- I was at the “NYC wiki-conference 2009“, held on the NYU campus, over the weekend; my thoughts about the conference are here. The one thing I forgot to mention, on a technical note, was a five-minute demo by Tom Maaswinkel, showing a MediaWiki wiki being edited via the soon-to-be-released Google Wave - it wowed the audience, as Google Wave demos tend to always do.
- Jeroen De Dauw released version 0.2 of Maps and Semantic Maps. These new versions have, among other improvements, support for Yahoo! geocoding, and just better-looking code, which is going to be important in the long run, as other developers get their hands on it and start tinkering with the code.
- I added Maps and Semantic Maps to Referata - Semantic Google Maps will be gone shortly. That means mapping on Referata has a lot more options, and it’s already starting to bear fruit - check out the Google Earth option on Food Finds, for instance. Pretty nice!
- Sergey Chernyshev and I released a new version of Semantic Bundle, which now includes Maps and Semantic Maps, replacing Google Geocoder and SGM. It’s really the beginning of the end for SGM, not counting the 30+ wikis it’s already on…
- While working on the new Semantic Bundle version, I had the thought that SMW is starting to feel like a mature technology; in that it seems like the majority of the features that it will eventually have are already in place. The addition of the Semantic Maps extension had a lot to do with it, I think; this was one of the big chunks that I thought was still missing. There are still things left to be done, of course; I have a list of around 30, though they won’t necessarily be features that I implement. And I’m sure there will be various improvements behind the scenes, to speed up queries and the like. But I really feel like the Semantic MediaWiki system of the future won’t look all that different from what it looks like now, with the interplay of categories, templates, forms, properties, External Data calls, tables, maps, calendars, widgets, etc. (whew!) that you can already find in various SMW-based wikis. Though I could be wrong about this.
Archive for the 'Visualization' Category
I’ve been working with Jeroen De Dauw, a student in the Google Summer of Code, on creating a full-scale mapping interface for Semantic MediaWiki for a few months now; by which I mean that he’s done the actual work, and I’ve been around to answer questions and try to bask in the glory. Anyway, I think mapping is crucial for any generic data project, because so much information that we need on a daily basis is location-based, whether it’s information about businesses, people, events, etc. There’s already an extension that handles all this stuff - Semantic Google Maps - but it’s incomplete, first because it relies on Google Maps, which not everyone can use, second because it doesn’t support the incredible Google Earth, and third because it can’t handle displaying locations on non-geographic surfaces (more on that later). Another extension, Semantic Layers, also exists, which uses the open-source OpenLayers mapping service, but it’s had some problems since the beginning that were never fully resolved,
Anyway, yesterday and the day before, Jeroen released the two extensions that he’s been working on, that are meant to provide the generic solution for all of SMW’s mapping needs: they are the Maps and Semantic Maps extensions. Here’s how the two work together: Maps handles the display of individual points, along with geocoding (determining the coordinates of a specific address); and Semantic Maps handles the display of multiple points on a map, defined via Semantic MediaWiki, as well as providing maps as Semantic Forms form inputs. Both support the same mapping services, currently three: Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and OpenLayers.
Jeroen has been keeping track of all the progress on his blog, which has a lot of information on all of this stuff, including some great screenshots, including this rather breathtaking one of Google Earth being used as a form input.
There’s still a month left in the Google Summer of Code, and Jeroen and I are excited about the extra cushion of time that provides, because it means that there’s an opportunity to add extra features to the system; like being able to show a clickable list of points near each map, so that maps can work more like this; and being able to use OpenLayers to display locations on non-geographic surfaces, such as images. That second one opens up a lot of possibilities, because it allows for things like annotated anatomical charts (see here for an example, from the Semantic Layers wiki) and displaying points on floorplans (see here for an example from the same wiki). For the latter, the example provided is for a video game, although you could easily imagine the same concept being used for more practical purposes, such as displaying events at a conference, or… showing the locations of enemy combatants in a building (hey, I’m allowed to fantasize a little, right?).
By a stroke of good timing, on Saturday I’ll actually be speaking at the New York City wiki-conference (basically a smaller-scale version of Wikimania), on the subject of all this mapping stuff; and hopefully being able to do a Steve-Jobs-at-Macworld thing, where I demo a recently unveiled technology to the crowd. Here’s a link to the panel I’ll be on: “Mapping in MediaWiki”. It’s free to attend, if anyone’s interested.1f52
I’m very pleased to say that, as was announced Monday, I’ll be mentoring one of the four projects for the Wikimedia foundation in the 2009 Google Summer of Code. If you don’t know about the Google Summer of Code (or “GSoc”, as it’s affectionately called), it’s a fantastic program, fully funded by Google, that pays students around the world to work on established open-source projects over a summer. The student I’m mentoring is Jeroen De Dauw, a budding hacker in Belgium (and, coincidentally, one with a first name pronounced very similarly to mine, which is why some people when they first hear my name think I’m Dutch). He’s already got the requisite enthusiasm and programming experience that makes me think the project will be a success.
The planned project is different from what’s described on the site, due to some re-thinking. The current plan is for Jeroen to create a new MediaWiki extension, called “Semantic Maps”, that will hold all support for mapping services: initially Google Maps and OpenLayers (replacing the current Semantic Google Maps and (not-really-working) Semantic Layers extensions), and then, as time permits, Google Earth and Yahoo! Maps as well.
This project was easily accepted, which was great; it was mostly luck, due to not that many people signing up to mentor for Wikimedia this year; bringing to mind Woody Allen’s quote that 90% of success is just showing up.
However idiosyncratic the process of getting accepted was, there’s nothing idiosyncratic about the project itself. Geographical mapping is a very important feature in data visualization; judging by this somewhat-reliable list of active SMW-using sites, Semantic Google Maps is the second most-popular additional extension for SMW sites, after Semantic Forms. Of course, that’s Google Maps; and I don’t doubt that Google Maps will remain the most popular mapping service even as others become available, but all the others have their specific strengths and user base: OpenLayers allows for mapping on non-geographic surfaces, like anatomical images and blueprints; Google Earth shows a 3-D view of the world; and Yahoo! Maps has fewer license restrictions than Google Maps does.
So that should be an exciting project; I’m also looking forward to just being a mentor. I’ll hopefully post some updates about Semantic Maps here as it gets developed.
“The Civil War in Four Minutes” - an animation showing the shifting battle lines, over time, of the U.S. Civil War. It was created to show visitors at the Abraham Lincoln Library/Museum. This was on YouTube for a while, then removed at some point, but you can still find at this video site. It’s a great piece of data visualization, and I think semantic wikis will make such animations much easier to accomplish, by providing the large amount of raw data they need. Actually, I look forward to the day when semantic wikis are strongly tied in in the public mind with this kind of visualization.
The Google Gapminder tool - it lets you see all sorts of visualizations of socieconomic data for the world’s countries for the last 30 years or so. It’s kind of addictive. Though it’s on Google, it seems to be mostly the work of the Swedish Gapminder Foundation, which specializes in data visualizations.
I think in the future there’ll be a lot more online visualization tools like this, though the data they use won’t come from a hidden, private database, but rather from a public semantic wiki. No, seriously.
(Via Hit & Run)