New York Times: OpenData

Jeff Dalton has a great post up about the New York Times‘ recent announcement: the paper has lauched data.nytimes.com.  Currently the service offers 5k named (i.e. people) subject headings from the NYT news vocabulary.  The headings are available as linked open data.  More headings are on the way.

Handwringing (e.g. here, here and here) , maybe deserved, has been in abundance recently in the arena of print journalism.  Finding/maintaining viable business models for high-quality reporting in environments where free information is readily available is a challenge.

I’ve been rooting for NYT in this struggle.  In this respect I’m glad to see their release of data.  Rather than leaning on the obvious and dubious advertising model or walled gardens, this strikes me as a gambit for a novel approach to attacking the problem of the papers’ value.

Can we (i.e. hackers of textual data) repurpose and add value to the excellent information compiled by the Times’ editors?  Is there a viable business model for the Times that could emerge from releasing data, as opposed to closing it?  It’s a creative response to a problem that is full of caricature.  I hope we’ll take up the challenge.


Sergey Brin on Google Books, NYT Op-Ed

Sergey Brin has an op-ed piece in this morning’s New York Times.  In it he writes about the Google books project, evangelizing on behalf of Google’s work in this arena.  It’s a bland article, and I think this is the point of it.  Brin’s conclusion reads:

“I hope [wholesale book] destruction never happens again, but history would suggest otherwise. More important, even if our cultural heritage stays intact in the world’s foremost libraries, it is effectively lost if no one can access it easily. Many companies, libraries and organizations will play a role in saving and making available the works of the 20th century. Together, authors, publishers and Google are taking just one step toward this goal, but it’s an important step. Let’s not miss this opportunity.”

This sounds like something I’d read in a mediocre student essay.  

True, the article is intended to sway the uninitiated, and thus needs to speak generally.  But as I read it, I found myself wondering if the piece’s rhetorical doldrums don’t serve another purpose: appealing to the populist streak in our (American) zeitgeist.

At the risk of generalizing egregiously, many Americans distrust eggheads.  We like a hale-fellow-well-met.  Elitist nerds from the coasts don’t speak to the “real America.”  Is a strategy of pabulum effective in this context?  Assuming Google has editors on staff as well-trained as their engineering, I suspect they’ve banked on a ‘yes’ to that question.