Category Archives: IA

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.

When Web-scraping Doesn’t Cut It

When you search for my name on the “professional search directory” ZoomInfo, you get some very interesting results. My favorite:

Very Subtle Captain

I’m pretty sure their web crawling/scraping algorithm needs a little tweaking. Somehow they also connected an article about New Hampshire history (circa 1770-1790) which also mentioned a “Captain Chase Taylor”. Again, they might want to refine the sources (and the methods) that they collect their data from.

It’s a monumental task to try creating useful profiles of people from content scattered across the web. Spock is at least one startup that thinks they can do a better job, and they’re going for an even larger data set than what ZoomInfo currently boasts. Scouring information in a controlled way from the right places, I think it may achieve some decent results. Afterall, the current bar is set at combining Revolutionary War era military records with soccer goalie quotes from 2005, so the sky’s the limit.

IA Summit 2007: Vegas, Part II

Finally, here’s my somewhat belated wrap-up of the IA Summit, which I attended in Vegas. The conference was absolutely amazing. I met a ton of interesting people from all over the world, including quite a few Seattleites, and had some great conversations. The workshops and presentations were non-stop brain food, and incredibly inspiring. Slides for a number of the presentations are up on SlideShare here, with more coming. Podcasts should be showing up in the coming weeks on the IA Summit blog.

Some conference highlights

  • Leisa‘s suite party the first night, with great company and conversation: Livlab, Andrew Hinton, Dave Malouf, and Jared Spool.
  • Joshua Prince-Ramus’ keynote was a great look into the architectural process. A very similar talk of his is up here at TED talks, including the evolution of the new Seattle Public Library.
  • Twitter. It adds so much to the conference/social/community experience. Leisa wrote a good post on how to get the most from a conference and includes some observations on Twitter.
  • Andy Budd‘s birthday celebration at the Pink Taco. Hanging out with Derek, Thomas, Nick, and even Jared Spool again. Here’s Jared doing drunken card tricks for some Dutch folk.
  • A very moving and mind-expanding talk by Grant Campbell, titled: Utilizing ritual in the design of information spaces for the cognitively impaired. The talk focused on the challenges of interactions with people who have dementia/Alzheimer’s, and how we may need to rethink our traditional methods of organizing information or designing iteractions. The biggest example was that of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient who could barely concentrate or remember anything, yet could participate in the entire Catholic eucharist ritual with complete attention. A great quote from Jesse James Garrett in the discussion afterwards (paraphrased):

    “What if you applied the same design/IA tactics to something like a communion ritual? Like counting clicks to a certain destination… you’d say why not just hand out the wine and wafer to people at the door as they walk in. And you lose the entire point.”

  • Countless other little things that I’ve got jotted down in notes. Microformats, design patterns, data streams, agile workflows… I’ll try to collect my thoughts into some more in-depth follow-up posts.

Any downsides or disappointments? Just that trying to fit in some Vegas fun on top of a jam-packed conference was barely doable, and very exhausting. It didn’t stop me, but it was a very hard bizarro-city to find that balance in.

What a great conference. I can’t wait until next year in Miami.

IA Summit 2007: Vegas, Part I

I’m currently in Las Vegas attending the 2007 IA Summit. Tons of geeking-out over Information Architecture with a lot of great people… in a crazy, crazy city.

The internet connection is incredibly flaky here, otherwise I’d be trying to update more often. I’ll write up some more thoughts and stories when I can. I’ve been trying out Twitter without too much fanfare, mainly because I don’t want to take the phone/text message plunge (SMSes aren’t free for me). But I’m absolutely seeing the draw to Twitter via text-message now, with people using it to keep in touch at a busy event, find out what’s going on, and adding color commentary during the presentations.

I’ve tried uploading a couple Flickr photos, but again the connection is too flaky to do much. Plus, there’s just too much going on to stop and spend time sorting and uploading all my photos right now. There are a lot of great shots under the iasummit2007 tag on Flickr too.

More to come!