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University Launches Semantic Web Interface 191

kv9 writes "The University of Southampton has launched a new semantic web interface, called mSpace, that it says will make searching for information online, and learning about a subject, much easier. mSpace is a framework that gathers information sources and presents them to the user in a single window. It can potentially be applied to any subject, provided the basic information is available. The researchers say this means users will no longer have to wade through lists of undifferentiated data when researching a subject."
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University Launches Semantic Web Interface

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  • by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:11AM (#11710573)
    From TFA:

    Imagine more than Google

    Imagine a better iTunes

    Imagine Google on iTunes

    Perhaps my early brain development was flawed, because I'm at a total loss to imagine what a "Google on iTunes" would be like or even what that means.
  • by lxt ( 724570 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:13AM (#11710584) Journal
    ...interestingly, the demo won't run on IE (at least, the versions I've tried, being IE 6 on default settings). Perhaps this is a sign of things to come - more and more applications just not running on IE, and preferring FireFox / Mozilla?
    • The demo says it requires a Mozilla based browser for standard JavaScript compatibility...
      • so, rummaging around in the attic I found the original copy of the bible."

        Alas, still just a copy!

      • Most of the world uses IE because it came on their computer, so if they try to see this site there will be a problem. Has anyone thought about just putting up a banner that says something like

        This site requires Firefox* for viewing. Click below to have a minimized version of Firefox installed on your computer.

        When you leave this site, you will be given to option to keep Firefox on your computer.

        If you do not select to keep it, it will be automatically uninstalled.

        You will also be given the option to

        • Ugh that is worse than IE web developers forcing add-on modules just to view one web page.

          On the same note I do agree with the last statement. I hate needing ActiveX or flash just to view one stupid page then being bombarded with popup ads that cover the article I'm trying to read.

          Yeah I use firefox but many computers I work on (work, customers, Mom, etc) do not.
    • I'm sorry to say this, but that isn't a good thing.

      If a webmaster starts to shift his focus from IE to FireFox/Mozilla, he is just being as bad as all the other webmasters who give preference to IE users.

      Yes, Firefox is all open source and everything, I agree, it should supported. But that does not mean webmasters should just drop development for other web browsers.

      We should be encouraging webmasters to make their websites work in all browsers, not one specific.

      Just working in Firefox is no better then
      • by oneandoneis2 ( 777721 ) * on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:24AM (#11710672) Homepage

        If a webmaster starts to shift his focus from IE to FireFox/Mozilla, he is just being as bad as all the other webmasters who give preference to IE users.

        Not necessarily - Firefox, like most other FOSS browsers, is standards-compliant, IE isn't. This is the biggest obstacle to having a website that can be viewed by any browser.

        So if this is down to a website complying with the correctstandards, the problem is squarely with IE, and may convince M$ to do it everybody else's way, instead of insisting that everybody else does it the M$ way. . .

        So long as the choice is "Should we make our site standards-compliant or IE-compatible?" there can never be a truly universal website.

        • >"Should we make our site standards-compliant or IE-compatible?"

          That's a false dichotomy, what the webmaster should do is a site that is both standards-compliant AND IE-compatible, by using HTML that is correctly supported by IE. That is, of course, if he actually cares about making an accessible website and not a statement.
          • The problem is that there's a lot of things that just aren't possible when being both standards compliant and IE compliant - if you look around for CSS examples on the web, you'll often find that they use bugs in IE's comment parsing to fix CSS problems (there's some strings that should be interpreted as comments but aren't in IE, so putting the hack inside such a block works).
          • You can't not make a statement, sorry. Not that I necessarily disagree.
        • The great thing about standards, though, is that there are so many to choose from.

          Microsoft developed their own, and decided to frame their browser around it. What's wrong with that? I thought choice was a good thing.
        • So long as the choice is "Should we make our site standards-compliant or IE-compatible?" there can never be a truly universal website.

          Rubbish. It's actually very easy to code a site to html standards that also works in IE. it means having to duplicate and target some of your CSS, whcih is additional overhead in terms of testing and download, but it's easilly done.
      • I think the problem in this case is that they wanted to use what they describe as "standard" Javascript (rather than standard CSS or standard HTML).

        Trouble is, there isn't such a thing as standard javascript in the same way as there is with standard HTML, standard CSS. There is a javascript language standard, and the W3C has a few things to do with how languages in general should see HTML pages (the HTML DOM), but the actual mechanics of how the langugage and browser fit together has been developed betw

      • I'm sorry to say this, but that isn't a good thing.

        If a webmaster starts to shift his focus from IE to FireFox/Mozilla, he is just being as bad as all the other webmasters who give preference to IE users.

        Actually, computer science researchers, such as those at the University of Southampton who developed this, don't have a particular requirement (moral or actual) to develop "for all platforms". They are interested in research - showing something can be done, and publishing details on it when they h

      • Just working on web standards should work, however. The bottom line is that it doesn't. This particular system doesn't work because it uses elements of JavaScript which have not been introduced ito IE. However, with any luck, when IE7 is released (beta due in summer, as reported here recently) it should support newer standars. With any luck.
      • Bullshit. The advent of mature and stable standards along with browsers that actually support them is opening up worlds of possibilities that didn't exist in the heyday of the browser wars.

        I've been making web pages since '94, and DOM []+ECMA []+CSS [] is one of the most powerful things I've seen in quite a while. It's exactly what the web was supposed to be before the browser wars came along and screwed it all up with blink tags and other useless shit.

        Take a look at Google Maps [] in a fully compliant browser an
    • From site:

      It requires a Mozila-based browser like Netscape, Camino, Mozilla or Firefox to run (for standard javascript compatibility).

      No, it worked just fine on Opera too, a fairly common browser when speaking "alternative" non-IE browsers.
      • This is great to know. When we tested with Opera, the columns laid out properly, but the preview cues behaved poorly - you may not notice this - the audio from each cue did not stop as another one started up, so you get an undesireable polyphony. hence not saying it fully works on anything but moz browsers it *seems* to work on safari as well.
  • "I don't know what kind of music i like, but when i hear it i know it". Thats a problem we often have. To have a possible solution for this would be really great.
    • Couldn't you just listen to a bunch of radio stations and note down the names of artists you like?
      With internet radio broadcast it is very easy to listen to various types of music and figure out what you like
  • by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:18AM (#11710626) Homepage
    People refer to the "semantic web" in a way that implies that there's an underlying meaning to everything which can be brought together somehow... which, I guess... is fine.

    What I don't find fine is that this interface doesn't somehow derive meaning from documents and bring that meaning together, it's simply an interface to a hierarchical information store. Do we need a new name for that, or would "a bunch of windows that are interdependent" be fine for people who aren't being poseurs?
    • by SnapShot ( 171582 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @11:00AM (#11711603)
      Bravo. The term "semantic web" gets thrown around a lot. I think there is a hidden desire among a lot of people that if they just add enough markup data then suddenly and magically the web will become self-aware and AI will be born.

      In a more functional sense, the pieces are slowly being put into place, but as long as there are a huge number of people with varying mental processes "marking up" the data, the whole thing won't be any more than a labor-intensive way of making new web pages. Where I believe it will work is where you have a trusted source of data that is in a known heirarchical format that can be preprocessed into a set interdependent links. Endeca (sp?) does a good job of this for individual commerce sites (I think CompUSA's search is powered by Endeca). iTunes (or any other music database) and IMDB are other good examples of data sources that could be wrapped with semantic meaning. Perhaps these trusted sources will eventually merge so that a the "seven degrees of Kevin Bacon" could expand to cover the world of music (how many degrees of separation between Kevin and Bach?).
  • Wow...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rdc_uk ( 792215 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:20AM (#11710644)
    A stack or queue of filters, with select box GUI, and text+gfx output at the end. (oh, and potentially sound clips - edgy!)

    The only "innovation" I can see is that you can add + remove individual filters. Which is not, so to speak, going to launch rockets...

    I recal looking at a system (in java) that allowed overlay of viewports (little square windows) onto a graphic to add + remove filters (in the photoshop sense in this case). You could drag around these viewports and overlay them to get a venn-diagram like effect with filters (real time, over the web in an applet)

    That was while I was a University (so was between 1993 - 1998, probably 96 at a guess). That was simultaneously; similar in concept, more impressive by far and much more of an "innovation" at that time...

    I may be missing something, but I couldn't see anything "new" there.
    • You know, the difference is that this program uses Semantic Web standards (XML/XSL, RDF(S), OWL and rules). So if everything goes alright, more and more people will use the underlying dataformats which will improve data interchange between programs like these.

      The program you saw years ago was probably based upon some proprietary format.

      Don't get me wrong, I also don't see "the semantic web" happening overnigh. But getting people to use more standard data interchange formats, can only be a good thing to do
  • by kahei ( 466208 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:23AM (#11710665) Homepage

    Hmm, so in this system, there are documents that are annotated with meta-data... and then, you can run a query on that metadata to find documents matching certain criteria. You can narrow down a query, too. So far so ordinary.

    The big problem, though, is that it's hard to be sarcastic enough. Business has already provided various document annotating and indexing systems, and various databases in which to store the results, and various query systems with which to retrieve them / report on them. Now, a bunch of students have done the same thing in miniature and to them it's all terribly much more interesting than those grubby real world systems. Great for them -- problem for me.

    I mean, power to them and all, but after the first n Big Honkin' Advances In The Semantic Web, the ordinary Joe like me is left really scraping the barrel for ways to be sarcastic about it. It's all been done -- nothing I can offer that hasn't been modded +5 (70% Funny 30% Troll) in a dozen Semantic Web articles in the past. So I give up, okay? I can't keep up. There, I said it.

    I hope you're happy now.

    • One major problem I can see is that people will be trolling meta data, just like they did in the regular web before search engines decided not to look at it anymore. Without accountability, meta data will always be unreliable.

      While there are several approaches to accountability already present in the field, such as counting links to the data (like Google does), or having smart, professional, attractive moderators (like Slashdot does [1]), none of them are perfect yet, and I believe this is a problem that

    • I'd applaud if it has been done: if there's a site or space i can go to right now that will let me easily explore information spaces, see interconnections, associations, that looks to do that not just with a lonely database but with a www of data, that would be awesome.

      where is it?


  • by mwood ( 25379 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:23AM (#11710667)
    In other words, someone who knows a lot about the relevant fields of interest has to read or at least examine each document, understand it, figure out its place in the scheme of things, then reach down into his own brain (so to speak) and pull out all the deep linkages so he can annotate the document.

    Waddia know, we still need librarians after all!
  • by Leadhyena ( 808566 ) <nathaniel DOT de ... T purdue DOT edu> on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:32AM (#11710724) Journal
    Now that's a first. The classical demo requires a Mozilla-type (they say Gecko type) browser for the enhanced javascript capability. IE 6 won't even run it correctly.
  • London University Launches Semantic Web Interface []

    I mean, we all know there's only one location in England, right? Er, Britain. Or is it the UK? Mebbe I'm thinking of the Commonwealth.

    Anyway, those = London

    France = Paris

    Germany = Berlin

    "Here" = Michigan?

  • I'd call it kSpace

    Does this too tie all libraries everywhere together? Certainly it must do so and more to earn the right to be a successor to L-space, as can be gleaned from its name...
    If so, one must be careful so you don't end up in the past and find yourself sleeping off the counterwise wine you just drank.
  • ... looking under Mozart it appears to list pieces in W Flat and J Major .... erm ....having played musical instruments in the past that doesn't seem right :)

  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <> on Friday February 18, 2005 @09:42AM (#11710778) Homepage Journal
    Wow, an application that shows file types, link visualiations, meta-data, encourages you to explore, I guess what's old is new again - woohoo!

    Meatball Wiki page on GopherProtocol []
    A copy of the Gopher FAQ []
    MacOrchard page with TurboGopher VR []

  • and then... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by afstanton ( 822402 )
    Just wait until someone decides that aggregation of content and presenting it into a unified format counts as copyright violation.
  • And when you reach the end of the database:

    Sorry, we have no further information.

    Try searching Google for Compere Loyset : [inline | new window]

    • Re:not google, again (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mc+sd ( 860665 )
      Alas yes - for the moment.

      Part of the project is to allow wiki-like connections to the info views for publishing related content. Or using talkback like pings to talk with brokers/aggregators so that mspaces can be generated dynamically, and fed dynamically based on available rdf.

      This is very much a start - a look at what might be/come something (more) useful, not as the done deal

      That said, we hope that for the interim, by having a dump out to google on a topic you've already identified of interest th

  • The Semantic Web is supposed to result in a question and answer interface. I type in "what percentage of Australians hold a passport?" and it combines all the knowledge it has gathered from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and gives me the answer: 50%. That's the interface, not a heirachial data shuffler, not a "categories" list. Now get on it. Jesus, the natural language processing systems from the 60s could turn an english question into a prolog statement, all you've gotta do is gather the facts fo
    • It may be easy to gather up all that information, but it's undoubtedly very tedious and time-consuming, and therefore expensive.

      Nobody's done it because it's not economically feasable.
  • Buzzword Bingo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by webmosher ( 322834 )
    It appears to me that this is more of a marketing research project than a programming/interface one. Perhaps this is just an attempt to create new buzzology. Semantics and the study thereof usually pertain to linguistics and the management of creating meaning between tokens of language. Whether this be words or symbols, semantics is how we gather meaning from language. I suppose this interface has tokens, but they are rather scattered about and don't derive meaning on their own. The user is responsible for
    • Re:Buzzword Bingo (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mc+sd ( 860665 )
      Semantic web usually refers to back end semantics, that computers can use to "make meaning" rather than the kind you descibe. That's how the data gets associated in the mSpace to begin with. As for hierarchies, that's the final step of the process: the demo music space is a multidimensional space. How do you represent that space effectively in a browser? there's good research to show that we can handle 2d hierarchical representations well. So, the mspace slice lets you take a projection through an ndimensi
  • Am I the only one who finds it annoying that their Demo doesn't work on IE?

    The site says it needs "standard javascript compatibility." The should consider supporting "standard browser compatibility."

    • Actually you're not the only one. We are too (the mspace team that is). For a research project, our first goal has been to work with standards compliant browsers. Our second goal, pending cycles, will be to get UIs that work on more browsers. Many folks interested in our approach have an installed base of IE users so we need to support those communities. Sorry that you couldn't use your usual browser yet. Thanks for visiting the project, though.
    • Am I the only one who finds it annoying that IE doesn't work with their demo?

      Microsoft should consider supporting "standard browser compatibility!"

      I, for one, applaud them for supporting standards instead of Microsoft.
  • It would be interesting to apply this to information contained in Wikipedia. Does anyone know if someone is working on just such an effort?
  • dev thoughts (Score:5, Informative)

    by AlisdairO ( 554615 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @10:45AM (#11711394)
    I'm a developer on the project, and the commentry is appreciated. I'm frankly somewhat surprised at the level of hype the project has generated at this stage of the game. While I find the results that you can get with the current implementation very interesting, there's a lot of work yet to do before it's truly revolutionary. With that said, I'd ask you to consider the possiblities offered by expansions to the original idea. We're working on converting the system as a whole to a web service, allowing any kind of client to access the information in a sensical manner, and linking mspaces together. This, for example, would allow you to hook together information on localality and, say, restaurants. You might be looking for restaurants within a certain area of where you are now. Once you get that information, you could select information on those restaurants in a powerful manner - you could select restaurants that offer vegetarian meals and meals containing low carbohydrates and without gluten, for prices under £10.00. With those results, you may decide to further filter it down by selecting only italian or american style meals. Largely, the power behind the existing concept comes with the ability to construct your own dynamic hierarchies. I posted further down about it while forgetting to log in - with a film database, for example, you might find out about russian actors who acted in american films during the mccarthy era. This is the sort of obscure information that people are unlikely to have written extensively about, so collating the information would be difficult. With the system we have, that sort of information is contained within the relationships for you to discover for yourself. For me, a lot of the potential of this idea is contained in the fact that the google is awesome for discovering information on reasonably common things. For more obscure information, what if nobody has written a page about what you want to know? The information is out there, but has never been collated properly. mSpaces can give you that sort of information, without having to explicitly generate it.
    • Re:dev thoughts (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MegaThawt ( 672826 )
      I think the demo may be destracting us from seeing the innovation in the underlying mSpaces.

      When Bach and Handel show up in the Classical Era (they were Baroque) and the interface looks like it could just be showing results of traditional SQL queries, then naturally our attention is focused towards the manual tagging of information and so it looks like the project is showing us nothing new: "See, someone mis-tagged Bach and he is showing up in the wrong list box ... ho hum.

  • In response to the various snarky comments above, it is indeed innovative to apply a known user interface paradigm to a novel data source.

    I, for one, welcome our new 3-pane semantic browser overlords.
  • by rubberpaw ( 202337 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @11:00AM (#11711617) Homepage Journal
    The tone of the article is unfortunate. But it's also too bad that really good technology gets dissed by the tech community if it's well marketed. mSpace is a rather sophisticated system for storing and relating arbitrary unstructured information in meaningful ways. The interface doesn't do it full justice.

    McGuffin and Schraefel's paper of mSpaces, polyarchies and zzStructures [] won the ACM Hypertext Conference's award for "Special Research Distinction for Excellent Presentation of Theoretical Concepts."

    Schraefel is not only a good programmer, doing very cutting edge information technology stuff, but she and her team have managed to design a useful piece of software that uses it. Since when can the Academic world do this kind of thing?

    *sigh* People diss Nelson when he comes up with incredibly good ideas [] and quality computer science []. And now, when people like Schraefel produce a usable product, they get dissed too. Before you go snarking about how the Semantic Web won't come down from heaven and die on a cross for us, make sure you know what the Semantic Web is []. Just like Harpers, this is a perfectly cool example.

    What do I think about the Semantic Web? I will admit, I sometimes wonder if it's safe [].
  • This means now I can study female anatomy without running into all those obscene pictures.
  • by MarkWatson ( 189759 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @11:20AM (#11711894) Homepage
    mSpace is a LGPLed project that consists of Javascript utilities to access a 3Store RDF repository (3Store is another open source project).

    This project looks very useful if you already have RDF data that you would like to publish. There is a PDF paper (that I have only read the first 10 pages of) that looks good. Anyway, I might use this on a demo that I am (slowly) working on.
  • Metadata and meaning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by saddino ( 183491 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @11:27AM (#11711997)
    Although this project isn't strictly "wrapped around" (pardon the pun) Berners-Lee's semantic web [], but rather an external semantic "space" defined by a conceptual foundation and then refined by users in the inteface, it still fails to address to metatag/metdata problem, namely:

    1) The metadata sink. Creating an "mSpace" around classical composers is one thing. Doing the same on "quantum mechanics and philosophy" is another. As you broaden the concept, you have to depend on a more-refined framework of contextual and categorical distinctions. Eventually, you may be creating more metadata than data.

    2) The metadata reflection problem. Metadata, in that it is not the data itself, cannot possibly reflect every notion, category of thought or context -- many of those things depend on the user's own interaction with the data (e.g. what you find "funny" I may find "dumb."). And, as often mentioned, metadata may in fact be missing, ouright misleading or incomplete.

    IMHO, though metadata projects such as these are intriguing, the true "holy grail" of classifying data is understanding context. Thus, why worry about metadata when you have the data write there in front of you? Even a statistical anaysis of word/phrase frequency over say, 100 pages returned by Google on "quantum mechanics and philosophy" can yield concepts and connections without any metadata creation/foundation at all (i.e. the user analyzing the key words/phrases can make those connections on his/her own).

    Clearly I'm biased, as I work on software [] for OS X that does just this, but still, I honestly believe that creating more data, just to describe what is an increasingly massive corpus (the web), is the wrong solution to the "understanding" problem.

  • So I click on Baroque, click on J.S.Bach, and...

    Wait. There isn't any, oh well, I guess they have a really small playlist. Trundling on, let's open Classical...

    First entry is Bach.

    And not C.P.E.Bach, either. J.S.Bach.

    I guess this is an attempt to illustrate "I may not know much about Classical Music, but I Know what I like when I hear it."

  • This would also improve machine translation of human languages quite a lot.

    There was an effort at Cambridge University in the 1960s (called the CLRU, Cambridge Language Research Unit) to do exactly this.
  • Displaying information in a iTunes-like fashion is the easy part. OK, so they have a nice demo for a few domains, but there have been lots of those kinds of semantic browsers before, for all sorts of domains. The hard part is actually getting the consistent semantic markup for all that information out there and to come up with browsing paradigms that work more generally, instead of having to hand-code something for each domain.

    Basically, all these people have done is done a nice demo using modern DHTML, b
    • by mc+sd ( 860665 )
      You're right: applying multiple columns across a schema is not hard. however, swapping around and adding in dimensions isn't what you'd call common (have you seen that before?)

      As opposed to easy, it's also effective. so why aren't more sites doing this? It's like the mac osx watson tool (RIP).

      As for the "hard part", you don't hand code the browser for each domain. The framework lets you through any semantic model at it you want. if you have an ontology so much the better. it is a general browser. the d

      • You're right: applying multiple columns across a schema is not hard. however, swapping around and adding in dimensions isn't what you'd call common (have you seen that before?)

        Unless I miss some functionality in the "mSpace model", it seems to me lots of software already has something pretty close. You get most of the functionality when you combine reorderable columns with lexicographic sort (you need a few more display hacks to get context at every level, but that's available in many interfaces through
    • Just today I was thinking about how google and other search engines should provide you with information on a particular domain. For example, if your searching for "lastest windows patches" you get a result "". Now while the site is very relevant for what I am _looking_ for, it doesn't _directly_ give me the results I want. I have to go thru various links and reading just to get the list of patches to download.

      But if google was smart, it would actually give me the list of the "las
  • While the idea is neat and clearly it is possible to put their idea into practice as shown by the demo, this project really does not have all that much to do with the semantic web. Unless the article is very misleading, it seems like the project uses RDF as a basis for finding and creating these slices. But partitioning data isn't what will make the semantic web powerful. We need computers themselves to understand the relationships between different sources of information on the semantic web. This will enab
  • by erikdalen ( 99500 ) <> on Friday February 18, 2005 @02:00PM (#11714181) Homepage
    I find these projects far more interesting:

    Chandler: ision.htm []

    Haystack: []

  • Paid content.

    The demo, tellingly, is a sparse winter tree with no leaves. None of the classical pieces I clicked on led anywhere. Do you think this will be any different when released into the wild?

    Classical music, you might think, would be a good example of where it really would work because copyright expired for these long before the corrupt american media associations bought their oppressive laws. However copyright still inheres in individual performances and recordings, so no joy there.

    I can see how
  • This is a very pretty demo and I am looking forward to digesting the linked papers. At first glance it seems not so interesting since the functionality provided by the demo would seem to be reproduceable with a simple sql engine.

    What I still am not so sure about (and is why I want to read the articles and the code I downloaded - THANKS!) is the following perceptions I had (possibly erroneous) on first glance:

    - It is not clear how an semantic web ontology is being used, presumably there is rdf with some r

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