Month of March, 2010
"By an overwhelming margin, technology experts and stakeholders participating in a survey fielded by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center believe that innovative forms of online cooperation could result in more efficient and responsive for-profit firms, non-profit organizations, and government agencies by the year 2020.... This publication is part of a Pew Research Center series that captures people’s expectations for the future of the Internet, in the process presenting a snapshot of current attitudes."
- The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future, by Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie Pew Internet & American Life Project (Mar 31, 2010)
The State of Linked Data in 2010, by Richard MacManus, Read Write Web (March 31, 2010).
... Linked Data is data that has been marked up using Semantic Web technologies such as RDF (Resource Description Framework) or RDFa (a simpler variation). Minus the acronyms, Linked Data is simply structured data.
However one of the reasons the Semantic Web hasn't yet been widely adopted, at least commercially, is that it's often difficult or time consuming to mark up data semantically. RDF in particular has a reputation for being painful to code. With that in mind, the past year has been as much about prompting governments and organizations to put their data up on the Web in whatever form they can....
The most high profile usage of Linked Data over the past year has come from two governments: the United States and United Kingdom.
This week, the American Historical Association highlights the collection and selects some of their favorites:
- Government Comics Collection of UNL, By Elisabeth Grant, AHA Today (March 30, 2010).
NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), is archiving its tweets, YouTube videos, photos on Flickr, and Facebook discussions using Archive-it.
- Archiving NASA (Mar 5th, 2010) by NASA Images.
Have you ever wondered what will happen to all of NASA’s tweets, YouTube videos, photos on Flickr, or Facebook discussions? How will you find them years after they’ve been posted? What about the massive amounts of content published on nasa.gov everyday? Will it be accessible 50 years from now?
NASA Images has teamed up with Archive-It (also a service of The Internet Archive) to ensure that all of NASA’s online activity will be preserved for future research, curiosity, and enjoyment. We have started by archiving 54 of NASA’s Twitter streams. These 54 streams will be updated once a month, archiving every tweet from every stream. The next step is to archive nasa.gov, including all subdomains, and all of NASA’s social networking activity (YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Ustream, MySpace). Take a look at the beginning of our conservation efforts in the NASA Images Social Networking collection on Archive-it.
- COLLECTION: NASA Social Networking. Archive-it. 2009 - present (Videos Archived: 13,054 videos).
- Archiving NASA’s social media. by Phil Plait Discovery Magazine Blog (March 21st, 2010).
See also: more NASA materials at Archive-it.
Hat tip: resource shelf!
Glenn Greenwald has just published a subtle article about a leaked CIA document and the increasingly aggressive war being waged on Wikileaks, the site that anonymously publishes leaked sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, and religious documents.
The first part of the article deals with the leaked document, entitled "CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum; Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission. Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough. (PDF)" (and also uploaded to the Internet Archive for the IAdeposit project). This hubristic document announces "Public Apathy Enables Leaders to Ignore Voters" and describes PR strategies for shoring up public support for the continued war in Afghanistan.
But the more interesting and disturbing part of Greenwald's story concerns Wikileaks. Greenwald interviewed Julian Assange, the Australian citizen who is WikiLeaks' Editor. The interview shed light on Wikileaks' work in exposing the secret activities of governments and corporations and also how the US and other governments are targeting Wikileaks as an enemy of the state and trying to destroy the organization -- for more see last week's NY Times article "Pentagon Sees a Threat From Online Muckrakers" and Wikileaks own editorial on the subject.
...In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a secret report -- obtained and posted by WikiLeaks -- devoted to this website and detailing, in a section entitled "Is it Free Speech or Illegal Speech?", ways it would seek to destroy the organization. It discusses the possibility that, for some governments, not merely contributing to WikiLeaks, but "even accessing the website itself is a crime," and outlines its proposal for WikiLeaks' destruction. Greenwald also points out the proposed law in Iceland which would provide meaningful whistle blower protection to groups like Wikileaks.
As the Pentagon report put it: "the governments of China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe" have all sought to block access to or otherwise impede the operations of WikiLeaks, and the U.S. Government now joins that illustrious list of transparency-loving countries in targeting them.
...The need for independent leaks and whistle-blowing exposures is particularly acute now because, at exactly the same time that investigative journalism has collapsed, public and private efforts to manipulate public opinion have proliferated. This is exemplified by the type of public opinion management campaign detailed by the above-referenced CIA Report, the Pentagon's TV propaganda program exposed in 2008, and the ways in which private interests covertly pay and control supposedly "independent political commentators" to participate in our public debates and shape public opinion.
I highly recommend reading Greenwald's article. It's eye-opening on so many levels.
The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters. Glenn Greenwald. Salon.com. March 27, 2010.
From 1981 until 1998, Anne Heanue and the fine folks at the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) published an amazing series called Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government, a chronology of efforts to restrict and privatize government information.
Readers may remember that the Internet Archive was kind enough to digitize the series from 1981 to 1996 for FGI, but that I had not been able to get my hands on 1997-98 issues. Well now, thanks to Bernadine Abbott Hoduski who sent me the 1997-98 volumes, the complete chronology from 1981 - 98 is now digitized and hosted at the Internet Archive.
Please check out the entire series of Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government available in the FGI library.
Many thanks again to Ginger Bisharat and Robert Miller at the Internet Archive for their effort. Also thanks to Bernadine Abbott Hoduski for sending me her copies of the series and Emily Sheketoff, Associate Executive Director of ALA and manager of the Washington Office who graciously gave me permission to digitize the series.
Secrecy News says there is a new report on the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.
- IG: State Dept Should Produce 12 FRUS Volumes Per Year. by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (March 25th, 2010).
- Report of Inspection: The Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General, February 2010, at pp. 34-38.
“The [State Department Historian's Office] is behind schedule in meeting the statutory FRUS deadline: HO historians only now are compiling the contents of the volumes covering the foreign policy of the Carter administration (1977-1981),” the Inspector General report said. “To achieve compliance with the 30-year deadline, HO will need to accelerate the rate of publication to approximately 12 volumes per year.”
First-ever National Study: Millions of People Rely on Library Computers for Employment, Health, and EducationSubmitted by jajacobs on Thu, 2010-03-25 06:43.
First-ever National Study: Millions of People Rely on Library Computers for Employment, Health, and Education, by Samantha Becker, Information School, University of Washington (March 22nd, 2010).
PORTLAND, Ore.—Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, according to a national report released today. In 2009, as the nation struggled through a recession, people relied on library technology to find work, apply for college, secure government benefits, learn about critical medical treatments, and connect with their communities.
The report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, is based on the first, large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. It was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Becker, Samantha, Michael D. Crandall, Karen E. Fisher, Bo Kinney, Carol Landry, and Anita Rocha. (2010). Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries (PDF, 212 pages). (IMLS-2010-RES-01). Institute of Museum and Library Services. Washington, D.C.
I am not an expert on Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) or Handles or other methods of creating permanent, persistent links to information on the web, so I pose this as a question. Could DOIs help solve three problems that, if solved, would provide better preservation, better access, and a better user experience?
The three challenges are:
1. The need for reliable, permanent, persistent links.
2. The need to provide a simple user interface to depository collections.
3. The need to guarantee authenticity of government information.
Here is why I think the answer is Yes.
Problem: Providing reliable, permanent, persistent links. Currently, GPO uses PURLs (Persistent Uniform Resource Locators) for creating permanent links. PURLs provide "persistent" links so that, when a page moves and its URL changes, that change need only be recorded once -- in the PURL database -- and all the hundreds or thousand of links to the PURL resolve to the new address automatically without being changed themselves. While this is an efficient way to deal with the dynamic nature of web addresses and, while this system works, it is fragile. We had a graphic demonstration of that fragility last August when the GPO PURL server crashed. When that happened, no one anywhere in the world who relied on PURL links to the 115,000 PURLs pointing to government information could reach that information using those links for more than two weeks. This was not the fault of GPO (athough restoration time could have been reduced with better disaster planning). Rather, the very nature of PURLs makes them fragile in this way and vulnerable to the crash of a single server.
Solution: Persistence is a function of organizations, not of technology. DOIs address the fragility problem by building a social structure that guarantees persistence. As the DOI organization says, "Persistence is a function of organizations, not of technology; a persistent identifier system requires a persistent organization and defined processes. The International DOI Foundation (IDF) provides a federation of Registration Agencies (RA). Dependency on any one RA is removed." In other words, if one server crashes, others are available immediately. Rather than relying on a single organization (GPO) and a single server at that organization, DOIs rely on multiple Registration Agencies and multiple servers. DOIs are reliable because they use redundancy and have no single points of failure (Wikipedia).
Problem: Providing a simple user interface. Imagine with me for a moment a depository system that deposits digital documents in FDLP libraries. Once such a system is in place, we will have the same document in multiple locations -- perhaps one copy in GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys), one copy in each of a dozen or more FDLP libraries, perhaps an "original" copy at house.gov or senate.gov, and so forth. What is the user to do? Will libraries show dozens of links with an explanation after each as to what it is and hope users will have the patience to read the explanations, make an informed decision, and, if that particular link is down, go back and repeat the process? This sounds like a lousy user experience to me.
Solution: Multiple redirections. DOIs provide a way to resolve multiple URLs with a single DOI. (Resolution of Multiple URLs). This would mean that multiple copies of digital documents could be stored at many separate FDLP libraries and all could use a single, clickable link (a DOI) that would get users the copy of that document based on criteria the library defines. For example, one library might have the DOI point to the original first and the local library copy second; another library might point to the "network-closest" copy first and then other more distant copies; and so forth. DOIs do this by storing metadata with the DOI. Rather than storing only the current URL of a registered item, DOIs can record a list of locations with hints for how the resolving client should select a location, including an ordered set of selection methods.
Here is an illustration of how it works:
This solution would have the added benefit of enabling and facilitating a true digital depository system in which digital information is deposited into FDLP libraries. FGI is a strong advocate of a depository system that does this for several reasons that we have described repeatedly here and in our writings and presentations. In brief, we believe that this would make it possible for individual FDLP libraries to build their own local digital collections focused on the needs of their own user communities; it would aid preservation by ensuring that multiple copies exist under different technical, financial, and administrative structures; and it would create a better user experience by providing a way to integrate digital FDLP/Title-44 documents with non-Title-44 federal documents, documents from state and local governments, and other non-government information. DOIs would, therefor facilitate preservation as well as access.
Problem: Guarantee Authenticity. How does a user know that the document they just retrieved is "authentic," that it has not been altered, that it really is what it purports to be? Many people hope for a technological solution (e.g., PKI, time stamps, encryption, digital signatures, watermarks). We at FGI believe that these are techniques that people use and that the authenticity comes, not from the technique, but from users' trust in the people who set up the techniques.
No one explained this better than Abby Smith (Digital Authenticity in Perspective in "Authenticity in a Digital Environment,” Council on Library and Information Resources, Publication 92. May 2000). She noted that, when technologists were asked about how to establish the authenticity of a digital object, they were skeptical of technological "solutions" and said that "there is no technological solution that does not itself involve the transfer of trust to a third party."
Solution: Trust is a social phenomenon, not a technical one. So, imagine how this might work. Imagine a document that is in FDsys, and in the digital collections of several FDLP libraries, and also at the New York Times, and at any number of other places on the web. There might be a dozen URLs for that one document. But, if GPO assigned a single DOI to it and made sure it pointed to FDsys and to "Official Depository Copies" at FDLs, that one DOI would, by definition, point to "authentic" copies -- the original and those officially deposited in Title-44-authorized Federal Depository Libraries. The "prefix" part of a DOI refers to the registering agency (in this case GPO) and would further help "brand" the DOI as authentic. Users wanting "authentic" government information would look for DOIs bearing the GPO prefix -- and they would find what they wanted with a single click, no matter where the particular copy they get is stored. (In addition, the DOI metadata can include authenticity information.)
Precedents. GPO would not be alone in using DOIs. Who uses DOIs? ICPSR, OECD, the European Communities' EU publications office, CrossRef, and many others.
Barriers. The main barrier I can see to adopting DOIs is cost. I assume that it will surely cost more than implementing PURLs. But the two costs cannot be compared directly because the costs buy different things. Implementing PURLs gets us a fragile redirection system. Implementing DOIs gets us a redirection system of persistent identifiers, the ability to have multiple redirects to multiple copies, and a new way of thinking about authenticity.
I welcome comments and responses to my question and particularly hope that those with more knowledge in this area will fill in the gaps I have left.
A recent survey of federal CIOs entitled "Transparency and Transformation Through Technology" (PDF) found that Federal agency chief information officers want to "concentrate on integrating information technology systems with business processes, not necessarily on transparency and performance management initiatives." Number one on their list of greatest value projects was "integrating systems and processes." In fifth place, the last place, was "transparency and performance management initiatives."
The survey asked more than 40 federal CIOs about which initiatives will provide greatest value and what they consider the greatest barriers to increased effectiveness. For more, see the Fierce Government IT news briefing:
Federal CIOs aren't sure Obama administration IT goals add value. By David Perera. March 24, 2010
[HT Jason Crawford!]