It’s All Semantics: Searching for an Intuitive Internet

Newer generations of researchers not schooled in more traditional, library-based (pre-Internet) research methods are used to doing keyword searches on the Internet to discover information. “But if you come from outside a given field, you don’t necessarily know what those keywords are,” says Alyssa Goodman, a Harvard University astronomy professor. A Semantic Web setup would enable researchers to craft their queries in more natural language. Goodman adds, however, that a fully semantic Web that can read, comprehend and categorize information beyond keywords requires a level of artificial intelligence that is currently not available, something Rensselaer’s researchers are trying to address with this new tool kit.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., $1.1 million in October to create a software programming tool kit by mid-2010 that scientists and other researchers will be able to use to make data from their work available to all.

This project is an excellent example of the groundwork happening behind the scenes that ultimately will affect what we in school libraries and our classrooms should be teaching students about effective search techniques.

These are issues I’m very curious about, and am going to spend time in 2010 digging deeper to learn more about the changes taking place.

I will be sharing what I find out at presentations at ACEC2010 and ISTE2010.

I think I’m going to enjoy  this!

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Google generation and virtual libraries

pin.jpgPeople have very different information needs at different points in their lives. People also search for information very differently depending on the knowledge they have of search techniques or the nature of the interface that is being interrogated.

A new report Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future provides a comprehensive analysis of information behaviours, google gen and social networking behaviour, and the implications of this for the information environment and libraries – and includes the challenges we face.

Is the Google Generation a myth? This new report, which was commissioned by JISC and the British Library, counters the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation’ – young people born or brought up in the Internet age – is the most adept at using the web.

Lets face it – there is a world of difference between social networking conversations and in-depth information requirements, knowledge building and development. It is in this area that the report explains

that people are having great difficulties navigating and profiting from the virtual scholarly environment.

The report provides a strong message for library services, and significantly it also raises the issue of the semantic web – a topic of conversation on Twitter a few days ago.

The world wide web as we have seen and experienced it so far could be completely revolutionised by the advent of the `semantic web’. A system where, currently, humans express simple searches in everyday language, to order groceries, reserve a library book or look up a railway timetable, could be superseded by a system in which computers become capable of analysing all the data on the web.

Good Information Architecture will become more and more critical if the semantic web is to deliver information effectively.

Twitter conversation:

@heyjudeonline Web design juxtaposed against information design – now there’s a pretty challenge yet basic building blocks for semantic web.

@Tuna XML mainly as RDF is just lacking in practical application in real world schema (dodges flames)

@Heyjudeonline real world schema is the real issue isn’t it. Structured approaches and metadata were the first line of attack in web

@Tuna correct.. the break out of the meta information flow is critical to the webs development beyond a search farm. We can direct and translate and ensure like goes with like or people have the chance to join their like with like

@heyjudeonline exactly! We know that single data domains with simple keyword tools are rapidly obsolete. Move beyond RDF resource primer

Books to 3D search – good for your soul!

I can’t resist commenting on BOOKS as we continue to skip down the yellow brick road to Web 2.0, Web 3.0 or whatever!

Here is an excellent visual list of the Top 10 Banned Books of the 20th Century. Needless to say, each tells a ‘story’ – and the cultural shifts around some of them have been profound! Books still have a significant place in our world – and perhaps this is why they still figure in Web 2.0 developments that make books easily accessible to buy and read.

5 Alternative Ways to Browse Amazon provides an array of alternative visual search tools for….. well yes, for finding and buying good books. Very good read.

Developments in visual search tools seem to be gaining pace. You will be amazed at what is happening at Space Time, 3D web search, currently in Beta and only available on a PC. But what a WOW! way of searching “at the speed of thought”. “Watch as your information converges in one space at one time”.

But even more interesting for an information professional is the presentation about the Semantic MEDLINE Visualization Prototype which incorporates the semantic web and natural language processing – manipulating information as well as documents to respond to a searchers needs. It connects knowledge from various resources from PubMed and Medline – and natural language processing will summarize and produce a visual network or relationships between the material you are interested in.

WikiMindMap is a tool to browse Wiki content easily and efficiently, inspired by the mindmap technique.

Wiki pages in large public wiki’s, such as wikipedia, have become rich and complex documents. Thus, it is not always straight forward to find the information you are really looking for. This tool aims to support users to get a good structured and easy understandable overview of the topic you are looking for.

First month of development for this tool – which is nice. I particularly like visual techniques for presenting information to students as part of demonstrating research techniques. Several languages available – be sure to choose the right one for your needs. This visual technique allows you to drill down and refine your ideas as you go.

Two searches for Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 provided the following really interesting entry screens – which pick up the key launch points for investigation on each of these two broad topics.  It’s  also possible to hyperlink these screen shots directly to the search query – once again this is useful when presenting information to students and for pointing them to a specific search focus for research and learning.

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OpenID – Web [3.0] connections

As we move towards the Semantic Web world of Web 3.0, the question of online identity takes on another dimension. This is the matter of ‘single sign-on’ – something that we are just getting instituted across the network of all our 80 schools. Nice when organisations finally get that sorted.

But what about the Web platform? A feature article from April online journal Ariadne covers OpenID and the ability for a person to have ‘single sign-on’ across multiple OpenID-enabled services.

OpenID: Decentralised Single Sign-on for the Web takes a brief look at OpenID and asks what relevance it has to e-learning.

Proponents of Learning 2.0 and Personal Learning Environments argue that we are going to see far greater use of ‘informal’ Web 2.0 services as part of the delivery of learning in our ‘formal’ learning institutions (schools, colleges, universities, etc.). If we accept this argument, then the use of OpenID is likely to become increasingly important to our learners.

Our learners are likely to want an online identity (or several online identities) that span the different phases of their education and that span the individual institutions within any particular phase.

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Thinking about Web 3.0…with IEEE Internet Computing

For a long time now I have been thinking about Web 3.0 – not to join the hype, but to better understand the potential of web developments that will effectively merge thinking in disparate fields.

Unlike some of my colleagues, my thinking (and my blog) bounces between two distinctive fields or disciplines – education and pedagogy vs technology and information science. I think I am lucky, because too often I see the errors of thinking that some educators (and leaders) perpetuate in the guise of keeping up with the (21st century learning) Jones!

google.jpgWeb 3.0 is getting some blogosphere air-space – and about time too. Adaptive hypermedia research has been around for many years, nicely juxtaposed against developments in search alogorithms and enhancements with various serach engines. A dawn of a new era? Certainly not according to Jean-Noel Jeanneney in his book Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge. Google’s digitisation project has provided a healthy jolt to our complacency, and the assumption that digital initatives = fantastic developments. Here is the true rub of machine generated, folksonomy driven hierachies where virtual information is being brewed in a global cauldron.

In my view, we should be less interested in the utopian dream of exhaustiveness than in aspiring to the richest, the most intelligent, the best orgainzed, the most accessible of all possible selections. …Jean-Noel Jeanneney

It is time to focus on the cultural and knowledge aspects of Web 2.0 as it moves to Web 3.0, if for no other reason than this digitisation of our society provides challenges and opportunities for equality or repression like never before.

For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves…….PLATO, Paedrus, translated by Benjamin Jowett

Phil Midwinter asks Is Google a Semantic Search Engine, and goes on to explain that Google is using semantic technology, though it is not yet a fully fledged semantic search engine. He is more optimistic about developments.

There are barriers that Google needs to overcome… is it capable of becoming fully semantic without modifying it’s index too drastically; can Google continue to keep the results simple and navigable for its varied user base? Most importantly, does Google intend to become a fully semantic search engine and to do so within a timescale that won’t damage their position and reputation? I like to think that although the dragon is sleeping, that doesn’t mean it’s not dreaming!

A business-oriented write-up, which nevertheless has important considerations for the educator/information professional. The key thing is that there appears to be a convergence in thinking around the fact that “semantics” will form the backbone of what might be dubbed “Web 3.0″. The Wikipedia entry on Web 3.0 talks of leveraging semantic web for 3-dimensional collaboration…even as far as to point to this as being on the evolutionary path to artificial intelligence! (the stuff of many SciFi stories)

However, what we are really needing to examine closely, is the rise of the API culture – as this is transforming what it is we can seek or serve our knowledge-seeking selves!

Read/Write Web to the rescue! Another excellent write-up from Alex Iskold on Web 3.0: When Web Sites Become Web Services. Well, I suggest that we need to do a lot of reading and learning about folksonomy and taxonomy … and more. Let’s say, more posts for another day.

BUT what we do know already is that the Semantic Web efforts are providing an approach to constructing flexible, intelligent information systems – and it is the synergies between ubiquity and semantics that are exciting, and in which we should expect to see significant future work.

Read more about this in Embracing “Web 3.0″ in IEEE Internet Computing.


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