Semantic Desktop

I’ve heard about semantic desktop when I started using Evernote for taking notes, collating information for my projects and organizing them by tagging. My purpose on using Evernote seems so “semantic”, right? Yes, Evernote is based on semantic data collecting; it serves as a note-taking tool, daily journal, task or project management system, recipe keeper and it basically manages all these multi-domain data using semantic tagging. Evernote has pros and cons if one wants to use it as his/her own semantic desktop tool but I am not planning to discuss Evernote’s semanticity in this blog post, I want to dive into the semantic desktop paradigm.

To be honest, even if I intermittently use Evernote, I had no idea what semantic desktop is. After a quick research, I gained an insight into its point of view and I started thinking what if we all have semantic desktops rather than classical desktops which is based on file systems. Before arguing that, I try to briefly explain what semantic desktop is. According to authorities in the semantic desktop world, semantic desktop aims to enable better organization of the personal information on our computers by applying semantic technologies on the desktop. Just like Linked Data connects distributed data on the web and creates a network of interlinked information, the Semantic Desktop connects personal data across application boundaries on the desktop; it actually creates a network of personal information.

Considering the definition above, one can infer that semantic desktops’ main purpose is to eliminate filesystems. Yes, it seems so, because one of the main chances that the semantic desktop should bring to us is the invisibility of the file systems. When the size of magnetic disks was measured in KBytes and Mbytes, the traditional filesystems and partitions were useful. However, we now have home devices with GBytes or even with Tbytes and we use them to store huge amounts of data. It is often difficult to find the information stored in a hierarchical structure. If one of you have ever used MacOS’s finder, you certainly have difficulty in finding something using its search system. To make life easier, is there a way to store and find the documents without a hierarchical system? We all know that Google has already proved that point. In Google’s system, we don’t browse hierarchical directories; we just follow links and discover them. Other information repositories such as Flick and Youtube also don’t use the hierarchical system to store their data. I reckon that operating systems without filesystems seem you utopic, but let’s say someone changed the whole working mechanism of operating systems and we all start using computers without file systems. The first question that comes to mind is that what an OS without filesystem looks like. In the first place, directory browsers probably lose their central position in the user interface and their place will be taken by tools such as Google Desktop and Spotlight which I both never use. Nowadays, there are some other desktop tools like iTunes that do a decent job to abstract the user from the filesystem. Such applications use meta-data to provide faceted browsing and searching.

The strict hierarchical structure of today’s OS is also a burden to store our bookmarks. Everyone knows browsers’ bookmark feature but few of them use it because it seems quicker to look up in the Google rather than browse through bookmarks. There is a collaborative bookmarking tool called Del.icio.us which is highly recommended by advanced users, and it looks like a powerful bookmarking tool which leads the market.

We can find so many alternatives of this kind of applications, There are also QuickSilver which allows us to launch any application, play music, open documents, see agenda and so on without considering their place on the filesystem. When using QuickSilver, you don’t need a launching icon on your desktop, you just search from Quicksilver’s user interface and fire any application.

Of course, these post is not enough to convince you that we can live without filesystems because there is so much detail to think about, and I think that we are getting closer to the semantic desktop, but we aren’t there yet. Users expect to see more progress on integrating all these applications. From my point of view, blending the barrier between local and remote data (synchronizing agenda, contact data and local data) is the biggest challenge for semantic desktop application developers.