Wednesday, September 12, 2007

EOL "WorkBench" Ideas Loosely Joined

Just how quickly The Encyclopedia of Life's "WorkBench" environment can be assembled will be interesting. For those of you unfamiliar with this critical aspect of the initiative, it will be the environment in which users will access and manipulate content from web services and other data providers, EOL indexed content, and a user's local hard drive AND simultaneously contribute (if desired, I expect this to be optional) to public facing species pages. As you can imagine a suite of things have to fall into place for all the pieces to play nicely in a simple graphical user interface. Expectations are high for this application to be THE savior, which I hope will differentiate EOL from WikiSpecies and other similar projects/initiatives.

I envision WorkBench as a Semantic Web browser of sorts, capable of pulling dozens of data types from hundreds of sources into a drag-drop whiteboard something like a mindmap. Coincidentally, I stumbled across MindRaider. Though I'd much rather see a Flex-based solution (such that Adobe AIR can be used), MindRaider (Java-based) developed by Martin Dvorak looks to be a very interesting way to organize concepts as interconnected resources and also permits a user to annotate components of the mindmap. Sharing such Semantic mindmaps is also a critical piece of the puzzle as is making interconnections to content in a user's local hard drive.

What then do we need for EOL's WorkBench? 1) web services, 2) web services, and 3) web services, AND 4) commonly structured web services such that resources acquired from hundreds of data providers must not require customized connectors.

Somehow, I'd like to see data providers ALL using OpenSearch (with MediaRSS or FOAF extensions) for fulltext, federated search and/or TAPIR for the eventual Species Profile Model's structured mark-up. Then, I'd like to see RSSBus on EOL servers. Lastly, I'd like to see a melange of MindRaider, Mindomo, and a Drupal-like solution to permit self-organization of interest groups of the kind Vince Smith champions with Scratchpads. Vince and others no doubt argue that there is great value in centralized hosting. But, the advantage is 99% provider. End users don't give two hoots for this so long as the application is intuitively obvious and permits a certain degree of import, export, configuration and customization.

So, the pieces of the puzzle:

Providers -> RSS -> RSSBus -> MindRaider/Mindomo/Scratchpad (in Adobe AIR) <- local hard drive

Sounds easy doesn't it? Yeah, right.

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