Buzz’s Blog: On Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web

Oct 26 2009   8:58PM GMT

The imposing heterogeneity of media applications

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

This blog is dedicated to the discussion of emerging web technologies. Today, we look at a the rapidly growing world of media applications, and their impact on the Semantic Web.

The problem of searching for media assets.

We’ve already looked at advanced media, in particular video, audio, and animation data, in previous blog postings. In particular, we’ve looked at the subtle and complex nature of media asset semantics. We’ve seen that interpreting a piece of video, for example, is far, far more difficult than interpreting an integer or character field. Since the goal of the Semantic Web effort is to make the searching of the web highly automated, advanced media is becoming a huge and critical research and development focus for the builders of next-generation web development applications.

Just how do we provide an environment where media assets can be searched in a mostly automatic fashion, so that a human does not have to painfully paw through hundreds or thousands (or millions) of video chunks to find the right one? We’ve looked at emerging technologies for marking up advanced media information, and for making it usable in a variety of web applications. We’ve also looked at the dramatic challenge presented by mega apps to would-be users; the interfaces to these applications are truly massive and cannot present to the user the way in which they are meant to be used.

The problem of proprietary formats.

One specific, and very difficult problem, is the massive heterogeneity, not just of media formats, compression technologies, and container technologies, but of the applications themselves. If we are going to automate the searching of complex modeling, video, audio, and other media assets, we’re going to have to address a key question: since many media apps make use of their own proprietary data formats, how are we going to provide automated ways of searching media assets that are stored in these formats?

The problem of highly imperfect generic formats.

There are indeed many existing, as well as soon-to-emerge, standards for importing and exporting data between powerful media applications, but transformations in and out of these formats are often “lossy”, in that information is lost or changed. In fact, locating and downloading assets that are in supposedly-generic form is often very frustrating, because these assets end up not performing well. They can be difficult to edit and reuse. 3D animation models regularly blow up when animators try to import them into animation applications and the manipulate them. A hawk may look like a hawk until you try to render it with its wings flapping, and suddenly it’s a blob of geometric garbage.

One possible direction.

So, what do we do about the fact that many media assets must be manipulated by the original applications that created them? How can we facilitate reuse? It’s extremely unrealistic to expect users to master perhaps dozens of video or audio or animation applications. Filtering assets according to their file extensions is a good idea, and it is a well established practice.

But what we really need is a globally-known site that either literally or conceptually centralizes the massive network of import/export relationships, along with information about the relative success of these mappings. Are they ever lossy? If so, can they be fixed? What series of applications might we want an asset to be imported/exported through so that in the end it is in a usable format, given the applications that the user owns and has mastered?

There is much to be done. Right now, searching for and reusing media assets is a painstaking, trial-and-error-prone process.

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