Saturday May 17, 2008

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.

Update

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

Tuesday May 06, 2008

BOF-5911: Building a Web 3.0 Address Book

To give everyone a chance to try out the So(m)mer Address Book, I have made it available via Java Web Start: just click on the picture to the right, and try it out.

The Address Book is currently demoware: it shows how one can build virally an open distributed social network client that solves the social network data silo problem (video). No need to have an account on every social networking site on which you have friends, and so maintain your data on each one. You can simply belong to one network and link to all your friends wherever they are. With one click of a button you can publish your social network to your own web server, using ftp, scp, WebDAV, or even Atom. You can then link to other people who have (or not in fact), a foaf file. By pressing the space bar when selecting a friend, the Address Book with then GET their file. So you can browse your social network.

To get going you can explore my social network by dragging my foaf file icon onto the first pane of the application.

In BOF-5911 which I will be presenting on Thursday at 7:30pm I will be presenting the social networking problem, demonstrating how the So(m)mer Address Book solves it, and showing in detail how it is build, what the problems are, and what work remains. I will also discuss how this can be used to create global single sign on based on a network of trust.

Update

An improved version of the presentation I gave is now available online with audio as Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications

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.

Saturday Aug 04, 2007

Social Networking 3.0

I just watched a panel discussion from the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit on the theme Social Networking 3.0 with Travis Katz (Senior Vice President of MySpace), Dustin Moskovitz (co founder of Facebook), Rich Rosenblatt (CEO of Demand Media), Gina Bianchini (CEO of Ning), Karl Jacob (CEO of Wallop).

Each of these companies is making some very interesting contributions in the social Networking Space. Each of their representatives believe that social networking is going to permeate more and more of our experience with everything. But even under the excellent questioning of Charlene Li, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, none of these players were able to admit the big problem confronting this space: namely that each of them is a silo network, which does not open onto the world.

There are a huge number of networks people belong to: I am a member of many different online groups, of which well over 30 mailing lists. None of these social networking sites is going to provide for each of these interests. This means the space will inevitably fragment. When confronted with this the panelists seemed to argue that people are happy to have different identities and don't want them to mix. Well is this really true? Not in my case, and not as much as would have to be true for that response to hold up. I use perhaps three different email addresses to communicate. I have a LinkedIn account and am getting people asking me to join their Facebook networks. But I can't link my identity from one to the other. One has to be a member of each one of these, and each on of them requires one to create a new identity.

This is really the business model AOL had when the web emerged. They owned people's identity and how they could look at the world. This satisfied many people, but it was the Openness of the web, and the way pages could link to one another that overwhelmed them in the end. With a simple web browser one could experience the freedom of the web at large, skipping from one web page to another by following links or with the help of search engines

It is clear therefore that something as central as identity cannot be put into a silo, that individuals need to control their identity, and that networking sites that are open will be a lot more interesting that those that are closed. What is true of networking is true of the data in each of these sites too. This is what Web 3.0 is about. Freeing up data from the silos. It's just an application of Metcalf's Law to the web of data.

Perhaps it is the realization of the inevitability of this that explains the intriguing move during the debate that "Social Networking" was not the real business of these companies. That it is something else they are offering. Indeed. What they are offering is a lot of convenience. If they open up their information - and information wants to be free - then this convenience they offer will continue to attract a lot of people.

But just as HTML and open web protocols won out, so OpenId and Semantic Web technologies, are burning to be put to use here.

In conclusion, the panel discussion on "Social Networking 3.0" was a lot more interesting by what was not said than by what was said, by the positioning of the players than by their position, by their refusing to see than by their vision. Not so surprising as this will require them to rewrite a lot of their business plans: it is not a comfortable position to have investors breathing down your neck. What separates these Web 2.0 players from Web 3.0 are the data silos that stop their customers from being able to link up to each other. Allow them to link up and together with their customers they will be a lot stronger against the big players that will soon turn up.

Notes

Further links on the web:

Update

Sept 2008: I put together a slidecast, that describes this problem and how to solve it using semantic technologies and an example application to demonstrate it: "Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications". This is a summary of my findings since this post was written.

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