I have this project idea at the back of my mind which I mentally refer to as “My Life in RDF”.
Rather than being an exciting diary of the trials and tribulations of a lone hacker, wrestling with semantic web technologies for fun and profit, you should read that title a bit more literally: the details of my life — the raw details of what I do — available as RDF.
At this point I should probably try to dispel any whiff of conceit here. I don’t necessarily think that the world (or the Semantic Web) is waiting with baited breath to know exactly what page of “Impossibility” I’m on at the moment  or what I’m listening to as I write this  or what I thought of the last film I saw . Far from it! However the success of the Semantic Web is obviously predicated (pun intended 🙂 on the availability of as much machine-processable metadata as possible. And as potential citizens of the Semantic Web who wish to gain the most from that environment, this means providing information about ourselves.
Obviously there are security and trust issues to be considered and resolved here. For the moment though I’m setting those aside. Not because I think they’re secondary issues, but because I think that the immediate hurdle of extracting and publishing this data from the decidely un-semantic application environment in which we currently exist is a much bigger one. I also believe that some of the security, privacy and social issues won’t be visible until we’re suddenly awash in a sea of triples and new capabilities begin to emerge; these problems are never where you expect them to be.
The kind of data that would be exported by “My Life in RDF” would be as comprehensive as possible. I’m interested in finding out in what ways that a stream of data about what I’m doing, thinking, watching, reading, listening to etc can be knitted together to build new kinds of applications. People-centric applications. Many people have already realised that the while blogging phenomenon has only begun to scratch at the surface of the potential here.
“People who watched About Schmidt last night are typically listening to these artists…”
“There are actually 5 Semantic Web developers in the same area as you at the moment, do you want to co-ordinate a face-to-fact meeting? There’s wireless access in the coffee shop 200 yards down the road”
You know the kind of thing. Those aren’t even great examples.
Another important aspect of “My Life in RDF” would be to fill in the details of your existing environment. Suddenly enabling RDF data streams about yourself and your current activities would be akin to a Semantic Web “Year Zero”. To pick obvious examples what about the music or books that are already on your shelf, the novels you’ve already read? I (we) need to be able to import other data.
I haven’t gotten very far with imagining what kind of technology framework “My Life in RDF” would actually involve. It may just be a disparate set of data feeds produced by myself, automatically by my applications, or by other organisations (if sanctioned). The central aspect would be that I would be at the center of the web controlling all aspects of it: it’s my data after all.
Rather romantically I imagine myself as the King of Data Province, a Scribe ready by my shoulder to record my latest thoughts, quips and travels. In concentric circles, radiating outward from my throne situated at the pinnacle of my Castle, move my trusted friends and colleagues who have access to the Keep and the Library. Beyond the castle walls, but within the moat, is a wider community with whom I interact; anonymously sometimes, hiding my robes under a dark cloak. Still further beyond the moat lie the Bad-Lands: an unmapped territory, its people an unknown quantity, their unwanted attentions kept at bay by the moat and walls of my demesne.
With all this in mind I read with interest Edd Dumbill’s note about the Semantic Web dashboard being developed by Nat Friedman. This looks like a great step in the right direction: “My Life in RDF” on the desktop, something that could be of immediate benefit to me. Inverting this, so that the data is available to a trusted group of others, is not a great step from there. Tim O’Reilly’s “All Software Should Be Network Aware” article covers a similar theme. I like the idea of a set of application guidelines.
Much of the code hacking I’m working on at the moment especially my FOAF tools, has all of this as its context. I want to help boot-strap a Semantic Web community of people . Other things I have in mind are tools for cataloguing book, music and photo collections. Tools that are designed with the non-technical end user in mind.
1. Somewhere in chapter 1. It’s not as readable as The Meme Machine, but nevertheless extremely interesting
2. A series of tracks including An Fhomhair (Orbital, US Remix CD of The Altogether); Serpents (Nitin Sawhney); 3AM Eternal/Blue Danube (KLF/Strauss; a bizarre but cool remix by The Orb Remix Project); Chemical Beats (The Chemical Brothers); Words (The Doves); and more.
3. About Schmidt. An excellent film, but one that left me feeling quite depressed. I found the emotional “happy” ending to actually further underscore the tragedy of Schimdt’s life: that his efforts to build a life that mattered, by following all the usual paths, were ultimately fruitless yet an action taken on a moments guilty feeling had profound repercussions. But then I tend to get emotional over any fatherhood theme ever since I became one. And the suggestion that one could end up becoming a bad, or at least (emotionally) distant, parent without realising its happening is profoundly scary.
4. And it’s a shame that “community” is becoming such a tired word these days. Maybe it’s a parenting thing, but I find it something that I’m craving more and more.