teaperson's blog

LISNews RSS Goof

Hey Blake - I clicked on the RSS chiclet at the top of the navigation (instead of the many, many other ones on the page), and got led astray by the text that told me to subscribe to lisnews.rss.

Yours in nitpicking,

Miscellaneous Geekery

Two things that prove that I am a library geek:
1) My four-year-old son brought home a Father's Day card he had decorated at pre-school. His teacher had written for him "I love my father because he takes me to the library." This made my heart melt. (My daughter loves me because I take her to the playground, but I love them equally).

2)In my day job, I got a draft licensing contract that allows the licensee to "use, reproduce, adapt, modify, and create derivative works of Metadata." I'd never seen that before in a contract; it shows a lot of forward-thinking by a well-known web company. And it made my librarian heart melt as well (although not in the same way).

Fixing the LOC American Memory Site

Simon Willison, an English web wizard blogger (who, btw, was just hired by Yahoo) has written a greasemonkey extension to dynamically change and drastically improve the navigation of the Library of Congress's digital library, the American Memory project.

For those of you unfamiliar with Greasemonkey, it's an extension to Firefox that lets you do this sort of thing: display a website how YOU want it, not how the developer programmed it.

One of the comments suggests that Simon should contact the website and ask them to incorporate design changes into the site. There's something unlikely to happen! But it does point out another truism of the developing web culture: expect your information to be reused in ways you didn't imagine, by some.

On the other hand, UI guru Jakob Nielsen just pointed out that most users use the default choices, so you need to make the defaults work well. Most users won't use greasemonkey to fix your site. They'll just go away.

Google a Media Company?

There's been a meme going around about whether Google is a media company or not. As someone who's worked for search engines and media companies, I'd say they're a media company -- but don't quite realize it yet.

A media company is a company that gets eyeballs together so that it can sell ads to put in front of that audience. Subscriptions are not necessarily involved, as broadcast television illustrates. Google may use algorithms instead of creativity in creating the content people look at, but the content still attracts users.

Google has not quite realized this fact yet, which is what is so confusing. I used to work for a search engine that also thought it was a technology company. It's value has plummeted, because it didn't really pay attention to what its users wanted, content-wise. Yahoo!, on the other hand, realizes this, and is gaining increasing buzz, readership, and shareholder value.

One last thing to remember: printing presses used to be high tech. Benjamin Franklin, America's leading technologist of the 20th century (stove inventor, lightning harnesser) ran a printing press.

"Folksonomy" at InfoWorld

I don't have enough time to do a regular blog, so I figure I'll start an occasional series here.

InfoWorld made a little splash in the blogosphere with word that it was giving up taxonomy in favor of tagging. Designer Matt McAlister explains in his blog how they are "excited about the possibilities for the site now that we have these tags", which are powered by del.icio.us.

First off, he says they are going to be combining "structured" tags applied in a "normalized" way with "free-form" tags. By "structured", he means that they'll have a controlled vocabulary where it's important, for instance so that ads can be sold against certain content. Although I'm not sure where it wouldn't be important.

He's excited that they're going to be able to find related content by looking at content that shares more than one tag. Which means they've re-invented post-coordinate search.

What most annoys me is that he says that "The downside is that we're probably going to phase out or at least simplify the robust taxonomy that we spent so much time and energy building and refining over the years." That is a downside, because there's no point to it. A more flexible view of their taxonomy, making it more hospitable to new topics, applying more than one topic to a story, and moving towards faceted classification would provide them with the benefits they seek without throwing out all their previous work.

Now, a peek at their tagging in practice. Look at del.icio.us/infoworld. (Disclaimer: they've just started doing this, so perhaps there's a learning curve, which I'm not giving them credit for). There's lots of use fragmentation of content in their tags: app_server and application_server, bigfix and bigfix_patch_manager, rim and research_in_motion. There's misspelling: delyaed (for delayed). There's inconsistency: 32_bit and 64-bit. There's splitting names among two tags: Carly and Fiorina (that might work) or Mark and Hurd (that won't).

The result is chaos, which a controlled vocabulary or taxonomy would prevent. Other than trendiness, there doesn't seem to be much value here in abandoning established practices. Jon Udell needs to walk down the hall and talk some sense into his colleagues.

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