World Views Are Not Data Inconsistencies

I’m at Wikimania 2013, listening in on the WikiData session. WikiData is the Wikimedia Foundation’s attempt to go beyond prose in Wikipedia pages and provide a reference data source. An obvious problem is that any such data source needs an underlying model of the world, and that sometimes it is not only hard to gain consensus on that model, sometimes it is impossible. Basically, different world-views are simply incompatible. When asked about this fundamental problem, the audience was told that such inconsistencies are handled using multi-valued properties. Ignoring for a second, that world-views cannot be reduced to individual properties, my major point here is that world-views are not inconsistencies in the data. Different world-views are real and justified, and there will never be only one world view. The moment we all agree on one world-view, we have become the borg.

Update: Daniel Kinzler corrected me that this must be a misunderstanding: WikiData can handle multiple world views well by way of multi-valued properties.

Learning Across Open Collaboration Perspectives

I’m at WikiSym + OpenSym 2013 and happy to notice that some of the hoped-for magic is happening: A cross-polination of insights and ideas across the different disciplinary perspectives on open collaboration.

Specifically, I found that open source has developed insights of value to open access, open data, Wikipedia, etc. that have arrived only now or not yet in these communities. Two examples are non-discriminatory licenses and higher quality through openness.

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On the Technology Behind the Wikipedia Sexism Debate on “American Women Novelists”

The English Wikipedia is currently embroiled in a debate on sexism (local copy), because of classifying female American novelists as “American Women Novelists” while leaving male American novelists in the more general category “American Novelists”, suggesting a subordinate role of female novelists. I find this debate regrettable for the apparent sexism but also interesting for the technology underlying such changes, which I would like to focus on here.

With technology, I mean bureaucratic practices, conceptual modeling of the world and Wikipedia content, and software tools to support changes to those models.

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Product Management and I Know Who You Are (Price Discrimination on the Web)

During a trip to New Zealand I found this wool store near Taihape, on the road between Taupo and Wellington. I bought a couple of pieces and was so happy that I went to their website to buy some more, which also turned out to be a pleasant experience. However, when I returned yet again, a few days ago, they had changed the website: I was now being quoted in Euros, my native currency, and not in New Zealand dollars any longer.

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Looking Back on One Year of Public Policy Consulting

2012 was the year when I first did some serious public policy consulting. I found it quite informative to see how politicians work and what the impact of lobbyists is.

I’m a professor of computer science at a German technical university. I also have an M.B.A. from Stanford. I consult on open source, software development, and the software industry. I’m also a civil servant of the state of Bavaria in Germany. Thus, I try to maintain a policy-neutral stance, consulting on mechanism more than on policy. The German people elect politicians, politicians choose policy, and I help politicians choose and define mechanisms that will turn those policies into reality.

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Software Architecture is a (Poor) Metaphor

At FAU, we are now holding our so-named “software architecture” seminar for the second time. It is important to realize (for students as well as the general public) that “software architecture” is a metaphor (or, maybe more precisely, an analogy). Architecture is a discipline several thousand years old, while software architecture is only as old as software engineering, probably younger, if you make Shaw and Garlan’s book the official birth date of software architecture, at least in academia.

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The One Publisher to Boycott @ReedElsevierHQ

If there is one for-profit publisher to boycott, it is Elsevier. Here is the proof. My university, the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg, just published a list of the most expensive journals it is subscribed to. 19 out of 20 are Elsevier journals (page in German). My university’s library is in a negotiation stale-mate with Elsevier, which is not budging on the price of these journals. This is for research papers delivered to Elsevier for free, reviewed and edited for free, all by the scientific community.

I ask you not to submit your research work to Elsevier journals. I ask you not even to cite papers from Elsevier journals unless you absolutely have to. Please. In the name of science, scientific freedom, and equal access for all to research publications.

Thank you for fighting the good fight!


Cargo Cult Public Investments?

Richard Feynman, in an enjoyable-to-read article [1], explains what he calls the cargo cult:

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land.

The cargo cult people confused correlation with causation. They thought that creating one condition (runways, controller) would lead to the desired effect (planes with lots of good stuff). It is a common fallacy to confuse correlation with causation, that is, the coinciding of two events (correlation) with a cause and effect relationship between them (causation).

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Short Position Paper on Open Source (in German)

Positionspapier zu “Open Source” für die EIDG Projektgruppe Interoperabilität, Standards, Open Source

Prof. Dr. Dirk Riehle, M.B.A. / Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Open Source ist eine disruptive Innovation in der Softwareindustrie. Sie hat zu neuen Geschäftsmodellen geführt, mit denen Softwareunternehmen schneller und kostengünstiger bessere Software entwickeln und damit etablierte Spieler aushebeln können. Für die wenigen großen deutschen Softwarehersteller (SAP, Software AG), stellt dies erst einmal ein Problem dar, sofern sie nicht angemessen reagieren (was bisher nur zum Teil geschah). Für die deutsche Softwarebranche insgesamt ist dies aber eine positive Entwicklung, da sie neue Chancen eröffnet und den Stärken unserer Industrie und Kultur entgegenkommt.

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Publishers, E-Books, and DRM

2012-02-18: Updated the post with translations from the original letter.

I’m an Addison-Wesley author and just received a letter from Pearson, the owner of Addison-Wesley, informing me about their thoughts and steps towards e-books and the digital age. The letter is written as an open letter with no apparent secrets, so I’m making it available here for anyone interested to read and to comment on it.

In general, I have sympathies with companies trying to sustain their revenue streams. I do expect them, however, to understand that change is inevitable and to flexibly react to and to lead that change for their customers’ sake and not just their shareholders’ sake. As an author, I’m naturally in a similar or at least related situation.

The PDF is marked up with numbers. The following list relates to what the (German) letter says on the respective issues:

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