Semantic Web Enhance Your Blog

I followed the simple instructions found in Frederick Giasson’s blog on Semantic Web Enabling blogging software. As I use WordPress for this site, it was a simple matter to drop in the two required files and activate the plugin. The second step is to setup the blog to pingthesemanticweb so that the newly minted semantic data can be found.

Painless and straightforward. Now I can contribute my banal content to the semantic web. Now what is your excuse?

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Book: Ambient Findability

I find many multidisciplinary books to be especially fascinating, and Ambient Findability by Peter Morville was no exception. Morville posits that in the age of the search engine, one of the first considerations for data or a service is how easily it can be found and not necessarily how easy it is to use (though the usability bit certainly comes into play after it has been found).

…design of a useful information system requires a deep understanding of users and their social context. We cannot assume people will want our information, even if we know they need our information. Behind most failed web sites, intranets, and interactive products lie misguided models of users and their infomration-seeking behavior. Users are complex. Users are social. And so is information.

Of course, there is a great deal of information out there to be found and not all of it is terribly relevant. It should also be obvious that the sheer amount of data ‘out there’ is growing. In particular, the amount of telemetry information from GPS, RFID tags and sensors of all sorts is adding more unstructured or semi-structured data to the mix. Morville covers this ground deftly while touching on a very approachable discussion of the nature of information, how wayfinding in the physical world might provide clues to wayfinding in the data-space, and push versus pull models of data acquisition and filtering.

Chapter 6 introduces semantic web technology and approaches and its goals in dealing with data and metadata in a structured, machinable way. These approaches are contrasted with the folksonomy approach taken by the roll-your-own-tags way of doing things such as .

It would seem that unless you take charge of your own findability, someone else will do it for you and not necessarily to your benefit. Typo-squatters were the unfortunate pioneers of this space. More subtle variations on this are competitors who create site to disparage your product and play up their own under the guise of some ‘neutral’ third party opinion.

What you don’t find can be just as bad. I identified a malady back in the early 90s in the context of the then emergent graphic user interfaces that mirrors the contemporary ‘Google mindset’. At the time, everyone was extolling the virtues of What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. The problem that I saw was that the vast majority of people will assume that What-You-See-Is-All-You-Get and not venture beyond the eye candy that is most immediately in front of their noses to discover richer functionality and interactions. There are folks who truly believe that ‘if it is not in Google, then it doesn’t exist’ and that what they find in Google is the truth. This can be extremely dangerous, as it has been demonstrated over and over how easy it is to manipulate search results (not only on Google but Digg, Technorati and others).

Another issue with current search technology is that it simply isn’t fuzzy enough. For example, when I travel, I seek out CD shops to browse the racks and find new music. Part of finding new music is also simply having an ear out for what is playing in the shop itself. I have found quite a bit of new music that I would never have known to search for but was introduced to by a chance listen or stumbling across it in a section of the shop that I was looking for an unrelated item in. I hold out a great deal of hope that application of semantic web technologies might help to search for and discover items in a manner similar to these physical, chance finds.

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BBC Television Program Info Searchable in RDF

Apparently this site ( contains 75 years worth of information about every program that the BBC has aired over the years in a searchable format using semantic web technologies under the covers.

I wanted to try this out and write about it a bit, but apparently the site is not responding. Is this a server problem or a Ruby problem? Either way it probably has to due with enormous demand at the rollout of this new tool. I guess we will find out later…

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IBM Web Ontology Manager

Over on Alphaworks, IBM has released a Web Ontology Manager:

IBM Web Ontology Manager is a lightweight, Web-based tool for managing ontologies expressed in Web Ontology Language (OWL). With this technology, users can browse, search, and submit ontologies to an ontology repository. Developers can discover new ontologies without having to develop the ontology themselves; reusability is thereby promoted and development time and effort is reduced. This technology includes a Web interface for easy uploading of ontologies in an .owl format by any user of the system. It also includes an interface for generating (using Jastor) Java APIs from uploaded ontology files.

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Semantic Web Adoption

Earlier in the week, the Guardian had a great article titled Spread the word, and join it up. It covers some of the usual ground about how HTTP was about presentation and the semantic web is about Data and serves as a good introduction to the topic.

What some of the later comments in the article got me thinking about was how the forces behind the growth of the web and the adoption of open source may (finally) be driving factors behind the growth of more semantic content on the web. The web, I think, really changed the thinking in most corporations in that it became ‘okay’ to share without having to control the sharing.

Open source changed the way that corporations and individuals thought about collaboration and product development. Adopt some time tested code into your own (internal) project and be that much further ahead in the development cycle. Contribute some code or even an entire project to the open source community and (based on the merit of the code or product) see it take on a new life and grow in ways that the originator never imagined.

Stir in the relatively recent development of products and even companies having APIs (web 2.0?) that allow users to combine them in new and creative ways and you have a pretty interesting environment for your data, which, after all, is what the semantic web is all about.

Now, get your data ‘out there’ in RDF and see what creative linkages and constructions that can be crafted on the web. In some cases, I can see this having a real multiplying effect — as more and more quality data is available in a machineable format the value increases — much like the network effect that was seen with fax machines. While the fax network effect was strictly about point to point communication, the semantic web impact will be in bringing together diverse data sources in new ways and creating new value in the combinations.

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Give Me Back My Data

I’ve been thinking about all of the places that ‘allow’ customers to do the data entry tasks for them with little in the way of reward back to the customer. Think about it, you get to key in all the information for your airline reservation, but what do you get in return (ok, maybe a discount, but hear me out)? What I would like to see happen is that more online companies provide value added information in return.

For example, when I make an airline reservation, why can’t the airline shoot me an iCalendar with all of the departure/arrival information that I can drop into my calendar? If I order some merchandise from an online vendor like Apple that requires a signature on arrival, why not provide me (again) with an iCalendar that I can easily add to my calendar so I can make sure someone is available to sign for the delivery? You would think that the delivery companies (UPS/DHL/FedEx) would be all over this as it saves them the time/effort/fuel associated with re-delivery. For that matter, why not give me an Atom/RSS feed that allows me to easily track the package. Once the package is delivered, they can trash the feed URL. Actually, the same would be cool for the airline example as well.

This isn’t such a leap — many banks allow you to get your transaction information in a format (QIF) that you can easily import into Quicken; why not for the more mundane stuff as well?

But the thing that would really make this work, is to craft the value added data so that it would work with mobile devices. That way I don’t need to be tied to a feedreader or calendar that is on my desktop computer, I can be anywhere. This is obviously important for the air travel scenario. Perhaps part of the problem gets solved by having a feed reader that can send SMS messages based on certain feeds changing (like my flight schedule). You can sort of make that work now with Yahoo alerts, but a more integrated solution would be preferable.

One last thought: perhaps an interim method of bridging the data gap is to provide the scheduling information in a microformat like hCalendar and embed it in the confirmation/receipt screen (HTML) that is typically provided by a web site. It could then be mined out with PiggyBank or some other GRDDL-like scraper. Not perfect, but at least avoids the re-keying that is required now.

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RSS based Package Tracking

This holiday season, I created my own little mashup by combining this web service (created by Ben Hammersley) to track a FedEx package via RSS and the Yahoo Alerts service to notify my mobile phone when the FedEx status was updated.

The combination worked pretty well (Yahoo Alerts sent several false/duplicate updates). It would be nice if all of the major shipping carriers provided this as a service. Tracking multiple packages via RSS is much simpler via RSS than having to go ping individual websites. The option to couple this with SMS notification is a big plus for critical, can’t miss shipments.

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Book: Ambient Findability

Ambient Findability by Peter Morville is an interesting sounding new book dealing with filtering and ultimately finding the data that you need in the current environment of ‘information overload’. Thus far, the book has received great reviews. Here is a snippit of book description from Amazon:

Morville discusses the Internet, GIS, and other network technologies that are coming together to make unlimited findability possible. He explores how the melding of these innovations impacts society, since Web access is now a standard requirement for successful people and businesses. But before he does that, Morville looks back at the history of wayfinding and human evolution, suggesting that our fear of being lost has driven us to create maps, charts, and now, the mobile Internet.

The book’s central thesis is that information literacy, information architecture, and usability are all critical components of this new world order. Hand in hand with that is the contention that only by planning and designing the best possible software, devices, and Internet, will we be able to maintain this connectivity in the future. Morville’s book is highlighted with full color illustrations and rich examples that bring his prose to life.

This definately a topic of interest to me and I have added this book to my to-be-read queue and Amazon wishlist.


Semapedia is a very interesting idea that combines mobile devices and a physical form of ‘tagging’. The idea is that you can create a 3D bar code ‘semacode‘ that you stick on a physical place/thing (say, like a museum or historical site) — with permission of course. A person with a camera equipped mobile phone loaded with the semacode reader software could ‘scan’ the semacode which would resolve to a Wikipedia URL that would tell them more about their current tagged location.

One obvious disadvantage is that the paper printed barcodes are just too easy to destroy either intentionally or by being exposed to the elements. There is also the stigma/paranoia that some may have around having this somewhat cryptic thing attached to their building (associations with war driving abound).

I think it makes a lot of sense for more controlled environments were patrons can use their phones to get more information rather than having to carry around a brochure or the like. In any case, a very creative use of mobile technology and ‘tagging’.

Semantic MediaWiki Implementation

I was interested to learn that enhancements to Wiki are being formulated to allow for the inclusion of semantic annotation of articles.

Wiki has proven itself to be an effective means of collecting information (look no further than the wikipedia). Coupling something like wikipedia with a means of being able to make machine readable sense of the collected knowledge is a pretty potent combination.