Archive for May, 2010

UK Government tries to stop ‘low priority’ Semantic Web

May 24, 2010

At lunchtime today the UK’s Department of Business announced the first round of government cuts, including: “£18 million by stopping low priority projects like the Semantic web”

Could this be right? Was the new coalition government really going to stop the next stage of the Web – sometimes referred to as Web 3.0 – in which artificial intelligence (AI) techniques are introduced to the Internet? How would they do this? Ban the use of RDF (one of the key standards involved) or close down the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body that oversees it?

After an outbreak of fevered twittering, the Department updated its text to read:

“stopping low priority projects like the Institute of Web Sciences (researching semantic web technologies)”

So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The Semantic Web is safe. But this is a breathtaking example of short-sightedness on the part of UK Plc.

The Institute was announced in March with Web inventor, and Englishman, Sir Tim Berners-Lee slated to be heading it up. It was to be based at Oxford and Southampton, universities with strong Internet and AI research pedigrees.  With British companies having pretty much missed out on Web 1.0 and 2.0 explosions (look at the roll call of names of the top twenty Web companies:  Google, Facebook, E-Bay, Amazon etc.) we had a good chance not to miss out on Web 3.0. Looks like as a nation we are about to drop the ball yet again.

So well done on yet another own goal. The UK’s new government has shot down one of the few emerging industries in which we could genuinely claim some world-class prowess.

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From bowling alone to tweeting together

May 13, 2010

Last week’s General Election in the UK was supposed to have been the first where the Web, and in particular social media tools such as Twitter, took over from television as the primary vehicle for communication and debate. It didn’t quite turn out that way as the TV leader debates dominated the campaign. Despite this perhaps temporary set-back, a new journal paper by the veteran human-computer interface expert Ben Shneiderman and a colleague, Harry Hochheiser, argues that social media could reverse the forty-year decline in civic, political and community-group participation which was articulated in Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling alone”.

In order to do so social media designers, civic leaders, and community managers will need to:

“deploy the right social media interfaces to restore participation in social, civic, political, and economic institutions” (my italics).

By this they mean interfaces that are, of course, so easy to use and intuitive that just about anyone can engage with them. But also they argue we need to develop ethical systems that help foster participation and trust between individuals online and deal with issues such as privacy, accuracy and destructive behaviour. For example, social media allows anonymity in things like blog postings, by letting people ‘hide’ behind funny pseudonyms. Does this practice act as a barrier to trust and accuracy? They argue that these and many other questions form a major new research agenda for the computing and social sciences and note the launch last year, in the US, of the National Initiative on Social Participation (NISP).

Naturally, they have also launched a Facebook page to take their ideas further.