Adam on “Learning from THE Web”

There is a great article from Adam Bosworth in ACM Queue online magazine titled Learning from THE WEB. He makes many great points. I agree with most of them.

The wisdom of the crowds works amazingly well. He mentions examples of how Flickr and allow people to tag resources freely. We once tried to pre-define a set of tags in a collaborative portal. That feature was rarely used. It is a top down approach and did not work well. The bottom up approach of free tagging works well. Blog search engines like Technorati can use tags to locate blogs.

He then goes on to say why Semantic Web may not work well but does little to explain why. I am not sure I agree with his assessment. RDF, a language for describing resources can enrich search engines like Google and Yahoo. Have you ever tried Google alerts or searches with terms like ESB and RDF? Google can certainly do better with some contextual information or help from RDF.

I think RDF is where XML was about 5 years ago. Since XML is just a syntax for describing data, we need something to describe the relationships in a flexible manner. That is what RDF does. However, it does not follow the KISS rule. The RDF is serialized in XML format and that makes RDF statements hard to read. Some of the alternate serialization formats like N3 make it a bit simpler. If you really want to spend a few minutes to understand RDF try Joshua Tauber’s Quick Intro.

The article covers several topics including growing complexity of XML. He urges database vendors to learn from the lessons of the web and step up to the plate.

Overall, it is a great article and definitely worth reading and thinking about.

RDF and the Semantic Web

I subscribed to the “” mailing list a few days ago. I lucked out, because I found Joshua Tauber and his rdf:about site. The Quick intro and the RDF in Depth are two of the best articles I have read on RDF so far.

There seems to be a lot of activity and announcements related to the Semantic Web the past few days. I get most of my information by tracking Planet RDF.

Here isa great keynote by Tim Berners-Lee on Semantic Web for Industry at ISCW 2005 to get started.

Keeping an Idea Log

I occasionally give a free seminar on “Thinking about Thinking”. I am not an expert in this subject. However, I read quite a bit and practice some. Therefore, I find this as a way of sharing ideas and brainstorming with others.

One of the things I tell my audience is to keep an idea log. It is a simple journal of the ideas. You get ideas when you read books, talk to people, listen to radio, watch TV or taking a shower. These are worth recording. This is the very first step.

I keep one. I have been doing that for several years now.Since I cannot act on all of them, just the thrill of seeing one of your old ideas becoming a product somewhere makes it worth it. There is no specific format, but here is what I keep track of:

– The name of the idea (it is good to name it. Use a keyword or phrase)
– What is the source of the idea (so that I can go back to more if I need)
– When did I get it
– What am I going to do about it (next steps – research more, let it cook etc.)

I started with a notebook, moved to a notepad, then to a Microsoft Word document and now I use a wiki.

Not all ideas may be good. However, ideas are stepping-stones to other ideas. If you discuss your ideas with friends and family, you may get a lot of useful input. You can use this to refine the ideas further. I will guarantee that this will make you think more. Just try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Internet Librarian 2005 – Day One Keynote

This is my first time at this conference. It was fun. In his keynote, Lee Rainie talked about some interesting statistics and trends. Here is a high level summary:

Teens and Technology
Lee talked about the influence of internet and cell phones on the daily life of teens.

– 87% of those between ages 12 and 17 are online
– Usage of internet for shopping, getting news and playing online games has grown significantly
– Teens communicate by multiple channels simultaneously and effortlessly

The hyperconnected, actively engaged population called Generation M, already influence many new applications.

Lee pointed out some interesting trends.

– Internet of things (every thing will have an IP address soon)
– The long tail phenomenon outlined by Chris Anderson
– Growth of content creation and social tagging
– Increasing mobile access to internet

He concluded by pointing out Linda Stones concept of “Continous Partial Attention” and its implications on the future of learning.

I caught a couple of interesting sessions. One was “Thirty Search Tips in 40 minutes” by Mary Ellent Bates. She promised to put up the presentation on her website.

The other one was “Tips for Keeping Up: Expert Panel”. Gary, Genie and Steven shared many tips and techniques for staying in step with the fast-changing online information world. More about this in a future blog.


Digital Divisions

Teens and Technology

Multi-tasking becomes Continuous Partial Attention

XML abstracting data access and GUIs

“Software ultimately should facilitate communication � either between people, between people and their desired goals within the computer system or between systems. The increasing abstraction of interfaces plays into the hands of the domain experts, who are ultimately the ones who are paying for the software in the first place.”

A friend of mine, Jack Park sent this link to one of our collaboratories called Blue Oxen. Even though the title of the blog entry is “The future of SVG and the Web”, Kurt Cagle makes some interesting observations about “Data/Platform/Language Independence”. He talks on a wide variety of topics focussed on the liberation of software from proprietory formats and how this will enrich the experience of using applications.

“XML is increasingly abstracting the form of data access, turning complex and arcane queries (and updates) against LDAP servers, SQL databases, web services, mail services and so forth away from dissonant technologies and towards common XML ones. XML based XGUIs abstract the underlying platform interfaces and turn them increasingly into XML-oriented virtual machines that can degrade gracefully in the face of more limited capabilities, and makes such religious issues as Java vs. C++ vs. C# vs. flavor of the month language irrelevant”

While I am mildly interested in SVG, I read the post because Jack sent it and I am glad I did.

Relational, XML and RDF databases

Danny Ayers on relational, xml and RDF databases:

“Traditional relational databases work best with table-shaped data. XML databases work best with tree-shaped data. RDF databases work best with graph-shaped data. The Web consists of graph-shaped data.”

XML data is already being mapped to relational (Microsoft and Oracle efforts). Similar efforts exist in the case of RDF to relational mapping. It looks as if as we move more into XML and RDF based applications, we need a strategy for the co-existence and ways to semantically link fragments of these different databases.

My wishlist for Yahoo Groups

Have been using Yahoo Groups on and off for a few years. In fact, I started when they were eGroups. More recently I have been active in one of our alumni groups. Here is a wishlist based on the things we want to do.

1. A better database facility. It will be nice to have types associated with the columns in a table (like date, number etc). This will not only allow us to create better tables but create nice views by sorting them on various fields.

2. A facility to make all the objects url addressable. To a limited extent it is already there. But would love to have it go granular.

3. A capability for transclusions. It should be possible to mark a paragraph in a message or a file, get a url to address the paragraph and include it another message. When users view the message, the original marked text can be extracted and made part of the message.

4. Ability to create blogs by individual members.

5. Improved Calendar capability – Mark a range of dates and associate it with an event (like a get together).

6.Integrated HTML editor (like the ones available in a blog) so that people can put up better looking posts including pictures.

7. An API for yahoo groups would be great.

8. A portlet interface would be cool. So I can bring in stuff from outside and integrate it into my group.

9. Capability to tag posts. Something like what furl or does. It will be easy to locate posts and moderators can also tag them.

I think I will pause here. Even though I have a lot more, if I get some of these, I will be happy to do a lot of things with the groups.

It is cool that Yahoo Groups allows the capability to generate RSS feeds.

Designing the Future

“if you use nature as a model and mentor, if you use modern designs and chemicals that are safe. Growth is destructive if you use energy not from the sun and a system of chemicals that is toxic, so it’s anti-life.”

“The China Housing Industry Association has the responsibility for building housing for 400 million people in the next 12 years. We’re working with them to design seven new cities. We’re identifying building materials of the future, such as a new polystyrene from BASF [with no noxious chemicals]. It can be used to build walls that are strong, lightweight and superinsulating. The building can be heated and cooled for next to nothing. And it’s silent. If there are 13 people in the apartment upstairs, you won’t hear them.”

“The Chinese are afraid urbanization will reduce productive farmland, so we’ll move farms onto rooftops. At least, that’s what I’m proposing. The farmers can live downstairs. And when you look at the city from a distance, it will look like part of the landscape.”

Don’t miss the original article here:
Designing the Future – Newsweek Technology –

Thanks to Matt Linderman

My wishlist for Google Desktop Search

" Google Inc. today announced a beta desktop search application that enables users to search their email, files, web history, and chats. Called Google Desktop Search, this new application makes it possible for users to find information on their computers as fast and easily as they can search the web with Google. "

It is so easy to use. It is kind of cool since you can use it to search both local information on your PC and web. I have been using another desktop search engine called X1. Google has several neat features but here are my favorites.

1. You can use filetype: option to search files with a specific extension. I was able to type "invoices filetype:doc" and was able to locate all the invoices I raised to my cusotmers on my disk.

2. You can search web pages visited. This allows me to go back to a page I was browsing but forgot to bookmark, by just typing some content string.

I hope Google publishes an API so that the product can be integrated into my other desktop apps.

Here is my wishlist for Google Desktop Search:

1. Support the search API without any restrictions (can be the same as the one they have for the websearch).

This will allow several applications to be built using the search API and plug them into Office applications like Word and Outlook.

2. Support a set of saved searches and book mark them using my browser. Will be nice to have support in both in IE and Firefox since I use both.

3. Support a way to get search results as RSS feeds.

Ink Markup Language

“InkML supports a complete and accurate representation of digital ink. For instance, in addition to the pen position over time, InkML allows recording of information about transducer device characteristics and detailed dynamic behavior to support applications such as handwriting recognition and authentication. For example, there is support for recording additional channels such as pen tilt, or pen tip force (often referred to as pressure in manufacturers’ documentation).

InkML provides means for extension. By virtue of being an XML-based language, users may easily add application-specific information to ink files to suit the needs of the application at hand.”

Ink Markup Language

With SVG for drawing and InkML for markup, we will have some interesting components to build handwritten applications.