Using thinglinks in Google Base

Patrick Plaggenborg has written two good posts on Thinglink and Google base. On the representation of things he says:

“The objects (or items as Google refers to them) all need a unique identifier, and that’s where Thinglink appears: the public alternative to the commercial EPC (Electronic Product Code). At the moment Thinglink is doing great, but what they are doing right now is a double job. They provide unique identifiers: the actual thinglinks. But they also allow their users to create a descriptive layer around these things. At that point, Google is doing the same, but better, and gives people more flexibility to create a much more detailed digital representation of the ‘item’ concerned.Thinglink’s job is to provide unique identifiers: Thinglinks. Its website could give a nice overview of thinglinked objects, just like it does now, and it does a great job at that. The descriptive information about things though, belongs in Google Base, because we have more than just thinglinked objects.”

Patrick had also tried to thingtag his thesis on Google Base. This turned out to be not so simple.

“The first problem I came across was the addition of the attribute ‘Thinglink’. Google did not approve this attribute name. After contacting Google about this, they approved it for my particular item, but I’m still unable to add more items and provide them with thinglinks. The second problem is the layout of the actual thinglink. Google Base attributes do not allow colons in them. So it’s impossible to use an attribute name of ‘Thinglink’ (which should be possible as soon as Google approves this attribute for new items) with the value of ‘thing:189THS’.

For us this is very useful discussion, because we’re about to redesign the thinglink service and improve the searchability of things accross the web. Although we strongly encourage using the “thing:” prefix in front of the actual code, we’ve noticed that the code seems to work also without the prefix (see for example 265CII). Still, the search is not fully accurate this way.

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Laser-etched thinglinks

Eric Wilheim from Instructables brought a laser cutter to Foo Camp. It can etch any digital image on metal, plastic or wood. The cutter ran almost uninterrupted through the weekend as campers etched images on their laptops and mobile phones.

Chris Heathcote eched a moomin character on his MacBook (thing:025NNI)

I thinglinked my laptop (thing:686DLP):

Jyri etched a speech bubble on his Powerbook that says ‘Hi! I’m thing:754QFF Check me out on 754QFF.thinglink.org’

The fact that the cutter was so popular suggests people want to personalize and identify objects they own. Specifically, it’s objects like laptops, iPods, phones, bikes, and cars that both express our personality and have a market value.

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Labeling with thinglinks

Ways of labeling objects with thinglinks in physical world:
1) Writing/scratching/burning a thinglink directly on a physical object
2) Attaching a printed thinglink sticker/fabric label/swing ticket to an object or to the package/wrapper of an object
3) Ordering pre-allocated labels with thinglink codes and using them to identify objects

Ways of labeling objects with thinglinks on the Web:
1) Hyperlinking text, images, and other content on the web with thinglink URLs (see thing:636RPE)
2) Using thinglinks as tags on services like Flickr, Delicious, and Last.fm (example: tag “thing:561BZJ” on this Flickr photo)
3) Annotating objects in photos with thinglink bubbles

Picture_6

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DIY thinglink fabric labels

Printing out thinglink labels on paper is easy. With a little crafting, it’s also possible to make fabric labels. Here’s how I made the labels for Ville’s beanies.

1. I turned an excel file of all thinglinked items into a word file of thinglink labels. The label said: “Hi, I’m thing:123ABC”. Check me out on thinglink.org!”

Picture_4_1

2. Then I saved the Word file as PDF and flipped it into a mirror image in Photoshop

3. I printed them on iron-on transparencies.

4. I ironed the sheets on a white cotton fabric.

5. I removed the paper on the back.

4. Now the labels were ready for cutting and sewing.

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The Thinglink data model

This post describes the data model on thinglink.org: the kinds of information that the site knows about, their fields, and the relationships between them.

Let’s start with a diagram:

You could also read A URL design for thinglink.org, published previously on this blog, to get an idea of how this data model translates onto the website.

Each of the boxes in that diagram is represented in the thinglink database with a number of fields and relationships:

thinglink

The thinglink is the core of the data model. As can be seen from the diagram, all other data on thinglink.org references a thinglink. A thinglink has the following fields:

       

  • code (e.g. 123ABC)
  •    

  • title
  •    

  • description
  •    

  • createDate
  •    

  • viewCount (incremented every time someone views the thinglink’s webpage)
  •    

  • photo (ID, url, thumbnail URL and title)
  •    

  • linker (the user who created this thinglink)
  •    

  • maker (one or more people who made the thing that this thinglink represents)

user

In order to comment or to create or edit a thinglink, users must be logged into the site. User records have the following fields:

       

  • name
  •    

  • password
  •    

  • email
  •    

  • bio
  •    

  • homepage
  •    

  • flickr ID and username

tag

Thinglink tags are the same concept as flickr tags: a folksonomy made up of text strings attached to thinglinks.

Unlike flickr, tags may only be added, edited or deleted from a thinglink by the user who created the thinglink. Tags are presented on thinglink pages, and in a list on the thinglink.org homepage showing the most popular tags.

label

The labeling area of thinglink.org is currently under development and no label data is stored in the database.

flickr picture

A picture from the user’s flickr account can be associated with a thinglink. The data about this association is stored in the thinglink table as described above. The flickr picture is displayed with the thinglink in thumbnail or fullsize form wherever appropriate.

country

A thinglink may have the country of its origin listed. Countries are chosen from a controlled list in a dropdown on thinglink.org when the thinglink is created or edited. A list of popular countries is displayed on the thinglink.org homepage.

year

A thinglink may have the year of its making stated when the thinglink is created or edited. A list of popular years is displayed on the thinglink.org homepage.

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Stefan Groschupf joins Thinglink

On June 3rd I got an email from Stefan Groschupf saying he could write some code to index thinglinks with Nutch – similar to the way the creative commons license indexing is working. ‘Sounds great’, I said. One email left to antoher, new questions came up, I introduced Stefan to Joni and Matt, and sooner than I realized, Stefan had become a key person in our developer team. Thanks to Stefan, thinglink will be soon available from sourceforge.net under GNU GPL. Here is a good intro about Stefan from CommerceNet Events:

Stefan designed and built his first search engine for a university library in Germany at the age of 19. By 21, he founded Media Style, Inc., a computer engineering company specializing in text-mining, search and e-commerce applications. Over the past 10 years he has consulted on Internet and database projects for BMW, Intel, Siemens and Hoffmann La Roche. He is an active member of the Open Source community working on distributed file-sharing and map-reduce implementation projects. He has also contributed the plugin architecture and metadata support to Nutch, the leading open source search engine.

Stefan is also the founder and lead architect for weta, an open source grid computing project. Currently Stefan works as Chief Architect for sproose.com and also consults for other Silicon Valley startups in the vertical search engine arena.

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Thinglink developers dinner on Thursday

On Thursday Matt will give an Aula Talk about “open databases as the next wave of open source” at Helsinki Institute for Information Technology. After that there is a plan to meet at Via restaurant in the Helsinki centre. If you’re interested in thinglinks and happen to be in town, you’re more than welcome to join us. Just let me know in advance so I can book a big table!

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Thinglinks as barcodes

Here are two examples of showing thinglinks as barcodes.

1) On pages like Barcode Mill you can use Code 128 to turn thinglinks into traditional barcodes.

2) On Semacode you can turn thinglinks urls into two-dimensional barcodes that any phone with a camera and J2ME can read.

Thinglinks can also be converted into short codes, althought there is not yet an application that can read them.

I’m looking forward to try thinglinks as semacodes in exhibitions. If you know people who would be interested in a thinglink/semacode experiment, please feel free to spread the word!

Semacode

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Introducing thingtagging

If something’s worth thinglinking, it’s worth taking pictures of. Lots of pictures. On thinglink.org, there’s only space for one picture of any one thing, but that’s far from the end of the story.

We’ve come up with a way to keep track of pictures of thinglinked objects on flickr. We looked at how people are using tags to geotag the location of photos, and in much the same way, we’re recommending thingtagging.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Thinglink your unique and interesting object on thinglink.org. Now you’ve got a thinglink code – something like thing:265CII (maybe it already had a code labeled on it somewhere, in which case you’d use that one).
  2. Take pictures of it out in the world.
  3. On each picture, add the tag thingtagged and the thinglink code tag, e.g. thing:265CII. For example, here’s a picture that Ulla-maaria thingtagged a few days ago.

Now you can track pictures of it on Flickr. But even better than that, you can go visit the lovely thingtagging website. Updated hourly, it brings together information from both Thinglink and Flickr to show the latest pictures of thingtagged stuff in the world.

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Thank you Mediamatic Amsterdam!

Among friends of Thinglink, Mediamatic Amsterdam deserves a special mention. They invited me to speak at their workshop when Thinglink was only a conceptual level idea. During the past few months, they’ve introduced me to a great number of interesting people and organizations, given important feedback and ideas for developing the database, and organized positive publicity in the local media such as Bright 08. During the first Thinglink workshop last week, we got to use their meeting room and wifi in the center of Amsterdam. Special thanks for all this goes to no other person than Willem Welhoven, the Director of Mediamatic Interactive Publishing. If there were more willems around, the world would surely be a better place.

Photo: Matt

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