Sunday, February 28, 2010

Boston Public Library

Historical Boston is one of the most beautiful, but underrated cities in the world. Likewise its library system. Founded in the mid-19th century, the Boston Public Library (BPL) is strongly associated with the emergence of education for the working class. Its unique architectural style was maintained when Philip John designed an additional section in 1972. Serving as both a research library and headquarters for Boston Public Library's 26 branch libraries, the main library branch also holds a large collection of rare books and manuscripts and musical scores.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Semiotics and the Semantic Web

. . . when computing entered the realm of images, a new dimension was added to cyperspace (taking it literally from 1D to 2D) and the term 'virtual reality' started to be more than a daydream. (Cadognety, 2002).

According to Wikipedia, semiotics is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols. What is interesting is that there is currently a great deal of research on semiotics and the Web, and a result, have an important natural link to the semantic web. Anything intended to signal meaning of some kind, signs on websites are especially important. Various kinds of meaning can be transmitted or 'signalled' by using an image, icon, label or a hyperlink of some fashion -- signs. According to the semiotic theory, signs have a significant (e.g. link label), a referent (e.g. actual page the link points to), an interpretant (e.g. the concept it signifies), and even a behaviour (e.g. the link mechanism itself). Signs of all types leverage existing content to express some kind of function (e.g. a thumbnail image used as link to a product) or affordance.

Philippe Codognet has been one of the preeminent researchers in the field of the semiotics of the web. In his article in 2002, Ancient Images and New Technologies: The Semiotics of the Web, when the web was still in its infancy, Codognet points out that indexical images, which we use in navigating the multimedia documents which make up the web, can be based on the study of semiotics, and can be traced back to the classical thinkers such as Gottfried Liebniz and C.S. Peirce. In other words, instead of viewing the Semantic Web as something entirely novel, we must look at the core roots of the web, which is really just an organization of data, documents, and images - conceptually meshed in contemporary computer-based communication.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Horizon Report 2010 - Changes to Come?

The Horizon Report 2010 has come and gone. Reactions? What's most noticeable is that there are a lot of repeating themes to previous Horizon Reports. Perhaps this is due to the reality that there just aren't that many technologies to go around. My interpretation is that certain themes are emerging as this decade comes to a close. As the Web continues to grow, its supporting technologies are emerging to support its growing veins and organs. As a result, we aren't just seeing a few new technologies popping up here and there annually; rather, we're witnessing the growth a layer of technologies that form a foundation for moving our physical world more aligned to the digital realm. Here's a look at the 6 key technologies from the Horizon Report:

1. Mobile computing - This is not a surprise as the iPhone has entered our lives as seamlessly and ubiquitously over the past couple of years. Handheld tools such as smart phones to netbooks are portable tools for productivity, learning, and communication, offering an increasing range of activities fully supported by applications designed especially for mobiles.

2. Open content - Although the open content movement is a response to the rising costs of education, it has been around since the open source and freeware movements in the software and gaming industries back in the 1990's. In the open content (also known as open access in the publishing and academic world), the desire for access to learning in areas where such access is difficult and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn battle against the corporate for-profit universe which for years has seen growing textbook prices, hefty rising student fees, and the ivory tower image of the babel of academia. The digital world is attempting to fight back, be it free online courses or video webcasts open to the world.

3. Electronic books - Going hand in hand with open content, electronic books promise to reduce costs, save students from carrying pounds of textbooks, and contribute to the environmental efforts of paper-conscious campuses. As pblishers are raising the costs of printing to justify the costs of doing business, the digital world is paving the way to break down those barriers and allow for portable, compact, and inexpensive options for all.

4. Simple augmented reality – This is the technology that has subtly entered into our daily lives with little notice or fanfare, but will ultimately change the way we interact with the Web. AR is the concept of blending (augmenting) virtual data — information, rich media, and even live action — into our physical world – with the purpose of enhancing the information we can perceive with our senses is a powerful one. This is what some predicts as the next generation 3D web (or Web 3.0).

5. Gesture-based computing - Allows our natural movements of the finger, hand, arm, and body which can recognize and interpret body motions. As we work with devices that react to us instead of requiring us to learn to work with them, our understanding of what it means to interact with computers will have a paradigm shift.

6. Visual data analysis - An emerging field, a blend of statistics, data mining, and visualization, that promises to make it possible for anyone to sift through, display, and understand complex concepts and relationships. Visual data analysis may help expand our understanding of learning itself. Learning is one of the most complex of social processes, with a myriad of variables interacting in highly complex ways, making it an ideal focus for the search for patterns. Indeed, Chris Anderson has argued in Wired Magazine that the explosion of data spells the ‘end of theory.’
Sensors everywhere. Infinite storage. Clouds of processors. Our ability to capture, warehouse, and understand massive amounts of data is changing science, medicine, business, and technology. As our collection of facts and figures grows, so will the opportunity to find answers to fundamental questions. Because in the era of big data, more isn't just more. More is different.
What does this all mean? We're moving (albeit slowly) into an exciting era of cultural, social, and technological transformation. This has greater implications than just surfing the Web.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

How the Mighty Fall

After Jim Collins' landmark Good to Great, now an essential for most organizations, the collapse of a number of those 'great' companies made Collins re-examine, how companies can fall after decades of unshakable excellence.

What began as a journal article eventually expanded to How the Mighty Fall, which confronts these questions with some answers to how even the best can succumb to decline and collapse. One thing is even more true about the recent financial collapse: all organizations are prone to vulnerabilities, regardless of how well crafted and seemingly operated they appear. Collins' research project--more than four years in duration-- reveals five stages of decline. It's an excellent guide to libraries and information centres, particularly those nestled in the guise of large budgeted institutions. All organizations run by humans face mortality one day or another - it's important that we recognize its symptoms and confront the brutal realities of decline. And perhaps step in if it's not too late. Here are Collins' five stages:

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success - All success depends on hard work and luck; however, success does not guarantee perpetuity. Every decision needs to be continually re-examined.

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More - Success often breeds greed, which often leads to straying from the original elements which produced success.

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril - Greed leads to blindness that there are signs of hazard, until it's too late.

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation - Signs of failure arises, but blindness to reality reinforces the need to look for miracles. Often, the organization looks for a messiah from outside the organization to lead it back to the promise land.

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death - Nothing is done. Demoralized, the organization accepts its fate of a slow death.

Collins' research argues however, that these are just five stages. Indeed, they are reversible. Some companies do indeed recover--in some cases, coming back even stronger--even after Stage 4. In fact, this is because decline is (believe it or not) self-inflicted, and the path to recovery lies largely within the organization's own hands. As long a company is not entirely knocked out of the game, hope always remains. The mighty can fall, but they can often rise again.

Collins' book impressed me as a book that can be applied to all organizations, profit and not-for-profit - technology or customer-service. Regardless of what sector, when large numbers of people work together to achieve a common goal, they are bound to irrationality and group think, politics and human egotism. The five principles of decline are a good reminder that nothing is indestructible if pushed to its limits.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Seattle's Central Library

Here is a library that I is close to heart, literally and figuratively speaking. I heart Seattle, one of trendiest urban living spaces in the world. Its Central Seattle Library also ranks as one of the most beautiful architectural spaces in the world, with state of the art technology. A remarkably postmodern rendition perhaps, even the floors have a classically labeled Dewey Decimal system as markers of shelf sections.

Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the Library is award-winning in architectural style, modern on both the inside and the out. The library uses RFID that allows patrons to check out their own materials. Its former city librarian Nancy Pearl even had a few books under her name and a figurine, too. So grab a Starbucks and your MS Windows laptop, and take a plushy seat in one of the world's most interesting libraries.