The SIMILE Blog

While looking at the thousand different exhibits in the wild, we soon realized that many of them were lists of publications, bibliographies or other collections of citations. We also heard many comments about Exhibit being very easy to use and deploy for technically-savvy people, but that an entire class of data-lovers were a little put out by having to “touch under the hood” of a web page in order to build an exhibit out of their data.

We are proud to announce today the release of a Citeline, a “what you see is what you get” exhibit editor for collections of publications and citations, that can be used even by the least technically inclined people.

The system has been designed and developed by the SIMILE Project over the last 9 months, and is run and maintained by the MIT Libraries, that will provide support and help for users both inside and outside the MIT community of faculty and students.

Citeline basically transforms your BibTeX data (or any other proprietary data if your citation management tool offers BibTeX export [and most do, btw]) into an exhibit that you can serve off from Citeline directly (so that MIT hosts it for you) or you can download and place in your own web site.

While BibTeX support is cool, we also know that a lot of people are moving from using external citation management tools to Zotero. So, we are also happy to annonce the release of Zotz, a Zotero extension that allows you to drive Citeline directly from your own Zotero and thus allowing you to publish your Zotero library of citations (or only a subset, if you wish) on the web. And not in a static boring HTML table like most BibTeX->web software out there, in a highly interactive page, right from your own web site but without having you to install (or convince others to install) additional software on the server.

Enjoy!

Exhibits in the Wild

While the exhibit project has graduated, we are still very proud of its success and we are pleased to see it getting so much adoption. But most importantly, we’re constantly amazed by its flexibility and adaptability to various situations and the creativity and ingenuity of web developers in general.

So here is a selection of the exhibits out there ranked based on the amount of traffic they generated on our server logs in August 2008:

Some other cool ones (even if a less popular):

Enjoy!

May 31st signals the end of the 2nd phase of the SIMILE Project.

Phase 1 started in 2003 with funding from HP, while phase 2 started in 2005 with funding from the Mellon Foundation.

While the SIMILE PIs regroup for the next round of funding for phase 3 and part of the development team takes this opportunity (and the knowledge gained thru this project) to advance their careers elsewhere, the group has decided to “graduate” some of the most successful and used of our software projects and spin them off to get a life on their own as an independent and community-driven open source project.

The most successful (in terms of wide and diverse adoption) of the various software that the SIMILE project has developed over the years have been, without doubt, the collection of javascript widgets, namely Timeline, Exhibit and Timeplot.

Timeline, for example, is being used in very prestigious web sites (from the BBC’s, to the Governor of California’s just to cite a few prominent ones) and the project felt that it was time for Timeline (and the other javascript widgets) to develop a life on their own, independent on the availability of academic funding and/or the alignments of research agendas with the widgets’ own.

The code (and its history) has already been moved over to Google Code and a new Google Group has been created to host conversations, user requests for help or advice and further development. The web site with the examples, and the wiki with the documentation will be gradually move over time, also the general@simile mailing list will stop answering questions related to those projects. Please excuse our mess during this transition period and any inconvenience that this might cause you.

Those of you concerned about the future of such graduated projects should not fear: while SIMILE is not going to be the direct sponsor of their development any longer, it remains an enthusiastic and avid user of such tools, with many tools and web applications being currently under development that depend exclusively on them. So while development might proceed in a more community-oriented fashion, SIMILE (and its potential future research partners) are more than likely to continue to pour resources into the evolution and maintenance of such tools.

And you don’t need to change a thing. It gives me great pleasure to inform you that your existing timeplots should simply function, now, when you browse to them in Internet Explorer 6 or 7. Go ahead, go and look, maybe give it a shift-reload to clear that now-untrue incompatibility message. Or visit Timeplot’s page and look over those examples once more.

Thanks to Stefano’s intentional design around canvas and his clean implementation, using ExplorerCanvas to broaden Timeplot’s reach was mostly a finishing touch. Some caveats: transparency effects will not work, and it’s on the slow side compared to other browsers, which is perhaps why mouse value tracking is not as smooth as with other browsers.

Credit is due to Sarfaraz Rydhan for submitting patches that would have accomplished much the same thing, and we certainly would have accepted them had we not just had the same thought. Thanks, Sarfaraz, and thanks to our other contributors who continue to help us improve on Timeplot.

Our project offers quite a diverse toolkit of more than a dozen tools. And these tools are at different levels of maturity. Consequently, sometimes it can be hard for people other than our team to understand how all of these pieces fit together into a coherent, compelling story. Once in a while, we need to step back from the code editor and turn to the blog to put down in words where we are really heading with all that code…

Here is my attempt at doing that: I have written up this wiki page to document how we ourselves have used several of our tools to automate the scraping of the official MIT course catalog web site and provide better browsing features on the same data that it contains:

before after
Official course catalog web site Picker
click the images to see the sites

The tools used include Solvent, Crowbar, Juggler, Exhibit, and Timegrid. (Juggler and Timegrid are still not yet officially released. You can use them at your own risk.) See this wiki page for more details.

Note that our scraping tools (Solvent and Crowbar) let you deal with web pages at the level of the DOM (e.g., evaluating XPaths, retrieving HTML attributes) rather than at the level of streaming characters. This higher level of abstraction is easier to operate in. Furthermore, Solvent and Crowbar can wait for all the dynamic Javascript code in web pages to finish running; this means that you can even scrape those new Web 2.0 sites rather than just static web pages.

Secondly, in the tools used in this particular scenario, you code in only Javascript rather than a hodgepodge of languages (Perl, Python, etc.). Perhaps this uniformity helps lower the barrier to web app makeovers.

We are continually making our tools easier to use. But hopefully they are already useful and usable to many of our target users right now. If you have similar scenarios using our tools, please share with us! Thanks!

Exhibit on the OLPC XO

Yesterday I got my hand on an OLPC XO

OLPC with Macbook Pro

and I tried to load Exhibit onto its browser. And it worked!

OLPC with Presidents exhibit

That’s the Presidents exhibit running with both map and timeline views! This would be pretty delightful if kids can generate these visualizations themselves about whatever topics that interest them, or whatever issues that are pressing in their worlds, much like this exhibit about contaminated cities in Spain. Here is that same exhibit on the XO:

OLPC with Spanish exhibit

And of course, to Semantic Web researchers like myself, it is delightful to see RDF showing up on the XO (through Exhibit’s Export feature):

OLPC with RDF

Gabe and I are happy to announce the availability of Wibbit 1.0 beta, a MediaWiki extension for creating exhibits inside wiki pages.

http://simile.mit.edu/wiki/Wibbit

Please try it out and let us know what you think!

- Margaret and Gabe

MiniZeitgeist Released

MiniZeitgeist is a plugin for WordPress that tracks your daily Akismet spam comment activity and plots it out for you using Timeplot, similar in appearance to the overall Akismet Spam Zeitgeist.

Visit the MiniZeitgeist page for more on how to obtain and install the plugin.

I’m happy to announce the release of the latest versions of Piggy Bank and Appalachian, now bundled together for your convenience. This latest revision of Piggy Bank begins a shift in architecture to separate out browser components from storage components by moving the ‘Publish’ action into the browser; see the wiki for details. It also introduces the ability to utilize Appalachian’s OpenID API for publishing, thus the bundle. Piggy Bank is still backwards compatible with the older method of publishing to a Semantic Bank using usernames and passwords.

The new bundle itself will not provide any updates; each add-on will get updates on its own. If you’ve never installed either, the bundle is the way to go. For the many of you who have Piggy Bank but not Appalachian, see the wiki for download and installation instructions. The new Piggy Bank will still function without Appalachian, but it will complain less once Appalachian is installed. The new Appalachian fixes a number of bugs; in particular, all of its network calls are now asynchronous to avoid locking up your browser while waiting for a response.

If you have either installed, Firefox should be informing you of an update. Otherwise, you can get the bundle here:

http://simile.mit.edu/dist/piggy-bank-bundle/piggy-bank-bundle.xpi

If you have any issues with installation or upgrading, please read over the Piggy Bank Troubleshooter (particularly the parts on upgrade issues) before letting us know through our mailing list or our issue tracker.

You may be asking what good a Piggy Bank with OpenID authenticated publishing really is without a corresponding OpenID-enabled Semantic Bank. Well, stay tuned…

Exhibit 2.0 (beta)

On behalf of the Simile team, our summer Haystack interns, and our contributors, I’m happy to announce the availability of Exhibit 2.0 (beta):

http://simile.mit.edu/exhibit/

Check out the examples to understand the significant changes in this version.

Useful links:
What’s new: http://simile.mit.edu/wiki/Exhibit/2.0_Release
Migrating from 1.0 to 2.0: http://simile.mit.edu/wiki/Exhibit/2.0/Migration

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