Ian Davis presents the Talis Platform at KMI

My colleague, Ian Davis, visited the Knowledge Media Institute yesterday to present his talk on The Talis Platform: A Generic Infrastructure for the Next Generation of Web Applications to their research group. Here’s the short synopsis for the talk:

The Talis Platform provides a generic infrastructure for building data-rich Web and Semantic Web applications. By taking care of the “heavy lifting” associated with data management and storage, developers are freed up to concentrate on building applications using the Platform’s APIs and services. In this presentation I will outline the problems the Platform is attempting to solve, describe the principles on which our approach is based, and ground these in trends such as “Software as a Service”. The capabilities of the Platform will be illustrated through demos of Platform services for mashing up heterogeneous data and providing faceted querying over data sets. I’ll wrap up the talk by describing how members of the audience can use the Platform to support their own applications, and help shape its future development.

Ian is a great guy, and is very much the driving force behind our vision for what the platform should be. The talk is only thirty minutes long but he gives a valuable insight into what we are doing and hopefully what we are trying to achieve. If your interested in finding out about what we do and why we are doing it then watch the talk.

Semantic Desktop, PIM’s and Personal Ontology’s

A Semantic Desktop is a means to manage all personal information across application … all ร‚ยป 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:


More semantic web ramblings over a curry …

This is turning into a habit ๐Ÿ™‚ My colleague, Keith Alexander, is in town this week and staying at a fancy hotel in the city centre. He’s not familiar with brum so I agreed to show him around a little and grab a bite to eat. After the briefest tour of Birmingham city centre in history we decided to find somewhere to eat and ended up at Festival Balti in the Arcadian Centre.

We spent ages talking about various semantic web related issues most of which revolved around the sorts of the things we’d like to use the Talis Platform for as well as talking about the sort of features we’d like to see in the platform, the current limitations in our api’s but the upcoming features that will address these limitations. We talked about the applications we are building and how they are converging onto similar technology stacks, opening up the prospect of more discrete component reuse.

Our discussion also ranged from comparisons between Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous and Morville’s Ambient Findability,  to the very nature or vision Semantic Search. We talked about how useful Microformat’s could be and the benefits as well as the problems with current initiatives being undertaken within the FireFox community to build Microformat detection directly into FireFox 3

With reference to search I think we both agreed that the future of search lay in addressing the current problem with Google Search, the fact that the search does not take the user’s context into account. We came up with some ideas about how we might be able to capture this information. We talked about how RDF lends itself to being able to merge together data from heterogeneous domains and why this might be the most appropriate medium through which to achieve this.

I’ve only touched on the diverse subjects we talked about but one thing did stand out – how much Keith knows about the semantic web! It’s a passion of his and it’s something he’s been blogging about over at http://semwebdev.keithalexander.co.uk/blog/.

I can’t help but reflect on the fact  that  our development group at Talis comprises of a group of individuals who are extremely passionate about this particular topic or problem space, whether or not they have been drawn together by design or pure chance (our HR team may take exception to that :p), the fact remains that we have brought together and incredibly talented group of people that really want to solve these problems and develop something that is… well for want of a better word … incredible.

It all reminds me of something G.W.F Hegel once wrote:

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”

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! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Google Research Talk: Semantic Web

Google have recently launched http://research.google.com that will provide information on research activities at Google. There’s a series of video talks that are associated with these research activities.

This is a talk by Eyal Oran, Sebastian Kruk and Stefan Decker entitled “Semantic Web”.

Our development group has been doing a lot of semantic web related work here at Talis, in fact we have built a semantic web platform that we have built several applications upon, so the entire research area is something we are all very passionate about.

The talk covers some of the basic principles of the Semantic Web but also takes about FOAF, RDF and introduces ActiveRDF:

an object-oriented API for managing RDF data. ActiveRDF can be used with different RDF stores and integrates with Ruby on Rails. An addition to ActiveRDF is BrowseRDF, a faceted metadata browsing library. Faceted browsing is a natural technique for navigating that graph. We developed an expressive faceted interface that allows navigating arbitrary semi-structured data and formally show the improvement over existing interfaces.

I found the talk quite interesting, and it’s given me a fair bit to think about.

Semantic web starting points

I’ve been getting to grips with SPARQL over the last week, probably more so than I have at any time over the last year. SPARQL is an RDF query language and one of the nice things about the Talis Platform is that you dont have to know SPARQL in order to retrieve data. So up until recently I really didnt have much need to write SPARQL queries, I could pretty much do what I wanted with the platform using its other RESTful services.

The platform however has extensive support for SPARQL, so whilst working on a spike this week it was apparant that some of the things I wanted to do would require writing some queries. I used it as an opportunity to brush up on my RDF and SPARQL – it’s amazing how easily we can take things for granted when the tools and services we use on a day to day basis hide us from low level implementation details.

If your anything like me when you want to brush up on something you you tend to scour bookshelves, or google for bits of information, which can be time consuming and sometimes a bit hit and miss. Fortunately Danny came to my rescue, he joined Talis recently and I think he’s a fantastic addition to the team. Danny sent me a link to his Semantic Web Starting Points, a collection of links he’s compiled that provide a great introduction to semantic web technologies, which obviously includes RDF and SPARQL.

Thanks Danny!