Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reflections on the User Feedback Panel or More Help, please ...

One striking difference between user input this year compared to the last, is that this year we received considerably smaller number of new functionality requests. It seems that our users are still digesting all the new features that came out in 3.0 and in the ramp up to 3.0 - SPARQLMotion, SPIN, the new TopBraid Ensemble with the end-user composable web applications, etc.

User feedback is very important to us as a key input to the product development plans. Of course, many requirements come on a regular basis through the web user forum, but in-person interaction adds different dimensions. It is immediately clear if a requirement voiced by one user is shared by the rest. You can also quickly explore requirements in more depth. For example, at the last year User Group meeting, we received repeated requests for the support of version control and governance. It took some time to fully understand the requirements and design the solution to address them, but after close interactions with several users, version control is now available as part of the new Enterprise Vocabulary Management solution.

This year most of the requests were for better documentation and educational resources - a SPIN tutorial, more videos, example applications for TBE, etc. It seems that the richer the product suite becomes, the more we need to work on providing resources explaining how to use it.

TopBraid Composer already has a pretty good help facility. However, we've learned that not all its features are well understood by the users. After returning from the conference we have created a new page dedicated to Help It is accessible from a number of places including the download page.

Other requests already in the works include a Powerpoint tour of TBC features, example TBE application for download with, probably, a video explaining how it was developed and, yes, a SPIN tutorial (once I get a chance). Help is being updated as well, in preparation for the 3.1 release.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TopBraid User Group Meeting at SemTech2009

TopQuadrant conducted its second TopBraid Open User Group Meeting at the Semantic Technology Conference 2009, on Thurs., June 18, San Jose, CA.

Topics presented and discussed included:

• User Talk 1: Using SPARQLMotion to Execute Task Networks among Distributed Cyber Physical Systems

• TopBraid - New Capabilities Sampler 1: Key aspects of TopQuadrant's Enterprise Vocabulary Management (EVMS) Solution package (just announced)

• User Talk 2: Managing Your Online Social Graph with TopBraid Composer

• TopBraid - New Capabilities - Sampler 2: Ontology Metrics & Report Generation for Quality Assurance of Knowledge Models

• User Feedback Session

More details to follow!

The Meaning of "semantic"

Going through the exhibit hall of the Semantic Technologies conference one quickly notices that there are two types of vendors:

  1. Providers of the middleware and tools that leverage Semantic Web standards (RDF, RDFS, OWL and SPARQL) to support a variety of business applications.This is an area where TopQuadrant plays.
  2. Providers of the search and text mining products.
The word "semantic" is used when talking about both types of products. The reason for this is quite clear. Before W3C coined the term "Semantic Web", the word "semantics" was used to describe "smart software" capable of extracting some meaning from text. With the development of the Semantic Web standards, it is increasingly being used to describe semantics (schemas) of the data and to support integration across different sources and formats - databases, XML, spreadsheets, etc. As well as to support new, model driven ways to develop applications.

I wonder if this creates confusion. In fact, I know it does. At a recent customer meeting, we gave a two hour product presentation. There were many good questions afterward. I did not think there was any confusion until one of the attendees asked if our software had multi-lingual support. I explained that yes, language specific labels can be provided and information can then be displayed in a selected language. He looked puzzled, thought a little and then said "I am not talking about labels. Different languages have different semantics, like sentence structure, etc. How do you address that?"

I explained that TopBraid Suite does not directly provide text extraction. Instead, we integrate with software that has these capabilities. It can be a product like Calais which provides the extracted concepts directly in RDF or a product that provides results in XML. We can convert it to RDF in an automated way. Integration with the text mining software makes it possible to bring together (and, consequently, query) structured and unstructured information using a common RDF infrastructure.

With this, I wander if there should be two very distinct tracks at the conference? Is there some other space where these two different streams of technologies come together? If so, can the intersection be better explained and positioned?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Starfleet Day One

Well, not exactly day one... We have been on a journey for quite some time now. And a few of us at TopQuadrant have been blogging for awhile. However, until today we did not have a shared company blog. Our hope is to make the blog be a place for publishing tips on using the TopBraid Suite, discussing best practices for working with the Semantic Web standards, sharing thoughts and ideas, learning from each other and from our customers.

Today is not only the first day for the blog, but also the first day of the exhibit at the Semantic Technologies 2009. A busy day, many familiar faces, many new ones as well. Some reflections:

  • No one asked me today to explain RDF. Such a difference from just a year ago!
  • Almost no one asked me "what is this technology good for". Everyone I talked to had a pretty clear idea what problems they wanted to solve. Integration was probably the most common theme.
  • The simplest demos seem to be the most effective ones. We've build a few fairly elaborate demos, but there is only so much one can show and absorb at a busy conference. Luckily, the demos we have are pretty versatile. I plan to post at least one of the demo apps for everyone to download and try.
Tomorrow a good amount of demoing will be done by our partners - Oracle and CTG. Both of the partner demos are focusing on medical informatics.

There is clear evidence that people are ready to adopt the technologies. Many spoke of pilot projects and the need to make IT people comfortable with new infrastructure. For TQ this was good confirmation of our TopBraid Ensemble/Live approach and product direction.

At the same time, some of the things we take for granted in our product are not always known to the market. We will therefore need to do some more communication of the "out-of-the-box" capabilities of the suite.

This is a blog by TopQuadrant, developers of the TopBraid Suite, created to support the pursuit of our ongoing mission - to explode strange semantic myths, to seek out new models that support a new generation of dynamic business applications, to boldly integrate data that no one has integrated before.