Querying semantic databases isn’t necessarily the most user-friendly thing to do on the planet. Consultancy ABComputing is trying to change that, with its EQL (Entity Query Language) technology.
“We wanted to where possible have it so the syntax was more closely mirrored with SQL than with SPARQL because people understand SQL,” says Martin Bradford, primary developer at the company. “If you build on that knowledge, that helps matters.”
EQL came about from the company’s work on a potential contract that involved semantic technology. Exposure to the world of semantic web technologies and SPARQL in particular led Antonia Bradford, who started the firm a couple of decades ago, to conclude that there had to be a better way of working with RDF data without sacrificing the power inherent in the semantic web.
“I thought there is no way semantic technology is going to be exploited in the wider business if these tools are not easier to use.” Her take: SPARQL had to be higher-level, less wordy, and more intuitive.
EQL sits on top of SPARQL and has all the capability of it, but lets users operate with an entity-oriented view of the underlying data. It has the constructs to define, modify, use and query links and complex data entities in a way that feels familiar to relational database designers and developers, the company explains. “What makes EQL even cooler is that it enforces the OWL rules,” says Martin Bradford, something that isn’t necessarily true when working with SPARQL. It enforces the discipline and integrity in the way that users can create and manipulate objects that can be connected using meaningful, searchable links, for improved safety and greater productivity, they say.
There are a number of business domains where Antonia Bradford sees semantic technologies as the optimal route for solving problems. In the insurance domain, for example, there is an enormous amount of fraud, and “by sharing a very thin layer of data across the insurance company and putting data in a semantic database, it will be so easy to detect fraud. The insurance company would save mountains of money and then could make insurance premiums a lot cheaper for everyone else,” she says.
But until and unless there are toolsets that are higher-level and more user- friendly, she fears that semantic technology won’t be picked up. “There isn’t wider use of semantic technology in business and the reason is because it’s just not sufficiently easy to use and it needs to be ,” she says.
Another tool the company is working on to try to make semantic technology easier to use is dubbed Morse, which is a graphical way to visualize, manage and interrogate semantic data, capable of sitting on top of EQL or any structured RDF repository. So, while it can be used in conjunction with EQL it doesn’t have to be. Martin Bradford says that at the moment the company is connecting Morse to Ontotext’s FactForge. “We can basically connect to any endpoint and very easily enter data and query not only individual entity types but also networks. So you can create a graphical query; you can put in filters, execute the query and then you drop the results into a workspace,” he says. “Morse works on the principle that the user never need write a line of code.”
The company hopes to soon have demonstration test drives of EQL available for users to try at its site. Relational databases are “very good at what they do,” says Antonia Bradford. “But there are problems the relational model can’t deal with that can easily be done by the semantic model. The tool-set needs to be intuitive and focused to the user and hiding all the complexity, so that it can take off in the same way that products like Word and Excel have taken off.”