Joho the BlogOctober 2012 - Page 2 of 3 - Joho the Blog

October 16, 2012

[eim] [semtechbiz] Viacom’s semantic approach

I’m at the Semantic Technology & Business conference in NYC. Matthew Degel, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect at Viacom Media Networks is talking about “Modeling Media and the Content Supply Chain Using Semantic Technologies.” [NOTE: Liveblogging. Getting things wrong. Mangling words. Missing points. Over- and under-emphasizing the wrong things. Not running a spellpchecker. You are warned!]

Matthew says that the problem is that we’re “drowning in data but starved for information” Tere is a “thirst for asset-centric views.” And of course, Viacom needs to “more deeply integrate how property rights attach to assets.” And everything has to be natively local, all around the world.

Viacom has to model the content supply chain in a holistic way. So, how to structure the data? To answer, they need to know what the questions are. Data always has some structure. The question is how volatile those structures are. [I missed about 5 mins m– had to duck out.]

He shows an asset tree, “relating things that are different yet the same,” with SpongeBob as his example: TV series, characters, the talent, the movie, consumer products, etc. Stations are not allowed to air a commercial with the voice actor behind Spoongey, Tom Kenney, during the showing of the SpongeBob show, so they need to intersect those datasets. Likewise, the video clip you see on your setup box’s guide is separate from, but related to, the original. For doing all this, Viacom is relying on inferences: A prime time version of a Jersey Shore episode, which has had the bad language censored out of it, is a version of the full episode, which is part of the series which has licensing contracts within various geographies, etc. From this Viacom can infer that the censored episode is shown in some geography under some licensing agreements, etc.

“We’ve tried to take a realistic approach to this.” As excited as they are about the promise, “we haven’t dived in with a huge amount of resources.” They’re solving immediate problems. They began by making diagrams of all of the apps and technologies. It was a mess. So, they extracted and encoded into a triplestore all the info in the diagram. Then they overlaid the DR data. [I don’t know what DR stands for. I’m guessing the D stands for Digital, and the R might be Resource]] Further mapping showed that some apps that they weren’t paying much attention to were actually critical to multiple systems. They did an ontology graph as a London Underground map. [By the way, Gombrich has a wonderful history and appreciation of those maps in Art and Representation, I believe.]

What’s worked? They’re focusing on where they’re going, not where they’ve been. This has let them “jettison a lot of intellectual baggage” so that they can model business processes “in a much cleaner and effective way.” Also, OWL has provided a rich modeling language for expressing their Enterprise Information Model.

What hasn’t worked?

  • “The toolsets really aren’t quite there yet.” He says that based on the conversations he’s had to today, he doesn’t think anyone disagrees with him.

  • Also, the modeling tools presume you already know the technology and the approach. Also, the query tools presume you have a user at a keyboard rather than as a backend of a Web service capable of handling sufficient volume. For example, he’d like “Crystal Reports for SPARQL,” as an example of a usable tool.

  • Visualization tools are focused on interactive use. You pick a class and see the relationships, etc. But if you want to see a traditional ERD diagram, you can’t.

  • Also, the modeling tools present a “forward-bias.” E.g., there are tools for turning schemas into ontologies, but not for turning ontologies into a reference model for schema.

Matthew makes some predictions:

  • They will develop into robust tools

  • Semantic tech will enable queries such as “Show me all Madonna interviews where she sings, where the footage has not been previously shown, and where we have the license to distribute it on the Web in Australia in Dec.”

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October 14, 2012


I woke up this morning with this forming in my head. Afterwards, I realized it’s about my friend Michael O’Connor Clarke who died yesterday.


The yew that margins our yard
grew so implacably large
that it shoved off the walk
mothers with strollers,
and brought dogs to curse
at its succor for squirrels.
So, when the cold days set in
I did what the Internet said
and lopped and sawed
and hemmed past its quick,
revealing the brute as
a pile of scratchy sticks
without shape except
where it ends.

Now my yew is catching
leaves from more proper plants
that have learned by falling
that autumn is a lie
that winter smoothly tells.

My deepest condolences to Michael’s family. I cannot express the joy he brought to anyone within earshot, and especially to his friends.

Some links: his blog, a page of support, his tweets, tweets about him, joey devilla remembers him, akma celebrates him, Jeneane mourns the loss of a brother on the Net


Violate copyright? No Facebook for you!

According to TorrentFreak, a leaked AT&T training doc indicates that starting on Nov. 28, if a customer is flagged 4-5 times for copyright infringement [according to faceless algorithms], AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon will block access to unspecified “popular sites” until the customer completes an””online education tutorial on copyright.”

No, there’s nothing even remotely Soviet about continuous surveillance that judges you via a bureaucracy without appeal, and punishes you by blocking access to information until you come back from re-education camp. Nothing Soviet at all, comrades!

I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that if Net Neutrality means that access providers don’t get to block access to sites, then this grotesquely violates the FCC’s Net Neutrality guidelines.


October 12, 2012

A victory for libraries and all of us

Paul Courant, one of the founders of the Hathi Trust, explains this week’s ruling throwing out a lawsuit by the Authors Guild claiming that Hathi’s scan-and-index program violated copyright.

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[2b2k] When peer review is publishing

As many have noted, we are entering a period in which we have not only traditional peer review, we also have review review after publishing. Generally people seem to mean by this the gathering of stats about usage that can then inform readers and the authors’ institutions about the received value of the works.

But there’s also a sense in which peer review — taken yet more broadly — is not being done before publication, nor after publication, but is the publishing. When I recommend an article to you by sending you the link in an email or by posting it on my blog or in a tweet, I am peer reviewing and publishing at the same time.


October 11, 2012

[dpla] DPLA looking good

After attending today’s working meeting of the DPLA (I’m unable to attend tomorrow’s more public-facing session), I’m quite encouraged. The DPLA is now in execution mode, and I believe the pieces are in place.

The Content workstream is well along in securing a range of content, including heritage collections and copyright-free books from the Internet Archive and Hathi Trust. The processes and relationships required for accessing and maintaining the metadata are well along.

The Tech workstream is in very good hands. Jeff Licht is heading it up, and there are external groups working on the required pieces for ingesting metadata, normalizing it, and presenting it through a prototype front end. The Tech team is following roughly the architecture that we’d prototyped Jan-April, and while there are daunting problems — getting the various types of metadata talking to one another, and weighting it so that the results reflect user desires, just to take two — I’m confident it’s going to work well and scale.

And the Governance group is well along in turning this open-edged movement into a an organization built for the long-term. The Board is looking great, there is a search for an Executive Director, and it’s going to be a flexible and responsive organization.

Definitely on track.

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[dpla] DPLA afternoon session

It’s the end of the workstream day of the DPLA Midwest meeting. Each of the three workstream meetings is reporting back to the general group.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Emily Gore from the Content stream: What kind of guidance should we develop for interested content providers? The group wants to have a strategic collection development plan draft by the end of December. “What is our role with regard to advocacy” for content currently under copyright? Also, the group talked about the hub pilot project. Various participants in that pilot were in the room.

SJ Klein from the Technical workstream: There was a lively discussion this afternoon, primarily about the design of the front end. How to make the frontend experience help people become contributors? They also talked about the Chatanooga hackathon Nov. 8-9. Tools for making working with metadata easier. Packaging tools that match potential contributors with a hub. Metadata purgatory for metadata that has been contributed but doesn’t meet the standards.

Maureen Sullivan and John Palfrey report on the Governance group: The next steps are to take the barebone by-laws and flesh them out. There were many discussions about whether DPLA the 501(c)(3) should be a membership organization, but the general consensus is no. (Paul Courant made the point that many institutions shy away from becoming members because that makes them liable.) Rather, it would be good to have participation from groups and people with specific areas of expertise. There was a lot of energy about expanding on the statement of principles, including adding an explicit commitment to accessibility. There was strong support for continuing to see the DPLA as a public/private enterprise. John Bracken made the point that DPLA should view itself as a network, not as a heavyweight organization.

Maureen points out that the workstreams have converged. She says that “contributor” seems to be a better word than “member.” We need to be flexible about how people will come together to do the work that’s required. And we should be thinking of ourselves as advocates, a force for change to improve the lives of people in this country and around the world.


[dpla] DPLA opening session

Today is the first day of the third national plenary of the Digital Public Library of America. We’re in the Chicago Public Library where Brian Bannon has welcomed us. Brian is Chicago’s new Library Commissioner, and I am a huge fan.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

John Palfrey, the chair of the DPLA, tells us that what makes him happiest about the DPLA meeting is the wide range of people who continue to work on the project. He tells us that this is the first time the DPLA has live-streamed the workstream day; tomorrow is the big public confab. (Hashtag: #dplamidwest.) JP tells us that the DPLA is working across workstreams; the meetings today are not focused on workstreams but topics.

One session will be on content. JP reminds us that Emily Gore is working fulltime on acquiring content. That session is going to talk about strategic planning, and about the digital hubs pilot project that is under development. (The hubs project apparently will give access to the Hathi Trust and Internet Archive, which means there will be books in the DPLA!) JP tells us that there are two federal funders and one not-yet-announced private funder.

The second simultaneous group is the technical workstream. Martin Kalfaltovic, SJ Klein and Jeffrey Licht.

The third is on the future of the DPLA with JP and Maureen Sullivan.

JP announces that the the DPLA non-profit org is on the way. He also congratulates PAul Courant of the Hathi Trust for the judicial decision yesterday. JP asks how we can keep the DPLA’s inclusiveness and openness even as it moves to a more formal structure.

“This is the last of the entire days to roll up your sleeves and figure out what the ‘it’ is before we launch the ‘it’ in April 2013,” JP says.

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October 10, 2012

Obama and Romney make their cases to techies. Guess who fails to mention the Internet?

New York Tech Meetup asked the Obama and Romney camps to write letters explaining how their policies would help the NY tech community. NYTM has just posted their replies.

Without the prefatory comments, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that Romney’s letter is about tech policy. Not only does Romney miss any mention of Internet or its synonyms, he fails to reiterate his opposition to Net Neutrality.

Obama on the other hand lays out his policies and accomplishments, starting with creating a federal CTO on his first day in office, opening up government data (at and elsewhere), creating Presidential Innovation Fellows, and protecting the open Internet.

(PS: I’ve posted the link to the letters at Reddit. Feel free to upvote…)

Related to this, the Australian radio show has posted an episode on whether the Obama administration has fulfilled the promise of Government 2.0. It interviews Ethan Zuckerman, Micah Sifry, Michael Turk, Bill Adair, and me.

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October 8, 2012

[2b2k] Skepticism about stories

The phrase “story-telling” raises my skeptical scalp wisps. I am a sucker for stories, whether of the Moth/ This American Life sort, or the literary art of, say, a Philip Roth or my sister-in-law, Meredith Sue Willis. But “story-telling” also sometimes refers to a belief that even I consider naive about the power of stories to overcome differences, or to the commercial use of stories to manipulate us.

So, I went to the new “Future of Story Telling” conference with my skeptical hazmat suit on. But, it turned out to be an outstanding event. At the very least it helped me understand my skepticism better.

The event, put on by Charlie Melcher, attracted a great set of about 300 folks, including artists, lots of marketers and advertisers, software designers, scientists, and performers. And it used an interesting format that worked out well: Before the event, the conference made a 5-10 minute video for each of the presenters. (Mine is here.) Attendees were asked to choose three one-hour sessions based on those videos. The sessions began with a viewing of the vids, and then a 10-15 minute informal talk by the speaker. The rest was open discussion. Each speaker held her or his session three times.

I tuned mine after each go-through, of course. By the second time, I was setting up the discussion as follows:

Bill Casebeer was at the conference talking about research that shows that the brain releases empathy-producing chemicals when we hear a story that follows the classic arc. This reaction is universal, and when I had a chance to talk with Bill the night before (he’s a brilliant, enjoyable, and — most of all — patient person) I learned that chimpanzee brains also seem to work this way. So, I began my session by pointing to those findings.

But, there are plenty of natural brain reactions that we work against. For example, if the impulse for revenge were a natural impulse, we would try to thwart it in the name of civilization. Likewise if rape were a natural impulse. (This is the old sociobiology debate from the ‘Seventies.) So, I told my session I wanted to raise two questions, not as a devil’s advocate but because I’m genuinely uncertain. First, should we be resisting our brain’s impulse to see and react to story arcs on the grounds that the story arc often is a simplification to the point of falsification? Second, whether or not we reject the arc, does the Internet offer possibilities for telling radically more complex (and therefore more truthful) stories?

Then, I talked briefly about networked knowledge, because that’s what the organizers wanted me to talk about. Also, it’s a topic I like. So, I looked at Reddit (yes, again) as a place at which we see knowledge exhibited in its complexity, including the inevitable disagreements. My overall point was that our new medium is enabling knowledge to become more appropriately complex. If the Net is doing this to knowledge, perhaps it can and even should do this to story telling.

The groups at all three sessions focused on the question of whether story arcs falsify. I gave them the example of how your life is lived versus how it is retold in a biography. The bio finds an arc. But your life — or at least mine — is far more random and chaotic than that. One group usefully applied this to the concept of a “career,” a term that now we pretty much have to put in quotes. We don’t have careers so much as a series of hops, skips, and jumps. (“Career” has always carried class-implications, as did this discussion.) In fact, since (I’d hypothesized) everything is being reinterpreted as a network of the Internet sort, our path through jobs and among friends is itself beginning to look like a network. Small jobs loosely joined?

Some replied that even if your life does not consist of an heroic arc, every step of the way is a little arc. I’d agree that our experience is to a large degree characterized by intentionality (or, as Heidegger would say, by the fact that we care about what happens). But my understanding of the story arc is that it needs the intervention of an obstacle, but most of our plans go forward without a hitch, if only because we learn to be pretty good plan-makers. Further, I think the arc needs to contain a sense that it has more to say than what it literally says. “I went to a store for apples, but they were out, so I went to a different store” is not yet a story. It has to reveal something about the world or about myself: “I went to the store for apples, and the clerk was incredibly rude. Why can’t people be nice to each other? So, then…” Most of what we do has an intention, but not every intentional act is a story. That’s why I don’t see our lives as composed of little stories. And even if they were, putting those little stories together wouldn’t necessarily make the Big Stories we tell about ourselves true.

Some said that stories are not a matter of truth but of emotion. A woman from Odyssey Networks, a group that promotes interfaith understanding, told a story about hardened criminals tenderly caring for other prisoners. Quite moving. And I wouldn’t diminish the importance of stories for connecting us as creatures that feel, care, suffer, and rejoice. But I did want to raise the ethics of using a form of communication that appeals directly to our lizard brains. (Well, I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong portion of the brain. Lizards probably tell really cold-hearted stories.) I didn’t do a very effective job of raising this issue, but we could balance the prisoners’ story with a million propagandistic anecdotes from politicians (“I was in Phoenix when I met Josie Jones, a workin’ mom strugglin’ to make ends meet…”) and marketers. Maybe we should be really careful about using stories, since they can make us vulnerable to some very flawed thinking. And to be technical, I do worry also that the common ground that story-tellers find often may not be all that common after all. I have little confidence that we experience The Iliad the way the Greeks did.

It turned out that none of the three groups much wanted to talk much about the second question: the possibility of using the Net to tell more complex stories. That’s my fault. I couldn’t make the idea concrete enough because I don’t have a concrete-enough idea. In two of the sessions I did raise the possibility that some online multiplayer games are one place we might begin to look. I think there’s some value in that idea, for stories there are collaborative and emergent. But they also lack the coherence that a narrator brings to a story, and coherence may well be a requirement for a story. There are worthy experiments in having large groups collaborate on a single narrative, but that doesn’t scale stories so that they more accurately represent the chaotic and complex nature of life.

It may well be that stories need to be relatively simple and arced in the middle simply to be stories. And I would hate to lose the stories that come from artists, for great stories — or perhaps I should say truthful stories — transcend the simplicity the form imposes. But I continue to worry that story-telling outside of the aesthetic realm is a simplification that all too often falsifies. So, I wouldn’t want to give up stories. But I would be happier if we approached the form itself with a fundamental wariness.


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