Semantic Web Software Components

Here is an announcement from IBM on SLRP (Semantic Layered Research Platform). The blog post describes various open source tools that make up SLRP.

The Semantic Layered Research Platform (SLRP, pronounced slurp) is the collective name for the family of software components produced by the IBM Advanced Technology group to utilize semantics throughout the application stack. We’ll be releasing these components to the open-source community over the next few months as we polish the initial versions of them and prepare supporting materials (examples, how-tos, documentation, …). This post is a summary of the components that we’ll be releasing, with a brief description of each.

Talent Crisis?

A report from Deloitte discusses the upcoming talent crisis and some measures to combat it.

Within the next five to ten years, an alarming number of Baby Boomers are set to retire from both the private and public sectors. At the same time, it is anticipated that there will be fewer graduates with the right critical skill sets entering the marketplace. These converging events will result in an unprecedented talent shortage and skills gap.

Here is a graphic that depicts the expected workforce changes:

talent-shortage.png

I think the opportunities to use technologies to improve life-long learning is great. We can start with the assumption that current and future generation will be extremely technology savvy. Leveraging Internet and new media to provide on-demand, incremental learning, building powerful learning communities and utilizing the social networking aspects in learning will become the norm.

Product Based Learning – A Learning Collaboratory

We are working on a collaboratory for Product based Learning. The participants in this collaboratory, actually build software products at every stage of learning. We decided to do this since many of the schools do not teach programming in the context of building something useful. A developer needs to learn more than just coding. By making them build products that others can use, we increase their visibility to real life issues as developers.

Almost every writng on  How People Learn talks about Learning by doing as the most effective learning strategy.

  • Having a specific problem to solve provides a context for learning.
  • Alternative (and more elegant ways) to solve the problems show the power of different styles of programming.
  • Product based learning also involves people. This allows them to remember what they learn since they are actually applying.
  • Having something you built being used by others provides a greater incentive to make it better. It teaches something that they can never learn in simulated situations.

Our collaboratory is not about  content. There is enough content on the web for people to use. What we plan to provide are some ideas for building products, identify skills required to build them, provide mentoring. A learner of the academy will start with a simple individual project and progress to team centric efforts. Here are some ideas on how they can progress from simple projects to more complex ones.

Bookmarklets
These are some of the simplest Javascript utilities you can write. They are reusable. You can get a lot of useful feedback from users.

Browser Extensions
Writing a browser extension provides another reusable component that people can use across several websites. When written for open source products like Firefox, you learn a lot more than writing simple form applications with JavaScript.

Web Components
There are several good web component frameworks. Google’s Gadgets, Microsoft’s Live components, Yahoo’s widgets are just a few. When you write components for any of these platforms, you also learn a lot about developing web applications. You can learn from some of the cool components that already exist.

Mashups
Mashups are the easiest way to glue together something cool. But building mashups also teach developers how to reuse webservice and build on top of services already built by others. The instant gratification of producing workable, usable applications by simply layering on top of services will be one of the most rewarding aspects of learning.

Building some real-world web services (lightweight services)
In this stage, developers move from being consumers of services to providers of service. They will learn how to design services, how to test them and build a few sample mashups that others can learn and use.

There is one common thread across all these products – reusability. At each stage of learning, when the developer will learn how to leverage other components and how to build their own reusable components. This is the skill we need as applications becoming composition of services.

How People Learn

This is an interesting subject. As I research more, I will post the resources and add some commentary.

First, a few observations about Learning itself, from How People Learn:

  • Learning occurs in context
  • Learning is active
  • Learning is social
  • Learning is reflective

A really great report about Talent crisis by Deloitte has a excerpt from Lexis-Nexis on how people learn most effectively:

  • 67% When working together with a colleague on a task
  • 22% When doing own research
  • 10% When a colleague explains something personally
  • 2% Through a manual or textbook

This brings up interesting possibilities on setting up Learning Collaboratories:

  • We need to see it with a few mentors whom people can go to
  • We need change the ratio of class room based training to project based training, where people actually produce something
  • We need to design projects in such a way that people are forced to do their own research

Innovations In Cyberinfrastructure

NSF Chief Urges Colleges to Build Better High-Speed Networking Tools

American colleges and universities should quickly build a better set of shared high-speed networking tools and protocols for research if the United States is to maintain leadership in technology and higher education, said Arden L. Bement Jr., director of the National Science Foundation, in a speech here on Wednesday to college leaders.

In the speech, “Cyberinfrastructure: The Second Revolution,” Mr. Bement highlighted the importance of what has become the major focus of the foundation’s support for technology at colleges in recent years. He predicted that innovations in cyberinfrastructure would have an effect similar to that of the invention of the Internet, which was also sparked in part with the foundation’s support.

This is a very real problem. What kinds of tools would you build? Why not leverage the innovations in learning in various institutions of Higher-Ed in US? Or, make it part of one of the Collective Intelligence Initiative?

One of the ways to bootstrap this model of innovation was proposed by Doug Engelbart. His focus is on Augmenting Human Intellect. While Doug is well known as the inventor of the mouse, he has a lot to teach us about Augmentation, Improvement and Improving the process of Improvement.

Doug Engelbart’s theory of recursive improvement is called the A-B-C model. So let us take the example of Improving Learning.

abc-model.jpg

Let us imagine a community focused on Improving Learning Capabilities in the World. Since this involves several countries, It will be community of communities. One possible application of A-B-C model would be as follows:

A – Would be a community in each university to use internet to enable learning (a lot is already happening in this area).

B – Would be a community to improve A (what are the best techniques of using internet to enable learning). This would be in reality a community of communities (Doug calls this Networked Improvement Community or NIC).

C- Would be a community focused on improving the LearningNIC (a meta NIC). NSF Can fund a meta NIC effort and bootstrap NICs everywhere in the country.

So may be Arden should have a coversation with Doug. And look at some work done by Valerie and others on EdNIC (a NIC for education).

Should There Be Tax Credit For Ideas?

This is a snippet from their Ideas Issue (you need to sign up for a free two month trial to get it).

If there was a law that every organisation had to put orward five creative ideas a year – then they would do just this. Perhaps there could be a tax credit for the deas.

Organisations do not want new ideas. They want successful new ideas.

It is worth signing up for Thinking Managers free newsletter and track their blog. I have been reading Edward De Bono’s books for over twenty years. He wrote several books on thinking and credited with pioneering the concept of Lateral Thinking.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words and an Animation is Worth a Thousand Pictures

If a picture is worth thousand words, then an animation is worth thousand pictures. If you do not believe me, watch this animation of various methods of sorting. When you get to the page, click on each box to get the sort started. I wish I had seen this, when I was learning about sorting.

This is an inspiring piece of work. I am not talking about the sorting algorithms. But the concept of teaching something through visualization. Still an untapped area for building a tools for learning.

From:

Found this through digg.dot.us and the original entry seems to be from digg.com

Implementing an Innovation Process

I came across this nice blog on Innovation Process Framework, by Jeffrey Philips (via Innovation Weblog)

.innovationprocesssoftware.gif

The blog is a nice read and tries to outline a framework for Repeatable Innovation. Towards the end Jeffrey appeals to the readers to provide feedback.

If you care to, please comment or provide your feedback. I think if we practitioners, consultants and interested bystanders can create a consistent vision for the future of innovation and the tools and processes necessary for success, we can help our clients and business partners become more successful.

I have been experimenting with a few tools and some ad-hoc processes for innovation (in small product groups). So let me start out with a few tools and see how we can start putting together, elements of this framework.

You can start with any simple content management system (Drupal, Plone, Dotnet Nuke or even a Wikimedia engine).  It is also possible to use commercial portal products like Sharepoint, BEA or IBM portal servers. Let us see how we can go about building a prototype of the tools required to bootstrap your Innovation Process based on the framwork described by Jeffrey.

1. Trend Spotting

You can use several products that exist in the marketplace to track trends. The tools I list here provide you information to detect trends. Here is a list.

  • Google Alerts- A service to receive alerts based on certain keywords
  • InfoMinder - Our product to track specific web pages for changes (you can optionally specify filters) and receive notification. Unlike Google or alerts, InfoMinder is specific to the pages you want to track.
  • Digg, delicious, Techmeme, reddit or any of your favorite social bookmarking service (you can look for specific trends or retrieve information using tags)
  • Technorati or Google Blog Search tools
  • Tag Clouds (many of the services mentioned above provide tag clouds that tell you the more popular trends) or you can create your own tag clouds.
  • Google Trends – A product from Google that allows you to see trends based on searches
  • A set of high level Text Mining and Tech mining tools ( a subject that deserves almost a blog of its own)

A combination of these services and other customer serivces, can be used to perform trend capture. You need to figure out a way to make sense of trends from these different pieces of information (Trend Spotting). Fortunately many of these tools provide RSS streams or APIs. You can easily integrate them with several content management systems.

2. Generate Ideas

You can set up a workflow where people with the role of Generators, look at the captured trend information, combine it with other sources and generate ideas. These can be either stored in any relational database like MySQL, Postgres SQL.

3. Capture additional Information
In the system, Ideas are just a specific type of document with certain metadata like creator, date of creation, source of idea, description etc. It will be nice to add the capability for anyone to tag ideas. Based on tags and other criteria, ideas can be routed to Evaluators.

4. Evaluate Ideas
The evaluators can add comments, additional tags, classify the ideas to be further researched and send them back into the system. With each iteration, the circle widens. Ideas are further validated, combined with others or split into multiple ideas and put back into the system. Since Ideas trigger ideas, this process of combining and splitting will work well.

5. Develop and Launch

Stakeholders are found, prototypes built, ideas developed and launched as products/services.Your content management system can be used as a record keeper in this phase. In every step of the process from ideation to launch, it may be worth engaging small communities of users. Connecting to social tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn may be a good way to build and grow these communities.

6. Workflow/Process Automation

This is functionality built into several content management systems. Ideas can move from one stage to another (nascent, researched, validated etc.)

7. Idea Archetypes

One of the important aspects of the design of Idea Archetype is the progressive addition of information. Some ideas are listed here:

  • State – specifies the current stage of the idea. As it goes through the system, the state of the idea keeps changing
  • Strength – an indicator of the strength of the idea. As ideas float through the system and gather support, the strength can be progressively increased. Support increases this value and opposition decreases this value.
  • Next Steps – For each idea there can be a sequence of steps which can be started by the creator of the idea and collaboratively edited by others. For example, the legal department may add a patent search as a next step

8. Process Maps

Argument maps, Concept maps and other mapping tools can be loosely integrated (most of them export data in XML, JSON or CSV  format).

9. IdeaLogs

Ideas can also be published in blogs (private if they are meant for a small internal groups). Many portal products or content mangement systems come with their own blog software. You can also integrate some of the popular blogging software like WordPress.

10. Wikis as Collaborative Knowledge Bases

Wikis can be used as a knowledge bases to share, collaboratively edit and archive ideas. Wikis are alternative to idea archetypes,  mentioned earlier. Many of the wikis now provide templates for creating structured pages.

Any portal framework that supports content management, custom content types, workflow, collaboration, authentication can be used to jump start the Innovation Process in an organization. It is easy to bootstrap an innovation process using this framework and existing tools in a few weeks.

The best approach is to start with something as simple as a portal, set up some simple workflows, use a single page with extensible metadata as a basis for collaboration.

Update

Pretty much everything I described here can be done using many other portal frameworks, as well. One of recent favorites is Drupal especially since it has started providing support for RDF ( core language  for the semantic web as well). You can also custom build this framework using web frameworks like Rails(Ruby), Django(Python).