On September 11th, 2008, spood Udimo was “born”. This was the day that I started using Second Life (SL for short). spood Udimo is my “alt” or a representation of myself in avatar form. For several years, I monitored the progress of Second Life always hesitant about signing up out of fear mostly. Fear that I would become completely distracted by the environment. After creating my account, my fears were realized. I became completely distracted with my Avatar. I visited many places and learned great gobs of useless facts about silly things. But I also formulated some rather interesting ideas and started noticing that Second Life has enormous potential.
On the surface, Second Life seems like a “pretend world”. You can while a way endless hours, visiting places, pretending to be someone else, setting up fantasy moments and just enjoying the rich and bizarre look and feel of everything. Immediately after joining, the Burning Life ‘08 festival started. At this festival, I realized the artistic and creative merit of the platform. Platform! That’s was it, Second Life is a Platform. Upon this realization, my internal software developer chatter exploded in an orgasm of energy and I began to make plans. Big, sweeping, long term plans.
Do It Properly
For years, I’ve been playing around with the idea of the Semantic Web. My interest in the Semantic Web was a direct result of my study of HTML which arose from my frustration with Microsoft Front Page and Dreamweaver. These two products were always failing me. And I realized that this was because the products didn’t understand the vast potential of the mark up language. These products were premised on the idea that the web was a giant full color magazine - it was not - HTML was not designed to reproduce photo copy but an entirely new media. The tools were fundamentally flawed and no one could convince me that they would ever generate proper code. I still have extreme views on the unsuitability of most “web design” tools and techniques. The more I learned about the philosophy behind the web, the more I felt compelled to learn how to “do it properly”.
As it turned out, “doing it properly” meant learning about things like Accessibility, XML, Unicode, namespaces, validation, transformation and object relationships. Heady stuff. At the end of it all, the path leads to the Semantic Web. Tim Berners-Lee (the father of the web) described the Semantic Web as the Data Web. And yet, Professor Berners-Lee is modest to a fault some times. The Semantic Web is a platform that encapsulates so many wonderful standards and techniques - it is truly humankind’s most important invention since the wheel. The Semantic Web is the fabric of our modern era and serves as the technological basis for the aggregation of our collective thoughts and dreams. The Semantic Web is considered the Data Web because certain features place the emphasis on machine understandability of data elements. But make no mistake, the importance of the Semantic Web lies in its innate ability to allow you and I to navigate the vast collection of Human Knowledge in a self-organizing way evolving us all to into a new species - Homo Machina.
Connecting the Dots
One day while driving to work, I thought maybe I should search Google for Second Life and Semantic Web, just to see what was going on. Here’s what I found:
The video describes a system called NaturalOwl working inside Second Life. A robot avatar guides you around a museum and describes to objects that you touch in natural English (or Greek). The information about and relationships between the objects in the museum are stored in an OWL ontology. After seeing this video and reviewing the accompanying articles, I decided that my mission in Second Life was to replicate this work. I set up workshop in Second Life called the Semantic Web Workshop.
Since opening my office, I’ve talked to a variety of folks from all different walks of life about what it was I am trying to accomplish. So here is a formulation of how I expect the workshop to progress:
- The social aspect of the workshop will be the Semantic Web Workshop group. The universality of the Semantic Web implies that everyone is welcome, Beginners and Advanced members are equal. The combination of Second Life and Semantic Web makes us all beginners anyway. This is fairly uncharted waters. Anyone coming in the group has the potential to be a valued contributor.
- The workshop will serve as a portal for information about web technologies. The emphasis will be on Markup Languages. Rather than immediately working on tutorials on OWL and RDF, tutorials will start at the beginning, what is Unicode, what is a URL, that sort of thing. Ontologies and Sparql and SWRL will need to come later.
- Semantic Web technologies will be useless without Second Life scripting. So there will be an aweful lot of activity around learning LSL. We’ll use scripting later to hook up to ontologies.
- Other technologies will not be off topic. If Web 2.0 or C# or Groovy can help us that, yeah bring it on!