Fenfire meets Gnowsis

Hi all,

the recent discussion here reminds me that I was going to write 
something about the recent integration of Fenfire with Gnowsis.

Fenfire is a free software/research project I'm participating in (I'm 
the maintainer now, actually) which is working on an RDF-based desktop 
environment in which instead of walled-off applications you have small 
pieces of code (views, commands) that can be combined by the user in 
many different ways (to make a long story short). I pointed to an 
unpublished article about the concept [1] in an earlier mail today. If 
you're familiar with MIT's Haystack, Fenfire has a lot in common with 
it; the most important differences are in Fenfire's visualizations and 
in that Fenfire emphasizes generic graph browsing more (because it 
allows the user to create data structures and mindmap-like stuff without 
creating any new views).

Gnowsis [2] is a free software/research project, developed by Leo 
Sauermann and team at DFKI in Kaiserslautern, Germany, which approaches 
the semantic desktop from a different perspective, making the 
integration of existing applications through RDF simpler. Gnowsis runs 
as a local server, which adapts information like the local file system 
and the e-mail store of Thunderbird as RDF. Applications can query this 
data. Additionally, existing applications are extended with two buttons: 
"Browse" and "Link," and an RPC interface. "Browse" opens the current 
selection in the Gnowsis browser; "Link" makes a window appear that 
allows you to link the selection to some other resource. The other way 
around, the Gnowsis browser can tell the application to open a 
particular resource through the RPC interface. This way, you can link an 
e-mail in Thunderbird to a contact in Outlook (provided you use that 
:)), and go from one to the other using the "Browse" buttons and the 
Gnowsis browser.

Anyhows, I visited Leo in Kaiserslautern a bit over a week ago, and we 
hooked up Gnowsis and Fenfire. Leo has blogged about it, with 
screenshots and a photo:


What you see in the screenshots is Fenfire's graph browser, Fentwine, 
which we can unfortunately not release yet because we're sorting out 
patent problems. What we did is making Fentwine work as the Gnowsis 
browser, essentially: Clicking on "Browse" in Thunderbird will go to the 
selected e-mail in Fentwine, loading its CBD from Gnowsis; hitting 
"Ctrl-O" in Fentwine will open the e-mail in Thunderbird. Fentwine will 
get the CBD for the resource you're on if you hit "Ctrl-G," so you can 
go from resource to resource that way. (It doesn't suck in the whole 
graph because that would mean reading the whole file system etc. for 
adaption to RDF. It doesn't load the CBDs automatically and 
intelligently because that would be a bit more work and this was 
supposed to be a quick hack:))

We did this proof-of-concept in a couple of hours. Leo says that's a 
nice example of how using RDF makes things interoperable -- imagine how 
much work this would have been if Fenfire and Gnowsis would each have 
used custom data models, serializations etc.

The version of Fentwine we used did not allow the graph to be edited. 
Since then I've added edit bindings back to Fentwine, and also made it 
use a quad store internally instead of a triple store; Fentwine now puts 
the connections the user makes into a different context from the CBDs 
loaded from Gnowsis, so you can make your own connections and save them 
in a Turtle file without also saving the Gnowsis data into that file.

Currently the whole thing is pretty much a demo, still, and 
unfortunately I cannot use it to usefully browse my e-mail, yet, because 
due to a bug in the Thunderbird plug-in, I cannot get a listing of the 
mails in my inbox. :-( I can get the CBDs of individual mails, but not 
the listing of the mails in the folder. Still, even with that, this 
should be quite useful in the Fenfire RSS reader we're talking about in 
the other thread: It should make it possible to link mails to feed 
entries, and go from the feed entry in the feed reader to the mail in 
Thunderbird. And that's not pie-in-the-sky talk; it'll be *much* easier 
than the part about aggregating the RSS as RDF ;-)

[Note: if the above hasn't made it clear, the feed reader will 
unfortunately NOT use the Fentwine visualizations from the screenshots, 
due to patent problems -- it will when the legal issues have been 
resolved and Fentwine is released at some undetermined point in the 
future, but I won't wait for that to start work on the feed reader.]

Anyway, the this was and is really exciting!

- Benja

[1] http://fenfire.org/manuscripts/2004/hyperstructure/
[2] http://www.gnowsis.org/

Received on Monday, 29 November 2004 00:13:34 UTC