Friday, 31 October 2008

The Google Books 'settlement'

Interesting perspective on it by Dan Cohen. Main conclusion: the devil's in the detail and we don't have those yet. But he highlights the fact that the deal seems to allow humanities scholars computational access to the scanned works. That could be a big deal. plus, of course, the fact that the deal seems to allow any library that pays a subscription terminal access to full text of everything in the database. If true, that changes the game.

Just for interest, here's a piece I wrote about the Google Books project when it was first announced four years ago.

My most recent comment is here.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The 'We Generation'

Interesting essay on Strategic News Service.

A new generation is about to seize the reins of history: the Millennial generation. Born between 1978 and 2000, the Millennials currently include 95 million young people up to 30 years of age – the biggest, most diverse age cohort in the history of the nation. In 2016, they will be 100 million strong and positioned to dominate the American political scene for 30 to 40 years.

The Millennial generation has already begun to emerge as a powerful political and social force. They are smart, well-educated, open-minded, and independent – politically, socially, and philosophically. They are also a caring generation, one that is ready to put the greater good ahead of individual rewards. And they are already spearheading a period of sweeping change.

For our new book, Generation We: How American Youth Are Taking Over America and the World Forever, Eric Greenberg sponsored a major research study into the characteristics of the Millennial generation. It was conducted by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, one of the most respected research organizations in the U.S., and included both extensive oral and written surveys and a series of in-depth focus groups. The Greenberg Millennials Study (GMS) offers the most detailed portrait available of the attitudes and values of today’s youth, and we’ve supplemented it with extensive research into other indicators of the behaviors and beliefs of the Millennials.

The GMS began with an in-depth national survey of 2,000 individuals of mixed gender, aged 18 to 29, conducted from July 20 to August 1, 2007. The study also included a series of 12 geographically and demographically diverse focus groups, conducted during the first week of December 2007. Each group focused on a particular demographic subset of the Millennial generation.

Taken together, the 12 focus groups captured a unique cross-section of various slices of the Millennial pie and provided some vivid personal stories and testimony to flesh out the more general observations made possible by the broader survey.

This research revealed that the Millennials are very different from Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, and are now creating a new politics in America.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

SocialLearn at the Open University

My colleague Martin Weller is directing an interesting project at the OU. In a post to Terra Incognito he describes it thus:

This project comes on the back of two other major OU ventures, namely the OU adoption of the open source platform Moodle as its learning management system, and the OU’s Hewlett Foundation funded open educational resource initiative, OpenLearn. My colleague Andy Lane will talk about the latter in detail in his post, which will be posted on this blog soon after mine. The adoption of Moodle was significant for the OU for two main reasons: firstly, it signaled to the education community that we believed open source was a robust and sensible option; secondly, it gave out a strong message that the OU was still current and willing to take risks. In this sense it was as much a political decision as a technical one.

SocialLearn is the latest in these types of initiatives. Its aim is to develop a social network for learners, which is based around an open API, thus allowing any application to write to it. In this sense it could be one form of the almost mythical ‘eduglu’ that binds together a range of third party applications to create a Personal Learning Environment. What is perhaps more intriguing, though, is what will happen when we can mine the social graph data to help structure a learner’s experience. When a learner creates a goal, similar goals, relevant resources, and potential third party offerings (eg mentorship, tuition, formal courses) can all be assembled. The system, in effect, can do much of the filtering process that is currently performed by an educator (although it does not seek to provide the support or expertise of the educator, filtering is only one function). The potential of this is that the currently top-down, restricted curriculum is democratised. People learn about whatever is of interest to them - in effect we have an open curriculum.

Currently the project is under development, with a beta launch planned for early 2009..

Offline versions of Wikipedia

Wikipedia produces a downloadable version of the encyclopedia aimed at the schools, with content relevant to the national curriculum. Great idea, and one that could have some serious applications in developing countries where schools have difficulty getting a workable internet connection. The blurb describes it as

a free, hand-checked, non-commercial selection from Wikipedia, targeted around the UK National Curriculum and useful for much of the English speaking world. It has about 5500 articles (as much as can be fitted on a DVD with good size images) and is about the size of a twenty volume encyclopaedia (34,000 images and 20 million words). Articles were chosen from a list ranked by importance and quality generated by project members. This list of articles was then manually sorted for relevance to children, and adult topics were removed. Compared to the 2007 version some six hundred articles were removed and two thousand more relevant articles (of now adequate quality) were added. SOS Ch volunteers then checked and tidied up the contents, first by selecting historical versions of articles free from vandalism and then by removing unsuitable sections. External links and references are also not included since it was infeasible to check all of these.

The project is a joint enterprise with SOS Children's Villages.

Link via BoingBoing.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

External views of the Portal

I thought this comment (found via a link from Lorcan) was worth quoting as a possible slide in future presentations.

I’ve written about the value of enhancing federated search by providing contextual information and I’m happy to see Cambridge University wholeheartedly embracing this idea.

The portal includes these components:

* The ability to drill down to particular subject areas
* Subject-specific federated search pages that access Scopus and CrossSearch
* A page of links to databases, full text archives and other resources for each subject area
* A search engine for Cambridge University journals, by subject area
* A search engine for Cambridge University books
* Detailed context sensitive information for libraries related to each subject area
* Online chat with librarians
* RSS feeds to news articles
* Other useful links, by subject

I reported briefly in May how Cambridge University acquired federated search software and now we all get to see how they’ve built onto it. I’m very impressed at how Cambridge University has packed a wealth of useful services into a well thought out portal that is very friendly to students. I think the Cambridge portal will serve as a model for sophisticated yet simple search portals for some time to come.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Social search

Looking for an apartment online, day after day, can get tedious. Finding the right sofa at the right price can also be time consuming. A new search engine, called Yotify, is designed to make these kinds of persistent quests more tolerable, and hopefully more successful.

Much like Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts, a Yotify search does not start and end in an instant. Instead, the search runs at regular intervals--either hourly or daily, depending on the user's preference--with results sent back to the user via e-mail.


Thursday, 9 October 2008

Your search is valuable to us

Interesting post by Martin Weller.

Tony was giving a talk yesterday as part of a workshop with me and Grainne, to the OU Library and he said something I hadn't really appreciated before - namely that because Google refines its search results based on your history (if you are signed in to Google), the results, say, that Tony gets will be different from the ones you or I get. I know it came out in 2005, I told you I was slow on the uptake.

This made me think that your search history is actually valuable, because the results you get back are a product of the hours you have invested in previous searches and the subject expertise in utilising search terms. So, if you are an expert in let's say, Alaskan oil fields, and have been researching this area for years, then the Google results you get back for a search on possible new oil fields will be much more valuable than the results anyone else would get.

There are a couple of interesting implications to this. Firstly, just as people who don't have the time will pay others to build up their characters for them in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, so the time you have invested in your search history may become a valuable commodity. Time is the commodity we don't have enough of, and anything that can only be realised through the investment of time has some value to someone.

Secondly, if you can assemble and utilise the expert search of a network of people, then you can create a socially powered search which is very relevant for learners. Want to know about really niche debates in evolution? We've utilised Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones and Matt Ridley's search history to give you the best results. Or if you prefer, the search is performed as the aggregation of a specialist community.

A compendium of beautiful libraries

Thinking about the library as a physical space, this link from my Camvine colleague, Thomas Hunger, seemed interesting (if a trifle nostalgic). But it raises the question: if we want to make virtual libraries work, how can we make them pleasurable spaces?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Science portal gets noticed

Nice post in Lorcan Dempsey's blog. He particularly likes the contextual services.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Libraries as social spaces

One of the areas we should examine is the changing role of libraries as social spaces. There's an interesting Economist article on the way architects have been providing so-called 'third places' -- i.e. neither home nor office.

The academic name for such spaces is “third places”, a term originally coined by the sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book, “The Great, Good Place”. At the time, long before mobile technologies became widespread, Mr Oldenburg wanted to distinguish between the sociological functions of people's first places (their homes), their second places (offices) and the public spaces that serve as safe, neutral and informal meeting points. As Mr Oldenburg saw it, a good third place makes admission free or cheap—the price of a cup of coffee, say—offers creature comforts, is within walking distance for a particular neighbourhood and draws a group of regulars. The eponymous bar in the television series “Cheers”, “where everybody knows your name”, is an example.

Mr Oldenburg's thesis was that third places were in general decline. More and more people, especially in suburban societies such as America's, were moving only between their first and second places, making extra stops only at alienating and anonymous locations such as malls, which in Mr Oldenburg's opinion fail as third places. Society, Mr Oldenburg feared, was at risk of coming unstuck without these venues for spreading ideas and forming bonds.

No sooner was the term coined than big business queued up to claim that it was building new third places. The most prominent was Starbucks, a chain of coffee houses that started in Seattle and is now hard to avoid anywhere. Starbucks admits that as it went global it lost its ambiance of a “home away from home”. However, it has also spotted a new opportunity in catering to nomads. Its branches offer not only sofas but also desks with convenient electricity sockets. These days Starbucks makes bigger news when it switches Wi-Fi providers—it dropped T-Mobile for AT&T in February—than when it sells a new type of coffee bean. Bookshops such as Barnes & Noble are also offering “more coffee and crumbs”, as Mr Oldenburg puts it, as are churches, YMCAs and public libraries...

The article cites the Stata Centre at MIT (by Frank Gehry) as an example of a different approach to building design:

Opened in 2004 and housing MIT's computer-science and philosophy departments behind its façade of bizarre angles and windows, it has become a new Cambridge landmark. But the building's most radical innovation is on the inside. The entire structure was conceived with the nomadic lifestyles of modern students and faculty in mind. Stata, says William Mitchell, a professor of architecture and computer science at MIT who worked with Mr Gehry on the centre's design, was conceived as a new kind of “hybrid space”.

This is best seen in the building's “student street”, an interior passage that twists and meanders through the complex and is open to the public 24 hours a day. It is dotted with nooks and crannies. Cafés and lounges are interspersed with work desks and whiteboards, and there is free Wi-Fi everywhere. Students, teachers and visitors are cramming for exams, flirting, napping, instant-messaging, researching, reading and discussing. No part of the student street is physically specialised for any of these activities. Instead, every bit of it can instantaneously become the venue for a seminar, a snack or romance.

The fact that people are no longer tied to specific places for functions such as studying or learning, says Mr Mitchell, means that there is “a huge drop in demand for traditional, private, enclosed spaces” such as offices or classrooms, and simultaneously “a huge rise in demand for semi-public spaces that can be informally appropriated to ad-hoc workspaces”.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Print what you Like

Useful web tool. Enables you to specify which areas of a web page you want to print.

Digital Nomads

The Economist has a good survey of how mobile communications are changing the way we live and work.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Fame at last

Jane Secker mentions the science portal in her blog after Yvonne's session at Oxford last week!