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Archive for February, 2007

Tags ‘n’ facets at EngineeringVillage has about 32 million records available, including 10.7 million from the Compendex (Computerized Engineering Index) that has data going back to 1884, 9.5 million records from the Inspec Archives that goes back to 1896, 2.2 milllion government technical records in the NTIS collection, and 9.5 million patent abstracts.

How can you possibly navigate 32 million records? Searching requires second-guessing authors, and with that many records, it’s bound to miss more than it finds. So, EV uses a combination of full text searching and faceted navigation.

For example, if you’re looking for anti-gravity devices, begin by doing a text search on “gravity.” You’ll get 202,162 results. In the righthand frame, you are shown eight areas (facets) — source, author, affiliation, country, document type, year, etc. — each with a list of the occupants of that particular branch. So, under Affiliation, you can see that the Jet Propulsion Lab has 326 records that contain the word “gravity,” while NASA’s Goddard Center only has 155; this by itself is valuable information. Check the NASA box, and now you you can further refine the 234 results by deciding only to see those articles published in the US, and then the ones on solid state physics. We’re now down to 11 articles. But we can always go back and remove the restriction to only articles published by NASA. It’s tree browsing where we get to construct the tree.

Now EngineeringVillage has added user-created tags. Tags can be declared as public, institutional, or belonging to a user-defined group. Very cool. (It would be especially helpful if, say, the US Patent Office were to suck in the tags applied to patents.)

The tag cloud shows that the top tags at the moment — early days for the tagging feature — are “Thermal management,” “sathya,” “Unsaturated soils,” “Wireless sensor networks,” “Photonic crystals,” and “Room temperature,” which suggests that users are working on growing photonic crystals at room temperature for use in wireless sensor networks, to enable the Sathya Sai Organization at long last to achieve world domination.

In an email, Rafael Sidi, VP of product engineering at Elsevier Engineering Information says that the faceted system was built in house using the FAST search engine.

BTW, I think Rafael makes the right response to Steve Rubel’s idea that “It’s very difficult to survive as a paid service in a Long Tail environment. One reason is that it’s now easier to discover free, open source alternatives.” Rafael replies that services like EngineeringVillage add “value to the content that we publish (indexing, writing abstracts), creating better searching features and providing analytical tools (intelligence).” The Long Tail enables the creation of such deep value that only some of that value can be addressed by Open Source solutions (long may they wave).

(Disclosure: Steve Rubel works for Edelman PR, to whom I consult, and I recently did some videoblogging for FastSearch.)

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Reuters, Africa, Bloggers…all on one page

Reuters has started a site devoted exclusively to Africa. Each country has its own page. And there at the top left of each page is a feed of the most recent posts from Global Voices. Reuters is a funder of GV, and this is a very cool integration of the mainstream media and our global voices.

It makes me inordinately happy. [Tags: ]

Commercial vs. free tagging

Tim Spalding has a terrific post analyzing why his LibraryThing has ten times the number of book tags as Amazon. [Tags: ]

Free digital download store

No, it’s not a place where you can get free digital downloads. Rather, it’s software for creating your own storefront for selling your music, documents, used Powerpoints, whatever. It’s from the Web’s favorite musician, BradSucks, and uses Amazon’s incredibly cheap S3 storage service. BradSucks’ store is DRM-free, of course.

You can see it in action here. Or you can download BradSuck’s software here, so you can install it on your own site. (And while you’re checking out BradSucks’ store, you can listen to his music for free, and then go buy a copy of his album.) [Tags: ]

Finding videos ‘n’ stuff

Scouta lets you bookmark and recommend videos at sites like YouTube, helping you find people with the same interests. It also lets you create groups and share what you’ve found with them. It has a “karma and kudos” system that notices when you recommend and share stuff. I’ve been using it in alpha (Disclosure: I’m some type of unoffical advisor, I think) with my family and the Berkman Center as groups. It’s useful despite some rough edges. I like and trust the guys who built it. [Tags: ]


From an article about by Jonathan Alter in Slate:

So for example, this week a teacher in Richton, Mo., posted a request for a $392 camcorder for her kids to act out stories they’re reading; a teacher in New York City asked for a rug on which to read stories to kindergarteners ($474); and a teacher in a 100 percent low-income school in Los Angeles wants a $414 telescope to teach astronomy to her students. Donors scroll through the hundreds of proposals (searchable by region, subject, level of school poverty, etc.) and fund them in whole or in part with a couple of clicks. If there’s no market for the proposal, it doesn’t get funded, though most eventually do. DonorsChoose handles all of the discounted purchasing from vendors, so no money goes directly to the teacher.

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USA Today gets blogging right

It’s a little thing, but the headline in Friday’s USA Today about the head of Marriott hotels, Bill Marriott, Jr., starting a blog was “Send a note to Marriott.” Not read but talk. Yup. [Tags: ]

The first time alphabetization has made me cry

In the comfortless elbow of the Vietnam Memorial in DC, I asked the veteran stationed there how the names were arranged. He explained that starting from the middle, where we were standing, the names are listed in the order in which they fell, stretching to the right, and then picking up again at the entry way to the wall.

But, I said, stretches are alphabetized, some so long that initially I thought the entire wall was arranged A-Z.

They’re listed alphabetically, replied the vet, when there were multiple deaths on one day.

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A day at NPR

Yesterday was a treat.

I spent the day at NPR with five other consultants — Zadi Diaz, Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, and Euan Semple, and Jay Rosen — brought in by Rob Paterson, who has been consulting to NPR for months. As Jeff Jarvis points out (in a post that covers the day well enough that I don’t feel a need to rehash it), many consultants would be too insecure and self-centered to bring in a bunch of others. So, thanks, Rob.

We’d spent Wednesday afternoon in a lively open discussion amongst ourselves, along with Maria Thomas , the head of, with whom we all felt an immediate bond, and with Andy Carvin, the estimable blogger whom most of us already knew. (Andy’s been blogging the meetings.) Not surprisingly, the NPR folks we met were uniformly, well, wonderful. You don’t get to NPR without being good at what you do, and you don’t try to get to NPR unless you love what NPR does for us all.

Wednesday night we went to a red-checked tablecloth Italian place for a group dinner with NPR folks, which was one great conversation after another. Then, Thursday morning we met in a slightly larger group to hash out issues and to prepare for the two-hour panel discussion open to all NPR’ers. Jeff Jarvis was nominated to lead the morning discussion because he has an uncanny ability to do so. Quite remarkable. David Folkenflik led the afternoon panel, with only a few moments of hippy panelist rebellion.

So, that was the format. As to the substance, Jeff’s post covers it well. The discussions throughout the 24 hours pretty consistently progressed from full-time Web heads (Maria and Andy) to those less involved in the Web side of things. So, the focus of concern shifted over time from the long-term internal contradiction — NPR is a product of member stations, but as audio content gets “miscellanized” and available to anyone at any time, member stations are at risk of becoming just another play list — to shorter term hurdles such as the assumption that the growth of listener-created-content means lowering NPR’s standards.

To the standards point, I tried to respond that this isn’t a matter of posting listener’s content as if we’re all now as good at telling stories as NPR reporters are. Rather: (a) There are lots of ways that listeners can and will contribute, beyond posting their own NPR-ish reports; (b) Metadata saves the day. We humans are good at sensing the metadata that tells us that this is a comment someone dashed off, that is an audio piece NPR’s staff has picked out as meeting its professional standards, and everything in between.

For me a highlight was Jay Rosen‘s response to a question from Michel Martin , the host of a new program being developed in public at Rough Cuts, about objectivity. Jay gave a measured, thoughtful response that was a brilliant use of language. When controversies are particularly polarizing, Jay said, NPR inevitably is going to resort to strict objectivity in order to retain its innocence. But, he continued, that can be at the price of truth. Beautiful. I loved Jay’s Blake-ian use of the term “innocence.” (I followed up by asking him if NPR’s Web site gave it a way to blurt out the truth. Blurting is the opposite of objectivity?)

I also thought the various discussions about how and when to enable the users to filter content, rather than relying on an NPR editor to do so, were particularly illuminating.

Zadi Diaz, host and co-creator of JetSet, provided a series of highlights throughout the day. She told a story about a 14 year old who approached JetSet with an ambitious idea for a video series and received unbounded help from the community. It made me want to yell, “Jeez, I love the Web!”, but I managed to restrain myself.

So, it was a great 24 hours for me, and I hope it was at least worthwhile for NPR. What a treat to be allowed to participate.

I had a brainstorm-y idea I floated to NPR I will try out on you, too. Keep in mind that it’s an ill-formed, un-thought-through idea, which you should feel free to kick the bejeezus out of.

NPR values civil discourse. And, despite its reputation in some circles, it’s committed to being non-partisan. So, suppose on pages devoted to particular segments or topics, NPR listeners were explicitly charged with pulling together links that represent the spectrum of opinion and thought on that topic. If it were a page about, say, the Libby trial, users would be asked to find Web references from the left and right, from US and elsewhere, from the scholarly to the flippant. If this were to work, it would presumably be because some small cadre of users stepped up to the task. Getting the “social physics ” right would be crucial, of course.(This idea is spurred by Debatepedia, except it aims at a plurality of views, not a duopoly.)

Bad idea? Impractical? Undesirable? Too much coffee, not enough reality?

[Tags: ] and news

I’m at NPR again today for a group discussion of the effect of the Web. I am very lucky.

There was discussion yesterday about whether should become more of a news site. My gut reaction (which usually means “my wrong reaction” — bad guts! Bad bad guts!) was that it shouldn’t. I woke up this morning realizing why I reacted negatively.

NPR’s distinguishing strength in news isn’t coverage. Audio is hard to skim. Besides, there are already lots of news sites, and increasingly we’re pulling in the coverage we care about, rather than going to a source site. Why go to when you can have CNN, The NY Times, Alternet, HuffingtonPost and Ethan Zuckerman come to you in a feed?

But NPR is fantastic at feature stories analyzing and contextualizing the news. Which means faces the same problem every blogger does: Getting word out about the interesting features they generate. NPR has some facilities available to it that we ordinary bloggers don’t, of course, but the challenge is the same. So, I think NPR should think through how they can surface more of their excellent reportage. And I think it comes down to two basic, well-understand things.

First, let us subscribe to people (e.g., the Nina Totenberg feed), topics (e.g., Iraq coverage, book reviews), programs (e.g., “Fresh Air”), and stuff that other people recommend (e.g., a Digg-like facility?). NPR is already good about providing feeds within the limits of the law and the need to maintain a relationship with their member stations.

Second, let us add value to the NPR content by posting our own, posting reactions, engaging in conversation, etc.

So, should become more of a news site? It depends what you mean by news. Coverage? Nah. Features and discussion? Sure.

Straightforward stuff, but hard to get right, and with plenty of room for innovation within these bromides. [Tags: ]

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