Sunday 31 October 2004

Economist on simplicity in technology

This week's Economist has a special on designing for simplicity. It's described in terms a business manager can understand, with a few strained metaphors such as the journey of a byte from disk to user, but the point it raises is a good one.

I worry when I hear people say that simplicity is the way to go in the future, with the not-very-subtly-hidden subtext that all we have to do is get rid of layers of technology and complexity, and a simple interface will magically present itself.

The set of articles in the Economist uses the examples of cars and telephone networks to show that making things simple to use is actually very difficult, and could well require more layers of complexity to provide the interoperability and intuitive interface that we need if we are going to make sense of the changing world of technology in the next decade or so.

Update to RDF Data Access Use Cases

RDF Data Access Use Cases and Requirements

Somehow I feel the combined smarts of the W3C should be able to come up with more exciting use cases than finding the top 10 movies which also had soundtracks that came top 10 in the charts..? How is that supposed to energise a new industry to make its data available in RDF?

The use cases don't come from the real world that I live in... random quotes:

"José sends a query to the Census Bureau's new RDF storage server and requests that his client pass the query results to an XSLT transformation service so that he can print the resulting XHTML."

"Zoe wrote an IRC bot that they use to make assertions -- which the bot stores as RDF."

I hope someone out there is thinking about this stuff in a bit more end-user-friendly manner!

Friday 29 October 2004

Events ML

Something I hadn't noticed before... IPTC EventsML Working Group.

Right now "The project scope is limited to the definition of an information interchange standard for newsworthy event information", but I'm sure they will expand the scope eventually to handle other types of events... I haven't looked into it yet but I hope they're thinking about integration with iCalendar...

Thursday 28 October 2004

Publishing our metadata in HTML

In the BBC English Regions web CMS I've been involved with building, we have six controlled vocabularies for descriptive metadata (location, name, subject, audience, BBC brand, time period), and we manage about 85,000 terms in those CVs. We sourced some of the CVs from external suppliers and modified them, some we built from scratch. We also have a team that maintains the existing terms and allows our journalists to suggest terms and have them vetted and finished off by the metadata specialists.

A few of us have some ideas around publishing out this metadata, we just have to run it past search to check what format we should use. I’m hoping we can just do

<meta name=”location” value=”BBC/C/Devon,BBC/C/London”>

etc. That would be very useful, in the sense that people could pick it up and do amazing things with it... maybe we can do that stuff ourselves, but even if we don’t, the data is there ready for someone else to play with.

As well as the text-based names, we have the lat/long data for those locations in an XML file somewhere, I might be able to get that extracted and put into the HTML as well. We aren't allowed to publish the complete location CV due to licensing restrictions, but we can extract pieces of it for certain purposes.

We haven’t really decided on the format yet, it might be worth making it RDF or something from the start -- although I’m not sure how useful that would be unless our content is all well-formed XML, and while we’re pretty close, I don't think we've sorted out all the issues of & in URLs etc.

Sunday 24 October 2004

Thoughts on a BBC API

After seeing some cool newsy metadataey things recently like aaronland's New York Times widgets and Stef's BBC News wikipedia thing, and talking to Tom L about some of his grand ideas, I've been thinking more about where the BBC should be in the semantic web, the lazyweb, etc etc... and in the end I figure we at the BBC should be able to build the content equivalent of Google API or Amazon API.

Basically, Google provides a bunch of web services (via SOAP and REST) and exposes their core functionality to developers around the world. They provide the engine, developers can build their own interface, as long as they follow a few rules. Amazon does the same thing, although of course they're not being nearly as nice as Google because they're really just opening up their shopping cart to others, they still get the money from any sales.

So if Google can provide the definitive search API that everyone can use, and Amazon can provide a book buying API, what could the BBC offer? The list is endless...

  • GIS services: postocde<->location name<->lat/long mapping

  • TV/radio listings services: what's on today, what's on this week, in a particular genre, on a paricular network, what's on right now

  • Search services: BBC search via API

  • metadata services: classification engine??, list of terms, integrate with BBC Search to show stories/pages that match metadata terms

  • information services: weather, traffic info, financial data...

A simple application of this would be something that takes a person's postcode, uses the postcoder API to translate it to a lat/long, then uses the BBC search to find all content marked with locations within 10 miles, and presents a custom page for that user. Of course that's just the beginning!

Content Management Professionals organisation launched

After about six months in gestation by a group of Content Management gurus and me, CM Professionals - The Content Management Community of Practice was launched in September.

We hope it to be a place where the sort of people who make content management actually work can gather and share information. Vendors are not allowed to join as an organisation (although people who work for vendors are welcome to join as an individual), and we don't really care too much about the technology. We know that the problems of content modelling, change management, business process modelling and actually getting reasonable requirements for a CM project are much harder than merely building some software to manage content.

If that sounds interesting to you, please check out the site and maybe even sign up. We're having our first official meeting, the CM Pros Summit at Boston in November, co-located with this year's Gilbane Conference. You're welcome to join us!