The Lady of Shalott

Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott is easily one of the most beautiful and memorable poems I’ve ever read. I love reading the poem but it always leaves me feeling more than just a little grief stricken – as a theme unrequited love can be pretty painful. Whenever I pick up one of the various collections of Tennysons work’s that I have, no matter what else I read, I feel drawn to this poem it’s as though I have this terrible fixation with it – I’ll always read it. There’s something about it … it’s hard to articulate, erm … actually its probably not hard to articulate I’m simply choosing not to 😉

Nevertheless I was introduced to some of Loreena McKennitt’s musical works recently, amongst her many songs is this absolutely mesmerising adaptation of Tennyson’s poem:

All I’ll say is it pretty much moved me to tears … I wasn’t listening to the YouTube video itself (I bought her album on iTunes) so whilst the imagery in the video is pretty, I don’t find it particularly moving. I was listening to the song on my iPod and following the words in the poem. It really is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and she succeeds in bringing each stanza of the poem to life …

The Coming Age of Magic

A really interesting and enlightening podcast with Mike Kuniavsky, co-founder and Principal of ThingM:

“I do not advocate that we pretend that technology is a kind of magic, but that we use our existing cultural understanding of magic objects as an abstraction to describe the behavior of ubiquitous computing devices.”

Talis and Creative Commons launch new Open Data licence

Yesterday we, at Talis, announced some wonderful news – Talis has been working in partnership with the Science Commons project of Creative Commons and we are all pleased to announce the release  of the new Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and Licence.

As an organisation Talis have been interested in the licensing issues surrounding Open Data for quite some time now, we’ve been talking about Open Data at conferences and also writing about many of these issues. In 2006 we began this process by launching our own attempt at an Open Data licence called the Talis Community Licence – this helped to shape some of our initial thoughts. Earlier this year we even convened a special workshop on Open Data at the World Wide Web conference in Banff which helped us to understand the direction we wanted to move in and who we needed to work with to make this a reality.

This new licence represents a real milestone for us. For the Semantic Web to succeed there needs to be more data coming online marked up for linking and sharing in this web of data, hopefully the licence can serve as a tool that enables more of us to share and contribute data.

Google takes on Wikipedia

Google has announced that it has begun testing a new tool called ‘Knol’ that allows users to write authoritative online articles. You can view a screenshot of the tool here. Credibility and authority have long been a stumbling block preventing the adoption of Wikipedia in education or as a credible source for citations etc.

Knol will still allow anyone to add entries, just like Wikipedia, but it’ll allow people to have bylines and author profiles so you know precisely who has penned and reviewed the entry. Which would you trust more an entry by a hobbyist or a published Professor in the relevant subject matter.

I haven’t made up my mind as to whether I like this initiative or not the cynic in me feels that Google, which is funded through revenue generated from adverts, has entered into this arena because so much traffic is directed to Wikipedia which is Ad-free.

Interesting times ahead …

Oaktree Shoot

Had a wonderful time today, took part in the Oaktree Archers Shoot just outside Droitwich. Everyone had a great time, I was pretty happy with my score for the day have to confess I really struggled in the second half because it was so cold. Cliff was the best of our archers today only beating Richard by 14 points. It was Simon and Alex’s first shoot and both did extremely well.

I’ve posted a load of pictures up here.

YouTube adds Visual Browser


Click to enlarge

YouTube have added a cool visual browser that allows you to find videos that are related to the one you are watching. In order to access the feature view a video, then go full screen. You’ll notice a new icon next to the play button ( represented by three dots) if you click on this and the Visual Browser appears. It shows you videos related the current node in the center. If you click on any related video more nodes appear representing further related videos. As an exploratory interface it’s really simple and intuitive to use and uses a similar metaphor to an interface I’ve been working on at Talis for exploring data that is structured semantically.

For a while now I’ve believed that discovery is more important than search, if you think about it traditional searches that ask users to enter keywords don’t use context which is why they are so hit and miss – relevance rankings are based on external influences and nothing to do with you as an individual what’s worse is it’s never clear to the user why the results that do appear are there – we have to accept the relevance or ranking system because we are never told why.

A discovery tool like the Visual Browser pictured above helps us to see how things are related and in doing so provides us with context – it also gives us a sense of control because we choose how we explore and find things of interest … that’s empowerment.

Lecturing – Usability and Web2.0

Alan Dix I had a lot of fun yesterday, my good friend Alan invited me to come up to Lancaster to do a special guest lecture on Usability and Web2.0 – I was asked to talk about the demands Web2.0 put on real world development, and the usability issues we now face. The lecture was intended mainly for his undergraduates but he invited the MSc, MRes and PHD students to attend as well.

I must confess I was very nervous it’s been a long time since I’ve had to stand up and talk for ninety minutes – I had also spent much of the weekend trying to prepare my slides and work out how to I was going to talk, intelligently, on a subject area that encompasses so much. I have to thank Richard Wallis and Rob Styles, two of my friends at Talis who both provided me with some great advice last week when I approached them and said “arrghhhh I’m panicking!I know what I want to say I’m not sure how to structure it“, fortunately they both gave me some great advice so I spent the weekend trying to organise my thoughts.

In the end it was fine, I really enjoyed the session and Alan did his best not to embarrass me ( too much 😉 ). I started by talking a little bit about the Web1.0 and the sorts of usability mistakes  that were common back then ( and perhaps still are now ), I went on to talk about the differences between Web1.0 and Web2.0. I then focused on Web2.0 and the kinds of usability problems that we are having to consider and find solutions to at the moment and tried to cover broad range – technology, accessibility, identity, authority, privacy etc. I also talked about Search as a usability problem, and how we still can’t find what were looking for, I explained why this leads me to believe that Google is broken. This flowed nicely into the final part of my talk which focused on the semantic web and some of the work we’re doing at Talis.

The slides for my presentation are now available online here.

Take, Oh Take Those Lips Away

Take, oh take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn,
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn:
But my kisses bring again,
Seals of love, but sealed in vain.

Hide, oh hide those hills of snow,
Which thy frozen bosom bears,
On whose tops the pinks that grow
Are yet of those that April wears.
But first set my poor heart free,
Bound in those icy chains by thee.

              by John Fletcher