Thursday Jan 15, 2009

The W3C Workshop on the Future of Social Networking Position Papers

picture by Salvadore Dali

I am in Barcelona, Spain (the country of Dali) for the W3C Workshop on the Future of Social Networking. To prepare for this I decided to read through the 75 position papers. This is the conference I have been the best prepared for ever. It really changes the way I can interact with other attendees. :-)

I wrote down a few notes on most paper I read through, to help me remember what I read. This took me close to a week, a good part of which I spent trying to track down the authors on the web, find their pictures, familiarise myself with their work, and fill out my Address Book. Anything I could do to help me find as many connections as possible to help me remember the work. I used delicious to save some subjective notes, which can be found on under the w3csn tag. I was going to publish this on Wednesday, but had not quite finished reading through all the papers. I got back to my hotel this evening to find that Libby Miller, who co-authored the foaf ontology, had beat me to it with the extend and quality of her reviews which she published in a two parts:

Amazing work Libby!

70 papers is more than most people can afford to read. If I were to recommend just a handful of papers that stand out in my mind for now these would be:

  • Paper 36 by Ching-man Au Yeung, Laria Liccardi, Kanghao Lu, Oshani Seneviratne and Tim Berners Lee wrote the must read paper entitled "Decentralization: The Future of Online Social Networking". I completely agree with this outlook. It also mentions my foaf+ssl position paper, which of course gives it full marks :-) I would use "distribution" perhaps over "decentralisation", or some word that better suggests that the social network should be able to be as much of a peer to peer system as the web itself.
  • "Leveraging Web 2.0 Communities in Professional Organisations" really prooves why we need distributed social networks. The paper focuses on the problem faced by Emergency Response organisation. Social Networks can massively improove the effectiveness of such responses, as some recent catastrophes have shown. But ER teams just cannot expect everyone they deal with to be part of just one social network silo. They need to get help from anywhere it can come from. From professional ER teams, from people wherever they are, from infromation wherever it finds itself. Teams need to be formed ad hoc, on the spot. Not all data can be made public. Distributed Open Secure Social Networks are what is needed in such situations. Perhaps the foaf+ssl proposal (wiki page) can help to make this a reality.
  • In "Social networking across devices: opportunity and risk for the disabled and older community", Henni Swan explains how much social networking information could be put to use to help make better user interface for the disabled. Surprisingly enough none of the web sites, so taken by web 2.0 technologies, seem to put any serious, effort in this space. Aparently though this can be done with web 2.0 technologies, as Henny explains in her blog. The semantic Web could help even further I suggested to her at her talk today, by splitting the data from the user interface. Specialised browsers for the disabled could adapt the information for their needs, making it easy for them to navigate the graph.
  • "Trust and Privacy on the Social Web" starts the discussion in this very important space. If there are to be distributed social networks, they have to be secure, and the privacy and trust issues need to be looked at carefully.
  • On a lighter note, Peter Ferne's very entertaining paper "Collaborative Filtering and Social Capital" comes with a lot of great links and is a pleasure to read. Did you know about the Whuffie Index or CELEBDAQ? Find out here.
  • Many of the telecoms papers, of which Telefonica's "The social network behind telecom networks" reveal the elephant in the room that nobody saw in social networking: the telecoms. Who has the most information about everyone's social network? What could they do with this information? How may people have phones, compared to internet access? Something to think about.
  • Nokia's position paper can then be seen in a different light. How can handset manufacturers help put to use the social networking and location information contemporay devices are able to access? The Address Book in cell phones is the most important application in a telephone. But do people want to only connect to other Nokia users? This has to be another reason for distributed social networks.

    I will blog about other posts as the occasion presents itself in future blogs. This is enough for now. I have to get up early and be awake for tomorrow's talks which start at 8:30 am.

    In the mean time you can follow a lively discussion of the ongoing conference on twitter under the w3csn tag.

  • Saturday May 17, 2008

    3 weeks of conferences and workshops in the Bay Area

    I am in the Bay Area about to start my third week of conference/workshops with the combined themes of Java, identity, semantic web, and data portability.

    The first week at JavaOne went very well. The Semantic Web Panel attracted way over 500 people by my guesstimate (no official figure yet), and Dean Allemang's talk "Semantic Web for the working Ontologist", that took place on the last day attracted well over three hundred attendees. My BOF, happened late at night at the same time as a big party, and only attracted 30 or so attendees. But on the whole JavaOne proved a great success.

    Speaking to members of the liberty group at Sun, I discovered the existence of the Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View, and decided this would be a good opportunity to learn more about this space. This was a very good use of my time, as it helped me get more familiar with many of the problems and technologies in this space. I put forward some of the ideas I had been discussing here relating the semantic web and distributed web of trust ideas using OpenId and foaf+ssl, which seemed to hold up quite well under the close scrutiny of the community. A few fun conversations with Eve Maler (aka xmlgrrl) on the relations between the semantic web and XML nicely spiced up the evenings :-)

    That workshop was closely followed by a one day Data Sharing Summit, addressing issues raised by the Data Portability group, which I have been following relatively closely. This one day session was very helpful for my understanding of the types of problems that need solving. An ontology for what can be done with information in a foaf file would indeed be very helpful. This would have to allow one to specify in simple terms what relations could be republished or which ones should not be.

    So next on the list is the Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose, which will bring all these threads together. For more on that see see my post on the Semantic Tech highlights.


    The presentation I was giving is now available online with audio as Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications

    Social Networks and Data Portability at Semantic Tech conference in San Jose

    The upcoming semantic conference in San Jose, is getting going tomorrow, with an excellent list of speakers and subjects. Here are some highlights of the sessions relating to topics on which I blog regularly.

    Many more interesting talks will make sure I will spend another packed week. The full program is available online.


    My presentation is now available online with audio as part of the longer Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications

    Thursday Apr 17, 2008

    semantic camp paris

    picture of Karima Rafes

    A couple of weeks ago I attended the second Semantic Bar Camp which took place at the Orange research labs at Issy les Moulineaux, near Paris. This was a great opportunity to meet many of the French researchers in the Semantic Web space, to take part in the French debate, and to help convince interested parties of the reality of the technology.

    Jean Rohmer of the large French defense group Thales played the role of the devil's advocate, arguing that the Semantic Web was just pie in the sky theory without practical applications. We delved into various aspects of the theory of the Semantic Web, and I underlined how the biological/evolutionary aspect of language, the Academie Francaise notwithstanding, was a key aspect in understanding the evolution of the web of data. But the best argument was a simple demonstration of the Beatnik Address Book, which showed how hyperdata could solve the serious problem of 2008: the growing number of closed social networks. At the next camp I hope we will be able to delve much more deeply into how to build real practical applications.

    Many thanks to Karima Rafes for organizing this well attended bar camp ( pictures ). Stephane Lauriere from XWiki and who is on the Nepomuk Semantic Desktop project, also posted some photos. And I would like to recommend Alexandre Passant's blog to all french speaking readers.


    The talk I gave is now available online with audio as "Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications".

    Monday Feb 25, 2008

    Semantic Bar Camp London and Flue

    Last Saturday early early morning I took the train to London to go to the weekend Semantic Bar Camp that was held at Imperial College, in the computer science department I studied in. I arrived, late, because I had missed the train in Paris by one minute, and so missed getting an overview of the event. On arrival I was asked to put my name down for a presentation and stick the paper on the board on the first empty slot available. 15 minutes later I improvised a talk on Linked Data. I did not realize that there were a lot of microformats people in the audience with little semantic web experience, so I did not take care enough to lay some important foundations, and show how microformats information should be able to work well with information in an RDF database [1]. I demonstrated the Beatnik Address Book and gave an overview of why this was now filling a really important gap, enabling distributed social networks, a topic on which I have written a lot recently. It inspired Dan Brickley who has been working on SPARQL over XMPP to give me some code and show how this could be integrated into Beatnik... It seems pretty easy to do. What would the use case be though...

    There were a number of very interesting talks over the weekend. Daniel Lewis collected a few of the blogs covering the event. Ian Davis presented the work he has been leading on Open Data Licences (pic). Yves Raimond and his team presented some interesting work on semantics and music and an advanced inferencing engine based on SWI Prolog called Henry (picture). Tom Shelley from the Economist got us all asking questions on the pros and cons of personal knowledge in a short presentation (picture). The more information is known on us the better services can be offered, but also what are the risks? Is this not a reason one may end up needing agent technology: ie one may prefer programs to move rather than data to move? Georgi Kobilarov gave a nice overview of the very useful Linked Data project DBPedia (picture)...

    All during the weekend I felt very tired which I put down for a while to the trip from Paris. On Monday morning as my condition had gotten much worse it became clear that that I had caught a virus. For two days I could hardly get out of bed, struck by a vicious flue, which has only just left me today. On Friday I was too tired to do any thinking work, so I went to see the Du Champ, Man Ray and Picabia exhibition at the Tate Modern, where you can see Du Champ's irreverent rendition of the Mona Lisa - below the picture are written the letters "L.H.O.O.Q" which if pronounced speedily enough sounds like "Elle a chaud au cul".


    1. All I need is some XSLT or Xquery transform to turn microformatted html into RDF (any well known format will do). Mind you, at a later microformat talks it turns out that this may not be quite so easy, as it seems that that the microformat community has not yet agreed on a clear grammar...


    The talk I gave is now available online as "Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications".

    Friday Feb 01, 2008

    3 semantic web talks for JavaOne 2008

    At least 3 semantic web talks were accepted for JavaOne 2008, taking place on May 6-9 in San Francisco. There may be more, but the following I am sure of:

    • A talk by Dean Allemang on practical ontology writing based on his soon to be published book "The Working Ontologist". I am really looking forward to it coming out, as it is a book that should help cut down the learning curve dramatically.
    • Über programmer Tim Boudreau and I will be presenting Beatnik: Building an Open Social Network Browser at a Birds of a Feather session. We will look at both the client and server side components and how the theory developed by Dean can turn into a practical product that solves real problems: the data silo effect of current social networking sites.
    • Finally some key players will be joining the "Developing Semantic Web Applications on the Java™ Platform" panel where we will hopefully start a discussion and get feedback on what can be done to bring many many more of the 5 million Java developers on board the semantic web. This panel discussion ( the list of panelists is not complete yet ) will be hosted by Rob Frost of BEA and I.

    Hopefully this should allow the 20 thousand or so attendees joining us at JavaOne to get a good overview of the the practical developments in this area. And if they like it, the Semantic Conference in San Jose will be taking place a week later from the 18th to the 22nd of May where they will be able meet many of the leading companies and researchers in this area.

    For detailed session information see my later post.

    Wednesday Dec 19, 2007

    Hyperdata in Sao Paulo

    In the past week I gave a couple of presentations of Hyperdata illustrating the concept with demos of the Tabulator and Beatnik, the Hyper Address Book I am just working on.

    The first talk I gave at the University of Sao Paulo, which was called at the last minute by Professor Imre Simon, who had led the Yochai Benkler talk the week before. It was a nice turnout of over 20 people, and I spoke at a more theoretical level of the semantic web, how it related to Metcalf's law, as explained in more detailed in a recently published paper by Prof. James Hendler, and how an application like Beatnik could give a powerful social meaning to all of this. I also looked at some of the interesting problems related to trust and belief revision that come up in a simple application like Beatnik, which touched a chord with Renata Wassermann who has written extensively on that field of the Semantic Web.
    Many thanks to Prof Simon, for allowing me to speak. For a view from the audience see Rafael Ferreira's blog (in English) and Professor Ewout's blog (in Portuguese).

    Yesterday I gave a more Java oriented technical talk at GlobalCode, an evening learning center in Sao Paulo, with a J2EE project on I touched on how one may be able to use OpenId and foaf to create a secure yet open social network.
    About 25 people attended which must be a really good turnout for a period so close to Christmas, when everyone is looking forward to the surf board present from Santa Claus, getting into their swimming trunks and paddling off to catch the next big wave. Well the really big wave that everyone in the know will be preparing for is the hyperdata wave. And to catch it one needs to practice one's skills. And a good way to do this is to help out with a simple application like Beatnik.
    Thanks to Vinicius and Yara Senger for organising this.


    The talk I gave is now available online with audio as "Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications".

    Thursday Dec 06, 2007

    Yochai Benkler: The Wealth of Networks

    This afternoon I attended a teleconference at the University of Sao Paulo where Yochai Benkler talked from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, about his now famous book "The Wealth of Networks" (available online) and answered questions from the audience. Yochai talked about the impact of open source and peer to peer modes of co-operative production on economics, politics, arts and education. The book has many excellent and illuminating examples on how massively parallel and distributed use of human resources can outperform large centrally organised tayloristics production methods. He does point out that this won't work in every field of endeavour, but more naturally in knowledge based ones, where the cost of reproduction is close to zero. More details in the freely available book.

    The conference was organised by Imre Simon from the Institute of Advanced Studies of the University of Sao Paulo. A web site in portuguese is dedicated to this talk, and it was broadcast live on the web.

    At the end of the talk, as the last question from the floor, I asked about what research had been done into applying Metcalf's law to networks as powerful as the Semantic Web, and so how this would affect questions on the wealth of networks. Yochai seemed to think that the Semantic Web was too much about data, and not about people. Of course Beatnik, the semantic address book I am working on right now, is going to show how this dichotomy is completely illusory, and how the distributed, decentralised world of hyperdata should fit perfectly into the central thesis of the book. :-)




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