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information, design, architecture; information design + architecture

What’s happening with all this “What’s happening with the Semantic Web?”?

Blimey! The Semantic Web’s made it all the way up my RSS reader and in to Svia Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything, repping a Digital Eccentric post which is functionally identical to this one on Fiona Bradley’s The Semantic Library.

They’re two nice articles, and seem to be pretty good at telling people what’s going on (I assume), but it was still a surprise to see it on Googlization. I’d like to know what Vaidhyanathan meant by it: it might be that the tech is going to power the next go-to search engine and eat the big-G’s market-share before cleanly replicating it, but the more exciting prospect is, as Danny Ayers says in the Nodalities post, it’s not going to refine search, really. With enough sources, your terms probably can brute-force relevant results, because the question “How do I bake bread?” is always going to return results with the words “how” “bake” and “bread” in them, if the engine knows what “baking” means or not. The real thing about search is you only look at so many results before you actually read them, and from there you go and look at things those people are talking about.

Vaidhyanathan’s Critical Information Studies has a healthy dose of scholarly communication theorising bound up in it, and what with the Vaidhyanathan-affiliated Institute for the Future of the Book moving formally into research in this area, I was kind of hoping he’d tackle something about the actual nature of search and what it means for information retrieval.

Searching immediately brings to mind finding the right thing, which is presumably why there’s an I’m Feeling Lucky button. But how many people use that? How many people are taken to the best possible result through doing that? In how many instances is there a best possible result? The real joy of the almost-no-finite-resources-used non-tree model of publishing means single scraps of data can be produced, found and consumed (that’s basically the form of the Googlization blog, and many others), the ease with which they can be linked to other comparable resources making the assemblage as a whole at least if not more valuable then a single resource, no matter how detailed or well-referenced.

Browsing around from one resource to another, as opposed to reading every entry off a single search results page or making constant new ones is what Semantic Web tech like RDF promises, introducing interoperability between information resources will allow reading and writing in a networked environment to finally realise what reading and writing in academic (and other discursive, albeit largely non-conversational) forms has always striven for, is probably the real reason why people who read things other people say should be excited.

At the very least, it might give us hyperlink with tones of voice. Nothing is worth anything if it’s not a vector for sarcasm.


Filed under: e-text, Semantic Web

Text – user experiences

Ian Bogost’s post about Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Expressive Processing, the my-peers-are-bloggers,-my-publisher’s-peers-are-academics,-let’s-get-a-bite-to-eat love-in, reminded me of a previous working running on the Institute for the Future of the Book‘s CommentPress; McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory.

As a bloggy form, GAM3R 7H30RY showcased the paragraph-by-paragraph reader’s commentary offered by CommentPress by pulling separate paragraphs out and making them note-card-like, but these were a labour to navigate linearly. Yet the book’s structure clearly intended them to be — otherwise why group them under chapters that deal both with one theme and one game apiece? I’ve skimmed it, sure, but I couldn’t say I’ve skimmed it very well.

It’s treey counterpart, Gamer Theory, however, doesn’t help much. Certainly vs. my laptop, I fell asleep once with it in my bed, woke to find it on the floor, and didn’t burst in to tears. But where I couldn’t get in to the linear passage of argument in G7, I couldn’t get in to the non-linear passage of discussion in GT, whose publisher, Harvard University Press, had selected choice comments and included them as endnotes, along with Wark’s own, more traditional, quasi-paranthetical bibliographical commentary on his own thought processes.

Endnotes kill arguments dead, not because balance and counterpoint don’t have a roll to play in argumentative and discursive text, but because those texts’ rhetoric go from top to bottom, while endnotes go sideways, fowards and backwards, through that text and others. Digital media isn’t going to kill the book; in many ways, like this one, it will create books that are more book than book. But as Bogost notes, current networked text continues to strain against it’s own limits in ways that don’t yet (convincingly) demonstrate it’s possibilities.

Filed under: e-text, User experiences