Today I T’ed it to MIT Building NE43, took the elevator to the 5th floor and sat in a cozy room with 50 or so other geeks & academics taking in a presentation by Tim Berners-Lee on the Semantic Web. Wait… Tim Berners-Lee! The creator of the World Wide Web for goodness sakes! Wow. After getting past the fact that I was sitting not more than 10 feet away from the guy who created the WWW AND the first web browser, I realized two things: a) Tim Berners-Lee is *really* excited about the stuff he does (isn’t it interesting to listen to someone who LOVES what they do?!) and b) the Semantic Web will be a big thing, although it’ll take awhile.
I won’t try to explain the Semantic Web, the W3C site does an excellent job of describing it technically, and there are other sites that cover it as well. Some interesting tidbits I wrote down (for myself):
· N3 or Notation 3 “… a quick notation for jotting down or reading RDF semantic web information, and experimenting with more advanced sematic web features.” [source]
· HTML is to the WWW as RDF is to the Semantic Web
· The Semantic web is a technical problem, but also a philosophical one. In order for massive adoption to occur, we (how quickly I claim participation!) must have some sort of specification that explicity describes what this is and what that is (see: ontology), which is why there is a working group devoted solely to the problem of describing objects for the web.
· Humourously, at one point Tim mentioned that he had wanted a ‘why’ button in his browser.
· The word ‘trust’ came up multiple times during the conversation, something that we’re more and more likely to see as the Semantic Web makes ‘meaningful’ information 24×7 365. (interesting paper @ Caltech on this subject)
· Various software tools mentioned during the presentation:
Blindfold (“… a semantic web software toolkit. It can be used by programmers as a library of handy functions or at the command line to perform various data transformations.”, written by Sandro Hawke, who was at the presentation),
Algae (“Algae is a constraint-based query interface based on algernon. Aside from syntax, the pricipal difference between algae and algernon is that algae is not tied to an accessor (algernon assumes triples are accessed by subject only)”),
Cwm (“… a general-purpose data processor for the semantic web. It is a forward chaining reasoner which can be used for querying, checking, transforming and filtering information. Its core language is RDF, extended to include rules, and it uses RDF/XML or N3 serializations as required.”),
Annotea (“.. a LEAD (Live Early Adoption and Demonstration) project enhancing the W3C collaboration environment with shared annotations.”, which I immediately began thinking of using along w/ a wireframe implementation. The idea behind Annotea is that you could/can leave “..comments, notes, explanations, or other types of external remarks…” on any document available on the web, thereby increasing collaboration among teams. It’s built into the Amaya browser, you can download Annotea here or use the demo w3c.org annotea server),
Haystack (“The Haystack project makes use of Semantic Web RDF technology to permit maximum flexibility in describing information. On top of this we have created a user interface paradigm capable of displaying various kinds of information in many forms. We provide a powerful infrastructure for incorporating machine learning algorithms that implement personalization and per user adaptation. Our framework also facilitates and fosters collaboration between Haystack users.”), check out this screenshot of Haystack, reminds me of some of the Flash portals I’ve seen demo’ed by Macromedia.
Zakim, “An irc bot created by Ralph Swick that interfaces with W3C’s Zakim teleconference bridge and provides meeting support services such as notification of participant arrival and departure, requests to speak, and requests for agenda items.” Tim talked about this bot briefly, reminded me of Jabber’s Chatbot.
Tim mentioned some of the challenges that the Semantic Web faces in his presentation (which was supposed to be on the web, but I don’t see it here, anyone know where it is?). Anyway, after you get by the technical and philosophical issues, there remains the small tiny matter of UI, how do you display all this information to the user so that he/she uses it? Haystack tries to address this… but there’s definitely a business opportunity there for the person(s) that can effectively present vast amounts of information to a human being in a finite space.
After the presentation was over, someone asked a question about patents relative to the Semantic Web. Tim replied something to the effect that if everyone would keep their hands off the patent machine, we’d probably get alot farther faster (he referenced the VoiceXML area which is supposedly mired in patent hell and thus developers aren’t flocking to the standard(s) as they should)…
That’s all! Thanks MIT, W3C and Tim for a great seminar and for opening it up to the general public. The Web continues to be fascinating, largely thanks to your non-selfish efforts.