MIT’s SIMILE project is a set of tools for creating, managing, and reusing information collections. A recent interview with David Karger, SIMILE Project’s principal investigator, in Dr. Dobb’s Journal help explain the project’s significance.
The Web has been incredibly successful at making huge amounts of new information available to many people. But it still has a long way to go in depth and breadth. Regarding depth, there’s plenty of awareness of the “deep web” — stuff that doesn’t show up on the web search engines because it is buried in special-purpose databases. We think some of our tools can help bring that information to light. As for breadth, while the Web has made it much easier for people to contribute textual information through tools like blogs and wikis, it’s still not really possible for the lay person to contribute rich structured information collections. We think our tools can dramatically lower the barriers for a broader group of contributors to share the rich structured content they know.
David nailed two of the biggest data gaps on the Web today, and I couldn’t explain them any better. It’s a bit unfortunate that SIMILE’s web site doesn’t explain things as clearly and tends to have a lot of academic CS vernacular (about Semantic Web and RDF and stuff). After all, it’s the weekend Website developer that can really use these tools. Consider an example David mentions:
One of the tools we’re currently working on is called “Exhibit.” This is a tool that lets anyone take a collection of anything they care about and put it on the web as a rich, interactive, web-2.0 style site without doing any programming. All you do is put up a file containing your collection and a web page describing how you want it to look. The result may be pretty much what you’d expect of a web 2.0 site these day — until you realize that it avoids the whole team of database engineers and 3-tier web application developers, and lets you do it all yourself!