Posted:September 29, 2007

zLinks Kicks Out an Old Favorite

zLinks from ZitgistThe issue of popups, thumbnails, link indicators, and other visual clues for blog content has been an interesting and difficult one. When Snap first came out with its preview popup thumbnails of referenced links (“Snap Shots“), it became all the rage until there was a backlash against ‘popupitis‘.

Similarly, many of us, for styling and design considerations (perhaps not always for the best?!), have mucked around with our CSS to the point that a standard link is sometimes hard to discern. You’ve seen them, and I have myself been guilty:

  • different link colors than the original Web 1.0 link blue,
  • sometimes no underlining,
  • sometimes dotted underlines,
  • even boxes, and (horrors!)
  • even upper and lower borders!

As we get clever on this, we then need to compensate with other visual clues for the link.

In my case, about a year ago I adopted the terrific Link Indication WordPress plug-in by Michael Woehrer, which enabled me to type-by-icon the kind of link you, the reader, sees. In my own case, I had icons (for example) for Wikipedia, PDFs, RDF, general external links and some others. The idea, of course, is that faithful readers would learn these subtle distinctions and appreciate the visual cues. (Now for the obligatory, yeah, right!)

To avert symptoms similar to popupitis, it is important to keep these visual cues subtle and (hopefully) unobtrusive. I was actually fairly proud of my Link Indication icons in this regard.

zLinks Raises the Link to the ‘Power of Z’

I then began playing with zLinks about two weeks ago, and wrote a blog posting about it. Check that out and the update blog notice from Fred Giasson to learn more. And, if you have WordPress, you can download and install the plug-in yourself.

But now the game has changed. Instantaneously, my links became more meaningful, and my link representations on my blog more fat.

The links became more meaningful because now I had the wealth of linkages and relationships tied to every single embedded link on my writings. I have been an aggressive “linker” and this has meant a hidden wealth of interlinkages automatically available to my postings and writings. Sure, I don’t often or always want to explore this richness (and, maybe, many if not most of my readers don’t have that interest all the time as well), but, simply having it there has opened my eyes to what has been called ‘linked data.’

Further, the basis of relating a link to a MIME type or similar document-level distinction now seems primitive. The meaningful distinction is no longer whether the document is a Powerpoint or PDF, but what subjects it is about and who, what, where and when it describes. The link now becomes not a doorway to a document house, but a reference to individual rooms or objects therein.

This richness and its implications are only now becoming apparent to me (and in a still-forming way). Moreover, through such things as backlinks, directed connections, implied connections and many others, this now-emerging world of interconnectedness is still revealing itself.

The new branding of the Zitgist Browser Linker to zLinks, I think, is a nice acknowledgement by the developers that something fundamentally new is afoot. It has been exciting (and rewarding to me) that as one of the early users of this capability that the developers (Fred, especially, thanks!) have sought me out for input and ideas.

The enhancements in this most recent Zitgist release tell me we have truly entered the era of the ‘Power of Z.’ Namely, the reach of a zLinks link is to make real today’s basis to deliver data interconnectedness. This is not the future; it is today. And, it is profound and exciting.

A Diet is the Only Cure for Iconitis

So, with a breaking of document classification boundaries (such as MIME type) to one that is now attuned to atomic data, any imaginable classification scheme becomes possible. But in this open typing, how do we handle the poor, overburdened link? How do we convey its power and reach? We’d like to convey some meaning, but where does it end? Readability would never accept Dewey Decimal tags or literal metadata text or any other such construct appended to the standard link.

From a practical standpoint, my first challenge was including the standard zLinks “mini-Z” icon associated with the zLinks popup that is the entree point to all of this interlinkedness richness. (By the way, have you been mousing over these icons to see the cool zLinks popups? Let alone following those reference links to their own Zitgist template reports?) The problem was, here was another new and diverting icon on top of the ones I was using with Link Indication — in other words, my link representations were becoming fat.

To add insult to injury, when I, as blog author, need to annotate or make other local notes on my local zLinks capabilities, I also need to call up and deal with the zLinks annotation facility. And, it too, has its own icon. So, after installing zLinks, I found I was now suffering from a new disease, iconitis, that has symptoms dangerously close to popupitis.

Thus, here is what one of my links looked like with the standard Link Indication icon and the zlinks annotation and standard icons while in authoring mode:

Example Link Icons

My gawd, my links were getting as adorned with all manner of fruits and nuts worse than tutti frutti.

Since I am as much in authoring mode as not, this distraction is in my face about half of the time. So, my decision: Get ‘link lean’ — skinny down those link icons and references, sufficient to where things again become usable and readable.

It was time to say goodbye to Link Indication.

The Scope and Longer-term Paradigm Remains Unclear

There is really no need to make a heavy point of this except to note that the Web will continue to be ubiquitous as an access point to information, that information will devolve to be object- and data-centric and not at the document level, and the link (in keeping with its essence of the Web) will be the essential gateway for access.

I like the decisions Zitgist has made for zLinks: to provide a single, subtle and small icon, that itself brings up its own dialog showing the richness of the linked data support behind the embedded link. This popup is made available only when desired after a mouseover with a short delay (keeping the popup hidden during standard mouse movements). But then, when invoked, a new separate world of data types and links with expandable icons and tooltips is revealed:

zLinks Popoup

This richness can be shown in the following example zLinks popup for the embedded link to Sweet Tools, in which all 600 tools are made available from a single link! This scrollable and extensible design is very much in keeping with growth and potential and meaning for the once lowly link:

zLinks Popoup

So, with zLinks, I and my readers may have now given up showing links by MIME type, but we have gained the power of complete connectedness with the Web.

Let’s all raise a toast to the ‘Power of Z’ and to keeping links lean!

Posted:September 24, 2007
Since the progression of WordPress beyond version 2.5x, the Advanced TinyMCE plug-in has reached its E.O.L. A better alternative that is being kept current is TinyMCE Advanced from Andrew Ozz. Advanced TinyMCE is still available for download for older WP versions.

New WordPress Release Imminent

WordPress LogoAccording to the WordPress codex, my Advanced TinyMCE Editor has been tested and found compatible with WordPress v. 2.3. (About 160 total plug-ins have been so verified.)

This new WP version adds enhanced support for tagging, among others (see Aaron Brazell’s 10 things you should know about this release).

I will be doing my own testing when a stable release is issued, but this is good news for this popular plug-in. You may get version 0.5 of Advanced TinyMCE from here.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on September 24, 2007 at 9:00 am in Blogs and Blogging, Open Source | Comments (0)
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Posted:September 16, 2007

Sweet Tools Listing

AI3's Sweet Tools Listing Updated to Version 10

This AI3 blog maintains Sweet Tools, the largest listing of about 800 semantic Web and -related tools available. Most are open source. Click here to see the current listing!

AI3's listing of semantic Web and -related tools has just been updated to version 10. This version adds 36 new tools since the last update on June 19, bringing the new total to 578 tools.

This version 10 update of Sweet Tools also includes an upgrade to version 2 of the lightweight Exhibit display (thanks again, MIT's Simile program and David Huynh, plus congratulations on your Ph.D, David!) and is separately provided as a simple table for quick download and copying.

Background on prior listings and earlier statistics may be found on these previous posts:

With interim updates periodically over that period.

Because of comments expirations on prior posts, this entry is now the new location for adding a suggested new tool. Simply provide your information in the comments section, and the tool will be included in the next update.

Posted:September 11, 2007

rdf-zitgist-wordpress.png Zitgist’s Plug-in Exposes Linked Data for Hundreds of Thousands of WordPress Sites

Notice Anything New at the End of AI3‘s Links ??? (hint: )

The essence of the Web is the link. We use it to navigate, discover, form communities and get high rankings (or not!) for our Web pages on search engines. But, each link carries much more behind it than what has generally been exposed. That is, until now . . . .

Frédérick Giasson is a pragmatic innovator of the structured Web and semantic Web. Most recently, his efforts have included Ping the Semantic Web (that aggregates RDF published on the Web), the Zitgist semantic Web browser (that enables that RDF data to be viewed in useful ways), TalkDigger (for finding and sharing topical Web discussions), and efforts on a variety of ontologies, including jointly with me on UMBEL.

I have been an aggressive “linker” for some time and try to refer to Wikipedia often for definitions or background as well. Thus, Fred’s most recent efforts to continue to add value to the link as the basic coin of the Web realm really caught my eye.

What is zLinks?

In the early days of the Web, links were used solely to visit specific Web pages or locations within those documents. Somewhat later, actions such as searching or purchasing items could be associated with a link. Most recently, with the emergence of the semantic Web, the very nature of the link has become ambiguous, potentially representing any of the link’s former uses or either direct or indirect references to data and resources.

The Zitgist zLinks plug-in now makes these link uses explicit from within WordPress blogs.

Thus, we see that links can fulfill three different purposes, in rough order of their emergence:

  1. To visit Web pages and locations
  2. To potentially take actions (say, buy or search), and
  3. To retrieve data regarding resources.

The emergence of linked data and the semantic Web (or at least the provision of data via the structured Web) are making the use of the link more complicated and ambiguous. Moreover, sometimes a link is an indirect reference to where data exists, and not the actual resource itself.

What Zitgist’s zLinks does is to make these uses explicit and to remove ambiguities. Further, if a link is not to an actual resource but only a reference to it, zLinks resolves to the link’s correct destination. And, still further, a zLinks link is the gateway to still additional links from its reference destination, making the service a powerful jumping off point in the true spirit of the interlinked Web.

To my knowledge, zLinks is is the first and purest implementation of what Kingsley Idehen has termed the “enhanced anchor” or <a++>. RDFa and embedded RDF have similar objectives but are not premised on resolving the existing link.

Like the SIOC Import Plug-in, which imports SIOC metadata into a WordPress blog, the zLinks tool recognizes the importance of standard blogging software and automated background tools to expose data and capabilities. Since WordPress has many hundreds of thousands of site owners and bloggers — not to mention hundreds of millions of visitors — zLinks could be an important first exposure for many to the real power of linking and the semantic Web.

How Do You Use It?

As a site owner, zLinks works identically to other plug-ins: simply install it and then it works smoothly and easily.

As a site user who might encounter a zLinks icon in a WordPress blog, all you need to do is click on mouse over the zLinks launcher icon at the end of any visible link. You will first get an alert that the system is working, retrieving all of the necessary background link information. You will then get a popup showing the results, similar to this one for my own AI3 blog:

Sample Zitgist Browser Linker Popup

The zLinks popup offers direct and related links, with the icons and other associated information an indicator as to the nature of the link and its purpose. In our example case, I click on my name reference, which brings up my FOAF file in the Zitgist browser:

Example FOAF File from Zitgist Browser
[Click for full image]

Note how picture, mapping and other information is automatically “meshed” with my FOAF file. From this Zitgist browser location, I could obviously continue to explore still further links and relationships. In this manner, zLinks adds an entirely new dynamic dimension to the concept of ‘interlinking.’

If the initial zLinks link references data, that data is now resolved to its proper direct location, and is presented as RDF with further meshing and manipulation available. Other resources may take you directly to a Web page or perform other actions. Some of those actions, for example, may be to format data results in specific views (timelines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, structured reports, etc.). If the sources are data, the ability to make transformations or present the data in various views opens a rich horizon of options.

Tweaks and Caveats

I made some minor tweaks to the Zitgist distribution as provided. First, I replaced the initial link icon — – with this one –– that is smaller and more in keeping with my local WordPress theme. I did this simply by replacing the mini_rdf.gif image in the /public_html/wp-content/plugins/zitgist-browser-linker/imgs/ directory.

Then, also in keeping with my local theme, I made the text in the popup a bit smaller. I did this simply by adding a font-size: 80%; property to the style.css stylesheet in the /public_html/wp-content/plugins/zitgist-browser-linker/css/ directory.

And, that was it! Simple and sweet.

It is also important to realize that this is just a first-release prototype. Some initial bugs have been discovered and worked out, sometimes the server site is down, and longer-term potentialities are only now beginning to emerge. But, this is still professional software with much thought behind it and much potential in front of it. If it breaks, so what? It is free and it is fun.

Where Next?

To all of you out there new to RDF and structured, linked data, I say: Play and enjoy!

zLinks is only beginning to touch the most visible part of the iceberg. It is pretty clear that the use and usefulness of links are only now being understood. Harking back to the original listing of three possible uses for a link it is clear that “actions” and the use of the link itself as a referrer and “mini-banner” on the Web are still not appreciated, let alone exploited.

It is interesting that AdaptiveBlue has also come out with a SmartLinks approach that differs somewhat from the Zitgist approach (items and linkages are constructed and then referred to from a central location), but their screenshot does affirm the untapped potential of links.

The W3C semantic Web community continues to grapple with resource/link terminology and nuances, the implications of which will be deferred to another day and another blog entry. However, suffice it to say that with a growing ‘Web of data’ and linked data, not to mention the original document vision and then one of commerce and services, the once lowly link is growing mighty indeed!

Posted:September 10, 2007

Astoria is Whistling Past the Graveyard to Irrelevance

I was pleased to see in my blog reader this morning a post from the Microsoft Astoria team on anticipated data formats for its pending formal release. I have been working on modeling Web data models and hoped to see some insight in the piece.

As the project team states,

The goal of Astoria is to make data available to loosely coupled systems for querying and manipulation. In order to do that we need to use protocols that define the interaction model between the producer and the consumer of that data, and of course we have to serialize the data in some form that all the involved parties understand. So protocols and formats are an important topic in our design process.

With that said, the team announced that the first formal Astoria release will support these three formats (with the single HTTP protocol):

  • ATOM / APP
  • JSON, the JavaScript Object Notation, and
  • Web3S, a Microsoft marketing wonder that as far as I know is only used by the MS Live group.

The later is a strange mapping of a tree data model to the record base of Astoria, in the process also abandoning a straight XML implementation in earlier versions.

Also notable for its absence is RDF (Resource Description Framework). The defensive response of the Astoria team to this absence speaks for itself:

The May [announcement on Astoria] included support for RDF. While we got positive comments about the fact we supported it, we didn't see any early user actually using it and we haven't seen a particular popular scenario where RDF was a must-have. So we are thinking that we may not include RDF as a format in the first release of Astoria, and focus on the other 3 formats (which are already a bunch from the development/testing perspective).

My personal take is that while I understand how RDF fits in the picture of the semantic web and related tools, the semantic web goes well beyond a particular format. The point is to have well-defined, derivable semantics from services. I believe that Astoria does this independently of the format being used. That, combined with the fact that we didn't see a strong demand for it, put RDF lower in our priority lists for formats.

There was a funny Glenn Ford movie from 1964 called “Advance to the Rear”. The problem is, this is not a movie, but the largest software company in the world taking two steps back for each one forward. Congratulations on alienating still further many thought leaders on the Web.

This is yet another stunning and lame attempt by Microsoft to replace open standards with proprietary ones. Get a clue, Redmond!