Here's my report on the first-ever Semantic MediaWiki users meeting, which was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts over the weekend, at the offices of the Monitor Group. The meeting was divided into two days: the Saturday session was an all-day event that featured discussions and presentations on a wide variety of SMW-related topics, and the Sunday session was a half-day event that focused on two topics: in-depth discussion of possible additions to the SMW and its spinoff extensions, and ideas about building and strengthening the SMW community, including thoughts about future meetings. There were about 30 attendees for the Saturday session and 10 for the Sunday session, and both numbers were significantly than I expected when we first started talking about the meeting. There were attendees from both Germany and various parts of the United States, and among the attendees were representatives of consulting companies who implement SMW-based solutions (Monitor, Ontoprise, mindXchange, SAIC), university groups where SMW-based research is done (RPI, MIT, "Karlsruhe Institute of Technology", i.e. the University of Karlsruhe), and large-scale websites built using SMW (caBIG Knowledge Center, FamilySearch, SNPedia, Referata), among others. Also included were "special surprise guests" Markus Krotzsch and Denny Vrandecic, who phoned in via Skype for the Saturday morning sessions.
Overall, I think the meeting was a success - many connections were made between people working on similar problems, or encountering the same obstacles, and there was a great deal of information exchanged. And the facilities and equipment were superb, thanks to some great work from the Monitor team.
There were too many thoughts raised during the meeting to try to summarize all of them, but here's my attempt to list a few of the recurring ideas that came up:
- There should be more communication. This is true for nearly everyone - groups and individual developers who create features or extensions should announce what they're doing before they start developing, not after it's done, and should solicit feedback more; consulting companies should communicate more about the projects they're working on; etc. This mailing list and the SMW Forum (http://smwforum.ontoprise.com) were raised as the two best places to do that, although of course any communication is better than none.
- There should be more documentation. That includes codifying "best practices" and use cases, and expanding help pages. On that note, some pleas were made to re-open registration on semantic-mediawiki.org (sorry, Markus and Denny, I'm just the messenger). And more generally, a need for tutorials was expressed, including online screencast videos, PDF documents and maybe even published books.
- Many new features were requested. The number one request seemed to be for access control through SMW - letting administrators close off parts of a wiki for viewing (and, less importantly, for editing), using semantic properties - and making sure that SMW inline queries respect that and hid results that users shouldn't see. Thankfully, according to Ontoprise they're working on implementing such a feature, although it's still in the planning stage. Also popular was workflow, which is tied in with access control and which involves, most notably, various user groups being notified when specific changes are made to the data; and what I call "true n-ary relations", which is the ability to define free-form internal subjects within a page, each with their own set of properties.
- Finally, there was discussion about the need for future user meetings. It was suggested that semantic-related conferences, such as SemTech and ISWC among many others, could include either official or unofficial SMW-specific meetings. In addition, it was tentatively decided that there should be two dedicated SMW user meetings such as this one every year, most likely in the fall and spring, and most likely alternating between the United States and Europe.
So that's it for my notes. You can read more about the discussions, view slide presentations and see some photos, from the two links at the top of this page:
The minutes are still being added to, but hopefully what's there provides a good sense of how the meeting went.