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.]