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Internet Power Tools

 

Written by: John Harnett and Trevor Maynard

 

For knowledge based professions the ability to continue to learn is linked to the accessibiliy of relevant information. The services offered by the internet are continually evolving. It is interesting to look at the services that may play in CPD.

 

Most internet users still treat the web as a read-only medium. However, it was not concieved in that way. The common read only web meme is founded on the concepts of "Search and Browse". Web 2.0, as some have named it, adds "Subscription" to this picture. With Subscription, the user starts to automate the process of information gathering that the internet greatly simplified. Subscription begins to enable staying on top of what's new in areas that are of interest to the user.

 

Given the "small pieces that are loosely coupled" nature of internet services, many are involved in the discussion of the definition of Web2.0. For an overview of Web2.0 more comprehensive than the one I attempt to give here check out this article. It's more comprehensive and a better read than this one, don't worry about the jargon, there are parts that will resonate with you.

 

For the layman there follows a brief introduction to some the internet's newest services to the user.

We talk about Blogging,wiki's,Tagging,and RSS, terms that may seem strange to the uninitiated. But remember the time when you hadn't heard of DVD's,email,Google,Yahoo! and even emoticons ;)

 

Blogging

 

Personal publishing to the internet has taken off because it's become simple and cheap/free. The act of personal web publishing is most commonly called blogging. The right blogs are compelling, informative and written with a voice that we recognise as authentic. They compare favourably with the company brochures transferred to the web or online banking. Early adopters from IT communities took up publishing to the web very quickly. For Actuaries, blogging is a means of having a conversation with their own and other communities. The personal nature of the blog enables discovery of new services and content from a source that is trusted by the subscriber. The way people find out about these services has spread beyond the search model offered by Google. Finding new stuff now includes the "word of mouth" provided by the bloggers.

 

Search services are being developed that add richness to the blogging ecosystem (or blogosphere). In the way that the google search engine provided an index for the static webpage version of the internet, new services are supporting the conversations that are taking place on blogs. What has this to do with CPD? Well blogs are used for many things but one of their functions is to support community learning and collaboration. They are achieving this through some interesting techniques.

 

This chap (again, click on the link to find out who I am talking about) identifies 3 cornerstones of participation in blogging. I would add a zeroth pillar, the link. When you find some content that you think will be of interest to your readers, link to it. When authoring web based content, creating a link is simple. It is realising and measuring the value of the link that has powered [http://www.google.com/!Google.]

 

BlogSearch

Most knowledge workers are aware of the Google search engine. And those that aren't have people that work for them that are dependent on it. The google-ranking of a site, whilst still important, is not the be all and end all of searching. Other offerings, servicing niche markets, are finding their place. The search engine Technorati searches over 19.4 million blogs (as of 14 October) and provides \"a real-time search engine that keeps track of what is going on in the blogosphere — the world of weblogs.\". Not that technorati is the only blog search engine. We're in a period of pre-cambrian natural selection relating to blog search. Google are in the blog search space too.

 

Technorati have just added some nice features to their engine.

 

RSS Feeds

 

An enabling feature of blogs is that they can be subscribed to, not via submission of subscribers email, but through an anonymous mechanism that informs the subscriber of change.

 

So lets say an actuarial expert starts a blog and produces content that makes readers want to find out more and new information. Let's say the blogger produces an ongoing set of thoughts on a Maths toolkit for actuaries. Now occassionally there will be something new that that blogger what's everyone to know about. The heavyweight solution to this is have the user's submit email addresses and for the blogger to manage another mini-spamming industry. The solution that is driving the blogosphere forward is the idea of subscribing to content via a techology called "RSS" (Really Simple Syndication). This is a really only another internet file format. But that file format describes the "state" of a site. It enables anonymous subscription to sources around the internet. And it is already widespread. And simple to deploy. RSS already enables the user to stay on top of their internet sources. Users can subscribe to many different RSS sources through an application called an RSS Aggregator.This program or service shows the user what they have yet to read. In this way it is possible to create your own personalised "newspaper" filled with just the content you are interested in and from the sources you know to be reliable/useful. Website based aggregators are available for all at bloglines.com as mentioned above, Google. Don't forget, this is a wide open market with many choices of client applications to read your RSS feeds.

 

Tagging

 

 

 

Tagging is the latest attempt to categorise web content. It's strengths is based on the scale of the internet and the need to find methods of categorisation of data that are not based on physical characteristics of the medium. Tags are metadata about a tag that describe the content of the data. Tags can be added by the author of a page or by the reader of a page. In aggregate, and on an internet scale, tags assist in the categorisation of web data. here's a link to  a good attempt a beginner's tutorial

 

Tags are something that become easier to understand when used and added to. Actuarial tags are already out there!. These represent channels for finding new data. The first shows how he uses tags within the social bookmarking service del.icio.us. He uses some IT only jargon in there. But if you can just imagine him talking about Maths or Statistics instead of Healthcare, the benefits of operating on an internet scale should be apparent. Make sure you have your speaker or headphones on!

 

 

 

Wikis and Wikipedia - an Example of Radical Trust

 

The online encylopedia "wikipedia" includes many articles relevant to Actuaries. Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia, written collaboratively by people from around the world.. Wikipedia is an example of a wiki. Wiki is Hawaiian for fast. It's a web site you, the reader, can edit. This leads to a coherence and structure that is a useful resource.

 

 

In an 8.5 minute screencast demonstrates the development of a page in Wikipedia. Wiki's are defined here. Regardless of the content, the impressive and affirming thing about wikipedia is than in under 5 years it's got a wealth of coherent content..

 

 

In summary

 

It's useful to remember that all the content in wikipedia can be changed by the reader, read by the user, linked to, tagged, and blogged about. Blogs can be subscribed to by people looking for guidance (aka CPD) in their profession.

 

Staying on top of new information in the topics you are interested is greatly facilitated by RSS Subscription. It's being pushed by mainstreamorganisations

Finding out about new information is aided by technologies such as RSS for subscription. Social bookmarks (tagging) are another means to determining what's out there. Wiki's work because our constructive instincts outnumber our destructive ones. They provide a way to openly collaborate and continue to learn.

 

 

 

 

see http://www.bloglines.com/public/sebastiansuncle for my subscriptions

 

 

The beeb talk about blogs and techorati

Here's a link to an article describing, in fairly esoteric language, the components of Web2.0. It's particularly interesting in that it has a good graphic of Web2.0's features.

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