2 Digital objects and terminology

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‘Digital meaning can be self-explaining’

The first discussion was led by Mike Lowndes, Interactive Media Manager at the Natural History Museum who worked from the premise that the Semantic Web should provide a framework, standards and tools for attaching, extending, making available and understand the ‘meaning’ of digital objects.

This sparked a discussion on digital objects, concerned with creating a terminology with which the group could communicate. Paul Shabajee offered up the term, ‘resource’ a term taken from URI or, Uniform Resource Identifier, leading Brian Kelly to recall Tim Bernes-Lee’s suggestion that everything of importance should have a URI, or, potentially more than one. This would mean that a digital object could be considered to be anything that could be uniquely identified by a URI.

Jennifer Trant then re-emphasised Ross Parry’s point that although creating consistent terms of reference that the group understood was important, there is no right answer and it is important that the group did not get caught up in creating an applicable lexicon. Dan Zambonini, however, reminded the group that eventually a code of reference would have to be created and that that would be an important outcome of the Thinktank workshops.

Mia Ridge then illustrated this using her own work at the Museum of London and showing that the word object can have four different meanings as interpreted by four different groups, firstly by the end user of the site, secondly by the curators at the museum, Mia’s own understanding of the term as a computer scientist and finally in xml. Jeremy Ottevanger, PhD student and also Web developer at the Museum of London, brought the group back to thinking of digital objects as resources identifiable by having a URI. An extension of this conversation into the fields of data and metadata then reminded the group that it should treat these issues with caution until they had developed an identity of their own.

Mike Lowndes (NHM) turned the group to look at the Semantic Web as a solution to the problems encountered on the web today, looking at its reliance on Google and the ‘dumb’ nature of hyperlinks (and why not fix it). While single sign-ins was considered not to be a current priority, the issues surrounding Google were debated leading Jon Pratty to suggest that a key outcome of the group could be the creation of trusted structures and metadata that could feed into search engines, prompting Ross Parry to ask several members of the group to illustrate the Semantic Web.

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