In the morning I went to a tutorial on Semantic Wikis. It was great, despite some technical difficulties that kind of messed up the flow of the presentation for the first hour or so. The speaker was Conor Shankey, the founder of Visual Knowledge. They created a wiki platform, built on a semantic framework. It’s a collaborative tool, like any wiki, but the semantic aspect means there’s a structure that gives the system more knowledge about the content that people contribute. For example, if you have a record about a person, you indicate that it’s a person, and then there will automatically be certain assumptions made, and certain properties available to be filled out. You suddenly have fields where you can say the person’s birthday, surname, projects, etc.
The great thing about this is that contributors don’t necessarily need to have knowledge of semantic technologies or structures in order to create semantically rich content. Just like in a traditional wiki, the level of involvement is totally up to the person. You could be someone who just reads. You could contribute content, classify it and fill in attributes (adding valuable metadata) without having to do any heavy lifting. Or you could collaborate on the data model that provides the structure for the ontology and the site itself. In this way, the concept of the wiki (something people are already becoming familiar with) becomes a sort of gateway into semantics. I love it. This ties in with the zone of proximal development that I was thinking about just the day before.
In the afternoon I went to a tutorial by Mills Davis on Semantic Wave 2007. Last year he gave the closing keynote speech on Semantic Wave 2006. It’s amazing to see how much has developed in a year. Davis has a very distinct presentation style – so densely packed with information that it feels kind of like a wave itself. I think you have to just let it wash over you, soak in what you can, and read the presentation notes later at home. The things he said made me feel very optimistic about this area of development, though I couldn’t tell you specifically why, at the moment.