Talis Insight 2007

Day One

I’ve had a great day today, it’s the first time I’ve attended Talis Insight, and I have to admit I was blown away by the exhibition stands and the whole atmosphere at the conference. I think people often forget how much effort goes into organising an event like this, and I think both our Marketing and our Infrastructure team deserve the utmost praise for organising everything! It really was amazing to see. I spent most of the day in the Talis Zone talking to delegates and demonstrating some of our new products. Its a wonderful feeling showing off some of our new products, and getting immediate and very positive feedback from people I’ve never spoken to before.

As busy as the day was I did manage to take a few pictures which are now up on Flickr.

Semantic Desktop, PIM’s and Personal Ontology’s

A Semantic Desktop is a means to manage all personal information across application … all » borders based on Semantic Web standards. It acts as an extended personal memory assisting users to file, relate, share, and access all digital information like documents, multimedia, and messages through a Personal Information Model (PIMO). This PIMO is build on ontological knowledge generated through user observations and interactions and may be seen as a formal and semi-formal complement of the user’s mental models. Thus it reflects experience and typical user behavior and may be processed by a computer in order to provide proactive and adaptive information support or allows personalized semantic search. The Semantic Desktop is build on a middle ware platform allowing to combine information and native applications like the file-system, Mozilla, Thunderbird or MS-Outlook. In this talk I will show how machine learning techniques may be used to support the generation of a PIMO. I will further introduce the main concepts, components, and functionalities of the Semantic Desktop, and give examples which show how the Semantic Desktop may become

I was very interested, and a little amused, when I came across this tech talk earlier this week. The talk echoed many of the ideas and points that Alan has been talking to me about recently around the whole idea of using Personal Ontology’s to provide context for applications. It’s a research area he’s particularly interested in and I’m very very excited about the prospect of working with him to develop some of his ideas using the Semantic Web Platform we’ve been building at Talis.

Alan has collaborated on papers on this subject which you can find here. Although the paper on Task Centered Information Management resonates the most with some of the ideas presented in the tech talk.

Towards the web of intentions

My colleague Paul visited Cambridge recently and gave an excellent talk around some of our emerging ideas about the role that Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web can play in taking us towards the ‘Web of Intentions’. Even though I work with Paul and these ideas are familiar to me, I was still amazed at how well he managed to illustrate those ideas in this presentation. You can watch the talk below:


Alan joins the Talis Platform Advisory Group

Last week Alan agreed to join our Talis Platform Advisory Group. Here’s the official announcement over on our Nodalities blog.

I was over-the-moon when I discovered that Alan had agreed to join our advisory group, I wasn’t sure whether he would due to his other commitments but after spending a wonderful weekend with him and his wife Fiona up in Kendall following HCI 2007 (some pics), I knew that there was so much he could help us with. We spent a long time talking about some of the work we’re doing here at Talis and Alan kept offering me his insight, and sharing his ideas with me and it became apparent that he could offer our team a unique perspective which is something they all seem to agree with … it was Paul, one of our resident evangelists (all round nice guy … and the keeper Cadbury’s Creme Eggs), who suggested asking Alan to join the group.

Alan has been more than just a wonderful friend to me over the years, he’s been a mentor, a muse, a confidant, in many ways he’s been like a father to me … the idea of collaborating with him again to build something special, like we did at aQtive, feels inspirational … 🙂

Whilst were on the subject of inspiration …. consider for a moment who the other members of the advisory group are …

That’s a pretty special group of people each of whom brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that will be invaluable in helping us grow the platform, they’ll tell us when they think we’re right or tell us when they think were making mistakes. I know were all looking forward to working with them.

HCI2007 … Day One Summary

 The last couple of weeks have been extremely busy and consequently I haven’t had much of a chance to post up about the conference. I thought I’d write a summary of some of the presentations that stood out the most for me.

For anyone interested you can view all the papers that were presented during the conference which are available from the BCS website on this page.

Day One

View the schedule for the day.

The day was divided into three sessions. During each session there were three concurrent tracks. This was essentially the format for all three days of the conference. I decided to stick with the Creative and Aesthetic experiences track for most of the day.  During the first session the presentation that captured my imagination the most was Dharani Perera’s short paper on Investigating paralinguistic voice as a mode of interaction to creating visual art.1.   In the paper Dharani and her colleagues reported on their research into how it is possible for people to use the volume of their voice to control cursor movement to create drawings. The research is especially hopeful for artists with upper limb disabilities who  show remarkable endurance, patience and determination to create art with whatever means are available to them. Listening to her presentation and watching one of the video’s they had recorded of an artist using the system was quite inspirational.

Another interesting paper presented during the first session was by Jennifer Sheridan from www.bigdoginteractive.com on Encouraging Witting Participation and Performance in Digital Live Art 2. Jennifer and her colleagues worked on developing a framework for characterising people’s behaviour with Digitial Live Arts. They identified three key categories of behaviour with respect to a performance frame – these are defined as performing, participating and spectating. They used an iPoi to illustrate their framework. Imagine spinning or throwing a tiny computer round your body to create your own visual projections, music or light show. Poi is a traditional Maori art form. iPOI (pictured above) is a sensor packed upgrade of the original that can trigger visual and audio soundscapes in real time using wireless technology. The goal of this peer-to-peer, exertion interface is to draw people into the performance frame and support transitions from audience to participant onto performer. The presentation was really about describing how evaluating and measuring interaction in public performance is very differnt to the frameworks and measures currently employed to understand interaction in tradtional HCI. I think what Jennifer and her team showed was that traditional HCI, like it or not, has focused on understanding interactions in desktop computing, however as computing moves away from desktop into more ubiquitious, mobile devices we will see a shift to non task based uses of computing, and as such we need to new ways to understand this new kind of interaction.

The first session was followed by the first of the conference keynotes by Professor Stephen Payne on the subject of Deciding how to sped your time the keynote was an excellent presentation of Stephen’s current research area of Cognitive strategies and design heuristics for dealing with information overload on the web3. He began the keynote with the simple and yet insightful observation that …

time is natures way of preventing us doing everything at once

The talk was about the very real problem that many of us face … In a world where the internet and search engines can provide individuals with relevant texts on any given subect how can readers allocate time effectively across a set of relevant documents, and how can they be helped so to do. So when faced with more relevant texts than time to read them all what strategies do you use when you have a specific learning goal.

Stephen presented the results of an experiment where a number of test subjects were presented with four texts to read in 6 minutes, after which they would have to take a test. Whilst the four texts covered the same subject (the functioning of the human heart) the complexity of the texts varied. For example Text A was a primary school text on the topic, whilst Text D was a post graduate medical text. B and C were both somewhere in the middle.

Now, before seeing Stephen’s presentation, I would have assumed that people in this situation might have attempted to sample each of the texts, in other words review each on briefly. What Stephen’s research has begun to demonstrate is that individuals, when faced with a specific learning goal, don’t sample but rather Satisfice, in other words in their minds they set a threshold of acceptability and if it’s met by a particular text will settle on it. It’s sometimes referred to as Information Foraging, which is analagous to problems faced by animals foraging for food in nature, how long do they stay in one patch patch before moving on to another.

What I found most interesting in Stephen’s presentation was the idea that even when skimming documents we build a mental representation of the mapping between the physical structure of the text and the meaningful content of the text. Now if this is true then it would suggest that it might be possible to find ways to construct documents so that they take advantage of this structure map. It was an excellent keynote, and I must admit I wasn’t at all suprised to learn that Alan has worked with Stephen4 on this area since much of Stephen’s talk seemed to remind me of ideas and theories of the mind that Alan had related to me in the past.

After lunch the second session of talks began. Again I opted to start off in the Creative and Aesthetic Experiences track. The first paper presented was by Shaowen Bardzell, and had the intriguing title – Docile Avatars: Aesthetics, Experience, and Sexual Interaction in Second Life5. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of Second Life, but listening to this talk made finally accept that even though I don’t understand why people in second life seem to take it so seriously the fact remains that many do and because they do it’s important to understand their needs as users and the communities that are emerging within Second Life. I did find this talk to be somewhat surreal the whole idea of sexual interaction and in particular BDSM as something thats possible in a virtual environment felt kind of bizarre. I did laugh about it with Alan at the bar later when I recounted to him a conversation I had with someone from the second life team who couldnt understand why i wasnt willing to spend more time in it and asked me what the real world had that second life didnt and I had replied “real women” (stop laughing Alan!). What did emerge from Shaowen’s talk was that it is possible to construct powerful aesthetic experiences and that were only now beginning to try to understand through the use of virtual ethnography and HCI theories of experience design to understand how and why this complex phenomenon emerged in Second Life.

The most interesting of the talks from this session, under the Communication and Sharing Experiences track, was entitled Thanks for the Memory6. This was a join project between Manchester Met University, The BBC and Microsoft. It was based around a piece of life-logging technology developed by Microsoft called The SenseCam,which they decribe as a piece of memory prosthesis. The SenseCam is a passive device that users wear, the device is designed to take photographs, at regular intervals of around 30 seconds, without user intervention whilst it is being worn. Unlike normal camera’s it doesnt have a view finder, it’s a simple camera fitted with a special fish eye lense that ensures that the field of view is maximised so that almost everything in the wearers field of view is captured. Whilst it sounds a bit strange the effect on the six test subjects seemed to be quite profound, the authors of the paper put it in these terms …

What we have seen is that the relationship between things-as-remembered-by-thesubjects-in-ordinary-ways and things-as-presented-by-the- SenseCams is complex. For one thing, SenseCam data captured things-that-might-have-been-remembered-but-not-intentionally and things-that-were-beyond-the-possibility-of-being-recalledby-the-user-but-which, -when-presented-to-the-same-user, -somehow-provoked-a-recollection … This awkward language alludes to the difficult and complex relationship between human memory and digital traces of action. We have seen that SenseCam data makes livedexperience, in various ways and in varying degrees, strange to the persons who had the relevant experiences in question. Strangeness here is not a negative thing, as we saw. Strangeness brings values of various kinds. The crux, it seems to us, is that in creating discongruent experiences to the one’s imagined or recollected, SenseCams brought to bear ways of seeing that were not obviously the subject’s own, but which were nevertheless empirically related to those experiences, though in complex ways.

For the final session of the afternoon I decided to stay with the Communication & sharing experiences track. There was a very interesting paper presented The Devil You Know Knows Best How Online Recommendations Can Benefit From Social Networking7 which I thought was quite relevant to some of the stuff were looking at here at Talis. The content of the paper seemed to be me be fairly obvious but nevertheless it was interesting to see some empiricial research done to prove some of the points. In short there thesis was that the defining characteristic of the internet is an abundance of information and this is problematic, how do we know which information to pay attention to and which we can just ignore? Recommender Systems were envisaged to try to solve this problem but have for the most part been unsuccessful. Research would suggest that this is due to lack of social context and inter-personal trust. What the researchers presenting this paper discovered was that participants overwhelmingly favoured recommendations made by people familiar to them, and if they recommender was not someone familiar then recommendations were favoured if the recommender could be identified as having the same interests. Consequently the conclusion offered, and this all felt terribly obvious t me, was that Recommender Systems should be integrated with Social Networking Systems.

The next paper from Day One that I want to mention was the presentation by my HCI tutor and aQtive Colleague Russell Beale Blogs, reflective practice and student-centered learning8. Russell argued that Blogging can be used to enhance education by encouraging reflective practise. Russell defines reflective practise as

an approach to learning that encourages thought about what has been experienced and seen, which can then drive new theories and investigations to test those theories, leading to new experiences that may, or may not, validate the original ideas. This leads to them being modified, extended, and refined, and the cycle continues.

Whilst the notion of reflective practise should be familiar to everyone, this is the first time I’ve come across any real research into using Blogging as a medium to encourage and enhance reflective practise in education. Russell was keen to point out that from a social and pedagogical perspective blogging can support a sense of community amongst students – they can interact with each other, post comments on each others blogs. But because of the semi-public nature of the content they are generating students can see the work done by other students and as such gain an insight into how much work they themselves need to do – since others can see the level of their activity. This creates a kind of peer-pressure that exerts influence over students to at least maintain some kind of acceptable level of activity. Russell has always been a good presenter, and I enjoyed his presentation – even though I do think I have some misgivings about the kind of peer-pressure this creates – but that doesnt mean its a bad idea.

The last paper of the day was also very interesting, the researchers sought to compare traditional and novel user interfaces for exploring a blog. The paper is entitled Contextualizing the Blogosphere: A Comparison of Traditional and Novel User Interfaces for the Web9. They investigate how contextual user interfaces affected blog reading experience and also how novel contexstual user interfaces can increase user performance and statisfaction. They compared a standard Blog Interface (WordPress), with StarTree, and the Focus Metaphor Interface. Star Tree uses a dynamic navigation tree that presents all nodes in the navigation concurrently. Each node correlated to a category on the blog. When a user selects a node it displays the associated article in a content pane. The presenters argued that by providing the entire structure of the information space concurrently this could result in superior orientation in the information space, making it much easier to find what your looking for. As such Star Tree out scored both the standard blog and the FMI interface in terms of task performance.

What this demonstrated to me was that when you have a large data set that you need to navigate or traverse in order to discover key bits of information tradition interface metaphors like facetted browsing, key word search etc. don’t provide enough context especially when the information space is large or complicated. What you need is a way to intuitively navigate to the bit that your interested in. It’s an idea some of us here at Talis have been playing around with and we think we have come up with some interesting results. 😉

At the end of the day most of the delegates attended the reception where we had some nice food, tonnes of drinks and I managed to have a lot of conversations with some very interesting people. After the reception many of us ended up in the bar where I camped out with Alan and Russell and spent the evening being introduced to tonnes of people spoke to them about their research and interests as well as what we do at Talis. The evening was a lot of fun and a great way to round off a very intense first day. All in all the first day seemed pretty fast paced, there was a lot to absorb ( some of which im still absorbing … ).

I’m going to start writing up the summary of day two ….

  1. D. Perera, J.Eales, K.Blashki [Voice Art: Investigating Paralinguistic Voice as a Mode of Interaction to Create Visual Art] [back]
  2. J.Sheridan, N. Bryan-Kinns, A.Bayliss, [Encrouaging Witting Participation and Performance in Digital Live Art] [back]
  3. Stephen Payne, IGR Report[back]
  4. A. Dix, A. Howes, S. Payne [Post-web cognition: evolving knowledge strategies for global information environments] [back]
  5. S.Bardzell, J.Bardzell [Docile Avatars: Aesthetics, Experience, and Sexual Interaction in Second Life] [back]
  6. R.Harper, D.Randall [Thanks for the Memory] [back]
  7. P. Bonhard, M. A. Sasse & C. Harries, [ The Devil You Know Knows Best: How Online Recommendations can Benefit from Social Networking ] [back]
  8. R.Beale [Blogs, reflective practice and student-centered learning] [back]
  9. S.Laqua, N.Ogbechie, A.Sasse [Contextualizing the Blogosphere: A Comparison of Traditional and Novel User Interfaces for the Web] [back]

Peter Morville talks to Talis

Last month I talked about Peter Morville’s tech talk over at Google about his new book Ambient Findability. Well last week Peter was interviewesto one of my colleagues here at Talis, Richard Wallis, about his book and his views on Web 2.0, information architecture, authority and a number of other issues you can listen to the podcast here…

Download MP3 [40 mins, 36Mb]>


Semantic web and other ramblings with some fellow Talisians over a curry …

Danny AyersHad a wonderful evening tonight, Ian invited us all out for a curry with Danny and his lovely wife Caroline. Unfortunately due to the short notice fewer of us were able to attend than I suspect Ian had hoped for. In fact it was only Danny, Caroline, Ian, Amanda and myself.

Danny and Caroline are both wonderful people – both are self confessed geeks and each has a diverse range of interests. I’ve been looking forward to being able to catch up with Danny; the last time we had a chat was at the Talis Summer Ball but that evening was full of frolics and not really the forum for any meaningful conversations about the future of the semantic web, the flexibility of RDF or FOAF and it’s value.

Danny’s a tinkerer – he likes to play with things, he likes to experiment with ideas and create things, which means he  looks for new ways of thinking about old problems and in doing so I think he comes up with equally novel ideas on how to solve those problems. I really like that. Some of his ideas are fascinating, some just scary and others are simply beyond my grasp (but I im not worried about that as Danny said I’m still just a bloody youngster!) . Of course all this could just mean that he’s a total nutter … but guess what? if he is… then he’s come to the right place! 😉

I think I learnt a lot this evening about Danny, and a great deal from talking to him. He certainly has that infectious enthusiasm we’ve come to kind of expect from everyone in our team. But to top it all off he’s a great guy and I’m really looking forward to working more closely with him and hopefully learning a lot more from him now that he’s part of our team at Talis.

It’s been a great evening and I had a wonderful time! 🙂

Talis Summer Party … pics and vids

My Colleague Ian Davis posted up some great pictures and videos from our summer party, you can view them following the links below






Enjoy 🙂

Twelve months at Talis

So much has been lost, so much forgotten. So much pain, so much blood. And for what, I wonder. The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast terrible inbetween. But there is still time to seize that one last fragile moment. To choose something better, to make a difference ... and I intend to do just that.

Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts, it marked the end of my first twelve months here at Talis. I was chatting to Ian on the train home last night and as always he asked me how I’m getting on, and I’m happy to say that im still loving everything im doing. I’ve learnt more this last twelve months than in the five years I spent at my previous job. It’s an fantastic environment and its been incredible working alongside a group of extremely talented geeks. I feel like I have grown a lot this past twelve months and not only learnt new things but learnt new ways of thinking about problems.

When I joined Talis I was looking for a new beginning, I guess there was a part of me that needed to start over and that needed more than anything else to forget the past. I certainly found that new beginning here and it’s helped me to find my direction again and a sense of purpose … it’s helped me make some wonderful new friends along the way … but most of all I finally feel like I’m actually making a difference.