Monday 31 December 2007

2007 - the year when context woke and stretched

I have this certain theory that in twenty years time, a student researching the history of the web, will look back on 2007 as the year the now commonplace concept of 'context' emerged as one of the key drivers to the creation of the rich and diverse ecology of personalised web spaces which this same student will totally take for granted.

This ecology will see him being able to switch from laid back recreation mode [music - movies - story ] to work mode [reinvented work web spaces] - to social [hanging with friends ] to life long learning spaces where both primary and secondary sources will flood into the learning space following the context of his or her inquiry.

Rich and intelligent personalised digital home
In short a content rich and intelligent personalised digital home which not only automatically brings the content based on your managed preferences/personna, but also manages your social networking spaces, fiercely protects the assets to your digital identity including automatically tracking and maintaining oversight of the data trail you leave around the web.

Being me, it will also need to contain all manner of wonderful heritage material, from the European Renaissance - Islamic art, to whatever is emerging out of the creative digital soup - in short a place to create, share and manage a rich and vibrant digital life in which learning and being - curiosity and enquiry is still at the centre of my daily life.

Maintaining our digital commons as a creative community space
How yours will work will be entirely up to you - your context - your space - your social network: however, hopefully , the common link between us will be an equally fierce commitment to maintaining our digital commons as a creative community space where commerce and innovation is welcome to thrive, provided it respects not just our digital identities but our purposes in common.

Fanciful? Noble? Perhaps - and for sure, I've been accused of both a couple of times this year, but, hey, who cares - this is my little corner of the web sphere - I get to control it - I can be as fanciful or as a noble as I like.

So where does this notion of mine on 2007 and context come from ? Easy - 2007 was the year when the web reinvented itself as a place where people hang out with other people, and in the process emerged a bunch of tools and frameworks which gave people and crucially, groups of people, the ability to nudge, nuance and cluster their preferences - whether for people , products or pieces of the Internet into conversations and communities of interest.

Social Networking - Web 2.0
For sure, being the Internet, it had to have a label - or even two - i.e web 2.0 - or social networking, Also, being the Internet, loads of people had to try and make money from the idea - and or, claim it as their own.

But whatever the hype, the fact remains social networking, and the tools and paradigns that define it - were the context for an explosion of self expression and group collaboration - whether it be the millions of people who started and maintained a blog , or the big guys - MySpace - FaceBook - Bebo - or the thousand other open social networks that give people the tools and frameworks for self and group expression.

Power of Crowds
Then we have the power of the crowd scenario - from Wikipedia to the dozens of work place wikis . And for the record , for sheer incongruity the NZ Police wiki still takes my biscuit.

Then we have the 2007 tagging phenomena. My favourite example of tagging from the heritage worlds if still The PowerHouse Museum . But I've also discovered a whole bunch of other heritage type articles/thinking here courtesy of those brilliant people who bring us the annual Museum on the Web conference.

Type in tagging and meet the strangly compelling mystic twins, the taxonomy/folksonomy But while we are at it, lets not forget the welcome experiment in tagging from Archives NZ - and their War Art site.It's great - like walking in on grandma smoking pot.


But the big killer application for me is the emerging field of API's - those anarchic pieces of code, often from the open source end of the web, who are determined to build the tools and frameworks that will alloow us to interrogate the big data sources and. almost against their interest, persuade them to come out their institutional shadows and lend themselves to the mash up game.

Much of this is still a tad trivial - e.g. Google Maps Mania - but, you can't knock the energy, or the potential of the toolsets; moreover you can also see an smudge of the shape of things to come from the knowledge and heritage sector in the likes of Historyscape and Museum Blogs

But that's the point. It's still only a smudge. We need to speed up and start seeing how these tools can be used in much more compelling ways as knowledge and learning frameworks which can build in the best of the social networking tools with the formal institutional knowledge institutions/structures - and its from there that I reckon we can build the mechanics of a context machine in 2008

2008 - web 3.0?
So there is is - the New Year resolution - get involved in projects and policy frameworks which use the best of web 2.0 to build and create context and learning spaces which also include perspectives and inputs from formal institutional knowledge frameworks.

Some people are beginning to call this kind of framework Web 3.0 . Others see the latter as more in line with Tim Berner Lee's Semantic web. whatever the outcome, for me the goal is context - i.e. bring into the mix the ability to contextualise information and knowledge frameworks to match the activities of the user. See this Wikipedia article for a broad view of the issues.

Building a context machine?
One way of experimenting with this is to build tools and frameworks which give the user the tools to create a context, and then , when populated with questions , or activities, use the latter as search strings out to the formal taxonomic web,especially the material hidden in closed databases.

The search results are then sent into the users space with the question, - am I useful - does this data stream help/ answer the question?

There are some interesting questions in this framework, some of whom I think fit into the Digital New Zealand project? More on this in 2008.

Story telling machine/ community repository
Another, more immediate potential framework is to build a story telling machine which gives people/groups a space to write up their own stories, and/or develop their own community repositories.

On save, and if given permission by the user/group, the story machine could scan their content for context using a folksonic/taxonomic schema which will then be passed to the big institutions/knowledge stores to see if they have any sources, whether primary or secondary, which match the story in the box, and if found, send the sources into the box.

This idea has some powerful suction - and its one I want to spend a good deal of time on early next year. Better still some key New Zealand, and perhaps Australian agencies are keen to play. Exciting stuff!

So - roll on 2008 - there is lots to be done - for all of us - and yes - I'd love to hear of what people are up to !

In the meantime - warm regards to one an all - and all the best for the New Year [when it comes!]

Friday 21 December 2007

2007 Digital Economy Fact Book

I'm intending a longer retrospective post, hopefully on Monday, Christmas Eve. But in the meantime, herewith some interesting reading over the holidays - that's of course if you are in the mood.

For those dear gentle readers from the northern hemisphere be advised that this is the the seminal moment of the kiwi year - the weekend before Christmas, with all that to look forward to, but also it's summer holiday time. In other words - let's hit the buckets and spades!!!

From the desk of the NL National Library Source - aka Maria Nagelkerke

2007 Digital Economy Fact Book
The Ninth Edition of The Digital Economy Fact Book provides a factual basis from which analysis of the digital economy can begin. In seven key sections, it presents the best available information on:

● The Growth of the Internet
● The Hardware Sector
● The Communications Sector
● Digital Media
● Electronic Commerce
● Threats to the Digital Economy
● The Worldwide Digital

The Fact Book is considered by many to be vital source for objective statistics and information on the digital economy. This year’s edition contains an expanded chapter on the worldwide digital economy. The section focuses on both global statistics and information from three important regions: Europe, China and India. The book also includes sections on hardware, communications, electronic commerce and digital media. The data and statistics included in the book are the most up to date available in the years 2006 to 2007.
(188p) .."
SOURCE: ResourceShelf, 18 December 2007

Sunday 9 December 2007

Museums on the Web

I got so downhearted by the last post I spent last night looking for excellence, and found it courtesy of some of the winners of this years Archives & Museum Informatics, Museums on the Web,

World of Awe
First up from SFMOMA - the World of Awe. Others might already know this - but it was new to me. I loved the idea of a new way of telling a story using journals and location/memory and digital object. The sound scape also adds to the mix. World of Awe is part of bigger e Space section of this world class museum.
see here

Museum of Victoria , Australia
Caught and Coloured
This is lovely piece of work from the Museum of Victoria in australia. Basically it is a series of Flash interactives showing Frederick McCoy's Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria. It draws on the Museum of Victoria's rich archival sources, including digital copies of the original drawings, lithographic proofs and manuscripts.

The power of this digital piece is in the detail - both in the care taken to make really good digital objects from the works, and the subsequent commentary on how and where the material fits into the wider story. Really nice work!
Go direct here.

Stagework -
National Theatre , UK.
Though a tad didactic [seems to have its origin in school/educational out reach], this is a a really fine piece of work which explores a number of seminal productions in recent UK Theater, including performances of the Crucible, Henry V, et al.

It has a really well thought through structure, which in turn serves up a bunch of different perspectives on modern theater, including the process of production, the elements of storytelling and nature of modern drama. Definitely worth your attention on a warm muggy Sunday.

I'm off to Melbourne and Hobart for this week
Will be checking in.

Saturday 8 December 2007

Beowulf - lost voices reimagined

The last The Scout Report. is showcasing a project from Winsonsin University who have out up a new modern translation of Beowulf .

Often described is the oldest narrative poem in the English language, it is a dramatic set of adventures from well known sources of the fifth- and sixth-century Scandinavia.

Though the tales had their origins in oral traditions, the text has always been seen as one the best examples of the emerging English language. Melvyn Bragg, for instance, rightly, made much of them as one of the key texts in his masterful Adventure of English, which , co-coincidently, is enjoying a rerun on the New Zealand version of the History Channel.

Hard to credit this series is 5 years old. Lesser kown but equally compelling is his brilliant radio set, The Voices of the Powerless . This is still available in its entirety, here.

And a Norton version of Heaney's Beowulf is here
University of Nevada subject guide here.

But back to the Wisconsin Beowulf. You can listen to the poem in a modern translation plus read a modern translation on the screen. It's a really good example of how the new media channel can bring back to life the original power and place of the oral tradition. And Wisconsin deserves a modest round of applause for this addition to the web.

However, despite my pleasure in this, I do have a gripe. The design and layout is really bad. It screams the worst aspects of the old style boring library view of the universe - indeed the menu looks like a first grade library cadets attempt at his/her first reference card.

As for the navigation - well lets just say there isn't one - not one for humans anyway.

All of which is such a pity - so much so I'm breaking from my normal practice of just not commenting on inadequate web responses from the formal world of library and heritage.

There is so much to do, and key resources like the Scout Report, once a must see weekly resource, needs to lift its game in what they choose to offer as benchmarks of good practice.

Moreover, it is all such a pity. There was a good idea - and a good deal of solid intellectual and scholarly work has been done to execute the idea - so why can't there be a similar respect for the medium's ability to show compelling design and navigation, which in turn will not only add to the scholarly work, but be seen as a component of it?

Libraries and other key institutions really need to get past thinking that making things visually compelling or even interesting isn't part of their job, and provided they get it on screen, then they have done their bit.

Apart from anything else, the web medium just won't stand for it - audiences will dwindle and no matter how worthy the effort, unless people are actively using the resource, the effort will be in vain.

That said, please have a look and a listen, and make up your own mind, Here.

Thursday 6 December 2007

NZ Broadband Demand Map

More on the NZ Digital Summit. One of the presentations came from a group headed by the NZ State Services Commission, and Donald Clark of REANNZ who used their spot to launch the National Broadband Demand Aggregation tool.

NZ ProjectX
Basically its a mapping layer using the excellent local Zoomin guys from ProjectX, and it gives a New Zealand-wide view of existing broadband networks from Telecom, TelstraClear, FX Networks, as well as some of the broadband projects from the Broadband Challenge fund.

But that is just the start. The idea is that you - that's you and yours- can put your own home, business, whatever, on the map, and enteran estimate of what kind of broadband capability you need to go about your business.

The result is, as the title suggests, an aggregation tool which will guide the telcos and policy wonks on the latent broadband in the country. It's a really simple but effective idea.

My only gripe is that I would have liked to see a cultural/community/ civic society layer - i.e. not all of us are schools - or a business - or a telco - it would be great to see libraries - museum, community centers, marae, et al mapped as a common layer.

So go to it! Here.

Wednesday 5 December 2007

The NZ Digital Strategy

I am still mulling over all the different pieces of last week's Digital strategy refresh summit in Auckland. It was quite an event. It was followed by a rapid trip to Wellington to catch the second day of the NDF [ National Digital Forum] and then yet another clash on the Saturday between the UnConference for the NDF, and the Kete development day, where different users, and potential users of the community repository software Kete got a chance to share ideas and plans. So where to start on all that.

First up the Digital Strategy Refresh. I need to acknowledge some potential bias points here. Being on the DSAG, [ Digital Strategy Advisory Group] I have been party to some planning sessions around this, so was well aware that broadband was going to be a major part of the agenda, closely followed by a focus on innovation and economic transformation.

I was also one of the people contracted to write a case study of the Tuhoe Digital journey. This ended up in the conference handout. I don't know where it is online. However, excerpts from the interviews I did with some of the brilliant peole from Tuhoe are here, on YouTube.

As for the Summit - I think the speech from David Cunliffe was a real stoater. He definitely served up a really aggressive target for all of the various broadband providers to get their heads around - see here for the main speech - but basically he said that ADSL2 and 10mbps second was not going to do it - and that we needed to be doubling that target - i.e. make 20mbps as the standard offer to most New Zealand communities by 2012.

Funding a new fibre backbone
There was also a really good discussion both on and off stage around the notion of what I'm calling a " broadband bond fund' - i.e. a public/private equity fund which would invest in a parallel fibre network around the country.

This would give people a return of 6% or 7% per annum, and would be aimed at low risk investors who wanted a utility type investment with guaranteed returns.

Open Access
The other crucial piece is that the network must be open access - i.e. the owners of the network shouldn't be a telco - just a utility - and that the services on the network could be provided by anyone prepared to pay for access. In short separating the service layer from the infrastructure layer.

This is essentially the model that Rod Drury has been advocating for a year. Moreover it totally fits with the kind of thinking coming out of the New Zealand Institute.

And, low and behold - the next day, the acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen gave a nod and wink to it by saying the government would be interested in hearing from people with interesting and innovative suggestions.

I know this is the kind of response politicians must make, especially when talking around the market sensitivities of the telco market - but hey - sounds like a great plan to me - an open access utility company which will provide an alternative fibre backbone to New Zealand. Lets do it!

Day Two - economic/cultural transformation
The second day began with a brilliant presentation from Sean McDougall, the Irish education expert who laid down a strong set of education challenges - or in plainer English /Irish - let's bin our 19th and 20th century education system and replace it with a collaborative - open learning co-operative model based on innovation and creativity. Sounds like jargon - too much of the old Irish - not a bit of it - total plain sense, especially if you want to actually do something around economic and cultural transformation.

Digital New Zealand
The second day ended on an upward curve - at least from me - courtesy of a really good presentation from Judith Tizard and Penny Carnaby [New Zealand National Librarian] who presented their double vision for the emerging space currently known as Digital New Zealand.

This is another sleeper project - i.e. just enough budget money to some thinking on getting New Zealand content online. If you want more, then stay tuned.

Watch again
The whole Summit is available as a series of video streams here.

In the meantime another post on the NDF and the Kete project et al anon. Plus more on the broadband map.