June 2004 Archives

E-voting: Nightmare or actual democracy?

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The public domain discourse surrounding e-voting is very perplexing. Similarly to other articles, E-voting: Nightmare or nirvana? questions the security of e-voting systems and their viability for use in real elections.

"Once the province of a small group of election officials and equipment sellers, e-voting has exploded into the popular consciousness because of a spreading controversy over security and verifiability. Thanks to a concerted effort by opponents and to the missteps of voting machine vendor Diebold Election Systems, most of the news has been bad."

I have said this before in a previous entry (secure enough for consumerism, not good enough for voting?!) and here it is again: How is it that we can't trust e-voting security because voting would be done over the Internet, when the same Internet is used for millions of dollars in daily transactions between consumers and companies and business-to-business? The same Internet is secure enough for commerce and can be trusted with billions of dollars. Yet, it is not secure enough for voting?

Secondly, the missteps by Diebold Election Systems that produces e-voting machines are curable by the use of open source e-voting systems that are already in use in other places around the world.

Yes, there are potential problems with e-voting systems. These are the same issues that trouble all new technologies in the appropriation phase by the users. However, to claim that these issues are worse than those that troubled and still trouble e-commerce systems is absurd.

From Open access jeopardizes academic publishers, Reed chief warns:

"The rise of open access publishing of scientific research could jeopardise the entire academic publishing industry, according to the chief executive of Reed Elsevier, the world's largest publisher of scientific journals."

Something will be jeopardized for certain, but it isn't the academic publishing, it is the commercial publishing. As many open access journals and publishing venues have shown, academic publishing does not have to be commercial publishing.

What is Shareability [of information] theory?

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By the way of Column Two I came across the following site that defines Shareability of information. Here is the definition provided at the above site:

"Shareability refers to the extent to which information is shareable. Information has high shareability if it is easy to share between different individuals without loss of fidelity. Shareability theory (Freyd 1983, 1990, 1993) proposes that internal (e.g. perceptual, emotional, imagistic) information often is qualitatively different from external (e.g. spoken, written) information, and that such internal information is often not particularly shareable. The theory further proposes that the communication process has predictable and systematic effects on the nature of the information representation such that sharing information over time causes knowledge to be re-organized into more consciously available, categorical, and discrete forms of representation, which are more shareable."

The distinction made above between internal and external information sounds almost exactly like the distinction made in the Knowledge Management (KM) discourse between tacit and explicit knowledge. Furthermore, the definition does not seem to make distinction between information and knowledge, even though such distinction appears to be very relevant in the context of the definition.

Another concern that might further help the above definition or the theory of shareability is to note that it is not the knowledge that is organizable, rather, it is mostly the representations of the explicit knowledge, and to a much lesser degree the representations of the tacit knowledge (if at all).

And one more thing, in the spirit of the concept of openness, for something to be shared it first must be open to change (open content) and the access to it must be also open.

Social Issues Surround Social Software

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From Social Issues Surround Social Software:

"While the answer may be elusive, panelists at the Supernova 2004 conference here agreed that the social dynamics around the use of burgeoning collaboration tools such as online social networking services, Weblogs and wikis are often as important as, if not more important than, the technologies themselves."

I would like to make one corrections to the above quote: it isn't that social dynamics (and social structures) are often as important, they are always as important if not more important. And this isn't true only for social software and collaboration tools, but it is true for all types of interactive information and communication systems, and technology in general. The technology meant to aid people's tasks is meant to be used by people in various contexts. As such, the technology by itself cannot deliver the sought after results. It is the interaction between the technology and the human factors in a given social structures and context, including the properties of the task, that hopefully results in the desired outcomes.

Once and for all we need to get over the irrational idea that social structures, human actions, and tasks can be bent to fit the technology. Yes, they can, but don't expect the desired results...

As I was reading Wired's article on apolitically encouraging people to vote in the 2004 American presidential election, I kept wondering about media's role in this process. It is interesting to note that all national networks and cable channels cover the presidential elections to a great extend through various debates and candidate coverage’s.

Sadly though, none of the networks and cable channels tries to drive voter registration so we have more voters performing their civic duties. I can't imagine anything wrong with having 70-80% or more of the eligible voters cast their votes.

So, how come then, we do not see an initiative for voter registration by the media?

Is it that the percentage of eligible voters that actually cast their vote has not changed in the past few elections? Could it be that the media are afraid they would not be able to 'analyze' the polls and other statistics if the percentage of voting people doubles?

Bo-Christer Björk: Open access to scientific publications - an analysis of the barriers to change?:

"One of the effects of the Internet is that the dissemination of scientific publications in a few years has migrated to electronic formats. The basic business practices between libraries and publishers for selling and buying the content, however, have not changed much. In protest against the high subscription prices of mainstream publishers, scientists have started Open Access (OA) journals and e-print repositories, which distribute scientific information freely. Despite widespread agreement among academics that OA would be the optimal distribution mode for publicly financed research results, such channels still constitute only a marginal phenomenon in the global scholarly communication system. This paper discusses, in view of the experiences of the last ten years, the many barriers hindering a rapid proliferation of Open Access. The discussion is structured according to the main OA channels; peer-reviewed journals for primary publishing, subject-specific and institutional repositories for secondary parallel publishing. It also discusses the types of barriers, which can be classified as consisting of the legal framework, the information technology infrastructure, business models, indexing services and standards, the academic reward system, marketing, and critical mass."

Open Source as competitive Weapon

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Note how in the passage below (from Open Source as Weapon) the argument is made that the competition soon will move away from the actual code (everyone would have access to the same software code) and into its usage and integration in a particular context.

"Experts tick off compelling reasons why a vendor of closed-source software might release code: to make the product more ubiquitous, speed development, get fresh ideas from outside the company, to complement a core revenue stream, foster a new technology -- and to stymie a competitor.

In fact, giving away some free company IP can go a long way toward making someone else's IP worth beans.

Martin Fink, author of "The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source," notes that, while all commercial software decreases in value over time, open source drastically speeds the process. The huge community of developers working together can produce a competitive open source product fast, and they'll add features for which a closed-source vendor would want to charge extra.

Finally, customers can acquire the software at no cost, even though they may pay for customization, integration and support."

BBC to Open Content Floodgates

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BBC to Open Content Floodgates:

"The British Broadcasting Corporation's Creative Archive, one of the most ambitious free digital content projects to date, is set to launch this fall with thousands of three-minute clips of nature programming. The effort could goad other organizations to share their professionally produced content with Web users.

The project, announced last year, will make thousands of audio and video clips available to the public for noncommercial viewing, sharing and editing. It will debut with natural-history programming, including clips that focus on plants, animals and birds."


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(via ShelfLife, No. 160 (June 10 2004))
"Do a little digging into the status of the Semantic Web, and you'd likely come away befuddled and unenlightened, convinced this was a job for techno-geeks, not actual human beings. But in point of fact, the burgeoning number of Weblogs already form a vast source of richly interconnected information that requires little or no knowledge of the Semantic Web in order to be useful. The new Friend Of A Friend (FOAF) project is taking the idea of Weblog communities one step further by explicitly defining them in a way that is more easily machine processible. One of the aims of the FOAF project is to improve the chances of happy accidents by describing the connections between people (and the things that they care about such as documents and places). The idea is to use FOAF to describe the sorts of things you would put on your homepage -- your friends, your interests, your picture -- in a structured fashion that machines find easy to process. What you get from this is a network of people instead of a network of Web pages. When people need to know something that is outside their area of expertise, these personal contacts serve as a way of linking them to the best information available. (FreePint 27 May 2004) http://www.freepint.com/issues/270504.htm#feature"

socio-technological definition of "digital library"

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When discussing the subject of digital libraries (DLs), often the very definition and meaning of the phrase "digital library" is questioned. This is expected due to the historical, practical and theoretical development of digital libraries as technologies (computer and information systems) as well as social structures.

Below I provide two definitions by Borgman (1999) and Lesk (1997) that have been widely used by practitioners and researchers. Needles to say both definitions embody the technical and the social nature of digital libraries.

Borgman (1999) attempts to explicate the meaning and interpretation of the phrase "digital library" through the analysis of various definitions regarding "digital libraries" coined by various research and practice communities claming to be somehow related to digital libraries, and to assess and identify possible influences of those definitions in the relevant communities. Borgman identifies two distinct senses in which "digital library" has been used (p. 227). The technological definition stating that "digital libraries are a set of electronic resources and associated technical capabilities for creating, searching and using information" (p. 234), is contrasted by the social view stating that "digital libraries are constructed, collected and organized, by (and for) a community of users, and their functional capabilities support the information needs and uses of that community" (p. 234).

Another workable and widely used definition is provided by Lesk (1997): "Digital libraries are organized collections of digital information. They combine the structuring and gathering of information, which libraries and archives have always done, with the digital representation that computers have made possible" (p. XIX).

References :
Borgman, C. L. (1999). What are digital libraries? Competing visions. Information Processing & Management, 35 (3), 227-243.

Lesk, M. (1997). Practical digital libraries: Books, bytes and bucks. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann

my comments on Thijs' Predictions

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In Prediction Thijs van der Vossen has stated some ideas about how things will be in the future in terms of information and knowledge sharing.

While I agree that what Thij's writes is the desired outcome if we are doing towards a more open world, the outcome is not necessarily so. Yes, information needs to be free so it can be accessed from everywhere, by everyone, through many different devices and access methods. However, the assumption is that the corporate entities will be willing to let go the grip they have on everything information that looks profitable.

So, one of the fundamental assumptions is that all sources of information and knowledge artifacts really want to share their content. In the open source Internet as a possible antidote to corporate media hegemony I have argued that the property of openness (open content and open communication) as a fundamental property of the Internet as we know it today, is perhaps the reason why Thij's predictions look very probably. Hopefully no authoritative entity puts restrictions around what can be said and done online.

Papers on the Information (Commons) Society

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Openness, Publication, and Scholarship

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Openness, Publication, and Scholarship is an interesting philosophical perspective attempting to frame publications and scholarship within the various concepts of openness such as "open access", "open data", "open source", "open entry", and "open discourse".

To this I like to modify "open data" with "open content", since content has broader scope than data, and perhaps add "open communication" as the functional link between "open access" and "open discourse".

A Really Open Election - via open source

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In A Really Open Election CLIVE THOMPSON makes his point that only open source e-voting systems can be trusted for elections.

I made the same argument back last year in the following blog entries: e-voting systems must be open source, and e-voting systems ought to be open source.

Well, at least many research institutions are realizing that the commercial publishers might not be the solution for the future of scholarly communication.

An excerpt from Fat Cat Publishers Breaking the System:

"Out-of-control costs for scholarly publications have fueled new digital repository initiatives

The scholarly publishing system is broken. At research universities everywhere, scholarly work—in the form of articles, books, editing, reviewing of manuscripts—is handed over to commercial publishers, only to be bought back by the libraries at huge cost. Libraries scramble to judiciously stretch shrinking budgets for growing runs of books and journals—books and journals that are critical to the research and teaching activities of the university’s faculty who, as authors and editors, contribute so generously to the publishers who sell them. The arrangement is bankrupting research library budgets and swelling the profit margins of commercial publishers.

Sadly, commercial publishing threatens the very system it exists to support. When expensive commercially published materials cannot be bought, when university presses cannot afford to publish monographs for junior faculty, everyone suffers. Students and scientists cannot gain access to badly needed materials; scholars cannot get tenure for lack of that first published monograph. The modern university, modeled on the ideal of the Greek temple where thinkers and learners pursued knowledge so that society could reap its benefits, is losing ground to crass commercialism. At risk is the very culture of the academy."

By Mentor Cana, PhD
more info at LinkedIn
email: mcana {[at]} kmentor {[dot]} com

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