Health information on wikis

My colleague Rob Pearce has a thought-provoking question about the safety of medical information on Wikipedia:

I’m not having a go at Wikipedia at all – I’m a big fan, but I had a thought about the recent McMaster University and Wikimedia Canada initiative to for health care content creation in the creative commons (holding workshops Oct 4th, 2011 at McMaster  introducing both professors and students to health care content creation in the  creative commons) .

This has come up before when I was working on Open Educational Resources: what is to stop nutters/malcontents – subtly or otherwise – altering medical information that leads to somebody putting their health in jeopardy or pushing one procedure over another, promoting one drug over another, etc.? I dont quite know how to defend this argument yet.

If you Google search for “shark cartilage”, “laetrile therapy” or “copper bracelet” you can see the nutters and profiteers already have their own web sites, which of course you and I are unable to edit.

For that reason I’m very glad Read the rest of this entry »


Web page design from natural language

This is a cute online toy from James Wilkes: it constructs HTML+CSS pages from natural language commands such as “set div leftnav background-color to lightblue”. Not sure what the application would be – enabling paraplegic users?

The dark side of aggregating tags

An info-graphic on Flickr recounts the cautionary tale of the Conservative Party’s experiment in social media. They aggregated the #cashgordon tag, so that messages from Twitter with this tag would appear on their own site. The disaster that resulted was made possible by three technical errors:

  1. They didn’t filter content: anyone could use Twitter and the hashtag to write whatever text they wanted on the Conservative site.
  2. They didn’t filter out markup: users could style the content of messages how they wanted, e.g. 48 point high and they could embed images of their choice (including spoofs of the Conservative poster campaign).
  3. They didn’t filter out Javascript commands: users could insert a command redirecting the whole site to Labour, Rickroll or porn, which they promptly did.

Code-injection is something any developer should consider when building one of these services, and surely most do, but it’s nice to have a period reminder of what can go wrong when you miss out the necessary one or two lines of code.

Secrets of the Google Algorithm

Wired magazine has a feature article which gives about as much detail as outsiders can expect on the core of Google’s business, its search algorithm. I was surprised to see that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was an influence. Hundreds of different pieces of information (or “signals”) are used to rank the results, and some of these are contextual to the user: for example, geographical information is used to prioritise results from near your location.

One of the signals which is increasing in importance is page speed: the time it takes the page to load and render. Hence it’s worth reading up on Google’s performance optimisation tips.

Intute advent calendar blog

This December, Intute is once again running an “Advent Calendar” on its blog, with the theme of user-created content. It started on Tuesday with a post about the independent film Born of Hope, set in Tolkein’s Middle Earth. My own post, “Voluntary work for an obscure educational charity”, discusses contributing academic material to Wikipedia. Paul Meehan’s post today discusses augmenting a human-maintained web catalogue with Google Custom Search Engine. There’s more to come through the month on web2.0/community themes, and as usual the Intute blog has that bit more depth than the rest.

Javascript rises to a whole new level

These don’t work in all browsers yet, and they work faster in Google Chrome than other browsers, but the Chrome Experiments show how far Javascript has come thanks to things like the canvas tag and powerful libraries. Witness a faithful recreation of the Amiga operating system and desktop, including the command line manager; a replication of the MilkDrop music visualisation plugin;  games; 3D effects and a version of cartoon physics.

Designing for Big Data

This 20-minute talk by Jeff Veen, formerly of Google, is worth blogging not just for the reflections on user interaction with data, but a quick look at how far technology has come in the last 25 years. Show it to the non-ancient geeks and tell them what it was like!