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Archive for October, 2007

Knowee

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31st, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

It’s nice to see the semantic web community start to deliver practical solutions. Knowee is a perfect example; from the home page:

knowee is an open-source web contact organizer (or “online social graph manager” for better buzzword compliance). It’s decentralized and lets you aggregate, track, organize, and share information about you and the people you know.

It’s OpenID-enabled, with a nice, clean, intuitive GUI. Alas, it seems all accounts are currently taken, so I can’t yet try it.

Leopard Does ODF

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29th, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

Awhile back I’d noted that Apple was adding ODF support to Leopard, but that it remained to be seen how good the support was. Well, at least one early report seems to suggest … pretty damn good. They do import/export (though still unclear how well), and it’s integrated into Cocoa and the new QuickLook previewer. So despite my general dislike of Apple’s incoherent stance on standards, here’s one place where they’re doing the right thing. Kudos to Apple, then.

If I had a suggestion for Apple for the future, I’d look into a way to bridge the new enhanced metadata support in ODF 1.2 with their CoreData framework. That way, Mac developers could easily embed richer intelligence into their documents using a W3C standard extensible metadata framework.

Resistance to Zotero?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27th, 2007 by darcusb – 5 Comments

A few weeks back, I came across a review of Zotero. In the context of this very positive review, I came across the following comment:

For Scott, who is not affiliated with an academic institution, Zotero makes a lot of sense because it’s free.

But many IHE readers are affiliated with a college or university. Those folks may want to find out if their library has RefWorks. It’s available free of charge to anyone at the institution — and if you ever leave you can take all of your citations with you.

I won’t turn this comment into an ad for Refworks, which to my way of thinking, does all that Zotero does and more (for example, integrating your citations from your personal database directly into your word documents in any of dozens of citation formats — and with RefShare — scholars or students in a class can start to share their references ). I’ll just suggest that like many other great library resources that are made available to the campus community, faculty should not overlook them — and they should be advocates for encouraging their students to use them as well.

What struck me as odd is that this was not, as I first suspected, a post from a RefWorks representative. That would make some sense. Rather it was from one Steven Bell, who lists himself as “associate university librarian at temple u.” Hmmm …

In a followup, I proceeded to point out some factual errors and differences of opinion on the content of Steven’s comment. I also challenged libraries for spending large licensing fees for what is an inferior product when even a portion of those fees could be directed to Zotero. As I wrote:

Universities spend a lot of money for those licenses. Imagine if instead they invested in truly free solutions like Zotero (which I personally believe is superior to RefWorks in virtually every way; the only exception currently being the lack of server support)?

I then came across an even more bizarre comment from one H. Stephen McMinn:

I was going to enter the comment area and reply to the potential pros and cons of various bibliographic management software, but the level of discourse has discouraged me from even considering it. Zotero has some fine features which other bibliographic management software packages don’t but it also doesn’t have the functionality of others. I really don’t see the need to blast someone because he stated something is free when it is in fact subsidized by the university so it appears free to university community. Can’t we all get along?

Huh? So I was curious: is this another librarian sensitive to critique of vendor products? Well, it turns out, apparently yes!

So I’m just left scratching my head at this. Why on earth would librarians be defending costly, limited and closed solutions and subtly digging a project that is arguably better, certainly free, and developed by a group of scholars? It made no sense!

But I just came across another post that helps clarify what I would call the dysfunctional organizational politics of these positions. In Zotero proselytizing, a library information sciences student observes the following:

I don’t talk about Zotero too much at work because we subscribe to, and are busy promoting- RefWorks. I feel sorta like a traitor. But in my own research, Zotero has been an absolute godsend. I truly believe students are better off using Zotero, because they can store, annotate, and, if they install on a portable version of Firefox as I have, take their database anywhere, even places without an internet connection. Not to mention, when they graduate, they can take all their research with them and not have to pay $100 a year.

Ah ha! This starts to give some insight. Sounds a little like what I imagine CIA employees skeptical of the “slam dunk” intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs must have felt like before the invasion!

I know from talking to library IT people that most are really psyched about Zotero. Many of them promote Zotero on their blogs, or use it for their own research, and some even hack on it. And clearly library people get the useful innovations that Zotero brings to their users.

But what about this business of feeling like “a traitor” for not promoting the party line proprietary solution? It’s really a shame, since it seems that the only thing this student is betraying in promoting Zotero is a rather narrow-minded organizational group think; not their end users.

Aside: it occurs to me that when I use the term “free” in these contexts it may be a little unclear exactly what I mean. I mean it in the free as in free speech tradition; not simply that it is cost-free.

I don’t think many people realize how crucial bibliographic data is to a scholar. A rather intense frustration can result from feeling that such crucial data is locked-in to closed products that have a history of glacial innovation. A lot of my interest in data and metadata modeling really comes from having been unable to represent a lot of my data in applications like Endnote and RefWorks, and not having any faith its developers would improve their applications to accommodate my needs. With Zotero, by contrast, I know people like Dan Cohen have gone through similar frustrations, and that they will always strive to create a better tool regardless of market considerations. I am also confident that whatever work I directly or indirectly put into Zotero will have positive impacts beyond Zotero.

Goodbye Exchange, Hello Gmail IMAP

Posted in General on October 27th, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

Ever since I heard late last year that my campus was moving to MS Exchange, I’ve been grumbling. I thought then that this was a shockingly misguided decision, and since the rollout, my suspicions have only been confirmed.

When they flipped the switch on the transition, I realized that Apple Mail—which had always worked flawlessly with the previous IMAP server—now was unusable with Exchange’s IMAP gateway. Moreover, none of the advanced calendaring functionality was available to me unless I wanted to change email clients (to MS Entourage). I did not, and resented the fact that the decision to move to a proprietary solution was creating two classes of users on campus: those who used the full closed MS stack, and those that did not. I have yet to be on a committee where the chair insists on scheduling through Exchange, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. I also resented the heavy-handed way IT administrators were pressuring people to conform to their single source vision.

So I started to lessen my dependence on the campus mail system, and move more of it to GMail. But that only went so far given the lack of IMAP support. Thankfully, Google is now rectifying that limitation. To wit, I’ve now got a solid, reliable IMAP server, an online calendar with an open API, and an open source cross-platform client (Mozilla’s Thunderbird + Lightning) that works beautifully with both.

Problem solved.

Comparing CDF and ODF

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26th, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

Gary Edwards describes his plans for using CDF in place of ODF.

The simple truth is that ODf was not designed to be compatible – interoperable with existing Microsoft documents, applications and processes. Nor was it designed for grand convergence… CDF on the other hand was designed exactly for grand convergence.

Now let’s compare this statement against the Compound Document Use Cases and Requirements document:

The Open Document Format … specifies an office application compatible style model, page layouts, index generations, text fields, table formulas which the CDF specifications will not address.

It’s not clear how one squares these two statements.

My prediction: if they even ship a solution that comes close to matching their lofty marketing rhetoric (doubtful), it will need to rely on non-standard extensions. If they try to standardize any of those extensions within the CDF group at the W3C, they will be rejected as out of scope.

Perhaps at that point we’ll hear noise about how the W3C is dominated by big vendors that are hostile to real-world interoperability and that CDF was never designed to meet market requirements.

How to Improve Academic Conferences?

Posted in General on October 20th, 2007 by darcusb – 1 Comment

I’m a fan of Presentation Zen, and have often recommended it to students. A recent post on Pecha Kucha got me thinking: if the purpose of this approach is to cut down on excessive wordiness, to keep presentations focused, and to give many people a chance to present, perhaps it might be interesting to experiment with it for academic conferences? That might have the effect of raising the overall quality of presentations, and opening up more opportunity for discussion?

Just a thought …

Twine

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19th, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

I don’t yet know what to make of Twine, but the Talis blog has a short overview with a number of links.

Twine seems to be a practical answer to the question of what semantic web technologies can add to the social networking experience. This overview explains among other things that:

The interface also includes a tag cloud for quick reference. Radar Networks’ platform has digested Wikipedia as part of its underlying structure, and has 300,000 concepts in the system.

So it seems that this might be a smarter and more open alternative to something like Facebook (which I still don’t get), but which is deeply and richly integrated into the web, and no doubt the emerging web of data. The links of the tagging infrastructure to Wikipedia is just a simple, but practical, example of this. I’ll be interested to see what the Zotero guys think of this as they work on their server and social networking stuff.

update: Tim O’Reilly explains Twine like so:

Underlying twine is Radar’s semantic engine, trained to do what is called entity extraction from documents. Put in plain language, the semantic engine auto-tags each document, turning each entity into what looks like a web link as well as a tag in the sidebar. Type a note in twine, and it picks out all of the people, places, companies, books, and other types of information contained in the note, separating them out by type.

Also, Shelley Powers has a really good point on a potential drawback:

… the semantic web means the web in the wild, not centralized in a specific tool or environment. If this becomes a “Facebook and Wikipedia mashup”, it might be successful, and it might be semantic, but it isn’t the web. The whole point of the semantic web technologies is for each of us to annotate our data, wherever we are, regardless of tool, and begin to really drive out the tiny threads of true meaning on a global scale. If we have to leave our places where we’re at and go elsewhere, this seems to create a disconnect, right from the start. I have this same quibble with the other ‘mainstream applications using semantic web technologies’, so the concern isn’t targeted specifically at Twine.

OpenDocument’s New Metadata System

Posted in Uncategorized on October 13th, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

The new metadata system coming in OpenDocument 1.2 was the product of the ODF metadata subcommittee. Team member and proposal co-editor Svante Schubert from Sun discusses his excitement about the opportunities this presents for OpenOffice, as well as includes a link to a recent presentation he gave on the topic at OOoCon. Rob Weir from IBM follows up with more useful links and his typically smart perspective that shows both an understanding of big picture trends and possibilities, and technical perspective one would expect of an engineer. As he says of documents:

… for those who work with thoughts, the present constraints of encoding our knowledge as simple linear strings of Unicode characters is severe. In general text is multi-layered and hyper-linked in strange and marvelous ways. Your father’s word processor and word processor format are inadequate to the task. The concept of a document as being a single storage of data that lives in a single place, entire, self-contained and complete is nearing an end. A document is a stream, a thread in space and time, connected to other documents, containing other documents, contained in other documents, in multiple layers of meaning and in multiple dimensions. What we call a traditional document is really just a snapshot in time and space, a projection into print-ready output form, of what documents will soon become.

The enhanced metadata framework in ODF, suffice to say, should provide the technical basis for developers to explore these ideas, and to provide real benefit to their users. Indeed, another of our subcommittee members was a medical doctor and semantic web geek intensely interested in the thoroughly practical—in some cases life and death—possibilities associated with metadata enhanced patient records. What if, he asks, patient records were not just dumb text, but richly layered collections of structured data?

But the metadata system will also allow for more immediate pay-off, offering what most of us believe will be a superior solution for custom functionality such as fields. For example, we have included a generic metadata field. Just a simple container for generated text, both the field and whatever data gets associated with it will get described in RDF and serialized in the file package.

Unlike Microsoft’s custom schema support, we provide this through the standard model of RDF. What this means is that implementors can provide a generic metadata API in their applications, based on an open standard, most likely just using off-the-shelf code libraries.

But beyond the pay-off for developers, this will enable users and enterprises too. The standard model enables the seamless merging of disparate data; precisely the kind of technical requirements necessary to realize the kinds of dreams Rob and John outline.

Foundationless

Posted in General on October 10th, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

I’ve not bothered to comment on the issue here, but Rob Weir has an excellent analysis of the recent unraveling of the OpenDocument Foundation, which at this point appears to be three people: Gary Edwards, Marbux, and Sam Hiser. Sam has a weak rebuttal that only reinforces one of Rob’s points: the self-righteous, self-serving, completely delusional belief that these three alone have all the solutions to the complex problems of interoperability, that they are somehow the torch-bearers of freedom, and that anyone that disagrees with them on anything is part of some conspiracy to deny the world a better future.

What’s really sad is that some journalists actually believe this rhetoric without any apparent further investigation. For example, Linux Today concludes in an example of shockingly bad and unsubstantiated journalism that:

… regardless of how “right” people think ODF is over OOXML, it’s still just one more thing for big vendors to fight about. In the end, Gary and the Foundation are saying, it’s the customers that lose out, trying to get their documents opened.

Did they talk to David Faure or Thomas Zander from the KOffice project? Obviously not. How about former Foundation members like Patrick Durusau? Nope.

When Marbux (a man who hides behind a pseudonym) started being abusive on the ODF TC lists and threatening lawsuits and to fork ODF, I wrote at the time that I would publicly call it as I saw it: as an unprincipled effort at extortion. I will continue to do that. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists at the Foundation, it will be hard for them to explain away my position by reference to some corporate conspiracy. But I post it here for the record.

Adobe Buzzword … Sigh

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1st, 2007 by darcusb – Comments Off

Wow, things are certainly interesting on the productivity application front these days. Today I see news that Adobe is buying a really interesting —if currently flawed — new web application.

This screenshot shows both how beautiful the application is, and also how limited.

Buzzword; oops no styles

So it is definitely the most beautiful word-processor I’ve seen recently. It also supports ODF.

But … no styles support … at all! This is a worrying trend I’m seeing; reinvent tools for the 21st century by stepping back in time to the 1980s.

Alas, Buzzword is still in development, so I will hold out some hope that they can correct ship and implement elegant styles support before final rollout.

Oh, I would like to add that it’s really nice to see professional quality Adobe fonts like Minion and Myriad in Buzzword and the technically-similar presentation application SlideRocket rather than the absolutely atrocious Arial and Times we typically see. Kudos on that.

another update: So I got an account, and am playing with Buzzword. One word: wow! Also, they will be adding styles support; if it’s anything like the rest of the application, I’m sure they’ll do a good job with it.