Monday, June 29, 2009

Information in a Starbucks World

Although as much we think we are living in a truly information-rich world, a great majority of us still spend a great deal of our lives in a physical world and in a cafe-oriented Starbucks-world. (As strange as that may sound). At the m-Libraries Conference 2009 in Vancouver, BC, Lorcan Dempsey's keynote addressed the concept that information -- especially mobile technologies -- is heavily influenced by the emergence of Starbucks. Much of the space and ideas that brew in our minds either at work or in leisure happens in a public space, which was first envisioned by Howard Shultz's idea of the coffee-nation.

Dempsey's point is an excellent one, a very intellectual, almost metaphysical plunge from the digital back to the physical. True, we might be zombies on our laptops day in and day out, but much of this happens in a public space, too. How can we convert libraries into this knowledge cafe? Is it possible? Some academic and public libraries have assumed a role in this Starbucks world, and have opened up cafes in their spaces. But what Dempsey argues for is innovation that is parallel with these open spaces, all stemming from the coffee culture. I truly believe we're in a Googleized Starbucks-shifted world, and the sooner we can integrate ourselves and our libraries into this digital and cultural transition, the more opportunities we allow for our futures.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Power of Social Networking and the "Twitter Revolution"

We're witnessing history in the making. Despite government resistance, supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, again defied a government ban to take to the streets of Tehran. As several people died in a huge pro-opposition rallies, Mousavi has urged his followers not to stage another demonstration, amid fears of new violence. The scenes are gripping, haunting, and moving. As reported on the BBC, the Iranians have not only ignited a march for change, but have ushered the "twitter revolution."

In addition to restrictions on foreign media, the Iranian government has imposed restrictions on mobile phone and email networks. As a result, many Iranians have resorted to sending 140 character SMS messages, or 'tweets', to the outside world. Some have described it as a Twitter revolution. Twitter has become so crucial that the company itself postponed essential site maintenance early this morning to allow Iranians to continue to use the service.

Unlike the Iranian Revolution of 79, this current crisis cannot be concealed. As the power of social networking has proven, paper cannot hold fire.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Current TV Managing Editor Held in North Korea

By now, this has become world headlines. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were earlier arrested by the North Korean state and sentenced to twelve years of hard labour. What is most distressing is that the capture of these two American journalists could be a politically-motivated strategic move by an authoritarian regime on its last legs. I've been a large fan of Current TV, and although it shocks and saddens me to see how journalists are used as bargaining chips, I truly believe grassroots journalism in a social media-savvy world will bring down political barriers in the end.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gates Versus Jobs

I enjoy watching these two giants go at it. Can you feel the tension and the cutting competition? This is just part two. Watch the whole series. This is a session from the All Things Digital Web 3.0 conference.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Semantic Way

PricewaterhouseCoopers has just come out with an important document forecasting Semantic Web technologies. While PWC has usually churned out fairly solid business knowledge management-type best practice research, this particular publication is worthy of a close reading. Its feature article in particular, "Spinning a Data Web" offers an indepth and concise look into the technologies behind the SemWeb, one which LIS professionals should take heed, as many of the concepts are relevant to our profession. Why? Here are the main points which I find significantly important for us moving ahead in the race to the Semantic Web.

(1) Linked Data Initiative - In order for the Web to be move from a messy, siloed, and unregulated frontier, the SemWeb will require a standards-based approach, one which data on the Web would become interchangeable formats. By linking data together, one could find and take pieces of data sets from different places, aggregate them, and use them freely and accessibly. Because of this linking of data, the Web won't be limited to just web-based information, but ultimately to the non-Web-based world. To a certain extent, we are already experiencing this with smart technologies. Semantic technologies will help us extend this to the next version of the Web, often ambiguously dubbed Web 3.0.

(2) Resource Description Framework - RDF is key to the SemWeb as it allows for the federation of Web data and standards, one which uses XML to solve a two-dimension relational database world cannot. RDF provides a global and persistent way to link data together. RDF isn't a programming language, but a method (a metahporical "container") for organizing the mass of data on the Web, while paving the way for a fluid exchange of different standards on the Web. In doing so, data is not in cubes or tables; rather, they're in triples - subject-predicate-object combinations that provide for a a multidimensional representation and linking of the Web, connecting nodes in an otherwise disparate silo of networks.

(3) Ontologies and Taxonomies - LIS and cataloguing professionals are familiar with these concepts, as they often form the core of their work. The SemWeb moves from taxonomic to an ontological world. While ontologies describe relationships in an n-dimensional manner, easily allowing information from multiple perspectives, taxonomies are limited to hierarchical relationships. In an RDF environment, ontologies provide a capability that extends the utility of taxonomies. The beauty of ontologies is that it can be linked to another ontology to take advantage of its data in conjunction with your own. Because of this linkability, taxonomies are clearly limited as they are more classification schemes that primarily describe part-whole relationships between terms. Ontologies are the organizing, sense-making complement to graphs and metadata, and mapping among ontologies is how domain-level data become interconnected over the data Web.

(4) SPARQL and SQL - It overcomes the limits of SQL because SPARQL because graphs can receive and be converted into a number of different data formats. In contrast, the rigidness of SQL limits the use of table structures. In constructing a query, one has to have knowledge of the database schema; with the abstraction of SPARQL, this problem is solved as developers can move from one resource to another. As long as data messages in SPARQL reads within RDF, tapping into as many data sources becomes inherently possible. De-siloing data was not possible without huge investment of time and resources; with semantic technologies, anything is possible.

(5) De-siloing the Web - This means is that we would need to give up some degree of control on our own data if we wish to have a global SemWeb. This new iteration of the Web takes the page-to-page relationships of the link document Web and augments them with linked relationships between and among individual data elements. By using ontologies, we can link to data we never included in the data set before, thus really "opening" up the Web as one large global database.