Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Conference on long tails

If you are interested in seriously studying the kind of phenomena popularized by Chris Anderson in The Long Tail, you should take a look at the presentation in this recent conference that was sponsored by Yahoo. The presentations I looked at were rather technical, so they would be a good place to go if you were interested in this from a quantitative research perspective. It is too bad that it is only the presentation slides and not the presentations themselves that are available.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Economics of CAPTCHA

If you use the web, you have undoubtedly encountered a CAPTCHA, which is text that is designed to be difficult for computers to read but easy for humans. In this paper, the authors examine the economics of CAPTCHA; that is, they examine the utility of this approach in light of the emergence of "deCAPTCHA" services, which rely on either computer software or human readers (or both) in an attempt to defeat the CAPTCHA images. Doing this allows the authors to view the underlying phenomenon in a different light and argue that CAPTCHAs
... should more properly be regarded as an economic [impediment], as witnessed by a robust and mature CAPTCHA-solving industry which bypasses the underlying technological issue completely. Viewed in this light, CAPTCHAs are a low-impact mechanism that adds friction to the attacker’s business model and thus minimizes the cost and legitimate user impact of heavier-weight secondary defenses. CAPTCHAs continue to serve this function, but as with most such defensive mechanisms, they simply work less efficiently over time.

Gender and the social web

is a very interesting article on the gender and influence on the social web. The article presents some data on web usage by gender (such as the one below )

In terms of influence, the results depend on what you are looking at: across the general population, women were more influential, but there were more males than females when the top influencers were considered.  As for the data, I don't know how he determined gender ... if it was based on self-reported results, then they may be somewhat suspect, for, as everyone knows, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog"

Monday, August 09, 2010

Metadata and Google Books

This article over at Ars Technica discusses metadata in Google Books ... it also is rather complimentary to the information professions as a by product:
In the end, most of the "metadata problems" that Google's engineers are trying to solve are very, very old. Distinguishing between different editions of a work, dealing with mistitled and misattributed works, and sorting out dates of publication—these are all tasks that have historically been carried out by human historians, codicologists, paleographers, library scientists, museum curators, textual critics, and learned lovers of books and scrolls since the dawn of writing. In trying to count the world's books by identifying which copies of books (or records of books, or copies of records of books, or records of copies of books) signify the "same" printed and bound volume, Google has found itself on the horns of a very ancient dilemma.

Google may not (or, rather, certainly will not) be able to solve this problem to the satisfaction of scholars who have spent their lives wrestling with these very issues in one corner or another of the humanities. But that's fine, because no one outside of Google really expects them to. The best the search giant can do is acknowledge and embrace the fact that it's now the newest, most junior member of an ancient and august guild of humanists, and let its new colleagues participate in the process of fixing and maintaining its metadata archive. After all, why should Google's engineers be attempting to do art history? Why not just focus on giving new tools to actual historians, and let them do their thing? The results of a more open, inclusive metadata curation process might never reveal how many books their really are in the world, but they would do a vastly better job of enabling scholars to work with the library that Google is building.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Are young people really "digital natives"?

This article is interesting in that it provides an alternate narrative about today's young people. The prevailing narrative is that these are "digital natives" who are as (or more) comfortable in the virtual world than in the real.

There is little evidence to back such theories up, however. Rather than conducting surveys, these would-be visionaries base their arguments on impressive individual cases of young Internet virtuosos. As other, more serious researchers have since discovered, such exceptions say very little about the generation as a whole, and they are now avidly trying to correct the mistakes of the past.

Numerous studies have since revealed how young people actually use the Internet. The findings show that the image of the "net generation" is almost completely false -- as is the belief in the all-changing power of technology.

A study by the Hans Bredow Institute entitled "Growing Up With the Social Web" was particularly thorough in its approach. In addition to conducting a representative survey, the researchers conducted extensive individual interviews with 28 young people. Once again it became clear that young people primarily use the Internet to interact with friends. They go on social networks like Facebook and the popular German social networking site SchülerVZ, which is aimed at school students, to chat, mess around and show off -- just like they do in real life.

This article suggests that this may not be true in general, and it also points out the need for education in information literacy.
A major study conducted by the British Library came to the sobering conclusion that the "net generation" hardly knows what to look for, quickly scans over results, and has a hard time assessing relevance. "The information literacy of young people has not improved with the widening access to technology," the authors wrote.

A few schools have now realized that the time has come to act. One of them is Kaiserin Augusta School in Cologne, the high school that Jetlir, Tom, Pia, and Anna attend. "We want our pupils to learn how to use the Internet productively," says music teacher André Spang, "Not just for clicking around in."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A tag synonym system for folksonomies

I thought that this item would be of interest to those in our community who work in folksonomies. Basically, user contributed tags are re-mapped in the background via a javascript routine and user-contributed synonyms. There are a few interesting questions ... most notably, does this help retrieval?

Humor: Blonde in a library

I found this short video funny. Perhaps you will too.