Encyclopedia Britannica to let readers contribute, à la Wikipedia

June 18th, 2008

Company’s site invites public to contribute, wiki-style, with rules to guard credibility

When I was young, encyclopedias were the Web. I was aware that there was a hierarchy of encyclopedias, with the World Book serving the low end for young students and the Encyclopedia Britannica for those in high school and beyond. The Britannica was so intellectual that they even uses funny letters in their name: Encyclopædia Britannica. My family had a mid-range Encyclopedia set (Colliers) and I spent many hours lost in browsing through it.

Britannica started a Web version, Britannica online, in 1996 that is primarily a paid service ($70/year) with more limited free services. Now they are opening up their pages to allow the public to make suggested additions and changes, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, Britannica opens its online pages.

“By inviting a larger range of people to contribute and collaborate, we can produce more coverage,” said Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas. “People in the community can contribute to the improvement of Encyclopedia Britannica.”

The new site will not be a free-for-all. The core encyclopedia will continue to be edited and will bear the imprimatur “Britannica Checked.” But Britannica will now let outsiders create articles, essays and multi-media presentations. There will be proper attribution. And Britannica still keeps gatekeepers; don’t expect an entry on “Baywatch” actress Pamela Anderson.

Earlier this year, Britannica announced a program granting free access to bloggers and online journalists.

“Bloggers, webmasters, online journalists and anyone else who publishes regularly on the Internet can now get free subscriptions to Britannica Online (www.britannica.com). Anyone interested in participating in Britannica’s new WebShare initiative can apply for a free subscription at http://signup.eb.com or get more information at http://britannicanet.com.

These are clearly smart moves on Britannica’s part, as Wikipedia has shown that their users do a great job of keeping the entries accurate and up to date. A question in my mind is whether Britannica online’s paid subscriber base, even when augmented with free subscriptions, will be large enough, and has sufficient breadth, and motivated to keep its entries current. A second issue is whether this commercial approach will benefit from the technological experimentation and enhancements that can come with an “open source” approach, e.g., what Dbpedia and Freebase and others have done with Wikipedia content.

Snoop: what our stuff says about us

June 17th, 2008

Sam Gosling of UT Austin has a book out on his research on how we project our self image through our possessions, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

“Does what’s on your desk reveal what’s on your mind? Do those pictures on your walls tell true tales about you? And is your favorite outfit about to give you away? For the last ten years psychologist Sam Gosling has been studying how people project (and protect) their inner selves. By exploring our private worlds (desks, bedrooms, even our clothes and our cars), he shows not only how we showcase our personalities in unexpected-and unplanned-ways, but also how we create personality in the first place, communicate it others, and interpret the world around us.”

Gosling and his colleagues and students have also been studying how people use and interpret information on social networking sites to make statements about themselves, with papers in ICWSM 1007 and 2008.

You can also hear a 30 minute interview with Gosling on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

(h/t Natalie Glance)

I want the iPhone NG, but …

June 12th, 2008

I admit — I was following along on engadget’s liveblog of Jobs’ WWDC keynote, looking for iPhone news. Most of what he said, though, was fairly old news to those who had been reading the tech blogs for the last month or so — 3G and aGPS, besides of course the already announced software upgrades. The big thing was the $199 price, which was out of the blue it seemed. I figured I would go out and get one pretty much as soon as they were available without having to stand in a line. The teeny voice in my head however was expressing skepticism, which eventually was proven correct. The $199 cost factors in a subsidy from AT&T, and the phone now apparently needs to be activated when bought.  No more buying it without AT&T service and then getting it unlocked.

I wonder why that is, though. The big claim is that the revenue model has changed, and so Apple no longer gets an ongoing cut of the revenue from AT&T. If so, why not also sell unlocked versions of the phone sans subsidy, like every other manufacturer ? How will this work in other countries where handset subsidies are not common ? Apparently AirTel in India is the preferred partner and will launch this phone “soon”.  So will AirTel sell it for more than $199, but unlocked ?  Maybe I can get one from them ? Or wait for Xperia X1 ? Or for TouchPro ?

Our MURI grant gets some press

June 12th, 2008

A UMBC led team recently won a MURI award from DoD to work on “Assured Information Sharing Lifecycle”. It is an interesting mix of work on  new security models, policy driven security systems, context awareness, privacy preserving data mining, and social networking. The award really brings together many different strains of research in eBiquity, as well as some related reserach in our department. We’re just starting off, and excited about it. UMBC’s web page had a story about this, and more recently, GCN covered it.

The UMBC team is lead by Tim Finin, and includes several of us. The other participants are UIUC (led by Jiawei Han), Purdue (led by Elisa Bertino),  UTSA (led by Ravi Sandhu), UTDallas (led by Bhavani Thurasingham), Michigan (Lada Adamic).

rdf:about is a concise collection of RDF resources

June 7th, 2008

Joshua Tauberer, a Upenn Linguistics graduate student, maintains rdf:about as a resouce of information on the semantic web language RDF. Its a consise collection of information that manages not to overwhelm and includes good Quick Intro and RDF in Depth pages.

(spotted on SWIG Scratchpad)

Tufekci on the new social physics

June 6th, 2008

Zeynep Tufekci gave a very interesting talk on “A Different Kind of Social Physics: Online Communities and the Revolution in the Architecture of Our Social Spaces” at the JHU Applied Physics Lab last week.

Dr. Tufekci is an assistant professor in UMBC’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and has interests in the social impacts of technology and social computing. What is somewhat unusual for a Sociologist, I assume, is that her undergraduate degree is in computer science and she worked as a programmer before getting her PhD in Sociology.

Her talk made some very interesting points about how the new environments created by social computing systems differ from the ones we have evolved to adapt to.

“Everyday, tens of millions of people chat, text, email, poke, twitter, IM and facebook (and, yes, that is a verb). They do what people have always done: they make friends and mark enemies, they assert and seek status, they look for affirmation and for connection, they check out the competition and, above all, they seek the comfort of community. Contrary to earlier predictions, people do not undertake revolutionary, unheard of acts just because the medium is new. In fact, the rise of social computing is hardly surprising to social scientists: we know this is what people do. The significance of this development lies from not the acts themselves but in the characteristics of the environment.
      The social physics of online communities are starkly different than those of the offline world — and that has far-reaching consequences. A different type of optics, audience, persistence, traversability and other structural attributes combine to create a different kind of social architecture. However, all evidence so far shows that most people bring to this new medium the cultural vocabulary of the regular, offline world (and, indeed, what else could they do?). This talk will explore the potential consequences of millions of mundane acts performed in a new kind of medium, as well as research opportunities presented by this revolution in the shape of our sociality.”

She was able to illustrate her points with examples gathered from the students in her classes about how their social lives are lived out through systems like Facebook.

Zeynep’s presentation slides are available.

Colin de la Higuera on Grammatical Inference, 1pm Tue June 10, ITE 325, UMBC

June 5th, 2008

Colin de la Higuera of Jean Monnet University will talk on “ Grammatical Inference: Some of the Questions Out There ” at 1:00pm next Tuesday in the large CSEE conference room.

“Grammatical Inference is a field concerned with learning grammars given data about a language. In this talk we survey some of the questions being addressed by researchers in the field. Some of these are now classical and have been looked into for some time, others are more recent:

  • understanding the models and the paradigms: what does polynomial language learning mean?
  • learning more complex families of languages
  • scaling up and using grammatical inference in applications

How the Web Was Won, an oral history of the Internet in Vanity Fair

June 4th, 2008

This month’s Vanity Fair has a feature article that lays out “an oral history of the Internet” in How the Web Was Won, part of a series of oral histories.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary moment. In 1958 the United States government set up a special unit, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), to help jump-start new efforts in science and technology. This was the agency that would nurture the Internet. … To observe this year’s twin anniversaries, Vanity Fair set out to do something that has never been done: to compile an oral history, speaking with scores of people involved in every stage of the Internet’s development, from the 1950s onward. From more than 100 hours of interviews we have distilled and edited their words into a concise narrative of the past half-century—a history of the Internet in the words of the people who made it.”

There are lots of people missing or mentioned only in passing. I suppose this is an unavoidable result of people’s willingness or availability to be interviewed and the need to have a diverse set of subjects for a general article. Still, I don’t see how an oral history titled “How the Web Was Won” can not have Tim Berners-Lee as a central player or mention the W3C.

I also missed a look, however brief, at where we are headed with the internet. While this is offered as a history, not mentioning the future suggests its done, which is far from the case.