Siderean Software takes its name from the word sidereal, as in sidereal navigation. For you non-sailors, sidereal navigation is the practice of ancient mariners making their way across the central Pacific, navigating using the stars as a compass along with seamarks and signs such as bird and marine migrations.
The company’s product, Seamark Navigator, takes its inspiration from this, aiming to offer users a precise way to navigate the digital realm, enabling them to begin searches before they know exactly what they are looking for.
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“Search is great when you know what you want to ask for and can articulate that in a way that you can type in, but it leaves people hanging when they don’t know what to type into the text box,” says Bradley Allen, founder and CTO. “To make effective progress against a huge volume of information you need navigation tools.”
Siderean is focused on taking the wealth of metadata that is out there and generating that navigational context in a way that is sensitive to what the user is asking for and where they have been, and then providing a high level view of potential destinations. “That’s the essence of navigation, getting from point a to point b when you don’t know how, and then sharing that information with others,” Allen says.
Since the early part of this decade, the start-up has been engaged in discovering what the real opportunity is in terms of being able to build a large and scalable company that can exploit semantics to make information more accessible and discovery more viable. It’s coming, it seems, in the form of synthesizing semantic web principles with the social nature of Web 2.0 applications, and giving people the ability to bind information together from these and other sources via a consistent, unified information architecture based on RDF, providing a way for traditional media companies or enterprises to create vertical information hubs that may cater to general consumers or customers, partners, internal employees, or any other community of interest.
Siderean sees in its customer base — which includes enterprises, publishers, and the library and academic space — tremendous use of the kinds of applications that people are using on the consumer Internet, such as Facebook for social interactions, wikis to document information and collaboration in workgroups, and blogs as information resources to keep up on data that is relevant to specific interests. The result of this is that so much of today’s content is being generated by end users collaborating with other end users directly, and the world is moving away from distinguishing between data and content to a point where everything is, in essence, metadata.
“What RDF is turning out to be good at and really manifesting its value in is in making it possible to provide a semantic overlay on top of all these sources of information — not just a distinction between content and content management systems — but also inside and outside the firewall. The premium content within a publication, for example, and all the relevant content generated out on the web by others, can be pulled together to create information hubs for special interests,” says Allen.
All of that Web 2.0-generated information, of course, has to be navigated in conjunction and context with the traditional content of enterprises (such as data warehouses) and glued together under a unified framework.
“That’s what we are focused on,” says Allen. “And making this notion of search something that goes beyond the model like Google, where I sit and type and get results, and it’s up to me to figure out what to do. That’s a solitary activity. We see things as moving from search as the dominant paradigm to navigation as the dominant paradigm, which is needed to enable discovery in the true sense. … The notion of navigation is not just one of helping people deal with massive amounts of information more effectively to get where they need to be, but it’s fundamentally social because you are sharing. Here’s a search that gets back all this information that is relevant to this particular business problem. All of that is increasingly collaborative — and more powerful as a result.”
Of course, in this brave new world, it will remain important to be able to distinguish between authoritative sources and those with less credibility. Allen says this can be treated by exposing metadata associated with navigation results and letting someone see how many of these results are from accepted authoritative sources, such as the corporation itself, or partners, or perhaps from blogs or other sources previously ranked as trustworthy by users.
“Metadata about quality and provenance of information can be made part of the navigation experience. That gives people the tools to filter whether or not they can trust by bringing in other attributes of that information,” says Allen. “This is important in terms of giving people a handle on the quality of information that is returned, but also allowing an organization to help filter information. … By treating everything as metatdata, that can be folded into how that information is being managed and transferred in a way that you don’t have the ability to do with a search paradigm.”