You’ve heard of fundraisers for grammar schools, girl and boy scouts, and sports teams’ trips. But how about one for a semantic web project?
As it turns out, such a fundraiser is underway right now, for the Nepomuk semantic desktop, and it was launched by Sebastian Trüg. Trüg, who created the K3b KDE CD/DVD burning application, since 2006 has been leading Nepomuk development focused on the open source KDE desktop and mobile computing arena under the sponsorship of Linux provider Mandriva. “My goal,” Trüg says, has been to “integrate semantic desktop ideas directly into this system so it could be used by all the programs that are there today and also on mobile devices.”
Alas, Mandriva has had its own struggles in the last year or so, he says, and its financial support of his work as a contractor on this effort has dropped off.
Nepomuk, you may recall, began life as a three-year European research project to create the social semantic desktop. That concluded late in 2008, with one offshoot being the spin-off Gnowsis. For his part, Trüg since then has been continuing his efforts and hopes to stay on that track – if he can raise enough money from the community to support his work, at least until he can (hopefully) get a commitment from another company to invest in the development.
All the code Trüg has developed so far, and continues to develop, is completely open source. “I was a bit reluctant to start a fundraiser,” he says, but “I think this is really something that needs to be done. And if we in the open source world don’t do it, sooner or later Microsoft of Apple or someone else will do something like this.”
Where he hopes his work will lead, he says, is to an immersive desktop experience where the user can create one big graph of information ‘all the time.’ “The first is the information that tools can gather automatically, like extracting it from other files, email and the web,” he says. “The second is information that is gathered based on the actions of the user, like remembering from where you downloaded a file, remembering who sent you what information – all that is aggregated. And the third kind of information is obviously the information that is manually created: A user creates a project and specifically states this project has these team members and this is the leader and this is the description and it links to some file or home page and wiki where we discus stuff.
Bring on the Apps
So it’s creating one big graph and sharing this graph with others, so that ultimately on your PC you would not care about any hierarchies like file systems or email folders or address books. You would just work by metadata, a bit more like the brain works. You relate by context, so when you are writing an email to a certain person, you immediately get information about that person, the project you are working with them on at the moment, and so on.”
With integration of capabilities into KDE, anyone using KDE-powered desktops already uses Nepomuk to a certain extent, he says. And other applications can start to implement its features, too. “As far as applications go, it's had a slow pace, but I feel it’s picking up,” he says. There’s media experience application Bangarang, for instance, which is fully integrated with the KDE Nepomuk semantic desktop. Trüg also notes some basic tagging and desktop search and research-stage apps that let you annotate whatever you like on the desktop to create projects and tasks and relate them to other projects and persons.
“Then there is this concept of real-world entities – for example, a person in an address book entry can be related to FaceBook content and all aggregated as this one person," he says. "That is a service going on at the moment—we are trying to merge different occurrences of people under this one person, so if you get an email from one person and chat with someone, the system knows it is the same person.”
Mobile Plasma Active is the portable version of the KDE Plasma visual desktop experience that also is heavily based on Nepomuk, and mainly targeted at tablets that can run Linux operating systems. “For any task you do on the device you create an activity and relate thing to it, all through Nepomuk. The next step will be to create recommendations, so rather than browse for certain resources, you'll get recommendations based on the current context,” he explains. For instance, it might draw upon what you did last time you were in a certain location, as well as why you’re there now, to offer up an activity recommendation.
Pinning Down the Basics
Much of Trüg’s work to date has been on the backend, involving backup and database issues and an API to build a layer around the RDF database that enforces certain rules. “Over the years working on Nepmuk I realized that on the desktop we have to be more strict than we are on the semantic web,” he says. “There are several reasons for that, and one is that users expect their [desktop] results to be more exact when they query for something or list something. The second things is that we don’t have as much CPU power as we have on a server or on the cloud, so we have to define stricter rules and can’t employ all theoretical things that RDF provides in terms of inference and so forth.”
He also had to develop to accommodate other desktop-world influences, such as removable media. And he’s also created an API for application developers that don’t want to learn SPARQL, and shouldn’t have to, given that it’s too powerful for what a lot of them need, he says.
“There are so many cool things you can do with the system but I’ve had to spend a lot of time on the basics, because people want the basics to work,” he says.
And to his pleasant surprise, it seems a lot more people want to see his work continue than he may have originally thought. His first goal was to raise four-and-a-half thousand Euros, but feedback was so positive he's raised that to nine thousand. As of the end of last week, he reports he had received 225 pledges totaling close to seven thousand Euros. Says a grateful Trüg, “I find that’s really good because [the project is] not something that everyone understands.”
You can make your pledge here.