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NISO response to the National Science Board on Data Policies

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Earlier this month, the National Science Board (NSB) announced it was seeking comments from the public on the report from the Committee on Strategy and Budget Task Force on Data Policies, Digital Research Data Sharing and Management.  That report was distributed last December.

NISO has prepared a response on behalf of the standards development community, which was submitted today.  Here are some excerpts of that response:

The National Science Board’s Task Force on Data Policies comes at a watershed moment in the development of an infrastructure for data-intensive science based on sharing and interoperability. The NISO community applauds this effort and the focused attention on the key issues related to a robust and interoperable data environment.

….

NISO has particular interest in Key Challenge #4: The reproducibility of scientific findings requires that digital research data be searchable and accessible through documented protocols or method. Beyond its historical involvement in these issues, NISO is actively engaged in forward-looking projects related to data sharing and data citation. NISO, in partnership with the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS), is nearing completion of a best practice for how publishers should manage supplemental materials that are associated with the journal articles they publish. With a funding award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and in partnership with the Open Archives Initiative, NISO began work on ResourceSync, a web protocol to ensure large-scale data repositories can be replicated and maintained in real-time. We’ve also had conversations with the DataCite group for formal standardization of their IsCitedBy specification. [Todd Carpenter serves] as a member of the ICSTI/CODATA task force working on best practices for data citation and NISO is looking forward to promoting and formalizing any recommendations and best practices that derive from that work.

….

We strongly urge that any further development of data-related best practices and standards take place in neutral forums that engage all relevant stakeholder communities, such as the one that NISO provides for consensus development. As noted in Appendix F of the report, Summary Notes on Expert Panel Discussion on Data Policies, standards for descriptive and structural metadata and persistent identifiers for all people and entities in the data exchange process are critical components of an interoperable data environment. We cannot agree more with this statement from the report of the meeting: “Funding agencies should work with stakeholders and research communities to support the establishment of standards that enable sharing and interoperability internationally.”

There is great potential for NSF to expand its leadership role in fostering well-managed use of data. This would include not only support of the repository community, but also in the promulgation of community standards. In partnership with NISO and using the consensus development process, NSF could support the creation of new standards and best practices. More importantly, NSF could, through its funding role, provide advocacy for—even require—how researchers should use these broad community standards and best practices in the dissemination of their research. We note that there are more than a dozen references to standards in Digital Research Data Sharing and Management report, so we are sure that this point is not falling on unreceptive ears.

The engagement of all relevant stakeholders in the establishment of data sharing and management practices as described in Recommendation #1 is critical in today’s environment—at both the national and international levels. While the promotion of individual communities of practice is a laudable one, it does present problems and issues when it comes to systems interoperability. A robust system of data exchange by default must be one grounded on a core set of interoperable data. More often than not, computational systems will need to act with a minimum of human intervention to be truly successful. This approach will not require a single schema or metadata system for all data, which is of course impossible and unworkable. However, a focus on and inclusion of core data elements and common base-level data standards is critical. For example, geo-location, bibliographic information, identifiers and discoverability data are all things that could be easily standardized and concentrated on to foster interoperability. Domain-specific information can be layered over this base of common and consistent data in a way that maintains domain specificity without sacrificing interoperability.

One of the key problems that the NSB and the NSF should work to avoid is the proliferation of standards for the exchange of information. This is often the butt of standards jokes, but in reality it does create significant problems. It is commonplace for communities of interest to review the landscape of existing standards and determine that existing standards do not meet their exact needs. That community then proceeds to duplicate seventy to eighty percent of existing work to create a specification that is custom-tailored to their specific needs, but which is not necessarily compatible with existing standards. In this way, standards proliferate and complicate interoperability. The NSB is uniquely positioned to help avoid this unnecessary and complicating tendency. Through its funding role, the NSB should promote the application, use and, if necessary, extension of existing standards. It should aggressively work to avoid the creation of new standards, when relevant standards already exist.

The sharing of data on a massive scale is a relatively new activity and we should be cautious in declaring fixed standards at this state. It is conceivable that standards may not exist to address some of the issues in data sharing or that it may be too early in the lifecycle for standards to be promulgated in the community. In that case, lower-level consensus forms, such as consensus-developed best practices or white papers could advance the state of the art without inhibiting the advancement of new services, activities or trends. The NSB should promote these forms of activity as well, when standards development is not yet an appropriate path.

We hope that this response is well received by the NSB in the formulation of its data policies. There is terrific potential in creating an interoperable data environment, but that system will need to be based on standards and rely on best practices within the community to be fully functional. The scientific community, in partnership with the library, publisher and systems provider communities can all collectively help to create this important infrastructure. Its potential can only be helped by consensus agreement on base-level technologies. If development continues in a domain-centered path, the goal of interoperability and delivering on its potential will only be delayed and quite possibly harmed.

The full text PDF of the entire response is available here.  Comments from the public related to this document are welcome.

American National Standard Safety Requirements for Dry Martinis ANSI K100.1-1974

Friday, April 1st, 2011

We all realize the critical role that standards play in everyday life, even if we don’t recognize their application in our busy schedules.  This is true even of the most obvious activities.  I expect that most bartenders are unaware of the American National Standard Safety Requirements for Dry Martinis ANSI K100.1-1974.  While this standard may be in either stable or continuous maintenance state, because of it apparently unchanged state since 1974.  This standard was a revision of the original and groundbreaking 1966 standard, which is still available from unauthorized archive sources.   The standard committee, led by Gilbey Gordon Booth, was convened under the authority of the Water Conservation League, a now defunct industry non-profit representing organizations such as The American Society of Bar Supporters, the Gin Council of America, the Standard Stirrers of the United States, the Olive Institute, and the Vermouth Council.

The Scope of the standard is described as:

“This Standard on dry martini cocktails includes nomenclature, size, ingredients, proportions, mixing methods, and test procedures. It applies to martini cocktails prepared for personal consumption, for distribution in bars, restaurants, and other places of public gathering, and to cocktails served in the home or offices of business and social acquaintance.”

As per NISO’s policy of providing standards of significant value to the community, we are providing a link to the copy of the standard free of charge.  Authorized copies of the standard are still available for delivery from the IHS Standard Store free of charge.

Did the iPad start a publishing revolution yesterday or not? Wait and see

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

For Apple and Steve Jobs, yesterday might have been a game-changing day for Apple and -by extension- the entire media world.  I’m not sure the world shook in the way that he had hoped, but its possible that in the future we may look back on yesterday as a bigger day than how we view it was today.  Such is often the nature of revolutions.

Since very few people have had an iPad in their hands yet, the talk of its pros and cons seems to me premature.  As with previous devices, it will be more and also less than the hype of its first debut.  As people begin to use it, as developers push the boundries of its capabilities, it will mature and improve.  It was wholly unrealistic to presume that Apple (or any other company launching a new product) would make the technological or political leaps necessary to create the “supreme device” that will replace all existing technology.

A lot of people have made points about the iPad missing this or that technology.  Apple will almost certainly release an iPad 2.0 sometime in early 2011, dropping its price points and adding functionality — both as the underlying (interestingly not OLED display, which has been falsely reported) display technology becomes cheaper and based on, in some small ways, customer demand for functionality.  In this regards, think of copy & paste on the iPhone. As for some software gaps, such as lack of Adobe Flash support, while some have made the point that this is because of the iPhone OS,  I think these are driven by a desire to lock people into apps and inhibit browser-based free, or possibly paid, web-based services. It is in Apple’s interest to lock people into proprietary software/apps, which are written specifically for their device.

From a standards perspective, the iPad could be both a good or bad thing.  Again it is too soon to tell, but very initial reactions are worrying.  That the iPad will support .epub as a file format is good on its face.  However, it is very likely that the iPad will contain Apple-specific DRM, since there isn’t at the moment an industry standard.  Getting content into (and out of, for those who want to move away from the iPad) that DRM will be the crucial question.  As far as I am aware, Apple has been publicly silent on that question.  I expect that some of the publishes who agreed to content deals likely discussed this in detail, but those conversatins were likely limited to a very small group of executives all bound by harsh NDAs.  (I note that McGraw Hill was allegedly dropped from the announcement because of comments made by its CEO Tuesday on MSNBC.)

Also on the standards front, there was an excellent interview last night on the NPR news show Marketplace, during which author Josh Bernoff, also of Forrester Research, made the point that the internet was splintering into a variety of device specific applications.  The move toward applications in the past two years might reasonably be cause for concern.  It definitely adds to cost for content producers to create multiple contents for multiple platforms. I can’t say that I completely agree with his assessment, however.  The fact that there are open platforms available in the market place and that competition is forcing developers to open up their systems, notably the Google Android phone OS as well as the introduction of the Amazon Kindle Development Kit last week.

What is most interesting about this new product is its potential.  No one could have predicted three years ago the breadth and depth of the applications that have been developed for the iPhone.  Unleashing that creativity on the space of ebooks will very likely prove to be a boon for our community.  Specifically, this could provide publishers with an opportunity to expand the functionality of the ebook.

Often, new technology is at first used to replicate the functionality of the old technology.  In the case of books, I’m referring to the technology of paper. We are only now beginning to see people begin to take advantage of the new digital technology’s possibilities.    Perhaps the launch of Amazon’s new development kit and the technology platform of the iPad will spur innovative thinking about how to use ebooks and enhancing the functionality of digital content’s ability to also be an interactive medium.  The one element of the presentation yesterday that really caught my eye in this regard is the new user interface for reading the New York Times. This seemed the most innovative application of the iPad.  Hopefully in the coming months and years we will see a lot more of that experimentation, user interface design and multi-media intergration.

If that takes place than yesterday might have been a big day in the development of ebooks and information distribution.  If not, the jokes about the name will be all that we’ll recall about this new reader.

Trust but verify: Are you sure this document is real?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Continuing on the theme of a “leaked” document that was posted last week from a systems supplier in the community.  One thing that few asked initially regarding this document is: “Is it real?”  In this case, not 24 hours after the document was “released”, it was confirmed by the author that he had written the document and that it had been circulating for some time. However, it is amazing the stir that can be started by posting a PDF document anonymously on the Wikileaks website, regardless of its provenance.

Last week was the 40th anniversary of the “birth” of the internet, when two computers were first connected using a primitive router and transmitted the first message from two computers: “Lo”.  They were trying to send the command “Login”, but the systems crashed before the full message was sent. Later that evening, they were able to get the full message through and with that the internet – in a very nascent form was born.  During a radio interview that week, Dr. Leonard Kleinrock, Professor of Computer Science, UCLA, who was a one of the scientists that was working on those systems that night, spoke about the event.  During one of the questions, Dr. Klenirock was asked about the adoption of IP Version 6. His response was quite fascinating:

Dr. KLEINROCK: Yes. In fact, in those early days, the culture of the Internet was one of trust, openness, shared ideas. You know, I knew everybody on the Internet in those days and I trusted them all. And everybody behaved well, so we had a very easy, open access. We did not introduce any limitations nor did we introduce what we should have, which was the ability to do strong user authentication and strong file authentication. So I know that if you are communicating with me, it’s you, Ira Flatow, and not someone else. And if you send me a file, I receive the file you intended me to receive.

We should’ve installed that in the architecture in the early days. And the first thing we should’ve done with it is turn it off, because we needed this open, trusted, available, shared environment, which was the culture, the ethics of the early Internet. And then when we approach the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s and spam, and viruses, and pornography and eventually the identity theft and the fraud, and the botnets and the denial of service we see today, as that began to emerge, we should then slowly have turned on that authentication process, which is part of what your other caller referred to is this IPV6 is an attempt to bring on and patch on some of this authentication capability. But it’s very hard now that it’s not built deep into the architecture of the Internet.

The issue of provenance has been a critical gap in the structure of the internet from the very beginning.  At the outset, when the number of computers and people who were connected to the network was small, the issue of authentication and validation were significant barriers to a working system.  If you know and trust everyone in your neighborhood, locking your doors is an unnecessary hassle.  In a large city, where you don’t know all of your neighbors, locking your doors is a critical routine that becomes second nature.  In our digital environment, the community has gotten so large that locking doors, authenticating and passwords to ensure you are who you claim to be is essential to a functioning community.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Kleinrock notes, we are in a situation where we need to patch some of the authentication and provenance holes in our digital lives.  This brings me back to the document that was distributed last week via Wikileaks.

There is an important need, particularly in the legal and scientific communities that provenance be assured.  With digital documents, which are easily manipulated or created and distributed anonymously, confirming the author and source of a document can be.  Fortunately, in this case, the authorship can be and was confirmed easily and quickly enough.  However, in many situations this is not the case, particularly for forged or manipulated documents.  Even when denials are issued, there is no way to prove the negative to a doubtful audience.

The tools for creating extremely professional looking documents are ubiquitous.  Indeed, the same software that most publishers companies use to create formal published documents is available to almost anyone with a computer.  It would not be difficult to create one’s own “professional” documents and distribute them as real.  The internet is full of hoaxes of these sorts and they run the gamut from absurd, to humorous, to quite damaging.

There have been discussions about the need for better online provenance information for nearly two decades now. Some work on metadata provenance is gaining broader adoption including PREMIS, METS and DCMI, some significant work on standards remains regarding the authenticity of documents.  The US Government and the Government Printing Office has made progress with the GPO Seal of Authenticity and digital signature/public key technology in Acrobat v. 7.0 & 8.0.  In January, 2009, GPO digitally signed and certified PDF files of all versions of Congressional bills introduced during the 111th and 110th Congresses. Unfortunately, these types of authentication technologies have not been broadly adopted outside the government.  The importance of provenance metadata was also re-affirmed in a recent Arizona Supreme Court case.

Although it might not help in every case, knowing the source of a document is crucial in assessing its validity.  Until standards are broadly adopted and relied upon, a word of warning to the wise about content on the Internet: “Trust but verify.”

Court acknowledges copyright law application to Open Source software

Friday, August 15th, 2008

In an important ruling yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit yesterday stood behind the concept that open source software should be covered by copyright law, which strengthens the rights of OS developers. 

This is a critical win for open source developers, which although seemingly obvious was an untested aspect of US law.  Software has long been viewed in the courts as being covered under copyright law.  Some background on the copyright protections provided to software is here, here and here.

The crux of the case centers on whether the terms of an open source license such as the Artistic License in this case (or similar licenses, such as Creative Commons) should be considered “conditions of, or merely covenants to, the copyright licenses.”  When a copyright holder grants a nonexclusive license to use a copyrighted work, he/she forfeits his/her rights to sue for copyright infringement and can only sue for breach of contract.

Why is this an important distinction?  One could consider violations of use a violation of contract law, which would significantly reduce the penalties for violation.  Contract law violations frequently result in awards that are a derivative of the monetary damages related to the contract.  In the case of Open Source software, there is very limited if any exchange of funds, and therefore very limited monetary damages.

In the ruling, Judge White addressed the question of economic benefits accruing to OS developers by writing:

The lack of money changing hands in open source licensing should not be presumed to mean that there is no economic consideration, however.  There are substantial benefits, including economic benefits, to the creation and distribution of copyrighted works under public licenses that range far beyond traditional license royalties. 

Copyright infringement on the other hand has a set of penalties and remedies that are much more significant and are not explicitly tied to the financial terms of an exchange.  In addition, copyright cases can include attorney’s fees in the remediation.

In the decision, the Artistic License used by the plaintiff was deemed to be limited in scope and have conditions, which the licensor violated, then the case was deemed to be infringing on copyright. Deciding in the plaintiff’s favor because of the clause “provided that …” created limitations and conditions in the license to which the licensor must adhere or they would be infringing on the copyrights of the licensor.  In this particular case, the “conditions set forth in the Artistic License are vital to enable the copyright holder to retain the ability to benefit from the work of downstream users.”  In addition, licensors are “authorized to make modifications and to distribute the materials provided that the user follows the restrictive terms of the Artistic License.”  These conditions of use were deemed to be sufficient restrictions to the terms of the license to distinguish them from contractual covenants.

This case will reinforce the legal protections for producers of OS software that have underpinned the development and sharing of OS code for years.  Andy Updegrove, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, standards and a prolific blogger, was quoted in PC Magazine as saying:

“For the community this wasn’t about the money at all, but about receiving the blessing of an important court that the foundations upon which the entire fee and open source and Creative Commons philosophies are based.”

Ex Libris changes hands

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Last week, Ex Libris announced last week that it was being acquired by Leeds Equity Partners.  According to Harratz.com, the deal is worth “an estimated $170 million.” The company had previously been owned by Francisco Partners, who purchased Ex Libris in November, 2006 for approximately $60-65 million.  Selling at roughly three times the price paid only two years ago, I’d say that Francisco received a pretty good return on its investment. Leeds is invested in a number of industries, from administrative support software, to for-profit post-secondary education, to property management systems, to furniture for education, healthcare and hospitality.  A description of Leeds culled from their website: 

Leeds Equity Partners is a private equity firm focused on investments in the education, training and information and business services industries (the “Knowledge Industries”).  …  We focus on investments across all of the Knowledge Industries, which includes education, training and information and business services. We broadly define these sectors to include businesses offering products, services and solutions that enable individuals and enterprises to be more effective in an increasingly global, hyper-competitive, information-intensive and fast-changing marketplace. … Since 1993, Leeds Equity has invested in more than 20 companies across all of the Knowledge Industries, representing a total enterprise value of more than $4.1 billion.     

The announcement came quick on the heels of the announcement that Carl Grant would be re-joining Ex Libris as the President, North America.  Carl is a long-time supporter of NISO and standards development, having spent time as Chair of the Standards Development Committee, as a member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, and a term as Chair of the Board.  Carl had been the President of CARE Affiliates, a service firm that provided support for open source systems implementors.  CARE Affiliates was acquired by LibLime in August.

Open Library Environment (OLE) Project – Planning open ILS systems

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

The Open Library Environment (OLE) Project, a new initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, launched its website this week.  The group aims to develop plans for the next generation of library automation systems build upon a modular SOA approach. Quoting from their Project Overview: The group “will convene the academic library community in planning an open library management system built on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Our goal is to think beyond the current model of an Integrated Library System and to design a new system that is flexible, customizable and able to meet the changing and complex needs of modern, dynamic academic libraries.”  The group will first research library processes and model practices and the systems necessary. Through the process, they hope to build a community that will This project has ties to the DLF project on ILS Discovery Interfaces and a number of other open source development initiatives in the community looking to address this issue.  It is also interesting to note that at least one ILS system vendor, Ex Libris, recently announced its new Open-Platform Strategy.There will certainly be interesting developments from the OLE Project and how their recommendations tie in with other ongoing work.  Of course, system interoperability relies heavily on standard data structures and interfaces.  If the end results aren’t easily plug and play, only the largest and most technically savvy organizations will be able to take advantage of the advances.