Clearly The Name Inspector has not been participating in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). He’s been working on a secret project. But now he plans to up the posting rate a bit.
Radar Networks recently introduced their first Semantic Web application: Twine. In a presentation at the Web 2.0 Summit, Radar Networks founder and CEO Nova Spivack said that Twine wants to organize your personal information the way Google wants to organize the world’s information.
If you’re a little fuzzy on what, exactly, the Semantic Web is, you’re not alone. The term has a narrow technical definition but is sometimes used more broadly for various cutting-edge ways to represent and manipulate knowledge on the web. In the narrow sense, the Semantic Web is a set of markup standards for representing the content, as opposed to the format, of data. These include XML (Extensible Markup Language), RDF (Resource Description Framework), and OWL (Web Ontology Language). The gist of all these things is to make markup do more of the work that we associate with databases–representing objects and the relations between them–rather then being focused on presentation the way HTML is.
Twine in still in closed beta, so it’s hard to know exactly what it does. According to the website, “Twine is a new service that intelligently helps you share, organize and find information with people you trust.” It uses natural language understanding, the Semantic Web, and machine learning. The natural language understanding seems to be focused on named entity recognition–analyzing text to identify names of people, places, organizations, and things like that. Semantic Web technologies provide metadata standards that allow data objects and relations to be extracted from emails and other documents. Machine learning, according to Spivack’s presentation, allows Twine to make inferences based on information in Wikipedia.
This is all rather heady and abstract stuff. To provide a vivid and down-to-earth metaphor for this new kind of “Web 3.0” application, Radar Networks has named its product after a very mundane thing. The name Twine is the handiwork of San Francisco-based naming company Igor.
It’s interesting to compare the name Twine to the name Apple, which The Name Inspector wrote about some time ago. Both names make technical, abstract things more accessible by associating them with everyday objects. But the name Apple gets a certain glamour from the beauty and the cultural and literary significance of apples. Twine, on the other hand, is decidedly unglamorous. Apples are things you polish and proudly display in a bowl, but twine is something you throw in a drawer or a car trunk and forget about, until you need to use it.
This, of course, is part of the point of the name Twine. Apple’s products are high-design fetish objects that command people’s attention and adoration. It makes sense to represent them with an aesthetically and sensuously appealing object. Semantic Web technologies are invisible and derive all their value from their utility. The name Twine helps to make the technologies more visible through metaphor, but still focuses entirely on their utility.
The twine image manages to evoke the idea of connectedness in a fresh way. Words like web, net, and link have been done to death. Twine is something you actually manipulate with your hands and use to do something, so there are good associations with sensory memory and purposeful action.
On the sound front, Twine is great. It’s a nice, pronounceable single syllable, and vaguely evokes other connection-related words like between and twin.
Twine succeeds in making an esoteric technology meaningful to non-techies. Good Igor!