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Sunday, July 03, 2005

The latest on RSS, search engines, privacy, and more

Information Today, May 2005 v22 i5 p7(5)
(NewsBreak Update)Paula J. Hane Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2005 Information Today, Inc.
Almost daily during the past several weeks, I've stumbled across sites and resources that now offer to deliver information directly to users' desktops via RSS feeds. The Coalition for Networked Information, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Yahoo! Shopping, the state of Missouri, and others now provide this service. Even Information Today, Inc.'s weekly NewsBreaks have been RSS-enabled.
Participants at the Computers in Libraries conference in March heard plenty about RSS. It was discussed in a number of sessions including the (infamous) Looking at Dead and Emerging Technologies session. According to panelist Genie Tyburski, the dead technologies are e-mail, stand-alone software, advanced search interfaces, bar codes, and physical information. What's emerging? Instant messaging, RSS, podcasting, browser access to information, simple search interfaces, RFID, virtual, and mobile information. Given the news crossing my desk, I'd say these picks are definitely on target. By the way, many of the conference presentation links are now available at http://www.infotoday.com/cil2005/Presentations.
RSS for Factiva.com Users
Steve Cohen of Librarystuff.net recently steered readers of his blog to RSS news from Factiva. According to information on the Factiva site, the company is now making standard folders of content, such as its Editor's Choice articles (covering 30 industries), available through RSS feeds. The feeds will show the headline and lead paragraph of each article as a hyperlink. When you click on the link, your RSS reader will open Factiva.com in a browser window and attempt to log in and display the article. Currently, the service only works for Factiva.com content and can't handle content in customers' personal folders. It also does not work with IP validation. An FAQ explains: "When the RSS authentication standard matures, Factiva will be the first to take advantage of it. In the meantime, Factiva will be looking at ways to provide access to our content for the enterprise with our current authentication model." Factiva said it welcomes any feedback and suggestions and would like to hear from enterprise users about their plans for using RSS within their organizations.
A Shower of Search Engine News
Besides the steady stream of RSS news, there was a constant springlike shower of news from the search engines. Yahoo! had one announcement after the other. Yahoo! 360, which launched as an invitation-only beta on March 29, offers users an integrated experience, bringing together communications, content, and community services such as Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! Photos, Yahoo! Local, LAUNCHcast Music, and Yahoo! Groups with new services such as blogs, moblogs (mobile Weblogs that consist of content posted from portable devices), and other sharing tools.
Yahoo! expanded the storage it offers for its free e-mail service from 250 MB to 1 gigabyte. Of course, Google then raised Gmail's storage from 1 gigabyte to 2. The announcement came on April 1, exactly 1 year after the launch of the beta e-mail service. Gmail use is still by invitation only.
Yahoo! also beefed up its desktop search software. The software, licensed from X1 Technologies, Inc., now indexes content from e-mail address books and discussions in Yahoo!'s instant messaging service.
The company also launched Yahoo! Search for Creative Commons beta, a service that provides Internet users with access to the collection of Creative Commons Web content. Content is identified by special license information, indicating that the owners' copyrighted works are available for free through required attribution or noncommercial use. At this point, the service isn't accessible from the main Yahoo! search page.
Marking a bit of a coup, Yahoo! won the Outstanding Search Service category in the 5th Annual Search Engine Watch Awards, breaking Google's 4-year streak. But Google won in several other categories, including Best News Search Engine. Speaking of news, Yahoo! is expected to roll out a new version of Yahoo! News any day.
Amazon's A9 service now has a new capability called OpenSearch that syndicates vertical search. The new technology uses RSS to let content providers create "columns" of search results that can be syndicated. Nearly 100 columns (from an eclectic mix of sources that includes The New York Times, PubMed, The British Library, as well as the best bars in Connecticut to enjoy happy hour) are already available at A9. Like some other search engine initiatives, however, the good stuff may get lost among the masses of results.
Furthering the increasingly popular search engine trend to provide answers, not just links, Google introduced a new question and answer service. Google's Q&A uses open Web resources, not proprietary information or subscription databases, to answer questions. While the service still has bugs and many unanswered questions at this point, Google promises it will evolve as the company works to better understand the structure of information and how facts relate to each other.
Google definitely kicked things up a notch in search visualization when it integrated satellite photos into its mapping applications. When using Google Maps or Google Local, you can now plot driving directions and pinpoint locations on detailed satellite maps, which use the technology that Google acquired when it purchased Keyhole Corp. last year. It's actually very cool--you can switch between the map view with labeled streets to the satellite view to see the buildings and landscape.
Not so cool, in my view, was Google's announcement that it would let consumers upload their home videos, even the raunchy, adult-rated ones. The goal of digitizing the world's content is one thing, but, personal videos? First, everyone can be a publisher, now everyone can be a video producer. Sheesh ...
The Dutch-owned ixquick metasearch engine has some new features, including a re-engineered metasearch algorithm, simpler interface, an international phone directory, and more. ixquick's metasearch technology utilizes its exclusive Star System, which gives each result one star for every search engine that ranked it as one of the 10 best results for a given search. For example, a five-star result at ixquick means that five search engines rated the result top-10 relevant.
There's a new version of the blinkx search engine: blinkx 3.0, which the company called "the world's first fully integrated search tool." With blinkx 3.0, users can view results from their desktop, the Internet, or television set in a single, combined list. The blinkx PC-based application is free to download at http:// www.blinkx.com.
And, stretching further into nontext digital media, Podscope was just announced (and should've launched last month) as the Internet's first spoken-word search engine for audio and video podcasts. Podscope uses technology from TVEyes, a company that has been indexing television and radio broadcasts since 1999. According to the company, Podscope, which makes every word searchable within a podcast, enables the audio indexing of podcast content, which is equally applicable to video blogs and personal videos. TVEyes recently announced a partnership with Yahoo! to provide real-time broadcast search for Yahoo! TV.
More Google Reactions
Reactions to Google's recent digital initiatives continue to ripple over the information world. Officials in France have begun laying the groundwork for a European endeavor similar to the Google Library digitization project. French President Jacques Chirac asked the Bibliotheque Nationale de France to make plans for a digitization program, and he asked several other countries to do the same. While begun as a reaction against Google's supposed Anglo-American bias, projects like these will only benefit users. (There's even been talk of developing a French search engine because of unhappiness with Google's popularity ranking.)
Peter Suber, in a recent SPARC Open Access Newsletter, commented: "This wave of digitization projects could be cooperative instead of competitive, but it's good for research, scholarship, education, digital culture, and OA."
Grass-Roots Media
Support for grass-roots digital media initiatives grew with the recent "alpha" launch of Ourmedia.org. The new site provides free storage and bandwidth for registered users to post files of all kinds-video, audio, photos, text, or software. Media files are hosted by the Internet Archive (IA); pages/data are hosted at Bryght. Members also get a free blog. The co-founders of Ourmedia.org are blogger J. D. Lasica and Marc Canter, founder of Macromedia. (What's not clear is whether there's a practical limit to the number and size of files stored.)
The Internet Archive made the news again with the announcement that it would host a new "universal repository" that will accept e-prints from any scholar in any discipline. According to Suber, who is working with the IA staff to set up the repository: "Not only will it host new content for scholars with no other place to deposit their work, but it will offer to preserve all the other OAI-compliant repositories in the world."
The Internet Archive is not only valuable for its Wayback Machine, which lets people visit archived versions of Web sites, but also for the range of digital resources it now collects, including collections of text, audio, moving images, and software. The Live Music Archive, for example, is an online public library of live recordings available for royalty-free, no-cost public downloads. There are also films of math lectures from the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute as well as episodes of Computer Chronicles, which was a popular television program on personal technology that was broadcast from 1983 to 2002. And, don't forget about IA's Million Book Project, which is scanning books and indexing the full text with OCR technology. (Google isn't the only one with digitization projects.) The goal is to create a free-to-read, searchable digital library the approximate size of the combined libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. It's definitely worth your time to browse the Internet Archive.
Privacy Breached
Reports of personal data loss have escalated in recent weeks. Reuters reported that hackers attacked computer servers of California State University--Chico and may have gained access to the personal information--including Social Security numbers--of 59,000 people affiliated with the school. Boston College admitted a similar incident and warned approximately 120,000 alumni that their identities could be compromised as a result of a computer breach. And, a thief recently walked into a University of California-Berkeley office and swiped a computer laptop containing personal information of nearly 100,000 alumni, graduate students, and past applicants.
As a follow-up to the previously reported ChoicePoint fiasco, an article in Wired reported that, even though a federal law requires consumer-reporting agencies to either verify the data they give employers or notify job applicants about negative reports, ChoicePoint appears to be doing neither in some cases. More recently, ChoicePoint representatives said the company is developing a system that would allow people to review their personal information that is sold to ChoicePoint customers.
At press time, Reed Elsevier Group, PLC said that up to 10 times as many people as originally thought may have had their profiles stolen from LexisNexis' Seisint database, putting the total at 310,000 people.
Meanwhile, in other privacy-related news, we haven't heard the end of debates over the USA PATRIOT Act. The current administration urges for the renewal of all provisions of the controversial anti-terror legislation. A Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings on potential changes, and librarians, civil libertarians, and others continue to voice concerns.
For the latest industry news, check http://www.infotoday.com every Monday morning. An easier option is to sign up for our free weekly e-mail newsletter, NewsLink, which provides abstracts and links to the stories we post.
Links
http://fce.factiva.com/ rss/marketing.htm
http://search.yahoo.com/cc
http://searchenginewatch.com/ awards/article.php/3494141
http://www.infotoday.com/ newsbreaks/nb050328-2.shtml [NewsBreak on Amazon's OpenSearch]
http://www.infotoday.com/ newsbreaks/nb050411-1.shtml [NewsBreak on Google Q&A]
http://www.ixquick.com
http://www.podscope.com
http://www.tveyes.com
http://www.archive.org
http://archives.eprints.org/ eprints.php
Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief and editor of News Breaks. Her e-mail address is phane@infotoday.com.

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