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Archive for June, 2009

HTML5 Process

Posted in Technology on June 9th, 2009 by darcusb – 2 Comments

Ben Adida on the microdata in HTML5 proposal:

So, I cannot live with something that throws away existing important implementations of the *exact* same use cases for no valid technical reason.

Ian’s response:

Indeed; I examined all the existing solutions that I could find closely as the first step (well, the second step, after collecting use cases). I didn’t go through all of them one by one in the e-mail, but I did explicitly examine Microformats and RDFa:

If you go to that URI, here’s his explanation for why not RDFa:

- it uses prefixes, which most authors simply do not understand, and which many implementors end up getting wrong (e.g. SearchMonkey hard-coded certain prefixes in its first implementation, Google’s handling of RDF blocks for license declarations is all done with regular expressions instead of actually parsing the namespaces, etc). Even if implemented right, namespaces still lead to flaky copy-and-paste behaviour.

- it sometimes uses rel=”" and sometimes uses property=”" and it’s hard to know when to use one or the other.

- it introduces much more power than is necessary to solve this problem.

I think the first point is a reasonable one in the sense that prefixes have costs as well as benefits. But the same is true of unprefixed names. A balanced discussion of these tradeoffs seems warranted. Is it really (really!) worth it to invent an entirely new spec because of one fairly trivial issue? Is it really (really!) worth it to force tools developers and publishers to have to do double work?

The other two points range from trivial to entirely ridiculous. Who really decides, for example, how much power is needed for extensible metadata in HTML? Surely the answer will depend a lot on particular use cases? For example, on the general citation case, WikiPedia may have less demanding needs than an academic or legal journal. Shouldn’t that understanding that one size does not fit all be at the center of any extensible metadata support in HTML5?

He then goes on to try to “fix” these problems by removing prefixing, and the rel/property ambiguity. Recognizing that removing the prefixing introduces other problems for readability, etc., he concludes that This, though, is quite ugly.

OK, so aesthetics are now a requirement shaping the design; I have no clue where that came from. To solve this problem he introduces an equally ugly, and completely arbitrary, new way to indicate a global name: the reverse DNS. Where’s the analysis that justifies these conclusions? Do we just accept these claims about aesthetics and usability without any kind of evidence?

Is there no sanity at all in the HTML5 process?

Thomson Reuters Suit Dismissed; Give it to Zotero

Posted in Technology on June 5th, 2009 by darcusb – 1 Comment

So the ridiculous nuisance suit that Thomson Reuters filed against GMU has been dismissed. Am curious to learn the precise details of the ruling, but those should be available soon enough.

In related news, I’d like to encourage people to do as one of the commenters to this story did; take what you would normally pay for an Endnote upgrade, and donate it to the CHNM instead.

Google Wave and Learning

Posted in Teaching, Technology on June 2nd, 2009 by darcusb – Comments Off

Michael Feldstein has two smart posts on the implications of Google Wave for learning:

Quick summary: like me, he thinks Wave is a potential game-changer that has major implications for learning. But he basically answers “no” to the question presented in his second post. His argument comes down to the core point that Wave is unstructured, and this is not always in sympathy with the goals of learning. The argument is twofold:
  1. Permissions: as he puts it, there are times when you want to control permissions, when you don’t want everything to be editable to everyone, when you want to steer a conversation or process in a particular direction. In those cases, the Wave Server as currently being demonstrated will not provide the necessary structure. It is possible that Google will implement fine-grained permissions structures in future versions, but I doubt it.
  2. Sequential structure: there are times when waves are exactly the opposite direction of where you want to go. I believe that half of good teaching is sequencing experiences such that students are more likely to learn in deep and meaningful ways…. Wave is not designed for that at all. To the contrary, it is designed to get out of the way of free-form communication.
I think Michael is spot on: how much of an LMS Wave could replace hinges on how much permissions control Google opts to add, and how well it can be integrated into other, more structured environments. I also suspect he’s right that Google is unlikely to add this sort of structure, but instead make it easy to integrate Wave into other, more structured, environments (such as an LMS).

But if we accept the conclusion that Wave is likely to be more a supplement than a replacement to a more structured LMS, this leads to I think an important question: how might the two worlds—structured and un/semi-structured—be best integrated? It doesn’t seem to me to necessarily follow, for example, that taking a big existing LMS and bolting Wave on is likely the best answer.