to dada, or not to dada

Allegra openEngiadina!

Sat 21 March 2020

For the last couple of months I have been working on a project called openEngiadina. I am very happy to announce that openEngiadina is now being supported by the NLNet Foundation.

In this post I would like outline the background, the general ideas and the next steps of the project.

(Allegra is Hello in Romansch.)

Background

The openEngiadina project was started in 2019 in order to allow locals in the alpine valley of Engadin to make their cultural and natural heritage more accessible to visitors.

A system for creating and managing data such as points of interst, hiking trails and their real-time status, restaurant and hotel information as well as cultural events was needed.

We made two key realizations:

  1. The cultural and natural heritage is expressed in very many different kinds of data points that are related in sometimes subtle ways.
  2. The vast amount of data that needs to be handled, makes it practically impossible for a central authority to efficiently create and manage the data. Data needs to be crowed-sourced and crowd-managed.

What we need is a mashup between a knowledge repository and a social network. We call this a Semantic Social Network.

Semantic Social Network

A knowledge repository is a system that stores structured content and makes it available via semantic queries. For example one could ask a knowledge repository for a list of inventors that were killed by their own invention or all the public transport stops in Switzerland above 3000m. The key technology used to achieve this is Linked Data, which allows a combination of various kinds of data and makes them queryable.

There are many knowledge repositories and many more interesting data sets published as Linked Data. However, they mostly represent formally codified knowledge that was created by experts using specialized tools.

Without any formal codification of knowledge, we are extremely well capable of sharing, requesting and receiving knowledge via natural language. However, the amount of knowledge we can process via natural language and the number of sources we can consider is limited. Faced with an onslaught of data from modern communications systems, we are dependent on some sort of structure and codification of knowledge.

Existing social networks allow the codification of certain things as structured data. For example, you don't have to write a message describing the concert you are organizing. You can create an event that represents the concert. Important information about the event will be available in a structured way, allowing discoverability. Very much like information in a knowledge repository.

We realize that there is much power in the ability to structure knowledge and make it widely accessible and discoverable. At the same time we acknowledge the fact that structured knowledge can only emerge from social interaction via natural language (i.e. unstructured knowledge). openEngiadina wants to bridge this gap. It should be much easier to create arbitrary structured data in social networks, comment them, extend them and finally publish them. We want the status of a hiking trail to be as easy to update, share and discuss as a concert or an image of a cat.

Open Local Knowledge

There are thousands of little pieces of information and data that describe the social, cultural and natural environment of an area. This might include:

  • points of interest on a map (e.g. a mineral spring)
  • social and cultural activities (e.g. a concert)
  • descriptions for outdoor activities (e.g. hiking routes or snow reports)
  • local organizations and businesses (e.g. a book shop, a bakery or a hotel)
  • classifieds (e.g. somebody needs to borrow a drill)
  • status of infrastructure (e.g. snow cover on roads)

We call this local knowledge.

We believe that local knowledge should be freely available for everyone to use and republish as they wish, local knowledge needs to be open knowledge.

Furthermore openEngiadina emphasizes the importance for communities to create and manage their own data and be capable of operating the necessary infrastructure independently. We hope to help individuals and communities achieve digital sovereignty.

Beyond the valley

It is my great pleasure to announce that openEngiadina is receiving financial support from the NLNet Foundation trough the NGI0 Discovery Fund.

This allows us to do more in-depth research and generalize the ideas to communities beyond the valley.

Project overview

In the scope of the NLNet grant we are working on a couple of fronts towards a platform for open local knowledge. A detailed project plan is in the openEngiadina repository.

Here a quick overview:

  • Backend: We are developing a generic ActivityPub server called CPub. The idea is to achieve generality by embracing the right data model and doing as little as possible.

  • Clients: We strive towards an ecosystem where clients are specialized views of the data. Every client (or app) has a specialized function and view of data, that is stored in an interoperable way in a common place. Our flagship client is GeoPub which is an interface for content management for crowd-sourced data.

  • Data model and storage: The underlying data model for the platform is Linked Data, data is modeled as a graph. We are researching ways of making the data model more decentralized and useable on various platforms.

  • OpenStreetMap: A huge repository of local knowledge exists in OpenStreetMap. Unfortunately the data model is not perfectly suited for usage in Linked Data projects. Previous efforts have done much work towards making the OpenStreetMap data available as Linked Data (LinkedGeoData.org and OSM Semantic Network). Unfortunately these efforts have stalled and are currently not useable. We intend to revive these efforts and provide tooling for projecting OpenStreetMap data to Linked Data. This will allow local knowledge to be very closely linked to the existing OpenStreetMap data.

  • Search and Discovery: How can structured data be made searchable and discoverable in federated networks?

What's next

We have recently release an initial version of the backend and are now working on an initial release of GeoPub (a client). Together they will form an initial demonstrator that we hope to present very soon.

Join us in our Matrix room to stay updated: #openengiadina:matrix.org.

Acknowledgments

openEngiadina is being supported by miaEngiadina and the NLNet Foundation trough the NGI0 Discovery Fund.

We are also very grateful for hosting provided to us by ungleich.

pukkamustard