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Semantic web user interfaces - Do they have to be ugly?


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Presentation at Semantic Tech Conference 2010
On lack of good frameworks, good UI libraries, etc.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics
  • First of all, the semantic web is part of an attempt at artificial intelligence for computers. It's a kind of computer language in which computers agree on the meaning of terms and can make inferences. It allows automation of data submission to regulatory authorities etc. The Semantic Web is currently like DOS and R primarily because programmers are involved and are satisfied with command language models of interaction. How should one design an interface for a cognitive companion? The presenter has missed the whole point of the purpose of the semantic web. DOS, starter cranks. ignition buttons, clutches and gear shifts were also ugly.
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  • Is SemWeb the beginning of the Web 3.0 or Is it the other way around ?
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  • If you are looking for a (killer?) semantic web framework, please try CubicWeb that we have been developping since 2001 and has been for several years in production on intranets in several large french companies and several public web sites. License is LGPL.

    Help get the word out if you like it, many people keep buzzing about Django, but this was designed from the ground up to be a semantic web framework that would use an ontology at its core and provides both html/user and rdf/machine interfaces.
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  • @Andraz Tori:

    > If you just change mysql with some triple store and keep the full stack exactly the same, have you > gained anything at all?

    No, then I live probably in my still closed world of my own database. However, I like to open the door to a distributed interlinked knowledge base, which does not only consists of its database schema, but furthermore of interlinked semantic graphs, where I can derive more knowledge automatically as it is possible with the database schema of your MySQL database.

    > The only reason to use the semweb tools is if they solve very specific problems that other tools
    > haven’t solved yet, otherwise why switch from being a classical web developer to semweb
    > developer?

    So I don't want to solve only a simple use case problem, I want to solve this use case problem and leave the door open to solve many more other (maybe currently still unknown) problems.

    Finally, I 'm still thinking that this presentation might a kind of eye-opener for the participating developer types. Furthermore, I hope also that the web developers get out of their 'graying' stack of development technologies (Web 2.0! ;) ). Please look forward (Web 3.0 - damn buzz wording) and don't feel comfortable as it is. A rolling stone gathers no moss ;)=

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  • I enthusiastically agree that fully generic data browsers are a distraction. They are useful really only as a debugging tool, or as a 'raw data' view. Much like table views in MS Access, they are the view of last resort... we usually want custom tuned forms and reports and visualizations. But also I have to agree with another commenter - things aren't that bleak, because 'non-semweb' UI tools work fine with RDF data too. There aren't two separate universes. We certainly still have plenty of tool packaging work to do though, I spent a good chunk of last week trying to do some basic things in Javascript and failing...
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Semantic web user interfaces - Do they have to be ugly?

  1. User Interfaces for Semantic Web: Do They Have to Be Ugly? Andraz Tori, Zemanta Twitter: @andraz
  2. Talking about • Topic: Semantic Web + World Wide Web development & user interfaces • Services based around data like Linking Open Data or custom/proprietary graphs • Talking about both Semantic Web and semantic web • From perspective of a developer
  3. So, do they have to be ugly?
  4. No.
  5. But often they still are... … complicated, convoluted, ugly and sometimes useless
  6. Right now, Smantic Web on the web is like an ugly duckling
  7. Maybe one day, it's going to be a beautiful swan. Unfortunately it won't happen by itself.
  8. Seen so far • Both Semantic Web & semantic web • Twine, Sindici, OpenLink faceted search, Freebase, Freebase Autosuggest, ViewChange player, rkbexplorer, Faviki, Glue, Facebook open graph, Zemanta, BBC (Nature, Music, Programme), Siri • Let's look at them in random order
  9. Before we start What is a semantic web user interface?
  10. Down the rabbit hole... 4
  15. Faviki
  16. Freebase suggest
  17. The pattern • Some start with a problem and arrive to SemWeb technologies as one part of a solution • Some start with semantic web solution and start to look for the problem • Which ones do you like more? • What goes wrong?
  18. An example: Barack Obama Born: August 4, 1961 (1961-08-04), age 48, Honolulu, Hawaii Birth name:Barack Hussein Obama II Nationality: American Political party:Democratic Spouse(s): Michelle Obama (m. 1992)
  19. How SW engineer sees that? Honolulu, Hawaii Place Event object 321321 Date Bi rt h ev male en 1961-08-04 t Sex Barack Obama rt y Marria c al pa ge partne Politi r1 Marriage Object 1231321 rl aitu Michelle Obama Marriage partner2 rtr po Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpg/225px-Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpg
  20. Honolulu, Hawaii Place Event object 321321 Date This graph is fantastic! Bir th ev en 1961-08-04 t Sex Barack Obama y Marri age al part partner1 Politic Marria it u rl Marriage partner2 tr a Michelle Obama por Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpg/225px-Official_portrait_of_Barack_Ob • We can find people born on the same day! • We can find who is in Democratic party! • We can find the most similar people (not via SPARQL, but still) • We can exchange identifiers with everyone! • We can display the results easily, no mess!
  21. Except • The queries mentioned are mostly boring • In reality the LOD data is too sparse for 'discover anything, ask anything' • We usually want either a shallow search or truly deep and comprehensive data • Our app will have to do one thing and do it well
  22. The semantic web is a perfect abstraction
  23. From engineer's perspective • Abstractions are great • You can represent almost anything with a graph • You can query for anything you want in the same way! • You get all the cool things like validation, refactoring, reasoning. • .... • So you can treat all your data in the same
  24. So you can treat all your data in the same way! Until the user sees it or interacts with it !!!
  25. Abstraction • Is a blessing for an engineer • But a curse for user interaction and user interfaces • Semantic web technology tends to attract “architecture astronauts”
  26. Architecture astronauts The hallmark of an architecture astronaut is that they don't solve an actual problem... they solve something that appears to be the template of a lot of problems. Or at least, they try. – Joel Sposlky <
  27. Rule number one Let's not be architectural astronauts. Let's solve one problem and solve it well
  28. User experience • We need to tailor the experience to specific use-cases • Ignoring (powerful) underlying technology at first! • Spending more than just the last 10% of the time figuring out how the software/data are going to be used in practice • User experience is not just graphics design!
  29. User experience • It might be advantageous to have an unified data model on the backend • But that doesn't matter on the frontend/UX • Your software could theoretically offer limitless flexibility.... but are you sure you want to pay the price? • The price is a software that can do everything and is not good at anything in particular
  30. Throw away a dream of unified interfaces for data access And start designing software that concentrates on limited, but efficient ways to deal with data in scope of a specific task or a problem
  31. So where are the tools? • SemWeb is full of tools to manage ontologies, to extract data and to query data • But when it comes to interacting with data by end users on the web, the tools (libraries, frameworks) are missing • It's even worse. Everything beyond the triple store and SPARQL server is missing.
  32. Web 2.0 developer's toolbox
  33. Semantic Web developer's toolbox Sparql Freebase Acre
  34. We don't have enough time • Everyone needs to do visualizations, interfaces, data interactions on his own • But most of the time we're just reimplementing bottom layers • Thus there is no time to actually concentrate on interfaces • So we need to have the 'framework' problem solved in order to have resources for UI/UX
  35. SemWeb web development - missing parts • Semantic ORM built deep into the framework • Scaffolding admin, user management • Javascript library capable of dealing with SPARQL on one side and HTML/CSS on the other • Frameworks with preselected ontologies • Easy installations of development environments (really, this matters!) • Community?
  36. SIOC • Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities • Arguably ontology that went furthest in gaining support • But still no development frameworks
  37. SIOC could be practical
  38. Looking solely at UI side • An UI toolset capable of dealing with specific ontologies • For starters: a decent graph presenting/manipulating JS library? • When I deal with dates, people, places, events, ... I want to 'outsource' design and interaction to people more capable than myself in bringing machines and computers together.
  39. Ideas: PlaceSemWebUI • Assuming common geo ontologies • Displaying the data using Google Maps or Cloudmade • Allowing for 'smart' display of multiple entities, 'smart' selection, editing, route planning, overlaying with other data, etc.
  40. Ideas: PersonSemWebUI • Understanding common person ontologies • Understanding what type of things people want to do with “Person” objects • Offer different visualizations, listing friends, contacts, relationships in different ways • Mashing it up with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Glue, etc...
  41. Good tools to start with • Sparta (ORM for Python, dead) • ActiveRDF, HyperDE (ORM for Ruby) • Simile MIT project (Timeline, Seek) • Longwell (RDF faceted browser) • Freebase Parallax (open sourced) • Freebase Acre (Semantic PaaS)
  42. Do you know how stupidly hard it is to display such a graph on the web?
  43. Why are there no frameworks? • Because they are hard • Because there's no specification up front (Frenzel failed) • No immediate benefits to authors, questionable demand • It takes UI/UX designer, designer, semweb expert, backend engineer and frontend engineer (5 different people!) • Or maybe I just don't know about them??
  44. So you want to be a hero? • You might be the savior of SemWeb – making it appeal to wider web development community • If you are Semantic Web backend provider, you can look at this as a complementary product which rises demand for your main one • Since there is so little competition, you can take the world by storm
  45. And don't hesitate about • Making politically incorrect requirements (“to run this fast, please download whole Freebase locally into MySQL database”) • Building opinionated software (Apple...) • Creating ontology specific solutions • Releasing it as open source, even half baked
  46. RDFa, Microdata? • Browsers turned away from creating useful default interactions for common data types • Extensions like Mozilla Operator seem to be a dead end (unfortunately) • However new browser wars are coming! • And that is a good thing for semantic web!
  47. Facebook Open Graph • Publishing stuff in Facebook-supported way might become more important than anything else regarding RDFa or microdata • Useful for people dealing with social or 'popular' objects • Are FB apps based on this actually semantic apps already?
  48. Is Facebook offering the best SemWeb UX/UI design, ever?
  49. When to do what? • Start with use-cases • Involve user experience designers early on • Exploration is overrated • If there's one thought I want to leave you with: Not constraining yourself to specific use-cases is the greatest design sin of Semantic Web, ever.
  50. Conclusion • SemWeb on the web right now is mostly a data interchange layer • Creating web applications based solely on SemWeb stack is for most advanterous • We need more of a 'pull' projects, 'push' isn't getting us anywhere
  51. Killer app for semantic web? First we need killer frameworks!
  52. User Interfaces for Semantic Web: Do They Have to Be Ugly? Yes, … for now. Andraz Tori, Zemanta Twitter: @andraz
  53. Images • • • • l_02.png • NASA • Wikipedia