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Three New Information Technologies to Blow Your Mind

July 26th, 2007 · 4 Comments · News, Web 2.0

I have been meaning to write a blog post and documentation wiki update to discuss ICA-AtoM’s core data model. However, this month turned out to be a good time to do one last major update to the model, so I’ve got to put that arcane write-up on hold until the update is complete.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been mulling over the potential of three new technologies that are being discussed out there in the InterWeb blogosphere. All three have the potential to dramatically change the way we access information. Now I know you hear that kind of hyperbole almost everyday in the Web 2.0, beta site, dog-and-pony show circuit but, trust me, each of these is different.


First off, is this video demo of Seadragon technology that provides high-resolution zooming and scrolling navigation controls to access large image collections. That’s impressive to begin with but then Photosynth technology combines Seadragon with three-dimensional imaging for some very cool results. In this demo, images of the Notre Dame cathedral are scraped from Flickr and imposed onto a navigable, three-dimensional object. Check this out:


Behind the second door is Freebase. Freebase is a practical realization of the long-hailed potential of Topic Maps and the Semantic Web. One way to describe this project is a data-aware Wikipedia.

Freebase is an open-content database of user-contributed information that is made machine-accessible by explicitly identifying the attributes of each topic and allowing them to be connected dynamically and semantically to other attributes to create new topics, topic types and topic domains. It differs from traditional information stores because data values are not tied to a single object, database table or Wikipedia article, for example.

In database geekspeak, the Freebase data is normalized to domain/key normal form (DKNF), the holy grail of information modeling. Through a public API, Freebase content is opened up to external applications and has the potential to become the clearinghouse of publicly-shared knowledge. As one blogger noted, it also has the potential to achieve consciousness and kill us all, but that is at least another couple of years away.

The best way to get your head around it is to watch their short and easy-to-understand demo video. However, it only appears to be available on the password-protected part of their website. Therefore, if you haven’t signed-up for a Freebase invitation, you’ll have to take Tim O’Reilly’s Freebase write-up as the next best thing.

Surface, aka ‘Microsoft’s big-ass table’

I am little bit skeptical about Surface being another Microsoft ploy to lock us all into their proprietary world. However, this proximity-aware, data-exchange, touch-screen interface has potential if it is made available to all devices via truly open standards. Admittedly, this is probably the less promising of the three technologies I list here and this video helps to bring us all back down to earth from the hype balloon ride.

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sally J. // Jul 27, 2007 at 9:50 am

    I was utterly agog when I first saw the photosynth demo, especially since I had just finished reading Everything Is Miscellaneous. Great googly moogly, things sure do change fast.

    The snarky re-do of the surface promo is giggletastic and spot-on. Thanks for sharing it, Peter.

    All kidding aside, though — I think a surface table interface would be a great way for patrons to access digital a/v collections in historical archives, libraries and museums. Now if we can just get the price down a bit (ahem).

  • 2 David Mattison // Aug 22, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks for pointing out these new technologies Peter. I signed up with FreeBase and got an account almost the next day. Should be interesting to see what happens with it. I find the name’s kind of unfortunate though since it’s also a word associated with a type of cocaine use. So smokin’ on FreeBase could take on a whole new meaning. I’ve blogged about it and also put up a screen shot.

  • 3 The Ten Thousand Year Blog » Freebase, Wikipedia-like content as linked data // Aug 22, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    [...] A posting on Peter Van Garderen’s Archivemat.ca alerted me to Freebase, described on the Freebase site (accessible in its alpha state only by invitation) as “a uniquely structured database that you can easily search, add to and edit; you can also use the data in it to power your own projects. It’s a data commons in the way that a public square is a land commons—available to anyone to use. [...]

  • 4 David Mattison // Oct 6, 2007 at 9:47 am

    On the October 1, 02007 broadcast of “CSI:Miami” one of the forensic staff was using something like Microsoft Surface. It was an acrylic-topped black surface with a projected white keyboard that the operator was using, along with hand gestures, to throw up images onto a large transparent screen. The camera moved back and forth to show the front and the back of the images, along with a couple of shots of the keyboard.