If you use numbers…

If you use numbers...

Still not sure what’s for the best, but the idea that opaque URIs are better because they’re language independent doesn’t ring true for me. A word is just as opaque as a GUID if you don’t speak the language, but for those who can read it may be far clearer and easier to work with.

Betamax, VHS and RDF

I was chatting to a guy a few weeks ago, a Technical Account Manager at a reasonably good consultancy. We got chatting as we’re both “in IT”. I don’t actually consider myself to be “in IT” but that’s another story.

The conversation was somewhat one-sided, with this chap, let’s call him Harry, wanting to tell me all about what he does and his illustrious career with a wide range of technologies. He wasn’t interested in what I did, so I listened.

Harry explained how the consultancy he works for is doing pretty well, despite the economic situation. His group, a team of technology specialists, were not doing so well, however. Harry doesn’t understand why and we quickly moved on.

From not doing well Harry went on to detail his incredible career in technology. Putting in DEC equipment in the mid 80s (when everyone else was putting in PCs), networking several companies with Token Ring (in the late 90s when everyone else was putting in Ethernet), setting up large internal data centres based on Novell and/or IBM OS/2 (when everyone else was putting in Windows). Harry had even thrown out early copies of Microsoft Office in one company to put in Lotus 123 and AmiPro. Great decisions, choosing best-of-breed solutions from great suppliers.

The consistency of these “wrong” decisions seemed to have passed Harry by as he was saying how all of these technologies were “the best”, but were subsequently beaten in the marketplace by inferior products. I suspect Harry still has a Betamax video recorder tucked away somewhere.

What’s common across all of the products that succeeded is that they are superior in some way that the market defines, not in the way that Harry defined. They were successful in many respects simply because they were successful. That is, success begets success.

Many people are highly skeptical about the Semantic Web and RDF in particular, but in large part it seems to be in roughly the state the web was in the very early 90s. One of the browsers (Tabulator) is something that Tim Berners-Lee has written and is touting around as an example of what could be done, sites on the Semantic Web can still (just) be drawn on a single slide and lots of people are still looking at RDF and saying “it won’t work”.

But all of that misses the point. It will be successful if we make it successful. That is, it lives and dies not by how it compares to other approaches of representing data, but by how many people publish stuff this way.

Should the President Use E-mail?

Should the President Use E-mail?

That’s the question posed by Freakonomics a few days ago, but not for the reasons you might suspect.

Apparently email is a good format for delivering bad news. That seems interesting, apparently the dropping of many social cues allows people to receive information in a less defensive attitude. That may well be, but my mother always said

If you’ve got something nice to say write it down, if it’s not so nice say it to their face.

Of course, she also said

If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.

And if we’re on the subject of things parents tell their children you should check out today’s xkcd

Going back to the question of Presidents receiving bad news, I’m not sure my mom’s second piece of advice would go down so well.

Lost + Found

a while back, when I switched machines, I lost my feedreader – and all the blogs I was following with it. ho hum, a great opportunity to find out which I missed and to find new ones :->

Just discovered I miss Tinfoil + Raccoon. Paul and I caught up with Rochelle in the OCLC bloggers salon at ALA this summer. Much beer was consumed.

Anyhow, I found her again a few weeks ago and then realised today that she is certifiable. I mean, a typewriter? Unless you’re expecting imminent doom from some kind of electro-magnetic pulse or you’re a museum curator what on earth would you want one for? Even for $5 – you could have bought yourself a nice sandwich for that!

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Why virtual worlds suck…

And why they don’t have to…

So, I’ve been spending too much time in Second Life and broadly agree with Nad’s “The problem with Second Life“.

But why does it suck and what would I want instead? Well first I think Second Life is too much like real-life – the physical characteristics of the world are too similiar too restrictive. Sure, you can teleport; great. And you can fly, albeit very, very slowly. But broadly the things that slow you down IRL are the same things that slow you down ISL.

There are things that aren’t right yet, like how you show search results as objects, for example, but there are others too. ISL today my search results look like a whole load of blobs; arbitrary objects created by the search interface for me to rifle through. This isn’t the fault of those producing search interfaces, but the fault of the engine’s themselves.

The good news is we don’t have to look far for a more imaginative solution. In The Matrix1 Neo needs guns, so guns arrive. He doesn’t move within the world, the world moves for him. That’s the kind of virtual world I want to play in.

In real-life when you want to, say, arrange books on the shelves of a library you have to choose a filing scheme – there are plenty around and they each serve a different blend of different needs. In a virtual library we could ditch the shelves altogether, but if we kept the shelves we could let people re-sort the shelves to meet their own needs – instantly and on-demand.

For that to work for many people at the same time that would mean the world that others are seeing would be slightly different from what I am seeing. That is to say that the while you and I may be stood next to the ‘same’ shelves, the books may be arranged differently for me than for you. That might bring usability problems with it too at times, but at least it would be lifting the restrictions of this world.

Imagine, this is like being able to all sit around one TV, but watch your own programmes! I’ve wanted to do that since I was six; imagine the childhood fights that would stop!

If you think about it this is what websites do all the time, if we used a search perspective rather than a browse of the shelves, we could see a shelf as analogous to the search results page of a search engine – that’s seen by millions of people at the same time, but contains results for each of us. What if we could do the same for the shelves? A hundred of us could be stood looking at virtual shelves, seeing different results upon them.

Any aspect of the world could vary, the same corridor of shelving could be 50 feet long for me and only 20 feet long for you – there would be some work to do in mapping where people are stood within each others’ spaces, but that’s not too hard. Imagine what that could mean though. When I search for books now, I could get my own shelf of results – everyone stood in the search “room” would only see their own shelf. I could easily judge how many results I have by the length of the shelf. Perhaps there would be a way for me to collaboratively search and manipulate results with other people I invite to help me.

AFAIK the current virtual worlds don’t support this kind of personalised, run-time, programmatic remodelling of the physical space. And that’s why they suck – they’re too much like this world.

1 This clip, The Matrix, Copyright 1999, Warner Bros