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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I think I found a trump card (update: no, I didn't)

(following on from this post)

I'll certainly be looking into this further.

(update: On further investigation, it doesn't look so good. says:
We are in the process of redesigning our researcher web interface. During this time we regret that we will not be able to process any new researcher requests. Please see if existing tools such as the Wayback Machine can accommodate your needs. Otherwise, check back with us in 3 months for an update.
This seems understandable except for this, on the same page:
This material has been retained for reference and was current information as of late 2002.
That's over 5 years. And in Internet time, that seems like a lifetime. I'll keep investigating.)

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Reminder: Review of Private Copying Exceptions

The Government is conducting a review of the recently introduced format shifting exceptions in the Copyright Act (47J and 110AA). The review is required by the Copyright Amendment Act 2006. The Attorney-General's Department has released an issues paper inviting submissions on the operation of these provisions. More information is available here.

Submissions are due just around the corner (29 February) - so get submitting!

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Copyright Enforcement, UK Style

Earlier in the week SMH reported that the Government is considering forcing ISPs to disconnect users who access pirated material (three strikes and you're out, UK style).

Kim Weatherall has done an excellent overview of the problems with this approach.

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The problem with search engines

There is a problem with search engines at the moment. Not any one in particular - I'm not saying Google has a problem. Google seems to be doing what they do really well. Actually, the problem is not so much something that is being done wrong, but something that is just not being done. Now, if you'll bear with me for a moment...

The very basics of web search

Web search engines, like Google, Yahoo, Live, etc., are made up of a few technologies:
None of these is trivial. I'm no expert, but I suggest indexing is the easiest. Performing searches well is what made Google so successful, where previous search engines had been treating the search step more trivially.

But what I'm interested in here is web crawling. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that online commons quantification doesn't require indexing or performing searches. But bear with me - I think it's more than that.

A bit more about the web crawler

There are lots of tricky technical issues about how to do the best crawl - to cover as many pages as possible, to have the most relevant pages possible, to maintain the latest version of the pages. But I'm not worried about this now. I'm just talking about the fundamental problem of downloading web pages for later use.

Anyone who is reading this and hasn't thought about the insides of search engines before is probably wondering at the sheer amount of downloading of web pages required, and storing them. And you should be.

They're all downloading the same data

So a single search engine basically has to download the whole web? Well, some certainly have to try. Google, Yahoo and Live are trying. I don't know how many others are trying, and many of them may not be publicly using their data so we may not see them. There clearly are more at least than I've ever heard of - take a look at Wikipedia's robots.txt file:

My point is why does everyone have to download the same data? Why isn't there some open crawler somewhere that's doing it all for everyone, and then presenting that data through some simple interface? I have a personal belief that when someone says 'should', you should* be critical in listening to them. I'm not saying here that Google should give away their data - it would have to be worth $millions to them. I'm not saying anyone else should be giving away all their data. But I am saying that there should be someone doing this, from an economic point of view - everyone is downloading the same data, and there's a cost to doing that, and the cost would be smaller if they could get together and share their data.

Here's what I'd like to see specifically:
If you know somewhere this is happening, let me know, because I can't find it. I think the Wayback Machine is the closest to an open access Web cache, and is the closest I've found to generalised access to the Wayback Machine. I'll read more about it, and let you know if it comes up trumps.

* I know.

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Monday, February 18, 2008


Creative Commons has data!

As you aren't aware*, Creative Commons has some data on the quantification of Creative Commons licence usage (collected using search engine queries). It's great that they are a) collecting this data, and b) sharing it freely.

If you look around, you can probably find some graphs based on this data, and that's probably interesting in itself. Tomorrow I'll see about dusting off my Perl skills, and hopefully come up with a graph of the growth of Australian CC licence usage. Stay tuned.

* If you knew about this, why didn't you tell me!

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Thursday, February 14, 2008


CC0 - Creative Commons' new solution for the public domain

Creative Commons have come up with a better way for people to mark works as copyright-free, or part of the public domain. It's called CC0 (CC Zero). The page for using it is here:

There are two options here. The first is a waiver, where you can "waive all copyrights and related or neighboring interests that you have over a work". The second is an assertion, where you can "assert that a work is free of copyright as a matter of fact, for example, because the work is old enough to be in the public domain, or because the work is in a class not protected by copyright such as U.S. government works."

It's pretty neat. I've thought the idea of asserting a work's copyright status, as a matter of fact, was a good idea, and not just limited to the public domain, but also for other classes of usage rights.

Okay, so that's basically the CC0 story. I've tried it out with a trivial web page I think I would otherwise have copyright in - the result is at the bottom of this post. But I must say I'm slightly disappointed in the lack of embedded metadata. Where's the RDF? As I've talked about before, when you do things with RDF, you allow sufficiently cool search engines to understand your new technology (or licence) simply by seeing it, without first having to be told about it.

Here's my example waiver:


To the extent possible under law,
Ben Bildstein
has waived all copyright, moral rights, database rights, and any other rights that might be asserted over Sensei's Library: Bildstein/Votes.

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