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GEML shows the way forward

By Rudy Nadler-Nir

Every now and then we have an opportunity to face real vision…

I’m not talking about the commercial implementation of vision, it’s the raw, first-time-ever vision that tickles my imagination. Commercialised vision usually comes after the actual visionaries have relinquished their place to venture capitalists and business strategists.

I talk raw vision here – the moment of pure chaotic creativity that determines that, from this moment on, we will never look at our world the same way again.

GEML is a great example of raw vision.

Gene Expression Markup Language – or GEML – is a programming language designed to facilitate the current file-format and compatibility problems in computer-based biotech research.

GEML is based on XML (eXensible Markup Language) that’s used extensively in Web design today. The idea is magnificent: there must be hundreds, maybe thousands of online databases covering various aspects of biotech research – from Celera’s human genome sequence, to the SWISS-PROT protein database, to the Human Gene Mutation database.

GEML allows researchers to link to any of these databases without having to worry about the “legacy details” like the actual language or platform of the original database.

Aside from its obvious implications for biotech researchers, GEML is an important harbinger of good news. Within its first 10 years of existence, the World Wide Web had an impressive rise to fame as a commercial platform. In the process, however, the world seem to have forgotten that the Web was designed as a tool for academics.

The Web, as conceived by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, was seen as a simple way to display and retrieve academic information without having to worry about the platform on which the information resigned – or even the location of that platform.

Before the Web’s invention, access to documents was based on exchange of documents in digital form (via e-mail) or as hard-copy (via snail-mail.) Once all had access to the Web, all they had to do was to enable online access to their documents via the Web. The result, as we all know, is the largest repository of information in history.

Why is the advent of Gene Expression Markup Language so important? Because it gives us a strong, irrefutable clue as to the real purpose behind the Web. Having served almost exclusively as a publishing platform, the Web could be oscillating back, closer to its original purpose.

Is it really so difficult to believe that the Web has been so slow in generating income from publishing because it is simply not the right platform for this type of communication?

Think books: did you ever see a book with advertising in it? Think telephone – why, in spite of so many predictions to the contrary, don’t we see free telephone channels that are paid by advertising? Could it be that the very nature of these channels precludes them from being used as commercial channels?

Does this mean that GEML cannot be used to generate commercial benefits? Of course not.

Remember, GEML is a great example of raw vision, it is here to serve a specific purpose (in this case, helping biotech researchers). Now the commercial visionaries should take over and investigate further usage for this magnificent communication tool.

So, where can GEML (or at least the principles and core of the programming language) be implemented?

James Ostell, a member of the team at the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), says that, when developing GEML, they tried to create a “discovery system” instead of a “data retrieval system”.

A data retrieval system is used to retrieve existing information from the repository system where it is stored. A discovery system, says Ostell, “finds connections you didn’t know about before”.

This means that, unlike a database, allowing you only access to what is there, a discovery system will operate intuitively to “understand” your query in terms of a host of databases it can access and query.

Imagine that we had a discovery system that handles property. The system will use a GEML-like programming language to collate and analyse information from a myriad of databases and information repositories.

Everything from valuations, area demographics, history of past sales and purchases, crime statistics and local government plans for the area, in terms of roads, allocation for residential or commercial zoning and rezoning, weather data, prices of goods and petrol, the average distance people in the area have to drive to work, to the movies, to a hospital, to the airport, to the nearest retails store or shopping mall, to the nearest cemetery, can be included.

This type of information handling would revolutionise any industry. Firstly, it would allow for better decision making processes to emerge. No longer will you rely only on deal brokers (such as estate agents)and the property’s “published” history.

You could make a decision based on the fact that the average trip to school from the area is the shortest anywhere in town, or that the shopping centre down the road from you is so popular that people travel from the other side of town to shop there.

Tomorrow’s Web may not be as sexy and good looking as it is today but, if GEML is anything to judge by, it is likely to be one of the most useful tools we have.

Rudy Nadler-Nir is an independent e-strategist and Brain-for-Rent. Check Rudy’s personal Website, at: or email him at:

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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