Unlike the internet and web 1.0, which caught most of us almost by surprise, the 'semantic web' technology wave is taking time to become reality.
Most tools and standards so far are largely still very geeky things, and have not been developed to meet business requirements and with non technical users in mind. Maybe that's why the semantic web has been something 'about to happen' for a long time. Every now and then, though, in the intricate landscape of unspeakable semantic web complexities and emerging standards, something plain and simple is developed that breaks the expectation vacuum. One such example we encountered is SemanticSoft.Inc, a small unfunded startup based in Moldova, where they understood that a simple user interface may be the shortest way to market breakthrough.
Ioachim Drugus, founder, tells his story. "In 2005 I have set up the "AI Labs" - a seminar which gathered students from the main colleges in our capital city of Moldova. Our goal was to model intelligence, proceeding from my vision that human mind uses 2 operations - "association", which is a specialty of left brain hemisphere with many people and "aggregation", which is a specialty of right brain hemisphere, and these operations work with "atoms" - entities which our mind regard as indivisible. I called this Atom-Association-Aggregation (A3) approach. Only later we discovered for ourselves the SemanticWeb, and found that its "complex" standards describe exactly A3, only in a language appropriate for the web. Having the A3 as "logical skeleton", it took to our guys several months to learn SemanticWeb standards and proceed to development of tools. In 2007 I have set up SemanticSoft to switch from AI research to SemanticWeb, which we regard as a "planetary brain", and which must have at its core A3."
Give us an overview of your tools
We are currently changing our tools towards hiding SemanticWeb behind a customary UI. You can see the *current* versions by clicking "Try" against a tool on our site - one standalone tool can be downloaded, with other two web based tools you get from the site into our servers where you can do work specific to them. *SemanticServer* is our "gateway" to SemanticWeb. If you click on "Try", you get to a "desktop" with a Start button in corner like in Windows. But you are on the web and you can manage resources and their metadata in any vocabulary. The Help file (unfortunately, 65 pages) of "Start button" explains what you can do in this space. Our new tool *ResourceDescriptor* will be used both as built in SemanticServer, or as a separate tool for those who want to use it outside JCR "space". ResourceDescriptor can be treated as an "intelligent client" which has wizards so that a user without any knowledge of Semantic Web can write any description or make a SPARQL query. When this tool is released and built into SemanticServer, we get a tool for "corporate space", or "content business" like eBay, Amazon.com, etc.
What's your approach to Semantic Technologies?
We were lucky to start our way to SemanticWeb with AI and to notice in due time that our simple A3 data model lies in the core of SemanticWeb standards. From the very beginning we solved each problem logically, and only then represented the solution according the standards. A3 is our approach to Semantic Technologies. Also, we treat SemanticWeb primarily as a 'world wide data bus' : today, XML is the main standard for data exchange between applications. An application which receives an XML file must know how to use it and this knowledge is encrypted in software. Therefore, XML is good only for applications within an enterprise solution or a small "community of applications", where each application knows how to interprete each exchanged XML file. But if you send data over the web, where the applications "don't know each other" they must be able to interprete the data correctly. Morever, the receiving application must be able to do with interpreted data "whatever it wants" similarily to how we decide what we do with a piece of knowledge. An XML file is "incomplete information" since it does not tell how to interprete the data. But a file written according SemanticWeb standards contains not only data - it also says how to interprete the data. Therefore, similarly to how data is exchanged between devices of a computer through a 'data bus' and the devices interpret correctly the data and do with data whatever is specific to their function, SemanticWeb is a bus for any applications on the web. Sun Microsystems logo "The network is the computer" will become a reality for everybody when SemanticWeb becomes a 'data bus' for the Web. Then the Web will become like one "computer". Our guys dream that at some time we will get a project from Sun to build a Semantic Virtual Machine based on our A3 data model, similar to Java Virtual Machine, but on the Web. Finally, it seems, we now understand what needs the industry and the market. Currently, all the tools built for SemanticWeb are for those users who know SemanticWeb standards. But these standards are very complex - only "top professionals" can use such tools, and use for what? - to develop tools also for SemanticWeb. Therefore, we now are working on a "human interface" with SemanticWeb, where the semantic technologies move "behind the scenes", and an user see just a "classic UI" which does not require knowledge of standards. A good return on investments can be obtained from "regular" tools equipped with SemanticWeb technologies working "in the background" to make the tools interoperable, flexible and mobile. We started treating SemanticWeb as value-added "regular" software. Chameleon is our first "democratic" project to build a tool for *everybody* - a tool powered by SemanticWeb technologies, which can be used even by a kid.
So, what is Chameleon?
Imagine that you go to an empty site and, without programming skills fill it with content through the UI and build a regular site. For now, this sounds familiar - there are many tools of this type in the market - they are called CMS, content management systems. If you want to build a site where some users have access to a compartment of the site, and he can also give access to other people to this compartment where they can build their own compartments. A small company would need such a limited access site for their intranet or CRM. The current version of Chameleon can do this. Finally, suppose that you want to take a peace of content from one site and move it to another site (say by dragging and dropping). You cannot do this with regular sites and you cannot do it currently with Chameleon. But you will be able to do it with future versions of Chameleon. The content which you take from one Chameleon site, you can copy to any other Chameleon site - pages, multimedia, user lists, access rights to a certain areas of the site. Even if the other site is not Chameleon type, you will be able to take content into it, if this site is compliant with SemanticWeb standards. "Chameleon" project illustrates our idea of a "semantic" web site. Currently, Chameleon is a regular CMS - you can play with it directly from our site. I just wanted to share our idea of a "semantic site".
What about funding?
Moldova is a former republic of the USSR, currently an independent country with difficulties of growth and it is hard to get any funding here. We finance our SemanticWeb development from small profit doing "classic" software they order to us (but we try to make any software we do compliant with SemanticWeb). Big foreign corps are outsourcing to Moldova only development of "classic" software. Now we are waiting for a big corp which would like to build SemanticWeb tools cheaper...
What would be the best order to your company - your "dream project"?
"SemanticWeb to Natural Languages" is the name of this project. An ontology is a piece of knowledge written according SemanticWeb standards. Currently, there are millions of ontologies on the web, but only people knowledgeable of SemanticWeb standards can read them. Now, imagine a tool which looks for knowledge on the web and displays it in your native language. Such a tool is doable because no matter how complex are the standards they contain a limited number of "lexical templates" and they can be translated into any natural language. Such a tool would work with a two-language dictionary to retrieve the translated vocabulary and put words into templates. Even if such a tool will initially speak to you as a foreigner, such language is better than the too foreign language of SemanticWeb standards. But it might speak to you same precise as a mathematician if the lexical templates are written correctly
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