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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How to use Razorbase


Razorbase is a browser for discovering and exploring connections between things (people, places, movies, shoes, food, etc). It does this by querying not the World Wide Web (a global network of websites), but the burgeoning Linked Data Web (a global network of databases). Try it for yourself and see whether you can discover the difference between the two.

This is a tutorial for the service. My goal is that the browser be so intuitive, that you could beam a caveman right in front of it, and he could figure out what it's for and how to use it without being told. Well, so much for that :) (Update: Slides are now available here)

Homepage: There are two controls there of interest, named link, and the query text field. Click the named link modifies the type of query to perform, options:
  • things named... (e.g. things with "Bill Clinton" in its name or title or label)
  • things connected to... (e.g. things connected to fencing)
  • things known by the URI http://... (i.e. things known by the URI http://www.google.com)
Filters: Razorbase allows you to define complex filters to restrict the items in your results (see Navigation and Zooming below). Click the Your query link to view all filters. The Your query section contains a breadcrumb list/trail so that you never get lost while browsing. Click any node that appears there to go to that subject. Access all nodes by summoning the filters (click 'Your query'). The last breadcrumb in the trail is what you are viewing, it's called the subject.

Group results: You can view the categories for results by clicking the Category Explorer icon (magnify glass), if you want to see all results ungrouped, click the Back to Results icon (blue left arrow)

All info about something: If you want to know what all information is available about the items in the results, click the Information Explorer icon (blue circle with exclamation mark). There is a other info link that appears on the blue bar, click that if you want to see further types of information, then click main info link to go back to main information about the results.

Navigation: You navigate through the dataspace by clicking the blue right arrows, clicking one will take you into whatever it's marking (so Friends >> takes you to the friends of the subject).

Zooming: Zoom in and out of categories by clicking the magnifying glasses next to category names under the Category Explorer icon.

Add filter: The blue plus sign creates a filter on your search by binding the item as the value of a connection (e.g. all people whose email is emailToFilterBy@somesite.com). Be aware that Navigating and Zooming also add filters (but the values in the case of Navigation are unbound). So basically, the blue plus sign does what the blue left arrow does, but instead of being taken to that item, you're taken back to the subject you just left.

No text please: Don't want to have any text search in your query? For example, your viewing Presidents connected to Marilyn Monroe, and you want to drop the criteria that they be connected to her, resulting in all Presidents. To do this, click the Your query link to summon the filters, then next to the text field, click the blue minus sign. This sets your text to anything. Click the blue plus sign to add some text.

Little or no results? Razorbase's novelty is enabled by the fact that OpenLink has figured out how to give SPARQL query access to a quad store of over 4.5 billion triples. In layman's terms, this means we have to ration out how much time the server can use to perform your query. The default is 2 seconds (i.e. the server gets all results it can find in 2 seconds or less). So increasing the time can potentially increase the number of results you get. To increase the time, click the clock button when it appears. Each time you click, the time increases by 2 seconds (up to 12 seconds for now).

Side notes: The power of this UI approach is two-fold, faceted-browsing, which allows you to navigate large set sets by filtering data as you go. The second is set-based browsing, which allows you to see information about multiple results simultaneously.

Hope that helps :) Next, some strategies I've found in my interactions with razorbase.

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