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Complex Operations, indeed

I found on Twitter (and we then re-tweeted) this video of Alper Caglayan explaining Semantic MediaWiki at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. I’m late on this – the talk happened over three months ago, and Dr. Caglayan has already blogged about the talk, and written up a blog post that summarizes his main points from the talk, in the meantime.

He apparently works for the company Milcord, and the SMW-based wiki he talks about for most of the time is the Complex Operations Wiki, which holds a lot of information about, among other things, the tribes and geography of Afghanistan. The potentials for the use of wiki are quite large, though, as far as I understand, the data isn’t being used by anyone right now – at the moment, it’s just a demo wiki, though its development was funded by people within the U.S. Department of Defense.

The video is nice (between around minutes 25 and 35 is the really important part) – it’s always interesting to see how other people present the technology, and how audiences perceive it when hearing about it for the first time. I think one of the obstacles for the SMW/Semantic Forms/etc. system, maybe the main one, is that it’s so different from other technologies out there that it’s hard to explain what it does, and thus how useful it is, in ways people can understand. Dr. Caglayan goes with the approach of calling it a wiki whose data can be queried – which is reasonable, but it doesn’t quite convey the experience of reading or editing the wiki. He shows a form in use, but doesn’t explain that the form in question didn’t require any custom programming to create. Then again, I know from firsthand experience that trying to explain the whole system takes a long time – at some point, I gave a full 8-hour seminar on SMW and its related extensions, and I once saw a 3-hour talk about it that barely covered anything but the basics.

It’s heartening, though, to see the fairly positive reaction of the audience, who are mostly civilians but who seem to play a role in the military’s data policies. The U.S. military has the same data problems as just about any mid-sized-and-larger corporation, from data “silos” to information that may have lost its validity at some point in the past. Hopefully Semantic MediaWiki can be part of the solution.

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