Swirrl.com: collaboration tool for semantic data

Swirrl is pitched as a “data collaboration tool”. It’s essentially a wiki with support for tabular data. So people can create tables of data and collaboratively edit them. It reminds me of DabbleDB.

The wiki part is not very interesting. It has a TinyMCE WYSIWYG editor that makes it easier for users with no knowledge of traditional wiki syntax. The interesting part is the ability to create data sets of things of a certain types with properties of a certain type.

Here is an example:
Swirrl screenshot

According to this article, Swirrl’s goal is fill the void between spreadsheets of data sent around, which are very flexible but poor for collaboration, and highly structured databases and applications, which are good for collaboration but highly inflexible.

According to the same article, Swirrl is based on RDF, which should be good news for querying. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure how to build queries on my data set.

I absolutely agree with the Swirrl team that there is a big need for easy-to-use collaborative tools that allows to combine unstructured information and structured data. The approach of the Swirrl team seems to be to separate both kinds in pages and data sets, while the Semantic MediaWiki approach seems to embed structured data into unstructured documents. I think both approaches will please different audiences.

In all cases, I think that Swirrl as it it needs to be improved before it has a chance to be adopted by serious users. I think the ability to build queries and see the results is the killer app of semantic wikis and users need to be provided with a way to see the benefits of the time they spend nicely structuring their data. If querying is not available, then a collaborative spreadsheet tool will be a better solution, especially since collaborative spreadsheet tools currently provide a much better support for things like formulas (they is very limited supported for formulas in Swirrl).