Jana Herwig

Wikis for Knowledge Engineering, and in Global Businesses

Sorry for still writing about last week, but the TRIPLE-I conference had far too many interesting topics to offer for me to be already through with them – promise, this blog post about wikis will be the last TRIPLE-I post.

An interesting use of wikis was introduced with the Moki plugin for Semantic Media Wiki, developed as a side product of the APOSDLE project. APOSDLE (EU-project leaders love their acronyms;-) aims to develop an Advanced Process-Oriented Self-Directed Learning Environment, which in plain language is a platform to support the process of learning at work. In the course of this project, a model of the enterprise knowledge had to be developed that was to be the collaborative result of domain experts within the enterprise and external knowledge engineers. The APOSDLE image video below conveys a sense of the complexity of the knowledge to be represented.

But on to Moki: As wikis are an ideal, readily available tool for collaboration, the simple solution was to build a plugin (Moki) for Semantic Media Wiki that allow to structure and engineer the domain knowledge. Moki is a hierarchy builder that supports drag and drop so that categories and relations can easily be fitted in place – the special benefit of using Semantic Media Wiki was that the structure of the generated knowledge can be exported in Semantic Web compliant formats. Apart from the browser, no further software is required.

The APOSDLE website doesn’t yet offer any information about Moki, but a description can be found in the conference proceedings: Collaborative Knowledge Engineering via Semantic MediaWiki, by Chiara Ghidini, Marco Rospocher (who gave the presentation), Luciano Serafini, Viktoria Pammer, Barbara Kump, Andreas Faatz, Andreas Zinnen, Joanna Guss, Stefanie Lindstaedt.

For those looking for good arguments for setting up a wiki in a global business environment: Peter Kemper‘s keynote was the perfect primer for that. Peter, a Knowledge Management portfolio manager at Shell’s IT-Department, gave some insights into the process of their conversion to wikis. Before there were wikis at Shell, they had global discussion forums, connecting 20,000 people around topics and questions, which were intensively used – the question whether wikis should be adopted or not alone generated 800 responses in these forums.

Instead of going for team wikis, Shell opted for the encyclopedic approach and a wiki that would be accessible to anyone at Shell, and for using MediaWiki – which was, interestingly, the first open source software ever used at Shell. Peter Kemper named scalability and the lean architecture as prime arguments for MediaWiki, and they have indeed not had any technical hiccups so far. It was also an asset that people, being used to Wikipedia, know how to use the MediaWiki interface.

Examples of uses case with which the feasibility of wikis within Shell were tested were: Drilling salt, Geology of the Atlantic Margin, and Production Chemistry. Before that, the main media for maintaining and passing on knowledge had been emails and Powerpoint – not exactly because these were considered appropriate for knowledge management, but because of the effects these media had had on the communication within Shell:

With the advent of email, People wrote less and less memos. Less and less reports were sent to the archive, because people kept powerpoint presentations. If that same information, previously locked in emails and powerpoint, went now into wiki, it would finally be accessible to everyone in the company.

Peter Kemper allowed us a glimpse of the information their wiki held, for instance, about the Atlantic Margin – as geological structures are described, most of the information relies on images. It would be a nightmare to maintain this kind of information in Powerpoint! No offense meant: Powerpoint is good for presentations but not for creating and maintaining a knowledge base. According to Peter, with wikis Shell achieved six times the productivity in comparison to using Powerpoint, in particular due to the linkability of content.

Wikis also turned out to be the superior solution for the integration of curricula from an internal learning environment, as wikis support the modular structure of a learning curriculum. Furthermore, they are also a good means to sustain communication in the time between workshops or team meetings.

At shell, they even use wiki for instance for the translation of contracts into the requirements of day to day procedures – a typical contract in the business that Shell is in has around 400 pages, and it is probably not very likely that a single person is going to read (and immediately understand) the entire contract. In this regard, the wiki also serves as a tool to translate lawyer-readable prose into transparent instructions (and there are probably many more ways in which wikis can be used to support business processes, a statement also put forward by Rolf Sint from Salzburg Research; see his 12 seconds statement below).


Rolf Sint talks about workflows in wikis on 12seconds.tv

A noteworthy detail about the integration of wikis in Shell’s IT architecture: If a user logs onto the wiki for the first time and goes beyond the disclaimer, a new wiki account is automatically created that is identical with his or her windows account – this is not about checking on people, Peter Kemper said, but about creating organisational transparency.

On the one hand, this reveals whether there are organisational units within Shell where the wiki is not as intensively used as elsewhere, meaning that these units probably have specific needs which need to be addressed first. On the other hand, people can (and do) also contact each other via the wiki, e.g. one can contact the person who created an article if one is on need of further information.

About stimulating content production: 60% of Shell’s employees will go into retirement over the next eight years, and with them knowledge that is needed in the company. They even asked and paid former employees to come out of retirement to work on the wiki – that’s what I call commitment to content creation and knowledge preservation.

The Shell wiki already has more than 40,000 registered users (with 150,000 employees in the company, plus contract staff). What is interesting regarding user activation is that the number of active users stays relatively the same, even if the number of users in total increases. Peter Kemper’s account for this was that content comes in waves, meaning that users are activated in those areas where fresh knowledge is generated.

Kemper distinguished three types of users: content owners who create content from scratch; content editors who often just correct syntax or make things ‘look nicer'; and information consumers. Kemper rejected the term ‘lurkers’ for information consumers as looking for information is an activity in itself.

All in all, Peter Kemper’s talk confirmed many of the assumptions which have informed our own KiWi – Knowledge in a Wiki project, the aim of which is to merge the wiki philosophy with knowledge management, enhanced by semantic (web) technologies. Sebastian Schaffert (Salzburg Research) puts it in a nutshell in the video below. Featured in a cameo appearance: the KiWI!


Sebastian Schaffert about KiWi – Knowledge in a Wiki on 12seconds.tv

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Jana Herwig

Linked Data @ TRIPLE-I: Measuring the size of a fact, not of a fiction

The TRIPLE-I 2008 conference ended three days ago, yet there are a couple of loose ends I’d still like to tie up. First of all: Linked Data. Tom Heath was invited to give a keynote on “Humans and the Web of Data” – there are a variety of roles in which people may come across Tom and his LOD related work:

He administrates the site LinkedData.org (on behalf of the Linked Data community), he is the creator of Revyu.com (“Review anything!”), which won him the 1st prize in the Semantic Web Challenge 2007, he was a co-organizer of the Linked Data on the Web Workshop at this year’s World Wide Web conference in Beijing, and he was an interviewee in my 12 seconds definitions mission @ TRIPLE-I – see his micro definition of Linked Data in the vid below. (To learn more about Tom and the different roles he fulfils, look here).


Tom Heath explains Linked Data TRIPLE-I 2008 on 12seconds.tv

His keynote was not so much an introduction to Linked Data (I should expect that a conference like TRIPLE-I/I-Semantics would typically attract people who at least have an idea of what Linked Data is about), but rather a confirmation that the Web of Data is no longer a fiction, but a fact. One of the often cited proofs is the growth of the LOD dataset cloud over the last year, as shown in the image below (clicky for biggy, visualization created by Richard Cyganiak).

At the same time – and this was accordingly acknowledged by a later presentation given by Wolfgang Halb which had been prepared collaboratively by Tom, Wolfgang, Michael Hausenblas and Yves Raimond – it’s not just the sheer number of triples on the web that counts. Over the course of one year, the efforts of the Linked Data community (who seek to populate the web with open data, data in RDF) generated 4 billion triples – but only 3 million interlinks.

Their paper was an attempt to measure the size of the Semantic Web based on interlinks. A brief excerpt from the conclusion:

We have identified two different types of datasets, namely single- point-of-access datasets (such as DBpedia), and distributed datasets (e.g. the FOAF-o-sphere). At least for the single-point-of-access datasets it seems that automatic interlinking yields a high number of semantic links, however of rather shallow quality. Our finding was that not only the number of triples is relevant, but also how the datasets both internally and externally are interlinked. Based on this observation we will further research into other types of Semantic Web data and propose a metric for gauging it, based on the quality and quantity of the semantic links. We expect similar mechanisms (for example regarding automatic interlinking) to take place on the Semantic Web.

Another point raised by Tom in his key note was the issue of trust: According to his research, there are five parameters that have an influence on whether we trust a source or recommendation on the web or not: experience , expertise, impartiality (we don’t trust a travel agent, because we can’t help but believe that she is mainly going to recommend the offer of her ‘favourite’ clients), affinity, and track record, with experience, expertise and affinity being the most important ones. A semantic people search engine Tom presented, Hoonoh.com (currently in alpha), thus allows to weight search results according to these three criteria.

Tom’s concluding statement emphasized that Linking Data makes sense not for the sake of it, but for the sake of being at the service of humans: “A web of machine-readable data is even more interesting from a human than from a machine perspective,” for instance in search engines like Hoonoh.com

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Jana Herwig

TRIPLE-I 2008 ends with a bang, not a whimper

This last day of TRIPLE-I, the conference consisting of three events (I-SEMANTICS,I-KNOW, I-MEDIA) was probably my favourite one, even though I am of course a bit biased: It was Linked Data day, with a keynote by Tom Heath which I will cover in more detail on Monday, but we need to be heading home now.

The key issue for me still is the quest for making the Web of Data a reality, and I once again noted that the main question raised within the Semantic Web community continues to be: “We have such a great technology – why isn’t everybody adopting?” I guess that the answers somewhere are along the lines of this comment from Greg Boutin:

Things will get better as more and more folks get interested in it, and “translators” from the early majority (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_(business) ) start to kick in and explain what this is in plain language.

Defining a process for introducing Linked Data like a new product to the market – that is what I’d like!

The last keynote today was given by Dickson Lukose from the Research and Development agency MIMOS in Malaysia – the Malaysian government seems to be putting a lot of money into IT R & D at the moment. Anyone looking for a good place to get a startup funded might consider doing it in Malaysia!

This blog post concludes with a 12 seconds good-bye message from Michael Hausenblas, saying hello to the web of Data Practitioners Days in Vienna on Oct 22-23, the next SemWeb Community event here in Austria. See you there!


Michael Hausenblas says goodbye TRIPLE-I, c u at WebofData.info on 12seconds.tv

Jana Herwig

Congratulations to the Winners of the Triplification Challenge!

TriplifySören Auer just announced the winners of the LOD Triplification Challenge at TRIPLE-I:

  1. Linked Movie Data Base by Oktie Hassanzadeh, Mariano Consens (MacBook Air or € 1.000 )
  2. DBTune by Yves Raimond (Asus EeePC or € 300 )
  3. Semantic Web Pipes Demo by Danh Le Phuoc (iPod Touch or € 200

Congratulations! View a listing of all the nominees here, where you can also download the descriptions. Other good news: Roughly 80% (my guess) of the audience at this morning’s keynotes raised their hands when asked if they had not only heard about the term Semantic Web, but were also familiar with its concepts – not surprising probably for those interested in the I-SEMANTICS track, but good to get this feedback from the I-KNOW and I-MEDIA attendees. The Semantic breakthrough is nigh!

The challenge was called Triplification challenge as it was centred around Triplify and initiated by the Triplify Team. But what is Triplify? Sören Auer explains it in 12 seconds:


Sören Auer explains Triplify in 12 Seconds on 12seconds.tv

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