fragment of a canvas

An InsightNG thought canvas (click to open)

The past few years I have been heavily involved in a new concept for e-learning and knowledge discovery, called InsightNG. Recently, we released the first public beta of our platform. It is free to sign up for while we are in beta, so by all means give it a try, we would love to hear what you think of it. Or if you want to have a quick look at InsightNG to get an idea of what it’s about, visit this public canvas on The Semantic Web I created.

So what is InsightNG? One way to say what we’re doing is that we are visualising insight. An InsightNG ‘Thought Canvas’ is an interactive map of its creator’s learning process for a particular complex problem or topic. Where a simple search presents you with results without context, we constantly relate everything to the wider scope of your thinking, associating things and building relations between websites, articles, pictures and videos (any sort of web resource), but also more abstract/’real world’ things such as concepts, tasks, events, people, etc. Insight is gained, not by getting individual search results, but by seeing all the little puzzle pieces in this broader context. When it ‘clicks’, when you go “Aha, I get it!”, you have gained insight.

The philosophy behind building these canvases is that knowledge is, at a fundamental level,  a social thing, and a never-ending journey. We do not expect you to just sit there and dream a canvas up from scratch – instead we immediately engage in a dialog: while you add new elements and relations to your canvas, our platform constantly analyses what is being added and how it relates to each other, and it uses this to discover suggestions from various external sources. We scour the Web in general, Wikipedia, dedicated sources like the Springer Open Access journal library, and more. Our suggestion discovery engine uses a combination of KR/Semantic Web technologies and text mining/NLP strategies to find results that are not just keyword matches but contextually relevant suggestions: we weigh and measure everything, trying to determine how well it fits in with the broader scope of your canvas, and then rate it and feed it back to you. In short: we’re trying to be smart about what we recommend.

Thought Canvases are a great way to explore any topic where you wish to learn more, increase your understanding or awareness, or even just record your thoughts – a great mental excercise for achieving clarity. You can share canvases with friends or coworkers to show your findings and get their feedback. The fact that our discovery engine continues to look for additional related content for you means that revisiting an older canvas can often be very rewarding, as we will have found new interesting stuff for you to look at.

InsightNG is a very broadly applicable visual learning/discovery tool, and we hope you’ll give it a try and tell us what you think of our first beta. There’s a brief interactive tutorial available in the tool itself that automatically starts when you first sign up, and of course we have some more in-depth information as well, such as a Best Practice guide to creating a Canvas, and a more theoretical explanation of our ICE (Inquire, Connect, Enlighten) Methodology .

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