Twine’s Semantic Spin on Bookmarks

October 25, 2008

Twine is a company committed to semantic technology. Semantics can be difficult to define. I keep it simple and suggest that semantic technology allows software to understand the meaning of a document. Semantic technology finds a home inside of many commercial search and content processing systems. Users, however, don’t tinker with the semantic plumbing. Users take advantage of assisted navigation, search suggestions, or a system’s ability to take a single word query and automatically hook the term to a concept or make a human-type connection without a human having to do the brain work.

Twine, according to the prestigious MIT publication Technology Review, is breaking new ground. Erica Naone’s article “Untangling Web Information: The Semantic Web Organizer Twine Offers Bookmarking with Built In AI” stop just short of a brass band enhanced endorsement but makes Twine’s new service look quite good. You must read the two part article here. For me, the most significant comment was:

But Jim Hendler, a professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a member of Twine’s advisory board, says that Semantic Web technologies can set Twine apart from other social-networking sites. This could be true, so long as users learn to take advantage of those technologies by paying attention to recommendations and following the threads that Twine offers them. Users could easily miss this, however, by simply throwing bookmarks into Twine without getting involved in public twines or connecting to other users.

Radar Networks developed Twine. The metaphor of twine invokes for me a reminder of the trouble I precipitated when I tangled my father’s ball of hairy, fibrous string. My hunch is that others will think of twine as tying things together.

You will want to look at the Twine service here. Be sure to compare it to the new Microsoft service U Rank. The functions of Twine and U Rank are different, yet both struck me as sharing a strong commitment to sharing and saving Web information that is important to a user. Take a look at IBM’s Dogear. This service has been around for almost a year, yet it is almost unknown. Dogear’s purpose is to give social bookmarking more oomph for the enterprise. You can try this service here.

As I explored the Twine service and refreshed my memory of U Rank and Dogear, several thoughts occurred to me:

  1. Exposing semantic technology in new services is a positive development. The more automatic functions can be a significant time saver. A careless user, however, could lose sight of what’s happening and shift into cruise control mode, losing sight of the need to think critically about who recommends what and from where information comes.
  2. Semantic technology may be more useful in the plumbing. As search enabled applications supplant key word search, putting too much semantic functionality in front of a user could baffle some people. Google has stuck with its 1950s, white refrigerator interface because it works. The Google semantic technology hums along out of sight.
  3. The new semantic services, regardless of the vendor developing them, have not convinced me that they can generate enough cash to stay alive. The Radar Networks and the Microsofts will have to more than provide services that are almost impossible to monetize. IBM’s approach is to think about the enterprise, which may be a better revenue bet.

I am enthusiastic about semantic technology. User facing applications are in their early days. More innovation will be coming.

Stephen Arnold, October 25, 2008


2 Responses to “Twine’s Semantic Spin on Bookmarks”

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