Ontologies, Social Research, and Technology Design

A quick pointer to a fascinating and exciting discussion by Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman of Ramesh Srinivasan’s work on cross-cultural information technology design. Here is a teaser:

One of the key tools in Srinivasan’s toolkit is the ontology, which he describes as a structured way to examine “theories of what exist”. Describing the world in terms of hierarchies (i.e., a plant is an example of a living thing, has characteristics including leaves, roots and flowers, requires light and water to produce food, etc.) is, Srinivasan, a western construct that’s not always how a community considers local knowledge. But Srinivasan believes we can learn a great deal about how communities think about knowledge both by trying to structure their knowledge into ontologies and by understanding how they traditionally structure their knowledge.

To illustrate this idea, Srinivasan shows us some alternative ways to map physical space. A map from the Qiche tribe in Peru is radial, not Cartesian. The image of a crocodile is an Aboriginal map, a visualization of the song lines that criss-cross an area in rural Australia, a drawing of a God as well as a practical map of the landscape. Srinivasan wonders if we’re creating technologies that are this diverse, or whether we’re facing a world where most technologies are produced within one conceptual and value system and exported. Continue reading

Quite Distinct

To a recovering library partisan like me, crystal-ball discussions about the future of libraries are never dull (as evinced in my incessant ramblings on said subject here in this blog). Clifford Lynch’s keynote address on “infinite collections” held at the 2011 OCLC Symposium was no exception. Lynch, well known in higher education and library circles as a technology futurist of sorts, sets the stage by reviewing the traditional roles that libraries (primarily academic) have filled—developing, maintaining, and providing access to collections for their user communities as well as preserving the cultural record for the broader good.

The crux of his talk, however, was focused on the opportunities and challenges libraries face now and in the near future. Continue reading

Information Wants to Be Free?

Just finished listening to recent talk by Cory Doctorow at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver about current intellectual property regulations in the digital environment and their absurd effects: disenfranchising authors, musicians, and other creators and overarming technical content intermediaries such as Viacom and Apple. He speaks both as highly successful writer/copyright beneficiary and as passionate defender of copyright’s use to defend and support individual creativity and autonomy. Highly recommended.

Benkler’s Post-Industrial Information Production and Libraries

My summer reading plans veered off course in seconds flat—only a couple days after I posted them here, I checked out Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks from the library and thereafter have been happily submerged in its rich sea of ideas. So many elements of the book are proving provocative that I’ve had trouble adhering to my hopes of a weekly blog post, overwhelmed by too much to digest and repond to. Here’s a very meager and superficial start, which may or may not become part of a larger, more thorough essay in the long run.

As one who’s been swept up by the pro-openness/commons and anti-copyright-expansion rhetoric now in vogue in many liberal circles (see here and here and here), I’ve been jonesing on the “let’s begin at the beginning,” philosophically grounded, empirically argued approach of the Wealth of Networks. Especially exciting to me is the exploration of economic and political theory—realms of thought routinely ignored in the practical and scholarly literature I have been exposed to in my library and information science grad program and in my personal readings. Continue reading

Beedi for the People

The University of Washington Libraries has been bequeathed some wonderful books, magazines, and newspapers from late 19th and early to mid-20th century India in the past few years. One of the delights of going through these items and shepherding them into the collection has been discovering the ads printed in them, and their quick (if superficial) access to other times and places.

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