Friday, April 25, 2008

Library 2.0

Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk's article in the Library Journal not only changed the way libraries are perceived, but also how librarians run them. In a way, Library 2.0 principles are nothing new. Interlibrary loan is very much a "long tail" concept. In fact, would it be possible to view Library 2.0 as change management in its most extreme form? Nonetheless, it was a brilliant read when the book was published. Here's what I got out of the book about Library 2.0 concepts.

(1) Plan, Implement, and Forget - Changes must be constant and purposeful. Services need to be continually evaluated.

(2) Mission Statement - A library without a clear mission is like a boat without a captain. It drives the organization, serving as a guide when selecting services for users and letting you set a clear course for Library 2.0

(3) Community Analysis - Know your users. Talk to them, have a feel for who you're serving, and who they are.

(4) Surveys & Feedback - Get both users and staff feedback. It's important to know what works and what doesn't.

(5) Team up with competitors - Don't think of the library as being in a "box." Look at what users are doing elsewhere that they could be doing through the library. Neither should bookstores or cafes or the Internet. Create a win-win relationship with local businesses that benefits everyone.

(6) Real input from staff - Having feedback means implementing ideas, and not just for show. Eventually, staff will realize the hoax, and morale will suffer.

(7) Evaluating services - Sacred cows do not necessarily need to be eliminated; however, nothing should be protected from review.

(8) Three Branches of Change model - This allows all staff - from frontline workers to the director - to understand the changes made. The three teams are: investigative, planning, and review team.

(9) Long tail - Web 2.0 concepts should be incorporated into the Library 2.0 model as much as possible. For example, the Netflix model does something few services can do: get materials into the hands of people who do not come into libraries. Think virtually as well as physically.

(10) Constant change & user participation - These two concepts form the crux of Library 2.0.

(11) Web 2.0 technologies - They give users access to a wide variety of applications that are neither installed nor approved by IT. The flexibility is there for libraries to experiment unlike ever before. It is important to have conversation where none exists before. Online applications help fill this gap.

(12) Flattened organizational structure - Directors should not make all the decisions. Instead, front line staff input should be included. Committees that include both managers and lower level staff help 'flatten' hierarchical structure, creating a more vertical structure that leads to more realistic decision-making.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

7 Opportunities for the Semantic Web

Dan Zambonini’s 7 f(laws) of the Semantic Web is a terrific read, and perhaps offers a refreshing perspective of the challenges of realizing the SemWeb. Too often we hear a dichotomy of arguments, but Zambonini’s calmly lays out what he believes are hurdles for the SemWeb. Instead of regurgitating his points, I’m going to complement them with my own comments:

(1) Not all SemWeb data are created equal - There’s a lot of RDF files on the web, in various formats. But that doesn’t equate to the SemWeb. But this is a bit of a strawman. In fact, it emphasizes the point that the components of the SemWeb are here. The challenge is the finding the mechanism or application that can glue everything together.

(2) A Technology is only as good as developers think it is - Search analysis reveals that people are actually more interested in AJAX than RDF Schema, despite the fact that RDF has a longer history. Zambonini believes that this is because the SemWeb is so incredibly exclusive in an ivory-towerish way. I agree. However, what is to say that the SemWeb won’t be able to accommodate a broader audience in the future? We’ll just need to wait and see.

(3) Complex systems must be built from successively simpler system - I agree with this point. Google is successful in the search engine wars because it learnt how to build up slowly, and created a simple system that got more complex as it needed to. People love Web 2.0 because they’re easy to use and understand. But whereas Web 2.0 was about searching, the SemWeb should be about finding. Nobody said C+ and Java were easy, but complexity pays off in the long run.

(4) A new solution should stop an obvious pain - The SemWeb needs to prove what problems it can solve, and prove its purpose. Right now, Web 2.0 and 1.0 do a good job, so why would we need any more? Fair enough. But information is still in silos. Until we open up the data web, we’re still in many ways living in the dark.

(5) People aren’t perfect - Creating metadata and classifications is difficult. People are sloppy. Will adding SemWeb rules add to the mess that is the Web? I seriously can’t answer this one. We can only predict. But perhaps it’s too cynical to prematurely write off people’s metadata creating skills. HTML wasn’t easy, but we managed.

(6) You don’t need an ontology of everything. But it would help - Zambonini argues for a top-down ontology which would a one-fits-all solution for the entire Web rather than building from a bottom-up approach based on folksonomies of the social web. I would argue that for this to work, we need to look at it from different angles. Perhaps we can meet half way?

(7) Philanthropy isn’t commercially viable - Why would any sane organization buy into the SemWeb and expose their data? We need that killer application in order for this to work. Agree. Ebay did wonders. Let’s hope there’s a follow-up on the way.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Four Ways to Library 2.0

Library 2.0 has stirred controversy since the day Michael Casey and Linda Savastinuk’s Library 2.0: Service for the next-generation library had hit online newsstands. A loosely defined model for a modernized form of library service that reflects a transition within the library world in the way that services are delivered to users, the concept of Library 2.0 borrows from that of Business 2.0 and Web 2.0 and follows some of the same underlying philosophies. It’s still being debated in the library community about its relevancy to the profession. (Haven’t we always had to serve our users in the first place. What’s new about that?)

Michael Stephens and Maria Collins’ Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and the Hyperlinked Library is a fascinating for those interested in learning more about these concepts. Certainly, at the core of Library 2.0 is blogs, RSS, podcasting, wikis, IM, and social networking sites. But it’s much more than that, and Stephens and Collins boils it down nicely to four main themes of Library 2.0:

(1) Conversations – The library shares plans and procedures for feedback and then responses. Transparency is real and personal.

(2) Community and Participation –
Users are involved in planning library services, evaluating those services, and suggest improvements.

(3) Experience – Satisfying to the user, Library 2.0 is about learning, discovery, and entertainment. Bans on technology and the stereotypical “shushing” are replaced by a collaborative and flexible space for new initiatives and creativity.

(4) Sharing – Providing ways for users to share as much or as little of themselves as they like, users are encourage to participate via online communities and connect virtually with the library.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Year Is 2009...

We're not that far. . . In 2002, Paul Ford wrote an amazing piece predicting what the world would look like in 2009. Well, we're almost there. Ford thought about a "Semantic Web scenario," one which had a short feature from a business magazine published in 2009. While Amazon and Ebay both worked as virtual marketplaces (they outsourced as much inventory as possible) by bringing together buyers and sellers while taking a cut of every transaction, Google focused on the emerging Semantic Web.

This is how Ford explains the SemWeb, which is one of the most concise I've seen to date.

So what's the Semantic Web? At its heart, it's just a way to describe things in a way that a computer can “understand.” Of course, what's going on is not understanding, but logic, like you learn in high school:

If A is a friend of B, then B is a friend of A.

Jim has a friend named Paul.

Therefore, Paul has a friend named Jim.

Jim has a friend named Paul.

Therefore, Paul has a friend named Jim.

Of course, it's much more than just A's and B's. But the idea that Google will eventually integrate the SemWeb into its applications is exciting. And for an article that was written back in 2002 with such clarity, it's a highly engaging read.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Google and Web 3.0?

Maybe Google gets it afterall. Google has made its foray into the Semweb with its new Social Graph API coding. What's that? And why should you care? In having the Social Graph API, it makes information about the public connections between people on the Web, expressed by XFN and FOAF markup and other publicly declared connections, easily available and useful for developers. The public web is made up of linked pages that represent both documents and people. Google Search helps make this information more accessible and useful.

In other words, if you take away the documents, you're left with the connections between people. Information about the public connections between people is really useful. A user might want to see who else you're connected to, and as a developer of social applications, you can provide better features for your users if you know who their public friends are. There hasn't been a good way to access this information.

The Social Graph API looks for two types of publicly declared connections:

  1. It looks for all public URLs that belong to you and are interconnected. This could be a blog, Facebook, and a Twitter account.
  2. It looks for publicly declared connections between people. For example, your blog may link to someone else's blog while your Facebook and Twitter are linked to each other.

This index of connections enables developers to build many applications including the ability to help users connect to their public friends more easily. Google is taking the resulting data and making it available to third parties, who can build this into their applications (including their Google Open Social applications). Of course, the problem is that few people use FOAF and XFN to declare their relationships, but Google's new API could make them more visible and social applications could use them. Ultimately, Google could also index the relationships from social networks if people are comfortable with that.

What does this mean for information professionals? Stay tuned. By having Google on board the Semweb train, (or ship), it could pave the way for more bricks to be laid on the road to realizing the goal of differentiating Paris from Paris.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

7 Things You Need to Know about the Semantic Web

Over at Read/Write Web, Alex Iskold has come up with what I consider a seminal piece in the Semantic Web literature. In Semantic Web Patterns: A Guide to Semantic Technologies, Iskold synthesizes the main concepts of the Semantic Web, asserting that it offers improved information discoverability, automation of complex searches, and innovative web browsing. Here’re the main themes:

(1) Bottom-Up vs. Top-Down – Do we focus on annotating information in pages (using RDF) so that it is machine-readable in top-down fashion? Or do focus on leveraging information in existing web pages so that they meaning can be derived automatically (folksonomies) in a botton-up approach? Time will tell.

(2) Annotation Technologies – RDF, Microformats, and Meta Headers. The more annotations there are in web pages, the more standards are implemented, and the more discoverable and powerful information becomes.

(3) Consumer and Enterprise – People currently don’t care much for the Semantic Web because all they look for is utility and usefulness. Until an application can be deemed a “killer application,” we continue to wait.

(4) Semantic APIs – Unlike Web 2.0 APIs which are coding used to mash up existing services, Semantic APIs take as an input unstructured information and relationships to find entities and relationships. Think of them as mini natural language processing tools. Take a look.

(5) Search Technologies – The sobering fact is that it’s a growing realization that understanding semantics wont’ be sufficient to build a better search engine. Google does a fairly good job at finding us the capital city of Canada, so why do we need to go any further?

(6) Contextual Technologies - Contextual navigation does not improve search, but rather short cuts it. It takes more guessing out of the equation. That's where the Semweb will overtake Google.

(7) Semantic Databases – The challenge of keeping up with the world is common to all database approaches, which are effectively information silos. That’s where semantic databases come in, as focus on annotating web information to be more structured. Take a look at Freebase.

As librarians and information professionals, we gather, organize, and disseminate. The challenge will be to do this as information is exploding at an unprecedented rate in human history, all the while trying to stay afloat and explaining to our users the technology. Feels like walking on water, don’t you agree?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Semantic Librarianship

If I had my stocks for Web 3.0, where would I put them?

How about a neat web service called Freebase. It’s a semanticized version of Wikipedia. But with a bigger potential. Much bigger. Freebase is said to be an open shared database of the world's knowledge, and a massive, collaboratively-edited database of cross-linked data. Until recently accessible by invitation only, this application is now open to the public as a semi-trial service.

What does this have to do with librarians? As Freebase argues, “Wikipedia and Freebase both appeal to people who love to use and organize information.” Hold that though. That’s enough to whet our information organizational appetites.

In our article, Dean and I argued that the essence of the Semantic Web is the ability to differentiate entities that the current Web is unable to do. For example, how can we currently parse Paris from Paris? Although still in its initial stages with improvements to come, Freebase does a nice job to a certain extent. Freebase covers millions of topics in hundreds of categories. Drawing from large open data sets like Wikipedia, MusicBrainz, and the SEC, it contains structured information on many popular topics, like movies, music, people and locations—all reconciled and freely available via an open API.

As a result, Freebase builds on the Social Web 2.0 layer, while providing the Semantic Web infrastructure through RDF technology. For example, Paris Hilton would appear in a movie database as an actress, a music database as a singer and a model database as a model. In Freebase, there is only one topic for Paris Hilton, with all three facets of her public persona brought together. The unified topic acts as an information hub, making it easy to find and contribute information about her.

While information in Freebase appears to be structured much like a conventional database, it’s actually built on a system that allows any user to contribute to the schemas—or frameworks—that hold the data - RDF, as I had mentioned. This wiki-like approach to structuring information lets many people organize the database without formal, centralized planning. And it lets subject experts who don’t have database expertise find one another, and then build and maintain the data in their domain of interest. As librarians, we have a place in all of this. It's out there. Waiting for us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Moving Out & Moving On

Everyone needs a change every now and again. On May 1st, 2008, I will be moving to the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre as Program Services Librarian. Having worked with some very talented and supportive colleagues, I feel supremely fortunate because without them, I would not be at where I am at this point of my career.

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed working in a variety of jobs, from public libraries, to hospital libraries, to research centres, to academic libraries. (I also dabbled in publishing, archival, as well as teaching ventures). The integration of these experiences has been wonderful as it has helped build skills most essential in my upcoming endeavours.

What will this new position entail? To a certain extent, everything that I'm not doing now as an academic librarian. The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre itself is not a "traditional" library. It's a new building, a space for collaborative learning and ideas. A learning commons. A new way of learning. It also represents a new direction for librarianship. If there is one thing that typifies this position, it would be digital outreach. Web 2.0, Semantic Web, and Web 3.0? Stay tuned.

The possibilities are exciting.

I'd like to thank everyone who helped me along the way, particularly Dean Giustini, Eugene Barsky, Eleanor Yuen, Tricia Yu, May Yan, Henry Yu, Hayne Wai, Chris Lee, Rob Ho, Peter James & friends at HSSD, Rex Turgano, Rob Stibravy, Susie Stephenson, Matthew Queree, and Angelina Dawes, among the many. And of course, Hoyu. Thank you to all.

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.