We all love Paris… but which one?

26 September 2008

I took my daughter to school for the first time this week. I had been given clear instructions to be there at least 10 minutes early before the gates opened at 9. This was understandable, given my tradition of waiting until things are in full swing before I arrive (some people call this being late). Fine for a party, not so fine for school. So you can imagine how pleased I am with myself when I arrive at 8:45. And I am not even sweating because I haven’t rushed. I make small-talk with the other parents. My daughter chases their children. We take a little photo in front of the school to celebrate the moment. I then put on her ‘smoke’ (she can’t say ‘smock’). I even put it on the right way around. At 9 am, right on schedule, the gate opens and we neatly flock into the school. As I walk in a smiling lady introduces herself as Melissa the head teacher. I proudly introduce myself as dad and tell her how exciting this is. She kindly absorbs my excitement and tells me I am at the wrong school. You see there are two schools called Sunshine House in the area.

I tell you this story to introduce an interesting problem with software called Entity Resolution. Amongst other things, it deals with resolving identical names. When you talk about Paris do you mean Paris France, Paris Texas or indeed, Paris Hilton?  Or what if there are two Paris Hiltons (now there’s a thought…)? My good friend Jane Silber (from Ubuntu fame) pointed it out to me last year when we were first thinking about Snagsta but it’s something we have only started grappling with recently. The problem is addressed in a variety of ways. Geotagging adds metadata tags that has a physical location in it. Some software looks at the context: the associated links or words in the sentence can often provide the answer. We’re looking forward to seeing how its going to work on Snagsta.

Note: the fact that whether I am talking about Paris France or Texas I am generally still thinking about Paris Hilton is a problem that software has not yet managed to solve… and probably the subject of a completely different type of blog post 😉

Time to sign off, it’s Friday afternoon, and just like at school, Alex has started ringing the bell and is shouting: “Boys & girls, tidy up time! It’s tidy up time!”

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photocredit: my unusually talented (yet humble) friend Meriem Aissaoui
http://www.flickr.com/photos/meriem/128324699/in/set-72057594103866384/

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