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24 January 2009 to 16 October 2008
If you haven't had enough music-poll stats after this, I also helped tabulate the ILM Metal Poll, and posted even more geekery on the ILM thread discussing the Pazz & Jop results.
If you want to make the case for "improved" searching via the wonders of semantic-web technology, as this blog post and this demo attempt to, you need to make your demo demonstrate something compelling.  

In the blog post announcing that demo, Kingsley suggests "Microsoft" as the query example. As of this moment, doing that query on that demo produces a page of unintelligibly elided URLs, misrendered characters, and random blobs of text that contain the word "Microsoft" in them. The UI opens with this stirring invocation:  

Displaying values and text summaries associated with pattern: (NULL)1
(NULL)1 contains "microsoft" in any property value.

And the first search result begins, and I feel like I have to clarify that I am not making this up, with the words "Mac OS X Leopard" (and then some gibberish that I'm guessing used to be Italian).  

If you do the search "Microsoft" on Google right now, you get some news items about Microsoft, followed by the Microsoft site itself.  
 

But maybe that was just an unfortunate example. So I tried looking for Cyndi Lauper. Google's results for this begin with Cyndi's official site, then the Wikipedia page about her, then her MySpace page. OpenLink's begin with "The Parking Lot 03.09.2007 at SmartLemming.com", again in a page-layout that isn't even funny as a parody of good information design.  

If you want to amuse yourself by trying more examples, I've put up an easy form for running a search on both sites side-by-side:  

cyndi lauper
microsoft
(try your own)  

Be patient with the OpenLink side...  
 

To state the obvious caveat, the claim OpenLink is making about this demo is not that it delivers better search-term relevance, therefore the ranking of searching results is not the main criteria on which it is intended to be assessed.  

On the other hand, one of the things they are bragging about is that their server will automatically cut off long-running queries. So how do you like your first page of results?  

And on the other other hand, the big claim OpenLink is making about this demo is that the aggregate experience of using it is better than the aggregate experience of using "traditional" search. So go ahead, use it. If you can.  

Now, did your opinion of the potential of the "semantic web" go up or down during your experience?  
 

[Update: Kingsley responds here, and suggests that "glenn mcdonald" would actually be a better example query. So here you go: glenn mcdonald. Did your opinion change?  

Just to be clear, I think Kingsley is exactly right that we need a universal data browser, and quite possibly right that Virtuoso's underlying technology is capable of being an engine for such a thing. But this thing he's showing isn't a data browser, it's a data-representation browser. It's as if the first web-browser only did View Source. We will no more sell the new web by showing people URIs than we sold the old web by showing them hrefs. Exactly the opposite: we sold the old web by not showing people UL and OLs and TD/TD/TD/TD and CELLPADDING=0. And we'll sell this new web by not showing them meta-schema and triples and reification and inverse-link entailment.]
Described: Excuses for Our Natures to Change (The War Against Silence #510)  

Zipped: 1-43, 44-75  

Playlisted:  

1. In This Moment: Endless Days And Nights (Forever) (4:21)
2. In This Moment: The Underworld (Her Kiss) (4:30)
3. Enslaved: To The Coast (6:25)
4. Trinacria: Part III: Make No Mistake (6:20)
5. Everon: North (5:03)
6. Everon: South of London (4:04)
7. Eluveitie: Inis Mona (4:09)
8. Leviathan: VI-XI-VI (7:09)
9. Septicflesh: Anubis (4:17)
10. Dir en grey: Dozing Green (4:06)
11. Cynic: Evolutionary Sleeper (3:35)
12. Gyöngyvér: Halhatatlan ámok (3:30)
13. In Flames: The Mirror's Truth (2:58)
14. Frightened Rabbit: Head Rolls Off (3:44)
15. Frightened Rabbit: The Twist (3:30)
16. Puressence: Drop Down to Earth (3:11)
17. Sigur Rós: Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur (4:05)
18. M83: Graveyard Girl (4:51)
19. Katy Perry: Waking Up In Vegas (3:19)
20. Delays: Love Made Visible (3:58)
21. Ida: The Killers, 1964 (5:18)
22. Bob Mould: The Silence Between Us (3:34)
23. Shearwater: The Snow Leopard (5:08)
24. Asian Kung-Fu Generation: Night Diving (3:01)
25. Deathspell Omega: Chaining the Katechon (22:12)
26. Nightwish: The Escapist (4:59)
27. Frightened Rabbit: It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop (5:27)
28. Mountain Goats: Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident (3:21)
29. Wetnurse: Life At Stake (7:13)
30. Pink: It's All Your Fault (3:52)
31. OLIVIA: Rain (4:27)
32. Uh Huh Her: Wait Another Day (4:01)
33. Mia: Mausen (4:53)
34. Retribution Gospel Choir: What She Turned Into (2:22)
35. Zapruder Point: An Arm & a Leg (1:56)
36. L'Arc~en~Ciel: NEXUS 4 (3:51)
37. Ihsahn: Emancipation (5:27)
38. DragonForce: A Flame for Freedom (5:20)
39. Bob Catley: We Are Immortal (5:44)
40. I Nine: Seven Days of Lonely (3:36)
41. Jewel: Two Become One (3:44)
42. Týr: Gatu Rima (5:38)
43. Grand Magus: Like The Oar Strikes The Water (3:13)
44. Dark Tranquillity: Below the Radiance (3:25)
45. Equilibrium: Blut Im Auge (4:44)
46. Jesu: Blind And Faithless (3:33)
47. Boris: My Neighbor Satan (5:17)
48. Airborne Toxic Event: Sometime Around Midnight (5:03)
49. Gaslight Anthem: The '59 Sound (3:09)
50. Alanis Morissette: Underneath (4:07)
51. Rick Springfield: Saint Sahara (3:58)
52. Cradle of Filth: Stay (4:55)
53. Zapruder Point: Artificial Light (2:47)
54. Puressence: April In July (3:57)
55. Puressence: 3rd Degree (3:21)
56. Belle & Sebastian: (My Girl's Got) Miraculous Technique (4:28)
57. Lucksmiths: Anyone's Guess (2:19)
58. Hundred Reasons: No Way Back (3:35)
59. Trembling Blue Stars: This Once Was An Island (4:10)
60. Hypocrisy: Hatred (4:46)
61. Moonspell: Dreamless (Lucifer and Lilith) (5:16)
62. Candlemass: Lucifer Rising (4:06)
63. Poisonblack: Left Behind (4:45)
64. Monolith Deathcult: Master of the Bryansk Forests (7:13)
65. Metsatöll: Iivakivi (4:19)
66. Dalriada: A Szikla legendája (4:21)
67. Okkervil River: Pop Lie (3:12)
68. Manic Street Preachers: Umbrella (3:34)
69. Wilderness: Silver Gene (4:12)
70. Parts & Labor: Nowheres Nigh (4:36)
71. Magnetic Fields: Drive On, Driver (2:51)
72. Killers: Human (4:05)
73. Niyaz: Feraghi-Song of Exile (5:45)
74. Soweto Gospel Choir: Pride (In the Name of Love) (2:36)
75. Garry Schyman: Praan (4:29)
Here's a quick, simple test for your "news" source: Is their presentation of an abject historical humanitarian crisis with mounting casualties any different from their treatment of a guy hanging upside down from a ski-left by his pants?  

(Note: The answer should be "yes".)
My daughter has just discovered indefinite articles. For the past couple days, every "Mommy" and "Daddy" and "Kitty" has turned into "A mommy!", "A daddy!", "A kitty!" I think it's probably overanalyzing to think that she has just grasped either existential quantification or classification, but clearly she means something. She has been meaning things for a while, too, of course, but it's possible that this is her first communicated abstract idea. And even if this isn't, yet, it makes me realize that something soon will be.  

It's easy enough to see that a baby is a small person, taxonomically, because that's what they basically look like. But it's quite another leap to comprehend that an individual baby is actually inexorably becoming an individual person.

I got mine. Get yours.
Thanks to the collapse of the imaginary-asset industry in the US in the months just before the 2008 presidential election, we have had an unusual opportunity to observe both major candidates actually dealing with a perceived national crisis as presumptive leaders. And thus we have learned, clearly and unequivocally, this: when faced with a complex problem with economic, philosophical and public-policy ramifications, neither one of them had any real clue what happened, why and whether it matters, or what to do about it.  

But they differ dramatically in the way they dealt with their ignorance. Obama participated in the process, made some fairly noncommittal comments about the logistics, and patiently reiterated his socio-philosophical agenda. McCain lurched around spastically, spewing hurriedly half-baked ideas and trying to find somebody to yell at.  

There is your 2008 presidential decision in a single indicative reduction: do you want the guy who wants the world to be a better place, or the one who would just as soon headbutt you if he thought he could blame you for anything.  

Will Barack Obama really bring Change and Hope, with those grand Pooh-like capital letters? Can he really, as president, alter the emotional tone of American social discourse? Can he, by sheer persistence of talking about principles as if they actually inform the operation and effects of government and culture, actually bring an American social discourse (back?) into meaningful existence?  

I don't know. Maybe. I'm not exactly counting on it. My distrust of the two-party political protection-racket system far outweighs any personal warmth I feel for this particular guy. He wasn't even my candidate of choice, and I wasn't all that enthusiastic about that guy, either. Government is a very big machine optimized for nothing I need or care about.  

But there's no way anybody who is bothering to vote tomorrow, and I will be one of those bothering, can justify not voting for Barack Obama. As presidential qualifications go, calm principles are no Nobel Peace Prize, but at least they're something. Scamming cut-rate health-insurance from Utah and refusing to stand up for even the mildest forms of social equity are not anything. McCain and Palin are the nihilist ticket: they stand for nothing. Or, more precisely, they stand for not standing for things, for politics as cynical process, and for methodically undermining the idea that we could believe in each other. They stand, as George Bush stood before them, for small-mindedness. They stand only when we're watching, and only because they're afraid we'll see them wince when they sit down.  

A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for ourselves as an idea, for a novel idea that is transformative precisely because it ought to be so mundane. It is a vote for consideration over greed, for resolve over fear, and for the stubborn belief in the possibility of progress over an eager resignation to invisible curses. Barack Obama will not single-handedly solve our problems, and may not even get to preside over the solutions in the time he has, but he will stand with us while we face them, and he will help keep us going while we collectively try to think of things to try. He will stand with us, and as we stand with him we will believe an us into existence. A vote for Barack Obama is not just a vote for this country, and not even just a vote for a country, it is a vote for society itself as a virtue, and for the idea that it can be better.  

A vote for Barack Obama is not a vote for a great man, it is a vote for a decent man who has what ought to be the rudimentary sense to believe that there is a greatness bigger than himself that he himself can, and thus must, participate in creating. It is a vote for the bigger greatnesses to which we too have the capacity to aspire, and in which we thus have the responsibility to play a part. This vote, then, is part of our task. It is, if we have not begun already, where we start. It is the beginning of a long and necessary collective project of reclamation and redesign. It is a vote forward.  

I vote forward. I believe in us, and I take my part of our responsibility for our future. I stand for us and with us, and I accept the project of our society and its potential as my own. I am voting for Barack Obama.
I note, for the record, that a new Powerset feature announced today is effectively a server-specific implementation of a browser feature I suggested last year. Although probably Ted Nelson thought of it some time before I was born.
I gave another version of my Whole Data blog post as part of a panel called "Death of the Relational Database?" at the Web 3.0 conference today.  

My answer to the question in the panel-title is that the relational database was always mostly a coping mechanism for a time of relative scarcity, when our data volume and needs exceeded our storage and processing capacities. This era is not entirely past us, but with more memory, faster data-loading, faster processing and better programming tools, there are increasingly many datasets of larger and larger size for which we can now support qualitatively richer abstractions. Where we used to have to break data apart, and thus were constrained to interact with it in fragmented and broken ways, we can now increasingly afford to keep it whole.  

And here, then, to try to explain why that matters, is my current four-point reduction of the Whole Data manifesto:  

1. What logic allows, storage may not constrain.  

The forms of the logical data-model and its inquiries are by definition independent of any extra-logical storage mechanics. That is, a proper data system exists for the express purpose of sustaining the illusion that the logical data-model is real. This must also be true over time: logically-sensible changes in the logical data model cannot be constrained by storage mechanics.  

2. All relationships are lists.  

Not only must multiple-value relationships and no-value relationships be exactly as easily expressed, manipulated and inquired about as single-value relationships, but every fundamental data operation should thrive on multiplicity and sequence.  

3. There is no up or down, only onwards from here.  

Humans impose hierarchy and directionality on data, but different humans recognize different hierarchies in the same data at the same time. The system itself must be agnostic. No fact is inherently the property of another, they are all independent and structurally equal, and although pairs of relationships can be inverses of each other, there is no absolute “up” or “down”, or “forwards” or “backwards”. A database of albums, artists and years, for example, is exactly as much a database of years as it is of artists as it is of albums, not by the generous will of its schema-creator, but by the intrinsic nature of data. Most significantly, you must be able to start at any node and see everything else in this dataset to which, and from which, it is connected. In fact, turn this around and you get the essential practical definition of a “dataset”: it is a collection of data in which all internal connections are expressed.  

4. Human inquiry follows paths; machine inquiry follows all the paths at once.  

The reason to put data into computers is so that computers can answer questions that are meaningful to humans, but faster for computers. A data model and query language exist to communicate human needs to computers, not to communicate machine preferences to humans, and the responsiveness of a data system is its qualitative ability to answer questions with human motivations, not its quantitative throughput.  
 

At the end of this talk I also did the first (very brief) public demo of Thread, the path-based query language I've written as part of the data-modeling (among other things) system I've been working on at ITA Software. I'm looking forward (to put it mildly) to being able to talk much more about this, but for now I just whirled through a fast series of mostly-unexplicated queries that at least gestured in the direction of the points in my manifesto:  

Album:Year=2000
albums from the year 2000; a one-to-one relationship in the old world, but in the new world the year 2000 is a real thing, too, making this many-to-one

Album:Artist=Nightwish
albums by Nightwish; a more familiar many-to-one relationship

Artist:Album~Dark
Artists who did an album with "Dark" in the name; a one-to-many relationship with the same syntax as above

Label:Album~Dark
Labels that put out albums with "Dark" in the name; same syntax again, but following a different path to Albums

Album:~Dark.Label
same question again, but following the path from Albums, instead of to them

Artist:(.Album.Label:=Spinefarm)
Artists who've had albums on Spinefarm; same pattern as above, but filtering on a compound relationship

Label:=Spinefarm.Album.Artist
or go the other way

Artist:(.Album:#5.Year:>2000)
Artists whose fifth album came out after 2000; multiples and missing values (one of the bands in the sample data had only four albums)

Artist:!(.Album:#5)
artists who don't have a fifth album; filtering on absence
 

I also mentioned in the talk, but didn't actually show, the hypothetical query "Who are all the living movie directors who ever directed Cary Grant?":  

Actor:=Cary Grant.Film.Director:!(.Date of Death)  

Go ahead and try to answer that in IMDB without a query language. For that matter, try to answer it in Freebase with a query language. (Or, even worse, try to answer it in Freebase yesterday, before I fixed a bunch of dates of death by hand...)  
 

There's also a short article up on semanticweb.com at the moment, which if nothing else gives a transcribed sense of how I explain these ideas differently in a phone interview than I do in writing.  
 

And there's space for discussion here.
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