Creating a global brain

“Google? That’s old school. Intelligent new Web 3.0 applications will revolutionize the way we interact with the world’s data.”
The Globe & Mail, May 1, 2008

Today’s Globe & Mail offers an intriguing look at “the next generation of intelligent web applications . . . that bring together people to add content, organize information and build connections between different kinds of data. These applications will build on the success of Web 2.0 social technologies and become more intelligent as their user bases grow.” Collective knowledge systems, the semantic web, contextual browsing, and natural language searching characterize Web 3.0 technologies, writes Ken Hunt of the G&M.

These technologies include:

  • Freebase: an open, shared database of the world’s knowledge
  • Twine: allows users to organize and find the connections between different kinds of information
  • AdaptiveBlue: a Firefox plug-in that allegedly recognizes the main subject discussed on a page.
  • ClearForest: another Firefox plug-in. This one scours a page for every noun mentioned and organizes them into categories.
  • Powerset: a natural-language search engine.
  • TrueKnowledge: a search engine that seeks to answer a question outright rather than simply returning a list of search results.

You can read the full article here.


Choosing the most approriate information display

You have carried out your research, you’ve amassed your data, and you’re ready to share your data sets with colleagues, students or the world. Now, are you really going trot out that tired old pie chart once again? Is that going to help your audience make comparisons, see relationships and patterns, and understand your material? Why not identify the information display most suited to your purpose? Christian Behrens, a Masters student at Potsdam University’s Information Design program, has developed this handy interactive reference for doing just that (follow the link then click Pattern Search).

Just fill in the principles, goals, classes and dimensions you require…

and voila! Options!

Click to enlarge: the detail is important.

Christian even provides examples, definitions, and best practices for each of the dozens of information display styles in his elegant site.

Perhaps the best feature of Christian’s site is the pattern search because it forces the user to think hard about the purpose of the data.

Neither Christian’s site nor Christian himself will help you create the information graphic, however. If translating data into useful, clear graphics is not your thing, give Many a spin. At Many Eyes, you upload your data (from an Excel spreadsheet, for example) to the Many Eyes server, select a visualization style, and your information graphic is made for you. You even get a url and forum unique to your graphic.

Teaching wikis, blogs, RSS, and social bookmarking

I want to pass on a great resource for instructors who need to explain wikis, blogs, RSS, Google Docs, social bookmarking and other such tools to their students. Common Craft have created some of the most effective, to-the-point, and entertaining instructional videos I’ve ever seen; many of the topics they address in their unique, short videos fall squarely under the ed tech category:

All of these tools are easy to use but, admittedly, can be hard to describe. Common Craft completely demystifies them. Have a look:

Keeping on top of your library materials

Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to log into your library account to see if your materials are coming due (or past due)? I’ve been using a great little application called Library Books that links to my library’s catalogue and downloads the list of books I have checked out. This means I never have to log into the library system to check on the status of my materials: an unobtrusive little icon up in the menu bar notifies me. (In this image, I have three library books checked out. To see the titles, authors and due dates, I just click on the icon, and a little window appears, showing me all this info. When a book is nearly due, the little black star turns red.)


Library Books supports tons of libraries around the world. Unfortunately, it’s for Mac only. Pity. If you know of a PC variant, please let me know.

I am always deeply impressed by things that just work. Harold Chu’s Library Books is one of those things.

Pecha kucha and the end of death-by-PowerPoint

While it is probably too much to hope that pecha kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) will revolutionize the way slideware is used in the classroom, instructors and students should know that pecha kucha is great for keeping slideware presentations focused and the audience’s interest up — arguably two of the biggest challenges facing PowerPoint presenters.


Like haiku or the sonnet, pecha kucha imposes a strict form on the content. In this case the medium is the slideware presentation. Presenters must show twenty slides — no more, no less — and show each slide for twenty seconds; again, no more, no less. This permits you a mere six minutes and forty seconds to deliver your presentation.


The 20 x 20 format is not meant to restrict so much as to force you to be creative and to stay focused on what’s really important. There is no time for digressions. The pace is quick. The presenters I have seen tend not to read from their slides, thus eliminating redundancy. They say what they have to say then move on the next slide, which is always only seconds away. The audience, aware of the format, anticipates the next slide change, and is never left wondering, “when will this end?” Discussion should come afterwards to allow the presenter to flow uninterrupted. When you’re done, podcast it. Blog it.


Preventing death-by-PowerPoint is only one of pecha kucha’s advantages. The concise and brief format also means you can also rethink your class time. What to do with the leftover time? This is a nice problem to have. Perhaps the best reason to try giving a pecha kucha presentation yourself is you will have to rework — and rethink — your content.


Pecha kucha nights are now held in major cities all over the globe. Participants can present on any topic. The events are social, informative, fun and frequently licensed. That people voluntarily attend events in which they sit through as many as 15 PowerPoint presentations speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the form. Many of the examples on YouTube are well worth a look.