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Archive for January, 2009

As part of Module 5 we have been encouraged to consider how Internet technologies can be thought of as an “information ecology“, rather than simply a set of tools, systems, and communication between them.

As we know from our physical environment, an ecosystem consists of everything from ourselves, animals, plants, physical structures and organisms which we may not even be able to see.

In considering an information ecosystem, we must be aware of the mulititude of elements that make up this virtual environment. These elements include but are not limited to defined objects such as users and tools, and also abilities like adaptation and creativity.

Every action we undertake in the online world produces an outcome. A click on a website produces a record in the site’s analytics program. A blog post produces another document on the web. A purchase transaction produces multiple actions from activating a shipping process, through to a series of financial transactions between ecommerce operators. Just as in the physical environment, the online equivalent produces equally powerful outcomes, not excluding destructive results.

In his paper Information Ecology, Felix Stalder presents the concept of Interdependency within an information ecology. The idea of Interdependency is that everything within that particular environment is connected through communicative processes, producing complex relationships. These complex relationships are formed partly via another dimension, that of Differentiation, which highlights that information only survives if it holds a unique value and is of use for others. In this form, a single item of information is not complex, but a group of items bound together by relationships is, and can produce highly valuable results. In trying to consider an example of what this actually means, I put forward the example of social networking, where a single profile holds little value but a network of a million profiles holds a very complex and interdependent ecology.

Interestingly, Stalder published his paper in 1997, and referenced from 1996 a note citing Apple Computer’s failure to capitalise on interdependency as a reason for their decline. Maybe this is a good example of how no single method of survival can be labelled as ideal, since Apple posted record quarterly profit of $US 1.61 billion in the first quarter of the current financial year, still keeping with their closed operating system format (Apple 2009).

What would happen if we disengaged one section of the information ecosystem? Think for example, what effect censorship has and how it would “disturb” other elements of the ecology. Censorship is in place in some countries at the moment, so the ecology has adapted to cope but we cannot quantify or establish the exact effects of such activity. In an environment where so much information is quantifiable, we still cannot measure the effects of typical ecosystem activity. As in the “real” world, not everything is measurable.

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This task involved working through a tutorial about evaluating a web site in terms of it’s purpose, author, content, coverage, currency and recognition.

The tutorial suggests thinking about the following points:

  • What is the purpose of the content and is it relevant to your goals?
  • Who is the author and publisher, and what are their credentials?
  • Does the site appear biased? Are alternate points of view presented?
  • Is the site reputable and recognised by others?

For the task presented in this module, I am to create an annotation for one of the sources found in the previous task (which should be related to the unit – not sure about that, but I will do the same for the concepts assignment anyway).

One of the sites returned in my search for “applescript, xcode” was a page from The Applescript Studio Programming Guide.

Applescript Studio Programming Guide

Applescript Studio Programming Guide

What is my judgement of the site according to what the tutorial taught me?

First of all, the information is highly credible since it is from the Apple website, and both of the terms I search for (“applescript” and “xcode“) are names of Apple products. This tells me I can trust the information provided and indicates that this site is most likely the best place to begin looking for information.

The type of information being presented is of an informative nature, providing documentation about how to use a particular Apple product. I know that the Developer Connection section of the site is a reputable source, since it a primary source of information for Apple software developers.

My  annotation would look something like this:

“The Applescript Studio Programming Guide presents extensive documentation for software developers wishing to use Xcode, Apple’s integrated development environment, to create software for Mac OS X. Neatly formatted, the documentation is compiled by Apple themselves, and arranged in a navigable fashion complete with search capabilities.

Links to internal Apple reference and terminology sites provide additional resources for visitors. The guide is dated 2007, so users of the latest Xcode products may wish to have a look at the Developer Connection home page for up to date documentation.”

All in all, I would rather use an annotation in my research when evaluating a source rather than rely on simple data such as author, url, date, etc. The additional information and comments that an annotation provides are a valuable source, and given the right circumstances, can provide credibility for a site.

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Search Engine Task

I chose to search for the keywords applescript and xcode using the following format to begin with: “applescript, xcode“.

I tried this using several web browsers and found the results varied:

  • Google – 482,000 results
  • Yahoo – 1,010,000 results
  • Ask – 85,700 results
  • Live – 300,000 results
Searching Google for "applescript, xcode"

Searching Google for "applescript, xcode"

I installed an application called Copernic Agent Basic which was perhaps once a useful tool, but the search engines available in it were out of date and the whole application seemed a bit behind the times. It wasn’t very useful at all.

Boolean Searching Task

Searching with the “OR” operator returned the highest volume of results, with Google returning 7,690,000 results.

Searching with the “AND” operator returned the most relevant since the result contained material related to both keywords.

To locate information coming only from university sources I would use a university library which has a database such as EBSCOHost, or perhaps try Google Scholar. I could always just use “.edu” as one of my search terms which would return results from educational institutions.

In addition to the “AND“, “OR“, and “NOT” search operators, Google accepts a variety of advanced operators such as:

  • Numrange Search (eg. “iPod $100..$250“) Search within a specified numeric range.
  • Domain Search (eg. “copyright site:www.curtin.edu.au“) Search a specified site for a keyword.

Google has a useful help section for Google Web Search.

Organising Search Information Task

As much as I would like to have a bookmarks application that I am happy with, the applications I looked at haven’t appealed to me and my preferences with regards to research.

What I would like to have is a simple little app that I enter minimal data into and it gets stored in a database (SQLite or something similiar) where I can easily query by category or domain, etc. This is something I will add to my list of projects!

In the meantime, I use a plain text file to record links and references for research work. This way, I record the necessary data (URL, author, institution) and add comments as desired. I have found this works well, it’s simple, and for that reason I use it habitually. If I had to use an application with a dozen features I would probably avoid using it so much.

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I thought I would outline a few of the main tools I use when browsing the web. Keeping these tools up to date help ensure I can access online material, and where possible I use auto-update settings to make sure the applications update as soon as a new version becomes available. (Please Note: in some circumstances – like operating systems – it can be wise to wait a little bit prior to updating in case there are problems — nothing is perfect!).

Adobe Reader – Adobe’s PDF reading application makes viewing PDF’s a breeze. Apple Mac’s have Preview built-in but I’d still recommend setting the default to Adobe Reader. Be sure to keep this up to date since PDF files are everywhere. If you’ve got Acrobat installed, I’d just use that instead of the lighter Reader app.

Adobe Flash/Shockwave Player – This is becoming increasingly important to keep up to date (many mobile phones even have Flash pre-installed now). The development of Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) which use Flash technology and the accompanying Flex platform are a good reason to keep this up to date. The Flex Showcase presents a range of sites that use Flex to let you do everything from design your own Harley Davidson motorcycle, to checking storm warnings.

Microsoft Silverlight – The need for this plug-in is becoming more common, although Flash still dominates the video/RIA market.

Media Players – It’s a good idea to have a few types of media players since each tends to have its own proprietary format. The open source VLC media player could be a good choice if you’re looking for something that will play a variety of formats but I’ve had a little bit of trouble playing some files (probably just need to update codecs or something).

Browsers – Web browsers are very much a personal choice but since I do some web development, I have several installed. Opera, Explorer, Netscape, Safari and Firefox all get used at various times. On my PC I also use Virtual PC to run multiple versions of Explorer for testing purposes. For everyday use, Firefox and Safari are favourites.

The coolest thing about the web is the instant availability of software. I remember spending time when I was a kid looking at all the software boxes (that I couldn’t afford) in the computer shop. These days, regardless of what you require, you can access it within minutes via the web. The volume of open source software out there probably means you can even find a free (yes, legally free) version of what you need!

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There have been a few articles recently about how tertiary education institutions are finding it difficult to keep their curriculum up to date with the quick progression of the web design industry.

The article “Elevate Web Design at the University Level“, by Leslie Jensen-Inman, presents some solid advice for web professionals who would like to see the next generation graduate trained with the necessary skills and experience to make the leap to the “real world”.

Of particular note are the efforts being made by The Web Standards Project (WaSP) and Opera (makers of the Opera browser) to produce material to support the education of future web professionals.

Opera have compiled a Web Standards Curriculum which is available for free and for education faculties to incorporate into their curriculum, thus promoting good development practices among graduates.

Although I’ve been working with the web for a while, I’m personally working through the modules in the Opera curriculum. Whether its HTML, CSS or Information Architecture, I’m sure there is something in there for everyone to learn from. Thanks Opera!

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Melbourne Is Melting!

I thought I would take note (or at least, a snapshot) of Melbourne’s weather this week.

Technology wise, if you’re a Mac user you can get one of these cool weather dashboard widgets for your Mac (free!). I’ve got one installed on each of my Mac’s – particularly cool for storm watching! If you’re in Australia, you can set it to any capital city and it hooks into data from The Bureau of Meteorology.

A weather widget from Radocaj.com for Mac OS X.

A weather widget from Radocaj.com for Mac OS X.

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White House 2.0

It’s no wonder some politicians appear to have trouble getting things done. Whether or not you choose to believe the apparent “missing keyboard keys” hoax from when the Bush administration entered the White House, it comes as no surprise to learn the new Obama team has found the White House in a state of technological despair.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said:

“It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari”

Maybe when Bush & co. left the building, they did so with the “good stuff” tucked inside their briefcases.

Barack Obama has been eagerly awaiting approval for and the arrival of his new Blackberry, complete with FBI designed encryption software.

The online Obama phenomenon swept through the web using Web 2.0 applications to spread his messages, playing an important role in his success so far. Obama knows the power of the web, and how integral it is to keeping the US moving forward through these trying times.

The disconnected phone lines, six year old Microsoft products, lack of laptops and restricted access to the online applications that helped his administration get this far, will be fixed up quick smart by Obama and his team.

As Sitepoint’s Josh Catone explains, Obama has millions of online followers through sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. He may be shifting into a new role now, but I have no doubt he is smart enough to employ the same techniques that made him President, in his efforts to lead one of the most powerful nations on earth.

It will be very interesting to see how the Obama administration use the power of the Internet to communicate and empower citizens within the United States and abroad.

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