Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Social Web Into the Semantic Web

"What can happen if we combine the best ideas from the Social Web and the Semantic Web?" - Tom Gruber

In other words, can we channel folksonomies, tagging, user-created knowledge into one coherent structured Web? A Semantic Web? Tom Gruber seems to think so. In Collective Knowledge Systems, he proposes the Semantic Web vision points to a representation of the entity - for example, a city - rather than its surface manifestation. Therefore, one of the problems that we've always had accessing the Web's content is the difficulty in differentiating the city of Paris from the celebrity Paris Hilton when using a search engine.

In many ways, harnessing Web 2.0 technologies and refining them for the Semantic Web has been speculated a great deal. How do we move from collected intelligence to collective intelligence? There are three approaches to realizing the Semantic Web. Here they are:

(1) Expose structured data that already underlies unstructured web pages - Site builders would generate unstructured web pages from a database and expose the data using standard formats (think FOAF)

(2) Extract structured data from unstructured user contributions - Manually dentify people, companies, and other entities with proper names, products, instances of relations

(3) Capture structured data on the way into the system - A "snap to grid" system in which users enter structure to the data and helps users enter data within the structure. (Think of automatic spell check).

Where do librarians come in? We have always used our training to structure content, package it, and disseminate to our users. In our article, Dean and I argue that the catalogue is very much an analogy for how the Semantic Web can organize information in a way that the current Web is unable to do. Recent developments in RDA from the library side offer a promising glimpse into the possibilities for Web 3.0. True, we are only surmising. But let's not prevent us from creating.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Quantum Information Science?

Have you heard of quantum information science? Eventually, it might solve the problems of information-mess and access. Although quantum physics, information theory, and computer science were among the apex of intellectual achievements of the 20th century, they were often framed as separate entities. Currently, a new synthesis of these themes is quietly emergine. The emerging field of quantum information science is offering important insights into fundamental issues at the interface of computation and physical science, and may guide the way to revolutionary technological advances.

Director of the Institute for Quantum Information, John Preskill proposes in his lecture, that quantum bits (“qubits”), the indivisible units of quantum information, will be central for “quantum cryptography,” wherein the privacy of secret information can be founded on principles of fundamental physics. The quantum laws that govern atoms and other tiny objects differ radically from the classical laws that govern our ordinary experience. Physicists are beginning to recognize that we can put the weirdness to work. That is, there are tasks involving the acquisition, transmission, and processing of information that are achievable in principle because Nature is quantum mechanical, but that would be impossible in a "less weird" classical world.

What does this mean ultimately mean? A “quantum computer” operating on just a few hundred qubits could perform tasks that ordinary digital computers could not possibly emulate. Although constructing practical quantum computers will be tremendously challenging, particularly because quantum computers are far more susceptible to making errors than conventional digital computers, newly developed principles of fault-tolerant quantum computation may enable a properly designed quantum computer with imperfect components to achieve reliability.
How long will it take before we achieve quantum computing? Please be patient. These folks are working on it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Free on CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, long known for its traditional family-style programs (Road to Avonlea and Coronation Street) and NHL hockey, is actually making a splash in technology. A huge one at that. It's decided to apply the 1% principle and open up its content for anyone to freely download. That's right. Free.

In doing so, CBC becomes the major broadcaster in North America to release a high quality, DRM-free copy of a primetime show using BitTorrent technology. On top of that, CBC will also be distributing a version that can put in iPod's. The show, Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, will completely free (and legal) for anyone to download, share & burn to the heart’s desire. For many, Bit Torrent has meant illegal, downright dirty business. In the future, however, it might actually be a better means to access for information and entertainment. CBC is attempting to prove that there are other means beyond the "box." It's trying to move past physical barriers and into the virtual. Shouldn't libraries be doing the same?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

5 Essences to Librarianship 3.0

What will the future of librarianship look like? Traditional cataloging, collection development, and reference will look very different, even five years from now. Changes are in motion. Don't you get the feeling that things are going to be fast and furious? There seems to be a lot of anxiety and uncertainty among librarians about what the future holds. But change is inevitable in life. From the card catalog to OPACs to the Internet, librarians and information professionals have had to adjust and adapt accordingly to new technologies. But unlike other professions that rely on technology, it's always had to catch up rather than take the lead. But we might not have a choice in the new Web. Here are 5 opportunities for us to look ahead to.

(1) Resource Description and Access - With the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules 2 (AACR2) moving way for its successor, the RDA will play an essential role for how information is to be classified and held in libraries and information organizations. However, the RDA will move beyond just the physical and include Web resources as well. You may ask, how can we catalog something that changes constantly? That's where the Semantic Web comes in.

(2) Information Architecture - Librarians have had to organize information. It's their jobs. As Web become more integrated into their work (as if it weren't already?), librarians will rely ever more so on the Web to conduct their work with patrons. Digital outreach is the key to survival. In order to achieve this, building accessible and user-centred websites will be essential.

(3) Virtual Worlds -
Everywhere gate counts are going down in libraries. Patrons are frequenting libraries less and less for information seeking, and more for products and spaces. This means that reference librarianship is changing, too. To a certain extent, we've experimented with virtual reference. In the future, if we are to embrace the possibilities of how we can bring our expertise to the user through other means. Whether it's Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, or Meebo. Think beyond the walls.

(4) Open Access -
Traditional publishing is nearing its last legs. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Textbook publishers are churning new editions of the same text in order to prevent re-selling; journal publishers are forcing the print copies to be sold as a package with their electronic versions. Why? Fear. Publishers are scrambling to stay in business. Open access will open up new opportunities for how students and users buy books. Why not build you own textbook?

(5) "Free-conomics"
- Everything that users will want will be "free." To understand this principle, just look at the things that you are using without paying. It's based on the 1% principle, where 99% of users get access to the basics of a product while 1% of the others pay for the full premium. The spirit of librarianship has been about the principle of public good and collaboration. It's only natural we find ways to integrate the 1% principle to its full extent.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bill Gates Retires from Microsoft

Recently, Forbes revealed that Bill Gates has slipped to number three on the list of the world's wealthiest people. On top of that, Bill Gates is also stepping back from Microsoft to devote more time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But that doesn't mean that Bill left with a whimper. Take a look at this video, particularly his going-away comedy skit. Nice job, Bill. Good-bye, but not farewell.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Librarians and Web 3.0

For better or worse, Web 3.0 is around the corner. Okay, maybe the technology is lagging; but we must admit that the third generation (third decade) Web is coming. In a post I had made back in September, Paul Miller of Talis made an insightful response, one which is relevant for today's discussion.
Although I'm slightly surprised at the sector's lack of overt engagement with this obviously synergistic area too, there are certainly examples in which librarians are grasping the Semantic Web and in which Semantic Web developers are recognising the rich potential offered by libraries' structured data...

Ed Summers over at Library of Congress would be one person I'd pick out to mention. Also, the work OCLC and Zepheira are doing on PURL, and our own focus on the Talis Platform within Talis; that's Semantic Web through and through, and we have significant products in the final stages of beta that put semantic technologies such as RDF and SKOS to work in delivering richer, better, more flexible applications to libraries and their users. Things really begin to get interesting, though, when you take the next step from enabling existing product areas with semantic technologies to actually beginning to leverage the resulting connections by joining data up, and reusing those links, inferences and contexts to cross boundaries between libraries, systems, and application areas.

There's also library-directed research at institutes such as DERI here in Europe, and even conferences like the International Conference on Semantic Web and Digital Libraries, which was in India this year.

Finally - for now - there's also a special issue of Library Review in preparation; Digital Libraries and the Semantic Web: context, applications and research, and I'll be speaking on The Semantic Web and libraries - a perfect fit? at the Talis Insight conference in November It's funny that you mention Jane in your post, because I'll also be doing something for her later in November that encompasses some of these themes...

Sometimes moving forward doesn't necessarily mean progress. Sometimes we need to take one step back before we can move two steps in the right direction. But it appears as if the infrastructure is there for us to move in the direction of Web 3.0. What does this mean for librarians? I suspect it means we should stop the bickering about Web versions, and start reflecting on the reasons why patrons are physically relying on library collections and coming to the libraries for information. Googlization of information has resulted in fears for the future of librarianship. But what are we to do? Standing idly by and playing the trumpets as the ship sinks isn't the right way to take it. What to do? Let's try move in the right direction.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Business of Free-conomics

He's done it again. Fresh off the press is Chris Anderson's "Free" in Wired Magazine. In 2004, Anderson changed the way business and the Web was conducted through his visionary Long Tail. Two years later, Anderson's back with the idea of "free." While the long tail proved the staple for Web 2.0, please put "free" into your lexicon for the upcoming Web 3.0.

Giving away things for free has been around for a long time. Think Gillette. In fact, the open source software movement is not unlike the shareware movement a decade earlier. (Remember that first game of Wolfenstein?) Like the long tail, Anderson synthesizes "Free" according to six principles:

(1) "Freemium" - Another percent principle: the 1% rule. For every user who pays for the premium version of the site, 99 others get the basic free version.

(2) Advertising - What's free? How about content, services, and software, just to name a few. Who's it free to? How about everyone.

(3) Cross-subsidies - It's not piracy even though it appears like piracy. The fact is, any product that entices you to pay for something else. In the end, everyone will to pay will eventually pay, one way or another.

(4) Zero Marginal Cost - Anything that can be distributed without an appreciable cost to anyone.

(5) Labour Exchange - The act of using sites and services actually creates something of value, either improving the service itself or creating information that can be useful somewhere else.

(6) Gift Economy - Money isn't everything in the new Web. In the monetary economy, this free-ness looks like madness; but that it's only shortsightedness when measuring value about the worth of what's created.