After much planning and beer consumption, InfoCamp PDX is a reality. On Febuary 4, 2012, InfoGeeks from around the Pacific Northwest will converge to talk about information: what it is and how we find it, use it, structure it, design it — really whatever we want, because it’s an unconference.

Come join us! Registration’s open now. Bring your burning ideas for a session, or just come and join the conversation. Want to sponsor us? Send us an email at

Hope to see you there!


Ah December, the month of the top ten list and the year in review.

I love it; it’s like a cram session for people like me who don’t pay good attention. Come January, I’ll put my head back down, and ignore what the rest of the world is doing. But for now, I’m energized as I belatedly stumble across everything that happened in 2011. (Hey, look, it’s html5. And is that a sparkly vampire chasing it?)

The folks at have the standard “Best of the semantic web in 2011” round up post running, and there’s a lot of good stuff there. Siri of course remains the golden child of the semantic app world, even if it sometimes acts like, well, a computer. And just as in 2010, some of the most excitement and movement came around open data, linked data, government data and big data. All that data without clear models to structure it makes a modeler nervous, but it’s a good lesson in the need for pragmatism. If you can’t quickly develop and publish simple, general, reusable models (which mostly we can’t), people are going to move on without you.

Just as good is the site’s “Misses and misteps” article. I don’t think I’ve come across an annual post-mortem like this before, and I really appreciate everyone taking off the rose-colored glasses for a few minutes to take a critical look at the year. My favorite quote from it is this:

2011 was the year — well, the latest year — that the Semantic Web didn’t pan out.  The Semantic Web is the New AI: Technology that’s always on the verge of revolutionizing computing that never seems to deliver.  It’s a shame, but at least we’ve learned to focus on what’s practical and more likely to produce business value, semantic technologies such as text analytics are here-and-now rather than perpetually just over the horizon.

A little cynical? Maybe, but it fits my own view of the semantic world. We’re probably never going to achieve the full-blown vision of the semantic web’s original architects, and personally I’m okay with that. That vision is driving a lot of really practical sematically-influenced work that will infiltrate and improve all sorts of technologies and techniques, whether or not it results in a purely semantic solutions.

Also, for historical completeness, here’s a post I wrote for SmartBear’s Software Quality Connection rounding up 2010’s semantic web highlights. I get points for posting the link within the calendar year of the year I wrote the article, right? No? Well, here’s to more regular blogging in 2012.

IA meets semantics

February 28, 2011

My worlds collide! I just caught up with the current issue of the Journal of Information Architecture — and it’s all about semantics and structured data. As an information architect who has never wireframed a website, I’m excited to see the IA community dive into the world of structured data and ontology. It’s great to see the likes of enterprise information architects and master data management practioners add some semantic tools to their toolkits.

I'm almost afraid to click…

104 ways you’re wrong

August 5, 2010

Here’s a fun catalog of some of the many ways our cognitive processes trip us up. I’ve committed at least 37 of them today alone. How about you?

Cognitive Biases – A Visual Study Guide

Here's a short definition of an ontology that I wrote up the website at work. There's a lot more that can be said, but I think the discussion of why ontologies are useful is of interest.

An ontology is a description of the entities in an area of interest, or domain, the attributes of those entities, and the relationships between them. This description is both formal, meaning it can be acted on by a computer, and human-readable.

One of the major strengths of an ontology is that it lets us organize information in terms of the problem we’re trying to solve, not the data we’re collecting. While data remains important in an ontology-based information system, it is structured according to the concepts of the domain, not the table structure of the database it’s stored in. This is important for two reasons: we can formalize relationships between pieces of data that would only be hinted at by foreign keys and naming conventions in a database. More importantly, it frees us to think about our problem space in terms of concepts and abstraction, not data. To take a model-driven approach instead of a data-driven one. Humans think in terms of models, not data. It is models that give meaning to data. As we deal with ever increasing volumes of data, it is models that help us identify what’s important, organize it, hypothesize about it, and discover connections between disparate data.


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Last week Google began including results from Twitter on their results page. The tweets are accessed through a timeline with a handle you can grab to scroll through results over time.

This is incredibly cool. At the same time, I can’t help noticing that while it presents a lot of information, it’s not immediately clear how to construct meaning from it.

Google talks about using the results to “’replay’ what people were saying publicly about a topic on Twitter.” That seems to describe the usage model pretty accurately: search, scroll through all results, and make of them what you will. It seems to lend itself to historical or anthropological purposes, rather than traditional search.

Here’s some sample tweets returned by searching for “Obama“: This isn’t so great if you’re interested in policy, but highly interesting if you’re investigating the teaparty movement. Ditto with this result:

Up until now, if you were researching a group of people, you would search on the group’s name. With tweets, you really want to search on the topics the group publishes about. So this could change the average information consumer’s search strategies.

The Google Blog suggests this search to “relive” Shaun White’s Olympic glory. The idea of reliving it is interesting, because what’s being relived is not the actual moment, but the response of thousands of people to that moment.

(And, like everything else, it could really use semantic search to filter out stuff like this: )

To sum up: Twitter on Google is very cool. It will change the way we search, but right now not even Google knows a good way to use it. It dumps a huge amount of raw info on the searcher, and leaves it the individual to navigate, sift, and construct meaning out of it.

But, it was only announced this week, and clever people are certainly already at work on innovative ways to build meaning out of the firehose that is the global tweetstream. A semantic search layer? Sentiment analysis? There’s a lot of possibility here.

By the time this posts, Google will probably have rolled this out worldwide. Have you tried it? What do you think?

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