What’s the connection between the Eiffel Tower and the Big Ben? How are you related to Mickey Mouse? Or Elvis Presley? Today, there’s a fun way to find out: Multimedia Lab’s new Web app Everything is Connected allows you to see how any two topics in this world connect. Choose a start topic (this might be you!) and watch an on-the-fly video that takes you to any destination topic you select. You’ll be amazed to discover how small the world we live in really is. In this post, I’ll take you behind the scenes of this fascinating app.
Hint: I strongly recommend to try the app first :-)
If you’re curious already, check out Everything is Connected to find your connection with Mickey Mouse, Elvis Presley or anybody/anything else. And if you’re not feeling adventurous, watch my colleague Miel demonstrate the Web app.
As a researcher, it is of utmost importance not to live on an island. On the one hand, you have to check every once in a while how well your topic resonates in the real world. On the other hand, you have to make sure you don’t alienate from your colleagues who work on related but different topics. Especially in research, we sometimes think we work on totally different things, while for the outside world, our topics are so close they seem undistinguishable. At Multimedia Lab, where I’m part of the Semantic Web group, we know this feeling really well.
A few months ago, we therefore brainstormed on how all of us could work together on a single project that more or less encompassed all our different subtopics. We called it the überdemo back then, because it would showcase all of our talents together, and would do something cool with Linked Data on the Web. Suddenly, somebody suggested the Six degrees of separation as an idea to illustrate the concept behind Linked Data. The idea is that everyone on earth is approximately six steps away from any other person when connected through a chain of people that know each other.
We wanted to take this idea even further by connecting anything to anyone. For example, I’m a fan of Chromeo, whose record label is Last Gang Records, which is based in Los Angeles, where Walt Disney was born, who created Mickey Mouse. So this is how I’m connected to the world-famous cartoon character. But the real challenge is: can we determine these connections automatically and visualize them in a personalized documentary-style movie?
I must admit, it was a race against the clock, since we wanted to have the demo ready for the International Semantic Web Conference 2012. We literally worked until the very last moment to ensure that every visitor would get a seamless experience. The response was overwhelming: while we had initially set up one laptop for the demo night, we ultimately had 4 devices simultaneously ready for demo… and still, there was a queue of people waiting to give it a try!
The biggest surprise came at the closing ceremony, however, when we were handed the Best Demo Award for Everything is Connected. Needless to say, the joy amongst our team members was incredible. What started out as an initiative to make us leave our research islands became a highly successful team effort and a memory for the years to come. We’re only left with one big problem now… how can we do even better at next year’s edition? ;-)