Bing vs Google, the quiet semantic war

On Wednesday night I had dinner at a burger joint with four old friends; two work in the intelligence community today on top-secret programs, and two others are technologists in the private sector who have done IC work for years. The five of us share a particular interest besides good burgers: semantic technology.

Oh, we talked about mobile phones (iPhones were whipped out as was my Windows Phone, and apps debated) and cloud storage (they were stunned that Microsoft gives 25 gigabytes of free cloud storage with free Skydrive accounts, compared to the puny 2 gig they’d been using on DropBox).

But we kept returning to semantic web discussions, semantic approaches, semantic software. One of these guys goes back to the DAML days of DARPA fame, the guys on the government side are using semantic software operationally, and we all are firm believers in Our Glorious Semantic Future.

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A-Space Past and Future

This week marks the second anniversary of the first live internal demo of the intelligence community’s A-Space project, groundbreaking for the IC in its goal of collaborative use of social media across agency lines. Somewhere in Maryland, a remarkable government employee and friend named Mike Wertheimer should pause and quietly celebrate the fruition of his early evangelism for it.

I was still a government employee then, but wrote about the effort at the time here on Shepherd’s Pi (“A-Space: Top-secret social networking“). It makes me chuckle to remember back to those days when it was still mostly unheard-of for IC employees to blog openly on the public web about current technology projects. Now you can’t shut ‘em up! :)

It made sense, I thought, to set down a few notes at the time for several reasons: Continue reading

Data in the Cloud from Dallas to Mars

There’s a lot going on at this week’s Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC 09); it’s a traditional launchpad for cool new stuff. I thought I’d point out several of the government-relevant announcements and technology roll-outs.

I specifically want to spotlight something called Codename Dallas, and how NASA and others have begun using it. In the keynote this morning Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie told PDC attendees (and his streaming-video audience) that a landslide of new sensors and observational systems are changing the world by recording “unimaginable volumes of data… But this data does no good unless we turn the potential into the kenetic, unless we unlock it and innovate in the realm of applications and solutions that’s wrapped around that data.”

Here’s how we’re addressing that, with a bit of step-by-step context on the overall cloud-computing platform enabling it.  The steps are: 1. Azure, 2. Pinpoint, and 3. Dallas.

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Bad News for the Pithy

Just my luck. Right when I start to push out the pithy quotes, Reader’s Digest announces that it is filing for bankruptcy. I remember the days when everyone would recite the newest pearls from their “Quotable Quotes” column.

My little gems, such as they are, came in two recent interviews, both on the subject of semantic computing and the semantic web. The subject matter in each is somewhat similar – I wasn’t asked so much about future work that Microsoft is doing, but for assessments of different approaches in semantic computing past and present, and where the field is heading.

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Seeking Semantics in Government

Anyone who uses Twitter and has to cram thoughts in to 140 characters knows that technology doesn’t always mix well with “semantic meaning.” That reminds me of an old Hollywood story (here’s a version from Wikipedia):

Cary Grant is said to have been reluctant to reveal his age to the public, having played the youthful lover for more years than would have been appropriate. One day, while he was sorting out some business with his agent, a telegram arrived from a journalist who was desperate to learn how old the actor was. It read: HOW OLD CARY GRANT?

Grant, who happened to open it himself, immediately cabled back: OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?

WashTechWashington Technology magazine has a long (overly long) feature today about semantic computing, entitled “Open Government Looks for New Technologies.”  It has nothing to do with Cary Grant, but I have a few minor quibbles with the article (written by a freelancer from New York).

The premise is in the subhead: “Web 3.0 could help make Obama’s dream of government transparency a reality.”  The article goes on to give a basic – very basic – primer on semantic tagging and its potential application in government uses. Underline that word, “potential.”

Aside from the new Data.gov website’s use of minimal Dublin-Core metadata, there’s no actual government use cited. In fact, despite the premise, the article actually contains more evidence that government agencies are actively shying away from adopting semantic approaches. A spokesperson for GSA is typical, saying only that ““We are monitoring the situation as the technology matures; it is not factoring into our business requirements at this point.”  And a spokesperson for the site at www.Recovery.gov, now controversial for the manner in which it was contracted out, says they are “focusing on other priorities.” 

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One of My Dream Web Toys – Now Live

Oh, am I happy.  Here’s where I’ll be, every day, for at least some little period of time: xRank on Politicians.

Every pollster and political consultant will like this – and okay, just plain political junkies anywhere, in this heightened political campaign year.  Politicians themselves will also want to check out their up/down arrow (Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was hot “with a bullet” for a while because of the Obama VP rumors, but he’s falling now; John Edwards love-child stories are hot-hot-hot! right now).  Check it out yourself

xRank has been live for a while with celebrities’ names – but who cared about that?  Politicians – ah, good stuff.  Maybe we’ll give geeks their Andy Warhol moment and add technologists soon :-)

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How to Keep Up with the Semantic Space

Fact: Reshma Sohoni, chief executive of Seedcamp (the VC accelerator focusing on European tech startups) said in an interview this week that “In the past few months, we’ve seen a lot more developments around the semantic web,” and talked about the coming value of semantic web services.  

Analysis:  There’s never-ending buzz about the semantic space. Just this week John Conroy writing at the Content Matters blog had a long and interesting piece examining “three ingredients needed to enable and popularize the semantic Web,” with the aim of answering “if we really are on the cusp of a content revolution.”

Also, I admit it, I can’t stop playing with the semantic-space startups, whether it’s Sensebot or the newly launched Evri, or Powerset (just acquired by Microsoft, as I wrote about previously).

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