Friday, June 26, 2009

Why the Times took 8 days to Announce its Linked Data Announcement

It took 8 full days for the New York Times to make the same announcement on its "Open" blog that it made last week at the Semantic Technology Conference. Being that it's Friday afternoon, I present here my purely hypothetical speculations on what took so long, based on reading of tea leaves and semantic hyperparsing of the subtle, almost hidden differences between today's text and a transcription of the announcement of last Wednesday.
  1. A pitched battle between entrenched factions within the New York Times has waged over the past week, pitting a radical cabal of openists versus the incumbent "we've always done it that way" faction. The openists slipped the announcement of the announcement into their blog while the traditionalists were occupied with the battle over the type size of the headline for the Michael Jackson story today.
  2. The TimesOpen team missed last week's deadline for the "Sunday Styles" Announcements section.
  3. Normally, announcements like these take two weeks to process, but the business section was starting to get worried that USAToday was going to scoop them with a front pager on Monday.
  4. The written announcement was held up because a patent lawyer feared that the admission that the Thesaurus was "almost 100 years" old could hurt the Times' efforts to obtain a patent on the semantic web.
  5. The announcement was actually made last Thursday, but the printf() command in the Blog's subtitles crashed some key RSS syndication agents.
  6. The fact checker was on vacation.
If you have ever worked in an organization of even moderate size, you know that the real reason is almost certainly banal and boring.

On a more serious note, I think it's important to understand how organizations (not just the New York Times) adapt their internal processes to enable semantic technology in general. Over the past 15 years, the necessity to produce a web site has required many organizations to overhaul many of their internal processes, resulting in new efficiencies and capabilities that go well beyond the production of a website. At last weeks Semantic Technology Conference, there were a number of presentations that solved problem X using semantic technologies, raising immediate questions about what was so wrong with solving problem X the conventional way. Implicit in the presentations was an assumption that by approaching problems using semantic techniques, one could achieve a level of interoperability and software reuse that is not being achieved with current approaches. That's a sales pitch that's been made for many other technologies. What is certainly true is that many problems that are causing pain these days can only be solved by reengineering of corporate processes; maybe semantic technologies will be a catalyst for this re-engineering, at least in the publishing industry.

A very thoughful review of last weeks conference has been posted by Kurt Cagle. I leave you with this quote from Kurt:
There comes a point in most programmers careers where they make a startling realization. Computer programming has nothing to do with mathematics, and everything to do, ultimately, with language. It’s a sobering thought.
A reassuring thought as well.


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