Monthly Archives: July 2007

Freebasing the semantic web?

I’ve seen Freebase.com get some more attention lately as the Alpha invites continue to spread. O’Reilly posted a great walkthrough of an earlier version of Freebase.com here.

The discussion that follows in the comments is some insight into the various sides of the “semantic web” debate, and the challenges that come with organizing so much data. The holy grail is not just categorizing or labeling all of the information, but knowing the relationships between it all.

Will users find enough value in the Freebase system to want to actively contribute to it? Why not start at Wikipedia as a framework and add the relationship layer to the existing site? What about the existing social/inter-personal relationship layer of Facebook and adding other layers on top of that (the Parakey acquisition could be a step in this direction)?

This is the weakness in having individual sites try to be “the answer” to such inter-related problems. Until all of these pieces are decentralized and opened, I’m afraid we’re still stuck with a bunch of walled information gardens.

Unfortunately, the end goal of many of these efforts and the idea of the mythical “semantic web”, doesn’t exactly have a place for single-resource destination sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, or Freebase. Given that none of them want to relinquish control any time soon, we should continue to see these power struggles for a long time to come.

So who is in a good position to bring us toward a more semantic web? Out of the big guys, I think Facebook is in one of the best places. As far-fetched as it may be, if they were to open up a true Facebook API, opening their social network for use to the outside (not forcing people to play around inside), they could leverage their huge user-base and be the social network provider that’s plugged into every new service out there. Somebody will have to do it. People are dying for the “web 2.0 address book.”

On the smaller fronts, microformats continue to gain traction and OpenID is opening a few walled gardens (or at least creating consistent gates into them).

Lastly, I think web browsers are in perhaps the best position to take advantage of these evolutions. It may be no coincidence that the Firefox creators who started Parakey are now snatched up by Facebook. Look at what Greasemonkey and Firefox plugins have done to the way people view web pages. Look at what widgets, gadgets, feed readers, and the iPhone/Safari “platform” are doing to the way you consume/search/browse information from different sites and through different devices.

The semantic web might never arrive, but a semantic web may already be here.

5 years in Seattle

Seattle Sunset

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living in Seattle for 5 years now. I drove out here from Connecticut in July of 2002 without much of a plan, but it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. In my time here, I’ve worked a few different odd jobs but now feel like I’ve found a great niche in the web/technology industry that I hardly knew existed back when I was in school.

I originally intended to stay for just a year or two and then move back East, but I caught the Northwest bug pretty bad and the years have just flown past. I’m still feeling quite happy about the city and the surrounding area, and I know there’s a ton more that I have yet to discover. Am I going to stay here forever? Probably not, but when I’m asked that question now it’s harder and harder to say exactly when I might think of leaving.

Who knows what the next 5 years will hold.

I’ll have the bland airline meal, please

I was booking an airline flight the other day and in selecting my seating, frequent flyer and other preferences, I looked at the options under meal preference…

Bland Airline Meal

Huh? You can request an even blander airline meal? At first I thought it was a joke, perhaps pulled by some bitter web developer who didn’t like the task of creating the meal option dropdown menu. But, in fact, the bland option is common and has valid health reasons, whereas normal airline food is bland for a number of common-sense reasons that are clearly laid out in Wikipedia. The special “bland” meal preference is for people with more sensitive digestive systems or ulcers, and it lacks any sort of heavy seasoning, extra dairy, or raw meat.

You learn something new every day.