Updates from February, 2007 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Joe 18:47 on February 22, 2007 Permalink
    Tags: abstract tools, connecting data processors, elementary tools, expert tools, graphic enhanced tool, graphic tools, search property, , window.location.search,   

    Yahoo Pipes, an opinion 

    Yahoo PipesAt first glance, Pipes looks really cool. To me, it gives an excellent graphical / symbolical view of what it is all about: connecting data processors, input to output. Indeed, much like Unix pipes.

    That said, it also reminds me an awful lot of an old “graphical database application” (forgot the name), that I was forced to use on the Mac, way back early 1990s. The idea was that people without any programming (and database) knowledge could created and drag/drop their own database application.

    There was a serious problem, however: the tool didn’t work at all. Programmers missed even the most elementary tools (no loops, no exit conditions), while people not into programming are not inclined to develop an abstract view of their data. Which was exactly the reason I got the assignment.

    The flaw is that this class of products are aimed at a non-existing audience. At one hand, we have complex tasks, which can be solved by expert users using expert tools. At the other hand we have lay users, wanting to get the results of complex operations – which is perfectly reasonable. However, requirements for these kind of graphic tools are extremely tough. As an example, providing a graphic wrapper around an expression which is basically a regexp will not help anyone.

    Bottom line: I suspect that those people who instantly grasp the meaning of the graphic enhanced tool would prefer their own (command line) tools, while the for the rest of us it is still way too abstract and thus complex. Provide real abstraction hiding, or you still need power users which will ignore your enhanced tool anyway.

    More recent examples of this flaw are in my opinion Apple Automator and the whole Applescript language. When it comes to exact, abstract object properties, I prefer to just say window.location.search, rather than “the search property of the location of the window” or something equally fuzzy. But I digress.

    So, back to Pipes: yes, there’s much eye candy to its lovely interface, but when it comes to pure production value, I prefer more abstract tools which give me more control. Hide all geeky abstraction involved, and it might evolve into something really great – way to go.
    For now, mixing and matching RSS feeds could be as simple as using command line xsltproc with a simple XSL tranformation.

    (maybe there is a niche for it in the cut-n-paste crowd – those who just google some code, paste it somewhere and have it magically work, sometimes. Pipes will at least give them a robust and well defined environment, where they will not easily shoot themselves in the foot).

  • Joe 21:41 on February 2, 2007 Permalink
    Tags: , semantic web context, Tim Berners-Lee, , web service,   

    Making sense of tagging 

    By now almost everyone and their dog are familiar with the Web 2.0 meme and it’s common attributes. One of the more prominent features is tagging, assigning free text keywords to your photos, bookmarks and everything else.
    This has many benefits, as you can generate nice tag clouds or find interesting bookmarks by tag subject.

    But there are problems as well,most prominently the fact that my tag word may mean something rather different, depending on context.

    Over the past years I have been struggling with this problem, especially for tagging my photos. At first I cooked my own solution, based on a modified version of the Exif parser jhead (with added XML output) and a sticky ball of XSL transformation scripts (never published).
    Then I switched to iPhoto. Adding tags itself is a real pain with iPhoto, but this problem is solved by the excellent Keyword Assistant. The problem, however, is still in making sense of those keywords. I mean, there must at least be an option to export this metadata together with the image files, for archival (I’m rather sure that iPhoto 6 format will be forgotten about in a mere 15 to 20 years from now).

    There appear to be a couple of half finished projects to export iPhoto metadata to RDF. This looks like a promising route, but for some reason these didn’t gain traction and seem to have been abandoned.

    Of course, exporting just tags does not give the definitive answer to what exactly these tags mean, especially a couple of years from now. Context matters very much, if I tag a photo with a certain keyword, this may well mean something different than the same keyword for, let’s say, a song.

    So I conceived a very nice contextual tagging system, all in my head. Working title: TagLib. This would be a service-like application, always sitting in the background (or maybe running remotely as a web service) and waiting for tagging activity. Then, whenever a tag needs to be entered, all kinds of context would be considered. For instance, the kind of subject. When tagging a photo, the tag could be associated with the media type (photo) and time. The time could be compared with events in iCalendar and – if a matching event was found – the photo and event could be coupled. RDF would the natural choice for the data format, which then naturally extended to related data, e.g. FOAF for people’s names and Dublin Core for lots of other metadata.

    I still think that such a tagging service would make a lot of sense. Especially when it would be open and available for the general public to extend, you would get a kick start assigning meaningful keywords to whatever you want to tag.

    The working would be something along these lines:

    • start tagging operation (e.g. right click, context menu)
    • tagging interface invoked with context (object type, time, previous tagging)
    • suggested tags appear with auto-completion, based on context
    • user action: inspect context of suggested tag
    • when satisfied, apply tag
    • otherwise, create a personal “fork” for your context, e.g. by referring to name in Foaf file etc.

    Example: the first time you enter the tag bush, you wold be suggested the choice between the president of the USA or a wilderness scene. Or maybe you know someone else by the name bush, and you point the tool to the bush in your address book (facilitated through Foaf or some other mechanism).

    This all is a rough concept, stuck at the thought model level. I would have kept this all to myself, if I had not come across an article by Tim Berners-Lee: Using labels to give semantics to tags. In short: applying well defined (semantic) labels to liberally tagged objects, in order to give them presence in the semantic web context. In Tim BL’s words: “The concept of a label as a preset set of data which is applied to things and classes of things provides an intuitive user interface for a operation which should be simple for untrained users.

    Excellent, there’s still way to go!

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