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Vision of a Semantic Spreadsheet Getting Clearer

This is the definition of a spreadsheet provided by Wikipedia:

A spreadsheet is an interactive computer application program for organization, analysis and storage of data in tabular form. Spreadsheets developed as computerized simulations of paper accounting worksheets. The program operates on data represented as cells of an array, organized in rows and columns. Each cell of the array is a model–view–controller element that may contain either numeric or text data, or the results of formulas that automatically calculate and display a value based on the contents of other cells.

A spreadsheet is essentially a domain-specific programming language.  What?  A spreadsheet is a programming language???  There are essentially two fundamental pieces to a spreadsheet: (a) the model and the spreadsheet language and maybe (b) macro language that can be used to relate one cell with another cell.  The model is expressed via a modeling language which expresses the rules that outline the structure of a spreadsheet.  The language states things like a workbook is made up of spreadsheets, a spreadsheet is made up of rows and columns which intersect to form cells.  The macro language used for expressing relations between cells and manipulating the values of cells or even the structure of the spreadsheets, columns, rows and cells of a workbook or even set of workbooks.

There are three key things about spreadsheets that one should be aware of:

  • Note the statement "data in tabular form" in the Wikipedia definition of a spreadsheet.
  • Note that "workbook" and "spreadsheet" and "column" and "row" and "cell" are presentation oriented terms and structures.
  • Note that the programming language or macro language specifically understands what a workbook is, what a spreadsheet is, what a column is, what a row is, and what a cell is.  The programming language also has general features such as "if...then" statements, "case" statements, and other such common programming functionality.

This is my definition of a semantic spreadsheet:

A semantic spreadsheet is an interactive computer application program for organization, analysis and storage of multi-dimensional information.  Semantic spreadsheets developed as computerized simulations of set of paper accounting worksheets. The program operates on information represented as cells of an array, which can be visualized in rows and columns of something similar to a dynamic pivot table. Each cell of the array is a model–view–controller element that may contain either numeric or text information.

Unlike a spreadsheet which is connected presentational via the rows, columns, and cells of a sheet which don't have names but rather labels such as "Row 1" or "Column B"; semantic spreadsheets are connected together via the meaning and logic of the information itself.

Unlike a spreadsheet whose cells are manipulated by a programming paradigm that is generally procedural in nature; a semantic spreadsheet is described and verified to be represented correctly against that description using a logic-based programming language. PROLOG is an example of one such logic based language. Procedural and other types of programming paradigms can still be used to manipulate a semantic spreadsheet; but rather than interacting with the row numbers and column letters of the spreadsheet programs interact with the meaning of the information.

The best semantic spreadsheets support the import and export from/to global-standard information exchange formats such as XBRL or OWL 2 DL.  Support for global-standard formats enables the exchange of information between different semantic spreadsheet implementations.

Semantic spreadsheets allow for the use of OLAP-based information but do not require the use of OLAP. Semantic spreadsheets overcome many of the problems of OLAP and problems of presentation-oriented electronic spreadsheets.

While semantic spreadsheets are very powerful and in the class of software deemed to be expert systems; they semantic spreadsheets are also very easy to use for three specific reasons:

  1. Semantic spreadsheets are business domain specific tools rather then general purpose tools.
  2. Business users making the use of semantic spreadsheets interact using business domain terms familiar to their business domain.
  3. Semantic spreadsheets strike an optimal balance between expressive power, reasoning capacity, and the reliability/predictability demanded for many business use cases.

Functionality is achieved by burying most knowledge engineering principles deep within software platforms and software applications used by business professionals (see the law of conservation of complexity). What business professionals loose in terms of the flexibility to solve any problem using general purpose tools; they gain in ease of use by both the absorbing of complexity within software and generous doses of the 80/20 rule

Enterprise-class software extends the sound base established by global-standard semantic spreadsheets enabling business use cases that have additional needs to both leverage the solid foundation, but also extended that foundation to meet additional needs.

A digital financial report is a specific type of semantic spreadsheet and follow their same architecture however metadata is specific to the financial reporting scheme used by the economic entity creating the financial report.

The first semantic spreadsheet tool was created by _____(insert company here)_____ .



Posted on Monday, July 27, 2015 at 12:15PM by Registered CommenterCharlie in , | CommentsPost a Comment

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