Online Information 07 – Day 1

I’m in Olympia this week for Online Information 2007. I’m presenting on Thursday, but until then I’m wandering around and taking notes. Here are some of the sessions I went to on Tuesday.

  • Keynote – Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia
  • Real Work – Euan Semple
  • Real Web 2.0 Benefits – Richard Wallis, Talis
  • Tools Technologies & costs of Web 2.0 – Karen Blakeman , RBA
  • RSS: The Glue of Enterprise 2.0 – Andre Bonvanie, NewsGator

First, some random observations:

  • Olympia is big.
  • The Wifi at the conference sucks mightily. Mightily. Is it wrong to pick sessions based on where the best wifi reception is?
  • Speakers get free food and drink. Yay.
  • Randomly overheard an American guy reading out a confirmation code over the phone, abusing phonetic alphabet: "…, 2, 9, L as in Larry, 1, 3, M as in Mary, …" and appearing surprised at being asked to repeat it. Again.
  • As ever, lots of talk about "if you can convince your IT department to allow access…" [Makes me wonder, as usual, who is in charge]
  • Heard an example a library which had a paper-based suggestions scheme, which started a blog instead. The reason that was given was because the suggestions box wasn’t being dealt with, and the suggestions were just building up. [Will a blog automatically solve this then? Doesn’t it this suggest a more serious problem?]
  • Most speakers are not leaving long enough for questions. Sometimes 90 seconds, after a 30 minute talk. I’ll try to 10 minutes of my 30 on Thursday morning for Q&A.

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia and Wikia founder, gave the opening keynote. He began by asking himself a series of questions.

  • How is Wikipedia funded? (Mainly by lots of small, sub-$50, donations)
  • How popular is Wikipedia? (8th most popular site in the world, according to Alexa)
  • How global is it? (Among the top 10 sites in many countries. English is only 1/3 of total content)

In pointing out that it’s free as in speech (not just as in beer), he said the existing Wikipedia license, the  Free Documentation License pre-dates the Creative Commons license and is "not really compatible" with it. He re-announced the news that the Free Software Foundation is going to release a new version of the Free Documentation License, which will allow Wikipedia content to be re-licensed under CC Attribution-Share-Alike.

Then he went on to talk about the Wikia project ("building the rest of the library") which is now up to 66 languages. Would be 67, but "we don’t count Klingon as a real language".

Top-down content forms increasingly little of the web. ("It’s about the conversation"). Showed Wikipedia Ford article, then the Muppet wiki entry on Ford. In fact, there are 15,271 articles about the Muppets. He (jokingly?) asked "what are these people doing?".

Spoke briefly about an upcoming search engine project. "It’s as much a political statement (political-with-a-small-p) as anything else". Jimmy says that Google, Ask etc are all closed and proprietary, and that shrugging it off and saying ‘it’s all about the algorithm’ is not right. Even the algorithm is still an editorial judgement, and we don’t have access to how those decisions are made. The wikia search engine will open editorial decisions to the community. Will include a social network to create "webs of trust". On Friday they physically loaded 1000 servers to run the backend of this.

The restaurant analogy: We’re going to open a restaurant, and we’re going to serve steak. Steak means the customers are going to have access to knives. We know they might be able to stab each other, so we’d better put them in cages. This makes for a bad society. We need to have ambulances, and hospitals. We need to have police. We need to give the maximum freedom to do good. If they do harm we need quick easy ways to revert their changes.

Some of the questions:

Q: How does wikia relate to Internet Archive? It’s all complimentary. We’re actually talking to Brewster about working together on the search engine project.

Q: Wikipedia’s authority. At college level, you shouldn’t even be citing Britannica (e.g. any encyclopedia) as a source. Using wikipedia for a school assignment is an interesting teaching opportunity. We should be teaching kids that wikipedia is better than some random blog, but probably not as good as a published book, and how to tell the difference. You should go down to the sources at the bottom. Check the sources.

Q: Do you consider Wiki(pedi)a as a threat to libraries? We’re part of a long term trend. A library is more or less dead as a "warehouse for book". But if it’s about preserving physical books while also providing access. Everyone tells jokes, but we still need professional comedians.

Q: Students using Wikipedia as contributors? That’s been done  successfully a few times, and unsuccessfully more than a few times. Forces students to think about writing neutral, high quality, notable and verifiable content. And by the way, if you’re a teacher (or a journalist) please don’t vandalise Wikipedia, even if it’s only to prove the idea that problem changes are quickly reverted. It’s a bit like finding a neighbourhood in which the locals take care of the place and there’s never and litter on the ground. Would you go there and dump trash to test how good they were?


Real Work – Euan Semple

Online Information 2007 - Euan Semple

Started by talking about how people who run things can get very uncomfortable around social software. Gave an example:

"I could never trust my people not to waste their time."

"Have you considered that perhaps your recruitment process is wrong? … What do you do in your working day?"

"I go to lots of meetings."

The amount of genuine collaborative spirit in current ‘meeting culture’ is pretty low. Social tools can engender a genuine collaboration. Inside a trusted environment, new things can happen. What happened at the BBC was democratisation of the workspace.

On the people who don’t engage: "Don’t they know the answer, or is it just that they’re not prepared to share them."

Shows Hugh’s cartoon: Tiny ship of order. Vast sea of chaos.

Innovation Committee? Innovation Department? Innovation tends to arise out of dissatisfaction. People can see a better way to do things. Committees might be there to sanitise it, because it can be uncomfortable. Top down or bottom up?

Even the really valuable stuff can be shared. Example of programme idea (normally tightly held secrets) being shared in a forum at BBC. Someone said "You’re mad. You’ve just shown that to 20,000 people. Someone will steal it" Someone else replied "But they can’t. 20,000 people know it’s his idea".

ROI: a lot of social software is cheap to the point of being free. Not suited to conventional consulting, because they’re not complicated. A Tip on ROI: keep the ‘I’ really small and nobody will give you hassle about the ‘R’.

Accountability. So many things are constrained by perceived risks. You can either have such rigid rules that people can’t do their dayjobs, or you understand the risks, explain what matters, and educate people. More important to

A lot of staff are in those cages Jimmy mentioned.

"Knowledge ecology". It’s about creating an environment which allows people to share. This increases knowledge retention. When people leave they’ve already documented what they know.

Q: Have you observed how different national cultures affect how people engage in this space? English as a common language causes some problems, and translation doesn’t help.  We don’t need cultures to create walls. We’re good at that anyway.

Q: Is the unreasonable and unfair person going to have a tougher time? Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Non-anonymity is really important.

Q: Don’t you think the failure to address security has lead to problems? There’s a dependency on the IT, and people don’t take personal responsibility for their computers. Train people to be responsible.

Q: Re accountability. Is there a distinction between inside and outside the organisation? There’s as much potential for people to do bad as there is to do good, but I do have faith in human nature, even in politics. IP is old law. There will be a tipping point where holding on to stuff will be less productive than giving it away.


Real Web 2.0 Benefits – Richard Wallis, Talis

(A web 2.0 introduction aimed at librarians. Since there are lots of librarians information professionals here, I can’t really complain about that.)

Web 2.0 can’t be defined, but you can recognise it when you see it.

  • RSS
  • AJAX "which is the programming language that makes things go whizzy in your web  browser".
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Tagging
  • Rounded Corners [chuckle]

[No mention of ‘social’ or ‘participatory’ nature of the web though.. unless I missed it].

In the last part of the 20th C, libraries were ahead of the game. Now they’ve been left behind slightly.

Search Google for "lotus". Lots of information about cars. What about the flower, or the IT company. Wikipedia knows to provide you with a list. Google doesn’t know what you want, so they give you what’s popular. In Wikipedia, they developed structure.

Search TripAdviser for "hilton paris" and you get what you’d expect. Then search Google for the same thing. But.. oh.. it works this year. Last year you got a lot of news about a young lady called Paris.

Showed the scroll helpdesk video and promoted Cenote.

Social networking adds value to search. [Ahha. Here we go..]

Richard’s predictions:

  • Web 3.0 will be semantic search, semantic databases.
  • Web 4.0 [?!] will be intelligent personal agents

[Hmm. I personally have a problem with pushing "Web 3.0" (and even more so with "Web 4.0") as a term. My session on Thursday afternoon with Matt Locke (C4) and Richard Dennison (BT) is on "Predictions for collaborative futures: Web 3.0 and beyond", so I guess we’ll thrash that idea out a bit more then.]


Tools Technologies & costs of Web 2.0 – Karen Blakeman

I’ve seen her colleague Phil Bradley present something very similar (on the same day I first met Euan, actually).

Karen took us though…

  • What a feed reader is, how to add a feed to a reader, how to delete a feed…
  • RSS Feeds supported in Oulook 2007, "as long as your IT department hasn’t disabled it".
  • What is a blog. – "When you go to a blog, it looks exactly like a website…"
  • Anatomy of a blog – "I’ll do this quickly because I’m sure you’re familiar with this…"
  • Facebook. – "I’m still on the fence about how useful this will be in the long run"
  • "Company groups in Facebook used to be open, but many of them were being trawled by recruitment agencies, so you’ll find that the official groups will generally be closed now".
  • "You spend a lot of time updating the same information in many places." Update the blog, make sure the calendar entry is in PageFlakes, put the same post in FaceBook… [Despite just having talked about how RSS can glue things together.]
  • On Flickr – "not for personal use, but to share photos with journalists"
  • YouTube – "not necessarily movies. How-to guides", and "an alarming number of organisations seem to block YouTube"
  • Wikis. – "Someone suggested using it organising a conference programme. I hadn’t ever thought of doing that". [Why on earth not?]
  • Social bookmarking. ("I tend not to use this a lot because I’m often offline"). Mentioned furl, del, connotea.org, 2collab.com, …
  • Second Life. "Hmm. This is my in our office in Second Life. Hardly anybody is ever there. Perhaps we’re too busy working. It works better if you’ve got something you’re going to use it for, for example a meeting or a conference. The technology gets in the way." [I’m looking forward to my session on Thursday].
  • Costs of Web 2.0: mainly time, rather then money. "You may need training. I know it’s supposed to be obvious, but sometimes you get stuck at a crucial point and it makes sense.
  • Consider the costs of not doing it – missing out on vital information.

RSS: The Glue of Enterprise 2.0 – Andre Bonvanie, NewsGator

Average manager in a large IT firm spends 2 hours per day looking for information. (Accenture).

Corporate spam. "Please disregard this email if you’re not a member of the corporate car scheme".

People are weird. We hang around at the letterbox, waiting desperately for mail to arrive. [Good point!]

After that, it became a sales pitch for NewsGator. That said, he argued the case for RSS in the enterprise…

  • Improving corporate communications
  • Improving worker knowledge sharing
  • Distributed workforce enablement
  • Enterprise 2.0, improve communications by implementing social software.

Q: RSS fields are supposed to help info. overload, but once you have lots of subscriptions, you have RSS feed overload.  I agree to certain extent. You’re in control of what you subscribe to.

Q: There are multiple RSS standards, none of which are Open Standards as understood by the EU. Isn’t the future Atom? Also supports Atom. [This is the problem with “RSS” being used to mean more than just RSS. perhaps "XML syndication" isn’t succinct enough though…]

Online Information 2007 - Olympia auditorium

2 Comments

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  1. I am equally as uneasy ‘pushing’ Web 3.0, but for the moment there is no better label. The graph I used, upon which Web 3.0 & Web 4.0 were mentioned, was published by Nova Spivack from RadarNetworks. [http://novaspivack.typepad.com/nova_spivacks_weblog/2007/02/steps_towards_a.html]

    I used the graph to illustrate the technology waves that wash over us at regular intervals. There is part of me that hopes that the ‘Semantic Web Technologies’, that he puts under the heading of Web 3.0, does get a better name.

    Whatever the label is the effect that matters.

    Comment by Richard Wallis — December 5, 2007 #

  2. Hi Richard. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the link. I should have mentioned you were citing that, but althouth my flimsy notes did originally inlude graph: radarnetworks, when I searched for it I got to radarnetworks.com but not to the thing itself, so thanks for that.

    I agree that the effect matters more than the label, too. Perhaps even to the extent that we no longer need the terminology? I *think* Euan managed not to use the phrase Web 2.0 once in his talk. (Euan? Did you?) He definitely talked about innovation, I know he talked about collaboration, and he talked a lot about a culture of sharing. He gave some examples of tools, and everyone knew exactly what he was talking about. Web 2.0 was not needed.

    Maybe Web 2.0 has already come to mean what we know is happening already, and what is described in that graph as Web 3.0 could just be what comes next (though I doubt it is a comprehensive prediction). Web 4.0, of course, by extension becomes whatver comes after that. :-)

    Comment by Roo — December 6, 2007 #

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