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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Industrial Web

"Web 2.0 is social: many hands make light work. In stark contrast, Web 3.0 is industrial."

In the Journal of Social Computing, Peter Sweeney argues that whatever we call Web 3.0, it is going to be a
the automation of tasks which displaces human work. Our information economy is ultimately in the midst of an Industrial Revolution. He makes another excellent point:

Billions are being spent worldwide on semantic technologies to create the factories and specialized machinery for manufacturing content. Railways of linked data and standards are being laid to allow these factories to trade and co-operate. And the most productive information services in the world are those that leverage Web 3.0 industrial processes and technologies. Web 3.0 is a controversial term, as it confuses those who are just only beginning to feel comfortable with the concept Web 2.0 and those who are embracing the Semantic Web. Web 3.0 disrupts these traditional, safe thoughts. It not only blurs the terminology, it also offers business advocates an opportunity to cash in.

But I see Sweeney's arguments as a multidimensional argument that transcends nickels and dimes. He makes an excellent point when he argues that many dismiss Web 3.0 as a fad; however, when we think of the Web as a manufacturing process, that is a disruptive technology -- very much like the Industrial Revolution -- then we can begin to understand what Web 3.0 represents.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kumos to you MSN

I'm going to hold off on adding to the Wolfram Alpha debate as I've yet to digest it all in the last week or so. But hold on. We might need to pen new articles -- all of us. Microsoft has added its two cents with an upcoming new search engine called Bing (but codenamed Kumo) .

Bing is a combination of Microsoft's Live Search search engine and semantic Web technology (which Microsoft had quietly acquired in Powerset last July, 2008). It is said that Kumo is designed as a "Google killer" in mind. However, not without a cost.

It's been reported that the amount of resources Microsoft had spent on Kumo has caused deep divisions within the vendor's management. Many within the hierarchical monolith are arguing for staying put with the companie's money-making ways rather than spreading it elsewhere on fruitless desire for the holy search grail.

This is important new developments for information professionals - especially librarians - to take note. While the Semantic Web adds structure to Web searches in the backend technology, what users will see in the front end is increased structure such as the search results in the center of the page and a hierarchical organization of concepts or attributes in the left (or right)-hand column. This could be what Bing ultimately looks like.

What this implies is that with so much of the spotlight currently on "practical" social media and Web 2.0 applications, much is happening underneath the surface among the information giants. Google itself is quietly conducting much research into the SemWeb. Who will be the first to achieve Web sainthood? Until last week, we thought it was these guys.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Web 3.0 Hoopla

Web 3.0-ites beware. As information professionals, it's our jobs (and hobbies to a certain extent) to pick out discrepancies and the latest trends on the web. A web 3.0 conference took place in New York City, May 19-20. The conference featured speakers such as Christine Connors, and a fairly large list of technology evangelists and business experts. The conference packages Web 3.0 as a a group of technologies that make the organization of information radically more fluid and allow for new types of analysis based on things like text semantics, machine learning, and what we call serendipity — the stumbling upon insights based on just having better organized and connected information. Its website presents the following:
In turbulent economic times, it is critically important to understand what opportunities exist to make our businesses run better. The emergence of a new era of technologies, collectively known as Web 3.0, provides this kind of strategically significant opportunity.

The core idea behind web 3.0 is to extract much more meaningful, actionable insight from information. At the conference, we will explore how companies are using these technologies today, and should be using them tomorrow, for significant bottom line impact in areas like marketing, corporate information management, customer service, and personal productivity.

I would be hesitant to accept this definition of Web 3.0, particularly when the words "in turbulent economic times." It's awfully reminiscent of how Web 2.0 had started: the burst of the dot-c0m economy in 2001, which lead to programmers convening at the first Web 2.0 conference. For better or worse, Web 2.0 was born; but it was never endorsed by academia. The creators of the internet never envisioned for Web 2.0 technologies; the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) never had Web 2.0 standards. Rather, the Semantic Web has its roots from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, I fear the same is happening with Web 3.0. Much is being slapped by corporate and technology interests and labelled "Web 3.0." Because of the downturn in the economy, information professionals beware.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Swine Flu and the World Wide Web Scour

As I was flipping through the pages of the morning paper, the Public Health Agency of Canada Intelligence Network certainly made my personal headlines. The power of the software is so that two powerful news aggregators - Al Bawaba and Factiva- are used by the Canadian system in order to retrieve relevant articles every 15 minutes, day and night.

The Public Health Agency of Canada group, whose Web-scouring programs also found the earliest portent of the arrival of SARS, though it took months for Chinese authorities to confirm the presence of that virus.

In fact, more than half of the 578 outbreaks identified by the World Health Organization between 1998 and 2001 were first picked up by the Canadian system. What this really reveals is that the Web is an ecological organism, a metaphor for reality, if you. It's amazingly disconcerting when we realize just how primitive our search mechanisms are like, when vital health information slips through our radars. Just how much difference do such surveillance systems really make in combatting emerging disease? Well, let's look at it this way -- the new swine flu strain was discovered - in the United States - a week after the La Gloria story surfaced, and it was another 10 days before a Canadian lab determined the same virus was making people ill in Mexico. In fact, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) first detected reports of an unusual outbreak of respiratory disease in China's Guangdong province months, months before the SARS spread around the world. This is the power of the Web, this is the power of search when maximized to its potential.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twittering the Digu Way

If you dont' know by now, Twitter is a free micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets -- text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length which are displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them. It's being used by everyone, from the British Airways to Barack Obama. But we must remember that Twitter is mainly for English-users - a large population of this world don't converse or even use English in their everyday lingua franca.

While Twitter is often regarded as an information network for distributing and exchanging information, in China, users rarely surf the net for information. The Web in China is not a Tool for people’s daily life, but rather a venue for entertainment and relaxation. Not surprisingly, blogging is also viewed in such a way.

Digu is such an example of how microblogging works in China. Digo, a microblogging service from Shenzhen is designed in such a way that it is deliberately entertainment-centric. It's even got a Celebrities’ Digu channel where users can follow 62 Chinese celebrities. What does this mean for us out here in the West? Nothing, we just twitter along. But we must be aware that despite the global Web 2.0 phenomenon, we are still geographically silos in language and culture. We might be information-rich, but we are not pluralistic in knowledge as we may think. Information professionals beware!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

World Digital Library Coming to a Computer Near You!

This is what the future of libraries will be like. I'm excited at the unveiling of the new World Digital Library. An Internet library aimed to be accessible to surfers around the world is now on line, with its formal inauguration in Paris on Tuesday. The latest in increasing international efforts to digitize cultural heritage, the World Digital Library is combination of contributions from libraries around the world.. Developed by the Library of Congress in Washington, with the help of the Alexandria Library in Egypt, the Library was launched at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Library not only offers an array of books, maps, manuscripts and films from around the world, in seven different languages, it ultimately aims to bridge a cultural divide not only by offering people in poorer countries the same access to knowledge as those in richer ones - but also by making available the cultural heritage of Asian, Africa, Middle Eastern, and Latin American cultures.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Waves of Cellphones Use

I recently attended a fascinating talk, which proposed the idea that Web 2.0 is a commodification of knowledge. What a thought! As information professionals, we play with information, we search information, we ultimately depend on information. But at what point do we realize the overload and the technology might be harmful. This video from Dailymotion is hitting the webosphere, and is gathering storm. It might be fun and games for now. But do we need to sit back and think more clearly about the harmful implications of technology?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Michael Stephens in Vancouver, BC

Michael Stephens is one of my favourite librarians. One of the most enjoyable things is the memories of how libraries affect a person's memories and shape a person's life. This is a very honest, intimate discussion of Stephens' love of libraries. He's coming to Vancouver for the upcoming British Columbia Library Association 2009 conference. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Time To Be An Information Professional

An apothecary is a historical name for a medical professional who formulated and dispensed medicine to physicians, surgeons and patients. They were what we call the modern day pharmacist. The health profession is in hot demand, and pharmaceutical sciences is one of the most sought-after professions of college graduates.

But it wasn't always this way. Industrialization had an impact on every aspect of the activity of the apothecary. Because new advances in technology in medicine lead to the creation of new drugs, drugs that the individual pharmacist’s own resources could not produce, many drugs that the individual pharmacist was able to produce could be manufactured more economically, and in superior quality.

Not only did proprietary medicines result in the taking over the role that apothecaries were responsible for, they forced the pharmacist to become a vendor of questionable merchandise. This ultimately opened the way to much broader competition from merchants, grocers and pitchmen than the pharmacist had previously encountered, thus marginalizing the profession. Eventually, the "art of compounding" gave way to the new pharmacist's increasingly important role of being health care provider, in which the science of pharmacy turned to specializing in tailoring patients' medications to specifically meet their needs. The remaining pharmacists that do continue compounding do so for the love of the science and interest in their patients well- being. And just like the changing nature of the librarian's work, the essential love for our users and art of searching will not change.

Librarians aren't going anywhere, and they never will, even though the name might. Librarians will adapt, change, and modify - just like the apothecary. But it won't disappear. Librarians are undergoing a change in its profession, and nowhere is this most apparent than the Special Libraries Association, which is celebrating its centennial year. The SLA is a reflection of the profession, as it has often had to question its place in the profession. In 2003, the SLA came to a standstill, and almost became the Information Professionals International, but decided otherwise as SLA represents a century-old tradition and brand name that is too cherished to change.

And thus is the profession of librarianship. Perhaps we will be known by another title, another name, as some of us already are known as metadata managers, taxonomists, information architects, and knowledge managers. Library schools have evolved into I-Schools. Who knows, LIS might evolve the point where it not longer is recognizable to us -- as the apothecary is no longer recognizable to the pharmacist. But the art of searching, sharing knowledge, collecting, organizing, and disseminating information in whatever shape and form they may be, will never change. And hence, whatever we may become, we will never change.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Search Continues . . . .

New Approach to Search is a must read for those interested in search technology. Joe Weinman goes into the nitty-gritty of search algorithms, but boils it down into easily understandable (and fun) analogies for the laymen. As Weinman argues,

Search algorithms today are largely based on a common paradigm: link
analysis. But they've ignored a mother lode of data: The network.

Nicely said. Although there are a multitude of variations of search algorithms, architectures and tweaks, search technology has been based largely on three canonical approaches. In a nutshell, here they are:

1) Human-powered directories -
Hierarchically organized into taxonomies (e.g. Yahoo!)

2) Crawler-based index -
Generates results largely prioritized by link analysis. (e.g. Google)

3) Collaborative tagging -
Users tag pages with keywords so that future searchers can find
those pages by entering those tags (e.g. Technorati and

However, these three options still fail to prevent click fraud and also content unreacheable in the Deep Web. Weinman proposes the Network Service Providers as a fourth option, which uses data and metadata associated with the actual network transport of Web content—including HTML pages, documents, spreadsheets, almost anything —to replace and/or augment traditional Web crawlers, improve the relevance and currency of search results ranking, and reduce click fraud. A network service provider could better determine aggregate surfing behavior and hold times at sites or pages, in a way sensitive to the peculiarities of browser preferences and regardless of whether a search engine is used.

Weinman's proposal is an interesting deviation to the thoughts of Semantic Web enthusiasts. It does throw a quirk into the speculation of the future of Web search technology. And so the search continues . . .

Monday, March 09, 2009

Searching Search Like a Yandex

Let me introduce Yandex. It's an interesting search engine because it precedes Google. In fact, Yandex was founded in the late 1980s, before the advent of the Web. What is interesting is that Yandex is a classic case study that Google is not the end all and be all of search. Google may be good in English, but how does it fare in multilingual searching. (Remember: English is only a fraction of the Internet's languages).

What is interesting is that Yandex's search algorithm is rooted in the highly inflected and very peculiar Russian language. Words can take on some 20 different endings to indicate their relationship to one another. Like the many other non-English languages, this inflection makes the language of Russian precise, but makes search extremely difficult. Google fetches the exact word combination you enter into the search bar, leaving out the slightly different forms that mean similar things. However, Yandex is unique in that it does catch the inflection. Fortune has written an interesting article on Yandex, and my favourite part is its examination into the unique features of this Russian search giant:

While some of its services are similar to offerings available in the U.S. (blog rankings, online banking), it also has developed some applications that only Russians can enjoy, such as an image search engine that eliminates repeated images, a portrait filter that ferrets out faces in an image search, and a real-time traffic report that taps into users' roving cellphone signals to monitor how quickly people are moving through crowded roads in more than a dozen Russian cities.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

BBC's Semantic Web

BBC gets it.   In the latest issue of Nodalities magazine (one of my favourite reads), BBC reveals how it is applying the bottom-up approach to its contribution in realizing the SemWeb.   To make this happen, web programmers broke with BBC tradition by designing from the domain modelup rather than the interface down.  The domain model provided us with a set of objects (brands, series, episodes, versions, ondemands, broadcasts, etc) and their sometimes tangled interrelationships.

This is exciting stuff.  Without ever explicitly talking RDF we’d built a site that complied with Tim Berners-Lee’s four principles for Linked Data:

(1)  Use URIs as names for things. 

(2)  Use HTTP URIs so that people can look up those names. - 

(3)  When someone looks up a URI, provide useful information

(4)  Include links to other URIs

In fact, as the BBC web developers argue, 
considering how best to build websites we’d recommend you throw out the Photoshop and embrace Domain Driven Design and the Linked Data approach every time. Even if you never intend to publish RDF it just works.   The longer term aim of this work is to not only expose BBC data but to ensure that it is contextually linked to the wider web.  
The idea is to free web of data.

BBC Gets It.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shame on You Wall Street Journal

It is regrettable indeed.   I was deeply saddened and somewhat enraged by the Wall Street Journal's closing of its library.   In our information age, that depends so much on knowledge workers, Wall Street has decided that it could cut back taking away a vital piece of information news gathering, organizing, and dissemination of up-to-minute information.   Can news reporters expect to do all the work themselves?  Can they properly search for relevant and pertinent information? Is that even their jobs?  

Could we inset librarians and information professionals into the jobs of news journalists?   Of course not.  Wall Street - give your head a shake.   A knowledge centre, particularly in a top-notch industrial media giant such as Wall Street, requires expert searchers.    When asked, a spokesperson responds,

It is regrettable. Our reporters do have access to multiple databases including Factiva and this migration to digital databases as you has been happening for many years.

Sure.  Good luck with having your reporters spend up to ten times the amount of time it would take to find information a trained information professional could obtain for you in a fraction of the time.  A librarian is like the glue that holds the house together.  You can only go so far and so long without a librarian's information retrieval skills before the infrastructure cracks and crumbles.   Particularly in our emergine Web 2.0 world of social media and open access resources, can a company survive alone without expert information and knowledge management?  Best of luck Wall Street Journal.