The Semantic Web – It’s Here to Stay!

How's a girl to choose?This week in our MIT class, Robin Fay with the University of Georgia spoke concerning the Semantic Web (view her presentation).  I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to get a better understanding of the concept and looking for examples of the technology.  I found several worth mentioning.  But first, let’s talk about the Semantic Web!

The Semantic Web is part of Web 3.0 or the next generation of the Web.  If you look at the Web’s evolution, Web 1.0 is generally thought of as the initial World Wide Web, a collection of static html pages with very little interactivity.  With the growth of web programmability, the Web experience expanded to include database driven sites, scripts, widgets and plug-ins, and most importantly – interactivity.  With the growth of sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, sites with user generated content, Web 2.0 or the Social Web emerged.  And now, we sit at the dawn of Web 3.0.

But what does that mean? Web 3.0, also known as the Semantic Web or the Data Web, will no longer provide information only intended for human readers.  The Semantic Web will require information to be encapsulated by such tools as Resource Description Framework (RDF) and Web Ontology Language (OWL) so that is it can be read and processed or “understood” by machines.  Not only will the information be available, but information about the information along with its relationships will be readily accessible enabling intelligent information services, personalized Web-sites, and semantically empowered search-engines.  As Robin stated, “we teach it, it learns”.

We are beginning to see applications emerge that part of the new Web 3.0. These applications act intelligently, learning from user experiences or associating previously disconnected data.   For example, StumbleUpon, a content-discovery service, allows users to input areas of interest and through a tailored process that includes a classification engine, a clustering engine and friend recommendations, provides content that have been recommended by people with similar interests. Spock, a search engine about people, scans the web for common information about people – names, birthdays, locations, marital status, etc.  Spock “understands” that people relate to each other and connects this previously disconnected data.

TwineAnd finally, Twine, an actual Semantic Web application, built using RDF and OWL, categorizes and analyzes user stored data from web sites, emails or YouTube videos and creates associations and recommendations.   In addition to employing the Semantic Web standards, Twine uses natural-language processing algorithms and extremely advanced machine learning making intelligent connections between content, mapping relationships, and alerting users to content that previously would not have been identified (Source:  Technology Review).  There is a very interesting discussion on Twine’s use of RDF and OWL and how they accomplish this mapping on the Technology section of their web site.

In conclusion, the Semantic Web is a collection of standards, data structures, and software that make the online experience more relevant, detailed, and intelligent.  Based on the usability of the emerging Web 3.0 applications, the future looks bright!

Video Production for the Web: A Primer

Panasonic AJ-HPX3700Production

Just like the scope of a web video project, the tools necessary can vary widely. The basic materials needed are a video camera, microphone, and a computer or other device with an application to process and edit your recorded video. Video camera can range from professional-grade equipment (like Panasonic’s $60,000 model) to computer webcams to mobile device cameras to cheaper, low-end digital cameras like the Flip Mino. Microphones vary similarly in quality and price, from boom mics to handheld models to small devices that a speaker can clip onto his or her collar. Many low-end devices these days have embedded microphones for ease of use.

Once you have selected your equipment, then you can focus on your technique.  For a quick video on hand held video camera shooting techniques, check out this video from Videomaker.

Post-Production

Once video and sound have been recorded, either separately or in tandem, it is necessary to edit the video into a more polished work. A wide range of video editing applications are available, with the most popular options including iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and Roxio Creator. iMovie and Roxio Creator are cheaper and more consumer-friendly options, while Final Cut Pro, at $1,299, has been used to produce Oscar-winning films including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, No Country for Old Men, and Cold Mountain (source).

YouTube on iPhoneDistribution

There are a slew of options for sharing your masterpiece. In addition to the ever-popular YouTube are alternative sites such as Veoh.com and Vimeo.com that function the same way, allowing you to create a personal profile and video library. If you want your video to be seen, shared and commented on by the largest audience possible, however, YouTube is still the way to go, boasting the 4th most traffic of any site in the US and similar numbers in many other countries around the world (source).

Additional Resources

For more information, check out Hillman Curtis’ article on adobe.com about his preferred tools and techniques for web video creation.

Web Personalization

Ron Swift, a vice-president with Teradata, recently spoke to the Data Management class at The Terry School of Business’ Gwinnett campus.  Mr. Swift is an internationally known consultant, author and strategist in the areas of customer management systems, enterprise data warehousing, analytical marketing and electronic commerce (source: Teradata).  He spoke on the power of Web page personalization and its impact to increase conversion rates and subsequently revenues.

What is web page personalization?  According to Christian Ricci in the September, 2009 issue of boxesandarrows, “Web personalization is a strategy, a marketing tool, and an art.  Personalization requires implicitly or explicitly collecting visitor information and leveraging that knowledge in your content delivery framework to manipulate what information you present to your users and how you present it.”  To achieve effective personalization, organizations must rely on both web analytics, the usage and click-stream data, along with user supplied data.

Mr. Swift examined in detail the success of Travelocity.com and its web personalization.  Travelocity explicitly collects user information by allowing registered users to view and save their trips and store travel preferences including favorite destinations.  It implicitly collects user information by mining its web analytics including usage and click stream data.  These actions result in a personal experience for the Travelocity user and within a second of logging on to Travelocity.com, registered users are greeted with offers tailored to their unique travel history and preferences.  Additionally, even non-registered users instantly see offers based on their location, which Travelocity determines from the visitor’s IP address  (source:  Kelly).

Since deploying its current web personalization strategy in 2006, Travelocity has seen a significant increase on the click-through rates on its website and bookings have increased to four times what they were before implementation (source:  Kelly).   Travelocity has proven that investment into a web personalization strategy can have a significant payoff.

IPTV and Hulu

One of the most exciting trends of the 21st century is the advent of Internet TV,  also known as Internet Protocol Television or IPTV.  Internet TV is video and audio delivered over an Internet connection.

There are several providers of Internet TV, including but not limited to Joost, Sling, TV.Com and Hulu with Hulu defining the next generation of TV viewing in America. With over 42 million viewers, Hulu brings together videos from over 180 providers including Fox, NBC Universal, ABC Family , Warner Brothers and Disney (source:  Hulu).

But how does it work?  Amazingly, you do not have to download a special player, register your name or email nor pay anything to access a collection of over 200 million videos.   Hulu partnered with Adobe to provide their video player platform and all Hulu videos are streamed as Flash video files (FLV).   These files are supported by Flash Player 8.0 which is installed on more than 98% of computers in the U.S. (source:  Hulu FAQs). However all of Hulu’s customer facing services and features are developed in house by a team of engineers using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript within a LAMP stack framework (source:  Crawford).

To ensure that your video content arrives without interruption, Hulu partnered with the tech giant Akamai to manage their content delivery network (CDN).  Akamai has an extensive platform for content delivery including nearly 1,000 networks in 70 countries powered by 48,000 servers.  Akami delivers between 15 to 20% of all web traffic (source:  Akamai).

Want to try Hulu? Just go to www.hulu.com.  You do not need an account unless you want to post comments or rate the clips.  You can search for a video either through the category drop down menus or by directly typing the name in the search box.  Once you find your show, click on the thumbnail and you are ready to view. I watched the series premiere of “Hank“ to complete this assignment.

Zoho – Leader of the Pack!

This week in class we have been discussing the growing trend of Rich Internet Applications or RIAs.  RIAs are web applications that provide the rich functionality of desktop applications via the web.  One growing area of RIAs is business productivity applications.  The last several years have seen the emergence of many players in this arena, but two stand out with functionality and usability – Google Docs and Zoho.  And now, Microsoft is making a play for market share with its offering – Microsoft Web Applications 2010.

We have all used business productivity applications.  In North America, the most widely used is the Microsoft Office suite of applications which includes a word processor, spreadsheet application and presentation tool.  Where required, the suite can be expanded to include a database, project management tool and publishing tool.   The trouble is that these feature rich applications come with a hefty price tag along with a hefty resource commitment – both in memory and user interface code.  However, there have not been many viable alternatives.

In the past, business productivity applications available via the web were limited both in feature set and web capabilities.  However, with the growth of web programmability and the open-source software movement, these limitations have been lifted.  Google Docs, Zoho and now, Microsoft Web Applications 2010, provide a rich productivity feature set with usability and performance over the web which includes the required word processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities.   However, Zoho stands out by providing many more useful business applications.

Zoho Home Page

With over 20 applications, Zoho goes much further and provides business applications not normally found in office productivity suites.  Included are a project management tool, customer relationship management (CRM) solution, web conferencing tool, invoicing tool and database.  Interestingly, even a human resource component is available.  The most significant feature – most applications are free!  Zoho, with its comprehensive set of productivity/collaborative tools and business applications is definitely the leader in on-line business productivity applications.