IKE in 3D

I’ve been playing with inductive clustering of digital reference questions. To this point I’ve been visualizing this in 2D, but I have been keeping track of three dimensions.

I’ve discovered a great little development application distributes as part of it’s developer package called Quartz Composer. It uses a visual programming language to directly tap into Apple’s graphics architecture. It’s inputs aren’t too rich, but I managed to get MySQL data dumped into it using RSS. While it seems a bit of a kludge, it works pretty well.

Here’s an animated GIF showing the digital transactions clustering in 3D:

3D Ike

Here is a quick MPEG movie showing how you can fly around the cluster at any point. What you’ll see is a screen capture of me moving around using the keyboard and mouse:

3D Cluster Move

Here’s just a pretty rotating movie of a small subset of the data:


IKE Redux

A while back I posted on a project called IKE (Inductive Knowledge Engine) that uses complexity theory to inductively organize digital reference knowledge bases. I’ve been back at work with it, doing a substantial rewrite of the underlying system. I’ve also spruced up the look of the IKE output (including a cloud view, but that’s for later). I thought I would share the most recent output.


In this figure 200 question/answer pairs from the AskVRD service are shown clustering. This is a very deterministic test run with 1 simple rule applied to all items…get closer to items that share your subject. This deterministic test is used to make sure all the software is working as expected. The next step is to include multiple rules, then dynamic rules (like how popular is this subject), and then finally diverse agent types. Still, I though the picture was pretty enough to share.

In case you want to know what the actual rule involved looks like (in PHP):

foreach ($prime as $p){
foreach ($target as $t){
if ($p[0]==$t[0]){
if (($p[1]==$t[1])AND($p[0]==”category”)){
if ($p[1]!=$t[1]){

Making Digital Reference History…well, at Least Reconstructing It

First the facts, then the plea, then the larger picture.

I’ve put up a website to allow the VRD community to add events, articles, people and other to an interactive timeline (surrounding the VRD conferences…more on that later). It is anonymous and pretty informal. People go to the timeline at http://askeric.syr.edu/VRDTimeline and they can add (or edit) items they feel should be part of the history of virtual reference (at least over the past 7-10 years). You can browse the timeline, and I even put up an RSS feed and a cloud view of the entries.

I need folks to add things they feel should be part of this timeline. I also need folks to vote for items they feel are particularly significant. While the timeline is centered on the VRD conferences, I’m really hoping to build a more comprehensive view. If you wrote an article in virtual reference…add it! Started a service – add it! I’m very interested in the people you feel shaped the past 7-10 years in virtual reference (people seem reluctant to add those). I’d really like this to be a resource of and for the community.

Larger Picture:
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that this has a VRD perspective (particularly the conferences). This is because I’m hoping to use this data as part of the next VRD book from Neal-Schuman. The next book will be more of a continuous narrative, and less proceedings (it will include articles from this year’s conference). The idea is to capture the evolution of digital/virtual reference over the past decade. In the text will be people profiles, important articles, and a good dose of “movement building” activities and descriptions. I’d hope to really reflect the community, and hence the desire to have the VRD community add information and vote.

So please add and vote.

Open Infrastructure for the Greater Good

In the spirit of sharing ideas early (even before they are fully developed), I’m posting a prospectus I put together on building an Open Infrastructure for the Greater Good. Maybe it already exists and I just don’t know about it, that’s why I put them into the public realm for comment. I think it is a good idea, but I’d be interested to see what others think:

Developing an Open Infrastructure for the Greater Good

A Brief Prospectus
R. David Lankes, Syracuse University
[email protected]

Vincent and Didi Frochette lost their son Lukie to a rare form of cancer. In memory of their son they formed a charitable foundation to raise money for the Syracuse Childrenâ??s Hospital. Each year they hold a golfing event and want to put up a website to both advertise the event and recognize sponsors. Both Vincent and Didi had full time jobs, and no technology experience. Imagine if they could go to a place on the web and with three clicks of a mouse and 5 minutes time build a web site. Not a simple 1 page brochure on the web, but a website that allows Vincent to blog about the upcoming event; allowed the couple to upload pictures of the current and past events, allowed them to set up e-mail accounts and listservs for volunteers, and ensured their site conformed to standards for disabilities, usability.

Funding agencies are taking scarce funds from program activities and devoting it to building project websites. While there may be projects where the construction of highly unique web resources is key to the success of a program activity, in many cases funds for web sites lease web server space, hire designers, and train staff in how to build web pages. If the primary purpose of funding organizations is to promote Internet literacy, this makes sense. Otherwise these dollars represent money that could be spent on program objectives.

Continue reading “Open Infrastructure for the Greater Good”

StoryStarters Edging Towards Beta

Cathy has good progress on refining the underlying database code on StoryStarters. We’re hoping to let it out for beta testing very soon (Monday). We’re also meeting on Thursday to talk about how we transform StoryStarters into a targeted digital reference system.

International OpenQA

Sorry for the long time lag. So as we are continuing our StoryStarter (Kathy is working on cleaning up the data structure, and revising the PHP code for a first public beta) we’ve been percolating an interesting idea. Once we’re done with the first beta of StoryStarters, we’ll take that code base an begin transforming it into OpenQA for distribution at VRD (feature requests very welcome).

The interesting idea? Tamal Guha, a visiting Fullbright at the Institute has started work on a multilingual version of StoryStarters. He is currently translating StoryStarters into Hindi! We’ve been kicking around the idea of creating a multi-national project to support the development of a multilingual open source digital reference system. The idea would be to emulate the quality study we did with Chuck McClure and Melissa Gross where we identify the project (developing OpenQA) and then seek sponsors for the project. International organizations could join at various levels (right now we are thinking as a function of size and what how much say in the direction of the project). Join at one level and you get a hold of the software and source. Next level you pay for a language adaptation. Next level you drive the software features (we want chat, etc).

This is still fuzzy, but it seems to resonate with folks here. The end result would be an open source, low cost or free digital reference packaged built for multinationals. It would also focus on building software, not consortia or content, hopefully by-passing legal issues.

StoryStarters Approaches First Beta

We’re in the process of sprucing up the StoryStarters prototype for first beta. Cathy is working on the final database schema.

The plan is once the database schema is in place we finish the StoryStarters beta.

Then we take this code base and re-task it for OpenQA Builder (shh, but we’re working on a release for distribution at this year’s VRD).

Stay tuned.

IKE Animation

If you were scratching your head over that last post about IKE (the Inductive Knowledge Engine) and that clustering, fear not. Here is an animation showing IKE in action. The dots you see scattered about are each Story Starter responses. They have been randomly scattered around a 100 x 100 graph. Each frame of the animation has a dot compare itself to another dot and then move (so one dot eventually compares itself to all other dots), then the step is repeated with the next dot. Each frame represents one full cycle of comparison. In each comparison the dots are getting closer to each other if they come from the same blog, and farther away if they are from different blogs. The clustering is dynamic. Entries from the same blog end up clustered together.
THis example is pretty simplistic as it is based on a single static variable (blog title). However, I wanted to give you an idea how IKE was working.

Story Starters Prototype

Hi all. I’ve put the StoryStarters prototype online to play with. Note it doesn’t play too well with Internet Explorer for Windows. Click here to see a streaming video overview. Or go right to the prototype.

A few notes about the prototype:

We are in the process of implementing the “real” system. Consider it a working model. There are a few things you need to know before you start playing with it:

  • Assume all data will be lost when we put up the real system. You never know…it might still be there, just don’t assume it.
  • There are known bugs using Internet Explorer for Windows. It has been tested on Firefox Mac and Windows and Safari.
  • If you find bugs (and you probably will), let me know at my e-mail. I can’t promise we’ll fix them, as this is just the prototype, but it is still very useful to know.

What I’ve done with My Summer Vacation

It has been a busy month at the Institute with all of us traveling and moving in different directions before the start of the semester. I thought it would be useful to recap some of the recent projects I’ve been working on and where they are headed. Some of this information is just an update to previous posts on my blog, some is new. Sorry if it is repetitive, but it helps me put it all in one place.

My projects have revolved around two threads…credibility and digital reference. There are three major projects here:

Reference Extract: A digital reference search engine
Story Starters: building a blogging community of answers and questions, and
IKE: the Inductive Knowledge Engine

Let me break them down:
Continue reading “What I’ve done with My Summer Vacation”