Wednesday 18 April 2007

Mapping the knowledge landscape

Update on the 'context machine'
There has been lots of feedback from my previous post around building a 'context machine' – so much so, I'm keen to keep on thinking about that. To help me get there, I'm delighted to say that IBM have invited me up to LA to the last wrap up Deep Dive on media on the 8th of May. They even had the courtesy to blog me in return.

Meanwhile there is plenty of activity around which can get us thinking about the tools and information sources that might produce a New Zealand version of the 'context machine" – and yep – for me – the start of this thinking needs to be local, but still have an international focus.

Mapping – Google Earth team with Tourism New Zealand.
One example of this energy was announced last week when Tourism New Zealand and search engine Google held a joint briefing session to show the new a layer ™, the first time that a tourism authority has developed an official "layer" for Google Earth.

Not familiar with Google Earth? It's worth checking out. It's a 24 meg program you download onto your computer from Google – it uses satellite imagery, maps, and terrain and 3D buildings to provide in-depth, easily accessible geographic information. And if, like me, you tried it before, and didn't get much satisfaction with it, try again , it is much improved. In fact, increasingly, you can see its potential as a tool to map social and cultural information and data.

The Tourism New Zealand example being a case in point; by clicking on, for example, Napier, and you are presented with a mini web page of what has to say about this jewel of the art deco . And, of course, why; that Napier's misfortune in 1931, when it was almost levelled by an earthquake, has led to the city's world famous point of difference, as having one the most outstanding collections of 1930s architecture in the world.

To make this happen, Tourism New Zealand sent them their data using the Google format, KML. Google is actively seeking these partnerships, you can see one, for example, which shows the locations from the Da Vinci Code.

Tourism, New Zealand, claim, with some justification, to be in a different league, with at least 180 places described on Google Earth, with of course links to the detail on the main site at This of course is the same site that has won the prestigious webby award [the so called Oscars of the Internet] for the last two years in the tourism category. So this is a class act for Google to be picking up.

To be fair to them, at the presentation late last week in Auckland, they seemed to be aware of that. They, Google, also spoke enthusiastically about doing more in New Zealand, and indeed hinted of an expanded presence here, including their own offices. Tourism New Zealand in turn was keen to emphasise that they too saw this as the start of a bigger relationship.

Widening the lens
All of which is good for the growing interactive tourist market. However, as I listened to the presentation it struck me how much there was still to be done in the New Zealand culture and heritage space to convince them of the potential of next generation mapping– for example how difficult would it be for Te Ara, the brilliant New Zealand online encyclopaedia to be similar cut up and showcased on Google Earth, as well as on some of the other mapping options, including the local but totally excellent

On a related track – what about, the expensive, but slow to fire, cultural portal from the New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage. They have events galore on the web site, as well as a good decent set of RSS feeds. But you will struggle to hear anyone associated with the project give any clarity whatever as to what others see as their inevitable next step - develop a small freely available software module [api] for other cultural agencies, especially the regional ones, to share their data, as well as play NZLive on their sites.

Actually its worse. It's as if they don't have any sense of what their online collaboration strategy is in the immediate, and midterm. Does this bother them? Doesn't seem to - they remain this magnificent island of sensibility amongst a sea of misunderstanding as to their role?

But if you get started on one set of heritage/memory/ cultural institutions in New Zealand, why stop there: what about the digital collections of TePapa, the Museum of New Zealand, or the National Library. The latter had a fairly expensive makeover recently, but you would be forgiven if you had missed what the new strategic direction, if any, this new look and feel is trying to achieve.

As for TePapa, their site is a great marketing tool, and last year , what the billed as their first online exhibition hit the screen at . It was really good. And it too, got a Webby endorsement. Now, as you will find out if you click the link, it seems to have disappeared of the face of the web?

Which is such a pity. For a minute there , it looked like they, TePapa, had begun to show they understood
the potential of their online role? And, had had this recognised! Ah well , we can only wait for their next rush to the head.

In the meantime, even taking the most optimistic view, you struggle to see what the New Zealand culture/heritage and memory sector want to do with the web – shove up a few interactive maps of the building, and hope it will pass them by without too much disturbance of either the cabinets in the basements, or the curators in their cubicles?

Or a radically new platform which could transform not just their institutional practice, but their whole relationship with their collections, and the user base.

Meanwhile, though I have my own issues with Google Earth, [too much middle earth, one ring to rule them all for me] - there is no doubt whatsoever of their sincerity or their commitment to pushing the envelope on cultural and social mapping. I would just like to see the debate deepen, and the playing field get a bit busier.

It would also be really nice if comments like this could provoke a debate, especially in the institutions under discussion?

And please, can we loose some of the defensiveness?

First, I am on your side! Second, I know there are some excellent people in these knowledge institutions who not only understand the potential of the digital paradigm shift, they are a key ingrediant to its success.

And finally, because, there is far too much to do - and too much fun to be had in the doing, especially around mapping the knowledge landscape.

Monday 9 April 2007

Deep Diving in Seoul Korea

It's Easter Monday here in Auckland. A holiday. As I crossed the street to the office [quiet and peaceful, perfect for some thinking time] I looked up at the deep blue sky, sharp and clear.

Last week in Seoul, it had been cold, and though, determined to win through, the Korean blue had to struggle through a haze, some of which, I learned later, was yellow dust, a fine sand blown in from the Gobi Desert and other areas in China. It's believed to be toxic.

I went to Korea courtesy of Big Blue , to attend the Global IBM Innovation Summit, or, GIO ; a series of 'deep dives' which bring together executives, mostly CEOs, and, analysts, and IBM staff, to a worldwide series of forums. In this instance, on Media and Content- the topic being:

"It used to be so easy. 20th century corporations built empires and accumulated tremendous value around carefully controlled brand images and marketing messages. But technology changes everything, and fast.
Inexpensive and nearly pervasive access to networked digital devices now allow ideas, messages and content to transverse the globe in a matter of seconds. The way we learn, play, work, buy and communicate has been forever changed. Already we’ve seen some early innovators make profound impact on the way content is created and consumed. More disruption is sure to come."
There are seven Deep Dives in the Media and Content series: New York, Mumbai, Seoul, Shanghai, Helsinki, London, Los Angeles. There is a blog on some of the previous conversations, here.

The Seoul group, of which I was one, was around sixteen or so, [plus a team of 5 IBM top strategists, and another 5 support staff]. We assembled in the same hotel where the South Korea/USA FTA Agreement was in the last stages of negotiation, a useful and timely backdrop to the relentless march of globalisation, and the new weightless economies.

All of which can be contentious, for example, on the approach to the hotel , the cab had to run the gauntlet of hundreds of riot police.

The deep dive group, who met in the more settled atmosphere on the following day, included Jack Matthews , of Fairfax Digital; media consultants from Tokyo and Auckland [me!] ; the young CEO of Korea’s top online gaming company, Neowiz; the former Korean minister of information and communication; and the CEOs of two of Korea’s top new media companies, Tatter and Company (blogging software) and Ohmynews, the citizen journalism site that has taken Korea, and the rest of the world, by storm.

Not even a wave from the cheese
It was an extraordinary opportunity, with the group, from the moment it assembled, having me in full on, "think harder paul" alert.

After all, this group, like the law partners who I used to talk to ten years ago on how this funny new internet thing was going to change things, were deadly serious about how they spent their time - so a full day out to sit talking was a big ask - especially when their existing value chains were morphing in front of their eyes.

Or, put another way - this time round, the cheese wasn't just moving, it was getting up and walking out of the room, with not so much as a backward wave!

South Korea - Bandwidth to burn.
The opening couldn't have been better for my purpose, "if South Korea, had some of the best broadband in the world, with some people reported to be getting 100mbps [not a misprint] , as opposed to NZ's desultary 2mbs [on a good day!] , then what were they doing with it, or was it, as Mr Oh from OhMyNews wondered , all far too much information, and that maybe, happiness had been an easier ask in the gentler, more rural, days of his youth?

This nostalgia for the past had few takers - one participant couldn't have been clearer; happiness comes from freedom, and freedom comes from choice.

Creating local instead of consuming global
In turn, I had my - albeit inevitable - two cents worth: that at the risk of stating the obvious, the internet wasn't just a place where everyone had to consume more and more information.

In contrast, it was a place where increasingly the benefits were in the first instance local - and that the best net examples of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, came from groups who used the collaboration and publishing tools we now know as web 2.0, to build common spaces, where identity and community could flourish as a natural extension of the groups purpose, as opposed to a manufactured mall of information overload disguised as a one stop portal.

Moreover, many, and sometimes, almost all, of the best examples of these groups were either local, regional, or wholly indifferent to the attractions of a global portal/community

Maori and the web
To illustrate my point I cited a number of New Zealand Maori iwi groups who I knew were successfully using web based tools to build new and more connected relationships with themselves and other Maori groups, and then if appropriate, with wider regional and global groups, including other indigenous peoples.

On a wider national, New Zealand, front, I also had in mind the likes of the Waitangi Tribunal, whose extranet was a major repository of treaty based issues and documents.

Moreover, the public part of the site hosted digital copies of the Tribunal's Reports, and that these in turn were priceless repositories of Maori and New Zealand history and connection - in short, first class examples of how the Internet can build local knowledge and cultural connection.

As an update, on my return, I found in my inbox a note to say that the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre and the Early New Zealand Books project at Auckland University, now includes pages for the authors of all texts digitised by either the NZETC or the ENZB, and these pages provide access to those digitised texts on whichever site they are available.
An example, Bullers - A History of the Birds of New Zealand .

This is a seminal New Zealand text; it probably has little interest to others in the world, but for kiwi culture, identity, call it what you like, its a brilliant example of local taonga [treasures] being reborn as digital taonga, which can be shared with the rest of the world through a mouse click - either as HTML or as an eBook.

Media and Content- the new uncertainty principle
Other examples from the rest of the group followed fast and furious, quickly building to a consensus that media and content were not so much separate worlds as a shared universe in which the intersection points between the creator/owner and the user needed new kinds of thinking.

Moreover, when you introduced the new universe of local and regional citizen created content , Oh My News, for example, or Naver, with the likes of the global players Myspace, then not only were you introducing more uncertainty into traditional media's ability to charge a fair price for their content, you also were disrupting their entire view on how to survive and prosper.

Researching and building the new paradigm?
To get past this, what was needed, it was agreed, were brand new value structures and paradigms. But before we could even start thinking of what they might be, it needed traditional media to start thinking of partnerships the with web 2.0 ecosystems. However, if this was the plan, then traditional media needed to do a lot more research on how the social networking ecosystems worked.

For example, does Fairfax [who publish among other things the New Zealand Dominion] have any idea of the number of RSS feeds that are running around the blogsphere redistributing their content?

Going wider, how many of the new content API's, that are currently flooding the widget- gadget and netvibes, and webjam, ecosytems, et al, come out of traditional media companies ?

In turn, how much of this ecosystem links, or integrates with, the massive hidden datasets of the closed off subscription only world of the hidden, or deep web, which one source recently estimated to be 500 times bigger than the surface web, or, what the likes of Google manages to find?

Moving forward, what is traditional media's real take on the programmable web - that cacophany of script junkies determined to find data, and set it free?

Do they see it as an opportunity to create a party space for their brand and dance in it? Or is it a foolishness which, like punk in the 1970's, capitalism will, eventually, get round to sorting out?

Or, does traditional media share the recent view that blogging is a short term aberation in which the mediocre will eventually kill the writer recluse formally know as the journalist, and everything around it. The result: an overgrown thicket of nonsense blighted by spam and porn?

Hope from Seoul?
The good news from Seoul was that the people in the room were keen to engage with these questions, with one view quietly pointing out that it was a dangerous folly, to think that social networking was just a fad, and that when the kids grow up they will start reading newspapers, annotating books, and starting stamp albums?

In short, the future was already here, albeit unevenly.

That said, what kind of future was it? Was it really this future vibrant space in which the user, formally known as the audience, would manage their relationship to content, media and community in an entirely new way.

Andif so, then what would it look like. And, crucially, how could you market inside it without endangering your brand?

Apartment in downtown Auckland
My take on that was to ask peole to envisage my apartment in Auckland. It's big and roomy and begins with a lounge/relax area with a big tv, a dining space and a kitchen area.

Next comes a study area in which books share shelf space with DVD's CD's, more comfortable seating, and a little MP3 sound system. Finally the quieter end with the two bedrooms, have books and magazines, on bedside tables.

As for toys - there are two wifi enabled laptops - plus a couple of decent mobiles, and the notion, soon, to have a server in the linen cuboard which will manage all the digital content/media relationships in the house.

Content and Context
Everything about this space, as is every other home in the world, is premised on context - its how we live - i.e. we do different things in different spaces.

Take the living area, typically its either read a book, or watch media on a tv, or just sit and relax with family, friends etc.

In the dining/ kitchen area, it's a more active space, I'm looking for news, especially local stuff, or trying to figure out whats on in the neighbourhood, sharing, arguing and debating with friends.

In the quieter study area, I look for precious quiet thinking time. This needs different kinds of sources to reflect this. And yes - for sure, books are good - and, of course, I use the local library as well as buy new books.

Mine, Auckland City, has a great web site, as well as relationship with the New Zealand National Library, which in turn is building partnerships with WorldCat, which in time, will allow me search across almost all public libraries in the world. Curiously, it's the local independent bookstore that's behind in their online thinking. But, hey ho - one day!

But, arguably, one of the most valuable pieces of plastic in my wallet is the external library card to Auckland University. Here I can see, consult, and manage thousands of deep web subscription based e-journals on all the topics I want, or need to follow. My own private key to one of the primary knowledge gateways in Auckland, which in turn intersects with a global network of other like minded institutions. In short a complete knowledge network

Context - putting it all together.
The connecting point to all this is context - and for me, that's where the future lies - not so much creating new content streams [though that is an inevitable part of the mix] but creating new contextual tools and spaces - which in turn give me the framework[s], to interact and rearrange my relationships between one kind of media and another, and, crucially, integrate these content relationships with the different social groups of friends, colleagues and family who share all this with me.

For example - if I've totally enjoyed a new movie in the family area - say Pans Labyrinth - I'd like to see a layer, either on the DVD, or more likely the web, that switches to a deeper set on linked sourses on the Spanish Civil War, or the History of Fayriae, etc. I also want to share this with the people I saw the movie with.

Similarly, if I'm in a study space, I want to be able to switch out of the the space I'm in and see how current news or other media is treating what I have been studying. Or maybe, all I'm doing is responding to an IMS, or a skype call.

Or, if I'm in the noisy eating/chattering space of the living room, I want to be able to pull up all manner of local happenings reviews, restaurants etc, as well as mark some stuff for quieter times in the study area.

In short the changing context of my life is matched by an equally intelligent context machine which is able to scan the surface of an issue - flood it with group noise and opinion, or take a step back, quieten down, and be able to take the time to sit and think with some serious sources.

Building a Context machine.
Right now I do all that contextual stuff in the analogue world, either for myself, or with the help of my friends etc. To start building this context machine in the digital world is still all up for grabs, and for me, it's the key to building new relationships with all sorts of content - including the older more traditional media channels under examination in Seoul.

Pieces of this are already in view in the social networking space, and for sure lots of the web 2.0 eco system is ready and willing to participate.

But this context machine needs much more than the web 2.0 space - it also needs the latter to integrate with the vision of the semantic web - Tim Berners Lee dream of a world which, according to wikipedia, is :

" evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which web content can be expressed not only in natural language, but also in a form that can be understood,
interpreted and used by
software agents, thus permitting them to find, share and integrate information more easily.[1] It derives from W3C director Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange

This vision is a long way off - and there are formidable obstacles, especially around agreeing common standards in this space. However, it is achievable, as the whole history of the web itself can testify to.

Paradoxically, we also need a lot more social networking software, some of which will lead the way in connecting web 2.0 energy with the well springs of traditional media - e.g. content rich API's which the traditional media companies gift into the web blogosphere, with a concommitant give and take by the latter in regard to targeted and discrete advertising.

Personalisation - authentification
Critically in all this will be the need for a much bigger, more sophisticated debate around online identity and personalisation. Right now, we play with this notion - but as soon as it gets serious people run away thinking big brother has married the wicked witch of the north.

As the Seoul group demonstrated, the primary need here is for people is to "think harder" - starting with a debate on which key institutions of civil society already exist which can hold our precious personal profiles - whether as consumers, citizens or savants.

In Seoul, we ran out of time to even begin on that one. That's okay - we climbed a good few hills in Seoul to get to the foot of this new mountain. The trick is, to coin a phrase, to "think harder!

I'm game - what about you?