Big-time publishing fun with metadata…

Harper’s Magazine’s website has had a major reworking courtesy of Paul Ford, the mastermind behind Ftrain. A fairly groovy application of XML is outlined in Ford’s announcement:

Harper’s is built upon a Semantic Web framework — albeit a primitive one. I’ve written about what the Semantic Web is, and why it matters before, if you’re curious, so I won’t rehash that here.

Using this framework, Harper’s is divided into two parts: narrative content, like the Features and the Weekly Review, and a taxonomy (or ontology, depending on your preferred term), called Connections.

  1. The taxonomy is a big list of interconnected topics — examples are Dolly the Sheep, Monkeys, and Satan.
  2. The Weekly Review, which is narrative content, is description of the events of the past week, published every Tuesday (see an example).

We cut up the Weekly Review into individual events (6000 of them, going back to the year 2000), and tagged them by date, using XML and a bit of programming. We did the same with the Harper’s Index, except instead of events, we marked things up as “facts.”

Then we added links inside the events and facts to items in the taxonomy. Magic occured: on the Satan page, for instance, is a list of all the events and facts related to Satan, sorted by time. Where do these facts come from? From the Weekly Review and the Index. On the opposite side, as you read the Weekly Review in its narrative form, all of the links in the site’s content take you to timelines. Take a look at a recent Harper’s Index and click around a bit — you’ll see what I mean.

The best way to think about this is as a remix: the taxonomy is an automated remix of the narrative content on the site, except instead of chopping up a ballad to turn it into house music, we’re turning narrative content into an annotated timeline. The content doesn’t change, just the way it’s presented.

Via net.narrative environments.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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4 Responses to Big-time publishing fun with metadata…

  1. Jeff says:

    It’s all good and well that Harpers was built on an XML framework, but the type and graphic design looks awful. Harper’s ugliness takes a lot away from the content. I think web designers need to focus as much on good graphic design as they do on good, usable frameworks.

  2. Brian says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of Ftrain, but this particular layout doesn’t bother me too much… though I prefer the classic lines of the magazine itself.

    Your general point about the need for design focus is one I agree with… I wish there was more emphasis on aesthetics as well. The ugliness of most wiki pages put me off of them for a long time.

  3. Peter says:

    Could you explain a little bit more about how you approached this technology-wise?

  4. Beatrice says:

    To make both ends meet…

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