Category Archives: Uncategorized

The death of the semantic web

I came across some interesting notes while going through old emails the other day. A message from NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, reported that the semantic web is dead, citing a post on semantico. The semantic web is a concept of presenting data in a structured format, usually as ‘triples’ (I am, absolutely, not an expert – or even that knowledgeable – on this stuff, so don’t quote me too far), so a computer can better understand what each term means.

For example, when a computer sees the word “Magellan”, it just sees a word. It doesn’t know if the word refers to an explorer, to a spacecraft, to a mutual fund, a “progressive metal/rock” band, or something else. By defining, through triples, what one means, the computer can realize that one page is talking about the explorer while another is talking about a mutual fund company.

Such semantic definitions have been used extensively in some subject areas, but not at all in most. And one of the great challenges with it is/was solving problems among the “upper ontology” – that is, the layer that connects concepts in zoology with concepts in art history with concepts in electrical engineering with concepts in maritime history, etc. One field may work hard to define its ontology, but if that schema doesn’t mesh with other ontologies, then the systems aren’t really connected.

So I was interested to read of the effective death of the semantic web, and its replacement by is a nascent project being put together by representatives from the search teams at Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing. It uses microformat HTML tags, added to a page’s markup text, to define what something is. This is done for the benefit of search engines – so a “Magellan” that is marked with the tags

  <div itemscope itemtype="">
    <span itemprop="name">Ferdinand Magellan</span>

is clearly a person, while the Magellan that’s tagged

  <div itemscope itemtype="">
    <span itemprop="name">Fidelity Magellan Fund>/span>

is something you can buy. (Note the differences in the end of each first line; the first is “/Person”, and the second is “/Product”.)

(Also: I defined the Magellan Fund as a ‘product’, because one can buy a share of it, but it might more appropriately be an ‘organization’, since there is a ticker symbol associated with it, and currently has a “tickerSymbol” attribute for Organizations.)

The current structure is quite limited, and focuses primarily on people, organizations (especially local businesses), creative works, events, and locations. But it’s certainly extensible, and – if it’s generally adopted, as triples were not – it will clearly expand to other fields.

I’d love to take on extending it to vessels. It’d be pretty easy for us to modify our HTML to include these microtags, and if that helps people find the information they’re seeking, then all the better for all involved. But I’m not sure what the proper levels should be. One doesn’t want to have too many levels in a structure like this, but I think that going straight from “Thing” to “Vessel” might be a bit of a jump. I imagine an intermediate step of, perhaps, “Vehicle”, would be appropriate. Then those with interest in cars, trains, airplanes, bicycles, scooters and lots more, would build out their schemas, while we could start a layout of sailing vessels.

It seems simple, but immediately becomes fairly complex. You could, for instance, split up “Vessel” entries to “HumanPowered”, “WindPowered”, and “MechanicallyPowered”, perhaps, then divide by vessel type – canoe, kayak, paddleboat; sloop, ketch, yawl, schooner, brig, brigantine, barkentine, ship, bark, hermaphrodite brig; paddlewheel steamer, ferryboat, fishing boat, battleship, oceanliner; etc., etc. Is that too much differentiation? How do you define a vessel that’s been re-rigged, from a ship to a bark, for example? How, even, do you make it clear that when you’re talking about a ‘ship,’ you’re talking about a three-masted vessel with square sails on the furthest-aft mast, rather than something that floats and is bigger than a boat?

Lots of other terms could be added or defined over time. When the computer can understand what the term means, rather than just presenting the term to the world, it will make it much easier for individuals to draw understanding and make connections from within large bodies of marked-up data.

It would appear that this system, because it’s fairly easily applied, has a much better chance of success than did the original ‘triples’ approach. I look forward to watching it with interest.

“Trust” and identifiers: two great concepts that concept great together

My two primary areas of interest – library science and maritime history – bumped into each other this week in an interesting way. On the MARHST-L discussion list, there’s been much talk about various vessel identifiers. They haven’t really been called that; participants have been discussing “Official Numbers,” the Mercantile Navy List, and Lloyd’s Numbers, and it has made me think of IMO numbers, Hull Identification numbers, USCG Documentation numbers, naval identifiers (ie, PT-109, CV-42, etc.), and various other vessel identifiers.

On the library side, the latest issue of NISO’s publication, Information Standards Quarterly, is now available, and the entire issue is about identifiers. There’s an article about ISNI, the International Standard Name Identifier; ORCID, the Open Researcher & Contributor ID; the Names Project; the use of SAN, the Standard Address Number, in supply chains; I² and ISNI, and more. I² is the Institutional Identifier; I was very briefly on this working group before I left my previous job.

In that previous job, I used the ISSN, the International Standard Serial Number, a great deal. But for various reasons, it didn’t fill our bill, and we had to create our own unique identifier. We loved and used the ISSN, but it wasn’t quite the complete thing. The identifier we developed was (and, to my knowledge, still is) only used in-house, though it could have had great application elsewhere.

At, I believe my future includes developing a new vessel identifier.  (Yes, I know.) I’ve presented on this before, at both library conferences (with slides) and at maritime history conferences, but it hasn’t started to be developed yet. As I see it, when that starts to happen, it’ll be through our website, and it’ll be by individuals who want or need an identifier. People who know more about a specific ship than I do will be able to collate various citations that refer to a single ship, even if its name has changed, and improve the quality of the community’s knowledge about those ships. They’ll also be able to do lots, lots, more, but that’s more for another time.

This isn’t a great description of what I have in mind, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get it built, but I have high hopes for what ShipIndex, with the help of its constituents, can create. I aim to do whatever I can to make it happen. Alas, it’ll take a lot of time and money, and those aren’t yet in abundant supply.

In the NISO publication, Geoff Bilder has a great Op-Ed piece about Trust and Identifiers. I once had a beer with him (I honestly can’t remember if it was in Asheville, NC, or Edinburgh, Scotland. If it was in Edinburgh, I trust it was a scotch, not a beer. I feel certain it was at a UKSG conference [which, possibly, could have placed it in Torquay or Coventry; not just Edinburgh], but at the same time I also think there was discussion of skipping out on the NASIG conference [with someone else, not Geoff] to try and catch UNC and ECU play baseball in the NCAA playoffs. But I digress…) and I probably made a fool of myself. He’s clearly an incredibly smart guy, and I know that what he writes is worth reading, and worth reading closely.

I would like to see become the trustworthy source, as described by Geoff, for vessel identifiers. I think it can happen, if only because I’m not sure anyone else is ready to do it. If you’re willing to help, let me know.

New searching just released

We’ve just implemented new, and vastly improved, searching functionality throughout the website. The previous version of searching worked, but not as well as we liked, and we saw some problems that we knew needed attention. Our crack technology team has stayed up late into the night, refining midnight oil to be burned later, and developing special disposable fingertip covers to prevent the actual tips from being worn away due to extra-heavy coding work.

Now, as a result, you can do much better searching than before. You can search for any two terms in a vessel name and find it, even if the terms aren’t next to each other. Punctuation and diacritics no longer cause problems. In addition, we’ve implemented special advanced searching options, which allow you to do far more refined searches than you ever thought possible. Want to search for ships with the name “Mary”, but only see the ones that start with “Mary”, and so skip all the “Queen Mary”s? You can now do that: just put a carat (“^”) before the word, like this: “^mary”.

Even more remarkable is that now you can search the citations – not just the ship names. In the past, searches looked at just the ship names, so a search for “hms buckingham” returned no results. Now, a search for “hms buckingham” will return appropriate citations. (We still recommend that you drop things like “HMS”, “USS”, or “USN” before searching; if a ship doesn’t have those terms in the citation, you won’t locate those citations.) The search doesn’t limit itself to only those citations that have both those terms; it still returns all the citations, which is good: many, many citations for HMS Buckingham don’t include the “HMS”.

This is particularly useful when you want to get as much information as possible on a ship. If you search for “flying cloud”, you’ll be taken to the main entry for the ship name, which we figure is most likely what you want. For more information, though, you can click on the link in the green box at the top, which takes you to “other matches”, where you’ll find entries that don’t include “flying cloud” in the ship name. But follow some of those ship links, such as N. B. Palmer or Andrew Jackson, and you’ll find “Flying Cloud” mentioned in the citation. This is a big, useful, dramatic improvement in helping folks get at as much information as they possibly can.

If you’re not sure of the spelling of a vessel name, you can use the asterisk for wildcard searching. A search for “fant*” will return several results, and help you narrow down your spelling to the exact ship you’re seeking.

Searching for ship names with diacritics is also much improved, as mentioned above. A search for “fantome” will return “Fantôme” and “Fantôme II”.

More specifics on all the ways you can do advanced searches are available here.

Many thanks to the hundreds of developers who worked on this release. It’s a big, big improvement.

We Sing Sea Shanties On The Show Floor

In two weeks, the entire team will be in Sunny San Diego, at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference, to tell institutions (primarily libraries) about our product, and to see if they’d be interested in giving it a try. We’ll be exhibiting on the convention show floor, at Table 722. The Tables are the small products area; in most cases, these are products or services that are just starting out. It’s always a good place to see what kinds of new products are appearing in the marketplace. Serials Solutions started in the table 10-1/2 years ago; they’ll have a 30′ by 30′ booth at this conference.

What we don’t have in size, we make up for in originality. At this show, we’re running a promotion that we’re calling “We Sing Sea Shanties On The Show Floor”. When you sign up your library for a free trial of, we (well, specifically, I) will sing you a sea shanty, right there, among the other exhibitors. It won’t be amplified; we won’t have a singing Elvis or anything like that, but it will be different. So bring your library’s IP addresses, so we can get your trial set up then and there. Then choose your shanty! Or, let me choose a shanty for you.

We’re looking to a very fun — and very different — ALA Midwinter conference! We hope to see you there!


ShipIndex as a gift!

Know someone who’d love to have access to but won’t get it for themselves? Now, you can do it for them. We now offer fixed-time access to, and you can give this access as a gift. For example, you can give a genealogist-friend access to the database for three months, for $25; give a historian cousin access to the database for six months, for $45; or give a maritime researcher friend access to the database for a full year for $85. It’s a one-time payment, via PayPal (you don’t need to have a PayPal account, and can pay with a credit card this way, as well).

To make it happen, send us a note at We’ll need to know the email address of the recipient, and when you’d like the access to begin. We’ll create a pdf Certificate that you can print out and give, or email to your friend, which will tell them how to access the database, when access will expire, and who is giving it to them. You can then give the certificate whenever you see fit.

This can be a great gift, for any occasion, from a holiday or birthday gift to a retirement or ‘Thank You’ recognition.

On the naming of ships

On the MARHST-L discussion list, Josh Smith pointed out an interesting piece from on the naming of US Naval ships.

I agree with the author about the need to stop naming ships after living people, and about the value and importance of using specific terms for specific types of vessels. The author points out how SSN 23, named after Jimmy Carter, has two strikes against it: first, it’s named after a living person, and second, it’s named after a distinguished American, rather than a city or state, as is the case with other submarines. But it’s easy to see why the Navy chose to do that, given Carter’s distinguished history as a submariner. And I imagine the Navy uses the naming of vessels after living people as a way of garnering support from those whose support they need.

There is a value, however, in waiting for several years after a person’s death before naming something after them, and also in maintaining some taxonomic control over the types of names in use.

The site has several other interesting entries related to the naming of USN ships, including this summary overview, and another about USS The Sullivans, which was the first Navy vessel to be named after multiple people. I attended the commissioning of another, the USS John S. McCain, in 1994. (This vessel, DDG-56, was named after the current senator’s father and grandfather, both of whom were four-star Admirals; an earlier John S. McCain was named just for the senator’s grandfather.)

Most commonly used US Navy vessel names

I was doing a bit of data cleanup today, and found some moderately interesting items. I was looking at the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, and correcting the way we represented some ship names – specifically those that were used multiple times by the US Navy. In looking over the information we have about US Naval vessel names, I found that there were about 1451 names that were used at least twice; 470 used at least three times; 182 used at least four times; 83 used at least five times; and 30 used at least six times.

Boston, Shark, and all those that follow have each been used seven times; Enterprise, Hornet, Morris, Niagara, and Washington each top out at eight uses. Wasp has been used nine times, and Ranger has been used ten times.

These numbers don’t include ships that already entered with numbers in their name, such as Lexington II; Lexington II entered the Navy with that name and kept it, while each of the five various naval vessels named Lexington all kept the same name, Lexington.

These numbers are most likely pretty close to accurate, though if you spot an anomaly among them, please let me (and other readers) know. I analyzed the names of the vessels listed in DANFS to come up with the numbers, so it’s limited to the vessels included in the current DANFS online at the site.

ShipIndex is taking on crew!

Hoo-boy. Big Day here at’s Eastern US World Headquarters.

We’ve decided that it’s time to find the right person to help us with institutional sales. To that end, we are putting out this job announcement and are looking for someone to join our team. If you’re that person, or know someone who might be, please let them and us know.  Please help us by sharing this information widely.

In a nutshell, this is a position for a person who knows libraries, and knows library sales. This is a work-from-home position, and we don’t necessarily expect a full-time commitment, though because of the graduated commission structure, it might be worth it. (We can talk about salaries and commission further down the line, maybe not right here on the blog.) The job doesn’t require a lot of travel, except for the usual big library conferences.

The posting is below; please let us know if you have questions, or would like to be considered for the position. We hope to make a decision, and get moving on this, as quickly as we can.

Manager, Institutional Sales, seeks a part-time or full-time person to lead and manage all aspects of the company’s institutional sales. The successful applicant will have a documented history of successful institutional sales management; a demonstrated ability to work independently as a self-starter; and an understanding of libraries and how they use and manage electronic resources. helps people do research on specific ships, boats, and vessels. We have a database of over 1.3 million citations – and growing – that tells people what books, journals, websites, and databases mention the vessel they’re researching. We offer our service directly to consumers and also to institutions. is a valuable tool for public, academic, and special libraries, primarily in supporting genealogy and history, but with additional application in many other fields. The successful applicant’s responsibility will be all institutional sales, in the US and abroad, with support as needed from the rest of the company. Physical location is not an issue, though the individual must be able to work in the US legally.

Compensation is primarily commission-based, with a part-time salary component. While we expect a minimum of 20 hours per week invested in the work, most of the compensation is in a sliding-scale commission structure, so there is a clear benefit to a greater time investment. This is a telephone sales position, so minimal travel is expected, with the exception of occasional conferences, such as ALA Annual, ALA Midwinter, PLA, ACRL, and others, as appropriate. The successful candidate will participate in decisions regarding which conferences s/he attends.

Responsibilities include following up on leads generated online and at conferences, generating new leads, explaining the product and its benefits to potential customers, managing consortial sales and promotion, advising the company on marketing and sales strategies and tools, helping customers through the invoicing and licensing process, providing limited support as needed and with significant assistance from the rest of the company, and other duties as necessary in guiding institutional sales.

At present, consists of two owners, who live on opposite sides of the country. The successful candidate will be the company’s first employee; applicants must be certain they’re comfortable working in this size of a company.

If you’re interested in applying, please submit a work history and a cover letter explaining your interest in the position and the library industry. An interest in maritime history is also helpful, but not required. Please include the names of at least three references. All applications will be held in strictest confidence.

We welcome questions about the position. Questions and applications may be submitted to careers [at] shipindex [dot] org.

New functionality: Citation counts

Mike has built a nice new piece of the website that tells you how many citations you’ll find for each entry, and what type of resource you’ll find them in.

If you’re accessing the freely-accessible content, and don’t have a subscription, you’ll see how many citations are in the free database, and how many are in the complete database (ie, both the free and the premium databases). Each listing also shows what types of resources are listed, too. For example, if you’re using the free content, and you search for “Columbus“, you’ll see a message that reads:

The free database contains 112 citations from 40 resources, including 37 books, 2 journals, and 1 online resource, with 1 illustration.

The complete database contains 574 citations from 71 resources, including 51 books, 8 journals, and 12 online resources, with 3 illustrations and 24 passenger or crew lists.

Note that we also indicate how many illustrations and passenger or crew lists you’ll find in each part of the database, as well. This gives you a better feel for what to expect, if you’re trying to decide whether or not you should subscribe.

If you’re searching the premium database, you’ll see an entry like the following:

This ship has 574 citations from 71 resources, including 51 books, 8 journals, and 12 online resources, with 3 illustrations and 24 passenger or crew lists.

Of course, these numbers will change as we add more content.

We hope this will be especially useful for folks who are trying to decide if they should subscribe or not, but they’ll also be quite valuable for subscribers to ensure they’re seeing everything there is to see about their vessel.


Mariners Mirror content added

Yesterday,  I added content from ten years of indexes to Mariners’ Mirror, the core journal in maritime history. I’ve added the indexes to Volumes 76 to 80, and Volumes 86 to 90.

The index to volumes 86 to 90 include photos, plates, and some illustrations, which I’ve noted here.

I’ll better clarify the years of coverage, and fill in more gaps, in the next few weeks. Many more years of Mariners’ Mirror are on the way, however.