Posted:July 26, 2010

While Also Discovering Hidden Publication and Collaboration Potentials

A few weeks back I completed a three-part introductory series to what Structured Dynamics calls a ‘total open solution‘. A total open solution as we defined it is comprised of software, structure, methods and documentation. When provided in toto, these components provide all of the necessary parts for an organization to adopt new open source solutions on its own (or with the choice of its own consultants and contractors). A total open solution fulfills SD’s mantra that, “We’re successful when we’re not needed.”

Two of the four legs to this total open solution are provided by documentation and methods. These two parts can be seen as a knowledge base that instructs users on how to select, install, maintain and manage the solution at hand.

Today, SD is releasing publicly for the first time two complementary knowledge bases for these purposes: TechWiki, which is the technical and software documentation complement, in this case based around SD’s Open Semantic Framework and its associated open source software projects; and DocWiki, the process methodology and project management complement that extends this basis, in this case based around the Citizen Dan local community open data appliance.

All of the software supporting these initiatives is open source. And, all of the content in the knowledge bases is freely available under a Creative Commons 3.0 license with attribution.

Mindset and Objectives

In setting out the design of these knowledge bases, our mindset was to enable single-point authoring of document content, while promoting easy collaboration and rollback of versions. Thus, the design objectives became:

  • A full document management system
  • Multiple author support
  • Authors to document in a single, canonical form
  • Collaboration support
  • Mixing-and-matching of content from multiple pages and articles to re-purpose for different documents, and
  • Excellent version/revision control.

Assuming these objectives could be met, we then had three other objectives on our wish list:

  • Single source publishing: publish in multiple formats (HTML, PDF, doc, csv, RTF?)
  • Separate theming of output products for different users, preferably using CSS, and
  • Single-click export of the existing knowledge base, followed by easy user modification.

Our initial investigations looked at conventional content and document management systems, matched with version control systems or SVNs. Somewhat surprisingly, though, we found the Mediawiki platform to fulfill all of our objectives. Mediawiki, as detailed below, has evolved to become a very mature and capable documentation platform.

While most of us know Mediawiki as a kind of organic authoring and content platform — as it is used on Wikipedia and many other leading wikis — we also found it perfect for our specific knowledge base purposes. To our knowledge, no one has yet set up and deployed Mediawiki in the specific pre-packaged knowledge base manner as described herein.

TechWiki v DocWiki

TechWiki is a Mediawiki instance designed to support the collaborative creation of technical knowledge bases. The TechWiki design is specifically geared to produce high-quality, comprehensive technical documentation associated with the OpenStructs open source software. This knowledge base is meant to be the go-to source for any and all documentation for the codes, and includes information regarding:

  • Coding and code development
  • Systems configurations and architectures
  • Installation
  • Set-up and maintenance
  • Best practices in these areas
  • Technical background information, and
  • Links to external resources.

As of today, TechWiki contains 187 articles under 56 categories, with a further 293 images. The knowledge base is growing daily.

DocWiki is a sibling Mediawiki instance that contains all TechWiki material, but has a broader purpose. Its role is to be a complete knowledge base for a given installation of an Open Semantic Framework (in the current case, Citizen Dan). As such, it needs to include much of the technical information in the TechWiki, but also extends that in the following areas:

  • Relation and discussion of the approach viz. other information development initiatives
  • Use of a common information management framework and vocabulary (MIKE2.0)
  • A five-phased, incremental approach to deployment and use
  • Specific tasks, activities and phases under which this deployment takes place, including staff roles, governance and outcome measurement
  • Supporting background material useful for executive management and outside audiences.

The methodology portions of the DocWiki are drawn from the broader MIKE2.0 (Method for Integrated Knowledge Environments) approach. I have previously written about this open source methodology championed by Bearing Point and Deloitte.

As of today, DocWiki contains 357 articles and 394 structured tasks in 70 activity areas under 77 categories. Another 115 images support this content. This knowledge base, too, is growing daily.

Both of these knowledge bases are open source and may be exported and installed locally. Then, users may revise and modify and extend that pre-packaged information in any way they see fit.

Basic Wiki Overview

The basic design of these systems is geared to collaboration and embeds what we think are really responsive work flows. These extend from supporting initial idea noodling to full-blown public documentation. The inherent design of the system also supports single-source publishing and book or PDF creation from the material that is there. Here is the basic overview of the design:

Wiki Archtectural Overview

(click for full size)

Mediawiki provides the standard authoring and collaboration environment. There are a choice of editing methods. As content is created, it is organized in a standard way and stored in the knowledge base. The Mediawiki API supports the export of information in either XHTML or XML, which in turn allows the information to be used in external apps (including other Mediawiki instances) or for various single-source publication purposes. The Collection extension is one means by which PDFs or even entire books (that is, multi-page documents with potentially chapters, etc.) may be created. Use of a well-designed CSS ensures that outputs can be readily styled and themed for different purposes or audiences.

As wikis designed from the get-go to be reusable, and then downloaded and installed locally, it is important that we maintain quality and consistency across content. (After download, users are free to do with it as they wish, but it is important the initial database be clean and coherent.) The overall interaction with the content thus occurs via one of three levels: 1) simple reading, which is publicly available without limitation to any visitor, including source inspection and export; 2) editing and authoring, which is limited to approved contributors; and 3) draft authoring and noodling, which is limited to the group in #2 but for which the in-progress content is not publicly viewable. Built-in access rights in the system enable these distinctions.

Features and Benefits

Besides meeting all of the objectives noted at the opening of this post, these wikis (knowledge bases) also have these specific features:

  • Relatively complete (and growing) knowledge base content
  • Book, PDF, or XHTML publishing
  • Single-click exports and imports
  • Easy branding and modification of the knowledge bases for local use (via the XML export files)
  • Pre-designed, standard categorization systems for easy content migration
  • Written guidance on use and best practices
  • Ability to keep content in-development “hidden” from public viewing
  • Controlled, assisted means for assigning categories to content
  • Direct incorporation of external content
  • Efficient multi-category search and filtering
  • Choice of regular wikitext, WikED or rich-text editing
  • Standard embeddable CSS objects
  • Semantic and readily themed CSS for local use and for specialty publications
  • Standard templates
  • Sharable and editable images (SVG inclusion in process)
  • Code highlighting capabilities (GeSHi, for TechWiki)
  • Pre-designed systems for roles, tasks and activities (DocWiki)
  • Semantic Mediawiki support and forms (DocWiki)
  • Guided navigation and context (DocWiki).

Many of these features come from the standard extensions in the TechWiki/DocWiki packages.

The net benefits from this design are easily shared and modified knowledge bases that users and organizations may either contribute to for the broader benefit of the OpenStructs community, or download and install with simple modifications for local use and extension. There is actually no new software in this approach, just proper attention to packaging, design, standardization and workflow.

A Smooth Workflow

Via the sharing of extensions, categories and CSS, it is quite easy to have multiple instances or authoring environments in this design. For Structured Dynamics, that begins with our own internal wiki. Many notes are taken and collected there, some of a proprietary nature and the majority not intended or suitable for seeing public release.

Content that has developed to the point of release, however, can be simply tagged using conventions in the workflow. Then, with a single Export command, the relevant content is then sent to an XML file. (This document can itself be edited, such as for example changing all ‘TechWiki’ references to something like ‘My Content Site’; see further here.)

Depending on the nature of the content, this exported content may then be imported with a single Import command to either the TechWiki or DocWiki sites. (Note: Import does require admin rights.) A simple migration may also occur from the TechWiki to the DocWiki. Also, of course, initial authoring may begin at any of the sites, with collaborators an explicit feature of the TechWiki or DocWiki versions.

Any DocWiki can also be specifically configured for different domains and instance types. In terms of our current example, we are using Citizen Dan, but that could be any such Open Semantic Framework instance type:

Content Flow Across Wikis

(click for full size)

Under this design, then, the workflow suggests that technical content authoring and revision take place within the TechWiki, process and methodology revision in the DocWiki. Moreover, most DocWikis are likely to be installed locally, such that once installed, their own content would likely morph into local methods and steps.

So long as page titles are kept the same, newer information can be updated on any target wiki at any time. Prior versions are kept in the version history and can be reinstated. Alternatively, if local content is clearly diverging yet updates of initial source material is still desired, the local content need only be saved under a new title to preserve it from import overwrites.

Where Is It Going from Here?

We are really excited by this design and have already seen benefits in our own internal work and documentation. We see, for example, easier management of documentation and content, permanent (canonical) URLs for specific content items, and greater consistency and common language across all projects and documentation. Also, when all documentation is consolidated into one point with a coherent organizational and category structure, documentation gaps and inconsistencies also become apparent and can readily be fixed.

Now, with the release of these systems to the OpenStructs (Open Semantic Framework) and Citizen Dan communities, we hope to see broader contributions and expansion of the content. We encourage you to check on these two sites periodically to see how the content volume continues to grow! And, we welcome all project contributors to join in and help expand these knowledge bases!

We think this general design and approach — especially in relation to a total open solution mindset — has much to recommend it for other open source projects. We think these systems, now that we have designed and worked out the workflows, are amazingly simple to set up and maintain. We welcome other projects to adopt this approach for their own. Let us know if we can be of assistance, and we welcome ideas for improvement!

Posted:July 15, 2010

Cisco Video is a Good Starting Intro for Management

Like the seminal linked data publication by PricewaterhouseCoopers of about a year ago (see PWC Dedicates Quarterly Technology Forecast to Linked Data, May 29, 2009), a video released by Cisco yesterday is another signal of the emergence of the semantic enterprise.

The Cisco tech brief on The Semantic Enterprise is a quite accessible — but a bit eerie — seven-minute introduction.  The video was prepared by Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), with Shaun Kirby, its Director of Innovations Architectures, as the narrator:

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lUzs2I8BKI

Well, as for being eerie, when the video first came up, I thought I was looking at an advanced, next generation avatar, perhaps a reincarnation of Douglas Adams’ Hyperland. Maybe this semantic stuff was closer at hand than we thought!

But, as it turned out, that first blush was only a reaction to how the video was shot. As it gets rolling, the Cisco video is extremely well done and informative. It is a great intro for sharing with management when contemplating your own moves to becoming a semantic enterprise.

I suggest you first view — and then bookmark — this one.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on July 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm in Information Automation, Semantic Enterprise | Comments (0)
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Posted:July 12, 2010

Benefits from an Incremental Approach
Using Incremental, Low-risk Semantic and Open World Approaches

OK. So, you’re looking at your garage … or your bedroom closet … or your office and its files. They are a mess, and you can’t find anything and you can’t stuff anything more into the nooks, cubbies, crannies or cabinets. What do you do?

Well, when you finally get fed up and have a rainy day or some other excuse, you tackle the mess. Maybe you grab a big mug of coffee to prepare for the pending battle. Maybe you strip down to comfort clothes. Then, if you’re like me, you begin to organize stuff into piles. Labeled piles and throwaway piles and any other piles that can provide a means to start bringing order to the chaos.

In the semantic Web world, there is a phrase coined by Jim Hendler that captures this approach: A little semantics goes a long way [1]. A little semantics, just like your labeled piles, helps to bring order to information chaos.

Mind you, this is not fancy or expensive stuff. In the case of my office, it is colored sheets of paper labeled with Magic Markers as “Taxes” or “Internal” or “Blog Posts” or whatever. Then, I begin sifting and distributing. In the case of the semantic world, these are classifying things into like categories and simply relating them to other categories with simple relationships, such as “is Part Of” or “is Narrower Than”.

Of course, I could have approached my mess in a different way. I could have hired an efficiency expert to come in, interview me and all of my employees and colleagues, gotten a written analysis and report, and then committed to a multi-week project to completely store and place every single last piece of paper in my office or organize every rake and set of abandoned golf clubs in my garage. When done, I would have shelled out much money and I suspect still not have been able to find anything.

Sort of sounds like the traditional way IT does its business, doesn’t it? To clean up their information messes, enterprises need to find a better strategy.

I’m not too long from having returned from the SemTech conference, which overall was quite an excellent show. But despite its emphasis on semantic technologies and their usefulness to businesses and enterprises, I found one critical theme unspoken: the ability of semantic approaches to change how enterprise IT actually does business. New ways have got to be found to clean up the many and growing information piles emerging all around us.

The Changing Nature of IT

IT is — and has been — going through a fundamental set of changes for decades. In the last decade, these changes have led to lowered relative spending, a shift in spending priorities toward services, less innovation, and less productivity. Some data and observations by researchers and analysts document these trends.

The following chart, using US Bureau of Economic Analysis data [2], shows the clear 50-year trend in declining hardware costs for enterprises, mostly resulting from the observation known as Moore’s Law. These massive hardware cost reductions (logarithmic scale) have also resulted in lower prices for IT as a whole. In 2008, for example, total relative IT prices were about two-thirds what they were a mere decade earlier:

US IT Prices in Relation to Each Other, 1960 - 2008

Source: M.K. Bergman and Bureau of Economic Analysis [2] (click for full size)

In contrast, relative prices for software and services have remained remarkably flat over this entire period, including for the past decade. This is somewhat surprising given the emergence of packaged software and more recently open source. However, relative percentage expenditures for custom software and software developed in-house have also remained strong over the past decade [3].

The mid- to late-1990s represented the high-water mark on many bases for enterprise IT, expenditures and vendors. Roughly in 1997 or so, the number of public enterprise software vendors peaked as did venture funding [4] and relative expenditures for IT in relation to GDP. There was a major uptick in relation to preparing for Y2K and a major downtick due to the dot-com bubble, and then of course the past two years or so have seen a global economic downturn. But, as the figure below shows (red), the long-term trend tends to suggest a relative plateau for IT expenditures in relation to GDP somewhat around 2000:

IT and Software Expenditures in Relation to GDP, 1960 - 2008

Source: M.K. Bergman and Bureau of Economic Analysis [2] (click for full size)

Yet, like the first chart, software seems to be bucking this trend (blue lines above). Though perhaps the rate of growth in expenditures for software is slowing a bit, it is still on a growth upslope, especially in relation to overall IT expenditures. The next chart, in fact, specifically compares software expenditures to total IT expenditures. Software expenditures are some 40% higher in relation to total IT than they were a mere decade ago:

US Software Expenditures in Relation to Total IT, 1960 - 2008

Source: M.K. Bergman and Bureau of Economic Analysis [2] (click for full size)

The mix of these software expenditures is also changing in major ways while stagnating in others.

The changing aspect is coming about from the shift of expenditures from license and maintenance fees to services. A number of software vendors began to see revenues from services overcome that from licensing in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, this was true for the enterprise software sector as a whole [4]. Today, service revenues account for 70% or so of aggregate sector revenues. Combined with the emergence of open source and other alternatives such as software as a service (SaaS), I think it fair to say that the era of proprietary software with exceedingly high margins from monopoly rents is over [5].

The stagnating aspect occurs in how the software expenditures are applied. According to Gartner, in the US, more than 70% of IT expenditures are devoted to simply running existing systems, with only about 11% of budgets devoted to innovation; other parts of the world spend nearly double on innovation and much lower for operations [6]. This relative lack of support for innovation and high percentages for running existing systems has held true for about a decade. Meanwhile, IT’s contribution to US productivity has been declining since 2001 [7].

What is the Cause for IT’s Ills?

Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers published a major report with the provocative title, “Why Isn’t IT Spending Creating More Value?[7]. The 42-page report covered many of the aspects above. Among other factors, the PWC authors speculated that:

As consumption of IT increases and as technologies change and advance, businesses have been left to cobble together disparate software and hardware systems and tools. The end result? Unchecked IT spending, unneeded complexity, redundant systems, underutilized hardware and data centers, the need for expensive IT security, and, inevitably, diminishing returns from IT. In short, low levels of IT productivity create conditions for an IT cost crisis. [7]

I suppose one could add to this litany other factors such as the growth and emergence of the Internet, sector consolidations through mergers and acquisitions, the rise of open source and alternatives such as SaaS, etc.

But which of these are causes? Which are symptoms? And which might only be consequences or coincident?

To be sure, all recognize the explosion of digital data and information, with sources and formats springing up faster than Whack-a-Mole. It is such an evident and ubiquitous phenomenon that pointing to it as a cause appears on the face of it quite obvious. Also obvious is that these new sources carry with them a diversity of systems and tools. While not categorically stated as such, it appears that PWC fingers the difficulties of “cobbling” these systems together as the root cause for low productivity and thus the IT cost crisis.

I agree totally that these are symptoms of what we see in IT’s current circumstance. I would even say these factors are a proximate cause to these ills. But I disagree they are the root cause. To discover that root, I believe, we must look deeper to mindset and assumptions.

Closed World Mindset as the Root Cause

There are some phenomena that are so obvious that they are easily missed. Not seeing your fingertip six inches between your eyes is one of these. We aren’t used to focusing on things so near at hand.

So, let’s look for a moment at the closed world assumption (CWA), a key underpinning to most standard relational data systems and enterprise schema and logics. CWA is the logic assumption that what is not currently known to be true, is false. If CWA is not directly familiar to you that is understandable; it is an implied assumption of these systems and logics. As such, it is not often inspected directly and therefore not often questioned [8].

With regard to standard IT systems, the closed world assumption has two important aspects:

  1. The assumption is that the information domain at hand is complete [9], and
  2. The related negation as failure, which assumes every predicate to be false that cannot be proved to be true.

On the face of them, these assumptions seem tame enough. And, indeed, there are some enterprise data systems that absolutely rely on them for efficient processing and completion times, such as most transaction systems. CWA is absolutely the appropriate design for such applications.

However, for knowledge management or representation applications — that is, applications which involve combining or using heterogeneous data or information from multiple data sources, which are exactly the same sources requiring information “cobbling” noted above by PWC — there are two very critical implications of the closed-world assumption (CWA):

  1. Efforts or projects can not be undertaken incrementally; if done in pieces, each piece must be complete and consistent, which is expensive to scope and do
  2. To be consistent and explicit, the predicates (properties or relationships) must also be complex to model the “reality” of the system, which is also expensive to scope and do [10].

The net effect, which I have argued before, most notably in a major piece about the open world assumption [11], is that typical projects with a knowledge management aspect have become costly, take very long to complete, often fail, and require much planning and coordination. These facts have been true for three decades as enterprises have attempted to extract knowledge from their electronic information using closed world approaches based on relational systems. And, as recognized by PWC, these problems are only getting worse with growth in diversity and scope of systems.

The implications of closed world v. open world approaches are absolutely at the root of the causes leading to declining productivity, low innovation, significant failures and increasing costs — all exacerbated with more data and more systems — now characterizing traditional enterprise IT. Moreover, it is not a problem for open world systems to link to and incorporate closed world approaches. With open world, there is no need for Hobson’s choices. Unfortunately, such is not true when one begins with a closed world premise.

Incremental is Good: Pay as You Go

As best as I can tell, Alon Halevy was the first to use the phrase “pay as you go” in 2006 to describe the incremental aspect of the open world approach in relation to the semantic Web [12]. The “pay as you go” phrase had been applied earlier to data management and storage and had also been used to describe phone calling plans.

Incremental concepts and “agility” have been popular topics for the past five to ten years in IT, most often related to software development. And, while “incremental” sounds good in relation to enterprise projects, especially of a knowledge management or information integration/federation nature, the actual methodologies put forward were anything but incremental in their conceptual underpinnings.

Unfortunately, the “pay as you go” phrase has (and still is) largely confined to incremental, open world approaches involving the semantic Web. How this approach might apply and benefit enterprises has yet to be articulated. Nonetheless, I like the phrase, and I think it evokes the right mindset. In fact, I think with linked data and many other aspects of the current semantic Web we are seeing such approaches come to fruition. Inch-by-inch, brick-by-brick, data on the Web is getting exposed and interlinked. “Pay as you go” is incremental, and that is good.

Purposeful is Better: Pay as You Benefit

Yet the idea of “pay as you benefit” is more purposeful, able to be planned and implemented, and founded on standard enterprise cost-benefit principles. I think it is a better (and more nuanced) expression of the “pay as you go” mindset in an enterprise setting. What it means is you can start small and be incomplete. You can target any domain or department or scope that is most useful and illustrative for your organization. You can deploy your first stand-ups as proofs-of-concept or sandboxes. And, you can build on each prior step with each subsequent one.

One of the reasons we (Structured Dynamics) embraced the MIKE2.0 methodology [13] was its inherent incremental character. (Government deployments often call them “spirals”.) In general, the five phases of MIKE2.0 can be represented as follows:

Five Phases of MIKE2.0

(click for full size)

It is specifically during the fifth phase, testing and improvement, that quantitative and qualitative benefits from the current increment are calculated and documented. This evolving methodology is where the enterprise can assess the results of its prior investment and scope and budget for the next one. These can be quick, rapid increments, or more involved ones, depending on the schedule, prior results and risk profile of the enterprise (or department) at that time.

Much is made of “incremental” or “agile” deployments within enterprises, but the nature of the traditional data system (and its closed world assumption) can act to undermine these laudable steps. The inherent nature of an open world approach, matched with methodologies and best practices, can work wonderfully with KM-related projects.

Quite Simply a Different Way to Do Business

We see in our current IT circumstances a number of embedded practices and assumptions. We have been assuming control and completeness — the closed world opposite to the open world approach. We have thus embraced and promoted “global” or enterprise-wide solutions: be they desktop operating systems or browsers or expensive enterprise-level proprietary software solutions. This scope leads to immense hurdle rates and risks: we better get our choices right up front, because if we don’t, the department or enterprise are at risk. We have an inward focus about our own resources, our own networks, our own systems. Meanwhile, when we look outward, we wonder how all of these new Web companies can grow and expand so rapidly in comparison to us.

Clearly, we are seeing shifts to more services than products, more open source, more outsourcing, and more software as a service. Yet, because of the legacy of decades-long commitments from prior IT investment and the failures of many hyped “solutions” such as ERP or BI or data warehousing or a dozen others, we also see a decline and a reluctance for IT to embrace new and transforming approaches. Our prior choices were practically tantamount to “betting the enterprise.” What if our new approaches fail as so many of their predecessors did? In a demanding, competitive environment can we afford to make such wrong choices again with such immense implications?

Yet, now that information technology is a given, it only seems natural that its role becomes an integral part of the enterprise, and not a special function. Like procurement, IT has matured to become a support function. Businesses should not succeed or fail based on the types of pencils and paper stock they use; so should they not depend on the software support choices that IT makes. Enterprises are now past the need to get “computerized”; they are thoroughly so. But our understanding of IT’s role and position has not evolved with its own success.

The first whiffs of these challenges to IT’s initial hegemony came from the departmental introduction of PCs and local networks in the early 1980s. It has continued with desktop software, spreadsheets and Web portals and sites. Large, mature companies awoke in horror in the last decade to discover they had hundreds — sometimes thousands — of Web sites and content dissemination points over which IT had little or no control. Such is the nature of entropy, and it is a fact for any organization of any size.

So, now, with strategies such as “pay as you benefit,” there is no longer an excuse not to innovate. There is not a justification to put off testing and discovering benefits that the open world and semantic approaches can bring to your organization. There is now a basis to make the case and set the affordable budgets within desirable timelines for becoming a semantic enterprise.

Mindsets and expectations do require some adjustment. For example, not everything will be known or modeled in early phases. But, is that also not true in any “real” real world? We’re not talking high-throughput transaction systems here, but beginning to pull together and link the information that is important to your organization strategically.

Remember the intro statement that “a little semantics goes a long way”? Well, that truth — and it is true — when combined with incremental deployment firmly tied to demonstrable results, promises quite simply a different way to do business. Never before have enterprises had working and winnable approaches such as this to test and innovate and learn and discover. Jump on in; the water is clear and warm.

And, oh, as to that mess in your closet or garage? Well, if you adhere to CWA, you will need to define a place for everything to go before you can start cleaning things up. I say: forget those false hurdles. If you’d really want to make a dent in the mess, grab a broom and start cleaning.


[1] Jim Hendler, “a little semantics goes a long way.” See http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~hendler/LittleSemanticsWeb.html.
[2] All starting data is for the United States only and comes from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. The data tables were downloaded from the BEA Web site at http://www.bea.gov/national/nipaweb/SelectTable.asp. GDP data is from Section 1; enterprise private investment data from Section 5. For reasons as described in the text, all relative BEA numbers were re-adjusted from a 2005 baseline to 1997 based on absolute figures. Software figures and expenditures include packaged software, custom software and software developed in-house, but excludes software bundled or included within hardware.
[3] Data not shown; see the “Software Investment and Prices, by Type” data on the BEA Web page http://www.bea.gov/national/info_comm_tech.htm.
[4] Michael A. Cusumano, 2008. “The Changing Software Business: Moving from Products to Services,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Computer, Vol 41 (1): 20-27, January 2008. See http://www.iae.univ-lille1.fr/SitesProjets/bmcommunity/Research/cusumano.pdf. This shift has occurred despite the recognition that potential gross margins from software packages can exceed 90% due to zero costs of reproduction. As Cusumano notes in a rule, “99 percent of zero is zero: The great profit opportunity from software products becomes theoretical and not practical” if not sold. Also, another interesting observation made by Cusumano is that in the shift to services vendors with both low percentages and high percentages of services, or what he calls the “sweet spots”, show higher contributions to profitability than vendors in the middle. He posits that low percentage vendors are getting mostly profitable maintenance fees, while those above 60% in services show profitability due to learning more replicable and systematic processes and approaches for service delivery.
[5] While we may occasionally see some vendors successfully buck this trend, I suspect these will only occur for established vendors with established platform advantages or for isolated applications where the innovating vendors have a significant first-mover advantage.
[6] Garnter calls the innovation category “transform”; see Gartner, Incorporated, 2009. “IT Software and Services, 2007-2010,” see http://www.slideshare.net/rsink/gartner-report-it-spending-2010. Also, see Jed Rubin and Howard Rubin, 2006. “Worldwide IT Benchmark Service New Trends & Findings for 2007: Strategic Performance Management and Measurement,” from Gartner Consulting Worldwide IT Benchmark Service; see http://www.gartner.com/teleconferences/attributes/attr_161183_115.pdf.
[7] PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2009. “Why Isn’t IT Spending Creating More Value?”, see http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/increasing-it-effectiveness/assets/it_spending_creating_value.pdf.
[8] Though relational database systems did not begin with an understanding of CWA, but rather Edgar Codd’s 12 rules, the understandings of these were formulated later by Raymond Reiter.  Reiter first described the basis of CWA in 1978, and then provided an axiomatization of relational databases and their deductive generalizations and basis in CWA in 1984; see http://prism.cs.umd.edu/papers/Min02:reiter_memoriam/memoriam-tplp.pdf.
[9] Relational database systems also assume unique names for objects, which, while not perhaps the best design for federated systems, can be overcome in other ways.
[10] For semantics-related projects there is a corollary problem to the use of CWA which is the need for upfront agreement on what all predicates “mean”, which is difficult if not impossible in reality when different perspectives are the explicit purpose for the integration.
[11] See M. K. Bergman, 2009. The Open World Assumption: Elephant in the Room, December 21, 2009. The open world assumption (OWA) generally asserts that the lack of a given assertion or fact being available does not imply whether that possible assertion is true or false: it simply is not known. In other words, lack of knowledge does not imply falsity. Another way to say it is that everything is permitted until it is prohibited. OWA lends itself to incremental and incomplete approaches to various modeling problems.
[12] This was also the first instance (I believe) of Alon coining the “dataspace” term. First use of the “pay as you go” phrase was, Alon Halevy, Michael Franklin, and David Maier, 2006. “Principles of Dataspace Systems,” in Proceedings of ACM Symposium on Principles of Database Systems, pp: 1-9. See also the slides accompanying that talk, Alon Halevy, 2006. “Principles of Dataspace Systems (PODS),” June 26, 2006; see http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/alon/files/pods06-keynote.ppt, 2006. More explicitly the next year see Jayant Madhavan, Shirley Cohen, Xin (Luna) Dong, Alon Y. Halevy, Shawn R. Jeffery, David Ko, and Cong Yu, 2007. “Web-scale Data Integration: You Can Afford to Pay as You Go.” in 3rd Conf. on Innovative Data Systems Research (CIDR), pp 342-350, see http://research.yahoo.com/files/paygo.pdf. The term has been picked up by many others, notably Rada Chirkova, Dongfeng Cheny, Fereidoon Sadriz and Timo J. Salo, 2007. “Pay-As-You-Go Information Integration: The Semantic Model Approach,” see ftp://ftp.csc.ncsu.edu/pub/tech/2007/TR-2007-30.pdf; and most recently papers by Gerhard Weikum on RDF-3X; see http://domino.mpi-inf.mpg.de/internet/reports.nsf/c125634c000710cec125613300585c64/70e8f906d8090e6bc125757f00448ec9!OpenDocument&ExpandSection=-1.
[13] See M.K. Bergman, 2010. “MIKE2.0: Open Source Information Development in the Enterprise,” AI3 Blog posting, February 23, 2010; and M.K. Bergman, 2010. Open SEAS: A Framework to Transition to a Semantic Enterprise,” AI3 Blog posting, March 1, 2010.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on July 12, 2010 at 10:57 pm in Adaptive Innovation, MIKE2.0, Semantic Enterprise | Comments (4)
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Posted:July 6, 2010

Consolidating Under the Open Semantic Framework
Release of Semantic Components Adds Final Layer, Leads to Streamlined Sites

Yesterday Fred Giasson announced the release of code associated with Structured Dynamics‘ open source semantics components (also called sComponents).  A semantic component is an ontology-driven component, or widget, based on Flex. Such a component takes record descriptions, ontologies and target attributes/types as inputs and then outputs some (possibly interactive) visualizations of the records.

Though not all layers are by any means complete, from an architectural standpoint the release of these semantic components provides the last and missing layer to complete our open semantic framework. Completing this layer now also enables Structured Dynamics to rationalize its open source Web sites and various groups and mailing lists associated with them.

The OSF “Semantic Muffin”

We first announced the open semantic framework — or OSF — a couple of weeks back. Refer to that original post for more description of the general design [1]. However, we can show this framework with the semantic components layer as illustrated by what some have called the “semantic muffin”:

Incremental Layers of the Open Semantic Framework

(click for full size)

The OSF stack consists of these layers, moving from existing assets upward through increasing semantics and usability:

  • Existing assets — any and all existing information and data assets, ranging from unstructured to structured. Preserving and leveraging those assets is a key premise
  • scones / irON — this layer is for general conversion of non-RDF data and data schema to RDF (via irON or RDFizers) or for information extraction of subject concepts or named entities (scones)
  • structWSF — is the pivotal Web services framework layer, and provides the standard, common interface by which existing information assets get represented and presented to the outside world and to other layers in the OSF stack
  • Semantic components — the highlighted layer in the “semantic muffin”; in essence, this is the visualization and data interaction layer in the OSF stack; see more below
  • Ontologies — are the layer containing the structured assets “driving” the system; this includes the concepts and relationships of the domain at hand, and administrative ontologies that guide how the user interfaces or widgets in the system should behave, and
  • conStruct — is the content management system (CMS) layer based on Drupal and the thinnest layer with respect to OSF; this optional layer provides the theming, user rights and permissions, or other functionality drawn from Drupal’s 6500 third-party modules.

Not all of these layers are required in a given deployment and their adoption need not be sequential or absolutely depend on prior layers. Nonetheless, they do layer and interact with one another in the general manner shown.

The Semantics Components Layer

Current semantic components, or widgets, include: filter; tabular templates (similar to infoboxes); maps; bar, pie or linear charts; relationship (concept) browser; story and text annotator and viewer; workbench for creating structured views; and dashboard for presenting pre-defined views and component arrangements. These are generic tools that respond to the structures and data fed to them, adaptable to any domain without modification.

Though Fred’s post goes into more detail — with subsequent posts to get into the technical nuances of the semantic components — the main idea of these components is shown by the diagram below.

These various semantic components get embedded in a layout canvas for the Web page. By interacting with the various components, new queries are generated (most often as SPARQL queries) to the various structWSF Web services endpoints. The result of these requests is to generate a structured results set, which includes various types and attributes.

An internal ontology that embodies the desired behavior and display options (SCO, the Semantic Component Ontology) is matched with these types and attributes to generate the formal instructions to the semantic components. These instructions are presented via the sControl component, that determines which widgets (individual components, with multiples possible depending on the inputs) need to be invoked and displayed on the layout canvas. Here is a picture of the general workflow:

Semantic Components Workflow

(click for full size)

New interactions with the resulting displays and components cause the iteration path to be generated anew, again starting a new cycle of queries and results sets. As these pathways and associated display components get created, they can be named and made persistent for later re-use or within dashboard invocations.

Consolidating and Rationalizing Web Sites and Mailing Lists

OpenStructs and Open Semantic Framework LogoAs the release of the semantic components drew near, it was apparent that releases of previous layers had led to some fragmentation of Web sites and mailing lists. The umbrella nature of the open semantic framework enabled us to consolidate and rationalize these resources.

Our first change was to consolidate all OSF-related material under the existing OpenStructs.org Web site. It already contained the links and background material to structWSF and irON. To that, we added the conStruct and OSF material as well. This consolidation also allowed us to retire the previous conStruct Web site as well, which now re-directs to OpenStructs.

We also had fragmentation in user groups and mailing lists. Besides shared materials, these had many shared members. The Google groups for irON, structWSF and conStruct were thus archived and re-directed to the new Open Semantic Framework Google group and mailing list. Personal notices of the change and invites have been issued to all members of the earlier groups. For those interested in development work and interchange with other developers on any of these OSF layers, please now direct your membership and attention to the OSF group.

There has also been a revigoration of the developers’ community Web site at http://community.openstructs.org/. It remains the location for all central developer resources, including bug and issue tracking and links to SVNs.

Actual code SVN repositories are unchanged. These code repositories may be found at:

We hope you find these consolidations helpful. And, of course, we welcome new participants and contributors!


[1] An alternative view of this layer diagram is shown by the general Structured Dynamics product stack and architecture.
Posted:July 2, 2010

As of July 1, Daily Readership Passed 3000

AI3 Blog

As of yesterday, the readership on this AI3 blog passed 3000 daily for the first time. It has been steadily inching upward, and finally passed that minor milestone. Thank you!

I’ve been writing this blog for five years now, with some 400 total posts, or about 1.5 blog posts per week. I know my style is toward longer articles and less frequent posting, most often of a fairly detailed or technical nature. And, while I have a Twitter account, I do not bleat. My style is for more meaty discussions. Perhaps it belies my age. ;)

The real growth in this blog, however, has come about with my conscious attempt to write for the enterprise audience. RDF, the semantic enterprise, linked data and ontologies need a bridge from the technical community to the one of practitioners. Much progress and uptake has been occurring with these business and government audiences.

At the recent SemTech meeting, I was taken aside by many individuals noting my blog posts and thanking me for the thought and effort behind them. Thank you for noticing, and reading, and you are welcome. We need more translation of semantic topics and technologies to pragmatic terms.

If you have been following the standard W3C and SemWeb mailing lists recently, you will have noticed an anxiety and a continuation of the fractious nature of this “community”. In part this comes about because there are efforts afoot to revisit the RDF specs. But, mostly, I think, it is the ongoing nature of many in this group to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The search by some for perfection and insistence on parochial needs and preferences can give a pettiness to this “community” that is unbecoming.

Many of us have abandoned those forums for those reasons. As for myself, I will continue to evangelize to the buying market and keep the gaze pointing outward. There is a wealth of need for tools, techniques, methods, documentation, structures, and narratives. Thanks to all of you, the readership of this blog, for continuing to affirm this value.

So, in the great scheme of things, the readership of this blog is quite small in comparison with the big boys. On the other hand, very few individuals have higher numbers, and all of this for a fairly esoteric area. I think this proves there is a market and a need out there for semantic solutions.

Thanks again! And, for those in the United States, have a most enjoyable 4th of July holiday!

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on July 2, 2010 at 10:44 am in Blogs and Blogging, Site-related | Comments (0)
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