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Radar Networks readies new release of Twine

As one of several start-ups trying to crack the code on building a piece of the semantic Web, its biggest challenge will be attracting users.

In March, Radar Networks launched Twine, an application that organizes information and connects people, places, companies, products, Web pages, videos, and photos. Along with Metaweb's Freebase, Powerset (sold to Microsoft), Hakia, Reuters' Calias, AdaptiveBlue and a few other start-ups, Radar Networks is trying to crack the code on building a piece of the semantic Web.

In aTimes Online article, Web creator Tim Berners-Lee gave an example of how the semantic Web would work:

"Imagine if two completely separate things--your bank statements and your calendar--spoke the same language and could share information with one another. You could drag one on top of the other and a whole bunch of dots would appear showing you when you spent your money."

Twine won't provide that futuristic capability but it attempts to build a "semantic graph" of relationships between content, tags, people and Twines (the collection of items of an individual or group on the service). Each piece of content is a "semantic object," Radar Networks CEO Nova Spivack said, using Twine's underlying ontology and database, which applies semantic technologies such as RDF for storing data.

Spivack told me that public Twines are now visible to visitors to the site and to search engines. So far in the beta phase nearly 15,000 Twines have been created and 354,000 pieces of user-contributed content have been added into the system. More than 50,000 users signed up (34,000 are active) for the service, spending 13 to 15 minutes per session on the site, he said.

A major new release of the Twine platform is slated for release in the fall to address shortcomings and introduce new features. "We have worked on a lot of simplification, reducing the clutter, and we still need to reduce more. Twine has a lot of powerful features nobody uses, so we are moving some of the advanced features out of the way," Spivack said. "The fall release will bring more intelligence and semantics to the surface. For example, we will let anyone define a new type of thing, such as a recipe or baseball team form, to author. It's more like what Freebase does, and we will also likely integrate with Freebase over time."

In addition, performance improvements and algorithms to improve search as well as mining and crawling content are in the works. "A major focus of our work is on personalization and recommendations," Spivack said. "Ultimately, Twine is about 'interest networking' and is a content distribution network. People declare their interests, add content, join Twines and connect with people. As users work with the system it learns about their interests, using artificial intelligence and semantic Web technologies to provide more relevance. We are not attempting to index the whole Web, just the best stuff of interest to users. Ninety-nine percent of what's on the Web is not interesting to a user, so it's more about high signal to noise."

On the business front, Spivack believes that Twine can be an intermediary for users, delivering more targeted marketing messages in addition to content. It's similar to the way Facebook is creating a new kind of environment for advertising based on knowing member interests and their social or semantic graph. "The goal for Twine is to be the place on the Web that best understands your interests and represents them to others. The key is to give users control and privacy," Spivack said.

Twine is a work in progress. It's ambitious and has the potential to demonstrate how a more semantic Web could benefit users. The biggest challenge will be scaling the back-end infrastructure and attracting users, which means Twine will have to become far more easy to configure and use. We'll see in the coming months whether the forthcoming changes to Twine help open the floodgates.

Updated numbers on users and usage, 6:30 AM PST, August 1