Archives: December 2007

New Year, New Web (Part 2)

Jennifer Zaino
SemanticWeb.com Contributor

In Part 1 of this two-part series, some experts provided us with their ideas on issues such as semantic web standards and how advertising will infuse the semantic web space. We continue the discussion here with more experts on how these and other trends are moving the semantic web forward in 2008.


Robert Coyne, COO, and Dean Allemang, chief scientist, at TopQuadrant, a semantic web consulting company and vendor of TopBraid suite of semantic web development and ontology management tools:

  • This is the year the enterprise starts deploying semantic web applications on a meaningful scale and in meaningful numbers. Why? You could say that in 2007 some things happened that changed our expectations about the web, with Web 2.0 stuff, mashups, RSS feeds are pretty mainstream now with Yahoo, Netscape and Microsoft having RSS aggregators, and with micro-formats, which aren’t in the mainstream quite yet but that’s only a matter of time. And people on social network sites are talking about migrating their information from one site to another. So people are looking at the web as a more integrated sort of thing, and as they go into the workspace they will have different expectations about information integration in the enterprise, as well. Now it’s old hat to do mash-ups on the web and people will want that kind of capability in the enterprise, too. Once people get used to something in the play-space, they want the same thing to be helpful in the work-space.
  • Another reason we feel it’s safe to say the enterprise will deploy semantic web applications on this scale comes from data that we can take from our own work. Part of what we do is technology training in semantic web standards and we also do solutions consulting. So people come to us to help them do deployments. Our training numbers – where people come to us and say we need training for our projects – increased 2.5 fold in 2007 from the year before. If you plot that across the year it is going up as the year goes on.

    There is a huge demand in the enterprise for training, and then on the services side, the companies where we have done training are now coming to us for help with deployment, and we’re seeing services demand increase. If you take that curve and extrapolate it up in the next year, in 2008 you see on one hand a large demand for training and right on its heels, a large demand for solutions support. That makes it pretty clear that 2008 will be the big year for semantic web enterprise deployments and enterprise applications.

  • The third reason why we think this will occur: We’re seeing lots of evidence in our own work and more broadly that the technology has matured. The W3C core standards for the semantic web are in place now for two or more years, and awareness of them and exploration of them in many large enterprises has taken place at this point. Now people are getting more serious about how you use them and what new business-enabled applications and capabilities these technologies can support.

    The W3C has launched a major initiative to collect case studies and use cases because the awareness of the technologies are there, and now in order to get change agents in the enterprise to be empowered to bring this technology to bear and get funding, they need to get case studies and use cases of what others are doing. The W3C page on this is growing quite rapidly now versus in former years with examples people are submitting. In our own work, we believe that the first integrated semantic web application development and deployment platform has enabled enterprises to have a more mature commercial platform to focus their solutions on. That’s a real force and people can move faster within their organizations to get the value proposition demonstrated, because they can progress faster in terms of their own solutions.

  • And in 2008, in general terms, we’ll see the enterprise focus on two primary areas: one is information integration, and that we see that across the board in several different industries and verticals. People want to be able to take multiple information sources and bring them together using semantic technology to provide a new layer that hides the physical details of their actual data schema and storage issues, so new kinds of applications can be built so that you can query and use data across multiple sources, even in real-time.

    The other one we call data longevity – people want to future-proof the way they can manage the data about things, including products. Companies have a difficult time keeping track of features of their own products (like cell phone vendors where features, functions and new products evolve at a rapid pace). And trying to use fixed data schemas and relational databases is not working for them. Data longevity also includes customers like NASA, who want to be able to access information created now 10 or 15 years from now. So many forces and evolutionary changes will occur that you must think of the architecture that will support that.

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  • New Year, New Web

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    The new year undoubtedly will bring new developments on the semantic web front. To find out what these might be, SemanticWeb.com asked some thinkers and innovators in the semantic web space for their opinions on what may lie ahead for 2008 – and beyond.

    In the first part of this two-part series, SemanticWeb.com presents the thoughts of some experts in the semantic space. So, without further adieu:

    Nova Spivack, CEO & Founder, Radar Networks:

  • Semantics will increasingly make their way into the social graph, creating the semantic graph, or what Tim Berners-Lee calls the GGG (Giant Global Graph).
  • Location-based services will continue to make important progress. Two examples are ZoneTag and Zurfer, which semantic web expert Tom Gruber describes as “mobile-phone photo-driven applications that use your social, spatial, and temporal context to support and enhance key user tasks on the mobile device and intelligently help you capture, upload, tag, view and search for photos on your mobile device, minimizing requirements on explicit input and user attention” and PARC-demonstrated technology codenamed Magitti, which Gruber describes in the same blog as “a mobile leisure guide that recommends places to visit in an urban environment. It pays attention to your time, location, past behavior and preferences and it also infers your current and future activity type to better target its recommendations.” Think too about the recent Google announcement that does pseudo-GPS via Google maps.
  • Open data is really going to catch on: 2008 will bring big advances in data (mostly in RDF triples) that is self-describing and free of the silos to which it is currently confined – we’ll also see more control and ownership of data by end-users.
  • We will see much wider adoption of sem web standards like RDF, OWL and SPARQL.
  • We will begin to see the true emergence of the Web as the ultimate platform – not Facebook, not Freebase, none of these proprietary platforms that have said explicitly in public that they want to be a platform, even THE platform. The Web will win and we’ll start to see this transition start to take place meaningfully in 2008, which is tied to the development of the semweb and the coinciding paradigm shift from the Web as a file-server metaphor, to the Web as a database metaphor.
  • The semweb will start to make its way to the consumer on a more massive scale – this is obviously Twine’s goal too, but there are several companies working on the consumer-oriented semantic web and we’ll see very important strides here as these companies and products start to scale to that level of adoption – and in 2008 it will also become clear what the first killer app is for the semweb.
  • We will also see in 2008 the first major acquisition by the likes of Google, Yahoo, or maybe even Oracle of a smaller semweb player.
  • And finally, we’ll start to see how the Semantic Web will impact advertising – this won’t become a reality until after 2010ish, but we will see prototypes and first efforts in 2008 that will get people really excited about the possibilities here (and they may be a little scared, too!)
  • Speaking of advertising and marketing, this to say from:

    Alistair Goodman, VP of strategic marketing at Exponential Interactive Inc., a technology-enabled media services company focused on the online space:

  • What happens in 2008? Do I think there will be explosive adoption next year [for marketers to use semantic analysis to create a more relevant experience for online users]? No, but do I think some marketer or set of marketers will test the waters with it. [Some semantic services] providers will offer marketers the opportunity to do that – surely they are thinking about commericalization possibilities for this and a logical one is marketing in terms of generating revenue.

    And always there are early adopters in the media world who will look at that and say, ‘What can we do with that?’ But this won’t be widespread until we have a tool that works, whatever that tool looks like, and it gets some wins under its belt.

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  • Trippin’ It On The Web

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    One oft-quoted example of how the Semantic Web will be realized for consumers is in helping them plan a trip – the idea that your computer can scan data around the web and coordinate options for your perfect trip, from the non-stop flight that fits your budget to the hotel that’s on the block you want to stay on to kid-friendly restaurants in the area.

    That’s not the reality today, of course. But some baby steps are being taken to remove some of the hassles from travel, as evidenced by the new web service dubbed Tripit. Launched just three months ago, the company was founded by Gregg Brockway, an online travel veteran who co-founded HotWire.

    The service is more lower-case than upper-case semantic web, as it isn’t built on standards such as RDF or OWL. But it is semantic in the sense that it extracts meaning from e-mails about travel plans to build a master itinerary. And it’s social in that it enables users to easily collaborate on trip-building and share their travel plans with others.

    “The way most people travel today is their information is spread across the Web. You book your flight with Southewest, your hotel from hotels.com, your rental car from Dollar, maybe you have a couple of OpenTable reservations,” he says.

    “Everyone has a little bit of your travel information,” which they’re none too eager to share directly. So Tripit uses proprietary technology, which it calls the “Itinerator,” to capture the unstructured information in email confirmations users forward to it from travel parties such as airlines, hotels, travel sites, restaurant reservation systems, and so on. From this information Tripit creates a comprehensive itinerary, along with value-add information around that data, such as daily weather reports, driving directions, and so on.

    It was no simple task to build the foundation to understand and extract the meaningful data out of noisy e-mail that comes in multiple formats from multiple parties, says Brockway.

    “Today e-mail is a very messy technology. Different e-mail clients change the structure of e-mail in subtle but important ways,” he says. “All of the people who are generating these e-mails all have their own way of talking about flights, rental cars, or trains, or what have you. We try to standardize that and put everything into the same structured format. That was definitely a little bit of a bigger challenge than we anticipated.”

    Baby Step to Semantic Web

    The challenge might have been more easily met were more travel-related organizations already supporting Semantic Web formats, he says.

    “I find the discussions that happen around what the Semantic Web will bring to the Internet very fascinating and empowering, and it will turbo-charge our service when it happens,” he says.

    But being a technology pragmatist who wanted to build a business today, Brockway couldn’t wait for those technologies to get widely distributed.

    “I like to think of what we do as maybe a baby step to the Semantic Web in the sense that we’re using a proprietary approach around a very specific vertical to extract meaning, but we’re also trying to publish that information in a variety of formats,” Brockway says. “Will our job get easier when Semantic Web technologies are widely deployed? Absolutely. And in the meantime we are trying to do a variety of things to extract meaning and publish meaning, so other applications and services can access that information.”

    Tripit has plans to build on its foundation, adding additional features which may include flight alerts, reminders and other “fun, interesting and helpful things” in the form of new services so that ultimately Tripit becomes a full-blown personal travel assistant that understands your preferences and can help you plan a great trip.

    As Brockway notes, “We want to be a service that helps people shop and buy wherever they want, collect that information and sort through all the noise. It’s in line with the intelligent agent vision of the Semantic Web.”

    The service is in beta now but fully operational, even as the company adds new features. It will formally launch sometime in the middle of next year.

    Findability: Bringing Web 2.0 and Visualization to Enterprise Search

    Corporations are constantly looking for new ways to stay competitive, ensure cost effective productivity, launch new business opportunities, and grow profitability. While these may all seem like daunting tasks, all of the information necessary to accomplish these things is readily available right now. Unfortunately, this information is not only spread across the World Wide Web, but buried in multiple repositories within the enterprise, under incompatible formats and inconsistent schemas. The answers are out there, but the classic approach to searching requires that people know precisely what they are looking for, where to look and how to ask for it. This challenge is only increased by the need to have IT take years worth of development effort to generate reports, build portals, and establish data warehouses or restructure enterprise content management repositories.

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    Ad-Supported Mobile Search Comes Calling

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    The telco industry may be coming around to intelligent mobile search vendor AskMeNow’s way of thinking. The company relies on proprietary technology to let users use natural language to make their queries, and it’s also the semantic/natural language brains behind AskWiki.

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    If you want to comment on these or any other articles you see on Intranet Journal, we’d like to hear from you in our IT Management Forum. Thanks for reading.

    - Tom Dunlap, Managing Editor.

    Just launched in October, AskWiki is billed as a natural language search portal that provides specific answers rather than articles to many basic queries, and is built in a way that lets the AskWiki engine improve the accuracy of its results based on user feedback and collaboration.

    In a conference call this week to update investors on the status of the three-year-old start-up, chairman and CEO Darryl Cohen noted that the company has for the last couple of years had to fight an uphill battle with carriers that wanted to charge for using the application. Acknowledging that it’s been a tough year for the stock, Cohen noted that the fee-based approach doesn’t fly in an age when people are used to getting their content (mostly) for free on the web, and expect the same from the Internet or WAP sites. After waiting years for the telco industry to offer content for free with advertising support, Cohen says that there is now acceptance for and validation of ad-supported mobile search engines.

    “Now that our product is available free, and we have relationships with some of the premier ad-serving agencies that sell ad space for us, as the product goes live on many phones … we will be attaching ads to every single answer, sometimes one ad, sometimes two ads,” Cohen says. “The net of it is that the entire industry of telecom has moved to the understanding that people are going to the Internet on their phones, they are doing text messaging, and they are reaching out away from their phone. Now is the time to start using these impressions to put ads on them.” There are 250 million mobile phones in North America, and about 100 million text messages sent daily, he noted.

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    Opening Up Web Services to the Semantic Web

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    Semanticweb.com recently caught up with Dr. John Domingue, deputy director of the U.K.’s Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute. Dr. Domingue specializes in researching how semantic web technology can support the automated creation of web applications from web services. KMI was set up at the Open University — which was created in the 1960s to serve those who missed out on higher education and now has 220,000 students studying via distance learning courses — to carry out research related to the creation and sharing of knowledge, and today one of its big research topics is the semantic web.

    Currently, Domingue is running about five EU projects in the KMI Lab on the semantic web, with a combined value approaching $50 million.

    Semanticweb.com: Tell us about your specific work in the semantic web field, and what you research is based on.

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    If you want to comment on these or any other articles you see on Intranet Journal, we’d like to hear from you in our IT Management Forum. Thanks for reading.

    - Tom Dunlap, Managing Editor.

    Domingue: My specific area is in semantic web services, applying semantic web technology to web services, with the angle of automatically constructing applications.

    All of the research is based on our conceptual framework and implementation platform. The framework is WSMO — the Web Services Modeling Ontology. The main things about WSMO is that it leverages four top principles — everything is underpinned by ontologies; there are web service descriptions where we differentiate between the function of a web service and how you invoke it; and there is the concept of a goal. So let’s say that me, as a user, my goal is to go on holiday in southern Europe in a child-friendly place — you specify that in the goal. Then web services will match that goal — like, I am a hotel available for certain dates, and I am an airline company, so we match between the user goal and services — you combine the services to reach the goal.

    So the elements are web service composition, invocation and discovery, and also a top principle is the concept of a mediator. You specify your goal and I grab some web services in the wild on the Internet, and there will be mismatches in the structure of the data, the underlying conceptual model, in requirements (like you must send a credit card for a service). We have a language for describing mediators that fix these types of problems.

    Then the implementation platform is called IRS-III. That is a platform we constructed where we can manipulate and run WSMO-based models. So you specify the goal, send it to IRS, and it acts as a broker between your goal and web services.

    WSMO started in an EU project called DIP. that ran from January 2004 to the end of December 2006.

    Semanticweb.com: Why do we need to apply semantic web technology to web services?

    Domingue: Scalability, that’s the line we always put in. Web services as they are currently won’t scale, because every time you want to make a change a human software developer is involved in the loop. As you move to billions of services you need to automate some of these aspects and the only path to automation is to describe some of the components using semantics.

    Addtionally, because web services correspond to business services we can turn organizations from monolithic black boxes to a set of micro functionalities which add value for the customer. If I can describe the services offered semantically, and they can be recomposed on the fly automatically and that’s very exciting.

    We don’t require that web services change at all. This is a layer on top of web services. For web services you have an end point, a URI, to send a message to. Then some other person describes that semantically. One possible complaint is that the description may be complex. A commercial company may not want to learn about this ontology and heavy-weight stuff. What I say to them is look at the new W3C recommendation on SA WSDL, which is semantic annotations for WSDL (Web Service Definition Language). If a company wants to make a first step to semantics, then they can look at that — put a hook into a WSDL file that points to some semantic definition.

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    Military, Universities Team Up on Big CALO Project

    Tom Dunlap
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    Of all the semantic web projects and technologies, perhaps none is bigger than CALO, a so far little-known advanced intelligent assistant system with some big-time backing.

    CALO stands for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, and it emerged from an ambitious program of artificial intelligence (AI) research. One expert called CALO the “largest AI project in history.”

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    - Tom Dunlap, Managing Editor.

    It’s very important to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is investing in it heavily. About 25 universities and companies are working on CALO, including MIT and USC; the companies include PARC and Radar Networks.

    CALO was demonstrated in detail Thursday night in San Francisco at a meeting of the SDForum, an eclectic group of Bay Area entrepreneurs, programmers, and those interested in the semantic web.

    CALO — which semantic web pioneer Tom Gruber calls one of the most “pure play examples” of an intelligent assistant — learns about your documents, email, people, schedules, and meetings, and learns even more as you use it. It helps you organize your information world, prepare for meetings, create presentations, and find information in the context of your work.

    Adam Cheyer demonstrated some of CALO’s powers Thursday night. Cheyer is a scientist with an impressive rap sheet, the kind developed after many years in Silicon Valley. He is a program director in SRI’s Artificial Intelligence Center, where he serves as chief architect of the CALO/PAL project. Cheyer is also senior scientist and co-director of the Computer Human Interaction Center (CHIC) at SRI International.

    Cheyer said that CALO is being developed in an office format, but it’s being transitioned to the military for various projects like “command post of the future” and “PlatoonLeader.”

    CALO has three main high-level functions: information management, meeting understanding, and task management execution.

    Cheyer said that other products have done meeting understanding, but CALO is different and more robust because, for example, it knows things like who is in the meeting, what the people do, and what documents are important to this meeting. If CALO notices that a certain manager — let’s say Manager Adam — isn’t in a meeting, it starts to ask questions about Adam. Maybe he isn’t really the project lead? It then does “machine learning” based on those questions.

    To see how CALO is doing at a particular company, CALO’s creators have set up a very detailed way to test the system.

    Here’s one example: Let’s say Executive Smith had a CALO program running for two weeks, and that program was supposed to be learning all about Smith and all his obligations, professional contacts, presentations, emails, calendar appointments, etc. during those two weeks.

    CALO would then know all about the meetings Smith attends, and, if Smith can’t make a meeting, CALO would automatically suggest who should attend the meeting in Smith’s place, and even email the replacement.

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    Siderean: From Search to Navigation

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    Siderean Software takes its name from the word sidereal, as in sidereal navigation. For you non-sailors, sidereal navigation is the practice of ancient mariners making their way across the central Pacific, navigating using the stars as a compass along with seamarks and signs such as bird and marine migrations.

    The company’s product, Seamark Navigator, takes its inspiration from this, aiming to offer users a precise way to navigate the digital realm, enabling them to begin searches before they know exactly what they are looking for.

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    - Tom Dunlap, Managing Editor.

    “Search is great when you know what you want to ask for and can articulate that in a way that you can type in, but it leaves people hanging when they don’t know what to type into the text box,” says Bradley Allen, founder and CTO. “To make effective progress against a huge volume of information you need navigation tools.”

    Siderean is focused on taking the wealth of metadata that is out there and generating that navigational context in a way that is sensitive to what the user is asking for and where they have been, and then providing a high level view of potential destinations. “That’s the essence of navigation, getting from point a to point b when you don’t know how, and then sharing that information with others,” Allen says.

    Since the early part of this decade, the start-up has been engaged in discovering what the real opportunity is in terms of being able to build a large and scalable company that can exploit semantics to make information more accessible and discovery more viable. It’s coming, it seems, in the form of synthesizing semantic web principles with the social nature of Web 2.0 applications, and giving people the ability to bind information together from these and other sources via a consistent, unified information architecture based on RDF, providing a way for traditional media companies or enterprises to create vertical information hubs that may cater to general consumers or customers, partners, internal employees, or any other community of interest.

    Siderean sees in its customer base — which includes enterprises, publishers, and the library and academic space — tremendous use of the kinds of applications that people are using on the consumer Internet, such as Facebook for social interactions, wikis to document information and collaboration in workgroups, and blogs as information resources to keep up on data that is relevant to specific interests. The result of this is that so much of today’s content is being generated by end users collaborating with other end users directly, and the world is moving away from distinguishing between data and content to a point where everything is, in essence, metadata.

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    Insurance Industry Puts Premium on Semantics

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    If we can mangle the old saying to make a point, a rose by any other name (if the rose is certain business terms) will not smell as sweet but will create confusion in the property and casualty insurance industry.

    In fact, the lack of a standard data model of business terms hampers the ability of IT in this sector — and in the insurance industry at large — to be as agile as the business wants it to be, and externally creates roadblocks in communications among insurance companies. But plans are afoot to bring the industry more in line with other sectors that have already developed standard data models, such as banking and health, and semantic standards are expected to play a role in the design.

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    - Tom Dunlap, Managing Editor.

    ACORD, the standards organization that sets the data collection standards for the industry, and the Object Management Group (OMG), which develops enterprise integration standards, agree on the need to create information models to address the needs of the property and casualty insurance community. To that end, the OMG has solicited proposals from about 20 property and casualty organizations to deliver within the next year a business glossary, conceptual and logical data and data warehouse models, and a data traceability map.

    “Data in the financial services arena is the lifeblood. What we really produce is from the data, how we run the business is based on data,” says William Jenkins, CIO at Penn National, who sits on the OMG Insurance Working Activity Group and has been a leader in this effort. “Data is doubling in size every 12 months, and as a result we are trying to be more efficient in how we handle and administrate data.”

    The National Insurance data model that Penn has created for internal use will be used as one of the sources, where applicable, to jumpstart the effort. But because the results will have to be applicable across all 50 states and domains outside the U.S., and Penn does business in only nine, the insurer’s efforts don’t comprise the complete business glossary or data model that will be the much-needed outcome of this project.

    Jenkins says that not having a complete industry standard data model and common business glossary causes big problems for insurers.

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    Berners-Lee and The Giant Global Graph

    Jennifer Zaino
    SemanticWeb.com Contributor

    Semanticweb.com would be remiss not to comment on the blog that has been making waves in the semantic web community since its posting just before the Thanksgiving holiday. The reference here is to Tim Berners-Lee’s recent blog in which he whimsically coins the term “Giant Global Graph” as perhaps a more appropriate nomenclature than “semantic web.” (Not, he says, that it is his intent to try to change things at this point.)

    Berners-Lee writes that the word graph — as in the social graph — has been featured more and more prominently in the thoughts and writings of semantic web experts, and ponders what the graph in its more general sense is all about, really.

    It boils down to something like this: The Net links computers, the Web links documents, and the Graph expresses relationships among people or documents in a way that lends itself to reuse of that data.






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    - Tom Dunlap, Managing Editor.

    “That’s just what the graph does for us. We have the technology — it is semantic web technology, starting with RDF OWL and SPARQL. Not magic bullets, but the tools which allow us to break free of the document layer. If a social network site uses a common format for expressing that I know Dan Brickley, then any other site or program (when access is allowed) can use that information to give me a better service. Un-manacled to specific documents,” Berners-Lee writes.

    An interesting point that Berners-Lee raises in his blog is the flip side of the Giant Global Graph’s reliance on data sharing, which is some loss of control over that data. But he urges readers to fear not, as the Net, the Web, and now the Graph have always demanded that users cede some control in exchange for greater benefits.

    He writes: “People running Internet systems had to let their computer be used for forwarding other people’s packets, and connecting new applications they had no control over. People making web sites sometimes tried to legally prevent others from linking into the site, as they wanted complete control of the user experience, and they would not link out as they did not want people to escape. Until after a few months they realized how the web works. And the re-use kicked in. And the payoff started blowing people’s minds.

    Letting your data connect to other people’s data is a bit about letting go in that sense. It is still not about giving to people data which they don’t have a right to. It is about letting it be connected to data from peer sites. It is about letting it be joined to data from other applications.”

    But, given people’s sense of ownership over their data, how do they “let go and let Graph,” so to speak? In a paper published in June entitled “Information Accountability,” authored by MIT’s Daniel J. Weitzner, Gerald Jay Sussman, and Berners-Lee, (as well as Joan Feigenbaum of Yale University Department of Computer Science and James Hendler of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute) propose ways to answer these concerns. The paper discusses developing systems “to extend the Web architecture to support data transparency and accountability. When information has been used, it should be possible to determine what happened, and to pinpoint use that is inappropriate.” How? By augmenting web information with data about provenance and usage policies, and creating automated means for maintaining that provenance and interpreting policies, the paper goes on to say.

    Rather than focusing on information security and access restriction, this approach proposes technical mechanisms, called Policy Awareness, that operate within a public policy and systems architecture framework to provide clear views and machine-readable representations of policies associated with particular information resources, and that create accountability if those rules are not adhered to.

    The document makes for some fascinating reading on how technology and social compacts can intersect to provide the information accountability that will help people let their data go on the semantic web. Read more at http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/1721.1/37600/2/MIT-CSAIL-TR-2007-034.pdf.

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