Cast your vote yet for The Booksmash Challenge? If not, you’ve got a chance to pull the lever for semantic technology for the contest, which is sponsored by HarperCollins and asks developers to create proof-of-concept apps using its OpenBook API that includes full access to select authors’ work.
Entered in the challenge is the KEeReader, a browser-based e-reading platform that brings the ability to identify concepts, entities and relationships within content and allow users to interact with it. Its chief architect is Eric Freese, who gave audiences at this past spring’s SemTech conference in San Francisco a first look at the platform, and who will be providing attendees at the upcoming Semantic Technology & Business Conference in NYC the latest insights on its place in the evolving world of knowledge enhanced e-reading. KEeReader adds a semantic angle to its book discovery one, opening the door to a vastly richer experience, says Freese.
“The two main goals of this are first to bring e-books into being first- class citizens on the web,” he says, benefitting from search engine optimization techniques for discovery, subscription to open Web standards to leverage the world of web resources like Wiktionary, and even analytics about book use for publishers to use in their business strategies. “The second goal is to unlock knowledge contained within the book.”
By adding RDFa markup into the content, for example, any knowledge contained with the text can be used to provide summary information about a person or topic and to support smarter searching, according to the app’s description.
RDFa also is being considered for full inclusion in the update of the EPUB 3 standard, an open ebook standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum. “If that occurs, this fits right in, so any e-reader that is based on that or that handles EPUB 3 data could take advantage of this,” Freese notes, with a little background curation work being done to identify the knowledge, code it up, and make sure it’s valid.
A natural language query parser allows readers to add new information or to ask questions of the book and get answers back, as well as search on concepts rather than only the words within a text. “You can query the book and get information that may be in the glossary or index or sidebar or somewhere without having to scan through all the pages,” says Freese. The fourth novel in a series, for instance, could have an entire knowledge base of the first three books of the series built in to support queries about who a resurfaced character was, while for a textbook full of facts it makes sense to be able to present a summary of factual information.
The app also is expected to soon deliver a situational knowledge component, so that readers don’t get more information than they’ve bargained for at a particular point in a book. “If you are reading a fictional book, most people don’t want to query about a character and get the information that he dies in 3 chapters,” he says. “I’m working on setting it up so that such ‘situational knowledge’ shows up only after you passed that point in the book.”
Moving The App Forward
Since last showing the app-in-development in San Francisco, where Freese displayed people, places, and other entity content from a book on Steve Jobs that he’d basically hardcoded in in RDFa, he’s been making KEeReader “robust enough to stand on its own on the web. …Now you can identify what entity types you want to appear in the knowledge bar and which you don’t,” he says. He expects to demo how KEeReader works at the conference with content drawn from The Semantic Web Blog’s very own archives.
Where does this all lead? Given where EPUB 3 is expected to go regarding RDFa, Freese could have a jump on the next phase of the ebook ecosystem. “You can take EPUB files and blow them apart, add knowledge and read it into the system,” he says. “While KEeReader doesn’t take EPUB straight, it takes its pieces and enhances them, and you’re good to go. So if all goes well with the world, this would be the next Amazon.”
Or, alternately, since it’s web-based, the technology theoretically could be added into any publishers’ own storefront. “So there’s the possibility of it being a big bookstore, or a white-label behind-the-scenes reader on several sites.”
You can register for SemTech to learn more about KEeReader, and lots of other advances in the world of Semantic Technology, here.