Why I Migrated Over to Twine (And Other Social Services Bit the Dust)

The Twine LogoFor the past few months I’ve been an active member of Twine.com; a beta semantic web app riddled with AI to help us organize, share and discover information. The beta is still under heavy construction, but at this point in time, I’ve migrated entirely from Del.icio.us, personal wikis and similar online services and over to Twine.

There are several reasons for this, some of which I’ll detail here — and end by hinting at why it’s immediately relevant despite Twine being in an invitation-only beta.

For the sake of easy digest, we’ll begin with Twine’s features presented in bullets:

  1. Social bookmarking service
  2. Central storage for documents, images, videos and other data (from your machine or from the web)
  3. Media viewable inside Twine, bookmarked or uploaded. (videos, images, etc.)
  4. Collaborative platform with wiki-like editing/built in text editor
  5. User-created groups with discussion boards
  6. Intelligent analysis of added content (more on this below)
  7. A recommendation engine to help discover information & people relevant to you and your interests

Do note that this list is not complete, it’s just the most prominent features in the way I use Twine. As mentioned, I gradually strayed away from other online services as this provided everything in one place. One place being a very important part — I wanted my data accessible in one place instead of having to visit the diverse online services. And actively building a semantic web by using it is not a small benefit. It’s a vision and necessary addition to the web. (And to humanities toolshed).

What Twine is & Does

The Twine team recently created a new and public Twine Tour that covers the basic purpose and functions of Twine. Specific details are kept at minimum because they are under active development and change on a regular basis (Twine is in a “real” beta, see below).

The tour covers the basics and I recommend reading it in addition to this post. But here’s a look at one of the things that dazzled me from the start. The Bookmarklet.

Bookmarklet Example

If you’ve ever used an online bookmarking service you’re familiar with adding a link to your browsers toolbar, and then clicking it to bookmark the page you’re on for easy access online later. It’s the same concept here, except when you click the bookmarking link the pretty window below appears at the corner of your browser window.

Twine Bookmarklet Example
The “Add to”, “Title” and “Summary” fields are shown truncated.
They auto-expand when clicked
.

None of the information you see above was entered by hand. The summary contains the text specified in the article metadata generated by WordPress, the same regarding tags & title — plus Twine generates a thumbnail of the page. (This is not all Twine does, as you’ll see as we go on).

So things are auto-extracted; with the option of adding or modifying them manually (you can manually select a pic from the page if you want). All we need to do is click save.

This has proven a major productivity boost for me, as the extra information makes it much easier to find the items again.

Extraction Varies Depending on Item Type

The extraction works on all pages — but depending on the type of the item being bookmarked, extraction is handled differently. For example, bookmarking a product on Amazon (Snow Crash, in this case) results in an item inside Twine that looks like this:

Screenshot of Snow Crash bookmarked by Twine from Amazon

The bookmarklet extracts important data (price, author, publisher, book cover, etc.) — identifying authors as a type of “person”, the book as a “book” type, etc. This makes it easier to find, view and organize. And the same goes for YouTube videos; info is extracted and you can view the video inside Twine. Again, the benefit is that with all the information extracted it becomes much easier to find the item. I never remember my bookmarks on del.icio.us and always have to browse long lists. So this has proven a golden feature.

Additionally I find being able to view all the info inside Twine a great relief. I no longer have to collect YouTube videos in a gallery and visit them there (or direct friends there), the same with books — I can now make a list of books to read, books I’ve read, etc. and view all the information on the same site. And oh, movies from IMDb too.

Automatic Parsing of Text (the technical side of things)

The field marked summary is automatically parsed by Twine’s AI systems to identify people, places and the likes. So for example when Stanley Kubrick is mentioned in the bookmarklet fields, or in the document you upload, or in the email you send into Twine — the system will analyze and identify him as a person (not as a mere keyword). This is called entity extraction and is applied to all text on Twine.

Under the hood, a person is defined in a larger ontology in relation to other “things”. Here’s an example of a very small portion of my own graph within Twine:

Hrafn Th. Thorissons RDF graph in Twine

Some may not find the point of this clear. So to explain: Just as HTML enables computers to display data — this extra semantic information markup (RDF, OWL, etc.) enables computers to understand what the data is they’re displaying. And moreover, to understand what things are in relation to other things.

Example Search

For an example, when we search for “Stanley Kubrick” on regular search engines, the words “Stanley” and “Kubrick” are usually regarded as mere keywords: a series of letters that the search engine then tries to find pages with those series of letters. But in the world of semantic web, the engines know “Stanley Kubrick” is a person. This results in a lot less irrelevant items from the search’s results.

Stanley Kubrick may not be the clearest example; pretend the search term is “Suzuki”: are we looking for motorcycles, or the person that created the motorcycles, Michio Suzuki?

(I Used Twine Twice While Writing this Entry)

Here are actual use cases that took place while I was writing this article.

  • I had written the text below about Twine’s intelligence earlier in response to a journalist on Twine. I didn’t remember where I wrote it. To find the comment, I entered the word “Wikipedia” and specified that it should be of the type “comment”, created by “Hrafn Thórisson”. Comment found.
  • I wrote in a comment on an online entry and wanted to keep it for keepsake; so I created a note for it on Twine, adding a few keywords. The process was similar to the above. Search, specify, found.

An Open, Semantic Garden (A bit more on the technicalities)

Semantic Web GardenIf you weren’t already aware, the systems I just described above are the basic semantic web concept: Encapsulating data in a new layer of machine processable information to help us search, find and organize the overwhelming and ever-growing sea of pictures, videos, text and whatever else we’re creating.

With every item created, uploaded or bookmarked, Twine gets dozens of bits of information ranging from automatically recognized people to products, buildings, etc. As Twine grows the potential to re-use the heaps of auto-mined data grows. Twine is learning how users work, what things mean.

And important to me is that these data structures follow standards for semantic web markup. And Twine, or its creators Radar Networks, will make the data open so that others can build applications that make use of it. I generated the graph above by accessing Twine’s data with a third party tool (RDFGravity).

As an example of further growth and intertwining with other parts of the web, I believe Twine uses machine learning & 300,000 taxonomic categories of the Wikipedia for reference. For example. Further collaboration with open semantic services are also on the radar.

With this kind of data in place we pave the road towards a more intelligent web. A web that knows that an actor is related to films and is a type of person, and that a person is a type of animal; opening up a myriad of possibilities for us to search in new and more effective ways. Hopefully a farewell to awkward search methods we use today. When Twine was unveiled, I wrote an article and put it this way:

If Twine delivers it means we’ll be getting [a site that allows us to see all our online data in one place], with intelligent frosting plus a nice warm cup of IQ Cappuccino. Not to forget that its success would make a splash in semantic web development, adding a yellow brick to the road leading away from the ever-less-productive methods of modern search and data organization.

Deus ex machina for content discovery? Not yet.

It’s not always a walk in the park. It’s a beta after all, and many things need fixing and are under construction. Many things remain undone. The auto-extraction doesn’t work well on all pages, for example. The interface needs serious tweaking and several other necessary features are still under development.

There’s More to Come

The “beta” tag is (unfortunately) often (mis)used as a pre-apology for potential user discomfort. This is not the case here. Radar Networks has stated that interface and functionality is being actively worked on (as I’ve witnessed), and that by “Beta” they mean an incomplete product.

Like I commented online on a negative review: Twine is not presented as a finished product. Not even close. It’s a product in the making; seeking active users and their feedback to help make improvements. But still, when Googling for something and becoming frustrated over messy results, I’ve caught myself on more than one occasion instinctively moving the mouse to specify item-type in the filter sidebar.

We’ve yet to see what the final, public product will look like. It’s months away (hovering somewhere around next summer). The future potential of its infrastructure and usage is immense. Considering the big picture: building up metadata is not an easy task; but the Twine system is, in my personal opinion, a great way to help it on its way. More so than any of the other alphas and betas of semantic web apps I’ve explored. But great things don’t happen overnight. As I mentioned above, this is the first wave of semantic web apps and I’m happy to support the effort via feature requests and constructive criticism. Especially because I find it useful already.

Having read the above: if you were given the chance — would you be interested in using Twine? If the answer is Yes, keep an eye on Think Artificial. If the answer is No, continue keeping an eye on Think Artificial.

Links & References


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60 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Rolando

    I loved your post and I think I’m also migrating to Twine. You do know that tags will help with browsing through your del.icio.us bookmarks, right?

  2. Thanks for an excellent overview. I received my invitation to Twine a couple days ago, signed on and was lost. I thought about quiting but now that I know about some of the features better, I have something to do in Twine. Thanks!

  3. Mark,

    What an awesome post – I’d love a chance to thump around on the twine system. Sounds that already, (even in beta) that you have enjoyed some real tangible benefits.

    Have you looked into a service called Diigo.com? I use it to highlight text, create “sticky notes” that are either private or share-able, (even with people who do not use Diigo).

    So far, it is a requirement I expect my clients to adopt if they want to work with me and everyone has had rave reviews.

    Im already eage to see if the two will play nice together of if twine will offer some of the features enjoyed within diigo.

    Please consider sending me an invite.

    Thanks.

  4. Phooey. I don’t get the pretty window! Is this a Wintel IE only thing or are you using the Twine This+ bookmarklet?

  5. Great post … great tool. I started already also migrating to Twine.

  6. @John – Thanks you!

    @Rolando – Yeah, I know bulk importing is in the works.

    @Ankit – You’re welcome, glad it helped :)

    @Allan – Yeah, like I said there’s a lot yet that needs improving but its proving beneficial already, at least for me. I haven’t tried Diigo, no. I’ll have to give it a look.

    Please consider sending me an invite.

    Subscribe to Think Artificial to monitor upcoming posts, you might get your wish fulfilled ;)

    @Russell – Yes, that’s the “Advanced bookmarklet”, you can find it on the tool page. Truly a must.

    @Bernd – Thanks. Hope it helps.

  7. Benjamin Heitmann

    Hi! Let me first say that this is a very good introductory post to twine.

    But I have to question the authenticity of that bookmarklet screenshot. Right now, if I use the “twine this advanced” bookmarklet, then no automatic entity extraction is done. So no automatic tags and no summary are created, as opposed to your claim, that your screenshot was created without any additions from you.

    Dont you think it might be important to let your readers know, if you created a mockup screenshot?

  8. Benjamin Heitmann

    Sorry, I just tried it on different websites, and it works on some sites just as you described it.

    My fault for writing the comment to quickly.

  9. Interesting review, thanks.

    Allan – send me an email to tom@tomrafteryit.net and I’ll send you a Twine invite

  10. Excellent primer! However, aren’t you concerned about this, from Section 9 of their Terms and Conditions:

    Submissions

    You acknowledge and agree that any materials, including but not limited to questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, plans, notes, drawings, original or creative materials or other information, [regarding the Site, the Radar Networks or Radar Networks' products or services that are] provided by you in the form of email or other submissions to Radar Networks, or any postings on the Site, are non-confidential and shall become the sole property of Radar Networks. Radar Networks shall own exclusive rights, including all intellectual property rights, and shall be entitled to the unrestricted use and dissemination of these materials for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without acknowledgment or compensation to you.

  11. @Robert
    Excellent primer! However, aren’t you concerned about this, from Section 9 of their Terms and Conditions:

    Thank you for the compliments Robert! Well, for a moment I was a bit bewildered (and legal jargon gives me a headache).

    But the issue is being resolved. The latest official word is that this will be clarified by Monday with consideration to the user feedback in the main Twine thread on this issue.

    Being active on Twine I’ve come to know some of the staff at Radar Networks. I had no reason to think this was an intentional ambiguity, so I worked on the assumption that this applied only to suggestions/feedback regarding the company/products and not user content. And this was a correct assumption.

  12. @Benjamin
    Dont you think it might be important to let your readers know, if you created a mockup screenshot?

    [...]

    Sorry, I just tried it on different websites, and it works on some sites just as you described it.

    Hi Benjamin – and no problem. Good to be skeptical and I don’t blame you; Despite that I point out faults in the service, I like Twine and that’s reflected in the article. But just to be clear: I do consider honesty important and I would never create a mockup without stating clearly that it is one. This general principle can be applied to all articles on Think Artificial (unless they are jokes ;) .

    I’ll grab this nice opportunity to say to everyone reading: Thank you for visiting and commenting; it is greatly appreciated (including the criticism)!

  13. Thank you for your response. I was given an invite to Twine by a colleague who knows what I’ve been searching for in a social network. Namely, a place to display my videos & photos (in a reasonably sized format) and to make connections with “normal” people for personal & professional reasons.

    Here’s a little summary of my search to date:

    1. VirtualTourist – The best site I’ve ever found for building social contacts with really nice people from around the world. It’s main drawbacks are its pathetic display of photos and its archaic way of adding new info, especially external media.

    2. Flickr – Arguably the best site of any for displaying photos. But there seems to be an elitist nature there that’s hard to break through.

    3. YouTube – Clearly the #1 place in the world to post videos but it’s ridden with trolls who can say whatever horrendous, vile things they want, without any negative repercussions. The best video describing this can be seen here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9m3jLOCSEsE By the way, the author, Tom, is an amazing person who Twine should be trying to recruit as a member. Right now he’s out in Silicon Valley trying to get a company to build his vision of a social networking site. Maybe Twine is already that or could easily become that?

    4. Facebook – #1 in popularity right now but it seems geared to teenagers and adults who still act like teenagers. Oh wow, I can become popular in my own mind by having lots of “friends” and then we can poke each other all day. How fulfilling!

    5. LinkedIn – A strictly professional networking site. But I’ve tried using it to connect with others and it has been absolutely useless.

    As for the copyright thing, I do understand that Radar Networks needs to reserve the right to display material that people post but it’s unfathomable if they grab the copyright of the intellectual property of users. You can trust them all you want. Sorry, until the wording is made more reasonable, I will not be adding much more information.

    I think I’ll repost this on Twine to let give the folks there my thoughts on what I hope they’ll be striving for.

    Robert

  14. Thanks for the overview of current web apps. I’m sure readers will appreciate it! Regarding YouTube – the Stupid Filter uses comments primarily from there for its stupidity corpus.

    As for the copyright thing, I do understand that Radar Networks needs to reserve the right to display material that people post …

    Actually, you misunderstand. This particular clause is not about RN displaying people’s posts — but about RN owning the rights to feature suggestions from users without compensation, and to questions you ask them, etc. It’s poorly worded, certainly, and this has been acknowledged.

    We’ll see on Monday.

  15. Don’t worry Robert — section 9 of the user agreement ONLY refers to suggestions for improving Twine that you might submit to the site.

    In any case it will be clarified, as will other parts of the terms and conditions.

  16. Nova,

    I hope you know that I deeply admire what you and Kristinn are trying to achieve with Twine. I say this both as a fellow entrepreneur and technology developer. While many believe that sites like Facebook and Flickr and YouTube are the ultimate achievement the Internet will ever get to, I strongly believe we’ve barely scratched the surface.

    So in me you gents have a very strong supporter.

    With that said, I’ve been through too much in my lifetime to accept that a legally-binding document implies one thing when the wording could clearly be construed as something very different.

    The example I gave of Getty Images is a very valid one. A few years from now, when Twine is a huge success and you have millions of high-quality photographs uploaded by your dedicated users and stored in your database, a company like Getty could come along and say, “Hey, we’ll pay you $100 Million for exclusive use of all of your photographs.” That’s very tempting. And while you both may adamantly say “No, thanks”, by that time you may very well no longer be in control of the voting shares.

    Facebook has already done some very strange things that did not have the best interests of their users at heart. There was some controversy but nothing beyond the proverbial tipping point.

    I mean nothing personal by anything I’ve said and trust you will view my comments in the positive light they were intended. For I really would like to see Twine succeed in a big way!

    Robert Werner

    P.S. I’ll even upload some photos I took last night of an amazing sunset here in Vancouver!

  17. This is a journey. You have to decide if you want to go, where, and why. Thanks for very AAA tutorial. Agree with your assessment. It will take time and diligence. Great things do.
    Don

  18. “I’ve migrated entirely from Del.icio.us.” Tell us more about how you did this. How did you get your Del.icio.us bookmarks into Twine? Did you manage to take any of their tags with them?

  19. @Don
    Thanks for the compliments Don. Hope to see you around.

    @Bob
    What I mostly intended to convey with that statement was/is that I’ve stopped using del.icio.us. The bulk-importing tools for Twine are under development, so I only took the bookmarks that I needed and added them to Twine [usng the bookmarklet]. Later on I’ll fetch the rest.

    However, if you want to try something else; I’ve seen tools that mail and manage your Del.icio.us bookmarks. You could probably find tools that takes your entire del.icio.us archive and mails each bookmark (with tags) into Twine.

    I’m going to consider some options and’ll let you know if something nice comes out of it. Please do the same!

  20. This seems just like evernote IMHO. I have invites left for evernote.com if anyone wants to try it out, I am using it to clip and sync bookmarks, pictures, screenshots, etc. between my iphone, laptop, and web.

  21. Viki

    Great – finally some plain text for me to understand what I am hoping to get from twine ! Thanks so much

  22. @the constant skeptic:
    I’ve used Evernote. *USED* Evernote.
    The reason for why I’m not using it constantly is that it’s unstable and have a interface that’s far from optimal. And it won’t do this kind of item linking and RDF data extraction that Twine does.
    And it’s not social the same way as Twine.

  23. Romagary

    I try also diigo.com (impressive toolbar) and jamespot.com (easy & pretty coll publishing).
    Not the same use than twine (semantic views)

  24. When I hit the bookmarklet, I get the pop-up but fields ARE NOT pre-filled with tags and summary! And I haven’t really got anything meaningful from whatever it is they call ‘semantic’.

    In other words, I’ll be leaving Twine alone. Doing very fine with Diigo.com – which is awesome I have to say!

  25. @Benno hansen
    When I hit the bookmarklet, I get the pop-up but fields ARE NOT pre-filled with tags and summary!

    Hey Benno. It doesn’t work on all pages, but if you’ve got it to work nowhere then I’m guessing you didn’t give it much of a try.

    Note what I say in the article: the bookmarklet extracts metadata from webpages. If there’s no metadata, then there’s nothing for the bookmarklet to extract.

    Some sites have it, everyone should, but again — it varies from site to site. Try the bookmarklet right here on this page to see it in action. On the other hand, If you select text on a page before clicking the bookmarklet, then the selected text goes into the summary field. That’s something I’ve grown accustomed to doing since I wrote this article, simply to have more control over the content.

  26. DF

    I’ve heard of Twine before, but only “got it” after reading your post.

    I always hoped delicious could:
    1) “Bookmark everything” (not only url’s)
    2) Understand information semantically

    Sounds like Twine Is exactly that (and much more)!

    A question: does Twine have 1 unique RDF for every “thing”?
    For example: 1 for the book “Jurassic Parl”, 1 for this blog post, 1 for the “HP Scanner Model 1″, etc?

    I think this uniqueness Is essential t to make the whole system truly valuable, right?

    PS: you got any invites to spare? :)

  27. DF

    I did some searches In Twine, and It seems what I mentioned does not happen.

    For example, I seached for “Beatles” and got a lot of results (videos, photos, comments, etc). But I noticed there Is no such thing as a unique entity representing the band inside Twine. Or am I mistaken?

  28. Glad my article helped, DF.

    A question: does Twine have 1 unique RDF for every “thing”?
    For example: 1 for the book “Jurassic Parl”, 1 for this blog post, 1 for the “HP Scanner Model 1″, etc?

    Well, yes, it does have a unique ID for every ‘thing’, and everything is a thing that goes into it. However, like you note, there can be duplicates of the same ‘thing’. This is good in some cases, for example when the book Jurassic Park (and Twine knows it’s a ‘book’, and each associated property; ‘price’, ‘author’, etc.) is available in more than one store, in which case the ‘price’ may vary and the user would like to sort things accordingly.

    But it isn’t so good for other things, like persons. We want a person to be a coherent thing. And this is a future issue that remains open. For now, at least we’re taking the step of giving data semantics and richer metadata. Later we’ll have to deal with issues like this one. (And by ‘we’ I mean the human race.)

  29. Quick note on the question of importing bookmarks: that feature is now live. You can import Delicious bookmarks as well as your browser bookmarks.

  30. Well done, Hrafn,
    I am still a novice to Twine. But I noticed that without ever having started a twine, or commented on a twine, somehow my profile on twine was picked up by Google pretty quickly.
    Implications for marketing are great. As I am at a beginning learning stage, thank you, Hrafn, for sharing your in depth understanding of this ingenious tool.

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