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Archive for September, 2006

Oracle and the Semantic Web

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

Via Ivan Hermann, interesting discussion of a new “virtual press room” interface at Oracle. As the post explains, the interface:

permits you to “fly” though the data–you can follow content relationships that you otherwise would not know exist. Think of it as an “interactive” search process, with the relevant keywords being supplied to you, instead of the other way around.

What’s particularly interesting is they’ve implemented it using the new Oracle RDF Store. A nice case of eating their own dog food.

Now just imagine generic ODF document repositories and search interfaces of this sort.

The Brink

Posted in General on September 29th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

When the Supreme Court stepped up and put an end to the insanity of the Bush Administration’s detention policies this past summer, I finally had a glimmer of hope that the country might finally be stepping back from the brink of an Orwellian future.

Not so fast, Congress seems to have said last night. The new detention law has three particularly troubling provisions. First, it defines the already vague and broad term of “enemy combatant” to be even more vague and broad. When concepts with profound legal weight are vague and broad, bad things happen; innocent people inevitably end up the victims. Second, it allows non-citizens within the boundaries of U.S. territory to be apprehended as enemy combatants, and thus subject to the rules of the law. The “battlefield” thus knows no bounds. Finally, and most troublingly, the law suspends the right of habeas corpus to those detained under the law. Put simply, if the Bush Administration accuses you of being an enemy combatant, you have no recourse to contest that designation within the U.S. courts, and can be detained indefinitely.

It’s at times like this I’m ashamed to be an American. I can only hope the Court again steps in and pulls us back from the brink, and that the obviously political calculations of bringing this vote up before the mid-term elections fails and the Republicans lose their hold on power. Can’t say that I’m optimistic though.

Fighting Ridiculous Patents

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28th, 2006 by darcusb – 1 Comment

So it seems Apple is trying to patent the ability to copy-and-paste metadata with content. The application talks about it in the context of citations, but the implications are broader it seems to me.

What’s even more infuriating is that I’ve talked about some of these very ideas on this blog, and also in private conversations with people at Apple. For them to implement such a system is one thing, but to try to patent it so that nobody else can? That’s another matter entirely, and bothers me enough that I’ve already started to look into fighting it.

Anyone know of any prior art in this area?


Posted in Uncategorized on September 26th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

From Ed Summers, news of a new terse metadata format. If you want a really powerful compact metadata syntax and model, I’d say go for RDF N3. But this is a nice and even simpler alternative, whose authors have clearly thought about the hard stuff, like names and dates. Hopefully some of this gets folded back into DC proper.

Reference Types

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26th, 2006 by darcusb – 6 Comments

When designing a citation format (or, um, microformat) one of the more difficult issues is deciding on types. Book and article are really simple and straightforward. But what happens if you need to handle weblog posts, archival documents, dissertations, and so forth?

The conclusion I came to when designing an RDF representation was to use a hierarchical model. Graphically, that model might look like this:

The advantage of this approach is that a developer can adopt different levels of granularity. If they want basic support, they just use the top-level classes. If they want a bit more richness, they can use the first-level subclasses. If they need still more, they can drill down farther. Moreover, none of these levels are all-or-nothing; they can pick and choose which they need.

More importantly, this works better for end-users and metadata producers.

Case in point: I recently wanted to store the online transcript of a recent Bush speech using Zotero. So I have a “press release” and that is pretty much just a straight “transcript” of a “speech.” So, potentially three different types, none of which Zotero even remotely supports! Instead, I’m stuck using “Website,” which is just wrong.

Solution: add the top-level “Document” type. It’s not very precise, but at least it’s accurate.

The hierarchical type model, then, is not only good modeling practice for developers, but it’s good for users, who no longer need to feel confined by the straight-jackets of a flat model.

Firefox: The Better Alternative

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

In poking around to see what people are saying about Zotero, I’ve come across a couple of nitpicks about the Firefox dependency. What about my Internet Explorer users?, these bloggers ask.

As a former Word and Endnote and IE (for the Mac) user, let me remind people: Firefox and Zotero and a whole host of other free software tools and applications are all about freeing users from the shackles of bad, proprietary, software. Firefox, in particular, is an example of all that is right about open source development; not only free, but superior to the Microsoft alternative.

Moreover, tools like Zotero are built in the best of open source traditions: the code is open and free (well, will be once they take it public), and it uses open standards wherever possible. It is designed and built in a way that is demonstrably different than the closed worlds of Endnote, RefWorks, and Word. You want to take the code—the SQL schema, all the really useful Javascript stuff, the CSS, etc.—and create some new solution? No problem; just do it.

Finally, instead of simply assuming your users have some sort of loyalty to IE or Endnote, why not suggest to them they try something different? In my experience, when IE users try Firefox, they often don’t go back. I expect the same will happen when Endnote users try Zotero. There’ll still be a fair bit of work to do on server synchronization and integration with desktop applications, but that’s only a matter of time.

So the lack of IE support and the decision to go with Firefox, it seems to me, is far from a problem, but rather just the opposite: they’ve made the right choices that will allow to them succeed long term.

Drupal and RDF?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23rd, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

Interesting note on possible RDF and Drupal connections:

Dan Robinson introduced me to some of the core Drupal developers. And as it turned out, some of them are already thinking about direct RDF support for Drupal (partly triggered by TimBL using Drupal for blogging, partly because Drupal’s internal structure isn’t really far away from a graph-based model). I’m aware of three efforts now to add RDF to Drupal in some way, there may be more.

I’m starting to hear this we have a generic metadata property model; nice that it maps fairly easily to RDF argument more and more; oh, and then there’s this.

Citations, Metadata, OOo, and ODF

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

David Wilson and I—co-project leads at the OpenOffice Bibliographic Project—had an interesting IRC meeting this morning with a group of managers and engineeers affiliated with the OOo project, to figure out how we move our project forward. David has posted the transcript here.

What was particularly encouraging is that it seems that managers at Sun (in particular) are now understanding the broader importance of metadata, and of how our use case fits within that context. We can all start to think about generic metadata-backed content fields, and generic metadata APIs, and powerful end-user solutions built around them; all standardized within ODF so that they can work across differerent applications.

I think this is a good sign for our bibliographic project, for OOo, and for ODF more broadly.

Semantic Documents

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

Discussing data and metadata lately WRT to ODF, I got to thinking: what if we had document models where metadata was baked in from the beginning?

Florian Reuter has already noticed that from a programmatic standpoint, there’s really no significant difference between metadata and styles: they’re both collections of properties that relate to content.

So let’s forget about document-authoring as we know it, with their awkward and complex UIs and ultimately fairly dumb content. What if instead we just had a model that had containers and text, and container objects had two array attributes: metadata and content?

So forget about bold and italic and headings. Imagine instead you add a section to a document, and you can add any metadata property you want to it: title, date, status, etc. The editor automatically adds the rendered content to your document, but behind the scenes it remains accessible as separate metadata.

Now generalize this to everything: tables, paragraphs, quotes, citations etc.

Hmm … maybe where the next step in semantic wikis ought to lie?

… am thinking about something like this:

p =
p.add_content("Hello world, here is ")

quote ="some quote") quote.addproperty(predicate="dc:source", object="urn:isbn:23450934") quote.addproperty(predicate="b:sourcepages", object="23") quote.addproperty(predicate="dc:subject", object="")


p.add_content(", and the end of the sentence.")

s = s.addproperty(predicate="dc:title", object="Title") s.addcontent(p)

… no need for section heads, or even citations (we’re talking true “smart quotes” here!); it could be automatically rendered for different output.

Apple and OpenDocument

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16th, 2006 by darcusb – Comments Off

I’d heard something about Apple supporting OpenDocument in their forthcoming version of Mac OS X, code-named Leopard, but chose not to say anything about until it’s been more widely reported. I guess a blog post counts.

It remains to be seen just how good and comprehensive Apple’s new ODF support is, and I really don’t know, but for sake of argument, let’s say:

  • it’s quite good
  • supports import/export
  • is baked into Cocoa, and so available to any OS X application developer
  • Apple productivity applications like Keynote and Pages use the support read and write the format

And let’s imagine further that they do something similar with the ECMA Open XML spec.

I doubt the real-world reality quite matches the above, but just imagine the impact.

Now, we just need to get Apple to add standard citation encoding to the text object too, and all of the sudden I have a compelling reason to be excited about Apple again.