Semantic MediaWiki Conference (SMWCon) Fall 2017

Last week there was the SMWCon, the european conference on Semantic MediaWiki. It was held in Rotterdam. Our venue was directly in the Zoo in the middle of the aquarium. So we could watch sharks and turtles during the talks!!

But there were also very interesting talks. The information to most of the talks you can find here. I will describe some of the talks that were interesting for me because they dealt with stuff I might use in the future.

The keynote on the first day dealt with firefighters and their problem with information overload. Also fire fighters have the problem: you have a lot of information, it is hard to find it, it is in different formats (GPS, Information Systems, paper copies). But fire fighters do only have limited time until they reach the burning building and have to act then and cannot loose even more time reading documentation. So they need the right information in time, which is quite difficult.

He also stressed that machine learning and reasoning over knowledge are nice, but you sometimes especially as fire fighters you have completely new cases, but actually the world and technology changes, so you still will face new obstacles. An example could be the case of a burning of a car with and electric engine.

Karsten then introduced the new stuff they develop for SMW 3.0, which will be a major release. He also stressed that the software needs better documentation, something I also encountered when I tried to introduce new people to SMW. But this is a problem in lots of Open Source projects: People like to code, but not to write documentation. This also shows that for Open Source projects you do not only need coders ;))

Tobias introduced annotation tools for images, text and videos. This was developed as part of our projects and we would be excited to see use-cases and of course feedback to the extensions.

The keynote on Friday was about a project called slidewiki. This is basically a wiki that allows you to create and re-use presentation slides, annotate them, link them to topics and so on. It is really cool because other projects like Slideshare do note allow this and also do not allow forking of that.

The second talk was by Cindy Cicalese, who works for Wikimedia Foundation. She introduced that she will be advocating the 3rd party developers more in the project management of MediaWiki. You can go to their site to see stuff they want to do. In short:

  • They want to do content revision, so making more than one slot on a wiki page, a functionality that right now you can only get with SMW and PageForms
  • They also tackle the installation, updating and maintaing of wikis. This is actually a very important topic that basically everyone in the community faces. We normally do not have one wiki, we have a lot more. And updating every single one and also setting up is cumbersome.
  • They want to introduce a roadmap to make the development of MediaWiki more predictable. This would also help 3rd partys because we can tell our customers if a certain feature will be implemented soon or not

After that, Alexander Gesinn introduced a pre-configured virtual machine. Actually this might be nice for people who only want to try out SMW, with productive usage you still face the problems with maintenance. He named three things every enterprise-wiki has to have (and I agree with him):

  • Semantics (SMW + PageForms)
  • VisualEditor to not torture users with Wikisyntax
  • a responsible skin to have nice-looking wiki on mobile devices

Remco hat on thursday also a talk about a similiar topic, he called it wiki product lines. A product line is similar to the industry where you have different TVs that are all basically the same, only the screen size changes with the different products. He explained from a little bit more theoretical standpoint where he sees potential. To me this looks like a problem that will be tailored and we might have some (hopefully) completely free and documented solutions for this.

End the end of the day there was also a workshop organized by my colleague Lia and me. We said to set up a page on the SMW-Wiki where we collect projects and how we might use the stuff in the future.

Overall, it was a nice conference and I got to know many nice people. Also thanks to the organizers 😉