Thursday, October 13, 2011

Windows 8 Start Screen

This blog post is technology specific, but has elements of how humans may use spatial arrangements, color, and grouping to find applications in the changed start screen in Windows 8.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Personalization has its dark side. Just like other information access technologies..

This is my reflection on a recent TED talk that I recommend to watch:

Eli Pariser observed that information personalization is everywhere and it creates a bubble that shields one from the real world. What a surprise!

I hope that we all understand that some kind of tunnel vision is a back side of any information access technology that attempts to help one funding a needle in a haystack. Card catalog and simple (non-adaptive) search were steps in this direction. When you search in a classic library catalog for books you only see books relevant to your query. It's already a form of tunnel vision. Without library catalog search functionality you would have to browse the shelves and have chances to encounter some nice books you were not aware about. Wouldn't it be nice to keep finding book this way? But alas, we all use search instead of digging into the library stacks. Search shields you from mostly irrelevant stuff it and make your work more efficient. Loosing some gems on the way, but making many new things possible.

Nice to see that people like Eli finally can recognize that personalization makes another step into this direction. This is a sign that recommender systems area is coming of age and going through the same process as user modeling went about 10 years ago - recognizing problems associated with personalization. In user modeling area the problem of one-shot uncontrolled personalization has been discussed at length and a number of suggestions of controllable, transparent personalization was made. I guess, time to focus on that for recommender systems. Recognizing back side of every technology is vital to make it better!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Redefining the goals of a PhD program/degree

I found the opinions expressed in this article extremely interesting and true. The extreme specialization offered from PhD systems today makes their outcome interesting and relevant to a very small part of the general crowd. I truly believe that in iSchools the barriers across disciplines are indeed less strict but maybe we need to put even more effort. Definitely there are many challenges that we need to account for, for the reformation discussed in the article, but this article is a start to stimulate more thoughts and to motivate taking actions towards this direction.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Let's pick our ballot at random next time!

In this interesting article, it is shown that a parliament would govern a society more efficient if some of the legislators were elected "randomly". These randomly selected legislators are not politicians but just civilians (that most probably satisfy a set of criteria). The paper provides a golden rule for the number of independent legislators taking into account the size of the parliament as well as the elected percentage of each party in the parliament.

It is surprising that adding randomness in a social system boosts its efficiency. In the same direction it will be interesting to see if adding randomness in an online social system/network helps it achieve its goal. E.g., for twitter, if we randomly follow some people does this increase the entropy of the information we obtain from the "tweets" ? Online social networks suffer from a large number of issues (e.g., spam, multiple accounts, etc.) that add challenges to similar studies and/or approaches to boost the efficiency of the underlying system.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Wikipedia vs. the Universal Decimal Classification

This is an interesting graphic comparing Wikipedia's social classification and the Universal Decimal Classification.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Trouble Brewing for the iSchool at Seattle?

I regularly read a blog from/for library school students known as HackLibrarySchool, and found this posting today. Hmmm?

Speak up! Advocating for the UW iSchool
Heidi Kittleson 02/03/2011 at 6:12 AM

For those of you who don’t know, I attend the Information School (iSchool) at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. And while I, like most students, have had both positive and negative experiences in my education (you have or can read about them here or on my blog), I want to take a moment to express my deep concern for the future of the iSchool and the irreplaceable service it provides through its students, faculty and staff.

Washington, like many other states, has been dealing with a severe budget crisis. Since 2009, the University of Washington (UW) has lost 30% of its state appropriation — $132 million — and I have just become aware that after another round of proposed funding reductions, UW will have lost 50% of its state appropriation in just 3 years.

Last week the student leaders of the iSchool received an email from the iSchool’s dean – Harry Bruce. In the email, he attached both a letter the UW interim president, Phyllis Wise, sent to the legislature and press, and the budget reductions scenario worksheet. Reading the email and the attached documents left me shocked and horrified. On the list of possible actions as a result of the proposed reductions is this:

“Consider consolidating the Information School with another college and significantly reduce course and degree offerings.”

This. Cannot. Happen. It cannot happen for the ‘simple’ reason that there is not enough money for it to exist on its own. The iSchool recently began its centennial celebration. Although it has changed names, locations on campus and has evolved through the lifecycle of the Information Revolution, throughout its nearly 100 year history, its mission, vision and impact on Seattle, Washington and the Pacific Northwest have only expanded during that time.
Read the rest of this post at

Monday, February 28, 2011

Curation is the New Search is the New Curation

You might find this item of interest:

In it, the author argues that Google's PageRank algorithm did away with curation as the underlying principle of search. Now, like any algorithm, it has been gamed, making it less relevant. The alternative is curation but this time by crowds (e.g. or

Sunday, February 13, 2011

KM and the return to the Memex

The recent issue of the Communications of the ACM (vol. 54, no. 2, February 2011)includes several articles of interest to this community.

"Still Building the Memex" by Stephen Davies is a review of the data models underlying Personal Knowledge Bases (PKBs). Beyond the expected discussion of mind-map, hypertext systems, and note-taking applications, I was intrigued by a discussion of data provenance, which tracks the source of the external knowledge included in the PKB and allows for filtering based on the source of the information.

"Structured data on the Web" by Michael Cafarella et al. reports on two research projects developed by Google for data mining and crawling the Deep Web.

An editorial by David Roman speculating on the end of print publication of the Communications is complete with the obligatory to-the-barricades quote that "digital media will free Communications from the constraints of print" and is supported by a news item by Gary Anthes on the launching of ACM's new digital library, the first major revision of the presentation of the magazine's archives in 10 years. One of the new options for user interactivity is the feature for the creation of "shared binders", which is a cross between a realization of the Memex "trails" and the tradition of sending out reprints of one's articles to associates.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Why Some Twitter Posts Catch On, and Some Don’t

This is an interesting article on information diffusion over online social networks and its effects on other disciplines such as marketing. The key points from my perspective are:

* The structure of the social network plays more important role in the information diffusion.
* Online information does not spread as simple as a viral transmission. People often wait until a number of friends or trusted sources have adopted and promoted this information.

This article reminded me of some thoughts I had a couple of months ago for the difference in cascading effects between a "real" social network and an online social network. During that period there was the following "trend" on Facebook: everyone should have as profile picture, that of their favorite cartoon. Within one or two days almost all my friends (along with a large portion of the whole network) had adopted this trend. The analogy in a real social network would be everyone to wear a costume of their favorite cartoon. From my point of view that would never happen (or at most very few people would follow it). Even though this is an extreme example, I think that it can stimulate interesting interdisciplinary research on the differences between a real and an online social network with a focus on cascading effects and the "strength" of interactions.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Alone Together

Sherry Turkle, the well-known author of The Second Self (1984) and Life on the Screen (1995), has given us another key work in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011). In her current book she focuses on individuals from 5 to 20 years of age, discerning how this group often rely on technology to fill in voids in their relationships. While we have seen some amazing achievements with the use of robots and other technologies to help kids and senior citizens, Turkle also argues that our use makes us change in certain profound ways. While we turn to technology, as well, to help save us time, the technology often makes us busier. “It is easy to become so immersed in technology that we ignore what we know about life” (p. 101), and we apply this notion to many aspects of our lives.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Too Much To Know

For those who think that Google Books, Wikipedia, and various forms of social computing are new challenges, Ann M. Blair, Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010) may come as a surprise. Blair, a historian at Harvard University, contends that every age faced information overload, a point others have made. Blair focuses on the period up to 1700, examining various approaches to managing information, including sorting and storing, summarization, note-taking, dictionaries, sentence collections, commonplace books, indices, bibliographies, and encyclopedias. Blair pushes back on the claims for the influence of printing on the creation and use of scholarly references, arguing that most of the methods of scholarly reference were in place before the advent of printing. She weaves through her narrative, rich in detail about the techniques of early information management, political, educational, religious, cultural traditions, and technological influences and issues.

Friday, January 21, 2011


From today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Vedder reviews Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. Vedder notes that Arum and Roksa conclude that “students study little and, as a consequence, learn little.” Drawing on some results from test instruments, these researchers conclude that “gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills (i.e., general collegiate skills) are either exceedingly small or empirically non-existent for a large proportion of students”; 36 percent of students experienced no significant improvement in learning over four years of schooling; “less than one-half of seniors had completed over 20 pages of writing for a course in the prior semester”; “total time spent in academic pursuits is 16 percent”; “students are academically engaged, typically, well under 30 hours per week”; “scholarship from earlier decades suggest there has been a sharp decline in both academic work effort and learning”; “students…majoring in traditional liberal-arts fields…demonstrated significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study. Students majoring in business, education, social work ,and communications had the lowest measurable gains”; “35 percent of the students sampled spent five hours or less a week studying alone; the average for all students was under 9 hours.” This ought to be disturbing to a school like ours recruiting students from such undergraduate programs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking Our Pulse

Jackie Dooley, Katherine Luce. Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research, 2010.

Issued as a followup to the Association of Research Libraries 1998 survey which resulted in the emphasis on exposing hidden collection, Taking our Pulse reminds us that “much rare and unique material remains undiscoverable, and monetary resources are shrinking at the same time that user demand is growing.” (p.9) I was particularly struck by the finding that two thirds of the respondents reported that they have special collections materials in secondary storage – so bring those collections back home and put that expresso bar somewhere other than in the library’s “empty” stacks.

Also sobering is the finding that while nearly all respondents have completed at least one special collections digitization project, many of these projects were specially funded one-offs and production levels achieved were not sustainable or scalable. This echoes the concerns about "boutique digital collections" raised by Paul Conway for at least the last 10 years. While it was not surprising that the data reveals a “widespread lack of basic infrastructure for collecting and managing born-digital materials” (p. 13), there is also some ambiguity as to who should manage these digitized collections as that responsibility does not necessarily return to the originating special collections department.

Overall, a useful state of the art review, which poses questions that we could begin to answer in our courses.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A View of a Crucial Document

Jill Lepore, “The Commandments: The Constitution and Its Worshippers,” New Yorker, January 17, 2011, pp.70-76, provides an interesting examination of how a particular document has taken on symbolic significance in contemporary political debates. Citing evidence about how few Americans have read this document or possess any idea of what is in it [even though it is only 4400 words long], Lepore acknowledges that “Ye olde parchment serves as shorthand for everything old, real, durable, American, and true – a talisman held up against the uncertainties and abstractions of a meaningless, changeable, paperless age” (p. 72). She discusses the Constitution’s history as an archival artifact, how it been used and abused in debates, and how it often frames or shapes political discourse.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A different view of copying

Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010) offers an alternative perspective on the debates of intellectual property and copyright by exploring a variety of non-Western and other philosophical perspectives and cultural practices about the copy and the processes of copying. Boon argues that copying is a fundamental part of being human and that that inherent need is often at odds with legal and commercial ventures.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

God's Librarians

There is an interesting essay about the efforts to modernize the Vatican Library in Daniel Mendelsohn, "God's Librarians: The Vatican Library Enters the Twenty-First Century," New Yorker, January 3, 2011, pp. 24-30. The essay provides a good sense about the tensions between access and secrecy to the fabulous resources of this library and archives.

A New View on Public Scholarship

Beth Luey, Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010).

Luey, with extensive experience in scholarly publishing, makes, with this book, a valuable contribution to the literature on what has been dubbed public scholarship. She leads us through the changing technologies of publishing and the history of publishing to consider when and where occurred the interests in writing and disseminating books intended to reach and educate a broad audience. More specifically, Luey notes how the growth in academic specialization and the stress in research as a means of evaluating faculty has made the task of reaching or educating the public more problematic. Research and research funding has pushed aside teaching as a means of evaluating faculty and the old model of the tea her-scholar has been weakened, even lost, in many universities. The loss of the public as the audience has led to highly technical, opaque writing, or, to put it another way, has shrunk the audience of many academics to small groups of their colleagues or even farther down to their tenure and promotion committees. This is not a book that is concerned with the debates about the future of the printed book or that of reading, choosing instead to consider how the idea and practice of public scholarship has changed and how it needs to be re-established. Luey brings both a fresh perspective to the volumes of advice on academic writing, based on deep reading and extensive experience.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The ethical archivist

Elena s. Danielson, The Ethical Archivist (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2010).

Those looking for the best introduction to archival ethics will be satisfied with Danielson's book, although they might be dissatisfied with the open-ended nature of much of her discussion.  She states openly, right at the beginning, that this book will raise more questions than answers and while this does not bother me in the list it will certainly irritate some practitioners. She starts with an overview of the nature of ethics, the nature and role of professional ethics codes,  the role of ethics in the role of archives in contributing to a sense of collective memory and human rights, and ethical issues in using archives as a means for social accountability.  Then Danielson leads the reader through a detailed discussion, with numerous case studies and questions for reflection on ethics codes, appraisal and acquisition, disposal of records, access, issues about personal privacy and corporate proprietary information, forgery, and the dilemmas posed by displaced records.

Danielson is particularly good at grappling with tough issues, while not taking a particular side (something I am not good at) and still manages to be provocative.  In discussing the nature of ethics codes, for example, she makes this comment: "If the profession continues the policy of providing an aspirational code rather than enforcing ethics with penalties, there needs to be a forum for the concerns of archivists who take a different form" (p. 40). At the moment, the forum is in the classroom, and while that is a start it is not where the profession needs to be. Another emphasis by Danielson is her belief about how much is changing and how fast this is happening, such as when she considers privacy: "After decades of efforts by archivists to protect the rights of individuals, people are surrendering their privacy of their own accord" (p. 205). Such an environment makes it difficult to figure what the ethical stance ought to be. And Danielson is very adept as drawing attention to severe contradictions and murky areas, such as discussing the complicated nature of legal protections for whistleblowers, while further noting that archivists who make consider such a step could be seen as violating their trust andante their own ethics code.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

In this Year, Books Are Not Going to Disappear

We continue to be reminded that printed books are not going to disappear. David Ulin, LA Times book critic, provides a compelling defense of the value of reading books in his The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter In A Distracted Age (Seatlle: Sasquatch Books, 2010). He sees the reading of books as an "act of contemplation" (p. 16) whereas the present more prevalent browsing of blogs, web sites, and so forth Ulin characterizes as "an odd sort of distraction" (p. 34). Ulin's text reminds you of earlier works such as those by Sven Birkerts, and for those who still buy and collect books that is not problem. Jo Steffens, ed., Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), is testimony to the value of books, featuring interviews with New York architects and engaging photographs of their libraries.