About Me

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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why I blog

Lorcan Dempsey cited an article in The Atlantic Why I Blog. Now, I don't really blog in the sense that Andrew Sullivan means, inasmuch as I don't have much of a relationship with those few readers I have (most of whom currently arrive through searches about the IE7 prompt bug-by-design, or web services for OSGB to lat/long conversion), and I recognise that this intercourse is a key part of what makes blogs a stimulating evolution of (self-)publishing. So there's lots that he says that doesn't apply to me, but I blog all the same, and I'd already been thinking about my motivations for it when that article appeared, so here's my bit.

As the blurb here explains, this is a research diary firstly, intended for me to jot down links and reactions to things I've come across when Delicious won't do, and to explore a few ideas as they develop in case they're useful for my doctoral research. There are reports on conferences and the like, all written with the knowledge and vain expectation (vain in both senses, usually) that other people with my interests will stumble across them and find something interesting or useful, as well as being for myself. Writing for other people like this came later, after I opened the blog from its private status, and it has changed the nature of the blog a bit. In fact opening the blog has been negative in one respect, because I can no longer write about things that need to remain private for the sake of the institutions I want to write about - I have to go back to keeping this stuff in Word, or saving it as draft blog posts that you lot can't see.

I have found myself tempted into using this place for other purposes, too. I've never kept a proper diary - the implied need to write daily is too much for a lazy arse like me - but have sometimes wanted to jot down particular thoughts, accounts or memories, which do occasionally end up on stray bits of paper or notebooks, or perhaps in e-mails or letters, albeit somewhere else in the world. I have, in fact, an almost pathological attachment to memories and my personal past, perhaps rooted in having a happy childhood that's often acted as the key to a happiness in the present. If you twin this with a collector's disposition you have someone who
  1. collects Incredible String Band LPs (the ultimate band for those who yearn for childhood in the years of hippy fallout, and the collector geek's format of choice), and
  2. spends probably too much time trying to capture moments, sometimes at the expense of experiencing them.

Perhaps it's also some foolish lunge for some kind of immortality, for freezing my acts, thoughts and experiences in something "permanent" that might outlast me (as if this were the least bit likely with a blog!). Since our children were born this has changed slightly. I now have the only kind of extended existence I want: I can't live forever but I've had a hand in making something better than me, in making three new universes that by natural law should outlast mine, and who could wish for more? At the same time, the memories are more valuable than ever, and the urge to hold on to every last moment stronger than ever. I keep an occasional journal about the kids' development, and I've also discovered that shedding this urge to leave some amazing, permanent legacy has given me a new freedom to actually do stuff. I'm one of the cursed billions that have the desire to create - music, prose, art, whatever - but lack talent. If you have some need to create for other people, this is a problem, but if you are doing it for yourself it's not, and you can get on and do stuff. Well, now that's how I feel, and I can get on and write songs or whatever with no concern that actually they're pretty rubbish by anyone else's measure: the act of creation and of capturing those memories in a different fashion is the reward in itself.

So I've occasionally used this blog to stray off topic, but I do sometimes wish to go further. This is why lately I've been mulling over why I blog: there have been big things happening at work or at the school where I'm a governor, for example, that I can't necessarily write about, although they may get their chance in future. More importantly there have been very important family things that I want to write about, but which aren't for here - health things, family history, stuff that's not just about me and not yet resolved. They're the sort of thing to share face-to-face with friends and family, but the authoring box on this web page is so tempting for just telling it all to, because writing is such a good way of straightening your thoughts and sharing worries or excitement. Fortunately I've said and written some of this stuff to several people now so it's out of my system, but it had me musing on the limits of what I should blog. It's out there for good once you let it go.

Concluding thoughts? Well as usual I don't have a nice wrap-up for this, but I've splurged my thoughts onto the page, and that'll do for me. Perhaps that says it all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

International projects in the international legal minefield

This is but a (delayed) note to remind myself about the challenges that projects like Europeana face in integrating assets from, and providing services to, several countries with only partially-harmonised legal systems. This was brought home to me by a recent German ruling on use of thumbnails by search engines. Amalyah Keshet (on the MCN mailing list) cited the following snippet from Arc Technica's post on the ruling:

"As much as people complain about the challenges of balancing copyrights and fair use in the US, overseas courts have been happy to provide examples that remind us that some aspects of US copyright law are actually fairly liberal. The latest such reminder comes courtesy of a case in Germany that revisits an issue that appears settled in the US: the right of image search services to create thumbnails from copyrighted works to display with the search results. The German courts have now determined that this is not OK in Germany, where Google has just lost two copyright suits over image thumbnails..."

Monday, October 13, 2008

MashLogic: worth hooking into?

This article on RWW about MashLogic suggests one more tempting possibility for Europeana to distribute itself more widely and get itself integrated web-wide, for those users in love with culture (in the widest sense). MashLogic is a Firefox extension that tries to create links between the page you're looking at and resources that you've chosen, built on web services and soon to become open to developers and partners. Some sort of semantic processing is presumably at the heart of it, and it sounds as though you can effectively help to teach it. Evidently it's in a similar space to Adaptive Blue, amongst others, but offering considerable scope for the user to tailor their experience and for content owners (like Europeana) to hook into it.
I guess people are much more likely to install a plugin that can do the same for a variety of providers in preference to one that's only good for one. So if Euroepana can piggyback on something like this, its appeal could made much broader.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oh. And there was me thinking Thomson were cool, what with OpenCalais and all.

Thomson suing Zotero. Bummer. If the outcome goes the wrong way it's not great news for quite important stuff like interoperability and doing stuff with your own data. Thomson Reuters are definitely not being cool here.

Courtesy of Danny Weitzner's "Open Internet Policy" blog.