What’s the point of Jelly?

Jelly fish

I have to admit I’m attracted to anything new and shiny, and particularly products and services that aim to create or propagate value through networks and networking. I was therefore intrigued by the recent launch of Jelly, which has the gravitas and experience of Biz Stone (of Twitter fame) behind it. It certainly meets the “new” criterion, but I’m not so sure about the “shiny”.

The principle behind Jelly is summarised in a short blog post by Biz Stone himself:

“Using Jelly is kinda like using a conventional search engine in that you ask it stuff and it returns answers……Jelly changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks….getting answers from  people is very different from retrieving information with algorithms….it has the benefit of being fun”

Mmm, well I’d question whether this is anything like using a conventional search engine. I’d agree that getting answers from people is very different to getting answers (search results) from algorithms, and whilst this might be fun for some, it opens up the system to the mad and the bad, so you can forget about getting consistently serious or factual answers to your questions.

The concept behind the Android/iOS app is simple: take a picture of something and ask a question, and wait for the folks on your social networks (and their connections) to provide answers. This immediately limits the reach of who is likely to respond, since the question will only be seen by your followers and their networks, compared to, say, Quora, which has a global reach.

Answering questions about a picture is not exactly unique, and I believe I’d get a lot more relevant answers by using Google Goggles. But maybe the “fun” bit comes from the unpredictability of the answers you get by using Jelly?

When questions from your network come up, you can either answer them or swipe them away if you don’t have the answer; essentially, you’re being forced to make an instant judgment on whether you can answer the question, and once you’ve swiped it away, you won’t see it again unless you’ve starred it – which is a request to follow the answers.

The questions come up seemingly at random, with no ability to filter by subject matter, to avoid questions by nuisance users, or to go back to previous questions you may have dismissed by mistake.

I think it’s rather hopeful that the network-effect is going to create value from the questions and answers that get submitted, not least because of the problems in filtering out the trivia. I appreciate it’s early days, and maybe once the trolls and idiots have had their fun it might settle down into a more useful visual crowdsourcing environment.  However, I remain sceptical, and find myself swipe, swipe, swiping away those endless trivialities such as “what should I pick from this menu?”, or “what am I drinking?”, or “do you like my iPhone cover?”. I noted that one Jelly user went out of his way to answer every question he could find with “feta cheese”, an endeavour which was either epic trolling, an attempt to make a point about the lack of junk filtering on Jelly, or possibly both.

So, having tried it, albeit for a limited period, I have to admit I can’t see the point of Jelly. If I want a question answered I’ll stick with Google+, Twitter, Facebook or Quora, and if I’m out and about I’ll use Google Goggles. But, don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and see what you think. Maybe I’m the wrong demographic and that there is a latent network of people who thrive on trivia out there. If so, it should do well, but it’s not a network that I want to belong to!

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Government launches public sector app store

I came across this artcle on the BBC website today. For those who remember my involvement with the early design and business requirements for the Knowledge Hub, the Khub App store was one of the main features of the new platform. Regretably it got lost in the budget cuts (or was de-priotised?), and hence an opportunity lost.  As can be seen from the announcement, this could have been a net revenue stream for LGA as opposed to being perceived as adding to bottom line costs. See this earlier blog post.

To quote from the BBC article:

“It is hoped the service will allow organisations to purchase services on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, rather than be locked into lengthy contracts. They typically include services such as email, word processing, system hosting, enterprise resource planning and electronic records management.

The Cloudstore would help contribute to overall planned savings of £180m by 2015, the government said, although a spokesman admitted it was “difficult to anticipate total saving with the constant changes in technology”.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Simply stated, purchasing services from Cloudstore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike.This bold move has potential to showcase the UK as a global leader in online service delivery, providing the procurement culture in government evolves to take advantage.”

And the following could almost have been lifted word for word from my original business case:

“Cloudstore (read Khub Appstore) represents a revolution in how the public sector buys (procures) software and services,” Chief executive Suraj Kika said.  My additions in brackets.

However, whilst feeling (perhaps understandably?) frustrated that the App Store never got implemented for KHub, I am encouraged that UK Gov have seen the benefits of using an app store as a cost-effective way of procuring and delivering business software, at a time when more and more users are getting familiar with this way of accessing and using new functionality. As I mentioned in my original article, the benefits of this distribution model are:

  • Easy to use and trusted conduit of software.
  • Download model is widely understood by both consumers and developers of software.
  • ‘Mashup’ tools will make it easy for apps to be built and shared by anyone.
  • Provides centralised control and value-add including commercial, security, access controls, digital rights.
  • Stimulates ideas for compelling new business scenarios and service innovation.
And of course users have the advantage of discarding or updating their apps if they no longer serve their immediate business requirements.
So, presumably local councils seeking to make cost savings in the procurement and distribution of new business applications will make the most of this new Cloudstore. I think the business case is pretty compelling.
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Knowledge Hub Data and Apps Workshop

This blog post is to thank all of the participants (presenters and delegates) to the Knowledge Hub Data & Apps workshop that was held in London yesterday (27 April 2011). The workshop was used to establish the foundations for the “KHub Data and Apps Advisory Group”, who we are hoping will help us to shape the forthcoming data/apps developments for the Knowledge Hub.

As readers of my previous posts about the Knowledge Hub may be aware, the first (Beta) release will go live next month (May – exact date TBD). This represents the completion of Sprint 9 of 22, which delivers the collaboration tools and facilities (blogs, wikis, library, events, people-finder, library, web conferencing, activity streams etc.). [NB. Sprints are the functional elements delivered as part of an agile development process].

The remainder of the Sprints will be delivering key data intelligence/data management features, including:

1. Semantic Matching Engine

  • Will match aggregated conversations, communities and topics to people;
  • Will suggest connections between people
  • Will recommend content according to explicit and implicit profile data

2. Data library/catalogue

  • Can upload data/datasets in semi-structured and machine readable formats (e.g. Excel, CSV,  XML)
  • Can identify and catalogue external (e.g. open and/or linked) datasets
  • Ability to create/edit metadata for each dataset (e.g. for provenance, licensing etc.)
  • Datasets can be permissioned.
  • Datasets will be indexed by the KHub search engine

3. Mashup Engine

  • Allows users to combine or compare data (meaningful comparisons will require a common schema)
  • Data can be ‘mashed’ using KHub-sourced data and external data sources.
  • Support for data visualisations
  • Features similar to mashup.org
  • Will use open source mapping services
  • Potential to provide index of SPARQL end-points

4. App Store

  • Supports any app compliant with the OpenSocial standard
  • Mashups developed on KHub can be simply added to the App Store
  • Will include reviews and star ratings
  • Support for free and commercial (licensed) apps
  • Apps will be able to use data from both Khub (via an API) and/or external sources

Data Repository

  • Requirements to be refined, but intention is to be able to support triple-stores (RDF/SPARQL) and XQuery/XML)

All of the above is scheduled to be developed and released between June and October this year. The Data & Apps Advisory Group will be instrumental in shaping these features and capabilities, as well as providing advice on the underlying support and operational procedures, and skills/training needs.

Initial outputs from the workshop are available on the Knowledge Hub Community of Practice (Data and Apps Advisory Group Theme).

Terms of Reference for the Data & Apps Advisory Group is in the attached PDF. If anyone with the appropriate skills and knowledge wishes to be involved in this group, then please let me know (add your expression of interest into the comments section of this blog).

I will post an update to this blog once the full report from the workshop is available.

Data & Apps Advisory Group ToR
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Knowledge Hub Linked Data Spend App.

The confluence of a number of initiatives around the UK Government’s transparency agenda has opened up a significant and exciting opportunity to deliver the first of a number of applications that will be made available in the Knowledge Hub App Store. The foundations for this initiative include:

1. The transparency agenda requirement for all authorities to openly publish spending data in reusable from January 2011 onwards.

2.  Announcement about the publication of Government spending data

3. LG Group Practitioner Guide to publishing local spend data

4. ESD-Toolkit project to develop an online tool that will convert council csv files on spending into RDF, Linked Data format.

5. The announcement by Talis to offer UK Local Authorities free Linked Data hosting for published expenditure data

6. The Knowledge Hub project to provide an open platform for community collaboration and development of value-added applications (mashups etc.).

The key differentiators between this KHub app and the many and varied apps and websites that are now publishing details of government or local government spend data are:

1. The purpose is to provide insight and opportunities for improving local council performance and efficiency and not just to know where and how money is being spent. This will be achieved by including additional contextual data from sources such as ONS, to provide data on spend per head for specific service lines, e.g. social care.

2. The app and the business intelligence it offers will support the work of local council officers and heads of department; it can be used by citizens though this is not the primary audience.

3. It is, as the name suggests, using linked data to add context to open spend data, i.e. delivering the benefits of a semantic web application. (What is open and linked data?)

The proposed KHub App will interface with an aggregate store of local authority open spend data, hosted on the Talis platform. The App will enable the user to perform deep-dive queries and visualisation of specific spend data categories, and spend data comparisons across local authorities.

The specification of the Linked Data Spend App is currently work in progress, but some ideas for what the App could potentially deliver include:

  • Spend by category: charts and tables, drill down into service
  • Spend by supplier: charts and tables
  • Supplier by categories: who are the suppliers and who do they supply: table with links to companies house information
  • Spend by region or council by category: overlaid on an interactive map
  • Spend by region or council by service: overlaid on an interactive map with drill down into service and category
  • Spend over time
  • Productivity measures: spend per head on social care, spend per head on bin collection, spend per mile of highway maintenance.

Outputs from this project, apart from the app itself, will be:

  • Documentation on how the application(s) could be hosted on any web site.
  • Published code developed for the visualisation application(s) under open source license.

The Linked Data Spend App will be launched early 2011 and will be one of many apps delivered as part of the Knowledge Hub App project.

Data flows for the Linked Data Spend App.

Linked Data Spend Data App

See also the Talis blog on this project.

More details will be provided as part of the launch communications. In the mean time I will be happy to respond to any questions.

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