We've spoken a lot here about identifying and linking things and data about things. But 2008 will stay as the year of linking people. Clay Shirky exposed that brilliantly in his book "Here Comes Everybody"
As hundreds of millions of people, I've engaged in a few social networks this year. Not that I was not in some on-line communities before. In 1999-2000 I was Open Directory editor, since 2001 I've been a lunatic Wikipedian. But it was not those fancy Web *.0 social networks making billions of dollars. I've never been in Facebook or MySpace or the like, never going over this a priori reluctancy to join in noisy, aimless social chatter, exchanging images, music and recipes. No thanks.
Nevertheless ... I joined LinkedIn in January 2008, mostly to update my address book. At the time there were 17,000,000 people "In". Now the figures are over 30,000,000, or so they say. At the end of 2009 it's bound to be 1% of mankind. But LinkedIn is mostly an ego-booster. The main purpose of being "In" is very selfish : look at how efficient and professional, how many people I'm connected with etc. There are groups, but they have no real social activity as far as I can tell. So I keep my LinkedIn account for what it's worth : a free human resources directory.
In spring I had a try at Twine. With good marketing, they attracted a lot of smart, brilliant people. It was an interesting experience, but mostly unfocused and time-consuming. Twine has no particular purpose beyond conversation. I was quickly fed up with that, so I left.
My favourite these days is WiserEarth. I was very impressed by the clarity of purpose, the quality of information, and the spirit of the community. Of course the numbers are still small, less than 20,000 to-date. But you're most welcome to join.
Jason Borro has announced yesterday his Open GUID initiative on the Linking Open Data forum. After a first day of open discussion, it appears that he has came with the right implementation of hubjects, and moreover with a great metaphor. Hubjects must be anchored in signs, bot human-readable and computer-readable. Here is what I come with this morning.
That is, every thing is a sign. The first and main function of any language is to allow division of the world into "this" and "not this", based on some interpretation of data received from the world. Such an interpretation of data as signs is the basic form of semiosis, a process performed for quite a while by humans, and for many more ages by animals before them. It can now be performed by machines or information systems (roughly, computers connected to data acquisition devices). The aspects of this process can be defined as following.
- SALIENCE : Capacity to separate as meaningful (significant or salient) a certain data set from the continuous data flow we get from the world through our perceptive experience, be it direct through our biological senses, or indirect through one or more several levels of mediation : reading data gathered by instrumental devices, compilation of such data over time, texts interpreting those data.
- SIGNIFICATION : Capacity to consider the salient data set as a signifier conveying a particular meaning (signified), based on some characteristics such as spatial connectivity, permanence in time, regularity of patterns, similarity with other data sets previously interpreted and stored as signs, or anything the interpreter sees fit by its own rules and general view of the world. The core and essential meaning assigned is generally permanence, existence of a "thing" underlying the "sign". The thing is the signified associated to the signifier which is the data set.
- REPRESENTATION : Translate this sign/thing (both signifier and signified) into some proxy in a representation language allowing storage and retrieval for further use. Typical forms of representation include assignation of identifiers (symbols, icons, names, code numbers), description of the signified, and its connection to pre-existing ones through classification, typing, or any other kind of association or linking.
The above analysis can be set as the basis for a general semiosis framework applicable to natural languages (human or otherwise), formal languages used in our information systems, and scientific languages (theories in physics, biology). This framework, while keeping agnostic at the metaphysical level on the ontological status of things, will hopefully help to provide a solid theoretical foundation to the emerging semiosphere, the network of human knowledge and languages and information systems.
For use of this approch in the Semantic Web area, see a first cut ontology here.
[Note 2013-02-05] : This post has been for years and is still the top viewed in this blog, and I really don't understand why. Passer-by if you care to tell me how you came here, please comment below. Thanks!
One more public thread on SW list on our favourite issue. But some interesting points to note in the current discussion, well summed up by Aldo Gangemi at mid-course.
- We definitely need some property or mechanism, weaker than owl:sameAs, to assert that two URIs have similar referents.
- The semiotic aspects of co-reference are more and more acknowledged, even by formal logic gurus.