Why Bare URLs are a problem

A Bare URL. What’s that you may ask?

A naked Uniform Resource Locator, running rampant on the Web? Exposed for all to see?
I discovered the term ‘bare URL’ today while I was sourcing some information from Wikipedia for a blog post I haven’t written yet. The article I was looking at had the following as a header in the References list at the end of the article;

This article uses bare URLs in its references. Please use proper citations containing each referenced work’s title, author, date, and source, so that the article remains verifiable in the future.

Despite staff constantly reinforcing the message with students that they need to construct proper bibliographies, I still see plenty of kids creating them with just the bare url and no other detail about the site they sourced their information from. I think Wikipedia have provided me with some terminology and explanations I can use with the students that will help them understand the importance of a citation using full details.

Link rot (or linkrot) is an informal term for the process by which, either on individual websites or the Internet in general, increasing numbers of links point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable. The phrase also describes the effects of failing to update out-of-date web pages that clutter search engine results. A link that doesn’t work anymore is called a broken link, dead link or dangling link.

It’s this kind of explanation that I find helpful to use with students when trying to explain the necessity behind doing things that they they find no relevance for  – example in point, proper citation details in bibliographies. If you can provide a reasonable explanation for doing something, I find kids are more likely to do it without constant questioning.

Maybe you’ve known the terms ‘bare url‘ and  ‘link rot‘ for some time, but they’re new to me and I’ve been a pretty active web user over the past few years. (and I’m a Teacher-Librarian and probably should have been up with this terminology some time ago!) I use Wikipedia fairly regularly, and am usually pretty impressed with the quality of the articles and the citation details that enable you to track where the Wikipedians have sourced their data. I’m also impressed with the standards I’ve noticed being applied to pages where there is some dispute as to the validity of the information on the page. Recently I was looking up information about Sharia Law, and came across this on the Wikipedia page for Sharia;

This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.

I’d recommend taking a read of the ‘About page‘ of Wikipedia and familiarising yourself with some details about how the site works. There’s no doubt our students are using Wikipedia so we should be informing them about the workings of the site, both the positives and negatives, and some of the controls that exist to try and ensure that the information is authentic and credible.

In the meantime, I’m in command of some knowledge that will help me help students to understand the importance of accurate and detailed citations of the sources they use.  In other words, why a bare URL is a no no if you want to avoid the perils of link rot!

School’s out Friday

You have to watch this.

This is a TED Talk from Jonathon Zittrain, a social theorist who proposes in his talk that the world is not becoming less friendly. In fact, we are seeing the opposite, and this is demonstrated through the way people have made use of the internet . The way we readily share and distribute information, the way we act as nodes in a network, the way we  support others through this medium means that we are seeing morality and humanity come to the fore in our interactions with one another.

He uses some great examples. Wikipedia gets a mention. Jonathon states that we are always 45 minutes away from chaos on Wikipedia with spambots trying to embed ads and people trying to deliberately mess with pages. What saves Wikipedia are the Wikipedians; the thin geeky line who ensure it remains useable for the rest of us.  He refers to the Star Wars kid and the page on Wikipedia devoted to that ongoing episode. Wikipedians debated whether or not they should include the young boy’s name on the page and ultimately decided not to. This was due to the fact that the boy in question suffered psychologically from the exposure that video drew to him. Here is the information on the page indicating to contributors the conditions for any additions;

This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous or harmful. (January 2009)

This will be a great video to use in media literacy classes. In fact, any class where you are discussing the impact of new media on our lives.

Have a great weekend. My pick for the Grand Final here in Melbourne tomorrow. St.Kilda all the way!!

Death to Encarta – Wikipedia 2.7m vs Encarta 42,000

Microsoft Encarta
Image via Wikipedia

Microsoft have announced the demise of Encarta which will be effective from 31st October 2009. The company  has said this on a FAQ page they have set up explaining the decision;

“Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

Yes they do.

 I only have to look at the bibliographies produced by students at my school to see that Wikipedia has taken over as the encyclopedia reference source our students go to first. With 2.7 million entries vs 42,000 in Encarta it’s not hard to see why. We try and impress upon our students the need to cross check information but we certainly don’t dissuade them from using it. 

I saw the power of Wikipedia unfold when the American airbus crash landed in the Hudson River. As the incident unfolded the Wikipedia page started taking shape. At that point in time, this method of participatory media was the best source of information about what was happening.  

We have recently made the decision at my school to unsubscribe from Encyclopedia Brittanica. We are retaining our subscription to World Book, but despite our best efforts, find it difficult to get our students to use it as their first port of call. Subscription databases are expensive and from an economic standpoint you have to look at usage vs cost. I’m waiting for the day when these subscription database services wake up and realise that they would be better served offering their services for free. They could move to accepting advertising on their sites to generate income to sustain their costs.    

Thanks to Phil Bradley and Stephen Abrams for alerting me to this in their posts. 

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The Alexandrine Dilemma – Mark Pesce’s message for Librarians.

I’ve just finished reading Mark Pesce‘s latest post, The Alexandrine Dilemma, his keynote for the New Librarians Symposium that he delivered on Friday. As I was reading I was nodding my head in agreement. In it, he identifies the issues facing the library profession. How do we adapt to a changing landscape when information will be online and not available in print form and how do we make this vast repository of information accessible and manageable to the population, many of whom are going to be overwhelmed.

Mark discusses the growth of Wikipedia and the future for paid subscription encylopedias like Brittanica. I’ve been saying something similar in my school environment as we analyse useage and question the need for expensive databases.

Watch carefully: over the next decade we’ll see the somewhat drawn out death of Britannica as it becomes ever less relevant in a Wikipedia-dominated landscape.

I couldn’t agree more. I wonder if it will even take a decade.

He provides us with the focus we need to adopt for the world that is evolving;

All of which puts you in a key position for the transformation already underway. You get to be the “life coaches” for our digital lifestyle, because, as these digital artifacts start to weigh us down (like Jacob Marley’s lockboxes), you will provide the guidance that will free us from these weights. Now that we’ve got it, it’s up to you to tell us how we find it. Now that we’ve captured it, it’s up to you to tell us how we index it.

He goes on to discuss how we respond to a world where information is located on the web but needs to be ordered in some way to make it accessible.

Without a common, public taxonomy (a cataloging system), tagging systems will not scale into universality. That universality has value, because it allows us to extend our searches, our view, and our capability.

This taxonomy is the part that I am struggling with right now. How do we tag websites with a common system that makes them accessible to all. The subject heading system that accompanied the Dewey Decimal System of operation is not flexible enough to meet the needs of a population that will be used to the tagging system of folksonimies operational in Delicious and Flickr and various other applications.

So how do we do this? I don’t know just yet.  Right now I’m wondering what we as a library are going to do? How do we introduce a  tagging system into the systems that our libraries run with and are these organisations that we pay to support our collections even thinking about this yet? I hope so.  

If you are a Teacher-Librarian and even if you’re not, you should visit Mark’s blog and read this post. There is much more in it than what I’ve drawn on here. Lots to contemplate.     

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Wikipedia’s citation advice and help.

Wes Fryer sent out a link to his blog over the weekend highlighting ‘cite this page’ in the left sidebar of Wikipedia titled toolbox. He’s never seen it and I have to admit that I’d never taken note of it either. Maybe it’s been there for awhile or maybe it’s new. Regardless, it’s useful for the students you teach.

Whether you like Wikipedia or not, you’d be foolish to not have recognised that your students are using it as a source of information. My 12 yr old daughter completed an assignment over the weekend and three of her reference sources were from Wikipedia. I see it in the bibliographies of many of my students.  Wes’ post led me to the cite this article link to check it out and see if it could help my daughter with her bibliography. It could.  

When you click on the link you are taken to a page with some useful advice that you can use when you teach students about Wikipedia as a reference source. Very responsible information from the Wikipedia team;

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and I won’t from now on because I’ll be pointing students to this information. Below this information comes this;

How cool is that! My students are going to love this. Some might say that it reinforces the cut and paste attitude of some students, but I see nothing wrong with it. It is a laborious process putting together a bibliographic record, especially for a website.  What’s important is that our students know that a bibliography is essential and that it should follow a required format – if they are able to cut and paste it in more power to them I say.

Wish this was around when I was studying. Honestly, it must be so different being a student today.  I can remember having to hole myself up in the State Library of Victoria’s Reading Room for over a week because it was the only place where I could access a resource I needed. Somehow, I don’t think that would be necessary today with the wealth of resources available via the Web. Today’s challenge for students is sifting through the vast array of resources to find quality information. Maybe Wikipedia is a quality resource, maybe it’s not. At least they are providing apt advice and assisting the students of today.

WikiTaxi – offline access to Wikipedia

Now here’s something that could prove useful. WikiTaxi provides you with free offline access to Wikipedia. Here’s what it can do according to their front page;

WikiTaxi enables you to read, search, and browse Wikipedia offline. No Internet connection is needed, all pages are stored in a WikiTaxi database. Because Wikipedia is constantly growing, WikiTaxi uses compression to make sure that the database stays reasonably small. The huge English Wikipedia easily fits on a 8 GB memory stick.

There are explanations on their homepage about how you go about creating a Wikitaxi database. You have to do a database dump, which means that you are downloading Wikipedia from the internet and importing it into a Wikitaxi database. According to them, this is easy to do and there are instructions on their page explaining how you go about doing this.  I haven’t done it, so I can’t verify if it is easy or not. It sounds like a big call to me, considering the size of Wikipedia, but they claim that compression makes it possible.

Why would this be useful?? Not all of us in this world have seamless Internet access. Some of our students struggle with digital divide issues and can’t get access to what is becoming a very good reference source that is available online. Imagine if we could provide our students in situations like this with 8g memory  sticks (that are becoming cheaper by the day)  that have Wikitaxi available for them to use at home. Cheaper maybe, than subscribing to an online database like World Book or Brittanica that requires an internet connection once again.   

Jay Hathaway from Download Squad pointed me to this new app. Read his post for his take on it.

Debatepedia – a resource worth looking at.

Someone sent the link through for Debatepedia on Twitter last week. I can’t remember who it was and that’s a shame because I would like to give them credit for alerting me to this resource. Debatepedia is like Wikipedia – a wiki based resource for debate topics. This is what is written on their main page:

Debatepedia is a wiki encyclopedia of pro and con arguments and quotations in important public debates from around the world. It is considered “the Wikipedia of debate”, helping the world centralize arguments and quotations found in millions of different articles, essays, and books into a single encyclopedia, so that citizens can better understand important public debates and make informed choices. Join this cause and community and become an editor of the site. Your efforts will improve your own thinking and have a major impact on the way thousands of other citizens draw conclusions. Debatepedia is endorsed by the United States’ National Forensic League 

It is an interesting resource and one that I think teachers and students in Secondary schools will find useful. A category browser is listed on the main page and you can explore these to see if a topic has been covered. Some topics have received a lot of attention and have quite a bit of detail in the pros and cons but others require more fleshing out. I looked up Environment and Animal welfare and checked out the page for Kangaroo Culling (obviously a topic Australian in nature and something I could look at objectively). I liked the fact that this appeared at the top of the entry;

Editing tasks you can help with:

  • The “costs” section of this article needs development.
  • More articles against culling should be presented in the pro/con resources section and arguments and quotations should be drawn from them.  

  Nice to see some recognition of areas needing improvement. In terms of information presented in the pros and cons you get a good rundown of the subtopics of the debate question but some of the information is a bit simplistic in terms of explanation. I would have liked to see more links included to allow students to follow these to verify information. Nonetheless, it would be a useful starting point for students to help them gain some understanding of a topic and introduce them to ideas they might choose to research further.

Like Wikipedia, this is a resource that will require explanation for our students. When I discuss Wikipedia with students I explain how the pages are created and ask students to cross reference information with other sources to verify what they have read. This to me is good research practise for any research activity. Some of the facts about Debatepedea are outlined on their main page;

Facts about Debatepedia
  • A wiki just like Wikipedia where anyone can edit and document debates, arguments, evidence, quotes, studies and more.
  • 7,134 articles. Debate pages, argument pages (for supporting evidence in the form of quotes, studies, links…), encyclopedia pages, team pages, and organization pages.
  • Over 450 existing, well-developed pro/con debate articles from IDEA’s famous Debatabase, written by expert debaters and professionals over the past 7 years (now you can edit them).
  • A growing community of 2,207 idebate.org registered users.ain page;

It’s supported by the International Debate Education Association  (another resource I was not aware of!) and there are ample opportunities for people to get involved in helping to create pages. For senior students this could be an interesting exercise in helping them to understand how wikis function and to see how they can become creators of content. I read an article today about a professor from the University of British Columbia who had his students write entries on Wikipedia in the hope that their work would be of such high quality that their article would be granted feature article status on Wikipedia. To me, that represents an authentic learning task and is an idea worth exploring.    

I like Debatepedia and the ideas behind it, just as I like Wikipedia as a resource for our students. Provided our students are educated about how these resources are put together and they cross reference appropriately I see no harm in using them in our classrooms. I find myself using Wikipedia more and more as the quality of the pages improve with time.

Connections everywhere – even at camp!

Thanks to my intrepid OEG guide, here I am at camp being able to write a post. It’s been excrutiatingly hot, we’ve hiked to a camp away from the main site, cooked outdoors (remarkably good chicken pasta!), erected tents, hiked back to base camp, completed a high ropes course and are going to experience canoeing, raft construction and a talent night tomorrow. Kids have been great and all are up to having a go at new things. I have to say, having no internet connection was causing me a bit of angst, but having a chat with our group leader from OEG led to him suggesting that I log on and keep up with what’s happening on the blog. He gets what I’m doing. He’s young and uses this medium to Skype with friends overseas and uses facebook to stay in touch with friends everywhere. His partner is a primary school teacher and is using interactive whiteboards to great effect in her grade 3/4 classroom in country Victoria. 

My learning hasn’t entirely halted while at camp. Any down time (read tent at night with headtorch for light!) has been spent reading Thomas Freidman’s ‘The World is Flat’. Although I’ve read plenty about it, I’ve never actually read the book so I’m forging my way ahead now. The early part reminds me a lot of a documentary I watched quite a few years ago called ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ about computers and the origins of the Internet. It’s quietly affirming to read this book. It’s helping to consolidate thinking I have had for some time that all this blogging and learning about new ways of doing things is essential if we are going to be the people leading our students in the right direction fo the future they are going to encounter. The challenge will continue to be moving those around us forward with the change.

My challenge for tonight is to get some sleep in a tent with a sleeping mat and clothing stuffed into a sleeping bag cover as poor substitute for a pillow. 

For those of you who can’t be bothered with Freidman’s lengthy tome, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach recommended looking a the Wikipedia entry in a keynote speech she delivered last week!