Tim Berners-Lee: The next Web of open, linked data

20 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. For his next project, he’s building a web for open, linked data that could do for numbers what the Web did for words, pictures, video: unlock our data and reframe the way we use it together.

This is an inspiring talk by Tim that goes to the heart of the work that we are doing at Talis with our Platform and the new generation of products we are building on the platform, such as Talis Aspire and Talis Prism.

    "Data is relationships!"
    "The really important thing about data is that the more  things
       that you have to connect together the more powerful it is."       

A wonderfully simple and succinct way of describing the importance of Linked Data. It’s a great talk and well worth watching.

Linked Data and Scientific Publishing

Tim Berners-Lee gave a talk at TED2009 on Linked Data. The slides for the talk can be found here. TED have not made this talk available for viewing yet. However part of the focus of the talk was around linking raw scientific data with existing linked data sets already out there. I’ll post a link to the talk when and if it becomes available.

What is good to see though is how closely this aligns to the work that our Xiphos division is doing and the ideas that we are experimenting with.

Intelligence in Wikipedia – Bootstrapping the Semantic Web

Berners-Lee’s vision of the Semantic Web is hindered by a chicken-and-egg problem, which can be best solved by a bootstrapping method: creating enough structured data to motivate the development of applications. We believe that autonomously `Semantifying Wikipedia’ is the best way to bootstrap. We choose Wikipedia as an initial data source, because it is comprehensive, high-quality, modestly sized, and contains enough manually-derived structure to bootstrap an autonomous, self-supervised process.

Bibliographic Ontology 1.0 released

After months of development the first version of Bibliographic Ontology was published today. This represents an incredibly important milestone for this project, it’s been discussed, developed and evolved over a number of months in order to make sure that this ontology was expressive enough to handle all kind of scenarios for all kind of bibliographic projects. It’s been particularly relevant to us and some of the work we are trying which I’ll be commenting on over the next couple of weeks.

BBC Opening Up

The BBC is opening up and making its data accessible to development teams outside the beeb – they are also following the Linked Data approach …

We have been following the Linked Data approach – namely thinking of URIs as more than just locations for documents. Instead using them to identify anything, from a particular person to a particular programme. These resources in-turn have representations, which can be machine-processable (through the use of RDF, Microformats, RDFa, etc.), and these representations can hold links towards further web resources, allowing agents to jump from one dataset to another.

They have designed and published a simple but versatile ontology for describing Programme data which can be accessed here.


I’ve been playing around with Powerset, a new Semantic Search Engine, which uses natural language search technology that is based on patents licensed exclusively from Palo Alto Research Center (formerly Xerox) and its own proprietary indexing.

Instead of being limited to keywords, Powerset allows you to enter keywords, phrases, or questions. Instead of just showing you a list of blue links, Powerset gives you more accurate search results, often answering questions directly, and aggregates information from across multiple articles.

I have to confess I am very impressed with it – I used it for a few hours late last night to help find some references for a blog piece I’m writing and loved the way it seemed to understand the concepts I was asking about rather than giving me matches based on keywords. Currently it only searches Wikipedia but does also provide results from Freebase as well. I really find the MiniViewer useful, it allows you to view a short result snippet presented on the results screen within the other original context it was extracted from, this also makes the search results feel interactive.

Here’s the demonstration video that explains how Powerset is different using some cool examples:

Powerset Demo Video from officialpowerset on Vimeo.

I’m really interesting in seeing where Powerset goes next …

Making Tea and the Semantic Web

Abstract. Making Tea is a design elicitation method developed specifically to
deal with situations in which (1) the designers do not share domain or artefact
knowledge with design-domain experts, (2) the processes in the space are semi-
structured and (3) the processes to be modeled can last for periods exceeding
the availability of most ethnographers. We propose a set of criteria in order to
understand why Making Tea worked. Through this criteria we also reflect upon
the relation of Making Tea to other design elicitation methods in order to pro-
pose a kind of method framework from which other designers may be assisted
in choosing elicitation methods and in developing new methods.

Download paper here, by Monica Schraefel and Alan Dix.

I periodically check up on Alan’s homepage at Lancaster University and have a read through any papers he has made available. Earlier today I found an interesting looking paper entitled: Within Bounds and Between Domains: Reflecting on Making Tea within the Context of Design Elicitation Methods – the abstract for which I have transcribed above.

Just reading the title made me smile as I recalled many an evening spent listening to Alan talking to me about an idea, or helping me understand something I was struggling with, all over a cup of tea (actually usually over several cups of tea!). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this paper, but I’m glad I read it, it proved invaluable for a number of reasons but primarily because it actually led me back to the Semantic Web, and some of the work we are doing at Talis. Whilst on the face of it this assertion might sound somewhat tenuous but maybe it isn’t … as I’ll try to illustrate briefly(ish)…

The paper describes some of the history behind an attempt by a group of computer scientists to design a digital version of a synthetic chemists lab book. However because the computer scientists were not experts in the domain or had very little experience in chemistry they struggled to understand the process that the chemists followed. Whilst they could observe the chemists doing their job and glean some information through interviewing them they simply could not understand the critical issue with reference to the lab books – when, how and why certain things were recorded and others were not. If your trying to create a digital replacement it’s absolutely imperative that you can understand what it is the user is doing and why. It’s at this point that Making Tea became so important …

In frustration, among the team of Canadian and British computer scientists and
chemists, the group made tea, a process embraced by both nations for restoring the
soul. It was at this point that the chemist-turned-software-engineer on the team said
“Making tea is much like doing an experiment.” The rest is history. The design team
took up the observation and used making tea to model the process of both carrying
out an experiment and recording it. To wit, the team’s chemist make tea multiple
times: first using well understood kitchen implements, where questions were asked
like “why did you not record that?” “You just did 20 steps to get the tea ready to pour,
yet you’ve only written down “reflux.” Why?” From kitchen implements, the team
moved to chemistry apparatus set up in the team’s design space. From there the team
moved to the chemistry lab. The results of the exchanges in these spaces informed the
design process. Indeed, they also informed the validation process: design reviews with
chemists in various positions, from researchers to managers to supervisors, were car-
ried out by making tea, and demonstrating how the artefact worked in the tea-making
experimental process. This time it was the chemists’ turn to interrupt the presentation
with questions about the artefact and their process.

The paper goes on to describe why ‘Making Tea’ worked so well as a design elicitation/validation method. I won’t provide a summary comparing it to other methodologies (you can read the paper for that) but I will summarise the four criteria that Monica and Alan identified that made it so successful in this example.

  1. Neutral Territory: Making Tea created a neutral space that was not owned by either the system designers or the domain experts – the intended users of the application. In a smiliar vain (although not exactly the same) having a neutral space you can go to to carry out design elicitation activities has proven hugely beneficial in our own experience at Talis. I have seen that removing ourselves from our offices or normal environment to spend time as part of a multi disciplinary team to focus on understanding and designing a solution to a problem both helps to focus us and place everyone on an equal footing in an alien environment. It also forces us to come together … thats important.
  2. Boundary Representation: When the problem domain is understood by both designers and users this forms a point of contact or reference that both groups feel comfortable with, and can relate to each other – it not only offered a way for domain experts to describe their tasks and activities, but also one where software engineers could offer back potential new designs
  3. Disruption: By being similar yet different from the actual process being represented, Making Tea forced the users to reflect on their tacit activities. To my mind this should be simple to appreciate for anyone who has ever pair programmed. When you constantly have someone asking you what your doing, asking you to talk through your thought processes, as disruptive as it might seem it actually forces you to reflect on what your doing. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ll start to explain a piece of code I’m writing to someone, and then find that the actual processes of having to articulate what I’m doing reveals very quickly that I’m doing something wrong or failing to see the bigger picture.
  4. Time Compression: Making Tea reduced the time taken for a normal ex-
    periment into a period that could be completed in a participatory session
    .The net effect of this is at facilitates rapid iteration of both observation of processes and each design. This sits quite well with the Agile mantra of rapid iteration and constant feedback.

I guess I like Making Tea, this entire metaphor feels very comfortable. It also got me thinking about some of the work I’ve been doing at Talis. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking at ontologies to represent different kinds of knowledge. Most recently Rob and I have been looking at how to model Workflow’s in RDF … it doesn’t sound particularly tea-like yet I can’t help but think that our current efforts to try and get closer to our users and also others working in this domain is going to help us understand what we are trying to build far better than trying to be purely academic in our approach to researching this area.

Now back to the tenuous Semantic Web link I mentioned earlier. Monica is working at Southampton University on a number of their semantic web projects. She was/is the Project Lead on MyTea, which tried to re-imagine the original work that the Smart Tea Project team mentioned in the paper did in building a digital lab book. What the MyTea project attempted to do was enhance the original work by integrating the tool with Semantic Technologies and what the folks down in Southampton refer to as The Semantic Grid ( they also run an active project called myGrid which appears to bring all this together ):

The Semantic Web and Semantic Grid, however, are motivating a possible sea change in the way scientists make their work available. With the Semantic Grid, a Web-based technology for sharing data and computation, scientists can share information in richer forms than traditional lab books and publishing has allowed. They will be able to make rafts of data generated in experiments available to other scientists, and to the public for compariosn exploration and study; they can share analyses of information and collaborate in new ways.

Now I’m not sure what the current status of either of the projects is since the paper was originally written in 2005, and the sites don’t look like they have been updated in a while other than myGrid. from my perspective im interested in the work flow modelling they talk about. Yet in additon to that there is something that does touch on what we are trying to do at Talis in building a platform that facilitates this notion of a Web of Linked Data – how to find ways of enriching existing applications by providing the means to link data together in ways that have never really been possible before. We have already seen the amazing things we can do with data and applications when you fundamentally accept that what we are talking about is not a technology change as such, but rather a complete paradigm shift.

This post does feel a bit strange due to the somewhat tenuous links and a bit of tangential reasoning but it’s forcing me to reflect on something I’m struggling to articulate at the moment … but that’s not a bad thing.

Introducing the Semantic Web Gang

Talis has a launched a new series of podcasts to add to the range currently available. This new Semantic Web Gang is a monthly show hosted by my colleague Paul Miller, and brings together a collection of experts in the field to provide their insights and discuss current news relevant to the Semantic Web.

The gang currently comprises of:

  1. Greg Boutin
  2. Mills Davis of Project 10X
  3. Tom Heath another of my colleagues at Talis
  4. Daniel Lewis of OpenLink
  5. Alex Iskold of AdaptiveBlue
  6. Thomas Tague of Reuters

It’s a great first outing for this series. The first show was very broad reaching and packed quite a lot into a relatively short amount of time but I thought it was really interesting hearing the different perspectives each of these guys brought to the discussion. I enjoyed listening to their views on whether they believe, as Tim Berners-Lee, intimated in a previous Podcast with Paul, that the Semantic Web is ready for mainstream adoption. Their views carry some weight given that these guys are some of the people at the forefront in bringing the Semantic Web vision to reality. Listen to the talk and find out what they think ;-).

You can read more about this on Paul’s Semantic Web Blog over at ZDNet, and I also think its great that ReadWriteTalk have also decided to syndicate the show here.

Well done Paul!

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!