Self-referencing ourselves into oblivion

Jim McGee: Bootstrapping weblogs at the Kellogg School of Management. Ah, so that’s how they’re doing it at Kellogg, my option 2. Jim teaches a ten-week course in Knowledge Management at Kellogg in which the class members create weblogs. “Mildly subversive,” indeed, but I think it’s a good way to get future business leaders thinking about sharing knowledge and about the power of the flow of information.

Jim also says he’s been subscribed to my RSS feed ([Macro error: Can’t call the script because the name “rsslink” hasn’t been defined.]
) for a while. Always great to meet a reader. I didn’t find Jim the conventional way (my referer logs) — he’s the first hit at Google for “kellogg weblog”. By way of comparison I’m somewhere around the 19th hit for “sloan weblog”—not that I blog about Sloan that often.

Getting Sloan on Radio

John Robb, UserLand’s President and COO, graciously pointed to me after I gave him a little grief yesterday for pointing at a Kellogg student’s weblog. He also raised an interesting question: what would it take to get MIT Sloan on Radio? (That’s Radio UserLand, not AM or FM, for those of you playing along at home.)

Good question, John. There are three ways to do it that I can see, each with its own merits and disadvantages:

  1. Centralized push. Have Sloan’s IT services folks set up a Radio Community Server and put Radio on every first year MBA’s laptop.
  2. In the classroom. Have a few professors start using Radio as a knowledge sharing mechanism and put part of the class participation grade for their students in how well they use their weblogs.
  3. From the grassroots. Have a few bleeding edge folks get their sleeves up and evangelize it.

Approach #1 is how our last “knowledge sharing” system, a custom version of the open source ACS from the late lamented ArsDigita, was implemented. People are using it for calendaring, surveys, and file storage. That’s about it. There is a little bulletin board traffic, but for the most part outside of course websites and maybe the shared calendar it’s not part of the Sloan academic culture of idea sharing.

Approach #2 might have some legs. There are some classes, including the introduction to IT class, a few of the marketing classes, and a class being taught on virtual communities, with which Radio is a natural fit. You might get the professors on board pretty quickly, with the students doing exercises in Radio for a semester.

Approach #3 is where we are right now. By virtue of my getting out and talking about my weblog, I’ve got George and Adam on board. But that’s three, with no faculty.

I’d love to know how many people at Kellogg are active bloggers, and how they’re using Radio—for personal weblogging, academic reflection, industry commentary, or some combination of the three.

Too nice a day

I’m starting to appreciate the Boston spring. It’s about sixty-something degrees, not a cloud in the sky. I’m sitting on the patio outside the Marriott, which is lit up with MIT’s wireless network, blogging and checking email and generally having fun. Unfortunately it’s a bit windy and my fingers are also freezing, so I might have to go inside after all, but it’s nice to get a bit of sunshine.

TBL/Semantic Web: From the Horse’s Mouth

I just got out of Tim Berners-Lee’s discussion of the Semantic Web at the 2002 MIT eBusiness Conference. As it turns out, I think Dave’s description of what the semantic web concept means is closer to describing it than mine, but mine is a complementary vision. Fundamentally, the semantic web is about giving meaning to raw data present on the web in other formats, such as plain old HTML pages, so that the meaning of a particular piece of data and its relationship to other data on the Web can be understood by machines. The key pieces of the vision are:

  • A common understanding that data in the semantic web can be expressed in a subject, verb, object framework
  • A common way of identifying what a given piece of data is through applying a unique URI through a framework called RDF
  • A set of ontologies that relate different semantic concepts together.

Dave’s example is bang on for the basic concept – “TBL” (subject), “MIT eBusiness Conference” (object), “will be presenting a keynote at” (verb). I think it’s complementary to what Google does. Google knows that something is authoritative because of the link relationships it has—I link to and am linked to by a lot of sites and therefore my articles float higher in the system than a page that isn’t linked to by or doesn’t itself link to anything else.

But that only goes so far. If I’m searching for information on a common noun like jaguar, Google doesn’t know a priori whether the information that it returns to me is about Jaguar the car, jaguar the animal, Jaguar the Atari gaming device, etc. The search engine Manjara at Yale can take a stab at separating the links by clustering the pages based on commonalities in the words on each page. But the semantic web concept gives the author power to identify what he’s writing about by unequivocally expressing the linkage to a semantic definition through RDF.

What about my example? It extends the idea of all this data being ontologically parseable and imagines that data being passed about by Web Services. So if you can express through a URI linkage what you mean by the title of a weblog entry, or the price of a contract line item, then the system receiving the web service call can interpret your request in a more reliable way without having to meet system by system and agree on your taxonomy beforehand.

Alas, I didn’t get to talk to TBL before he was hustled out. Maybe I can get a chance to open a dialogue with him before I graduate and see if I’m on track.