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March 12, 2015

Corrections metadata

It’s certain that this has already been suggested many times, and it’s highly likely it’s been implemented at least several times. But here goes:

Currently the convention for correcting an online mistake is to strikethrough the errant text and then put in the correct text. Showing one’s errors is a wonderful norm, for it honors the links others have made to the piece; it’s at best confusing when you post criticism of someone else’s work, but when the reader goes there the errant remarks have been totally excised. It’s also a visible display of humility.

But strikethrough text is a visual cue of a structural meaning. And it conveys only the fact that the text is wrong, not why it’s wrong.

So, why isn’t there Schema.org markup for corrections?

Schema.org is the set of simple markup for adding semantics to plain old Web pages. The reader can’t see the markup, but computers can. The major search engines are behind Schema.org, which means that if you mark up your page with the metadata they’ve specified, the search engines will understand your page better and are likely to up its ranking. (Here’s another post of mine about Schema.org.)

So, imagine there were simple markup you could put into your HTML that would let you note that some bit of text is errant, and let you express (in hidden text):

  • When the correction was made

  • Who made it

  • Who suggested the correction, if anyone.

  • When it was made

  • What was wrong with the text

  • A bit of further explanation

The corrected text might include the same sort of information. Plus, you’d want a way to indicate that these two pieces of text refer to one another; you wouldn’t want a computer getting confused about which correction corrects which errant text.

If this became standard, browsers could choose to display errant texts and their corrections however they’d like. Add-ons could be written to let users interact with corrections in different ways. For example, maybe you like seeing strikethroughs but I’d prefer to be able to hover to see the errant text. Maybe we can sign up to be notified of any corrections to an article, but not corrections that are just grammatical. Maybe we want to be able to do research about the frequency and type of corrections across sources, areas, languages, genders….

Schema.org could drive this through. Unless, of course, it already has.

 


Be sure to read the comment from Dan Brickley. Dan is deeply involved in Schema.org. (The prior comment is from my former college roommate.)

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November 26, 2014

Welcome to the open Net!

I wanted to play Tim Berners-Lee’s 1999 interview with Terry Gross on WHYY’s Fresh Air. Here’s how that experience went:

  • I find a link to it on a SlashDot discussion page.

  • The link goes to a text page that has links to Real Audio files encoded either for 28.8 or ISBN.

  • I download the ISBN version.

  • It’s a RAM (Real Audio) file that my Mac (Yosemite) cannot play.

  • I look for an updated version on the Fresh Air site. It has no way of searching, so I click through the archives to get to the Sept. 16, 1999 page.

  • It’s a 404 page-not-found page.

  • I search for a way to play an old RAM file.

  • The top hit takes me to Real Audio’s cloud service, which offers me 2 gigabytes of free storage. I decline.

  • I pause for ten silent seconds in amazement that the Real Audio company still exists. Plus it owns the domain “real.com.”

  • I download a copy of RealPlayerSP from CNET, thus probably also downloading a copy of MacKeeper. Thanks, CNET!

  • I open the Real Player converter and Apple tells me I don’t have permission because I didn’t buy it through Apple’s TSA clearance center. Thanks, Apple!

  • I do the control-click thang to open it anyway. It gives me a warning about unsupported file formats that I don’t understand.

  • Set System Preferences > Security so that I am allowed to open any software I want. Apple tells me I am degrading the security of my system by not giving Apple a cut of every software purchase. Thanks, Apple!

  • I drag in the RAM file. It has no visible effect.

  • I use the converter’s upload menu, but this converter produced by Real doesn’t recognize Real Audio files. Thanks, Real Audio!

  • I download and install the Real Audio Cloud app. When I open it, it immediately scours my disk looking for video files. I didn’t ask it to do that and I don’t know what it’s doing with that info. A quick check shows that it too can’t play a RAM file. I uninstall it as quickly as I can.

  • I download VLC, my favorite audio player. (It’s a new Mac and I’m still loading it with my preferred software.)

  • Apple lets me open it, but only after warning me that I shouldn’t trust it because it comes from [dum dum dum] The Internet. The scary scary Internet. Come to the warm, white plastic bosom of the App Store, it murmurs.

  • I drag the file in to VLC. It fails, but it does me the favor of tellling me why: It’s unable to connect to WHYY’s Real Audio server. Yup, this isn’t a media file, but a tiny file that sets up a connection between my computer and a server WHYY abandoned years ago. I should have remembered that that’s how Real worked. Actually, no, I shouldn’t have had to remember that. I’m just embarrassed that I did not. Also, I should have checked the size of the original Fresh Air file that I downloaded.

  • A search for “Time Berners-Lee Fresh Air 1999″ immediately turns up an NPR page that says the audio is no longer available.

    It’s no longer available because in 1999 Real Audio solved a problem for media companies: install a RA server and it’ll handle the messy details of sending audio to RA players across the Net. It seemed like a reasonable approach. But it was proprietary and so it failed, taking Fresh Air’s archives with it. Could and should have Fresh Air converted its files before it pulled the plug on the Real Audio server? Yeah, probably, but who knows what the contractual and technical situation was.

    By not following the example set by Tim Berners-Lee — open protocols, open standards, open hearts — this bit of history has been lost. In this case, it was an interview about TBL’s invention, thus confirming that irony remains the strongest force in the universe.

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  • June 15, 2012

    Interop: The podcast

    My Radio Berkman interview of John Palfrey and Urs Gasser about their suprisingly wide-ranging book Interop is now up, as is the video of their Berkman book talk…

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