Archive for March, 2006

How can ajaxWrite be free? The Culture Of Use War

March 30, 2006

Michael Robertson’s latest shtick is ajaxWrite. Michael is yet another ex- Don Norman / UCSD student, and is well known as the founder of, Lindows -> Linspire, and various other cool projects.

Here’s what he says in answer to the above question (on the ajaxWrite FAQ page):

We believe that the software industry is standing on the verge of a very large shift, where almost all software products become an online service; users will no longer have to buy CDs in a cardboard box at the store, and then suffer through a lengthy install process. It costs very little to distribute software via the internet, therefore the software cost model will change and make it possible for products like ajaxWrite to be free. There may be a charge in the future for additional functionality or storage, but the core software will remain free.

But is it any good? [note: rest of this entry was written IN ajaxWrite]

The only way to find out if it’s any good is to hammer it for a bit, which is just what I’m doing now (I’ll copy and paste what I write hereafter in ajaxwrite into this blog posting).

It is going to be interesting to see how this pans out… I never accepted the first ‘thin client’ vision of the 90’s… because

* it was psychologically implausible (we like to ‘own our own computing space’ – kinda like the way we like to own our own cars, even though we know deep down that public transport is a good thing)
* there were simply too many unknowns concerning the reliability of server performance
* the look and feel tended to be pretty feeble compared to The Real Thing (same reason I gave up on StarOffice/OpenOffice – they were ‘OK’ but incredibly frustrating when you wanted the real thing).

This looks and feels decent enough, and is more or less interoperatble with most Word functionality, as they explain on their site.

This means it’ll be a straight tradeoff between the Psychology (wanting to own our own engines) and the Cost (real ownership is pricey). Very interesting. Well, Michael is a cognitive pscyhologist by upbringing, so maybe he’s on to something. I’ve always rooted for him anyway, so this will be interesting to follow. The acid test is whether I personally start using it for everyday tasks… I guess ‘it all depends’. Since I inhabit a Very Large Enterprise work space, it’s easy to accept the whole Office package, and it does a lot of great stuff that I like. At the same time, my colleagues and I instinctively don’t accept the ‘lock-in’ and therefore are interested in alternatives.

Strange that I don’t like being ‘tied’ to an Internet-savvy app to ‘do my thing’, despite being connected to the net all the time anyway… “Go Figure!”… I guess this is really all about ‘culture of use’, and it’s going to be a fantastic Culture War unfolding!

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20 or so blog entires about Open Content Initiative…

March 16, 2006

… just to flag a few that I grabbed as they whizzed past… mostly for archival purposes…
almost all are correct, though one or two referred to the erroneous first edition of a Guardian Education story that was later corrected (only a selection of learning resources are going to be made available for free!).

I’ve tagged them here:

The collection includes a Slovenian blog entry, and one (out of the whole collection) item that I considered to be genuinely noteworthy and thoughtful: an excellent post from Glyn Moody, who provides a short but historically rich and well-cross-referenced analysis of the background context and significance of the whole enterprise… well worth a read!!

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David Wiley re social software edu-tools and semantic web

March 16, 2006

David Wiley of the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (Utah State University) and (blog) is visiting us today, so I’ve just been catching up on some of his recent posts.

Here’s a nice segment of a recent posting from David:

Many of us already aggregate this data via RSS and ATOM for viewing and reading. Maybe you even use one of those newfangled web 2.0 desktops to read many of your feeds in the same place. Having access to all that data in one places is, granted, more convenient than having to chase it all over the web. However, these systems generally only show you the data from a remote location. Why don’t we store all this data in one spot?

Then why don’t we provide easy access to this data as RDF? There is admittedly some work to do here for each service, but nothing insurmountable. Then you, and me, and everyone else in the world can start writing agents to make (lowercase) semantic web-like uses of this data. Sure, the semantic web supposedly runs on a high octane mix of controlled-vocabulary-ontology-taxonomy mayhem, but who says we can’t run a useful system on folksonomic data?

This is a common theme I’ve been hearing in a lot of places, and is not unlike half a dozen activities we’re starting here in KMi. I’m looking forward to interacting with David as we begin to head off on our Open Content Initiative adventures!

Hey Tony (Hirst): check this stuff out! 😉

[Instant update] I just re-read David’s posting and some of the followup comments, and meant to add that I’m not sure I buy the ‘Why don’t we store all this data in one spot?’ concept, which goes against the grain of how Web2.0 services are shaping up… so I’ll ask David about that when I see him!

He’s right in one sense about some of the weaknesses of ‘mere aggregation’. I’ve argued before that some aggregation tools provide a few orders of magnitude power boost, but that the effect is illusory. This is my two-orders-of-magnitude overload conjecture:

RSS aggregators give users, especially early adopters of new technologies, a two-order-of-magnitude (i.e. 100x) ‘power boost’ in dealing with the ‘knowledge flow’ whipping around us. But whenever there’s a three, four, five, or six order-of-magnitude (i.e. 1000x, 10,000x, 100,000x, or 1,000,000x) spread of ‘adopters of new technologies’, not only are such technologies not new any more, but a two-order-of-magnitude ‘power boost’ is insufficient.

But mixing and matching light and heavy markup (informal and formal; lowercase and uppercase; folksonomy and ontology; etc) is going to be a very difficult challenge. I played last year with FOAF-based photo annotation codepiction paths — now there’s a mouthful. In a nutshell it’s a way to ‘prove’, via photographic evidence, that you are N steps removed from a celebrity (say). But only if the evidence is properly tagged. I found the exercise tantalizing, but extremely frustrating, as I descirbed in “Digital identity: FOAF vs swarm intelligence” (including the obligatory example linking my photo to that of Frank Sinatra in 7 steps using Libby Miller and Dan Brickley’s toolset. We’re not very far from the capability to make this easy, and it’s informative to look at the relationship between the informal tagging world and the formal semantic markup world. But as I moaned in that article.. the proposition is about 5 years old, so I’m starting to have fresh doubts….

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Open Destiny 2: RMS/OCI/OU (Stallman, Open Content Initiative, Open University)

March 12, 2006

I forgot to mention in my previous entry about the Open University’s fabulous $10M Open Content Intiative that the very first highly concrete proposal for exactly this concept came from Richard Stallman, aka RMS, back in 1994.

RMS sought to approach the top management of The Open University, via an email to me*, proposing very radical ideas along the lines of what we now know as OCI, the Open Content Intiative. There was some to-ing and fro-ing around the original idea, and now it’s clear that the ‘planets are properly aligned’, as they say: the mood is right, the timing is right, the technology is right, the research and funding models are right, and most significantly the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have provided the all-important kick-start funding to The Open University to make it happen.

[*Not that we really knew each other – he had kindly given me a magnetic tape (!!) with a full EMACS insallation for a PDP-10 when I stumbled into his office at MIT some 20 years earlier … wonder what the FOAF representation of that is?]

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Open Destiny: OU multi-million-dollar Open Content Intiative

March 10, 2006

Wow: I have been waiting eagerly to link to the following Open University press release, which has just gone live on the new OU Open Content Intiative site:

OU announces £5.6m project to make learning material free on the internet

[Excerpts are below, but let me interject a personal note:] This is momentous. I am very privileged to have been an employee of the Open University for the past 30 years (!!!), and feel very strongly that this initiative is part of our destiny. It is absolutely in line with the original mission and vision of the Open University (“open to people, open to places, open to methods, open to ideas”), and I think this is going to have phenomenal ramifications, about which I’ll be writing more in due course. KMi is very involved with this, thanks to the efforts of Simon Buckingham Shum.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from the Open University press release:

OU announces £5.6m project to make learning material free on the internet

OU learning materials available online free of charge

The Open University today announced a GBP £5.65 million (US $9.9 million) project to make a selection of its learning materials available free of charge to educators and learners around the world.

Supported by a grant of US $4.45 million from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation the University will launch the website in October 2006.

The provision on the internet of ‘Open Educational Resources’, free at point of use and available to everyone, reflects The Open University’s mission of promoting fair access for all. During the initial phase of this initiative, the University will select and make available educational resources from all study levels from access to postgraduate and from a full range of subject themes: arts and history, business and management, health and lifestyle, languages, science and nature, society and technology. Learners will also be able to benefit from a range of study skills development material.

Read the full press release and see job vacancies linked on the OU OCI site.

Read Simon’s KMi Planet story about Open Sensemaking Communities and KMi’s role in OCI.


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Name change

March 10, 2006

Time to retire the old ‘My Dog II’ label, in favour of ‘EisenBlog’. Nothing else has changed. Also a great way to track search engine hits, since right now there seems to be only 1 other instance of this word in the entire universe; or webverse anyway.

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Only in Dublin

March 3, 2006

Dublin1 I was in Dublin last week, where I am an advisor to the Science Foundation Ireland – got to catch up with Mark Keane, former Open University superstar who is now Director of the SFIs ICT programme (they fund DERI Galway, among many other interesting groups and projects); hadn’t seen Mark in many many years, and I was delighted to see he’s doing great things in helping to create a lightweight (administratively) but high-expectation (intellectually) funding environment for ICT and BioTech research in Ireland; wow, they are growing at a phenomenal pace… very exciting!

When I arrived at the airport, I decided to take the recommended aiport coach service into the city centre. At that point, I knew I was in Dublin: the bus stop was internet-enabled, with real-time bus info and animations rendered onto a browser display inside the tiny little bus shelter.

I was already a big fan of a fantastic Googlemaps mashup called Dartmaps:

I’m showing the real-time locations of all running DARTs (suburban train service) in the city of Dublin, Ireland. [How?] I’m taking the realtime (not timetables) suburban rail info from, scraping it into a useful data structure, then writing it to XML. I then plot this onto Google Maps, with the help of the routes and stations data file.

To see the comparable info apparently in most little bus shelters was a sight to behold!

Inside the bus shelter… see above for close-up of display

Outside the bus shelter

Oh, and when I got on board, Bob Geldof was on the radio, in his Boomtown Rats incarnation, singing ‘I don’t like Mondays’… Only in Dublin… wonderful!

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