Tim Berners-Lee rejects net tracking

Read this interview yesterday on the BBC News Site, in which Sir Tim Berners-Lee voices his concern about the practice of tracking activity on the internet — with particular reference to Phorm, a Company that leading internet service providers are planning to use, which tracks users web activity in order to create personalised advertise. Tim explains some of the dangers of this …

“I want to know if I look up a whole lot of books about some form of cancer that that’s not going to get to my insurance company and I’m going to find my insurance premium is going to go up by 5% because they’ve figured I’m looking at those books,”

and elaborates on this by explaining that as an individual his data and his web history belongs to him …

“It’s mine – you can’t have it. If you want to use it for something, then you have to negotiate with me. I have to agree, I have to understand what I’m getting in return.”

Privacy concerns are never going to go away. The problem though is that most users don’t understand privacy and more often than not social networking sites, like Facebook, have tried to take advantage of this. As was the case recently when Facebook tried to introduce Beacon, another ad system which leveraged users activity. Facebook was subsequently forced to provide a mechanism for users to opt out of this after some pretty damning coverage in the media.

I think it’s a good thing that Tim has made his views public, perhaps others will now stop and reconsider some of their actions … you can watch the interview below


Sir Tim Berners-Lee Talks with Talis about the Semantic Web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, often credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web and also Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, recently chatted with my colleague Paul Miller as part of our Talking with Talis Podcast Series.

You can listen to the podcast here, or download the mp3 from here. Alternatively you can read the full transcript here.

It’s a excellent podcast which I’ll recommend to anyone who is interested in understanding the Semantic Web. It’s a far ranging discussion in which Tim talks about a number of issues ranging from the importance of Linked Data to the perceived Readiness of the Semantic Web and it’s mainstream adoption.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the podcast and in some ways it felt good to get the sense that as an organisation we are actually building the sorts of technologies that will help bring Tim’s vision to life.

I think… we’ve got all the pieces to be able to go ahead and do pretty much everything… you should be able to implement a huge amount of the dream, we should be able to get huge benefits from interoperability using what we’ve got. So, people are realizing it’s time to just go do it.

I totally agree with Tim, at Talis we have done exactly that, we have invested a lot of time and effort into building our Semantic Web Platform which is currently underpinning many of our next generation products. And allowing us to collaborate with others on some pretty interesting projects. The Semantic Web is fast becoming a reality and it feels pretty awesome riding this particular wave at the moment.

I’m also pretty excited at the moment Rob, Tom, Paul, Me and Chris will all be attending the LinkedData Workshop at WWW2008 next month in Beijing. Rob and I will be presenting our paper – which should be great fun.

So if any of you are out there and want to find out more about us and what we are doing come along and have a chat!

Swarm Creativity – feels like a kind of magic …

Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage Through Collaborative Innovation Networks by Peter Gloor is an excellent book. It introduces the concept of Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) – a methodology that aims to enhance quality and competitive edge. Anyone who has read The Wisdom of the Crowds or Emergent Intelligence will be familiar with some of the themes in this book, in fact it certainly does continue that tradition. According to Gloor a collaborative innovation network is a "cyberteam of self-motivated people with a collective vision, enabled by technology to collaborate in achieving an innovation by sharing ideas, information and work" – thus by extension Swarm Creativity is what results when such a group works together and exchanges ideas.

The idea of COINs are not new, in fact much of the book is devoted to providing historical examples such as Marco Polo, the Rothschilds and even the Fugger Banking empire of the German  Renaissance period. There are also much more modern examples including SHARE ( Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education ), Diamler Chrysler, , SalesForce, Intel, IBM, Deloitte, even the United Nations.

The book opens with what  I believe to be a seminal quote from Thomas W Malone  "The Future of Work", 2004:

"As managers, we need to shift our thinking from command and control to coordinate and cultivate – the best way to gain power is sometimes to give it away."

I can personally relate to this because the culture we are striving for at Talis seems to be underpinned with this kind of thinking. I don’t doubt that it feels radical to some since it does represent a departure from the bureaucratic hierarchical models of management that seem to permeate through many organisations. This new approach has many advantages though and until you experience them first hand they might seem impenetrable … in fact whilst reading the book I gained my own first hand experience of how beneficial COINs can be …

Just over five weeks ago Talis sent me, Rob, Chris, Alan and Ross away to a separate office to develop a prototype application. We were given a very short brief, in fact we had to actually define the requirements for the system ourselves. What ensued was a a couple of weeks of brainstorming, idea gathering, and then a week of wireframing and the a week of implementation, at the end of which we had a working prototype.

What wasn’t immediately apparent at the time was that this was a small COIN. The company had gathered together a small group of highly motivated individuals, presented them with a problem and asked them to come up with an innovative solution. Now during that four week period the team didn’t always agree with each other in fact we did disagree and at the beginning we probably had somewhat divergent views about what the product should be. We certainly challenged each others ideas and understanding and in doing so we slowly,  over the course of the first two weeks,  converged on a shared understanding and we then were able to very rapidly put the whole thing together. There was no hierarchy in the team, there were no prescribed roles or responsibilities, the team was very much self organising with each member of the team doing whatever needed doing without needing direction or being told to necessarily do something. Everyone, collectively, knew where we wanted to get and did whatever was required to get there. This is echoed in the book where Gloor points out similarities between creative swarms and phenomena found in nature:

"Swarm creativity is like a beehive or ant colony. It may look chaotic from the outside, but everyone has a job, knows what to do, and does it."

For me personally it was an incredible experience, both extremely challenging and also extremely rewarding. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you have a single problem to focus on without any other distractions. But as Alan observed what a collaborative effort like this does is enable even the smallest of organisations to compete with much larger organisations when it comes to innovation.

I thoroughly recommend the book!

Ian Davis presents the Talis Platform at KMI

My colleague, Ian Davis, visited the Knowledge Media Institute yesterday to present his talk on The Talis Platform: A Generic Infrastructure for the Next Generation of Web Applications to their research group. Here’s the short synopsis for the talk:

The Talis Platform provides a generic infrastructure for building data-rich Web and Semantic Web applications. By taking care of the “heavy lifting” associated with data management and storage, developers are freed up to concentrate on building applications using the Platform’s APIs and services. In this presentation I will outline the problems the Platform is attempting to solve, describe the principles on which our approach is based, and ground these in trends such as “Software as a Service”. The capabilities of the Platform will be illustrated through demos of Platform services for mashing up heterogeneous data and providing faceted querying over data sets. I’ll wrap up the talk by describing how members of the audience can use the Platform to support their own applications, and help shape its future development.

Ian is a great guy, and is very much the driving force behind our vision for what the platform should be. The talk is only thirty minutes long but he gives a valuable insight into what we are doing and hopefully what we are trying to achieve. If your interested in finding out about what we do and why we are doing it then watch the talk.

Tom Heath Joins Talis

2008 is going to be a very exciting year for our development group at Talis. We have a number of interesting projects that we are working on in addition to extending and improving our Platform technologies – to that end I think it’s great that Tom Heath has joined us as a researcher. For those who don’t know him, Tom is one of the people behind Revyu.com, which won the 2007 Semantic Web Challenge. I’ve been an admirer of Tom’s work since first meeting him last year and I genuinely think he brings a great deal of expertise on recommendation systems to the team. I’ve spent a few days working with him last week on some R&D work we are doing and what strikes me about Tom is firstly that he is great fun to work with, and secondly that he is extremely passionate about his areas of interest. I’m really looking forward to working more closely with him and learning a lot from him.