Archives for February 2009

Characteristics of a Semantic Web Application

What are the characteristics of a credible Semantic Web site? That was the question on a semantic web group on LinkedIn. I attempt an answer out here.

Is there anything called a Semantic Web app?

My immediate thought was, does anyone know at all? Is there a minimum set of features that would make an application SemWeb compliant? Of course there is the vision of Tim Berners Lee on the Semantic Web out here. The Wikipedia article here does a good job of laying out the overall idea of it.

But there is no consensus, that I am aware of at least, on the minimum characteristics required for anything to be called a SemWeb app.

Without accepted criteria, anything goes

Without a established threshold it becomes easy for the hype machine to mislead and set wrong expectations. Those of you who followed the startup Twine will know what am talking about. Not everything with the SemWeb label is remotely what the vision of TimBLee implied.

Here is an answer that I proposed.

Criteria 1 – Data Portability

Use common agreed upon standards to markup information, so that they can be mashed up in contexts the original data provider did not anticipate. This is not a trivial exercise. Often data is locked in proprietary data formats and behind antique APIs. An entire industry of data integration tools exists to serve this problem.

The metadata surrounding the data is one aspect. The other is how much of this metadata actually is available at the point of consumption for consumers to leverage. This is more odious than it sounds. This would be topic for another blog post!

Check DataPortability for initiatives in this area.

Criteria 2 – Ubiquity

Make the above marked up data available in the widest possible channels. Though this is a content delivery criteria I feel its critical to derive the benefits of the SemWeb. No point hiding semantically rich data behind proprietary APIs and endpoints. HTTP and the REST route should be the protocol; XMPP is another delivery channel, if your data is time-sensitive.

Criteria 3 – Expose data graph

I use this term for lack of alternatives. Data does not live in a silo. Defining a grammar for your data via an ontology is just one aspect. There is always a reference to some other element that will enhance or clarify its meaning.

Mapping and translating between ontologies is a possibility too. Still the idea of a data graph needs to be present. Make this explicit by providing links from key entities and facts within your data, say by linking to DBPedia if the concepts involved are public. If the information is private to your organization, then allow the data consumption hops possible across applications within your organization.

Criteria 4 – Allow inferences

Too many SW apps stop at searching and aggregation. I feel some basic amount of inferences should be allowed. To make non-obvious connections bare should be the outcome for a data graph that is linked deeply. To make patterns hidden with data apparent.

I remember seeing the term Serendipity Quotient, a measure how much non-apparent connections or insights can be revealed. This could be similar to data mining but I think this is a superficial similarity. The nature of insights from the SW apps would also be on unstructured data unlike data mining which is more attuned to structured data.

Note that we are not trying to be dogmatic about which data formats or inference mechanisms are used.

Infancy of the SemWeb

Going by this criteria I think we are yet to see a proper SemWeb app. These are early days and the apps are our first attempt at building something so ambitious as a globally linked data, allowing machines to be infused with intelligence.

We also have to account for the fact that many of these criteria may be already implemented behind the scenes to pull off the kind of smart behavior we have come to expect from the SemWeb.

Your chance to add meaning!

With that I would like to pose some questions. Do you agree with the criteria above? What would you add/remove/embellish to this list? Are there apps that do all of the above?

Ditching Google Reader and Chrome, Feedly is in the House


I confess. I have an RSS addiction. And I believe I have found my perfect fix in Feedly.

I have used a variety of RSS aggregators. Between the rich and thin client approaches I have tried many. And even wrote some simple aggregators of my own.

As I said, I have an RSS addiction. And I typically let nothing come in the way of my feeds and me. The aggregator has to do its job and get out of the way.

In a space that I had, mistakenly, thought was commoditized, and was largely wrapped up by Google Reader, comes an innovation that blows every competition away. 

Feedly. Integrates with Google Reader seamlessly. From importing the feeds to keeping your shared and starred items in sync. Wiring to FriendFeed, Twitter. 

As if all that were not enough, there is the mini-bar that sits in a corner of the browser. And with minimal intrusion to your browsing experience, can share the current page on Twitter, check the activity levels on FriendFeed and more.

What really awed me was the user experience on the home page. The layout is like a magazine. The entries are grouped, highlighted and quite pretty to view.

All actions like sharing, staring entries can be carried out in line within Feedly. The GReader-ish inline expansion of collapsed entries. It is all there.

This add-in weaned me away from Chrome. I now get my RSS fix from Feedly on Firefox.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts the need for standardized data formats, say like RSS, check out the magic in Feedly. Arbitrary sources publishing content as RSS. Laid out, aggregated, grouped and all decked up for your viewing pleasure by an add-in.

Take it from a freshly minted convert, this is what you have been wanting all your life! 🙂

Are We Indians Any Better Now?


The past is immutable. However bitter, painful and shameful there is absolutely nothing one could do to change what has been. The past is immutable.

Today I had come across a recollection of the past of my nation. The recollection itself was done with a rare empathy and honesty, however brief its coverage.

But pain does not need acres of text to manifest itself. A splinter of memory can lodge itself in the crevices of our self and torment more than any physical act can ever hope to achieve.

A proud cluster of nations, united by a common heritage and spirituality, wanting for nothing, was ruled for 300years by the British and almost double that by the previous Muslim invaders.

Whatever revisionist versions of history is thrust upon us, the truth remains that we were ruled under a foreign yoke for almost a 1000years.

The nation was bled dry. They arrived for our wealth and left us destitute, an under-developed nation reeling in poverty and ignorance, devoid of self-confidence.

A nation of Sages, Rishis, Warriors and Artisans was reduced to this sniveling, groveling mass of spine-less ignoramuses of now.

I have no bitterness towards the actions of these foreign races but reserve my utter disrespect and hatred for my own countrymen who were willing to sabotage the future of this country for their selfish motives.

There are quite few descendents of these leaches still sucking this nation dry.

So you see, I was forced to introspect.

Now to you dear reader, are we any better now?

More Labels on You, Dumber You Get

Often the route we take to arrive at a destination does not matter much. The destination justifies the paths we take.

Reason and logic always seem to have a dryness about them and always seem to be used and thrown out when the higher perceptions open up.

But there are times when even reason hews its way and arrives at perceptions of truth that is ascribed to more intuitive and spiritualized sight.

Today I had come across one such article by Paul Graham, called Identity. Paul speaks about understanding why politics and religion lead to “uniquely useless discussions” 🙂

So here is a terrific quote

What’s different about religion is that people don’t feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone’s an expert.

And here is the closing statement..

Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

I am not sure Paul had Yoga and Nirvana in mind when he wrote this post. But suffice to say that it is an noble attitude that will directly help anyone pursuing an inner life.

An extremely interesting post to say the not miss.

Do We Lose By Measuring Blogging?

Write for the reader. Optimize for SEO/Google. Measure audience attention. Track for conversion rates. Perform keyword analysis on Google for topics to write posts on.

Oh so many injunctions!

I personally find nothing wrong with having a concrete goal for one’s blog. To plan, execute, measure result and refine plan is perhaps the most logical approach to any endeavor.

But in obeying the dictates of Google Analytics I wonder if we have lost the ability to think deeply, to write well and understand ourselves, and the environment in which we live in, better.

Remember that not all content written for commerce is bad and likewise not all contemplative content is good. After all they say that Shakespeare wrote for the Globe for money! And there is sufficient crap out there on the internet that is done for pure personal satisfaction.

I just wish that there would be a balance and not allow ourselves to accept implicit standards of success.

A blog can be a podium, for us to scream out our ideas over the bustle of the marketplace. To seek converts, or to hawk our wares.

A blog can also be our private chamber. Or even a hidden Parisian cafe. Where like-minded individuals meet to discuss the inane and obscure.

The point is not every measure of success is on an analytics dashboard.

It is also in how much I, the author, and you the reader, have benefitted from this little exchange of ideas.

If, in thinking through an idea for a post, I emerge a little less radical and more humble than before, then even without publishing the post I shall have gained.

And likewise to you, perhaps this post has added to your understanding. Or even contradicted your viewpoint in a way you had not thought of earlier. And therein the the value add. 

Even if your new year resolution is driven by a clear metric of subscriber count or conversion rates, remember you need to enjoy the journey. Blogging need not be a contact sport.

What matters is that we share our ideas and opinions and attention. To just participate in a way that makes the process beneficial to all concerned. And in participating we will have added something of ours to the larger whole of the Internet.

Now, over to you! What do you think? What do you expect from your blogging?

Meaningless Patriotism

The $10 laptop went the meme in the blogging circuits.

This was ostensibly in response to the $100 laptop of the OLPC project.

Hopes of doing a ‘Nano’ must have risen up in the minds of readers. But the cost suggested was so ridiculously low that it was difficult not to be skeptic about the whole affair.

And then came the update from here. The whole thing was a sham. No laptop but a storage device. And why a government should muck about with a storage device is something I don’t have a clue about! Perhaps some cheap publicity to satisfy the whim of some politician or bureaucrat somewhere.

Even assuming India could build such a device, say after 5-10 years, given the natural reduction of cost of materials etc., imagine the opportunity cost of missing out on so many years. Time in which kids could have had access to more information, picked up crucial computing skills and armed themselves with useful knowledge.

Just so we get this straight.

I am patriotic. Very proud to be an Indian, proud of its heritage, culture and spirituality. And firmly believe that India is yet to give her best.

But that best will not emerge by methods such as these.

Innovation is not building something cheaper. Of course it takes some creativity to do things cheaper. But it is ultimately an act of copying, a semi-intelligent copying. Nothing more.

Original ideas, ideas that define a race and culture and act as the seeds of lasting prosperity do not issue from mimicking.

India might have discovered the idea of Zero, might have had astronomers who peered further than most into the dark spaces of our Universe, might have sent its heart out in a hundred waves of spiritual impulses.

But all this counts for nothing in my book.

The field is material and not some abstract world of the spirit. The field of battle is here. There are no longer the impediments of lack of opportunity, or tools, or the colonial restrictions of the past.

We restrict our own capabilities by aping. Our pride is a false one when all we can muster up is to gather the scraps of a reflected glory.

The next time someone says the youngest kid to do a Microsoft certification is from India, or India will launch the $10 laptop, I suggest we, the blogger community at least, refrain from talking it up or feeling proud about it.

It is a time for shame when a many thousand year old culture has only its infantile babblings to be proud about.

Vande Mataram.