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Archive for June, 2007

More evidence that tagging is entering the mainstream

Adobe Illustrator C3’s help system incorporates links to as a source of information. Cool!

(Thanks for BradSucks for the link.)

Knowledge as a conversation

Tim Spalding of LibraryThing posts the intro to a talk he gave at the ALA in which he takes on Michael Gorman’s trashing of Knowledge 2.0. Tim challenges Gorman’s starting point. Herewith that starting point:

“Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do.”

No, says Tim, we also learn by conversation…

Tim in a footnote takes me to task for not acknowledging in Everything Is Miscellaneous that, while digitization has “kicked things up a notch,” the lessons are old ones. In general, I think that’s right. I do tend to believe that the Web touches us so deeply because it more clearly expresses what we’ve known all along. That was the point of Small Pieces Loosely Joined . [Tags: ]

TauMed – Curated medical miscellany (beta) is a health community that features the ability to pose a question. Any member (it’s free) can answer, but “the search results are screened and optimized by a team of physicians and software professionals for relevancy.” (From the FAQ.) It’s an interesting mix of amateur and professional.

The random browsing I did of the 1,126 questions (half of which  have been answered) made the site seem promising. The answers tended to seem to be helpful, doctors jumped in when the questions were really scary (e.g., does having lots of liver cysts mean that you have cancer, although I would have thought that the doctor who told you that you had lots of cysts would have explained this rather carefully at the time), and it was a full ten questions before I came onto one about penis size.

When you ask a  question, you have to  categorize your question. There are about 25 top-level categories – from Allergies to Women’s Wellness (but for us be-penised ones, it’s called ‘Men’s Health’ …curious) – and clicking on one reveals more levels of choices. I asked why my blood sugar goes up after jogging for 45 minutes (I’m a Type 2 diabetic), and immediately ran into one of the basic problems with providing a fixed menu of choices: I had trouble finding the right category. I didn’t want to put it into Fitness and Healthy Living. I finally found Diabetes under Hormonal Health and Metabolism. That’s asking a lot of your users. A search engine would have been a useful addition.

The very first question I looked at hit the second major problem with fixed menus. It was someone asking why he was having trouble bending and stretching his pinky. The writer has diabetes and high cholesterol. Yet the answered question was listed under Rheumatoid Arthritis. I assume that the TauMed staff classified it that way, because if the writer had known how to classify it, he wouldn’t have been asking.

The box of related content that accompanies each answer contained highly relevant information. This is one of the advantages of using a fixed taxonomy, although the suggestions seemed to be derived non-taxonomically as well.

There are “communities” for each of the two dozen top-level categories. You cannot create your own.  Maybe that’ll change. You can also create a personal health journal, post commentaries and observations, and search a directory of local health resources.

There’s a BBC article on TauMed here.

Why we need librarians

Thomas Mann (no, not that one) has a fascinating and important article about why tagging, folksonomies, and the rest of the hip Web 2.0 stuff is inadequate to meet the needs of scholars looking for information. It is, at least informally, a response to the Calhoun Report.

His example of trying to find information about “tribute payments in the Peloponnesian War” is classic and convincing: Finding what the scholar needs requires smart human guides and the smart guides that humans have created for scholars.

But, of course that doesn’t scale:

I would be the first to agree that the inexpensive indexing methods of term weighting, tagging, and folksonomy referrals–none of which requires expensive professional input–are entirely appropriate for dealing with most of the Internet’s Web offerings. With billions of sites to be indexed, it is out of the question to think that traditional cataloging can be applied to all of them. No one in his right mind would say otherwise.

But there is a crucial distinction that is being swept under the rug: the difference between quick information seeking and scholarship.

And, he says, scholarship requires books. Thus, the labor- and intelligence-intensive scholarly information clustering techniques will continue to work because the flow of books will continue to be relatively slow:

The universe of books published every year is much smaller, and much more manageable, than the universe of Web sites; this is the “niche” of sources to which professional cataloging should be primarily devoted. … Most of the billions of Web sites do not merit this level of attention to begin with; they are too inconsequential and too ephemeral. If we are going to promote scholarship, it is not enough to simply digitize the books for immediate retrieval if term weighting of keywords, tagging, and folksonomy referrals are the only mechanisms we provide for finding them. It is not at all unrealistic to propose that research libraries fill the niche of providing the best, most systematic, access to books…

He later says that systematic cataloging should not exclude all non-books.

As an argument for maintaining human expertise in manually assembling information into meaningful relationships, this paper is convincing. But it rests on supposing that books will continue to be the locus of worthwhile scholarly information. Suppose more and more scholars move onto the Web and do their thinking in public, in conversation with other scholars? Suppose the Web enables scholarship to outstrip the librarians? Manual assemblages of knowledge would retain their value, but they would no longer provide the authoritative guide. Then we will have either of two results: We will have to rely on “‘lowest common denominator'”and ‘one search box/one size fits all’ searching that positively undermines the

requirements of scholarly research”…or we will have to innovate to address the distinct needs of scholars.

My money is on the latter.

He concludes:

We need to make the best possible use of our principles, our experience, our tested practices, and our technologies, and not yield to the temptations to let either the technologies themselves or transient fashions constrict our vision of what needs to be done to promote scholarship of the highest possible quality–and that is a goal very different from striving to provide ‘something quickly.’


(Thanks to Bradley Allen for the link.)

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Our national wave of vandalism (a story of metadata)

At some point we noticed a crack in the windshield of our car. It’s a single line, about 8 inches long, not the spider web fracture typical of a pebble or assassination attempt. We don’t know exactly when it happened or how.Our insurance covers it. But when I went to file the claim through SafeLight, the person on the phone insisted that I give a reason why the glass broke. The fact is that I don’t know. But that is not an acceptable answer. Rain? Hail? Pebble? Collision? Branch? Vandalism? Collision? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. So I said it was vandalism.

I wonder how many of our national statistics are skewed by a failure to provide an “I don’t know” or “Other” box…

Information overload’s back end

Atif Rafiq, founder of Bazooked, takes the miscellaneous as his starting point for reflections on differences in how users selection information “depending upon where they stand in the consumption lifecycle.” He writes:

As a user begins to get deeper into consumption, choice begins to multiply not because there is any more content out there. When users interact with information, their interests can grow, branch or re-formulate. Initial inspirations may still apply but new ones are brought to light. In other words, interaction grows the possibilities in the mind of the user.

Then the question is how to deal with the user’s need at these different phases. But that’s what Atif’s post is about…

Inside every link is a tag waiting to get out

Every link is a tag

Samuel Wantman, who works on Wikipedia‘s category strategy, has suggested that every hyperlinked word in every Wikipedia article be treated as a tag.

What a cool idea! It’d frequently give you so many articles that it wouldn’t be worth it, but especially if we were able to do intersections of the hyperlinked words, there are times when it’d be worth its weight in bits.

Apparently, however, this would require so much processing power that the lights on the Eastern seaboard would dim every time someone used it. So, perhaps it’s a project that a third party could undertake? Or refine? [Tags: ]

The eighth and last in my series of Miscellaneous interviews, sponsored by the Berkman Center and Wired, is up. I talk with Richard Sambrook, head of the BBC World Service and blogger. We talk not so much about citizens as journalists as about citizens as those who exercise editorial judgment. How will the BBC compete in a world where we’re busily telling one another what we ought to read…especially as content gets pulled out of the sites themselves? [Tags: ]

Livelook aggregates webcams

At Livelook you can browse a map to find the web cams, and then gaze to your eyes’ content…

Best places not to read the book

Jeremiah Owyang has found a great place not to be reading Everything is Miscellaneous. Yes, Jeremiah, you are “a real web geek.” But I’m glad you like the book.

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