Danja rocks with his "DataPortability and me" video / some slides I've made for DP+SIOC

Wow! Danny Ayers has made the best video I’ve seen for the “DataPortability and me” competition, which ends today:

Travelling on the train to Dublin and back this morning, I gathered and made some slides for future presentations on DataPortability and SIOC:

(De-)centralised me

TechCrunch‘s Michael Arrington has an interesting article today about the “centralised me”, a follow-up to Loic Le Meur‘s post about wanting to re-centralise his decentralised social “map”. Here is a picture I drew some time back showing the decentralised me:

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I previously talked about how SIOC and FOAF can be used to represent this, and how this representation of people’s decentralised content is tied to the networks formed via social objects. (See also this paper.)

This is certainly something that fits with the ideas of DataPortability. I think people may have different requirements, including:

  • I may want to centralise my stuff on my own service, like Loic outlined.
  • I may want to see my stuff on a third-party service providing an aggregate view, like FriendFeed.
  • I may want to move all my stuff from multiple services to one third-party service.
  • I may just want to move the stuff I have on one service to another (e.g., move all my blog posts, comments, friends, etc. from WordPress.com to Acme Blog Service).

DataPortability, Microsoft's Contacts API and OpenSocial.org

20080326a.png (No, the picture I created on the right ISN’T the new DataPortability logo; I totally missed out on the closing date, but it will serve as an image for this blog post. There have been some very cool submissions for the competition however.)

There were two interesting announcements yesterday in the portability space. The first was from Microsoft, announcing that they would be “working with Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, Tagged and LinkedIn to exchange functionally-similar Contacts APIs, allowing us to create a safe, secure two-way street for users to move their relationships between our respective services” (Contacts APIs provide contact data portability). The second was from Google, Yahoo! and MySpace, jointly announcing that an OpenSocial Foundation is to be formed as a non-profit entity (OpenSocial provides social application portability). Unfortunately, there is still some confusion regarding exactly what data portability functionality OpenSocial will offer (if any), and at the moment the consensus seems to be that DataPortability and OpenSocial aren’t as related as previously thought.

DataPortability (including Microsoft’s move in this area) is mainly about users being able to have portable data (profiles, identities, content like photos, videos, discussion posts) that they can move between the services and sites that they trust and choose to use. (See Uno de Waal’s interesting post on how the Microsoft Invite2Messenger service allows you to get your Facebook friends’ e-mail addresses in plain text.)

OpenSocial on the other hand is more about “gadget” portability, where social applications can be deployed across a variety of social networking sites. As summarised by Julian Bond, OpenSocial consists of a gadget API (for gadget programmers) and a standard for site owners to implement these gadgets on their own sites. The part of OpenSocial related to DataPortability is a REST API, details of which are a bit vague right now. Not to be confused with OpenSocial (although the similar names make this difficult), the Social Graph API from Google is more related to DataPortability as it indexes semantic data from many social networking sites like Hi5, MySpace, LiveJournal, Twitter, etc. and allows users to bring their social graph with them when they sign up for a new site that supports the API.

Apart from the lack of intersection between Microsoft (plus affiliate Facebook) and Google, a good few companies are in multiple “camps” (DataPortability, Contacts APIs, OpenSocial), as shown by the Venn diagram I drew below:

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Marc Canter and others have pointed out that although the Contact APIs from Microsoft are not open in themselves, at least the APIs seem to export as much data as they can import. Marc also says that Microsoft (and other big companies) may not be explicitly following the actions (e.g. the technical recommendations) of the DataPortability initiative, but rather claims that it would hurt them if they didn’t open up and go along with some portable data efforts given the current climate and the tide of users in favour of this.

For users to have true data portability, there needs to be some consensus on both the APIs and the formats needed to transfer / represent this portable data. It may be that a number of APIs and formats are required for different scenarios. The Semantic Web is an ideal means for representing the data to be ported from social websites, in that is well suited (using vocabularies like SIOC and FOAF) to represent how people and all kinds of objects on these sites are connected together (documents, discussions, meetups, places, interests, media files – whatever). Of course other data formats may be used, but most importantly, it would be a waste of time to come up with a bunch of new formats for representing the data that needs to be portable, because a lot of work has been done on how to best provide interoperable, reusable and linked data through efforts like the Semantic Web, AtomPub and the microformats community.

I’ll be attending the DataPortability Lunch Meetup in London on the 6th April 2008 if anyone there feels like a chat about some of these topics…

Related posts:

Nova Spivack visits DERI, NUI Galway and talks about Twine: Radar Networks' semantic social software product in beta

20080325b.png In association with the IT Association of Galway, DERI recently invited Radar NetworksNova Spivack to speak at our research institute in the National University of Ireland, Galway (Nova also gave a keynote talk at BlogTalk 2008 in Cork).

Nova is CEO of one of the companies that is practically applying Semantic Web technologies to social software applications. Radar have a beta product called Twine which is a “knowledge networking” application that allows users to share, organise, and find information with people they trust. People create and join “twines” (community containers) around certain topics of interest, and items (documents, bookmarks, media files, etc., that can be commented on) are posted to these twines through a variety of methods. The seminar room was full of both “DERIzens” and members of Galway’s IT community for Nova’s talk on the Semantic Web and Twine (see his slides here), and after a lengthy question-and-answers session, this was followed by some presentations to Nova of ongoing research work in DERI.

20080325c.png I personally find Twine very interesting, and as well as using it to gather information about SIOC, I intend to use it to gather and publish personal interests that I think will be of interest to the public (once it leaves beta). As well as producing semantic data (just stick “?rdf” onto the end of any twine.com URL), Twine features some cool functionality that elevates it beyond the social bookmarking sites to which it has been compared, including an extensive choice of twineable item types, twined item customisation (“add detail”) and the “e-mail to a twine” feature, all of which I believe are extremely useful. (I have a few Twine invites left for readers of my blog; drop me an e-mail if you need one.)

There is also the community aspects of twines. I forsee that these twines will act as the “social objects” (see presentation by Jyri) that will draw you back to the service, in a much stronger manner than other social bookmarking sites currently do (due to Twine’s more viral nature, its stronger social networking functionality, better commenting, and a more identifiable “home” for these objects). Of course, having more public users will help, but from experience I know that it is a good idea to build on a core group of regular users (in Twine’s case, mainly techies) before increasing the user base too much.

It’s been an exciting few months in terms of announcements relating to commercial Semantic Web applications. As I mentioned recently in an interview with Rob Cawte for the web2.0japan.com blog, this is becoming obvious with the attention being given to startup companies in this space like Powerset, Metaweb (Freebase) and Radar Networks (Twine), and also since many big companies including Reuters (Calais API), Yahoo! (semantically-enhanced search) and Google (Social Graph API) have recently announced what they are doing with semantic data. There has been a lot of talk recently about the social graph (notably from Google’s Brad Fitzpatrick), which looks at how people are connected together (friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc.), and how such connections can be leveraged across websites. On the Semantic Web with vocabularies like FOAF, SIOC, etc., it is not just people who are connected together in some meaningful way, but documents, events, places, hobbies, pictures, you name it! And it is the commercial applications that exploit these connections that are now becoming interesting…

(Edit: Nova Spivack has blogged about his visit.)

BlogTalk 2008 Summary

Well, I’ve been on a well-deserved break (in my opinion anyway!) for the past two weeks so it’s time that I caught up with all the stuff I’ve only been tweeting about in the meantime…

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Picture by Paul Downey.

First up, it’s a summary of BlogTalk (and WebCamp). Actually, a lot of people have blogged about the event, including Martha Rotter (who has a great overview), Mark Bernstein (with some valid criticisms regarding the conference’s focus that we need to look at; see also Mark’s vidcast), Salim Ismail, Stephanie Booth (1 , 2; thanks for the videos!), Will Knott, Phil Whitehouse (1, 2), Jure Cuhalev, Jan Schmidt, Donncha O Caoimh, Sven Latham, Ben Ward, and Gabriela Avram (1, 2, 3, 4).

But I’ll add to these voices by saying that I was very pleased with how things went: the atmosphere was quite relaxed (at least, outside the confines of my own head), and the size was probably just right (sometimes you can’t plan these things). Although we had about 110-115 registrants, there were about 80-85 present at any one time, and I think the audience felt comfortable with posing questions to speakers (and to each other) which led to more interactive sessions than there may have been otherwise. The panel discussions also went quite well, and I hope that we will have more of these in future events. As regards next year’s conference, we have had an interesting offer to host the event in Korea. We are also looking at Seville for BlogTalk 2010.

Unfortunately, I incorrectly thought that Intruders.TV would be recording the talks from the event, but some entrepreneuring attendees managed to video some of the talks using a combination of webcams and cameras (see the videos and slides page for those that we’ve managed to gather so far; if you have any more, please let us know; I believe Intruders.TV will have interviews with some of our speakers later). You can also view an assortment of photos via Flickr.

On behalf of the programme chairs for BlogTalk 2008, I would like to thank all of the participants at the conference, our invited speakers, the presenters, our reviewers, the excellent hotel staff, and especially our sponsors (without whom the fees would have significantly increased since they paid for two thirds of our almost €30k budget). Finally, I would like to ask attendees if they would be so kind as to complete our post-conference survey here.

"The semantic web enables us to use portals in a more intelligent fashion, so we can do business more efficiently"

The Irish Times: Innovation

The Return of the Portal

Haydn Shaughnessy

March 10, 2008

In a perfect world, the internet would have evolved in a planned and orderly way, and that means, quite illogically, that Web 2.0 would not have followed Web 1.0.

The plan hatched by experts at the World Wide Web Consortium, the body that supervises web standards, was for the second generation to be something a little different to Bebo and Facebook, called the Semantic Web.

“It means adding more meaning to the web,” says web expert John Breslin of NUI Galway, “so that people and computers can work together more easily, so that computers in fact can do more of the work.”

Put simply, Web 2.0 was supposed to be the time when search engines worked perfectly. And the semantic web is the technology that allows you more of a push-button approach to information issues, so you are not overloaded, but enabled.

Today marks the launch of the first such project for the buying public – the New York launch of MutualArt.com, a global initiative to link art collectors (the buyers) with artists, museums, galleries and information sources including the leading art publications, auction house information and prices. It is the first major application of the semantic web to a consumer service.

Continue reading "The semantic web enables us to use portals in a more intelligent fashion, so we can do business more efficiently"

Trip planning via the Semantic Web

I am delighted to announced that DERI, NUI Galway and Tourist Republic Ltd. have been successful in receiving funding from Enterprise Ireland (under the Innovation Partnership programme) to work on the TripPlanr project: a semantically-enabled collaborative trip-planning application for individuals and groups.

Before the advent of the Web, a traveller’s options were limited by the scarcity of information he or she could find about a destination. Planning a trip involved visiting travel agencies, making phone calls and asking friends or friends-of-a-friend for their experiences. These days, the Web allows the traveller to purchase travel tickets, accommodation and other travel products with the minimum of human intervention. However, the lack of expert guidance has made processing and assessing various travel products extremely difficult. The traveller is presented with a surfeit of similarly sounding destination descriptions and offers. In short, a problem of information deficit has been replaced with the problem of information overload.

Last year, Jan Blanchard, the CEO of Tourist Republic, approached myself and Conor Hayes in DERI with the idea of extending their existing TouristR destination review site to help the traveller plan a more complex travel product, such as a trip with multiple destinations on a fixed budget and timeline. In this situation, there is no online assistance to help the traveller cope with the additional problem of selecting and combining multiple elements so that budgetary, geographical, temporal and other personal constraints and preferences are observed.

TripPlanr, an integrated trip-planning advisor, is the result: a joint project between Tourist Republic and DERI that will tackle the information overload and planning problems by filtering and making recommendations based on the preferences of the traveller and their social network. The TripPlanr application builds on the existing TouristR platform and DERI’s specialised expertise in recommender systems, information mining, the Semantic Web and Web 2.0.

Today, online travel booking is used mainly for trips with few parts, like airline tickets. Unlike existing trip planning applications, it is envisioned that the new TripPlanr application will allow users to book more complex and personalised trips with a number of parts. By collecting relevant data and suggesting it to the right user at the right time, TripPlanr increases the probability for that user to book or purchase the product or service in question.

Last month, there was an interesting interview by Marie Boran in the Irish Independent with the creator of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, in which he outlined a typical travel scenario that can be aided by Semantic Web technologies:

Your flight is to JFK airport, your business meetings are in New Jersey but you want to go sightseeing in New York and your hotel must be near a diabetic-friendly restaurant. Planning a business trip can be stressful at the best of times but doing it all through the web can be an eye-opening experience, says Tim Berners-Lee, as he explains how his invention, the world wide web, has its limitations and why he has spent the past decade working on its upgrade: the semantic web. “To make a detailed travel decision or similar, you need to see all that information on the same map. Currently, you have to print out all the data, sort through it and then stand back and see if you can make the connections yourself. “With a semantic website you could pull all these information forms together instantly and put them on the same map.”

Jean-Michel Jarre performs Oxygene live in Dublin, 18th March 2008

I went to see Jean-Michel Jarre perform his first live concert in Dublin at the National Concert Hall (NCH) in Dublin tonight. It was great to see him at last, as I’ve been a fan of Jarre’s ever since I first heard Oxygene 4 on the radio / TV as a child at the end of the seventies, coming across the piece later on in secondary school on one of our “Salut!” French learning tapes in 1985. It was a year or two later that I found out from listening to a DJ called Jock Wilson on Scottish shortwave pirate Radio Stella that the artist who played “doooh, doh-doh-doooh, dooooooooh” was known as Jean-Michel Jarre, and it wasn’t long until I managed to get my hands on a copy of the “Essential Jean-Michel Jarre” tape and various other albums and videos including “Zoolook” and “Destination Docklands”. (My first music web page some years later had a picture of Jarre’s legendary “Music for Supermarkets” one-off album at the top of the page.)

In the National Concert Hall this evening, there were a variety of attendees ranging from devout fans to intermediates to newcomers. Some old-school Oxygene and “Concerts in China” t-shirt wearers were in attendance. “Was he Tubular Bells?”, a newcomer to Jarre asked. “No, that was Mike Oldfield…”, another replied. Music from the album “Waiting for Cousteau” played in the background as we awaited Jarre’s arrival. At about 8:20, the light shone on the stage to reveal a giant white egg shape. “Big chicken”, the guy beside me said. The egg turned around to reveal Jean-Michel sitting inside it, and he began an introductory speech with “Good evening, Dublin”. I took a blurry photo and a zealous staff member alighted on me waving a disapproving finger.

Jean-Michel told us how glad he was to be in Dublin to share this special concert evening with us at the beginning of his tour (he began in Glasgow two nights ago, see review). He explained that this is the first time that he has played Oxygene entirely with all of these extraordinary instruments, and he described how great the intimate venue of the NCH theatre was in contrast with the outdoor concerts he normally plays. He talked about how the strange and special instruments behind him on stage were the reason that he (and most other electronic musicians) existed today, being the foundations for part of the mythology behind electronic music.

He made an analogy with violin players who often want to play on Stradivariuses created four centuries ago, saying that modern electronic musicians now want to play on the analogue synths of old, and that the secrets and know-how of the “crazy guys” who invented and designed instruments like the Theremin and various analogue synths between the twenties and the seventies was lost when computers became commonplace. He said that they have a very special sound and are obviously a big part of the sound texture for Oxygene.

He then talked a bit about Oxygene itself and the inspiration for the album (see also his interview in the Times; there was a similar article in today’s Metro Ireland where the idea of an outdoor Irish concert was touted). About the name, he said that his mum asked: “Why are you calling your music with the name of a gas?”. He said that the ideas about Oxygene from thirty years ago were now very much in phase with the thoughts and feelings of people today, and cited this as a reason why he was very happy to perform the album now.

The band was introduced: Dominique Perrier, a regular collaborator and performer at Jarre concerts (I especially remember him dressed in Turkish gear with a very unusual keyboard at the London concert, but he was also in the China video from the early eighties); Claude Samard; and Francis Rimbert, another Jarre veteran.

Jean-Michel said that we could now share the next step with them which was where they would tune these “old ladies”, to try and make them work. He explained that this is different from the days when you had lots of computers on stage, creating a “pure, 100% live, plug-and-play experience” with potential accidents that he said they would be happy to share with us. They warmed up for a while and then began the music with Oxygene 1.

Apart from some spots highlighting the various instruments and a light bar floating above the stage, the effects were discreet and low key, culminating in a spinning Oxygene globe logo projected on-screen towards the end of the album. The music performed was longer than the album release, including some segue pieces where the players no doubt had to re-tune their instruments for upcoming pieces. Jean-Michel also performed on the Theremin to much applause from the audience.

After finishing the main Oxygene album, he played a piece from the follow-up album, Oxygene 7-13, with some black-and-white nature shots in the background. The concert ended, and the performers received a standing ovation and calls for an encore.

On returning to the stage, Jean-Michel went on to describe a personal aspect to tonight’s performance. His PA and best friend, Fiona Commins, who has worked with him for 20 years, recently lost her dad. His name was Patrick, and Jean-Michel dedicated the next Oxygene piece for him on his journey to heaven.

I also met a few people I knew at the concert: beforehand I met Conrad Gibbons (with some fellow Tangerine Dream fans, David, Geoff and Sean), my old college friend Brendan, and afterwards I also bumped into Brian from Daft.ie. All in all, it was a good evening and I would love to be going again tomorrow night. But I have plenty of Jarre memorabilia to keep me happy until I see him again: some t-shirts, a mug and a print for my wall!

WebCamp SNP and BlogTalk 2008 approacheth…

I’m in Cork with a posse of eight from DERI, and it’s the night before two co-located events: the WebCamp workshop on social network portability (Sunday) and the BlogTalk conference on social software (Monday, Tuesday). Others that have arrived in Cork this evening include Niall Larkin, Ajit Jaokar, Aral Balkan, Ben Ward, Dan Brickley, Ross Duggan and Stephanie Booth.

I’m really looking forward to the talks, the discussions, the networking, the food, and some positive outcomes from the next three days. And with invited speakers of this quality, I know it’s going to be good.

Unfortunately, I’m missing the Irish Blog Awards for the second year running, but boards.ie‘s Managing Director Gerry Shanahan is representing us as a sponsor. At least I hope to meet up with many of the bloggers at tomorrow night’s optional blogger’s dinner at Rossini’s here in Cork (43 people have signed up).

More blog posts about the events will be available via the tags webcampsnp and blogtalk2008. Here are some recent posts: