Technology trends and the Semantic Web

It’s the time of the year when we see the predictions for technology developments for the coming year. Michael Stephens at Tame the Web has published his Top Ten Trends and Technologies for 2009, and has made it easy for us to to get hooked on his discussion by being able to  Download a PDF of the post here.

The ten on the list are:

  1. The Ubiquity of the cloud
  2. The Changing Role of IT
  3. The Value of the Commons
  4. The promise of micro-interaction
  5. The Care & Nurturing of the Tribe
  6. The triumph of the portable device
  7. The importance of Personalization
  8. The impact of Localization
  9. The evolution of the Digital Lifestyle
  10. The shift toward Open Thinking

There are many themes running through these trends and technologies,  but you can’t go past the shift in devices, the power of the cloud, and the importance of the digital shifts that mean that the environment and information services of school libraries have a big challenge ahead of them.

Kathryn Greenhill at Librarians Matter alerts us to Top Tech Trends for ALA midwinter.

My favourites are:

  • Linked data is a new name for the Semantic Web – The Semantic Web is about creating conceptual relationships between things found on the Internet. Believe it or not, the idea is akin to the ultimate purpose of a traditional library card catalog. Have an item in hand. Give it a unique identifier. Systematically describe it. Put all the descriptions in one place and allow people to navigate the space. By following the tracings it is possible to move from one manifestation of an idea to another ultimately providing the means to the discovery, combination, and creation of new ideas. The Semantic Web is almost the exactly the same thing except the “cards” are manifested using RDF/XML on computers through the Internet.
  • Blogging is peaking – There is no doubt about it. The Blogosphere is here to stay, yet people have discovered that it is not very easy to maintain a blog for the long haul. The technology has made it easier to compose and distribute one’s ideas, much to the chagrin of newspaper publishers. On the other hand, the really hard work is coming up with meaningful things to say on a regular basis.
  • Word/tag clouds abound – It seems very fashionable to create word/tag clouds now-a-days. When you get right down to it, word/tag clouds are a whole lot like concordances — one of the first types of indexes. Each word (or tag) in a document is itemized and counted. Stop words are removed, and the results are sorted either alphabetically or numerically by count.

The Semantic Web is really struggling to emerge, but I believe it will happen.

Tim Berners-Lee had a vision for the internet, believing that the Semantic Web would be able to assist the evolution of human knowledge as a whole.

Human endeavor is caught in an eternal tension between the effectiveness of small groups acting independently and the need to mesh with the wider community. The Semantic Web, in naming every concept simply by a URI, lets anyone express new concepts that they invent with minimal effort. Its unifying logical language will enable these concepts to be progressively linked into a universal Web. This structure will open up the knowledge and workings of humankind to meaningful analysis by software agents, providing a new class of tools by which we can live, work and learn together.

Roy Tennant considered this vision, writing about the Promises of the Semantic Web, and the state of Linked Data systems, programming and data structures that need to emerge to provide the kind of Semantic Web that Tim Berners Lee envisioned.

Folksonomy and tagging are very useful, but they are not the Semantic Web – not in the way Tim Berner-Lee imagined.  All we are doing is aggregating our information (and our collective intelligence), but we are doing so idiosyncratically.  Without standards, we have erratic compilations. The onotology of our data structures are the challenge – if the data strings don’t match, then the inferences won’t hold across data sets for the meanings of the content being expressed.  There is great wisdom in the clouds, but there is no precision without accuracy!  Somehow the Semantic Web will eventually be able to utilise machine languages to snap ‘meaning’  to a grid of structured data.

Read the Future of MicroFormats and Semantic Technologies.  You can’t escape metadata, and you have to rely on markup languages.

The future of microformats is bright, by making it simple to encode your data, there is no reason not too. Tackling very common facets of the web, such as; people, places and events, microformats have helped to break the chicken and the egg issue. “Why should I mark-up my data if no one else is?” or “I’m not going to mark-up my data if there are no tools to extract it”.

Luckily the menagerie of tools is copious and being extended everyday. But I must admit I didn’t know that Firefox has the Operator toolbar which can detect and act on any information found in the page. Operator requires information on the Web to be encoded using microformats, and since this method for semantically encoding information is relatively new, not all sites are using microformats yet. However, Operator works great with any blog that uses rel-tag, and the sites Yahoo! Local, Flickr, and Upcoming.org, all of which contain millions of pieces of information expressed using microformats. As more sites begin to semantically encode data with microformats, Operator will automatically work with them as well.

Right!  School libraries?  Where are you in the discussion of these issues?  I have a lot to learn!

‘Low level’ semantic systems are easy to understand.  Today I noticed the ‘semantic’ support available in Feedly – my RSS reader.

The Reuters Open Calais service  “is a rapidly growing toolkit of capabilities that allow you to readily incorporate state-of-the-art semantic functionality within your blog, content management system, website or application”. Apparently Calais “doesn’t just make data searcheable, it makes knowledge searchable”.

more about “OpenCalais – Semantic access“, posted with vodpod
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Tagging – for the fun of it?

Folksonomy has become an important part of information sharing structures via the web – formal and informal. Folksonomy is the “vocabulary” or collection of tags that results from personal free tagging of web resources for one’s own use and the aggregate collection of tags that results from a group tagging project. Tagging systems are possible only if people are motivated to do more of the work themselves, for individual and/or social reasons. They are necessarily sloppy systems, but for an inexpensive, easy way of using the wisdom of the crowd to make resources visible and sortable, there’s nothing like tags :-)

[Photo Credit: From Rashmi Sinha: A cognitive analysis of tagging]

Tagging for Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing explores these issues and shows the power of tagging to encourage conversations.

Coming up with the perfect tag is the problem- or is it? Subject analysis does not come naturally to the folksonomy crowd. Tags and the Power of Suggestion is a light-hearted consideration of some of the underlying influences of ‘natural’ approaches to organisation.

If you just want to delve further into tagging, then The Tagging Toolbox: 30+ Tagging Tools might be just what your are after:

Tags – for some, one of the best ideas on the web, for others, merely a visual distraction. Yes, we’re talking about those loosely defined categories which are usually organized into cute little clouds. Looking for tag-related resources can be tough, so we’ve dug up 30 tools and resources that every seasoned tagger should check out.