Posts Tagged ‘information’
“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both”*…
For the past 25 years or so, Carl Malamud’s lonely mission has been to seize on the internet’s potential for spreading information — public information that people have a right to see, hear, and read. “Heroes for me are ones who take risks in pursuit of something they think is good,” says Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and a frequent collaborator of Malamud’s. “He is in that category.”
Indeed, Malamud has had remarkable success and true impact. If you have accessed EDGAR, the free Securities and Exchange Commission database of corporate information, you owe a debt to Malamud. Same with the database of patents, or the opinions of the US Court of Appeals. Without Malamud, the contents of the Federal Register might still cost $1,700 instead of nothing. If you have listened to a podcast, note that it was Carl Malamud who pioneered the idea of radio-like content on internet audio — in 1993. And so on. As much as any human being on the planet, this unassuming-looking proprietor of a one-man nonprofit — a bald, diminutive, bespectacled 57-year-old — has understood and exploited the net (and the power of the printed word, as well) for disseminating information for the public good…
“If a law isn’t public, it isn’t a law.”
-Justice Stephen Breyer
* President James Madison, 1822
As we illuminate the “open” signs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1857 that Timothy Alden was granted U.S. Patent No. 18,175 for the design of a typesetting machine, the first such machine that actually operated… though not terrifically trustworthily nor effectively. Still it spawned a number of competitors– and finally, in 1884, the Linotype machine, which became an industry standard.
“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”*…
The Annual Library Budget Survey, a global study that queries 686 senior librarians about their budget spending predictions for the year, was published last week by the Publishers Communication Group (PCG), a consultancy wing of Ingenta, the self-described “largest supplier of technology and related services for the publishing industry.” The survey found uneven growth expectations for libraries worldwide…
Check it out at “How Are Libraries Doing Around the World?”
* (Groucho Marx’s buddy) T.S. Eliot
As we keep our voices down, we might send informative birthday greetings to Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS; he was born on this date in 1955. While working as a Fellow at CERN in 1989, he invented the World Wide Web, developing and demonstrating the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet. Currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the continued development of the Web, he remains a staunch defender of an open Web and the free flow of information.
As of earlier this week, the English-language Wikipedia contains 4,985,975 articles. If these were printed and bound into books — each 25cm tall by 5cm thick, like Britannica — there would be 2,207 volumes, each containing 1,600,000 words…
All of this content is, of course, user-submitted. It is also user-policed: the site requires constant maintenance from a massive pool of unpaid editors, who do things like fix typos, remove instances of vandalism (like de-categorizing George W. Bush as a “sexually-transmitted disease”), and improving the breadth and accuracy of each and every page.
Of Wikipedia’s 26 million registered users, roughly 125,000 (less that 0.5%) are “active” editors. Of these 125,000, only some 12,000 have made more than 50 edits over the past six month. And of these selfless few, one man is king of the domain.
Since joining Wikipedia a decade ago, 32-year-old Justin Anthony Knapp (username “koavf”) has established himself as the the site’s most active contributor of all time. He has made an astonishing 1,485,342 edits (an average of 385 per day), ranging in topic from Taylor Swift to the history of blacksmithing.
What’s life like as Wikipedia’s most prolific editor? And what has compelled this man to dedicate thousands of hours of his time, knowledge, and energy to an online encyclopedia for absolutely no compensation?…
Find out at “The Most Prolific Editor on Wikipedia.”
* Dalai Lama XIV
As we contribute to the commonweal, we might recall that it was on this date in 1760 that Denis Diderot, Enlightenment paragon and co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie, wrote to his friend Sophie Volland of the very phenomenon that koavf has devoted so much of his life to avoiding…
Diderot transcribed the words of Galiani, who seized the occasion to shine before his audience: “My friends, I recall a fable. Listen to it.” The story tells of a contest between two birds of different species, the cuckoo (supposed to be the representative of method) and the nightingale (the spokesman of genius). Which voice is more beautiful? The dispute is submitted to the ass for judgment. He is lazy and, without investigating the case or listening to the litigants, declares the cuckoo the winner. The story came from an Italian work, the burlesque epic Ricciardetto (1738), by Niccolò Fortiguerri (1674–1735), which Diderot also knew, having recently read it and found cause in it “to weep alternatively from pain and from pleasure.” The ass’s iniquitous judgment in favor of the cuckoo is a perfect example of resorting to antiphrasis: the good response, in a case of this sort, is obviously the contrary of the one given by a bad judge, that is, a judge who does not listen…
The MIT Media Lab’s Pantheon Project aims to restore some of that knowledge…
You were not born with the ability to fly, cure disease or communicate at long distances, but you were born in a society that endows you with these capacities. These capacities are the result of information that has been generated by humans and that humans have been able to embed in tangible and digital objects.
This information is all around you. It is the way in which the atoms in an airplane are arranged or the way in which your cell-phone whispers dance instructions to electromagnetic waves.
Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand the process of global cultural development. Dive in, visualize, and enjoy…
Readers can lose themselves in Pantheon, exploring the relative cultural output of different regions in specific domains, like innovation:
… or the cultural output across all domains of a particular nation:
… even the overall rankings of individual contributors to culture over time:
There are, as Pantheon’s keepers freely acknowledge, biases built into the methodology; they continue to work to overcome them. Still, it is a fascinating– and altogether absorbing– resource. Check out the rankings engine here; the visualization engine here; and these videos, by way of background:
As we consult the league tables, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that the overdue fines on two books checked out but never returned by George Washington from the New York Society Library (the city’s only lender of books at the time of Washington’s presidency) reached $300,000.
The library’s ledgers show that Washington took out the books on October 5, 1789, some five months into his presidency at a time when New York was still the capital. They were an essay on international affairs called Law of Nations and the twelfth volume of a 14-volume collection of debates from the English House of Commons.
“We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines,” the head librarian Mark Bartlett said at the time. “But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”