Posts Tagged ‘Semantic Web’

It Took a Cartoon to Spark Thoughtful Higher Ed Web Design Discussion

August 4, 2010 1 comment

I’m an avid reader of the web comic XKCD by Randall Munroe, which offers a daily dose of hilarity in the form of snarky, science/geek-laden humor depicted by stick figures and often charts and graphs.  One recent strip (below) featured a Venn diagram illustrating the problem with most college/university websites:

XKCD Cartoon: "University Website" by Randall Munroe

The instant I saw it I forwarded it to the web team at Grand Rapids Community College, which is gearing up for a redesign of the site.

The comic is a superb example of how comics/cartoons and a bit of humor can parsimoniously strike at the heart of an issue in a way no lengthy academic treatise can.

The comic has been passed around many higher ed circles, and was recently featured in an article by Inside Higher Ed (“No Laughing Matter”) about all of the other web development staff who did exactly what I did the minute they saw the cartoon.  In the comments section, a discussion was sparked and unfortunately much of it focused on “clicks” and navigation – which I don’t feel are the heart of the problem with too many college/university websites.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I had to say:

Navigability is important, but thinking about websites in terms of navigating by clicks ignores how the web has evolved, which has resulted in the dominance of search engines.  It’s far liklier that a prospective student is going to run across the information they need on a college/university website by searching Google than by typing in the domain of the school and picking their way through menus.

Search is doubly-important when it comes to mobile web use (which a growing majority of our students are relying upon as their main connection to the Internet).

Any college/university website that can get students to the information they need in a couple of clicks likely doesn’t have enough information on it to be truly valuable to students; higher education is very information-dense and even portals are strained to provide enough real estate for links to all the content students need.

This is why navigation schemes are inherently problematic, and why they’re de-emphasized as we move toward the Semantic Web where search (and recommendation) are king.

I would rather see an emphasis put on freeing the data locked away in our vast enterprise systems than paring down content to streamline the front page of a website in order to meet an impossible standard.

Rather than trying to please everyone by imposing click limits on navigation – it’s more important to be developing a big footprint online and tagging content so that it’s easily indexed by search tools (and social media platforms).

How Online Piracy is Part of the Gay Agenda

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

At the suggestion of Boing Boing, I checked out the Linkbait Generator and it’s a brilliant example of the power of aggregated data (ie the future of human communication).  It’s like a Magic 8-Ball for blogging.

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It works by 1) analyzing the most highly-trafficked content on the web, 2) parsing out the formatting that makes it so irresistably-clickable, 3) randomly slapping buzz words into sentences carefully formulated to hack the reptile center of your brain.

Each time you refresh the page, a new meme-riddled gem will appear.  That’s where I got the title of this post (which I predict will receive far more traffic than most of my other posts – save my one about the Lost Finale which managed to strike a nerve and still continues to receive interesting and thoughtful comments).  You can also drop in your own key words and the Linkbait Generator will structure them in a compelling fashion.

Get in and enjoy the Linkbait Generator while it lasts, because it can’t last forever.  Like the Borg, we will eventually develop an immunity to these conventions when they’re invariably used by marketers to trick people into consuming content that doesn’t deliver on the promise (also called “business as usual”).

I’m off to write my next blog post (brilliantly suggested by the Linkbait Generator): “Eight Social Media-Themed Halloween Costumes”

Twitter Lists and the Semantic Web

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Twitter List Screen Shot

Have you taken a look at what Twitter Lists you’re on lately?  It’s an interesting study in how we help the web understand itself through our actions and contributions to the great, seething tide of data online.

This is a great example of the evolution toward the idea of the Semantic Web proposed by Tim Berners-Lee (which he explains in his own words in the video below).

The web is resembling more and more a form of artificial intelligence, and we netizens are the amino acids that make up its DNA.  Through the information we post, the ways we categorize it, and the connections we make with each other (social media makes the maxim “you are who you know” ever more true) – we’re teaching the web to understand us (an idea beautifully illustrated by Dr. Michael Wesch in this now-classic YouTube vide0).

Just look at what one can glean from how people have categorized me by what I tweet:  public relations, social media, Grand Rapids, Michigan, great dane lover, professional, foursquare, education, GRCC, digital, West Michigan, college, advertising, design, video, search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), web, marketing, branding,  communication, Lost, ddm, PRSA 2009 conference, etc.  There are even value judgments: greatness, elite, superuser, conversationalist, greatness, smart, connected.  Even the use of language provides insight into me; I’m described in slang/jargon terms like “tweeple,” “twibes,”  “g-rap,” “journchat,” “pr 2.0,” – indicating that I likely fit into various subcultures.

What can we forecast from this phenomenon?  For starters, privacy will continue to change in ways that disrupt our cozy and long-held expectations.  I don’t control who lists me or how they list me (though right now I can make the lists I’m on private).

As with other areas of social media or your digital identity, there are really two responses we’re left with;

  1. Closed:  restrict the content about oneself online by zealously guarding personal information and the content one contributes to the web.
  2. Open:  contribute to the content about oneself online to have a hand in shaping one’s online identity.

Increasingly the closed approach is futile.

Even if one were totally abstinent from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the blogosphere – content will inevitably be contributed to the digital world without one’s consent.   Your friends, co-workers and neighbors will tweet about you, corporations will make the data they aggregate about you more web-accessible (whether it’s the purchases you make, the magazines you subscribe to, the traffic cam video of intersections you drive through – even the lab results of your doctor’s visits – unfortunately I don’t think medical records are immune to this unstoppable trend).