One of the things that I enjoyed about the East Austin Artist Studio tour was the diversity of venues. Joe Krupa who painted this canvas titled “The Mush”, was showing his work behind the Austin Lumber Company on 5th Street. It was great to see that a gung-ho art student could find a place to show his work and test the market first hand.
In case you are wondering, those are alien hieroglyphics. The first thing I noticed about The Mush was that it said OX, OX, OX, OX, OX on the bottom. It actually said “XO, XO, XO, XO” but I turned it upside down, and Joe had no objection.
It is sort of a stretch, but I thought this image of alien hieroglyphics might be a good starting point for a layman’s discussion of semantics.
Semantics is a very abstract concept (the study of meaning???) and it can be difficult to understand why semantic organization of data is useful. The short answer is that if we store the data the right way, we can ask very specific questions, or even empower an app to take certain actions automatically on our behalf.
One of the side benefits of semantics is that we can use our own words to describe our data. And not surprisingly, using our “own words” helps us give information meaning. If we are aliens (or art school students) than semantics using alien hieroglyphics are helpful.
However, the main advantage of semantics is being able to sensibly organize data. To me, the most important application for semantics is authorization: the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of access to my data. However the potential to use semantics for a variety of purposes is one of the great promises of graph technology, and OX supports a number of semantic conventions.
A recent publication by the Canadian Government, best practices for cloud computing, describes a “Mountain of Data”:
“The amount of data needed to track … is enormous and growing. Mountains of dynamic information confront IT operations and cannot be managed on the level of just a dashboard or metrics. Available monitoring systems often yield too much data that translates into a lack of usable information. To properly manage all the data … [it] needs to be dynamically analyzed according to intelligent parameters.”
Ironically, its not just organizations managing their cloud infrastructure that are confronted with a mountain of data–our personal IT infrastructures are also creating a mountain of data: pictures, tweets, emails, social network posts, documents, appointments, financial information, health information, government filings… the list goes on. And what about referencing the data of our friends, family, organizations and business contacts? And more and more silos of content are appearing (each with their own proprietary APIs).
If we could organize our data in a standard manner, computers could become better agents for us to address the task of processing our personal data mountain. I was reading today an NYT article about a new social network called Path. The article praises Path because “You’re not going to see the glurge and hurge of illiterate rage and hash tag garbage.” To me, this statement is an indication that the current infrastructure is not scaling well. Do we need to create a new social network (with a respective new silo of data) each time our old silo gets overburdened with spam? Our ability to come up with highly relevant personal services (like Path) is one of the keys to increasing the productivity of our society. But we need to provide a way for these services to integrate into our life so the value can be captured.
I’ll post more specific semantic issues later in this series. But hopefully the next time you hear someone mention semantics (or the semantic web…) you won’t look at the person like they are an alien!
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