination of it here with (at least) two other constituencies.  According to Cate, the shop also employs people with disabilities, so it satisfies many of these same therepeutic purposes for the workers as it does the artists.  And of course, being a shop, it brings customers into the mix.

The simple combination of manufacturer + shopkeeper + consumer may not, on the surface, seem so interesting – it is just how a business works.  But the dynamic in this case yields some additional benefits beyond the traditional.

Along with the direct purposes noted above, for the artists and workers, and obviously filling customers’ needs, there are some more subtle byproducts as well, and they’re accentuated by the season’s spirit, due to the timing of the shop’s materialization just in time for the holidays.

Those who find their way to the shop will undoubtedly gain awareness of the overall purposes being served by the organization.   Additionally, buying a gift from this store provides the giver the satisfaction of giving twice (at least) – to the recipient of the gift, to the artist, to the shop worker, and even the good feeling of having contributed in some small way.  All this can even make you feel a little better about buying something for yourself.

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Datasets in the Linking Open Data project, as ...Image via Wikipedia

Wow.  If you thought the Linking Open Data cloud had grown between September 2007 (right) and July of 2009 (below), take a look at this to see where we are NOW!

Instance linkages within the Linking Open Data...Image via Wikipedia

As Richard and Anja note on the site linked above: The cloud images show “some of the datasets that have been published in Linked Data format, by the Linking Open Data community project and other organisations.

Where is this going? Andreas Blumauer of Semantic Web Company, in Vienna, put it well: “15 years ago we all were excited when we published HTML for the first time and it didn’t take a long time until all of us were “on the internet”. Now we are starting to publish data on the web. Based on semantic web technologies professional data management will be possible in distributed environments generating even more network effects than Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 ever did.”

Some might ask where value derived from this cloud, or if membership in it just marketing?  Talis’ Tom Heath outlines, in the latest issue of Nodalities Magazine, that without Linked Data, there couldn’t be a Semantic Web.  Being linked and of use means having been made available following Linked Data Principles.  This includes: things having unique identifiers (URIs); that are in the form of hypertext (HTTP) so they are standardly navigable (dereferencable); at which destinations there is useful and standardly interprable information (in RDF/XML) describing the thing; and which contains links to other things (read: HTTP URIs which also contain RDF/XML).  Through explanation of the progression from FOAF files, (where the “things” at these “URIs” are individual people, collectively representing the basis for semantic social networks), to working out standards around what constitutes an information vs non-information resource (via httpRange-14), Tom makes the all important point that: each step along the way is an essential building block toward where we are going.

And where (at this stage) is this?  When Tony Shaw, of Semantic Universe, pointed to Linked Data in his recent article “Nine Ways the Semantic Web Will Change Marketing“, he was pointing to its impact on Marketing.  But beyond that, we can take from his explanation the broader capabilities afforded by it: findability, pullability, mashability, mobility – essentially interoperability, as applicable to any activity, sector or function which involves information (read: data).  Can you think of any that don’t?

Enabling data in this way (with all these building blocks) is “one” thing – moving control closer to the end user, and toward solutions and value.  Making it “usable” is yet another.  Every interaction is marketing (good or bad) for the resources of the interaction.  The opportunity this points to is, through the leveraging of those capabilties, to improve the experience around deriving those solutions and achieving that value.

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Morning FogImage by Nick Chill via Flickr

I have a tendency to think on the edges or outskirts of domains – in the interstices – where domains overlap with one another.  When the morning fog clears, I typically get brainstorms that result from word plays that bridge multiple domains that may be on my mind.

For example, while attending a meeting this week on Usability in the context of Agile development, I had the thought that there ought to be an application of the methodology within the realm of cooking – and the Scrum component of agile could be referred to in this context as “Scrumtious”.

Another of these hit me while walking out of the grocery store, and no doubt subliminally having picked up “low cal” while thinking about communities and marketing within them, that a calorie conscious faction could refer to their region as a “Low Cal Locale”.

On the heels of my wife’s latest marathon (her fifth), I’m thinking there ought to be a womens’ triathlon called the “Iron Maiden”.

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...Image via Wikipedia

If I had a nickel for every one of these wordplay thoughts, my pockets would bulge each day! My kids tend to be my reluctant test-subjects for these sometimes painful ideas.  As I trust their untainted minds, they are sometimes the end of the line; sometimes though, in the spirit of Agile development, they’re the beginning of an iterative process.

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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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Created by :en:User:Fcb981Image via Wikipedia

The potential impact on the economy from removing burdens around health care should not be underestimated as a means of stimulus.  For many, fixing the system could mean enormous savings, if not just improved quality of life and perhaps care.

The solution to our health care situation goes beyond regulation; it lies in changing the focus.  The intention should be about “well-being”, and all measurement and compensation for parties to system of “well being” should be driven by the success of the program.  The parties include not just the doctors, but all those engaged in the health care processes: the medical insurance companies, malpractice insurers, the pharma and device companies, and extending all the way to those providing therapy and fitness services.

Differing time horizons need to be aligned.  Insurers may currently find it beneficial to make decisions based on short-term exposure, regardless of potential longer-term costs that could result from those decisions.  After all, it isn’t likely the patient will still be with the same insurer when the longer-term result is encountered.  The relationship (or at least the impact of it) needs to be made permanent.

Medical and life insurance should be integrated so that the insurers’ interest in sustaining you is aligned with their interest in maintaining you.  The medical portion of premiums should be driven in part by your relative wellness (not just relative to where you should be, but to where you’ve been) and in part by the risks you take and the choices you make about your wellness.  Participation in activities that are shown to improve health and reduce risks should be rewarded, while costs should be attached to lack of participation and to risky activity.

Doctors who participate in this wellness driven system would benefit from streamlined  administrative processes, not having to process and re-process while fighting for payment.  For their participation, they will also have access to more reasonable malpractice coverage.  Beyond the direct impact on the medical process, these changes alone should make it attractive again to pursue careers in medicine.

Compensation under this plan would be based, in part, on relative wellness achieved – the wellness performance of those under their care.  This is in contrast to payment based on Relative Value Units, which is similar to the way your auto mechanic gets paid.  Objectives of insurers too need to be redefined to be driven by wellness in this way too – particularly at the outset of the plan.  Over time, as the balance of costs shift as a result of preventive care generating longer term savings, artificial incentives should become less economically important for proper motivation.  Treatments will be driven toward solving problems rather than addressing symptoms, and away from allowing perpetual treatment and profit from such.

There are many aspects beyond these to be considered, but only through  review of the full spectrum of the roles in this dynamic, with consideration as to how to achieve some of the objectives for each – and with agreement as to what problem(s) we’re trying to solve, can interests be aligned – not just on a particular purpose, but with a long view.

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El Temple I (Color)Image by gabirro via Flickr

I’m not generally one to comment on political matters (ok, I never do, other than this this month, for some reason) at least not for political purposes.  The linkage here to my typical areas of discussion should soon be readily aparrent.  Feel free to comment or email me if not, and I’d be glad to elaborate.

We are at an amazing point in history – and not just because Barack Obama is about to become the first African American president.  He is, thanks to his charisma, drive, eloquence, perspective… representative of the transition point we’ve reached.  This period of change has been brewing since 2000, and was set in motion in earnest in 2004.  His success in getting to this point has been both a catalyst for, and the result of, Americans being ready for what Obama has called “The Change We Need”.

This change is about transcendence, repair, and to borrow from the technical lexicon – interoperability – domestically and internationally, philosophically, infrastructurally.  Not to imply that there aren’t still dark days ahead, but we’ve already seen movement across party and racial lines, and participation, if not enthusiasm among the previously non-voting or heretofore politically and/or socially indifferent (- the numb or perhaps even the resigned or capitulated).

In these economic times, and while the world’s perception of the U.S. is at a low, we could ask for nothing greater than the combination of an energized and informed nation with an administration tuned to leveraging and guiding this  enthusiasm – to rebuild.  Interoperability – between the government and the people, between departments, programs, institutions – connecting the moving parts necessary – is the technology of this new era, to make this change work.

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