Archive for July, 2008

Semantic Google Maps, take two

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

While we’re on the subject of news, I helped relaunch the Semantic Google Maps MediaWiki extension a few weeks ago, after it had gone unmaintained for a while; that included adding some new functionality, like being able to view multiple points on a single map. You can see a nice demonstration of the new Semantic Google Maps on the Food Finds wiki, which currently appears to be the most popular Referata wiki. It’s pretty neat how this mapping functionality works, giving people the ability to do “mashup”-style mappings of real data without the need to know anything about mapping APIs.

SMW for SMW

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Here’s announcing the Semantic MediaWiki Community Wiki, released three days ago. In any software project, there’s a desire to use the software being created to serve the project’s own needs in some way (this is sometimes referred to in the corporate technology world as “eating your own dog food”, a terminology I’m not fond of), and this wiki finally serves that purpose for the Semantic MediaWiki project (semanticweb.org is also an SMW-based wiki, but it’s intended for the “semantic web” world in general, as opposed to just wikis). It contains data about wikis that use SMW and its various extensions, plus the users and administrators in the “community” (I think I can call it that). And one of the interesting things is, it only took five and a half hours from getting a subdomain for the site to sending out the announcement email about it - pretty sweet for a fully-structured, form-based site, I’d say. You can see here a drilldown interface, using Semantic Drilldown, showing the wikis that have been added so far.

Back from Wikimania

Friday, July 25th, 2008

I got back four days ago from Wikimania in Alexandria; I haven’t had that much free time since then, between resting a lot, and trying to take care of a bunch of issues that come up during the week I was gone, and entertaining some people. Anyway, the conference was great, and Egypt was quite interesting too, though an exhausting country to visit. I saw a good amount of Alexandria, and after the conference I spent a day in Cairo and right-nearby Giza with some other people from the conference (that would be “Wikimaniacs”), where we saw some pyramids and the Sphinx. I have a bunch of photos, from then and from the conference itself, that I hope to upload soon.

As for the conference, I met some very interesting people, saw some amazing talks, and had a lot of nice conversations about all manner of wiki-things. I sent an email to the Semantic Forms mailing list summarizing the technical aspects of the conference, which you can read here.

My own presentation went fine, I thought. All presentations were videotaped, though mine, like the vast majority of them, still isn’t online, which makes me fear that it might not be available for a good while, if ever. Anyway, I uploaded the slide show that I used for the presentation;
here it is, in PDF form.

Hello from Hellas (yes, that’s the best I could do)

Monday, July 14th, 2008

I’m currently at the airport in Athens, Greece, on a layover on the way to Alexandria, Egypt, where I’ll be taking part in the Wikimania conference. I’m definitely looking forward to it: I’ll be be speaking at two events - a workshop called “Creating the structured semantic wiki“, and a panel/workshop (I don’t know what it’ll be, exactly) on “the state of Semantic MediaWiki“, with two of the co-creators and main developers of SMW, Markus Krötzsch and Denny Vrandečić. I’m also looking forward to seeing them and many of the other important people working on MediaWiki, Wikipedia, and some related projects. Alexandria was chosen as a venue because it’s housed, since 2002, the “new Library of Alexandria”, AKA Bibliotecha Alexandrina, a library/conference center/performing-arts center that’s thematically appropriate to a wiki conference and also supposed to be very cutting-edge. The effect of the location has been to minimize the participation of Americans, but that should be offset by the presence of a lot of Europeans and British people, and of course many from the Arab and greater Middle Eastern world. I’ve never been to Egypt before, or anywhere else in Africa, and I’ve barely visited Arab countries before, so it should all be an interesting experience. I’ll write more about the conference here later - I don’t know if I’ll do frequent updates or just one end-of-the-conference wrapup, but I bet there’ll be a lot to write about in either case.

Announcing Referata

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

I’m very pleased to announce the release of Referata, my Semantic MediaWiki-hosting site. Wikis on this site have usage of not just SMW but Semantic Forms, Semantic Drilldown, Semantic Calendar, Semantic Google Maps, Widgets and a variety of other helpful extensions that aren’t yet available on any other wiki hosting sites. This site thus is a technical, and also, I believe, a user-interface, pioneer, in that I think it’s the first site that lets users create a site with a well-supported data structure, that’s also world-editable. It’s also very easy to set up - someone who knows what they’re doing could create an entire site, with a set of interconnecting data types, in a few hours; trying to create that same set of functionality from scratch, using a web programming language like PHP or Ruby on Rails, could easily take a few months.

I’ve been working on this site for a long time (over a year, in one way or another), and I’m happy with the way it’s turned out. Basic usage of Referata is free; you can sign up and, within five minutes, have your own wiki that can become a collaborative database. There are two service levels that require payment: “Premium”, which costs $20 a month, lets you make your wiki private, so only members can read it, and “Enterprise”, which costs $250 a month and is geared to businesses, lets you set the look (”skin”) of the wiki and use a non-Referata domain as the site’s URL, among other bonus features.

As a side note, I’ve remarked before (in real life, not on this blog) that I don’t think that Semantic MediaWiki and the related extensions have gotten enough attention so far from the outside world, given what I consider their importance; they’ve been essentially ignored by the mainstream press, VCs (not that I’ve tried to contact any, but still), tech blogs and even, for the most part, the semantic-web-focused sites and blogs. One theory I have to explain is just the lack of a coherent name to refer to all of it: people need some kind of label to give to an entire set of functionality, and currently there’s no such thing. Even the name “Semantic MediaWiki” by itself is rather unwieldy, and that’s just one extension: it doesn’t include the main application (MediaWiki), plus the six or so other extensions that can be used in conjunction with it to create a fully structed site. Perhaps what has been needed is a focal point, with a clear name, that provides something tangible for people to look at; and maybe Referata is, as they say, the right candidate for the job.

If you’re curious about the site, feel free to create a wiki of your own; or you can just test things at the Scratchpad wiki, located at scratchpad.referata.com.