Category Archives for Futures
Interesting (and by that I mean I pitifully ignorant) viewpoint on the future of libraries from a technology review editor, recently.
Why would I go or deal with a library to borrow a book? You don’t have to go there, right?
This is weird. Why would a library have anything to do with virtual books? It doesn’t make sense. Locality is about physical books. They’re physically available in a certain place, so your library houses them, but once they’re virtual, locality goes out the door. It’s weird. [...]
The local library’s really starting to get shaky to my mind, unless it’s for the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, and the very old. That’s what libraries are for now. What kid in high school is going to get anything out of the library? Seriously, you’ve got some ninety-year-old reference librarian who’s going to point you to what, a Britannica volume to look something up? All you’ve got to do is Google. For crying out loud.[...]
I’m a little “shaky” on the context of these comments, but librarian demographic stereotyping aside, he forgot to mention some things that I’d just like to point out, including:
- Not everyone has access to Google
- Not everyone knows how to use Google effectively
- There are other ways of finding things on the internet, especially when doing research, besides Google
- Google does not provide answers to questions. Google serves webpages that it judges as “relevant” to user “queries” which are composed of proprietarily defined (read: secret) relationships between keywords, links to and from pages, and many other variables.
- If, for the rest of my life, I had to read every book I couldn’t afford to purchase from a bootlegged .mobi file that I downloaded from The Pirate Bay, I would stop reading. And, I am not “poor, unemployed, homeless or very old,” either.
The full podcast is here, please listen to it and tell me they bring these things up. For now, I think I’ve heard enough.
In 1948, around 5,000 people in Framingham, Massachusetts responded to a call for participation in a study on health and lifestyle habits. They underwent physical exams and in-depth interviews about their health every two years. A generation later, 5,000 more of their adult children agreed to join the study. The results of this ambitious project are one of the largest and most successful health research projects on the books, identifying all of the major risk factors for heart disease that we know today: high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, obesity. In fact, the very concept of identifiable “risk factors” for heart disease (let alone other conditions) is due in large part to the astounding results of the Framingham Heart Study and the vision and ambitiousness of the project.
Something similar is happening in Canadian cancer research today with the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, known locally as the BC Generations Project. Their goal? Enroll 300,000 Canadians over the age of 35 to attempt to identify risk factors for developing cancer and, along the way, creating a massive research database of health information that stretches across all strata of Canadian provinces and lifestyles.
Participants are followed for decades, building layers of information that will create a rich database. Researchers will have access to data and can propose analyses that will identify patterns and information that will potentially explain some of the causes of cancer and other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart and lung disease.
There is remarkable potential for the long-term, large-scale perspective of this population laboratory to improve our understanding of cancer and other chronic diseases. The development of these diseases is often shaped by multiple factors over a long period. [link]
In BC, the goal is to enrol 40,000 people by 2012, and they are apparently about the third of the way there. They joined Twitter not too long ago and I have been trying to put my finger on the public health parallels ever since. Their enthusiasm and ambition is infectious. They need your help. I’m too young to join, but why don’t you go in my place?
I’ve been pondering Apple’s new patent to identify (and subsequently humiliate) so-called “unauthorized” users of their mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. Essentially, Apple is seeking to patent technology that will detect an “unauthorized” user and use that as an OK to wipe data off of the device, activate the camera to expose and publish incriminating information to prevent them from using the device for evil. Ars Technica reports:
If the various analyses detect someone who is not authorized to use the device, it could set off a number of automated features designed to protect the device’s data, suss out the offending party, and alert the device owner. Sensitive data could be backed up to a remote server and the device could be wiped. The device could automatically snap pictures of the unauthorized user and record the GPS coordinates of the device, as well as log keystrokes, phone calls, or other activity. That information could be sent along with an alert to any useful service, such as e-mail, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook, or a “cloud service” like MobileMe.
At first, this sounds pretty good, especially if you get your iPhone swiped by a bicycle thief. The problem, though, is the shady definition of “unauthorized”: are we talking about a physical thief, a hacker who has taken control of your device remotely, or maybe just a regular user who has jailbroken their device (which is legal now by the way)?
Based on Apple’s public stance on jailbreaking, I am tempted to think that the latter will be deemed unauthorized. Coupled with Apple’s bizarre and inconsistent application approval process, in my opinion, iOS is becoming an increasingly uncomfortable platform to use.
mHealth applications designed to run on smartphones are already in a tenuous position because they have to balance the competing demands of cellular carriers, data security and platform divergence (eg iPhone vs Android vs Blackberry). But because the iPhone has been popular among physicians (and everyone else) for some time, the critical mass of users and developers has arrived. For now, the users are happy and there has been an explosion of helpful, informative and intuitive apps for the iOS platform. This is good.
Indeed, it is even argueable that the Apple’s ability to remotely seize a device is an useful security measure, especially for those devices that may have access to sensitive patient or hospital data. However, there are a number of flaws in that argument including:
- Redundancy: Patient data is stored on an external server, not on the mobile device itself. Rare would be the case that an unauthorized user, unless also armed with several username/password combinations, would have access to sensitive data in the first place (especially on an iPhone, which has very little capability for local file storage beyond what is available in iTunes).
- The Wrong Enforcers: If anyone should have the capability to seize and disarm your device it should be your employer or the institution being hacked, not the cell carrier of the device and least of all the manufacturer of the device. Imagine if all the corporate laptops in the world could be shut down by Dell or Lenovo at a moment’s notice.
- Big Brother: This sort of infringement on basic tenets of ownership is more akin to a piece of rented equipment than something you’ve actually purchased. This is partly caused by carrier agreements,but even if you purchase an iPhone outright (for $599!) you gain no extra control. Apple seems to be giving you the $199 plus $70+ privilege to rent out an iPhone for specific, pre-approved tasks. And if you fall outside of them, they have the means to shut you down. Let me put it this way: Will it be the case in the future that I can’t install Linux on my MacBook if I am so inclined? Will they seize my laptop remotely, too, and install a fresh copy of OS X (while taking my picture with the webcam and emailing it to the Better Business Bureau)?
mHealth and its potential for groundbreaking technological applications has enough to worry about with assuaging the privacy concerns of governments and care providers, not to mention patients themselves. Adding the Machiavellian policies of iOS development and, with this patent, “unauthorized” iPhone usage is an unneeded stumbling block. (Speaking pragmatically, if you don’t want to jailbreak your device, then who cares? But open software philosophy is about more than just getting the job done.)
Of course, control and “security” as offered by Apple’s patent may be just what mHealth needs, especially to convince worried stakeholders. But as other competitors become stronger in the space (eg, the Cisco Cius tablet which has some pre-release corporate promise) and Apple’s stranglehold on mobile app development gets weakened by Android, we may be seeing more diversity in the medical smartphone development space soon. However, until med schools stop giving out iPads, and until it stops being more fun and useful than troublesome to use them, it’s going to be an interesting ride.
Yesterday we learned that Google has purchased a social game maker, Slide. Slide makes things called SuperPoke!, SuperPoke! Pets and, my favorite, SuperPocus Academy of Magic (a virtual community for people who love all things fun and magical.)
To understand these parallel events, let’s think about Google’s trajectory into the web application sphere so far.
Things Google does well:
- Maps. Everyone knows “Google Maps is the best.” (Bonus link for Canadians who can’t see Hulu videos: Did Lazy Sunday pave the way for YouTube’s sale?)
- Reader. Bringing RSS to the rest since 2005.
- Gmail. Web-based email addresses you don’t have to be ashamed of.
- Docs (/Apps). My amateur hypothesis is that Google Docs works so well that Wave simply wasn’t necessary.
Things Google doesn’t do so well:
- Buzz. OK, Google Buzz might have some platform advantages over Twitter, but what it doesn’t have is coolness, easiness or a user base.
- Social Networking. Orkut totally rocks if you live in Brazil. If you don’t, well, you’re on Facebook.
- Profiles. Google has profiles? Yes. That is all.
- Things that aren’t utilities (except YouTube, which you can all argue is the grand exception. But remember, the YouTube offices are off-campus, likely for good reason)
The last is more general, but basically, Google hasn’t fared too well in the spaces that rely on factors other than the usefulness of a tool or programming interface. Google Maps “is the best” because not only is it easy to use, but the APIs allow manipulation and exploitation of their data for free. That is the advantage of being an advertising-driven business: driving traffic through tools, not locking content behind paywalls, is the way they make money.
But it is not, so to speak, the wave of the Internet Future. Everyone is talking about how social media is where it’s at, and will be going for a while. So Google needs a way to enter that space and make sure they don’t have a) another PR disaster that sank Buzz before it could really get going or b) an esoteric solution to a problem that no one had. OK, so Wave was trying to be “social” but it was like the difference between a cocktail party and dinner with the in-laws. Sure, you might get a job from your father-in-law if you play your cards right, but wouldn’t you rather be living it up across town with your friends?
Now we know that there is something called Google “Me” in the works that is supposed to buoy Google’s presence in social spaces. I suppose this is where the expertise and enthusiasm of the team behind SuperPoke! comes in. Like the folks at Zynga, Slide’s team is good at making cute stuff that can grab your attention and hook you in before you realize how much time you just spent clicking on sheep. (Of course, even the sheep have their critics.)
Wave is dead. Buzz is weak. Profiles are virtually unknown. But the pieces are in place. All Google needs now is a dose of aesthetics and personality before they launch another social project.
Self-Tracking for Behavior Change
I just invested in a Nike+ Sport kit, which, though they have been around for a while, just peaked my curiousity thanks to my reading of The Decision Tree. The author of that book, Thomas Goetz, points out that one of the most effective ways of motivating people to change their behaviour is to get them tracking their habits. For Weight Watchers, it’s points. For Nike+, it’s the distance and pace of your running.
All the Nike+ system is is a little doo-hickey that plugs into your iPod nano, and another little one that you stick in your shoe. I wasn’t too excited about switching shoe brands, so I hacked my Mizuno shoes that I know and love. But you can read about that elsewhere.
Once calibrated, the system is pretty slick. You can select a workout based on time (eg. 30 minutes), distance (5k, 3 miles), calories or free form. Then you pick some tunage to listen to while you run, and off you go. I have mine tracking in kilometers, and a kind voice pops up every once in a while to say “.5 k completed” or “300 meters left.”
When you’re done, you go home and sync your iPod and it zaps you out to nikeplus.com where your data is waiting for you to review. You can log a couple things yourself like how you felt, what the weather was like and the surface on which you were running. A graph of your pace shows how inconsistently fast or slow you were gadding about.
Other cool features:
- Goals: Set personal goals for distance, pace, etc.
- Nike+ Coach: training programs for you to follow to prepare for a race distance. This is hands-down my favorite feature of Nike+ so far. I have wanted to train for a half-marathon and went looking for a program but came back disappointed in the price and questionable quality of the programs online.
- Challenges: Other users of Nike+ create public goals and challenges for you to join and run along with them. Probably not for me, but a nice way to “socialize” the system.
I hope that Goetz is right and Nike+ gets me out a little more often. He argues that systems like these are often effective for getting people to change to healthy behaviors (link  to the AJPM study mentioned in that post) because they serve as personal motivators. Being able to systematically record your runs and easily watch your progress over the lifespan of your exercise program is certainly motivating for me.
23 and Me, Navigenics and personal genomics: Empowering or Frightening? Continue Reading →
By now everyone is up to their ears with tweets about the Library of Congress’s annoucement that they will archive every Tweet. Here are my initial concerns and lauds.
- Cost. Library Journal has already questioned this. How much storage space is this going to require? How will it be sustainable? And how often are they planning on doing updates to the data stream? Will they begin collecting Tweets in real time? Monthly? Yearly?
- Content and archival quality. What about all those shortened bit.ly links? Or the old ones from services that have shut down, like Twurl? Or the really old ones that might be full URLs but that have rotted away? We can’t expect this to be perfect, but is LOC planning on trying to capture anything external to what the tweets may refer to? I got this idea from @dancohen. He suggests that LOC may need to take snapshots of the linked websites, and I think that sounds almost essential in a way albeit messy and difficult.
- Searchability. This could either be the greatest thing to happen to Twitter search, or a huge disappointment. Will LOC make their database of Tweets searchable? Right now, Twitter search is good for about two weeks. Library of Congress has a huge opportunity to blast that wide open, and we can only hope that they are able (infrastructure and $$$-wise) to do so.
- Privacy. A commenter was posted on the LJ blog about this issue. Is there a privacy problem here? Yes, our tweets are public, but is it somehow unethical even if it may not be a violation of copyright to republish Tweets in what could become public archive? Don’t ask me for an answer. Because I’ll say “no, it isn’t.”
- Metadata. How will the data about the tweets and their authors be captured and stored? Furthermore, Twitter is about to let us start adding annotations and other metadata to tweets in our stream. Will this sort of marginalia be lost?
All in all I have a feeling that this project is going to set a tone for social media archiving practice. One of the most talked about services being archived by one of the world’s largest libraries. If they truly think this is important (and I am tempted to agree), I think there is an excellent opportunity here to demonstrate that importance publicly. Essentially, I think the LOC is about the create the standard and best practices for social media archiving with this project, for better or for worse. If it is not implemented well in the beginning, it has the potential to set the bar too low (in both the technical and the public eye) for future endeavours seeking to capture online content.
In any case, this is a very exciting development to round off my library education. Two more days!
UPDATED Apr 15:
- ReadWriteWeb has some more good questions. Among them: “Will the archive include friend/follower connection data? Will it be usable for commercial purposes? Will there be a Web interface for searching it, and will that change the face of Twitter search for good? Is there any way that the much larger archive of Facebook data could be submitted to the same body for analysis of the same kind?” The answer to some of these is already known: no commercial use, there will [sounds like] be little web interface for searching–instead they will present a curated set for public use, while the entire archive will remain for serious research only.
- To address the problem of search, Google Replay was announced yesterday as well. This is Google’s attempt to capture what SearchEngineBLog calls a “vox populi” view of historical events. You can essentially search Google’s index of tweets easily for a specific date or range and keywords to get a sense of what was said about topics such as health care reform. With Twitter handling a reported 19-billion searches a month on their junky index, it’s about time we got another option. Google Replay, just like in their real-tme results display, resolves those shortened links, but I don’t know whether or not the full URL is saved within the index or if it is resolved on the fly. My guess is the latter.
What I want and have always wanted was a way to search for specific tweets by specific users. Sometimes I can recall a fuzzy thing like, “I know @somebody tweeted something about “Topic A” like a month ago.” With Google Replay, we’re getting closer, but it’s not perfect, yet. It does effectively use Twitter handles as a search term, for example: “iphone @danhooker” brings up some tweets (but not all) that I have sent or that were RTd by me. I hope it will get better. Google has that habit, so I fully expect–and pray–this will be a workable option for meaningful Twitter search in the future.
Twitter has just made a number of pretty big announcements in the past two days. First, they announced a potential “huge” overhaul of their web UI. Then yesterday, they release Twitter for Blackberry AND they announced that they have acquired Atebits, the little company that makes Tweetie, a popular Mac and iPhone Twitter client and are going to turn it into Twitter for iPhone.
What does this all mean? I don’t see the business model here yet, but they are clearly working on something. Twitter for iPhone (aka Tweetie) is moving from a $2.99 app to become free, so they are not monetizing the app purchase so far. One thing that Tweetie for Mac and other clients have done is put ads in the stream in order to get a little bit of revenue that way. Is that something Twitter is hiding up their sleeve? We don’t know now, and until we do, I guess all we can do is be happy. (Or dismayed at the proliferation of mobile phone “apps” instead of standards-based mobile web sites). The attitude of one Twitter funder is expressed this way:
Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product. It is the kind of work General Computer was doing in Cambridge in the early 80s. Some of the most popular third party services on Twitter are like that. Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.
With the launch of Twitter for iPhone and Blackberry it seems that some of those services are getting built in as we speak. One thing that dismays me a little bit is that there are no rumours about Twitter Search being improved, or the indexing and archiving processes getting any better. Maybe this is the librarian in me rearing its ugly head (or the subject of another blog post), but we need an effective and non-maddening way to get to old tweets. I guess I’ll just hang my hat on that one, and go back to clicking that “more” button.