Friday, November 1, 2013

A little personal history

I'll start this series of posts with a short history of my personal relationship with semantics in the ICT world.

Back to the late eighties: the upcoming age of relational databases.

A few years before (around 1986) I installed my first computer network: 7 MacPlus with 1Mo Ram, shared hard disk of 20 Mb, a database server (Omnis) and ... yes a network laser printer.
That was at the "Réserve Géologique de Haute Provence" where I was working.

I created several databases for this organization but when I thought about making databases for my personal use, relational databases appeared not to be an acceptable solution. I've a lot a different domains of interest, which would implicate for each of these topics several databases, but there was something more.
At that time already I wasn't looking at the (information) world as a set of independent, isolated boxes. There are links in between them. Sort of holistic view, although I was not aware of that term at that moment.

Sitting back, hands in the neck, and let my brain do the hard stuff: come up with a nice and clean solution.
This eventually resulted in 1991 in my first semantic network implementation: Notion System. Made in Hypercard, a fabulous tool at that time.

A few months ago I've put some of the original generated html output of Notion System and the website online again: Notion System and a specific application for an inventory of caves in southern France.

Amongst other features the system had a data exchange format Notion System Data Structure (NSDS). Tag based and inspired by SGML. To show you how close this was to XML, when the XML standard was published in 1996-1997 it took me,  a whole hour or so to adapt the export and import modules to produce and read XML instead of NSDS.

When telling people about this new information architecture most found it a good and powerful idea. One category of persons though had difficulties to understand it and were not willing to accept it as an alternative to relational databases: software engineers.

The only similar thing that existed towards the end of the century was Topic Maps (created more then 5 years later: between 1996 and 1998). Prior work on RDF started also around that time but RDF itself is from 2004.

One version of Notion System has been commercially implemented for a ethno-botanist in southern France in 1997, but for economic reasons I had to stop that activity and moved to the Netherlands.

During the first decade of this century I had the opportunity to work further on the concept of semantic network technologies at TNO and made, together with several other researchers, another, web-server based, implementation  in Java. Some of the background information about our work at TNO is reproduced on my website.

Here ends this short history and my first post in this blog, but look out for the post to come if semantics in computer science belongs to your interests.