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How many answers would you prefer ?

“We find users prefer one answer.” This was the comment of Google’s Behshad Behzadi when presenting Google’s new Ultimate Assistant. In case you don’t already know, Google’s Ultimate Assistant will answer your questions, whether you key them in or (in Google’s opinion the most likely) you speak to the device. Most of Behzadi's presentation was based around his smartphone, not using the desktop at all. What kind of questions?

Some hypotheses about hypothes.is

My first response when looking at hypothes.is was uncertainty. I've seen quite a bit of publicity, lots of mentions in discussion forums about hypothes.is, but it wasn’t very clear to me on looking at the website just what was proposed. “Annotate with anyone, anywhere” doesn’t really explain very much to me. I have visions of researchers sitting in a circle and annotating together – not very likely.  

 

Books versus journals

 

"Users’ expectations are different for these two. When you search books you expect an answer; when you search journal articles, a scholar expects a list of things to read. A book represents late-stage work, not the early-stage work of journal articles."

 

Thus Anurag Acharya, one of the founders of Google Scholar, on different kinds of reading, at the ALPSP Annual Conference in October 2015 (a presentation helpfully summarised by John Sacks in a Scholarly Kitchen post).

 

“You can easily see the difference between these two modalities. Do a search in Google for “San Francisco weather” and the answer pops up: the current temperature and conditions, and the forecast. But for the “weather scholar” there is also a list of sites below the forecast that you can go to if you want to study the topic by reading web pages about San Francisco weather.”

Why people prefer print to online TV listings

It is commonplace nowadays to predict the inexorable decline of print as it is steadly replaced by online information. Without wishing to be a luddite, I an intrigued when there are examples of print surviving and even prospering in the face of digital competition, especially when dealing with the display of information in a typical situation where users are seeking an answer. A recent Financial Times article pointed out that TV listings guides are not losing circulation – which is not what many commentators predicted. One common argument is that TV print magazines sell to an ageing audience who prefer print to online; but in fact, TV listing guides comprise three of the top five UK magazine circulations, with the top spot held by TV Choice – a print magazine that has increased its circulation by 63% since 2000, the very period when you might expect its circulation to be falling. What is it that people find so compelling about print TV guides?

Anurag Acharya on the future of academic search

Anurag Acharya, one of the founders of Google Scholar, gave the keynote address at the recent ALPSP Annual Conference. His wide-ranging overview of the effect of full-text searching on academic content raised many good points, but one that struck me as perhaps the most intriguing was his call for more abstracts of scholarly content. This is a remarkably different to current feeling within many academic publishers, many of whom were betting some years ago that the published collection of abstracts was doomed, to be replaced inexorably by searching of the full text. Given that he argued that the electronic table of contents alerts for journals are obsolete, why did he argue for the continued existence of abstracts?

Amazon and the failure of metadata

Despite(or perhaps because of) being the world's biggest online bookstore, Amazon is a nightmare to use when searching for well-known books. The problem of finding a book on Amazon that exists in several versions has been very succinctly stated by Jim O'Donnell on a recent library listserv ("The Book-buying morass"), describes his problems trying to locate an adequate copy of Joyce's Ulysses for his library.

 

Faceted v hierarchical taxonomies - why all the fuss?

You might think that there need be no war over creating a taxonomy. When should you use a hierarchical classification, and when a set of facets? You might think it hardly worth bothering over. Yet some thesaurus experts fight to defend hierarchical taxonomies; you feel that if there were a pecking order of taxonomies (a nice idea, that), then hierarchical taxonomies would be ranked highest. If you don't believe me, try reading a recent post from Access Innovations, Down the Rabbit Hole.

How difficult is text analytics?

A recent ISKO meeting ("Taming the News Beast", 1 April, London) presented the current state of the art for text analytics relating to news publishing. Although the presentations were excellent, and the organisations represented were leading edge, I found the day valuable not for what was described in the presentations, but for some issies that were revealed during the talks. Perhaps text analytics isn't so advanced as some people might think.

Content modelling - new bottles, old wine?

Content modelling is on everyone’s lips these days, yet it’s a term that seems not to have existed just a few years ago. Is it some entirely new concept? As usual, a quick look on the Web reveals several definitions, some of which concur, and most of which differ in emphasis.

So, for Cleve Gibbon, a content model is a representation of the types of content and their inter-relationships. For example, a car dealership may have content types for vehicle, dealer and manufacturer. This, of course, is where you start when modelling a relational database.

Digital humanities: more than just text mining

A recent book by Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis, outlines an approach to digital humanities based on what is usually referred to as text mining. I can't help feeling that the "macroanalysis" approach, which is very similar to that of Franco Moretti's "distant reading" (from his book of the same title), looks at only one aspect of digital humanites, which seems to get all the attention while another important aspect is ignored.

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