tools: November 2006 Archives

All your feed are belong to us

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One of the telecoms is running commercials featuring the myriad conversations that might be ruined by the dreaded "dropped call"--you know, like when you start singing "Jimmy cracked corn and I don't care" to Jim, your future father-in-law. Boy, I can't tell you how many engagements that's ruined for me personally.

Anyhow, I was feeling like my calls had all been dropped this weekend. When I recommend RSS readers to folks, I recommend Bloglines almost exclusively. I've been using it for years now, and never had much call to complain. Until this past weekend, where a day or two's worth of feeds weren't picked up. And in the land of NotADayGoesBy, that puts a serious crimp in my inventional processes. I rely upon the ecology of feeds I've developed to supplement my more immediate life, particularly when it comes to topics for blogging.

And so I'm flirting with Google Reader right now. I'm already seeing ways that it may change my reading habits, based on things like download/upload times, refresh intervals, etc. We'll see how it goes. I can manage two different readers for a spell, switching back and forth and using liberally the "mark all read" feature on each.

It's funny, though, how all it takes is a little hiccup in a service to start me down the path of looking at other options. Bloglines has benefitted from its relative invisibility for me over the past couple of years--as long as it worked just fine, I had no reason to think about changing. I don't really use it to its fullest capacity, so if I'm going to be looking at the full capacity of a reader, it doesn't really cost me much to shop around. And in the meantime, I'll be checking individual sites more often than normal, just to see what I've missed in the past few days.

That is all.

Isn't data "beneath the metadata"?

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For the most part, this is just a placeholder for links to Elaine Peterson's Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy, to David Weinberger's reply and Tom Vander Wal's reply as well. I've got some work and at least one meeting before I can turn to them, but turn to them I will. It shouldn't take too much sleuthing to figure out where I'm going to weigh in...

Playlists - The NBT?

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It may just be a matter of confluence. I've come across a couple of blogposts talking about playlists in the past week or so, 43F has featured a couple of tips and tricks entries about iTunes playlists, and Bloglines just announced a playlist feature as well. Seems like I'm seeing them a lot recently.

My first thought was that it's one of those metaphors (taken from radio?) that's quickly becoming stretched beyond its original meaning--my fave example of this is Jakob Neilsen's complaint about the shopping cart metaphor. But I'm more of a descriptivist than a prescriptivist.

And playlists have more than a little in common with tagging. In a lot of ways a playlist can be little more than a unique tag. In iTunes, you drag a song over to the playlist and add it, but this is only superficially different from adding a tag to the songs you want on the list, and then opening up the page of all items tagged thusly. The music doesn't move or anything.

It's interesting to me because one of the things that I didn't really get to a few days back in talking about tagging was a quibble that I had with defining tagging as the addition of "descriptive" terms. Reason for that is that one of the first uses for that ever made sense to me was when I saw Jill Walker use it in a talk (at the MEA conf) as a quick way of gathering up the links for the sites she was talking about.

In other words, my first "click" moment with was seeing it used as a way to gather certain bookmarks into a playlist.

In the strictest sense, this isn't descriptive tagging, since the playlist/tag refers to a particular context rather than anything intrinsic about the resource itself. More and more, I've been thinking about making a distinction between descriptive tagging and what I think of as procedural tagging, or tags that function in some way other than simple description.

The best account of this I know of (and there may be others, certainly) is Bradley's discussion of using as a teaching tool. I tried something similar in my networks course, but I didn't really think it through to the degree that Bradley does there. In other words, procedural tags can be used to set aside certain bookmarks for course reading (and not others), they can be tagged for particular units (or multiple, to indicate connections), with due dates for reading the texts, etc. You can tag a set of resources for a talk, as Jill did, tag them with someone's name if you want that person to find them easily, etc. Right now, the Teaching Carnivals are assembled every couple of weeks (in part at least) through procedural tagging. None of these particular tags are descriptive in the strictest sense, although the Carnival tags come fairly close. They point outwards, connecting the bookmark to some additional context.

Over at the CCCOA, we use tags as keywords for CCC essays, but we also have some hybrid tags, so that you can look at all of the articles from a particular issue, or see which of the articles are converted CCCC Chair's Addresses or Braddock Award for the best in a given volume. What calls tag bundles, we might also call playlists.

What's got me thinking tonight, though, is the place where the smart playlists of iTunes go beyond descriptive or even procedural tagging. Certain of the tags in iTunes are variables. For example, "Play Count" is a tag that increases by 1 every time the particular song is played, and "Last Played" and "Date Added" are simply automatically attached to the song by iTunes itself, as opposed to the 5-star "My Rating" a user can apply. Where the playlists go beyond this is in allowing users to set rules for the playlist that are based on these variables. Merlin's entry is focused on keeping an iTunes collection manageable, but I find myself wondering about how much of the smart playlist idea is transferrable.

Here's where I'm stalling out a little. I have a sense that there's something to this, but I'm having trouble figuring out how it would function outside of my head. Part of me thinks that there's a degree to which sites like digg already accomplish what I'm talking about. In other words, I think about the variables that could be assigned to a blog entry or essay, and how a playlist might incorporate them, and digg does some of what I'm after. I could also be creative with the RSS feeds from interior pages of users (add something to the playlist when User X tags it with Y). But it seems to me that there are other functions that might be of use as well. It'd be interesting to have a smart list that captured bookmarks on topics that had crested a certain number of users, or that had attracted steady attention (a combination of Date First Tagged and Frequency). Or even one that fed resources tagged with a user's top 5 tags, but allowed that top 5 to change over time, so that as that person's attention shifted to new issues, so would the feed.

No grand conclusion here, except to say that there's something here in the mix of procedural tagging and playlisting that may be worth pursuing. And I would, given time enough and skillz. As it is, though...

For example, trending

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I've seen this link crop up in several places over the last week or two, but you never know who's seen it or not. So...

Chirag Mehta's Presidential tagclouds

Chirag Mehta has generated tagclouds for Presidential documents/speeches (State of the Union Addresses and others), going back to 1776, and offered them for your perusal. (Usability note: I found it a lot easier to use the arrow keys to move the slider back and forth one at a time, but didn't figure out that I could use them until the fourth time I visited the site...)

It's an incredibly cool project, and what we're doing over at the CCCOA is obviously related, although our output is structured in different ways. Although we've got other things occupying our front burners at the moment, this site has definitely got me thinking about how we might build on our work there. More broadly, and perhaps relevantly, it's also got me thinking about how visualizations of trends in language usage might be folded in to some of the work we do in our field.

That's all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the tools category from November 2006.

tools: October 2006 is the previous archive.

tools: December 2006 is the next archive.

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