All about DERI
DERI (the Digital Enterprise Research Institute) is an ICT research institute that was established at the National University of Ireland, Galway in June 2003.
The main research focus of DERI is the “Semantic Web”.
In fact, it is the world’s largest Semantic Web institute.
So what’s semantic web?
Semantic web can be thought of as the next generation of the web where computers can aid humans with their daily web-related tasks. Where meaningful structured information can bring meaning and data to life.
For example, using a combination of statements like “John works_at NUI Galway”, “Mary knows John”, “John is_a Person”, “Mary is_a Person”, “NUI Galway is_an Organisation”, “A Person can work_at an Organisation”, and “A Person knows a Person”, you can allow computers to answer relatively straightforward questions like “find me all the people who know others who work at NUI Galway” which at the moment is quite difficult for us to do without some manual processing of information returned from search results.
Anyone I’ve ever met from DERI is extremely intelligent and working on super exciting projects. I wanted to know more so I spoke to John Breslin, senior researcher and leader of the Unit for Social Software. You might also know him as the guy who set up boards.ie. You can read the wiki history here.
Me: Tell me about you’re up to at DERI?
John: I am looking at the ways in which “Social Web” applications can be enhanced using semantic technologies (forums, blogs, wikis, social networks) to produce what we term “Social Semantic Information Spaces”.
DERI is carrying out research beyond the state of the art into areas such as Social Semantic Information Spaces and “Semantic Reality” (leveraging the semantic data from networks of real and virtual sensors), and we have had a significant output of publications and contributions at major conferences. We are involved in more than a dozen standardisation groups in bodies such as the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) and OASIS. Much of our technology is disseminated royalty-free to enable a market, since certain assets can increase in value when they are shared amongst a community of interest. We have strong industrial relations with local SMEs and multinationals, who are picking up our technical work and applying it in commercial contexts.
Me: Read/Write Web have already branded semantic web to be ‘web 3.0′. Without getting hung up on buzzwords, where do you think it’s all going?
John: It’s a dangerous thing to make predictions, as you either end up looking like a genius or an idiot when they do / don’t come through!
Me: [Thinking... nice answer, but given that he's based at DERI, it's likely to be the former... ] Says – do go on Dr John….
John: I think that we are now beginning to see glimpses of the commercial applications of what can be done when all kinds of things on the Web are connected together using semantics (I attended the Semantic Technologies Conference in San Jose last week, where there was a huge industrial presence accounting for the majority of the 1000 attendees). This is obvious in the attention being given to startup companies in this space like Powerset, Metaweb (Freebase) and Radar Networks (Twine), and also since many big companies including Reuters (the Calais API), Yahoo! (SearchMonkey) and Google (Social Graph API) have recently announced what they are doing with semantic data.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the social graph (notably from Google’s Brad Fitzpatrick), which looks at:
- how people are connected together (friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc.), and
- how such connections can be leveraged across websites.
In the Semantic Web (or the Giant Global Graph, to throw out another buzzword!), it is not just people who are connected together in some meaningful way, but documents, events, places, hobbies, pictures, you name it! It is the commercial applications that exploit these connections that are now becoming interesting… Radar Networks’ Nova Spivack gave a keynote talk last week at the Semantic Technologies Conference – he is CEO of one of the companies that is practically applying Semantic Web technologies to social software applications. Radar have a product called Twine, which is a “knowledge networking” application that allows users to share, organise, and find information with people they trust.I hope that in ten years we will see a lot more usage of applications like Twine that will help you manage the information that is of interest to you and that connects you to communities formed around that interest (rather than what we do at the moment: form social networking connections for stronger [connecting to old friends, work colleagues] or weaker reasons [social pressure to reciprocate friend requests, boosting numbers of connections]).
I’d also like to see a move from the current situation where the big sites determine how and where you use your data towards control by the person who made the data (as requested by the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web), allowing data portability or at least views on your data when and where you want it. Building on such moves towards people connecting via “social objects” of interest and also allowing people to control how their data is used, it should then be possible to have a more integrated view of the stuff that is really of interest to me – the content and connections that I and my friends make across a variety of spaces. This is something that we discussed in a recent tutorial we gave on the future of social networks (http://url.ie/e46).
Me: Finally, tell me about some of the other interesting projects that are going on at DERI.
John: Some of our interesting projects include:
- SIOC (interlinking online communities sites): DERI has created a proposed standard for exchanging Web 2.0 data as an experiment in “Web Science”, i.e. as an effort to understand how one establishes a standard on the Web. This has been deployed in over 50 applications on hundreds of sites.
- SWSE (Semantic Web Search Engine): This is one of the largest Semantic Web repositories in the world, operating on a cluster of 16 machines and enabling analysis of data in web experiments. A spin-off is currently in preparation.
- JeromeDL (Social Semantic Digital Library): A redesign of digital libraries to leverage semantics on multiple levels, which has received significant industrial interest and deployment.
- Nepomuk (Social Semantic Desktop): An effort from DERI which is changing personal information management on the desktop. It has transitioned into a €17.5 million EU project that has been adopted in the Linux operating system (as part of the new KDE 4 release).
Me: Wow. That’s pretty cool stuff. Thanks John for taking the time out to shed a little light on what DERI’s all about. Good luck!