Tuesday Aug 26, 2008

Sun Intranet Foaf Experiment

image of Address Book displaying internal sun foaf

Building a foaf server from an ldap directory is pretty easy. Rinaldo Di Giorgio put a prototype server together for Sun in less than a week. As a result everyone in Sun now has a experimental temporary foaf id, that we can use to try out some things.

So what can one do with foaf that one could not so easily do with ldap? Well the semantic web is all about linking and meshing information. So one really simple thing to do is to link an external foaf file with the internal one. I did this by adding an owl:sameAs statement to my public foaf file that links my public and my sun id. (It would be better to link the internal foaf file to the external one, but that would have required a bit more work internally). As a result by dragging and dropping my foaf iconfoaf file onto today's release of the AddressBook someone who is inside the Sun firewall, can follow both my internal and my external connections. Someone outside the firewall will not be able to follow the internal link.

By extending the internal foaf server a little more one could easily give people inside of Sun a place to link to their external business connection, wherever they might be in the world. To allow other companies to do this too it would of course help if everyone in Sun had a minimally public foaf ID, which would return only minimal information, or whatever the employee was comfortable revealing about themselves. This would allow Sun to present a yet more human face to the world.

Well that's just a thought, and this is just an experiment. Hopefully it will make the semantic web more real for us here, and allow people's to dream up some great way of bringing all the open source world together, ever closer.

PS. For people inside of Sun it may be easier to just drag my foaf iconinternal foaf file directly on the the AddressBook (started via jnlp). Otherwise to get the internal foaf file to download you need to click the "fetch" button next to the "same As" combo box when viewing my info. Then you need to switch to "Last Imported" and back to allow "Bernard Traversat" to appear in the second column. He appears as someone I foaf:know after the merger of the internal and the external foaf. I know this is clumsy, and I'll try thinking up a way to make this more user friendly very soon. You are welcome to participate on the Address Book Project.

PPS. Sun internal users can get more info on the project home page.

PPPS. We of course use the Firefox Tabulator plugin too for tests. It gives a different interface to my AddressBook. It is more flexible, but less specialised... The Tabulator web application does not work currently because we only produce Turtle output. This is to avoid developers trying to use DOM tools to process these pages, as we don't want to put work into an RDF crystalisation. ( Note: If at some later time you find that the plugin is not compatible with the latest version of Firefox, you can manually disabling compatibility checks. )

Thursday Apr 17, 2008

KiWi: Knowledge in a Wiki

KiWi logo

Last month I attended the European Union KiWi project startup meeting in Salzburg, to which Sun Microsystems Prague is contributing some key use cases.

KiWi is a project to build an Open Source Semantic Wiki. It is based on the IkeWiki [don't follow this link if you have Safari 3.1] Java wiki, which uses the Jena Semantic Web frameworks, the Dojo toolkit for the Web 2.0 functionality, and any one of the Databases Jena can connect to, such as PostgreSQL. KiWi is in many ways similar to Freebase in its hefty use of JavaScript, and its emphasis on structured data. But instead of being a closed source platform, KiWi is open source, and builds upon the Semantic Web standards. In my opinion it currently overuses JavaScript features, to the extent that all clicks lead to dynamic page rewrites that do not change the URL of the browser page. This I feel unRESTful, and the permalink link in the socialise toolbar to the right does not completely remove my qualms. Hopefully this can be fixed in this project. It would be great also if KIWI could participate fully in the Linked Data movement.

The meeting was very well organized by Sebastian Schaffert and his team. It was 4 long days of meetings that made sure that everyone was on the same page, understood the rules of the EU game, and most of all got to know each other. (see kiwiknows tagged pictures on flickr ). Many thanks also to Peter Reiser for moving and shaking the various Sun decision makers to sign the appropriate papers, and dedicate the resources for us to be part of this project.

You can follow the evolution of the project on the Planet Kiwi page.

Anyway, here is a video that shows the resourceful kiwi mascot in action:

Monday Oct 08, 2007

Open Data Licences

The amount of Open Data is growing fast. The idea that data may need protection in an Open Society is bizarre enough, but in Europe at least a whole set of laws have been put in place for this purpose. For those who wish to add data to the Commons, so that it may better contribute to the value of the network as predicted by Metcalf's law, current Open licences will not do it seems. This is, as I understand, because copyright licenses do not cover data well, since a set of relations can be serialized in any number of ways: order does not matter, it is easy to refactor data, or combine it with other data. (I wonder then why this was not a problem for source code?)

To help resolve these issues, Talis, a Leading Semantic Web company, helped fund research into this area which resulted in the Open Data Licence project, which is now seeking feedback on their proposals. From my quick reading of it this license seems to have a gnu feel to it, but I may be wrong.

Monday Jul 30, 2007

Cognitive Capitalism

After visiting the Louvre on Saturday, I wandered into a bookshop and picked up a book called "Le Capitalisme Cognitif, La Nouvelle Grande Transfromation", by Yann Moulier Boutang, which would translate in English into "Cognitive Capitalism, The Next Great Transformation". The book has a good section on the GNU/Linux free software movement, which must be unusual for a book on economics and so cought my interest. Better still it claimed to put forward a theory that would explain the emergence of such a phenonmenon. I was sold, and spent the rest of the weekend reading it, proving the point that the cognitive economy knows no 35 hour boundaries. When you find something interesting how can you let go?

According to this book we need nothing less than to postulate a third stage of capitalism, starting 1975, following the two previous stages which were the mercantilist stage which led to slave trade, followed by the industrial stage of which the car and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times are the symbols. The transformation of the economy by the Just in Time production Techniques (The Machine that Changed the World), the advent of computers and then the internet, moved industrial capitalism to a position of having to value knownlege more and more heavily. Whereas the industrial revolution fed off the movements of illiterate peasants into towns, and so emphasized the simplicity of repetitive tasks (Ford was proud that it would take a week to at most a month and a half to teach someone the ways on the assembly lines), so the cognitive revolution spurred by diminishing returns of mass produced goods, the breaking up of markets into ever narrower micromarkets and pulled by the power of computing and the network, is requiring people more and more to make decisions depending on knowledge accumulated in networks.

With a lot of very interesting references back to literature I am only superficially aware of, quoting the economic thinkers from Adam Smith, Marx, Keynes, Adorno, building on commentaries by Lawrence Lessig and Eric Raymond, there is no doubt that the authors are serious about their subject. Placing Open Source and the Free Software movement at the center of this revolution plays well to my prejudices. The French was at times hard to read for me, who am not used to the economics language, and the point of view definitively a bit local at times.

But there is something oddly missing in the book that reaches sometimes right up to some recent news (such as a couple of gaffes made by Sarcozy during the election campaign), and that is that there is absolutely no mention of Open Solaris or for that matter of Apple's open sourcing of their OS a few years ago (with some recent worries it is true) . The only thing that is taken from the Open Source movement is the free source movement, and the lesson taken from it is that open exchange of knowledge produces better goods than closed proprietary ones, and most of all that they are free. But detailed analysis of these ecosystems would be useful. How did they emerge? What is the interest in Standard Operating Systems (Unix), to start off with? How did the crowd of GNU/Linux developers finance their work? Why is there work at all in this space? These are real questions, and I have heard many interesting ideas and views on their answers. The answers will be complex, just as the explanation of why ants build their nests the way they do, and how that relates to the ecology of the forrest surrounding them. In the OpenSolaris case we know Jonathan Schwartz's answers: "There are two types of people, those that must pay and those that won't pay". Those that must pay are those that need liability coverage. They have other businesses to run, and they pay Sun for the guarantee that things will work well. It is just the continuation of the logic of outsourcing. Those that don't pay are researchers and other institutions that increase the value of the platform by using it, providing feedback and enthusiasm.

So the conclusion of the book which makes the jump from the power of free to the unsustainability of free without revolutionary government intervention, which certainly feels like a very French idea, is not at all convincing. The last chapters of the book are thus very dissapointing. As I read them I suddenly had the feeling that the whole previous thesis was built up later in order to defend the pre-established conclusion, increase and further the minimum salary to every branch of french society. An interesting idea, but that is a hell of a jump to make. Where did it go wrong?

Well for one I think it is clear that Open Source has found a way to sustain itself in a capitalistic economy, and it can only do this if those contributing are getting rewarded in some way for what they are doing. That one should find ways to improove the incentives of developers and contributors will clearly be in the interest of the firms that are building their reputation on top of them. So the question is how can firms develop on top of something free? Ask that to the bottled water salespeople. The amount of knowledge we can accumulate is it is true, as opposed to petrol for example, clearly limitless. But the amount of live knowledge and organisational knowledge humans can have is limited to the amount of brains in existence, complimented by computers of course. Now brains take time to grow, and thought take time to emerge. You cannot build a kernel engineer in a couple of weeks, a couple of months or even a couple of years. Neither is this a skill that comes as naturally as say going to the cinema, so there is not a large pool of such people around. Furthermore the world is constantly changing, and code is dead knowledge. There is always a need to adapt the kernel to some new device, add some improovemeents, or make some other changes. Finding the people that make the right changes is not going to be easy. Finally there are only 24 hours in a day, and even hackers can't be working all the time. The attention economy does no apply only to consumers. Developers themselves only have limited attentions. Paying them helps alleviate other problems they may have, such as finding food. In the end therefore demand for their services should create a sustainable ecological space for their work. And so for the rest of Open Source. If governments have a need for it, such as because they want the computers running their armies to be run by software understood by their own engineers, and that they can only get those if those courses are studied at Universities in a free and open way, then governements will and should contribute, as indeed they do. Indeed it could be argued that this is one of the largest forces behind the birth of Unix.

So it is not because software is free that nobody will pay for it, and so the argument in the last part of this book collapses pretty badly. But that we have entered a new world, very distinct from the Fordist era, that I am in no doubt.

Friday May 18, 2007

Open Source Software Arrest

I witnessed the arrest of an open source programmer at JavaOne! Simon Phipps where were you? Off writing another major article for Linux Journal presumably. The poor man was arrested by a mad parrot, even after he swore to work on only open source projects, and was taken away by a bunch of unelected generals to work on his code. I could not report on this, as I was too busy preparing my presentation.

I am mad. Mad!

Sunday Dec 17, 2006

ZFS on OSX leopard

According to this World of Apple report our ZFS file system is going to make it on to OSX leopard. After three hard drive failures in the last year I can only applaud that move. ZFS would probably have been able to give early warning of hard disk problems and saved me a lot of trouble.

Monday Nov 13, 2006

Java GPLed

Sun has GPLed Java today, and is now clearly the company that has contributed the most to the open source world. Just some of the largest projects off the top of my head:

And much much more.

Java is on billions of devices and has millions of developers working on it. It has given birth to many multi billion dollar industries. This has been made possible because these industries, developers and end users trusted Sun, and the process Sun developed. Open Sourcing Java is one more way to strengthen this trust.

Trust is everything

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