Thursday, 27 August 2009

Part 1 Lantanalicious: Its nice to share

Shelagh has asked me* to write a guest blog on something that interests me and that will be of interest to you, her readers. So I'm going to attempt a small experiment to do with explicit and implicit data. No wait...bear with me; food data.

In the wake of all of the financial and environment shenanigans of the recent past we have seen the development of a number of innovations in information transparency. I'm particularly interested in the development of XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) which essentially allows for the easy extraction of vital financial information from enormous and dense financial documents by 'tagging' key pieces of data. If you're still awake and interested in reading more; there's a very tidy overview here.

If the XBRL tags were applied universally to all financial documents, say all SEC filings, then anyone would be able to search across all of the annual reports of every listed company for a specific piece of information. So the process of tracking down quite detailed and specific information from thousands of companies buried deep inside complex documents becomes as simple as using Google search.

To think about the potential of this initiative just imagine that Parliamentarians' expenses were all released in a tagged and easily searchable format. In seconds any member of the public could see what was claimed for in any category: search: "Moat". Or more usefully :"Maintenance"

But that's looking at ways of making available information that perhaps the owners are reluctant to share. What about the reverse; when we have information that we think is useful, important and that we actively want to share? What kinds of ways can we use systems such as tagging to make our information more available?

And so my experiment.

Watching Shelagh develop the idea and the reality of Lantana it is obvious that she has done a lot of research. And in particular she has done lots of research around the area of good food: ethically and sustainably produced, organic and locally sourced, fair trade, delicious food. Quite a quagmire to navigate and perhaps one that, now she has invested her time, she can help others to understand.

So in the interests of promoting good food we're going to make that research available in two formats.

1. Explicit: I'm going to ask her for her top 3 things she's learnt about sourcing 'good' food for a small independent cafe, in the hope that the information will be of use to others attempting the same. We'll just put these in a blog post here. But the clever thing we're going to do here is to start a regular format, sort like the Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire. So next time we interview someone form the world of good food for Scrambling Eggs we can use the same format and then start to compare and contrast the answers. Fun, no?

2. Implicit: we're going to share the Lanatana page for useful links. These can be found here.

For those of you who haven't used Delicious its simply an online bookmarking service, but at its most rich and useful, its a directory of what people find interesting (online). The user saves a page they want to retrieve later (yes I know that's bookmarking) but the user can also add a series of tags to make it easier to find the page and to group it with other pages that are similar in some way. Because your bookmarks can be made public, Delicious can show you not just the pages that you have saved and tagged as 'recipes', 'cajun', shrimp', but also all of the other pages that other users have saved with these same tags.

To be continued...

*Leo Ryan works as a digital planner, helping businesses to optimise their use of social media technologies. He is also my big brother.


mathew said...

I would find that incredibly useful ! Thanks a ton.

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