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February 26, 2015

[liveblog] Data & Technology in Government

I’m at a discussion at the Harvard Kennedy School listening to an awesome panel of Obama administration technologists. Part of the importance of this is that students at the Kennedy School are agitating for a much strong technology component to their education on the grounds that these days policy makers need to be deeply cognizant of the possibilities technology offers, and of the culture of our new technology development environment. Tomorrow there is an afternoon of discussions sponsored by the student-led Technology for Change group. I believe that tonight’s panel is a coincidence, but it is extraordinarily well-timed.

Here are the participants:

  • Aneesh Chopra, the first federal CTO (and a current Shorenstein Center fellow)

  • Todd Park, White House Technology Advisory

  • DJ Patil, the first US Chief Data Science, five days into his tenure

  • Lynn Overmann – Deputy Chief Data Officer, US Dept. of Commerce

  • Nick Sinai – former US Deputy Chief Technology Officer (and a current Shorenstein Center fellow)

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. PARTICULARLY LOOSE PARAPHRASING even when within quotes; these are geeks speaking quickly.
You are warned, people.

Todd Park: I’m now deeply involved in recruiting. The fundamental rule: “If you get the best people, you win.” E.g., the US Digital Service: “A network of elite technology development teams.” They want to address problems like improving veteran’s care, helping immigrants, etc. “If you go to the best talent in the country and ask them to serve, they will,” he says, pointing to DJ and Lynn.

DJ Patil: We’re building on the work of giants. I think of this as “mass times velocity.” The velocity is the support of the President who deeply believes in open data and technology. But we need more mass, more people. “The opportunity to have real world impact is massive.” Only a government could assemble such a talented set of people. And when people already in the govt are given the opportunity to act and grow, you get awesome results. Data scientists are force multipliers.

Lynn Overmann: “I’m a serial public servant.” She was a public defender at first. “There is literally no serious problem you’re concerned about that you can’t tackle from within the federal government.” The Commerce Dept. has huge amounts of data and needs help unlocking it. [In a previous session, Lynn explained that Commerce offers almost no public-facing servies except gathering and releasing data.]

Nick Sinai: Todd, you were the brains behind the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program

Todd: The government is not a lean start up but that approach applied to may problems work much better than if you apply traditional the waterfall approach to computing. Round 1 went well. In Round 2, they brought in about 40 people. There was a subset of the Round 2 who found the program “addictive.” So the Whitehouse used 18F, a digital consulting service provided by the GSA. Demand has now gone off the chart for these new style of consultants. Some of those folks then helped grow the new US Digital Sesrvice. It all started with the Innovation Fellows and grew organically. “The more people we attract people who are amazing into government, the more we energize amazing people already in government, the more air cover we give them” the more awesomeness there will be. Let them create results at 10x what anyone expected. “That methodology is the only replicable, reliable way to change government at scale, at speed, in a way that’s permanent.” “I can’t tell you how much fun this is.”

DJ Patil: My first encounters with the CIOs of existing agencies and departments have been amazing. They’re so open, so eager for disruption.

Aneesh Chopra: The line between public and private sector is becoming very porous. That means that the products of the teams being described are a new form of information that in the hands of entrepreneurs and innovators can be transformative. E.g., Uber wanted their drivers to make better healthcare choices. There’s now a hose of data about the healthcare signups. A startup — Stride Health — took that hose and customized it for Uber drivers; maybe drivers want better back care options. There’s an increasing portfolio of institutions extending these services. A handshake makes more and more of this datea interoperable, and there’s a hand off to entrepreneurs and innovators. “They may not be stamped .gov” but they’ll powered by data from the govt.

Nick: We have an opportunity to do smart wholesaling of data, as well as retailing it: Great services, but also enabling non-governmental groups to build great end-user services.

Lynn: At Commerce we’re trying to do Open Data 2.0. How do we get our data experts out into the world to talk with users ? How do we share data better? How do we create partnerships with the public sector? E.g., Uber shared its data on traffic patterns with the city of Boston.

Lynn: In the departments Todd has led, he has worked on the gender balance. Women were in the majority by the end of his HHS appointment. [I couldn’t hear all of this.]

Todd: I’ve learned that the more diverse the team is, the better the team is. We made it a real priority for the US Digital Service to have a team that looks like America. It’s also our hope that we’ll be minting people who become superstars in the tech world and will encourage more youths to enter STEM.

Aneesh: There were a few places we thought we could have done better. 1. Rethinking the role and nature of the infrastructure. Human capital is the infrastructure for the digital economy. 2. We make rules of the road — e.g., Net Neutrality today — that give people a more fair shot to compete. There are foundational investments to be made in the infrastructure and creating rules of the road. That’s part of how we affect policy.

Nick: What about the President’s new precision medicine initiative?

Todd: It’s a new way of thinking about how you get medical service. Increasingly Web sites provide tailored experiences. Why not with science? Should your aspirin dose be the same for someone with a different genetics, exposed to different things in your environment, etc.? Where it gets really phenomenal: The cost of genetic sequencing is dropping quickly. And tons of data are coming from sensors (e.g., FitBit). How do you start getting a handle on that to start getting better treatment? Another side of it: Bioinfomatics has been amazing at understanding genes. Combine that with clinical knowledge and we can begin to see that maybe that people who live near docks with diesel fumes have particular symptoms. We’ll be able to provide cohorts for test studies that look like America.

Nick: Aneesh and Todd, you both quote Joy’s Law: Most of the smartest people in the world work for someone else.

Aneesh: In many ways, the lessons learned from the innovation philosophy have had great effect in the public sector. The CEO of P&G said 50% of ideas will come from outside of P&G. This liberated him to find innovations in the military that resulted in $1B in cash flow for P&G. Also, we’ve learned from platform effects and what the team at Facebook has done. Sheryl Sandberg: There are 3,000 developers at FB, but a query at Google found 35,000 people with the title “FB developer,” because other companies were using the FB platform.

Todd: It’s important to remember Joy’s Law, and the more you can get those people in the world to care about what you do, the more successful you’ll be. I was asked what I would do with the vast amount of data that the govt has. My first thought was to build some services. But about 17 seconds later I realized that’s entirely the wrong approach. Rather, open it up in machine readable form. We invited four innovators into a room. At first they were highly skeptical. But then we showed them the data, and they got excited. Ninety days later we had a health care datapalooza, and it caught fire. Data owners were there who thought that opening up their data could only result in terribleness. At the end of the datapalooza they flipped. Within two years, the Health Datapalooza became a 2,000 person event, with thousands of people who couldn’t get tickets. Hundreds of new applications that could help individuals, hospitals, healthcare providers were created. But you have to have the humility to acknowledge that you don’t know the answer. And you have to embrace the principle that the answer is likely to come from someone who aren’t you. That’s the recipe for awesomeness to be released.

Aneesh: When Secty Sibelius saw the very first presentation, her jaw dropped. The question was what are the worst communities in the America for obesity and who can they talk to about improving it. In seven minutes they had an answer. She said that when she was Governor, it would have taken her staff seven months to come up with that answer.

Q: [a self-identified Republican technologist] President Obama got the right team together. What you do is awesome. How can we make sure what you’ve built stays a permanent part of the government?

Aneesh: Eric Cantor was doing much the same in Congress. These ideas of opening up data and engaging entrepreneurs, lean startups, open innovation have been genuinely bipartisan.

Todd: Mike Bracken from the UK Digital service says: The strategy is delivery. What will change govt is a growing set of precedents about how govt really should work. I could write an essay, but it’s more effective if I point to datapalooza and show the apps that were written for free. We have to create more and more examples. These examples are done in partnership with career civil servants who are now empowered to kick butt.

DJ: We can’t meet the demand for data scientists. Every agency needs them. We have to not only train those people up, but also slot them into the whole stack. A large part of our effort will be how to train them, find them great homes at work, and give them ways to progress.

Nick: It’s really hard to roll back transparency. There are constituencies for it, whether it’s accountability orgs, the press, etc.

Lynn: Civil servants are the most mission driven people I’ve met. They won’t stop.

Q: Everyone has talked about the need for common approaches. We need identities that are confidential and interoperable. I see lots of activities, but not a plan. You could do a moonshot here in the time you have left. It’d be a key part of the infrastructure.

Aneesh: When the precision medical provision was launched, a critical provision was that they’ll use every regulatory tool they have to connect consumers to their own data. In 2010 there was a report recommending that we move to healthcare APIs. This led to a privately funded initiative called Project Argonaut. Two days ago we held a discussion here at Harvard and got commitments for public-private efforts to create an open source solution in healthcare. Under Nick, the same went on for connecting consumers to their energy info. [I couldn’t capture all this. I’m not sure the above is right. And Aneesh was clear that he was speaking “as an outsider.”]

DJ: If you check the update to the Podesta Big Data report, it outlines the privacy aspects that we’ll be pushing on. Energy is going into these issues. These are thorny problems.

Q: Cybersecurity has become a high profile issue. How is the govt helping the private sector?

Aneesh: Early on the President offered a framework for a private-public partnership for recognigizing digital fingerprints, etc. This was the subject of a bipartisan effort. Healthcare has uniform data-breach standards. (The most common cause of breaches: bad passwords.) We need an act of Congress to [he went too fast … sorry].

Lynn: Cybersecurity requires an international framework for privacy and data security. That’s a major challenge.

Q: You talked about the importance of STEM. Students in astronomy and astrophysicists worry about getting jobs. What can I say to them?

DJ: I was one of those people. I lot of people I went to school with went on to Wall Street. If you look at the programs that train data scientists, the ones who are super successful in it are people who worked with a lot of messy data: astrophysicists, oceanographers, etc. They’re used to the ambiguity that the data starts with. But there’s a difference in the vocabulary so it’s hard for people to hit the ground running. With 4-6 weeks of training, these people crush it. Tell your students that there are great opportunities and they shouldn’t be dissuaded by having to pound the pavement and knock on doors. Tell them that they have the ability to be game changers.

Q: How many of us are from the college? [surprisingly few hands go up] Your msg about joining the govt sounds like it’s tailored for young professional, not for students. The students I know talk about working for Google or FB, but not for the govt.

Todd: You’re right. The US Digital Service people are young professionals who have had some experience. We will get to recruiting in college. We just haven’t gotten there yet.

Lynn: If you’re interested in really hard problems and having a direct impact on people’s lives, govt service is the best thing you can do.

Q: When you hire young tech people, what skills do they typically not have that they need?

Lynn: Problem solving. Understanding the problems and having the tech skills to solve them. Understanding how people are navigating our systems now and asking how we can leverage tech to make that process much much easier.

DJ: In Sillicon Valley, we’re training people via internships, teaching them what they don’t learn from an academic environment. We have to figure out how govt can do this, and how to develop the groups that can move you forward when you don’t know how to do something.

Aneesh: There is a mindset of product development, which is a muscle that we haven’t worked enough in the policy arena. Policy makers too often specify what goal they want and allocate money for it. But they don’t think about the product that would achieve that goal. (Nice shout out to Karim Lakhani. “He’s in the mind set.”)

Q: [leaders of the Kennedy School Tech for Change] Tech for Change has met with administrators, surveyed students, etc. Students care about this. There’s a summit tomorrow. [I’m going!] What are the three most important things a policy school could do to train students for this new ecosystem. How can HKS be the best in this field?

DJ: Arts and humanities, ethics, and humility.

Todd: One expression of humility is to learn the basics of lean startup innovation. These principles apply broadly

DJ: There’s nothing more humbling than putting your first product out there and watching what people say on Twitter.

Lynn: We should be moving to a world in which technology and policy aren’t separate. It’s a problem when the technologists are not at the table. E.g., we need to be able to track the data we need to measure the results of programs. This is not a separate thing. This is a critical thing that everyone in the school should learn about.

Todd: It’s encouraging that the geeks are being invited into the rooms, even into rooms where no one can imagine why tech would be possibly relevant. But that’s a short term hack. The whole idea that policy makers don’t need to know about tech is incredibly dangerous. Just like policy makers need a basic understanding of economics; they don’t have to be economists.If you don’t have that tech knowledge, you don’t graduate. There will be a direct correlation between the geek quotient and the efficiency of policy.

Nick: Panel, whats your quick actionable request of the Harvard JFK community?

Lynn: We need to make our laws easier to understand.

Todd: If you are an incredibly gifted, patriortic, high EQ designer, dev, devops, data scientists, or you know someone who is, go to where you can learn about the Digital Service and apply to join this amazing band.

DJ: Step up by stepping in. And that doesn’t have to be at the federal level. Share ideas. Contribute. Help rally people to the cause.

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August 29, 2013

Innovation at Countway

The Countway Library at Harvard Medical School today held a forum/seminar on what they’re working on. What they’re working on is pretty great.

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 peoples ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Griffin Weber – “Discovering Expertise using research networking websites”

In 2008 Countway built Catalyst, a site with faculty profiles. Passive networks, shown on the right, are the existing networks. Active networks, shown on the right, grow over time. It provides a set of visualizations, including of co-authors out two degrees, topics, people with similar interests, physical neighbors, etc.

Last year they extended this to the entire university with the Faculty Finder. It’s a search site with links back to the faculty members school or departmental website.

Then they decided to link up the instances of this open source software being used at 30 universities, via federated search.

The data in the system can be used to do interesting visualizations of various relations; Griffin shows some examples.

Internally it uses the VIVO ontology.

Emily Gustainis, Head of Collection Services for Center for the History of Medicine – “Collaborative Content Building Using Omeka”

Omeka, from George Mason University, has had a big effect. It’s a “free, flexible, open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives and scholarly collections and exhibitions.” It combines the cataloging and exhibiting of content, enabling users to self-curate their collections.

They are collaborating on the Our Marathon site that Northeastern is building, as well as with other institutions on other projects, including a collection of historical embryo photos. They’re also working on the Harvard Library Interoperability Initiative [yay!] on making cross-institutional collections available through Omeka without requiring local instances of all the content. (Here are some of the collections.)

Jonathan Kennedy: ASHE (Automatic Subject Heading Extraction)

Jon works with Countway Library and CBMI (Center for Biomedical Informatics) on semantic technologies. They’re working on semantic search, so that searches for, e.g., cancer return results about tumors, neoplasms, etc..

ASHE uses automated processes to try to generate the sort of subject headings for medical articles that a human would apply. They developed a tool and tested it on 50 books that had already been categorized by humans so they’d have something to compare the algorithmic results to. The results have been very encouraging. The system’s top ten suggested headings quite consistently contain the human-generated headings, and about 25% of the time the human-generated headings are way towards the top of the suggested ones. Also, ASHE does a good job supplying secondary headings.

They would like to expand beyond the medical domain. Criteria: Well-supported ontologies that provide dictionaries of synonymous terms, with parent to child relationships. Also, the granularity has to be right. The Library of Congress Subject Headings generally aren’t hierarchical enough for the project. But the Getty Thesaurus might be good, as well as an astrophysics ontology.

Julia Whelan: “Research in Medical Education: A bibliometric study of scholarship”

Harvard Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School are partnering to address a set of questions including: Is scholarship about medical education growing? Which journals publish it? What’s it growth compared to other medical topics? Which topics in medical ed are covered? etc. They use MeSH headings (Medical Subject Headings) to track studies and articles. They looked at 72.5K articles from 1960-2010 in 3,869 different journals. They saw growth in the number of articles and substantial growth in the number of journals. These grew faster than other medical articles and journals. They’ve also analyzed topic coverage over time, and which journals publish the most on particular topics. E.g., 80% of articles in medical education are not published in medical education journals.

Future projects: studying topics by the gender of the authors, medical specialities, medical school culture, promotion criteria, and making data available to historians on the Web. Here’s a paper on this project.

David Osterberg: “Strategic Planning at Countway: Innovation and Collaboration from the Bottom Up”

(David gives a highly condensed version of his talk because a tour of Countway is about to start.) Countway has a very flat organization. The staff is small enough to meet in one room, which they do every month. At one meeting, they brainstormed what they can do to make Countway better, and lots of great ideas arose. They formed working groups on everything from the use of space to a set of in-depth training videos to e-special collections that pull together info from all across the spectrum…


April 18, 2013

[misc] StackLife goes live – visually browse millions of books

I’m very proud to announce that the Harvard Library Innovation Lab (which I co-direct) has launched what we think is a useful and appealing way to browse books at scale. This is timed to coincide with the launch today of the Digital Public Library of America. (Congrats, DPLA!!!)

StackLife (nee ShelfLife) shows you a visualization of books on a scrollable shelf, which we turn sideways so you can read the spines. It always shows you books in a context, on the ground that no book stands alone. You can shift the context instantly, so that you can (for example) see a work on a shelf with all the other books classified under any of the categories professional cataloguers have assigned to it.

We also heatmap the books according to various usage metrics (“StackScore”), so you can get a sense of the work’s community relevance.

There are lots more features, and lots more to come.

We’ve released two versions today.

StackLife DPLA mashes up the books in the Digital Public Library of America’s collection (from the Biodiversity Heritage Library) with books from The Internet Archive‘s Open Library and the Hathi Trust. These are all online, accessible books, so you can just click and read them. There are 1.7M in the StackLife DPLA metacollection. (Development was funded in part by a Sprint grant from the DPLA. Thank you, DPLA!)

StackLife Harvard lets you browse the 12.3M books and other items in the Harvard Library systems 73 libraries and off-campus repository. This is much less about reading online (unfortunately) than about researching what’s available.

Here are some links:

StackLife DPLA:
StackLife Harvard:
The DPLA press release:
The DPLA version FAQ:

The StackLife team has worked long and hard on this. We’re pretty durn proud:

Annie Cain
Paul Deschner
Kim Dulin
Jeff Goldenson
Matthew Phillips
Caleb Troughton


October 9, 2011

Library: Future.0

I put this video together as the opener of the first in a series of public conversations Harvard is holding about the future of libraries and of the Harvard Library system.


August 4, 2011

LibraryLab funded project librapalooza

The Harvard Library Lab, which issues grants for library innovation at the University, is holding a forum in which all the projects get 5 mins to introduce themselves. (The names prefacing these blurbs are of the presenters, who are not always the project leads or developers.)

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.

Sebastian Diaz: Slideshow generator. Makes it easy to create slideshows out of images from image repositories. It initially is using the VIA repository. You can search by keyword, select the slides, set the delay between slides, and publish it. It’s intended for classroom use, or, of course, for anyone.

Sebastian Diaz: Enhanced Social Tagging for Classifiation and Current Awareness. It’s currently under development. (The code is at Github.) It enables the merging of tag sets that use different vocabularies without having to define a dictionary ahead of time. The tool produces a filter, “and you aggregate based on that filter,” renaming tags (or associating them?) based on the filter. People can make their own aggregated feed out of these multiple tag sets. It’s a form of behavior-driven development.

Sebastian Diaz: Deposit@Harvard. This tool eases the process of adding open access material to open access repositories, including Harvard DASH. This is an issue because not all repositories have the same APIs or metadata definitions.

Abigail Bourdeaux: The Copyright and Fair Use Tool: An interactive workflow tool for those trying to determine the copyright status, and fair use status, of materials, particularly for use in the classroom. (It has not yet begun coding.)

Abigail Bourdeaux: Online Digital Atlas Viewer. This is a viewer designed specifically for viewing historical atlases online. These atlases may have overlap from page to page, may switch scales, etc. ODAV will help to reconcile maps through Open Layers, to overlap and scale them seamlessly. (It has not yet begun coding.)

Marc MGee and Dave Siegel: Enhanced Catalog Searching with Geospatial Technology. They’re working on ways to spatially search information in the Harvard Library system. They’re using PRESTO Web Services tools. They’ve taken 1,700 MARC records and sent them to Metacarta, a geocoding company. Metacarta assigns lat/long to words it’s extracted from text. They then put markers on a map to show docs relevant to those places.

Bobbi Fox: Library Application Collaboration Development Tools and Resources: How we can better coordinate library innovation at Harvard. They’ve reactivated the ABCD Library discussion group, which has been a “roaring success.” They’ve also been talking with groups all across the library system about what would help. They’re also coordinating with the new University CTO. From the small group discussions they’ve confirmed that everyone wants simple and convenient ways to keep up with the various projects, but we tend to disagree about what “simple and convenient” means :) Also, it’s clear we need to work get over the cultural barriers against sharing what we’re doing. Most people are not all that excited about centrally provided services such as bug tracking or source code management.

Justin Daost, Chris Erdmann: Wolbach User Experience Lab. The center for astrophysics got a Microsoft Surface, which interacts with objects near its surface via infrared cameras. They’ve been working with Microsoft Research to see how it could be use in the Library. Microsoft also connected them with Andy van Dam at Brown U. where they’re working on the Garibaldi Project, a way of browsing a set of related content. They’ve been working on the LADS project that lets people scroll through a timeline, zoom in on high res images (without using much memory), click on hotspots that display related metadata, etc. They are using this to give access to special collections. Also, they created an interface to enable librarians to update it easily.

Andy Wilson: QR Codes in the Library: This project would put QR in the stacks that would load onto a mobile device research guides relevant to that area of the stacks. They will spend the fall semester gathering more usage data before going to full implementation; they want to make sure people will actually use it.

Skip Kendall and Andrea Goethals: Zone 1 Rescue Repository: 1. Working with faculty members to look at their own personal archive (personal papers, etc.), and to think about policy recommendations. 2. The Rescue Repository is a place to put content the final destination of which is not yet known.; it’s a type of staging area, for use by anyone at Harvard, with very low barriers to getting content in. People can nominate content for long-term preservation. Content can be exported into other repositories. It will be open source software. (MIT is collaborating on this project).

Carli Spina and Kim Dulin: Library Analytics Toolkit: An open source, highly configurable dashboard for viewing library statistics. It will be configurable for individuals, departments, entire libraries, etc. By having it in similar formats, libraries will be able to compare their data. It will be widget-based and extensible, drawing data from standard data collectors, and will be built on existing dashboards (e.g. NCSU, Brown U., and the Watson Library at the Met). It is at the wireframe stage.

Cheryl McGrath: Interactive Carrel Seating App: Currently getting a carrel requires a bunch of paperwork and staff time. People have a wide variety of requests: Near a bathroom, in sunlight, no glare at sunset, are there crumbs in it, etc. This open source app lets users browse and search, and reserve the carrel. Carrel users can also post msgs to one another. The team thinks this app may save 5 weeks of labor for a staff member per year.

Library Innovation Podcasts: That’s my project:

Chip Goines: DRS Access for Mobil Devices: Creating an API to enable mobile devices to locate items in a “page-turned digital research” object, returning info about that particular page. [pdf]

Kimberly Hall: The Connected Scholar: “Building ideas and exploring sources within an online culture of attribution.” It lets researchers track what they’re looking at/copying/jotting down, and enables collaboration in the management of information resources. This should help scholars see where their ideas are coming from, to better understand their creative process.” It should also help students develop the habit of attributing sources. Students will be able to see their research process through the tool.

Reinhard Engels: Highbrow: A textual annotation browser that displays the density of references to a text. E.g., you can plot the Biblical references in Aquinas, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Maimonides. (Augustine is more interested in Psalms than Aquinas was, and no one is interested in Mark.) You can zoom in on the line chart until you get to the actual text. The source text preferably should have a clear coordinate system (e.g., chapter and verse, or numbered lines of poetry). In working with Dante references, Reinhard has hit scaling issues: one set of commentators has almost 300,000 annotations. So, he slices them by century, or by various other facets. Or you can browse by line and see how many annotations there, and what they are. He’s now working interactive annotations, enabling students and researchers to enter annotations.

Tom Dawson: Yana: “an open source template for scholarly journals to develop mobile apps.” “Yana” is Sanskrit for “vehicle.”) “The goal of the Yana project is to provide a light-weight, modular, open source template within which open acccess publishers can develop their own mobile applications.” The aim is to make it easier for journals to do open access publishing on mobiles.

I talked about LibraryCloud, and Matt Phillips did a demo. LibraryCloud is an open library metadata server. It’s coming along well.

James Burns, Jesse Shapins: extraMUROS. The aim is to provide a multimedia library without walls. It will bring together collections from all over and let users browse and search, curate in their own fashion, and be able to publish collections. James and Jesse show an early build of their browser that lets you quickly scan multiple collections. (Very cool.) You can drag objects into a scratch space — either collections or individual items. It can look at the items you’re choosing in order to refine your search. There’s a map view that is also very cool. It even has a 3D view (No, no glasses required :) And a timeline view.

Q: Will you fund non-tech-heavy proposals?
A: Yes!

Q: Could these be sources of revenue for the Library?
A: Nope. It’s open source for the greater good of libraries.


October 3, 2010

Harvard brings superfast Net access to local schools

From a press release:

Harvard will share its access to the super high-speed Internet2 Network connection with Boston and Cambridge schools, granting all 148 public schools in the two cities use of the most advanced networking consortium in the world.

In addition, Cisco is contributing Cisco TelePresence equipment to the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School enabling the students and teachers to connect with people around the globe. This interactive collaboration tool will put them at the forefront of teaching and learning. Raytheon BBN Technologies, an advanced networking research company, has donated the networking equipment that provides connectivity to Cambridge.

Yay. And not just for the immediate benefits. Get the kids hooked on what the Net can be, and they’ll grow up thinking that that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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June 5, 2009

New open access blog

Stuart Shieber, one of Harvard’s Open Access ringleaders, has started a blog on that topic. He says it’ll be occasional — maybe per week, not per day — and it promises to be reflective and important to those who care about making more of the world’s research and knowledge available to, well, the world. (Stuart is the director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication, and was one of the important voices in the push for Harvard’s open access initiatives.)

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November 1, 2008

Harvard opts out of Google Books deal

Harvard is rescinding Google’s permission to scan its libraries’ books because Harvard thinks the settlement deal between Google and the publishers (which I blogged about enthusiastically here) is too restrictive. According to the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Harvard’s library guy, Robert Darnton, said:

“the settlement provides no assurance that the prices charged for access will be reasonable, especially since the subscription services will have no real competitors [and] the scope of access to the digitized books is in various ways both limited and uncertain.” He also expressed concern about the quality of the scanned books, which “in many cases will be missing photographs, illustrations, and other pictorial works, which will reduce their utility for research.”

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September 17, 2008

Semi-open course from Harvard — View it while you can!

Harry Lewis is the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard, a former dean there, a Fellow at the Berkman Center, the author of a terrific book about Harvard (“Excellence without a Soul” …ouch!), the fiercest critic of what I’ve been researching recently, and a person I like a lot. He’s also a co-author of Blown to Bits (blog).

I say all this because Harry is teaching a course at Harvard called “Life, Liberty and Happiness after the Digital Explosion,” which, by weird coincidence, is pretty much the subtitle of “Blown to Bits.” Until the enrollment period closes (probably pretty soon), you can watch a videos of the opening course session (requires the Real player). Harry was given title “Harvard College Professor” because of his excellence as a teacher.

O, if only open courseware were the default!

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August 19, 2008

[berkman] Hub 2 – Community-involved development via SecondLife

Gene Koo and Eric Gordon are giving a Tuesday lunch talk on “Hub2: Creating Deliberative Publics through Virtual Worlds.” [I’m taking quick notes and will undoubtedly get some stuff wrong.]

Hub2 is a partnership with Boston (Harvard is sponsoring the project) to enhance the community participation process. It’d be good to have a platform for deliberative process. But land use discussions typically ahve their own technical jargon. And it can be hard to imagine what a place will be like when all you have is a 2D map. It’d be better to be working in 3D space, so you can see what t’d be like to move these trees over there, or widen the path, etc. Instead of having the community react — yes or no — to a design, why not have the community participate in the design?

Hub2 aims are providing a design process that is experiential, embodied, constructive. Hub2 heads towards “augmented deliberation”: Imagine, design, engage, activate (= IDEA). They’re using SecondLife for this. They hope citizens will use it as a design tool and come up with an affirmative vision of what they want. And because you can walk through the virtual space, you develop an informed opinion. Gene and Eric ask people to try out the space in various roles, e.g., a 33 yr old who walks her dog twice a day or as someone in a wheelchair.

The project has set up Boston Island in SecondLife and have the last name “bostonian.” They are using it for augmented deliberation about Harvard’s Honan Library Park development in north Allston, MA. Local residents get together, try out layouts, leave comments (in visual flags). Residents can access the site either at home or using the public access systems in the library; the libraries have Hub2 staff people there to help people with the system. (They have thought about the fact that they’re putting public records into a proprietary data format, but SL is the best choice.)

Over 60 teenagers have spent time on the system, along with about 30 other residents. That’s more than have participated in the traditional process.

Q: I’m glad you’re dealing with the digital divide issues. But this is a 1.2 acre park out of 350 that Harvard owns in Allston…
A: There will be more open spaces.

Q: Should we open this process up to the world?
A: It’s a local issue
A: Keeping it local builds consensus
A: Maybe. You’d want to make clear who is local and who isn’t. It might even help to defuse the situation in which the locals want a design that is impractical or reflects the needs of those who happened to have engaged in the process.

Q: Maybe you should be talking with SL about how to make the archives more open.
A: Yes. But our main goal is to improve the design process. [Someone on the irc chat points to a BBC piece on archiving virtual worlds.] [Tags: ]

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