Rebirth of a web site

2011/02/21 23:21:48
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I just spent time giving birth to an Old Dominion University Computer Science web site at http://www.cs.odu.edu/~sjone.  It’s just one page now, with some course information, and some links back to this site.  I know, not very interesting.  Under the covers, though, is a testbed for the Semantic Web.  So far, I’ve got Dublin Core and Friend of a Friend (FOAF) implemented for that one page.  In the future, I intend to bring the lessons learned there over to this site.  Eventually, the two will begin to look more alike in both style and function.

Perhaps Web Science and Digital Libraries is really my thing. I spend an awful lot of time blogging about my own web sites.

Validation of the Creative Commons Markup

I also discovered that the Creative Commons license markup wouldn’t validate with the W3C validator. This was because my page was initially specified as XHTML, but the Creative Commons license link contains additional RDF metadata used by search engines and other software. A blog post suggested just removing the metadata, but I didn’t want to do that because I knew that metadata had been placed there by Creative Commons for a reason. That metadata is part of the RDFa standard, which is a way of embedding metadata into normal HTML and XHMTL.

It turns out that once you put that Creative Commons markup into your XHTML, it becomes XHTML + RDFa, which is a completely different document type. I felt good that I’d figured this out, and changed the page to use this instead.

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML+RDFa 1.0//EN" "http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/DTD/xhtml-rdfa-1.dtd">

Now it validates fine as XHTML + RDFa.

Nifty floating image trick

You may wonder how I got the image to stay on the left and in the same spot, even though the visitor can scroll the page.  It is based on the following CSS, shamelessly stolen from the W3C themselves.

body {
    background-image: url(http://www.cs.odu.edu/~sjone/images/oducs-lpx.png);
    background-repeat: no-repeat;
    background-position: top left;
    background-attachment: fixed;
   /* more CSS here */
}

That’s it. It’s quite elegant, and I spent more time making the image with Inkscape than I did actually writing the CSS to tell it to stay put.

Useful Links

I discovered the following useful sources for bringing that site to life:

Copyright © is not enough

2011/01/25 23:25:03
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Tonight’s Digital Libraries class covered Copyrights, Patents, Copylefts, and other intellectual property concepts. This is especially important in the digital libraries world because the laws surrounding intellectual property make preservation challenging.

An important take-away from tonight’s lecture was that merely placing “© 2010 Shawn M. Jones” at the bottom of my pages is not merely enough to protect it legally.  A notice must appear somewhere on the site for its content.  Several years ago, Lawrence Lessig created the Creative Commons license to allow those on the Internet to share their work while retaining their copyright to said work.

To provide a license for this blog, I’ve filled out the form on the site and followed the directions on the web site for linking to the chosen license, like so:

Creative Commons License
the Little Projects of Shawn M. Jones by Shawn M. Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

We’re quite lucky to live in an era where folks are willing to do the legal legwork necessary to make this happen. I’m happy that it’s even held up in court.

Finding a kernel on the web

2011/01/20 00:02:35
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One of the great agonies of a human being is searching for that little kernel of knowledge that actually answers their question. Within a traditional library, one would ask the reference librarian to lead them to the documents that, hopefully, answer their question. On the web, we use search engines as if they were reference librarians, and search engines are a poor substitute, but they are all we have for now.

Within a traditional library, the information about a book (metadata) is stored within some system (e.g. MARC), and this system is linked to some library classification (e.g. Dewey Decimal) for finding it on the shelf at a particular library. A whole profession exists for making this happen. Book metadata is chosen by professionals so that said book can be delivered to the person looking for the information within. These professionals (catalogers) are the gatekeepers of the whole system. Without them, the books might as well be strewn about.

On the web, there is no central authority. Every site is responsible for its own content. Search engines like Google use complex algorithms to try to find something that answers your question. Web site owners must take it upon themselves to not only ensure that their site stays consistent and correct, but also that it has metadata for these search engines to use to find them. Though Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is largely used to ensure potential customers find businesses, it is also important in helping users find the information they are looking for.

Now that I am aware of the importance of such metadata, I have installed a plugin for WordPress on my blog that generates Dublin Core metadata elements. These metadata elements are supposed to help others find articles like this one via search engines.

This plugin takes the existing metadata I was already supplying for each post, and places it in the header of the HTML at the top of the page, like so:

<meta name="DC.publisher" content="the Little Projects of Shawn M. Jones" />
<meta name="DC.publisher.url" content="http://www.littleprojects.org/blog/" />
<meta name="DC.title" content="Finding a kernel on the web" />
<meta name="DC.identifier" content="http://www.littleprojects.org/blog/?p=188" />
<meta name="DC.date.created" scheme="WTN8601" content="2011-01-19T23:52:11" />
<meta name="DC.created" scheme="WTN8601" content="2011-01-19T23:52:11" />
<meta name="DC.date" scheme="WTN8601" content="2011-01-19T23:52:11" />
<meta name="DC.creator.name" content="Shawn M. Jones" />
<meta name="DC.creator" content="Shawn M. Jones" />
<meta name="DC.rights.rightsHolder" content="Shawn M. Jones" />
<meta name="DC.language" content="en-US" scheme="rfc1766" />

I don’t really expect the search engine rankings to go up, but the real win here is that I’m helping others index my site in case I’ve actually provided exactly the information someone is looking for.  In a way, this is a form of SEO, but it gets back to that cataloging spirit originally found in the library.  There is no common list of tags or subjects for the web that we all must adhere to, but little steps like this bring us closer to finding the information we are looking for.

Take a look at the source for some of your favorite news sites, you’ll probably see the same metadata in their headers too.

For futher reading:

Metadata: The Foundations of Resource Description

This site is a blog

2011/01/10 04:33:20
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I’ve resolved that what I’m really looking for in a web site is a blog.

I wanted the site to do the following things:

  • allow me to publish blog posts, which I was already doing with WordPress
  • allow me to publish the occasional article, which I seem to have little time or inclination to do, so I ditched Drupal
  • allow me to publish photos, for which I’m currently using Picasa Web Albums

I’m maintaining my own site on my own server for the following reasons:

  • Blogger was too slow to load on many of the networks I experimented with
  • WordPress has more features than Blogger.
  • WordPress is open source, and I can learn about this nifty piece of software by running it myself.
  • I had already moved my mail services off of Gmail and onto my rented server, and wanted to consolidate my web services there as well.
  • I love messing with a Linux server in my spare time.

We’ll see how far this Intel Celeron 2.53 GHz machine with 1GB of RAM will get me.

Yet another site change

2010/02/18 00:21:16
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I’ve been spending the last few days updating this site to something more useful, or so I hope.

I have a desire to share what little I learn from day to day, yet I don’t have an interest in maintaining a lively conversation about it.  I like writing articles, but not blog posts so much.  I also needed a place to point folks to when they asked for a resume or anything about me.

For years, I maintained multiple web sites, littleprojects.com and littleprojects.org.  The org site was for my personal endeavors and the com site was to be more professional.

Now Facebook takes care of my personal needs and I can focus on just keeping this site up to date with articles and the occasional blog post.  My hope is to have a place I can point to for my writing should prospective employers, colleagues, and others want to see what I can do.