Monday, August 06, 2007

Udell on what we don't have: Shared Context

Some points on open access beautifully made by John Udell, timely ripped from the womb of the very engaged Open Access Blog of Peter Suber:

Jon Udell on access to public data

Hugh McGuire, Interview: Jon Udell,, August 5, 2007. Excerpt:

2. what do you think is the most compelling argument for making public data available to citizens?

Well it’s ours, our taxes paid for it, so we should have it. But the compelling reason is that we need more eyeballs, hands, and brains figuring out what’s going on in the world, so that when we debate courses of action we can ground our thinking in the best facts and interpretations....

8. what do you think are the connections between open access to public data and other similar movements - free culture, free software etc?

There’s an arc that runs from free and open-source software, to open data, to Web 2.0-style participation, and now to the collaborative use of software, services, and public data in order to understand and influence public policy.

9. with your crystal ball, where do you think the confluence of these movements will take us in, say, 5 years?

I’m sure it won’t happen that soon, but here’s what I’d like to see. Imagine some local, state, or national debate. The facts and interpretations at issue are rarely attached to URLs, much less to to primary sources of data at those URLs and to interactive visualizations of the data. We spend lots of time arguing about facts and interpretations, but mostly in a vacuum with no real shared context, which is wildly unproductive. If we could establish shared context, maybe we could argue more productively, and get more stuff done more quickly and more sanely.

While the idea of shared context seems to go against the drift of David Weinberger's sense of things in Everything is Miscellaneous, there is, I think, a deep affinity. After all, what Weinberger is talking about is the breakdown not so much of shared contexts as of traditional, factitious, arbitrary contexts imposed by middlemen, media, Aristotle fetishists, etc.

While I don't think Weinberger devotes enough attention to the new middleman, Google,* I think it's pretty sure that the breakdown of the bogus contexts he envisions is part of a reconstruction of a far richer sharedness of things.

Elsewhere in the interview Udell says:
Here’s an argument I don’t buy: That amateur analysts will do more harm than good. I don’t buy it because there will be checks and balances. Those who don’t cite data will be laughed at. Those who do cite data but interpret it incorrectly will be corrected.
A reasonably Weinbergerian sentiment, it seems to me.

*I noticed after writing the above that David addresses this very criticism here.

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Blogger Jon said...

"reconstruction of a far richer sharedness of things ..." is IMO the centra game for / with / by virtue of these new conditions. With luck we will be able to keep on joining and re-joining small pieces as loosely or tightly as we want, and perhaps learn, and create more coherent and useful shared conetxt(s).

... and yes by and large it will be OK, I believe.

I too have a lot of faith in "Those who don't cite data will be laughed at (or asked to cite it, or ignored, etc.) Those who do cite data but interpret it incorrectly (or in one of more than just one possible way) will be corrected (or some value may come from considering different but releavant interpretations).

8/08/2007 11:54 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks Jon - I like the optimism of thinking greater openness will lead to greater responsibility and meticulousness with regard to fact and opinion, but this does tend to run against our current afflictions with media that fail to be honest, open, and responsible.

I'm not sure Udell is not voicing the cart but ignoring the horse. Policies of openness can make possible greater care and consideration of evidence and relevance, but they don't guarantee that we'll be up to snuff.

What is going to educate us to rise to the level of sense he envisions, when so much of the ocean of signs we live in fails to offer any profitable examples?

8/09/2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Thank you, Tom, for a reply that helps me stay sober ;-)

Yes to your points .. I often think that I have too much faith when all about the evidence seems to suggest that faith is less than warranted.

Optimism is a defense, I suppose .. a bulwark against (my potentially) overwhelming cynicism.

8/09/2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

The local altradio has a Moyers talk on. It's optimism with grit and cynicism. Worth a listen.

8/09/2007 11:51 AM  

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