Semantic MediaWiki Conference (SMWCon) 2018

Semantic Media Wiki Conference (SMWCon) 2018 took place in Regensburg. In this post, I highlight some of the talks I liked or where I want to share my opinion on. Sorry if I did not talk about yours. This is no critique, rather due to my limited time ;))

The first day was all about business applications. It seemed to me that there were a lot of efforts to somehow standardize solutions for project management, technical documentation and other stuff. One remarkable thing was the project zoGewoon, where the company put a lot of effort in design and usability of the system. This turned out to be very interaction and easy to do, which makes sense for the target group being people with disabilities looking for a place to live. Another cool thing was the Extension VEForAll that introduces Visual Editor working within Forms. This is not possible yet and gives a great advantage when it comes to usability because Page Forms as well as the visual editor helps a lot to make editing wiki pages easier.

The keynote was about how language shapes perception. Marc van Hoof linked this from Orwell’s distopia of Newspeak to the way how we organize knowledge in ontologies. He also votes for a user-centred way of naming and creating these ontologies in order to make it easier for users to perceive information and link this to their everyday lifes. This also leads to the concept of folksonomies, although my impression was that Folksonomies are below the hype time, but maybe they come back…

On the second day my favorite talk was the presentation of the new features of Semantic MediaWiki 3.0. There were several cool things like the improvement of the list format and data tables format. Also you can enter now semantic querys in the search field directly. Karsten also visited the Wikimedia technical conference and said that MWcore will be more open to wishes of third parties, which is remarkable.

On the breaks the big topics were of course the new features in SMW 3.0 like migration and new features. Another topic was (maybe because there were many people from companies and not so much from research) the way of telling people of smw (and then also selling it). It was kind of consensus, that people tend not to talk about wikis anymore, but knowledge management systems. First, because people tend to think about wikipedia when it comes to the openness but also because there are many ways of tweaking input (thanks to forms) and style (thanks to tweeki and Chameleon) were can customize the system very much and be a lot freer than only provide a clone of Wikipedia.

Viktor Schelling talked about WSForm, which might replace page forms and does some stuff very good, like providing templates at every page and not only Template-Pages. I am very excited to see their release and try it out.Talking about graphs, Sebastian Schmid has an improvement for Result formats, which is using the library mermaid, which can display graphs, the one basic principle of knowledge organisation in SMW. I am happy to see the application of this because there is lot of graph data stored in SMWs out there.

At the end it was two nice days in the beautiful city of Regensburg. The conference dinner was really nice in the old city centre of Regensburg. Also thanks to the people at Gesinn.it and TechBase Regensburg for organizing and providing the place.

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 😉