Monday, March 31, 2008

What Our Competitors Are Doing

In case you missed this . . .

Since its beginnings in 2005, YouTube has been known as a major source of
online video entertainment, racking up billions of visits and hosting
everything from music videos to strangely hypnotic clips of laughing
babies. Until recently, however, “academic” content on YouTube was
mostly limited to in-depth how-tos or the occasional commencement speech.

YouTube’s reputation as an entertainment-only venue began to change late
in 2007 when several higher educational institutions began cooperating with
the online video community to serve truly academic content like classroom
lectures and hosted talks. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
was among the first universities to work with YouTube to offer UNC-produced
content via the site.

Gary Marchionini, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor at UNC’s
School of Information and Library Science (SILS), led the efforts to get
video productions created at UNC at Chapel Hill on YouTube (see

The effort began when Marchionini proposed a video series titled
“Information in Life” and, with support from YouTube, developed the
series in 2007. The idea was to record lectures on key information topics
presented by SILS faculty, guest speakers and students and to augment these
lectures with interviews with faculty from SILS and the UNC campus.

SILS students Larry Taylor, Brenn Hill, Nicholas Johnson and Travis Roscher
worked with Marchionini to record presentations and interviews and to
design the site. Recorded presentations ranged from SILS professors giving
intimate talks, to prominent speakers like Cory Doctorow presenting large
lectures. Interviews consisted of a set of questions about the scholars’
research and teaching and the roles that information plays in their work.

When recordings were complete, they were packaged with a short credit
screen developed for the series that includes a fugue created by Taylor
that morphs from piano to synthesizer. A simple metadata template is used
to describe each video and the recordings are compressed for upload. The
files and the corresponding metadata were then sent to YouTube and appeared
on the UNC “channel.”

There are currently more than 100 videos—approximately 75 hours of
content—in the Information in Life Series, with more than 60 lectures by
SILS faculty, students and visitors and two dozen interviews with UNC
faculty in fields ranging from public health and pharmacy to folklore and
popular culture.

Based on the work to develop the Information in Life series, the UNC
YouTube channel was expanded to incorporate the entire campus community and
include videos produced outside of SILS. There are currently more than 250
videos now available in different playlists on the UNC channel.

The UNC/YouTube relationship proved so successful that management of the
channel is currently transitioning to the campus Department of University
Relations. The Information in Life Series will continue to add lectures.

The videos are free and available for use in multiple ways, including
classroom settings, home-schooling, research and more. SILS encourages use
and reuse of the materials available and promotes frequent visits to the
site to view the latest additions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For you history mavens ...

Check this out ... perhaps you can help Mr. Shapiro!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Google Code University

This may be of interest to faculty at SIS teaching courses related to the web.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Six degrees of messaging

Even though Milgram's original paper has been largely discredited on methodological grounds, this item, which reports on an a large sample of IM traffic, seems to support its basic conclusion. Quoting the article:

Eric Horvitz, at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, and Jure Leskovec, who was an intern at the time, crunched through masses of data, logging a month's worth of global 'instant messaging' conversations using Microsoft Messenger — software that facilitates chat, in a similar way to e-mail, but in a more instantaneous and less formal fashion. The researchers then counted how many messages were sent and from where: in total they tallied up a whopping 255 billion messages sent in the course of 30 billion conversations among 240 million people during June 2006.

No personal or identifiable data could be seen, and the researchers had no access to message content, although they could correlate messages with information about age and gender logged by users when they registered for the service. “We didn’t probe individuals,” says Horvitz, “we were looking at patterns.”

The resulting figures produced a neat map of communication hotspots across the world, and allowed Horvitz and Leskovec to trace the extent of separation between Microsoft Messenger users. They found that the average shortest number of jumps to get from one random user to another was 6.6; spookily close to the infamous six degrees of separation demonstrated practically in a group of 64 people by Stanley Milgram, at Harvard University, in the 1960s.

Web Standards (or not)

This article about problems with web standards is entertaining to read.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, March 17, 2008

IM on campus

I have long tried to integrate the use of IM into my teaching, with very limited success. Thus, this recent article caught my attention:

Quan-Haase, Anabel (2008) 'Instant Messaging on Campus: Use
and Integration in University Students' Everyday Communication', The Information
, 24:2, 105 - 115

While it does provide a reasonable review of the research literature, it provides little new data, much to my disappointment. At best, it would be a good starting point for students who are thinking of doing research in this area.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Linkless search?

This short blog talks about Yahoo's proposed linkless search - that feeds you customized web pages when you search rather than presenting links to you.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, March 10, 2008

MIT's NYTE project

This website describes an MIT project that maps New York City's communications, internally and with the rest of the world. The visuals are really impressive and worth looking at ... they're on display at MOMA!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Rethinking the 'progress bar'

A paper by researchers from CMU, AT&T Research Labs, and NYU looks at human beings and the omnipresent "progress bar" that we see in all major operating systems. It is available at this website.

Blogged with Flock

"Is user generated content out?"

This article titled "Revenge of the Experts" in Newsweek is relevant to the school at large...

Blogged with Flock

US computer science drought may be bottoming out

This article discusses recent data from the Computing Research Association (CRA) that reflects what we are experiencing at the undergraduate level -- enrollments are beginning to rise. Thus, we appear to be reflecting a national trend in our UG program.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

New Book on Academic Freedom in the Digital Era

From Today's Inside Higher Education

‘Academic Freedom in the Wired World’

Robert M. O’Neil has been a player on academic freedom issues from many perspectives. He has been a university president (University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin System), a legal scholar (law professor at U.Va.), and First Amendment advocate (director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression). He has also been chair of the American Association of University Professors’ committee on academic freedom. That background informs his new book, Academic Freedom in the Wired World: Political Extremism, Corporate Power, and the University, just published by Harvard University Press.

O’Neil recently responded to e-mail questions about the themes of the book.

Q: How do the severity of threats to academic freedom today compare to other periods in U.S. history?

A: While there has surely been no shortage of grave threats to academic freedom in the early 21st century, current conditions are not comparable to the dark days of the McCarthy era, which were clearly the worst of times within memory. Especially with regard to threats from sources that were rampant in the early to mid 1950s — disclaimer-type loyalty oaths, legislative investigations, campus speaker bans, security screens and the like — even the gravest of current governmental pressures tend to pale in comparison. What suggests to some observers an ominous shadow of McCarthyism is, however, a new set of threats to free inquiry on the university campus — from private “vigilante” groups that target professors and even students on Web sites and blogs, legislative demands for “balance” and removal of “bias” from the classroom, mounting restrictions on corporate-sponsored research, and constraints on electronic communications that would not be tolerated in print media.

Q: How has the 9/11 aftermath most changed academic freedom?

A: Despite much early apprehension, reprisals against outspoken faculty critics in the months after the terrorist attacks proved to be far milder than might have been feared. Remarkably few adverse personnel actions resulted for established scholars and teachers — in sharp contrast to McCarthyism — and the few that did occur reflected highly unusual conditions. Yet there have been grave consequences in several other areas. Notably harsh has been the exclusion or denial of visas to visiting scholars — not only from the Middle East and Islamic countries, but from other nations where 9/11 and terrorism have no visible role. Several of these actions have been successfully challenged through the courts, though a disturbing number of other barred visitors (notably Islamicist Tariq Ramadan) remain beyond U.S. borders without either adequate explanation or avenues of recourse. The other most notably affected area is that of research; the vague concept of “sensitive but unclassified” has been far more widely used to constrain university investigators without formal classification, and thus chill freedom in the laboratory, despite the absence of a legally reviewable justification for such limitations. In other (though probably more predictable) ways, the use of biohazardous materials has been further restricted in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

Q: You note the rise of corporate (as opposed to government) monitoring of what academics say and do. What is the significance of this?

A: Although government sponsorship of research remains the primary source of support for the academic laboratory, subvention by certain corporate sectors has increased significantly in recent years, with resulting challenges for academic freedom. Revelations about excessive intrusion, oversight and constraints on publication and other use of research data have been especially troubling for research funded by such industries as pharmaceutical, tobacco and timber. In each area there have been serious conflicts, placing universities and their scholar/investigators under a degree of corporate scrutiny that would be subject to legal challenge and probably removal if imposed by governmental sponsors. University scientists have also faced growing threats from subpoenas and other legal demands for disclosure and production of research data in process – disruptive at best, and disabling to the integrity of the research process at worst.

Q: How has the Internet changed the way academics are scrutinized?

A: Electronic communications have surely enhanced academic discourse in myriad ways. Such new media have, however, also brought novel threats to the privacy, integrity and autonomy of campus exchanges. E-mail messages are, for example, widely assumed to be “accessible” or “divertible” under conditions where comparable treatment of print mail or telephone calls would be unthinkable on policy grounds if not clearly unlawful. Though some institutions have commendably developed policies that more sensitively protect electronic messages and postings than the law requires, many others continue to treat such communications as largely unprotected. States have also imposed novel restrictions on access to electronic material — most notably Virginia’s draconian law (later sustained by a federal appeals court) that bars any state employee (faculty included) from using a state owned or state leased computer to access sexually explicit material without a “supervisor’s” permission for a bona fide, agency approved purpose. Although no other state seems to have followed Virginia’s example, the potential for unprecedented restrictions on scholarly access to electronic research materials has been established.

Q: You are known as a staunch advocate for free speech rights. Since you note that many of the developments that concern you are legally protected, how can and should academics protect themselves?

A: Since some of the most ominous new threats against the academic community come from sources that permit little or no legal redress, novel safeguards need to be considered. Clearly the most effective antidote to blog and other Internet postings designed to disparage professors is a vigorous response in the same medium and, where appropriate, other media. Faculty organizations as well as individuals should be readier than most have been to respond immediately and vigorously to baseless and scurrilous charges, and to seize both traditional and new media opportunities to correct the record. Often a second wave or recurrence of such accusations can be anticipated and even preempted through careful analysis and creative foresight. On the relatively rare occasion when such attacks could incur legal liability — for defamation or misappropriation of intellectual property, for example — formal recourse may be worth pursuing, even where the prospect of relief in the immediate case may be uncertain. Colleges and universities, their governing boards and presidents, also bear an obligation to speak out forcefully in defense of their facilities when such legally invulnerable pressures occur.

— Scott Jaschik