Archive for April 2005

NY Times Mistake Shows Utility of Semantic Framework

April 25th, 2005 — 10:09pm

Read­ing the online edi­tion of the New York Times just before leav­ing work this after­noon, I came across an ironic mis­take that shows the util­ity of a well devel­oped seman­tic frame­work that mod­els the terms and rela­tion­ships in defin­gin dif­fer­ent edi­to­r­ial con­texts. In an arti­cle dis­cussing the Matrix Online mul­ti­player game, text iden­ti­fy­ing the movie char­ac­ter the Ora­cle mis­tak­enly linked to a busi­ness pro­file page on the com­pany of the same name. In keep­ing with the movie’s sin­is­ter depic­tions of tech­nol­ogy as a tool for cre­at­ing decep­tive medi­ated real­i­ties, by the time I’d dri­ven home and made moji­tos for my vis­it­ing in-laws, the mis­take was cor­rected…
Ironic humor aside, it’s unlikely that NYTimes Dig­i­tal edi­tors intended to con­fuse a movie char­ac­ter with a giant soft­ware com­pany. It’s pos­si­ble that the NYTimes Dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing plat­form uses some form of seman­tic frame­work to over­see auto­mated link­ing of terms that exist in one or more defined ontolo­gies, in which case this mis­take implies some form of mis-categorization at the arti­cle level,invokgin the wrong ontol­ogy. Or per­haps this is an exam­ple of an instance where a name in the real world exists simul­ta­ne­ously in two very dif­fer­ent con­texts, and there is no seman­tic rule to gov­ern how the sys­tem han­dles rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of con­flicts or invo­ca­tion of man­ual inter­ven­tion in cases when life refuses to fit neatly into a set of ontolo­gies. That’s a design fail­ure in the gov­er­nance com­po­nents of the seman­tic frame­work itself.
It’s more likely that the pub­lish­ing plat­form auto­mat­i­cally searches for com­pany names in arti­cles due for pub­li­ca­tion, and then cre­ates links to the cor­re­spond­ing pro­file infor­ma­tion page with­out ref­er­ence to a seman­tic frame­work that employs con­tex­tual mod­els to dis­crim­i­nate between ambigu­ous or con­flict­ing term usage. For a major con­tent cre­ator and dis­trib­u­tor like the NY Times, that’s a strate­gic over­sight.
In this screen cap­ture, you can see the first ver­sion of the arti­cle text, with the link to the Ora­cle page clearly vis­i­ble:

The new ver­sion, with­out the mis­taken link, is vis­i­ble in this screen cap­ture:
New Ver­sion:

Comments Off | Semantic Web

Survey on Social Bookmarking Tools

April 20th, 2005 — 3:56pm

The April issue of D-Lib Mag­a­zine includes a two-part Sur­vey of social book­mark­ing tools.
Social book­mark­ing is on the col­lec­tive brain — at least for the moment –and most of those writ­ing about it choose to take one or more posi­tions for, against, or orthog­o­nal to its var­i­ous aspects. Here’s the posi­tion of the D-Lib sur­vey authors:
“Despite all the cur­rent hype about tags — in the blog­ging world, espe­cially — for the authors of this paper, tags are just one kind of meta­data and are not a replace­ment for for­mal clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems such as Dublin Core, MODS, etc. [n15]. Rather, they are a sup­ple­men­tal means to orga­nize infor­ma­tion and order search results.“
This is — no sur­prise from “a solely elec­tronic pub­li­ca­tion with a pri­mary focus on dig­i­tal library research and devel­op­ment, includ­ing but not lim­ited to new tech­nolo­gies, appli­ca­tions, and con­tex­tual social and eco­nomic issues” — the librar­i­ans’ view, suc­cinctly echoed by Peter Morville in his pre­sen­ta­tion dur­ing the panel ‘Sort­ing Out Social Clas­si­fi­ca­tion’ at this year’s Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture sum­mit.
The D-Lib authors’ assess­ment dove­tails nicely with Peter’s views on The Speed of Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture from 2001, and it shows how library sci­ence pro­fes­sion­als may decide to place social book­mark­ing in rela­tion to the larger con­text of meta-data life­cy­cles; a realm they’ve known and inhab­ited for far longer than most peo­ple have used Flickr to tag their pho­tos.
I found some of the authors’ con­clu­sions more sur­pris­ing. They say, “In many ways these new tools resem­ble blogs stripped down to the bare essen­tials.” I’m not sure what this means; stripped-down is the sort of term that usu­ally con­notes a min­i­mal­ist refac­tor­ing or adap­ta­tion that is designed to empha­size the fun­da­men­tal aspects of some orig­i­nal thing under inter­pre­ta­tion, but I don’t think they want read­ers to take away the notion that social book­mark­ing is an inter­pre­ta­tion of blog­ging.
Mov­ing on, they say, “Here the essen­tial unit of infor­ma­tion is a link, not a story, but a link dec­o­rated with a title, a descrip­tion, tags and per­haps even per­sonal rec­om­men­da­tion points.” which leaves me won­der­ing why it’s use­ful to com­pare Furl to blog­ging?
A cul­tural stud­ies pro­fes­sor of mine used to say of career aca­d­e­mics, “We decide what things mean for a liv­ing”. I sus­pect this is what the D-Lib authors were work­ing toward with their blog­ging com­par­i­son. Since the label space for this thing itself is a bit crowded (con­tenders being eth­n­o­clas­si­fi­ca­tion, folk­son­omy, social clas­si­fi­ca­tion), it makes bet­ter sense to ele­vate the arena of your own ter­ri­to­r­ial claim to a higher level that is less clut­tered with other claimants, and decide how it relates to some­thing well-known and more estab­lished.
They close with, “It is still uncer­tain whether tag­ging will take off in the way that blog­ging has. And even if it does, nobody yet knows exactly what it will achieve or where it will go — but the road ahead beck­ons.“
This is some­what unin­spir­ing, but I assume it sat­is­fies the XML schema require­ment that every well-structured review or essay end with a con­clu­sion that opens the door to future pub­li­ca­tions.
Don’t mis­take my piqué at the squishi­ness of their con­clu­sions for dis-satisfaction with the body of the sur­vey; over­all, the piece is well-researched and offers good con­text and per­spec­tive on the antecedents of and con­cepts behind their sub­ject. Their invo­ca­tion of Tim O’Reilly’s ‘archi­tec­tures of par­tic­i­pa­tion’ is just one exam­ple of the value of this sur­vey as an entry point into related phe­nom­ena.
Another good point the D-Lib authors make is the way that the inher­ent local­ity, or context-specificity, of col­lec­tions of social book­marks allows them to pro­vide higher-quality point­ers to resources rel­e­vant for spe­cial­ized pur­poses than the major search engines, which by default index glob­ally, or with­out an edi­to­r­ial per­spec­tive.
Likely most use­ful for the sur­vey reader is their set of ref­er­ences, which taps into the meme flow for social book­mark­ing by cit­ing a range of source con­ver­sa­tions, edi­to­ri­als, and post­ings from all sides of the phenomenon.

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Approaches to Understanding People: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

April 2nd, 2005 — 1:11pm

David Brooks Op-Ed col­umn The Art of Intel­li­gence in today’s NY Times is strongly rel­e­vant to ques­tions of user research method, design phi­los­o­phy, and under­stand­ing user expe­ri­ences.
Brooks opens by assert­ing that that US Intel­li­gence com­mu­nity shifted away from qual­i­ta­tive / inter­per­a­tive research and analy­sis meth­ods to quan­ti­ta­tive research and analy­sis meth­ods dur­ing the 60’s in an attempt to legit­imize con­clu­sions in the fash­ion of the phys­i­cal sci­ences. From this begin­ning, Brooks’ con­clu­sion is that the basic epis­te­mo­log­i­cal shift in thought about what sorts of infor­ma­tion are rel­e­vant to under­stand­ing the needs and views of groups of peo­ple (nations, soci­eties, polit­i­cal lead­er­ship cir­cles) yielded inter­pre­ta­tions of their views and plans which were either use­less or incor­rect, mod­els which then lead deci­sion mak­ers to a series of dra­matic pol­icy errors — exam­ples of which we still see to this day.

Brooks con­trasts the “unimag­i­na­tive” quan­ti­ta­tive inter­pre­ta­tions assem­bled by sta­tis­ti­cal spe­cial­ists with the broad mix of sources and per­spec­tives which cul­tural and social thinkers in the 50’s used to under­stand Amer­i­can and other soci­eties in nar­ra­tive, qual­i­ta­tive ways.
Accord­ing to Brooks, nar­ra­tive, nov­el­is­tic ways of under­stand­ing pro­vided much bet­ter — more insight­ful, imag­i­na­tive, accure­ate, and use­ful — advice on how Amer­i­cans and oth­ers under­stood the world, open­ing the way to insight into strate­gic trends and oppor­tu­ni­ties. I’ve read many of the books he uses as exam­ples — they’re some of the clas­sics on social / cul­tural / his­tor­i­cal read­ing lists — of the qual­i­ta­tive tra­di­tion, and taken away vivid pic­tures of the times and places they describe that I use to this day when called on to pro­vide per­spec­tive on those envi­ron­ments.
Per­haps it’s implied, but what Brooks doesn’t men­tion is the obvi­ous point that both approaches — qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive — are nec­es­sary to craft­ing fully-dimensioned pic­tures of peo­ple. Mov­ing explic­itly to the con­text of user research, qual­i­ta­tive analy­sis can tell us what peo­ple want or need or think or feel, but num­bers give spe­cific answers regard­ing things like what they’re will­ing or able to spend, how much time they will invest in try­ing to find a piece of infor­ma­tion, or how many inter­rup­tions they will tol­er­ate before quit­ting a task in frus­tra­tion.
When a designer must choose between inter­ac­tion pat­terns, nav­i­ga­tion labels, prod­uct imagery, or task flows, they need both types of under­stand­ing to make an informed deci­sion.
Some excerpts from Brooks’ col­umn:
“They relied on their knowl­edge of his­tory, lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy and the­ol­ogy to rec­og­nize social pat­terns and grasp emerg­ing trends.“
This sounds like a strong syn­thetic approach to user research.
“I’ll believe the sys­tem has been reformed when pol­icy mak­ers are pre­sented with com­pet­ing reports, signed by indi­vid­ual thinkers, and are no longer pre­sented with anony­mous, bureau­crat­i­cally homog­e­nized, bul­leted points that pre­tend to be the prod­uct of sci­en­tific con­sen­sus.“
“But the prob­lem is not bureau­cratic. It’s epis­te­mo­log­i­cal. Indi­vid­u­als are good at using intu­ition and imag­i­na­tion to under­stand other humans. We know from recent advances in neu­ro­science, pop­u­lar­ized in Mal­colm Gladwell’s “Blink,” that the human mind can per­form fan­tas­ti­cally com­pli­cated feats of sub­con­scious pat­tern recog­ni­tion. There is a pow­er­ful back­stage process we use to inter­pret the world and the peo­ple around us.“
“When you try to ana­lyze human affairs using a process that is sys­tem­atic, cod­i­fied and bureau­cratic, as the CIA does, you anes­thetize all of these tools. You don’t pro­duce rea­son — you pro­duce what Irv­ing Kris­tol called the ele­phan­ti­a­sis of reason.”

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