Archive for July, 2009

This is not transparency

A key factor in establishing authority on the internet is, as David Weinberger convincingly argued, transparency:

What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

I agree with much most of it, and perhaps the point can be further illustrated by a quick example. If you take a look at the Wikipedia article on the epistemological sense of, well, Transparency, the contrast between then and now will be clear:

WikipediaTransparency
As you can see, there’s an explanation and a reference to an article by professor Paul Boghossian. The reference is the interesting part, because in academia this is perfectly sufficient for convincing readers that the material can be trusted. At least, it leaves you with an idea of what to do when you get to the library.

But the internet isn’t like the research library at all. Here, everybody could have made the claim that a certain Paul Boghossian said so and so about transparency, but, since links to resources supporting it (e.g. Wikipedias article on Paul Boghossian, for one) are extremly few, the article isn’t transparent and doesn’t meet Wikipedia’s requirements for verifiability, let alone follow conventions of the internet media.

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Transparency is not the new objectivity, but comprehensiveness just might be

In a terrific post, Transparency is the new objectivity, David Weinberger argues that the hyperlink nature of the internet is reshaping our notions of authority. With everybody suddenly a potential author, the old claim to objectivity seems more and more trite and outworn:

Objectivity used to be presented as a stopping point for belief: If the source is objective and well-informed, you have sufficient reason to believe. The objectivity of the reporter is a stopping point for reader’s inquiry. That was part of high-end newspapers’ claimed value: You can’t believe what you read in a slanted tabloid, but our news is objective, so your inquiry can come to rest here. Credentialing systems had the same basic rhythm: You can stop your quest once you come to a credentialed authority who says, “I got this. You can believe it.” End of story.

Instead we demand transparency; to be able to “see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position.”

Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

I think that this kind of “hyper-transparency” -where citing a book isn’t enough, but where a link has to point to the actual resource- may be an essential feature of the internet medium; but whereas it certainly is a necessary condition for establishing reliability, it’s hardly sufficient. After all, what leads to reliability is not the number of hyperlinks to the author’s sources, but trust in the fact that the relevant aspects of the matter have been adequately dealt with.

So, instead of objectivity, I’d suggest ‘comprehensiveness’ as a condition for reliability. And it’s a sufficient one too, because on the internet comprehensiveness seems more than ever to subsume transparency.

From Topic Maps to MediaWiki – Quick and Dirty

Recently, I needed to make some fairly large bodies of XML available for editing by a group of people. In this case the data was stored in the Topic Maps format (XTM), and –as long as I was the only one editing the files– this had been working just fine.

But with more people about to join in, it was clear that editing the files in a simple text editor wasn’t such a good idea. So, to avoid the risk of ending up with different versions (and people endlessly complaining about editing XML), I decided to turn the whole thing into a wiki.

Now, MediaWiki has the Special:Export tool for migrating wikis (‘transwikiing’). It exports pages  in a simple XML format, so that you can import it to another wiki. This way you’re able to create a wiki simply by emulating the MediaWiki XML export format.

How to

If you want to try it, the MediaWiki output has to look a little something like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<mediawiki xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
  xmlns="http://www.mediawiki.org/xml/export-0.3/"
  xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.mediawiki.org/xml/export-0.3/
  http://www.mediawiki.org/xml/export-0.3.xsd"
  version="0.3" xml:lang="da">
<page>
 <title>Google</title>
 <id>1</id>
 <revision>
  <id>1</id>
  <timestamp/>
  <contributor>
   <username>yourUserName</username>
   <id>1</id>
   </contributor>
   <text xml:space="preserve">
   <!-- Wikitext goes here -->
   ==Link==
   [http://www.google.com]

   </text>
  </revision>
</page>
<page>
 <title>Microsoft</title>
 <id>2</id>
 ...
</page>
</mediawiki>

If your data is XTM, your starting point might be something like this made-up Topic Map with names and links of three companies:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE topicMap SYSTEM "xtm1.dtd">
<topicMap id="companies-tm.xtm"
  xmlns="http://www.topicmaps.org/xtm/1.0/"
  xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">
 <topic id="001">
  <baseName>
   <baseNameString>Google</baseNameString>
  </baseName>
  <occurrence>
   <resourceRef xlink:href="http://www.google.com"/>
  </occurrence>
 </topic>
 <topic id="002">
  <baseName>
   <baseNameString>Microsoft</baseNameString>
  </baseName>
  <occurrence>
   <resourceRef xlink:href="http://www.microsoft.com"/>
  </occurrence>
 </topic>
 <topic id="003">
  <baseName>
   <baseNameString>Oracle<baseNameString>
  </baseName>
  <occurrence>
   <resourceRef xlink:href="http://www.oracle.com"/>
  </occurrence>
</topic>
</topicMap>

In this case the following XSLT stylesheet will do the job:

<xsl:stylesheet xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform"
   xmlns:tm="http://www.topicmaps.org xtm/1.0/"
   xmlns:tmlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"
   exclude-result-prefixes="tm tmlink" version="2.0">
 <xsl:output method="xml" encoding="utf-8" indent="yes"/>
 <xsl:template match="/">
  <xsl:apply-templates select="tm:topicMap"/>
 </xsl:template>
 <xsl:template match="tm:topicMap">
  <mediawiki xmlns="http://www.mediawiki.org/xml/export-0.3/"
  xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
  xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.mediawiki.org/xml/export-0.3/
  http://www.mediawiki.org/xml/export-0.3.xsd" version="0.3" xml:lang="da">
   <xsl:apply-templates select="tm:topic"/>
 </mediawiki>
</xsl:template>
<xsl:template match="tm:topic">
<page>
 <title>
  <xsl:apply-templates select="tm:baseName/tm:baseNameString"/>
 </title>
 <id><!--To give each page a unique number, use the xsl:number instruction--><xsl:number/></id>
 <revision>
  <id>1</id>
  <timestamp/>
  <contributor>
   <username>yourUserName</username>
   <id>2</id>
  </contributor>
  <!--Since whitespace is crucial to the layout of your wikipage,
you should add the xml:space attribute and set the value to 'preserve'-->
  <text xml:space="preserve">
  <!--Now start building your wikipage -->

==Links==
<xsl:value-of select="tm:occurrence"/>

</text>
</revision>
</page>
</xsl:template>
</xsl:stylesheet>

Therefore:

  • Make sure that your wiki is installed, AND that you have admin rights
  • Create a stylesheet, somewhat like the one provided above
  • Run the stylesheet on your XML file, for instance from your command line with saxon:
    $ saxon topics.xtm topicMaps2Mediawiki.xsl > mediawikiTopics.xml
  • Go to the Special:Import page on your wiki
  • Browse for the file, and
  • Upload! Do remember, however, that the filesize maximum defaults to around 1.4 MB. To change it, you need to go to php.ini and simply change the parameters for maxuploadsize=.

After uploading the file, you’ll receive a list of links to the pages, you just made.