Heroes journey: Notes towards a Personal Knowledge Graphs Book
The hero’s journey is a common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home transformed. Writing a book is like a journey too. Writing the first Personal Knowledge Graphs book involved more than one hero and a few crises.
Now the PKG book is open for pre-order on Amazon! Read on for the full story of writing the first Personal Knowledge Graphs book.
The first part of the hero’s journey is the call to adventure. In this, the hero who lives in the ordinary world receives and initially refuses the call to adventure. Eventually, however, the threshold is crossed and the journey begins.
In our case, the tale began with two heroes. Ivo Velitchkov, who came up with the idea for this book, and George Anadiotis, who joined Ivo’s calling after initially refusing. Ivo is a consultant, author and speaker who works with knowledge graphs. George is an analyst, consultant, engineer, founder, researcher and writer who also has a background in knowledge graphs.
If you’re not familiar with knowledge graphs, let’s just say that it’s a way of modeling and organizing data. Most data is organized in tabular form, i.e. you can think of it as a spreadsheet with rows and columns. With knowledge graphs, data is organized as a graph, i.e.you can think of it as a mind map with nodes and edges.
A more formal definition of knowledge graphs as given by Hogan et. al is “a graph of data intended to accumulate and convey knowledge of the real world, whose nodes represent entities of interest and whose edges represent relations between these entities”.
George organizes Connected Data World, the leading event for those who use the Relationships, Meaning and Context in Data to achieve great things. Knowledge Graphs are a big part of Connected Data World, and Ivo was a member of the event’s program committee in 2021.
In addition, George and Ivo have a keen interest in Personal Knowledge Graphs. George has organized sessions and written on PKGs, and has also explored some PKG tools. Ivo is an avid user and tinkerer of PKG tools and he has also given a few talks on the topic. Both are members of the PKG Working Group, an unofficial group of PKG enthusiasts.
Seeing the growing interest in PKGs as well as the proliferation of tools, Ivo came up with the idea of writing the first book on the topic. He suggested this to George, who initially had to decline. At the time, the preparation for Connected Data World 2021 was in full swing. Organizing an event of this magnitude is more than a full-time job, so the book had to wait.
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It wasn’t until the beginning of 2022 that the journey towards the PKG book began. Crossing the first threshold actually encompassed making a number of key decisions and crossing metaphorical thresholds in terms of implementing those decisions.
The first key decision was that the book would be made out of multiple contributions. Even though Ivo and George know PKGs well, they agreed that inviting contributions from different authors would serve two key goals. First, it would add a range of perspectives and use cases, which is very important for an emerging discipline. Second, it would make this a group effort, which is something they both believe in.
The second key decision was about the character and orientation of the book. Neither Ivo nor George wanted to produce an academic textbook. Although they are both familiar with research and have a few publications under their belt, they felt that PKGs have the potential to serve users beyond the confines of academia and enterprises. Therefore, they deliberately opened the scope for contributors and readers from all walks of life.
The third key decision was about the book’s medium. That may seem like a paradox – a book is a book is a book after all, is it not? In most cases, it is, but this book about PKGs is different.
One of the characteristic features of PKGs and PKG tools is the fact that they enable concepts to be expressed as interconnected nodes and edges that can be browsed on the web. Ivo and George felt that this should be a key feature of writing the first Personal Knowledge Graphs book, which is itself a PKG.
The second part of the hero’s journey entails a series of trials and tribulations. In a climactic descent, the hero reaches a low point of (metaphorical or actual) near death, but emerges victorious.
With the first threshold having been crossed, a call for contributions was made public. George and Ivo could feel the excitement as the word traveled far and wide across borders and communities. As the deadline for submissions was closing by, more and more contributions started piling up. On the one hand, that was a first tangible sign of success. On the other hand, it also presented some issues.
First, despite having received a good number of submissions, there were some notable absences too. Most importantly, that of Solid. Solid is a project led by Tim Berners-Lee. It’s a proposed set of conventions and tools for building decentralized social applications based on Linked Data principles, relying on existing W3C standards and protocols. Ivo and George recognize Solid as an important foundation for PKGs and invited contributions from its team, but that did not come to fruition.
Second, evaluating such a wide-ranging set of submissions required careful consideration, deliberation, and hard decisions. Each and every submission was thoroughly vetted in a multi-factorial decision process that involved topic relevance, author qualifications, timeliness, potential impact and more. After a long and laborious process including background research and conversations with authors, an initial list of 15 accepted submissions was compiled.
In parallel, Ivo and George embarked on the task of considering publishers who would be willing and able to take this book under their wing. After a number of discussions, the decision was made to entrust the book to Exapt Press. Exapt Press is a boutique publisher specializing in Systems and Complexity books. Ivo’s previous book, Essential Balances, was published by Exapt Press, too.
This essentially meant that from that point on a precious ally was now on George and Ivo’s side. Rob Worth, Exapt Press’s Editor in Chief, became an indispensable member of the team and brought his expertise on board. True to the Hero’s Journey archetype, however, the approach to the inmost cave was only beginning.
Wanting to be a PKG itself, the PKG book faced another challenge. In order to not enforce the use of any single tool, Markdown was chosen as the format of choice. The idea was that collaboration would be structured around a Markdown repository, in this case on Github, that could be used to keep track of contributions and edits. While Markdown and Github work well, collaboration relied on 3rd party tool integrations. That did not work well and had to be sidelined.
In addition, as is to be expected in an effort spanning a few months and involving more than a dozen people, life got in the way in every imaginable and unimaginable way.
George was working on building an eco-friendly house in the Greek countryside and kickstarting an olive oil business in parallel. Ivo had to guide four knowledge graph projects and design and deliver two new training courses. Rob was having disruptive, unexpected and unavoidable repair work being done to his home office for a prolonged period. Contributors also faced a number of issues – from turbulence at work to fighting with personal health disorders.
All in all, that caused the book to fall behind its original schedule and lose some contributions. In Hero’s Journey terms, Ivo, George and Rob went through a period they might as well metaphorically call “the ordeal in the abyss”. Repeatedly reviewing and editing new versions of the contributions, repeatedly interacting with contributors and pushing deadlines, trying to keep sane and productive while juggling tasks.
Reward and Return?
And now? What’s next in this journey? In the Hero’s Journey archetype, if the hero endures through the darkest hour, what comes next is apotheosis and the way home. Are we there yet?
We’re almost done writing the first Personal Knowledge Graphs book. The quality of our contributed chapters has been substantially elevated. Most of our material has gone through the copy editing stage already and is ready for publication.
But, in all honesty, what made us think we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel was the most pleasant hard choice we had to make in our journey so far: choosing a cover. The fact that our topic inspired artistic impressions of such high quality meant that we have the privilege of choice.
In addition, sharing those options with the public produced an influx of interest and positive comments. This feedback has strengthened our resolve to push through the finish line. Our reward will materialize by publishing the PKG book. Our return will materialize by advancing our knowledge, and hopefully pushing the domain forward and sharing the knowledge with as many of you as possible.
Originally published on personalknowledgegraphs.com