Is Zoetrope the next-gen Internet Archive?

Although the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a great research tool, its utility is hampered but a lack of basic search mechanisms.  One can search by URL and archived links, but basic Google-style boolean searching isn’t available.  The Archive once offered a beta boolean search tool, but it never worked and it was later withdrawn.

However, a new application may significantly expand our ability to data-mine archived webdata. Reports give a sneak peek at Zoetrope, an application being developed by researchers at Adobe and the University of Washington.  As put by the researchers:

The Web is ephemeral. Pages change frequently, and it is nearly impossible to find data or follow a link after the underlying page evolves. We present Zoetrope, a system that enables interaction with the historical Web (pages, links, and embedded data) that would otherwise be lost to time. Using a number of novel interactions, the temporal Web can be manipulated, queried, and analyzed from the context of familar [sic] pages. Zoetrope is based on a set of operators for manipulating content streams. We describe these primitives and the associated indexing strategies for handling temporal Web data. They form the basis of Zoetrope and enable our construction of new temporal interactions and visualizations.

The demo video shows how historical webdata could be manipulated and compared, as the authors note, in a variety of “novel” ways.  Even more significantly, researcher Eytan Adar “hopes to eventually incorporate information from the Internet Archive’s nearly 14 years of records.” Such a combination would massively increase the utility of web archives, but would also — as discussed in a paper I’m writing — exacerbate concerns over informational autonomy.

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The research paper can be found here.

Odysseus and tax day

Nature.com reports that several researchers have combined astronomical data with events in Homer’s Odyssey to pinpoint the exact date on which a returning Odysseus executed his wife’s suitors.

Marcelo Magnasco and Constantino Baikouzis identified four astronomical events in the epic poem and calculated dates within 100 years of the fall of Troy that would fit in with the events described around Odysseus’s return home and the ensuing slaughter of men propositioning his wife.

According to the researchers, the date was April 16, 1178 BCE.  That’s also the day after Tax Day, though I’m pretty sure the IRS didn’t exist back then.

(Abstract and paper here; press release here).

What about mail surveillance?

Yesterday’s posting on unconsented cell phone surveillance reminded me of an excellent column that Peter Shane wrote a while back in Jurist where he pointed out that any technical legality of the NSA surveillance program is besides the point.  Shane asked, what if the Post Office created a database with the addresses contained on every piece of mail it handles.  Even if, hypothetically, such a program were legal:

An America in which ordinary citizens have their mail “surveilled” would be a different America from the country in which virtually all of us think we live.  Our freedom would be lost not because a law was broken, but because of the breakdown in respect for the norms of liberty and government self-restraint.

I think much the same could be said of the ends-justifies-the-means thinking of the Northeastern University researchers who got a European cell phone provider to give them individualized location information on 100,000 unknowing customers. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

The electronic leash: whatever happened to trusting your kids?

Verizon Wireless now offers a service that allows parents to track their kids’ movements through cellphones. According to News.com:

Parents can use the service to set up geographic limits and receive text alerts if their children, who also carry phones, go too far from home. The service also lets parents check where their offspring are via a map on their cell phone or computer.

The service — “Chaperone” for location tracking, and “Child Zone” for a boundary-setting add-on — is available for now only on a four-button phone designed for young kids, such as 5-9 year olds. (Who buys a phone for a 5 year old?) But News.com indicates that Verizon Wireless might develop a version of the program for older kids, with more sophisticated phones.

What a great way to train kids for a lifetime of submitting to technological surveillance from authorities. If you really want to be creeped out, go here on the Verizon Wireless site and watch the animated cartoon family whose kids cheerily acquiesce to their parents spying on them.

Whatever happened to trusting kids and letting them make decisions (and letting them learn to live with the consequences)?

And to be clear, I am a parent.

Thanks to Slashdot, where I first read about this.

Facebook: job-hunting, non-invisibility, and the creepiness factor

Note to job applicants: your potential employers aren’t just looking at Google and Yahoo.

Sunday’s New York Times includes a really interesting article by Alan Finder on how some companies now investigate job applicants on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. See For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé.”

The article underscores a simple but important fact: users of social network sites shouldn’t assume that their postings are private. Although names like “MySpace” paint an image of personal spaces, personal doesn’t mean private. It’s not difficult to get into these sites – as the article notes, for some sites such as MySpace, you generally only need to register. For Facebook, to view entries for a particular college, you only need an e-mail address from that college.

That means an awful lot of people can view Facebook entries: alumni with email addresses (which could include potential employers), professors, even campus police. Despite this, at an emotional level, many people assume that their personal websites, blogs, and social network postings are relatively personal spaces that won’t be noticed or invaded by others. These assumptions are wrong in at least two ways.

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