UMBEL, the Upper Mapping and Binding Exchange Layer, is an upper ontology of about 28,000 reference concepts and a vocabulary designed for domain ontologies and ontology mapping . When we first released UMBEL in mid-2008 it was accompanied by a number of Web services and a SPARQL endpoint, and general APIs. In fact, these were the first Web services developed for release by Structured Dynamics. They were the prototypes for what later became the structWSF Web services framework, which incorporated many lessons learned and better practices.
By the time that the structWSF framework had evolved with many additions to comprise the Open Semantic Framework (OSF), those original UMBEL Web services had become quite dated. Thus, upon the last major update to UMBEL to version 1.0 back in February of this year, we removed these dated services.
Like what I earlier mentioned about the cobbler’s children being the last to get new shoes, it has taken us a bit to upgrade the UMBEL services. However, I am pleased to announce we have now completed the transition of UMBEL’s earlier services to use the OSF framework, and specifically the structWSF platform-independent services. As a result, there are both upgraded existing services and some exciting new ones. We will now be using UMBEL as one of our showcases for these expanding OSF features. We will be elaborating upon these features throughout this series, some parts of which will appear on Fred Giasson’s blog.
In this first part, we provide a broad overview of the new UMBEL OSF implementation. We also begin to foretell some of the parts to come that will describe some of these features in more detail.
The new UMBEL portal is a fairly classic example of an OSF installation. The content management system hosting the system is Drupal, supplemented with a standard set of third-party modules and our own conStruct semantic technology modules. The theme is a stripped-down modification of the popular Pixture Reloaded theme:
The site now most prominently features our structOntology editing and maintenance tool. Built on the OWL API, the same as Protégé 4, structOntology provides the advantage of enabling edits and management of ontologies directly within the applications in which they are used. This is far superior to needing to fire up an external ontology manager and then to re-import the changed ontology. structOntology also has an arguably simpler interface and operation than other ontology management alternatives:
For the UMBEL site, the standard view of using structOntology is read-only. In a subsequent part we will also discuss structOntology’s full editing and maintenance mode.
Search uses the integration of RDF and inferencing with full-text, faceted search using Solr. This has been Structured Dynamics’ standard search function for some time, as Fred initially described in April 2009. It is a very effective way for finding new and related concepts within the UMBEL structure.
The relation browser is what is used for casual navigation and discovery. Any concept found via search or other means within the system can have the browser invoked by clicking on its browser icon . When done, the standard relation browser appears:
The relation browser is highly configurable, as shown by some of our exemplar installations. Note in this case that the More details … link brings you to a detailed concept view, such as this example:
These various tools provide great means for discovery and navigation within the 28,000 concepts in the UMBEL reference space.
We will also be discussing our OBIE (ontology-based information extraction) and entity tagger, scones, and export and ontology edit and management functions in subsequent posts.
We anticipate eight or nine more parts in this series explaining most of these options in greater detail. We hope to post a couple per week or so over the coming month. We will conclude with a discussion of next pending UMBEL releases.
This is the first of a multi-part series on the newly updated UMBEL services. Other articles in this series so far are:
My partner, Fred Giasson, today posted the second part of his series on open source. Since returning from a well-earned vacation a few weeks back — after more than three years without a break — Fred has been writing and developing up a storm. As someone said to me last week, “Fred’s on fire!” I could not agree more.
I think Fred’s post speaks for itself as to why and how Structured Dynamics has made a conscious choice to embrace open source. The major reason he puts forth — to bootstrap the company without the need for external investment — is unusual in itself. But one thing he is silent about is why this is a compelling reason. I’ll comment on that.
Fred and I have both worked for others dependent on their capital for our ventures (a few more times in my case). Capital is great for expansion and operations, but it can be deadly when visions requiring patience are in play. Structured Dynamics is only now a bit more than halfway through its five-year plan. While semantics technologies are exciting with a world of upside potential, they have also been incubated in academic labs with (as yet) a general lack of practical deployment. The promise is there, but often the delivery and maturation have been lacking. We are committed to play a visible role in correcting that.
The approach Fred outlines was not perhaps easily available to new startups a decade ago. But now, with open source and the Internet, costs of entry and ongoing development have dropped markedly. Yet, surprisingly, the idea of financing a startup via revenues is still not talked about sufficiently — let alone often used as an actual basis for building a company.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to partner with a young, world-class technologist whose maturity exceeds that of individuals many years his senior. He understands that in order to achieve important visions that the stewardship of those ideas can not be left to venture capitalists committed solely or mostly to gaming terms or near-term returns. We’re placing our bets on the paying customer and our own judgment.
So, it is great to see Fred continue his phenomenal development productivity since he returned from Hawaii. The benefit of his vacation is that we are also now getting his insights on his blog again.
Face it, we all get busy and begin to overlook our own needs while we work for others on our jobs. The parable of the cobbler’s children going without shoes says it all. It means that the shoemaker spends so much time looking after his customers’ needs that he neglects the needs of his own children.
We see the same phenomena in relation to our own personal assets, home repairs and cleaning, and a myriad of chores and background requirements. One way we can overcome these neglects is by scheduling annual or periodic checkups or activities. Spring cleaning is one such effort, as is annual asset portfolio re-balancing or doctor’s appointments or 10,000 mile vehicle servicing.
One of the cobbler’s chores for Structured Dynamics is the periodic care and feeding of our various Web sites. This has actually proven to be a non-trivial exercise, as our properties have grown to exceed 1400 static Web pages across some 30 diverse Web addresses and properties. As our client and code base expands, this exercise is increasingly demanding.
Taking advantage of a small break in the action, we have just completed another one of these reviews and revisions. Interestingly, as I was going through the various sites, I saw that date stamps for prior revisions tended to all occur in the September and October time frame. Last September, for example, SD went through a major redesign and new logo. Apparently, without consciously realizing it, we have been doing our own Web attic cleaning in the Fall.
Thus, as a way to formalize this process for us internally, I thought I’d briefly outline the Web site changes that we have cobbled together for this year. I suspect we’ll be doing another spiffing come Fall 2012.
It is kind of frightening to realize that we have allowed our Web properties to grow to about 30 individual sites. This accretion happens gradually: a new initiative or capability arises that seems to warrant its own Web site. Yet each site carries with it a need to develop and maintain, as well as to explain its role and use in the Structured Dynamics information space.
Exclusive of internal development sites or ones dedicated to specific customers, here is the roster of existing SD properties that we have needed to rationalize:
Note that all properties with strike outs have now either been retired or consolidated with other properties. We have reduced the property count by 10, or by a third. Additional consolidations will be forthcoming.
With the growth of our various Web properties and the diversity of the initiatives behind them, Fred and I have grown increasingly frustrated that our site visitors lacked a consistent way to access and understand these projects. Across all properties, Structured Dynamics has about 6,000 daily visitors or RSS tracking feeds.
Providing a consistent context of what these properties mean and their relation to one another is further compounded by the sheer size of our properties. Excluding dynamically generated pages (such as from search, demonstration of our semantic components, or use of the relation browser), we have on the order of 1400 static Web pages across all properties and blogs. Users may enter our information space via any of these entry points.
Then, when the tab is clicked, the following popup appears:
So, whenever you are on one of our properties, look for the tab (generally) at the lower right corner of every Web page. That will take you to the common entry point across Structured Dynamics’ Web properties.
In this process we also went through some of our existing sites and made content, narrative and navigation changes consistent with this rationalization and consistent entry point. These updates were not nearly as extensive as the full re-designs from one year ago.
With a constant stream of new initiatives and new understandings, it will remain a challenge for us to describe our various products and services. An even greater challenge will be to provide coherent descriptions of how all of these initiatives fit together consistent with our overall vision. One attempt at that is our new Overview page. Meanwhile, of course, we will occasionally be offering new Web goodies and sites as developments warrant. These will need to get integrated into this picture as well.
We think we have taken an itty-bitty step to improving this process with the SD Resources tab widget. Nonetheless, I’m sure that we will continue to craft new shoes to try to find ones that are still yet more comfortable and attractive. Thing is, we may have to wait another year before we get around to it again.