CommonTag – Linked Data for the masses

Today is a great day for the continued growth of linked data and the semantic web, as Zigtag and a number of other companies simultaneously announce support for the new CommonTag format.

The CommonTag format, based on RDFa, is a way for computers to understand the meaning behind the tags that people use.  We’ve discussed the importance of the meaning behind tags before, here and here.  Tags are used in many instances to classify things, but current solutions have two distinct problems:

  1. an idea can be referred to as many things, i.e. a car can also be referred to as an automobile, or API can also be referred to as “application programming interface”.
  2. a bigger problem is that a tag can represent many different ideas – i.e. “apple” can refer to a fruit, a company, or any number of different things.  “Giants” can refer to two different sports teams.

When people read tags, they can usually decipher the meaning behind them because they have context to draw from.  However, for machines, it’s much more difficult, and the CommonTag standard means to solve this problem.

Moreover, it is the support from the companies using this technology that is so important to create a lasting standard. The companies involved in the development of the standard are AdaptiveBlue, DERI (NUI Galway), Faviki, Freebase, Yahoo!, Zemanta, and of course Zigtag.  Not only is this the first time that many companies using semantic tags have come together on day one to support this format, but the variety of companies is also extremely important to its proliferation; we have three content producers (Zigtag, Faviki and Zemanta), a tagging repository (Freebase), and three content consumers (Yahoo!, DERI, and AdaptiveBlue).

CommonTag Ecosystem

This may very well lead the way to search engines that better understand what you’re looking for, or better tools that can identify things you might be interested in.  It’s indeed a very exciting day.

If you’re interested in using or contributing to the format, you can find out more information at http://commontag.org/.

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Zigtag launches!

Today is an exciting day for everyone at Zigtag.  We are happy to announce that Zigtag has now launched into open public beta.  After nine months of private beta, and over two years of development, we are very pleased to open up Zigtag to the general public. To get started, just sign up for an account and download the Zigtag plugin, available for either Firefox or Internet Explorer 7. We would like to extend a special thanks to our many beta testers who have given us great feedback over the past few months and helped us deliver what we consider the premier tagging service on the web. We’re already hard at work on new features and developments to ensure that your Zigtag experience will continue to improve.

In this release, we’ve made some changes that help to improve Zigtag’s usability. The website has a new look and feel that we think offers a marked visual improvement over our previous iteration. We have also added a semantic search feature to the website, which intelligently guesses the meaning of your search terms and finds relevant results for you, taken from your bookmarks and those of other Zigtag users. This search functionality will continue to improve, with some exciting features in the works. To try it out, just type in the search box at the top of the Zigtag website.

We’ve also introduced group recommendations, so you will be able to easily find and join groups that are relevant and interesting to you. These can be accessed from the Zigtag groups page.

Thanks again to all those who have been following us through the private beta phase; and to those who were unable to try the private beta, now is your chance to explore Zigtag. We hope you’ll agree that Zigtag offers a unique and powerful solution to your personal and social bookmarking needs and we look forward to seeing all of you around on the site.

Lastly, thanks go out to the Zigtag team for their hard work in making this possible!

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Group RSS, Friend Recommendations, and Internet Explorer Alpha

This past couple of weeks we’ve been hard at work implementing a few improvements and some major new features.

After many months of working hard (and jumping over many, many hurdles), we’ve finally got a plugin available for Internet Explorer.  It’s in Alpha stage, so it may have problems, but we’d be very grateful to have some feedback on it. You can get Zigtag for Internet Explorer Alpha here.

After receiving several requests from our users, we have also added the ability to subscribe to an RSS feed from any public or membership group.  This should enable much better collaboration between users of these groups. Unfortunately, RSS feeds on private groups are still not implemented due to RSS readers’ lack of support for authentication, but we will work on a solution for that sometime down the road.

Lastly, we’re happy to introduce a very cool new feature – friend recommendations.  Based on certain tags you’ve used, Zigtag is able to match you with other users based on interest.  Best of all, as your interests change over time, so will your friend recommendations – it’s sure to help you find and meet new people on the internet!  In the next little while, we will also be extending this to group recommendations, as well as bookmark recommendations!

Zemanta Pixie

Great Article on Zigtag / Update on Future Plans

Zigtag got a great writeup from one of our users, Paul Haley, on his blog.  Not only does the article describe the differences between Zigtag’s semantic tagging system vs. Twine‘s, but it also talks about online collaboration with groups, and data portability.

Given that Paul had some questions he raised in the article, I thought I’d respond to some of them here.

Paul mentioned that he was slightly cautious about using Zigtag or Twine because of the lack of a semantic export mechanism (it is important to note that we do export to del.icio.us and other formats, and a semantic export is not supported at this time because, well, there are no other applications that can read Zigtag’s semantic data and actually do anything with it).  The short term development plan includes releasing an API allowing users to access Zigtag’s semantic ontology and much of the data that we are gathering. This will include a similar API to delicious’, which will allow you to get information on your bookmarks, tags, groups, etc., and it will also allow access to our ontology (or our extensive database of defined tags).   Whether or not the API will use OWL as its format is to be decided, but if there is a market demand for OWL export, we will be happy to provide that.

One of our goals with the API is to allow other applications to be able to tag semantically.  There are literally thousands of applications out there that are using tags to organize their data, but nobody is using tags semantically.   For any number of applications with a large set of tags or information, categorizing semantically not only has the potential to organize that data much better, but it also allows the that data to interface with other applications using the same set of semantic tags, allowing increased interoperability and visibility.  One application we are contemplating is allowing blog writers to tag their wordpress blogs with semantic tags.  We are also open to gathering feedback from our user base – does anyone else have any cool ideas of things they’d like to see implemented?

On a related note, our users are always asking “Can I add my own defined tags?”.  In the coming weeks, we will also be providing a way for users to add, edit, and delete defined tags.  Initially, this will be limited to certain trusted users, but eventually the plan will be to expand it into a Wikipedia-like community process, where everyone can edit the definitions or add new ones.  We’re extremely excited about this as it will allow our semantic database and our users’ tagged data to be as accurate and inclusive as possible.

In short, we’re trying really hard to produce a powerful next-generation tool to enhance the semantic web.  Please feel free to comment on these ideas or other things you’d like to see.

More defined tags now available!

As of this weekend, we have updated our semantic data index. This resulted in the addition of more than 500,000 new defined tags, bringing the total number of defined tags to over 2.2 million.  With the addition of a few new data sources in the near future, this number is sure to grow even further.

In addition, we’ve now made migrating from del.icio.us and other non-semantic data even easier through an interface that allows you to manage your tags.  The tool can be used to show all your undefined tags, and will automatically analyze them to suggest possible semantic tags for them.  With one click, you can assign a defined meaning to them.  It’s also possible to rename them to something completely different, or to delete the tag completely.

For all of those that have imported their del.icio.us bookmarks, be sure to semantify them!

Keeping tags private or sharing them with the world

One of Zigtag’s major features is its highly tunable levels of privacy – Zigtag was designed from the ground up with privacy in mind. Privacy levels can be chosen on a tag– or page– level and are customizable for each site you visit.

Every user starts with a default privacy setting that can be chosen during sign up. There are three possible privacy settings:

  • Public
  • Anonymous
  • Private

Public means that you will be credited with the pages that you tag. Users will be able to browse and search your public bookmarks. This is the best option when you wish to share your bookmarks with others.

Anonymous means that your bookmarks are publicly viewable, but you will not be credited with tagging them. Users can browse and search anonymous bookmarks when viewing all saved pages (known as the world view), but not when viewing your profile. You may choose to allow your friends to see your anonymous bookmarks – this option is available in your account settings. We have taken great care to ensure that anonymous bookmarks cannot be traced back to you. The anonymous option is good when you would like to share a page but do not want others to know you tagged it.

Private means that your bookmarks will not be visible to anyone besides yourself. No one will ever know you tagged pages marked private.

Tag privacy vs. page privacy

Privacy can be applied to both tags and pages. Privacy applied to a page applies to that page only, while privacy applied to a tag applies to all uses of that tag.

Here’s an example of page privacy: suppose that you tag a page that you wish to keep private, such as a page on your local network. You may choose to use the word Intranet to tag it with; however, you don’t necessarily want all pages tagged Intranet to be private. In this case, you would change the page privacy to private. This means that if another user searches for the Intranet tag, this page will not be returned in the results because it is private. Other pages saved with the Intranet tag will be visible (assuming those pages are public).

As an example of tag privacy, suppose you tag a page with Competition and Social networking. You may choose to make your Competition tag private, since you do not want others to know that you consider the site competition. You do, however, want the page to be visible to others when they search for Social networking, because it’s a valuable site. In this case, you would make the Competition tag private and leave the page privacy and Social networking tag public.  Because tag privacy applies to all uses of this tag, every time you use Competition, nobody will ever be able to see anything you have tagged Competition.

We are thinking of changing tag privacy so that it applies only on that specific page.  So as in the above example, would you want your Competition tag to always be private on every page, or only on a specific page where you made it private?  Comments are welcome.

How to change privacy

You can choose a default privacy setting when you sign up for Zigtag; every new tag and bookmark that you create will get that privacy by default. But there are lots of times when you might want to change the default privacy setting, as in the examples above.

To change tag privacy, you can click on the green, yellow or red arrows at the end of tags on the sidebar – green means public, yellow means anonymous, and red means private. To change the privacy on a tag, just click on the colored arrow and it will cycle to the next privacy level.

To change page privacy, click the “Tools” menu in the sidebar (pictured left), and choose “Set page privacy.” In the lower corner of the browser, you will see a small icon that shows the current privacy of that page; the colors indicate the same level of privacy as the tag privacy option, but applies to the entire webpage: green means public, yellow means anonymous, and red means private.

Zigtag’s Social Features: Zigtag Groups

Zigtag groups are a great new approach to collaborative research and learning that allows any group of people to share resources and discuss the group through a forum.

Groups can be private (only members can see the content of the group), membership (everybody can see but only members can contribute), and public (everybody can see and contribute). Create a group for your team at work, for your class or club, or find others who share specific interests!

Posting to a group is easy and there are a few ways to do it:

  • In the sidebar, choose “Tools” > Post to Group, and all the groups you are a member of will show up.
  • Also in the sidebar, click on “Share page”, and choose the “Post To Group” tab.  This way allows you to post the currently displayed page to many groups at once.
  • In the “Explore tags” page, you can right-click a result to post to a group.
  • For advanced users only: You can also type “@<Group name>” in the sidebar “Enter tags” box; choosing a group from the drop-down will not add a tag, but will post to the group instead.

Groups also have discussion boards, which make it easy to communicate with other group members or users with similar interests (read the post on them here).

Searching groups is also easy – on the website, you can choose a group that you’re a member of, and then filter posts by their tags.  Zigtag groups make organizing your groups’ bookmarks a flash!