Living in a society that seems to value “innovation” above all things it is sometimes easy to forget that innovations sometimes have to wait and fester on the sidelines for many years before we recognize how new they really are, that the most common cause of innovation-failure is being before one’s times, and that some innovations never really perform until other innovations are available to make them fully useful. As a law publisher 30 years ago, we managers were deeply concerned with the quality of our thesaurus and how we could effectively use the major law dictionaries of the day; in 1983 I can recall discussions with West Publishing, as it was then, and the depressing conclusion that Blacks, the prevalent power in the marketplace, would never make it online. Now all the dictionaries and thesauri are online and we refer to them no more, but my other memory of those days of roaming the US as if it was a larder of innovation is going on to Denver to meet a guy who was compiling standardized word lists, which he called taxonomies, and inviting information companies to embed them online. He was a former camera shop manager and he knew from experience how many words could be used at retail to describe the same thing, or facets of the same thing.

This is in my head this evening since a note from a very bright and lively innovatory service player in Vienna, the Semantic Web Company, reminds me that they are a member of Wand Within (http://www.poolparty.biz/poolparty-becomes-partner-of-wand-within-program/), and refers me back to Ross Leher, the founder of Wand and my host on that visit in the mid-80s. I have written about Wand many times since, but it has never struck me more forcibly that it is the semantic web movement that releases the power of taxonomy by placing it in the context of technologies that enable us to be really creative in service innovations around it. The wonder to me is that Ross, his son, and their smart company, have been able to survive the 30 years it has taken for the world to get to where they were. I can well remember sending directory companies to them, but the sort of places where I was recommending them as a cure were dying of market forces anyway. The sort of things that Ross was preaching were endemic to the information culture in Denver and its environs anyway: this is light engineering and aircraft building country, and its largest information services player, IHS Inc (Information Handling Services), was created from the needs of customers with big “parts” lists, a multiplicity of standards to obey and scores of component suppliers.

Wand Within’s members are a guide to the aristocracy of semantic web service suppliers. TEMIS, the important French data analytics player, has often been referenced here as I wrote a White Paper with them on Collaboration earlier this year. DataFacet is Wand’s own toolset. Pingar, the New Zealand semantic search company has also been covered here. But it is also worth taking careful note of the Semantic Web Company and its PoolParty tools. (http://blog.semantic-web.at/2013/05/07/17-video-tutorials-are-available-now-learn-how-to-use-poolparty-step-by-step/). Here is another European source of advanced service development tools which should be critically important to publishers and service providers in the coming year. And attentive readers (both of you) will have noted regular reference here to a project called Jurion being developed by Wolters Kluwer Germany which represents, for me, one of the most complete visions of a semantic web-driven project yet available to us anywhere. The Semantic Web Company were their partners in this venture
(http://www.wolterskluwer.de/ueber-uns/presse/pressemitteilungen/aktuelle-pressemit-einzeln/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=1309&tx_ttnews[backPid]=10365&cHash=af81776d45e924a85dc9ff273c2b40f6) and both of them may one day be persuaded to translate their press release into English!

So if we look for innovation, let us look for the new, and also for older services which the new play back on side. And let us recognize that innovation can be the re-integration of historic practice in a new context as well as discovery or invention. And, of course, invention never comes entirely from the ether. In just the sense used by Newton, the early fathers of thesauri are the information scientists upon whose shoulders we are now standing.

And one brief moment more, and a little more old law publishing. Thoughts of the Semantic Web Company in Vienna nourished the idea that if it was no accident that taxonomies came out of Denver, then innovation in a world of concepts would be natural in the great city of Freud and Wittgenstein. Which recalled visits in the 1980s to that city to see Tony Hilscher and Franz Stein of Manz Verlag (now 40% owned by Wolters Kluwer) and the wonderful aroma of coffee and cakes from Demel’s coffee house in the same street. And their company history reminds us of how intimately intellectual and commercial life can be linked to common ends:

“In 1912 the famous architect and critic of architecture Adolf Loos designed the main entrance to the bookstore, situated at Kohlmarkt 16 in Vienna’s First District. This entry has been preserved in its original state to the present day. Following Sigmund Freud’s principles of psychoanalysis, its most significant feature, a recessed entryway combined with indirect lighting, was to exercise a subconscious attraction on passersby, pulling them magically inside to browse.”

This is the 201st issue of this blog: thank you for your patience.

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