Notes on 4th SMWCon in Boston

by Philipp Zaltenbach, ontoprise GmbH

SMWCon is the standard term for the Semantic MediaWiki Conference, a semi-structured gathering for users, developers and enthusiasts of Semantic MediaWiki from the corporate, academic and other organizational worlds. SMWCon is planned to be a twice-yearly event, with one meeting in Europe and the other in North America.

Last weekend, the 'SMWCon Spring 2010' took place in Boston at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was the 4th meet-up of users, developers and enthusiasts of the Semantic MediaWiki system. This year's convention featured once again a colourful mixture of presentations. There were talks covering development activities and technical challenges, as well as lessons learnt and experiences from applying SMW in commercial settings.

Yaron Koren highlighted in his talk ("State of the software") the rising popularity of SMW by showing the increased volume of the SMW mailing list and the growing number of public wikis using SMW.

It was followed by my talk, where I presented the current status and future roadmap of Halo (see my slides here). The talk gave me the opportunity to promote the Halo Deployment Framework to the community. This really useful piece of software is the SMW-administrator's Aspirine against installation and extension versioning head aches! I can only recommend using it for all SMW installations (read what I does for you here).

I think the other features I presented were well received and the audience provided plenty of useful feedback.

One frequently mentioned wish was to enable a better customization by allowing to use alternative skins with our Halo extensions. This is something we want to tackle in near future and we are aiming at implementing this already for our next release (scheduled for the middle of July).

My personal highlight of this day was the presentation from Clarence Dillon, who realized several SMW projects for governmental institutions such as the U.S. Department of Defense. He noted that SMW is "2x the product; 1/3 the time; 1/2 the cost" compared to an alternative solution they tried to implement prior to the SMW approach. His statement was not only a vague guess but based on hard facts such as saved travel costs or needed realization time.

The saturday started with a presentation from David Karger, local professor at the MIT. He presented approaches such as Exhibit and Dido, which allow for a web-based interactive presentation, filtering and manipulation of data. Exhibit is also available as part of the Semantic Results Formats extension. It was interesting to see that his vision ("Change and layout data directly where you see it in a WYSIWYG manner") is related to our planned 'tabular forms' feature. Next Yaron talked about his idea of overhauling his Semantic Forms extension. An issue that came up was that it would be nice to have more interactive forms for users that allow for a neat and quicker way of entering and editing data. The jQuery Grid Plugin was mentioned as an example of directly editing data.

Yesse Wang presented Ultrapedia. It was really thrilling to see how much things more you could (in terms of deriving insights, data visualization, question answering) with Wikipedia, if it was semantic! Lets keep the fingers crossed that the date when this is deployed on the real Wikipedia is not too far away! Another sapid presentation was the one from Laurent Alquier, where he showed the application of SMW at J&J's pharmaceutical division. In this setting, SMW is used as intranet portal, satisfying various needs, connecting different user groups and interacting with heterogeneous IT systems. This really proves that SMW is more than a wiki, and can serve as integration and mash-up platform in business-critical settings (see [1]). Timothy Quievryn presented his SMW-powered wiki 'The Third Turn' which runs at the hosting platform of Wikia. SMW allows him to realize an interactive, statistical stock car racing site featuring various dynamic views on data such as race result lists, track records and so on.

So SMWCon at Boston was really an exciting event, which was worth the trip from Germany. I was struck that such many communities decided to employ the Halo extension! Thank you for your trust!
I am looking forward to the next SMWCon in fall which will take place at the Open Universiteit located in the city of Amsterdam.

p.s. The talks presented at the SMWCon will be available as videos soon!

1 comment:

Jeroen De Dauw said...

To bad I could not be at the event :( I can haz videoz though!!!