Monday, July 27, 2009

A tale of two completely inaccessible data silos

Anybody who spends more than, say, fifteen minutes around me will quickly discover that I am a big fan of open source and open access. If you'd asked me fifteen years ago about open access, I probably wouldn'tve even know what it was, but nowadays I think about it a lot and I'm a little embarassed to admit that open access just might trump open source in the grand scheme of things. Of course, that means if someone ever shoves me in a time machine I'm going to have to apologize to this guy and maybe tell him to get a haircut while I'm at it.

In approximately 1988, when I was fifteen, my dad gave me a copy of this book, which I then proceeded to read approximately, no joke, more than a hundred times in the same year. I was so consumed by it that I thought, for maybe a day, I should try applying to this university despite my then-and-now complete lack of any facility in science, math, or critical thinking. So you can imagine my total nerd-frosted sense of delight when I first heard offhand about Project Tuva, which then turned to frustration and sorrow when I learned that it was a Microsoft Silverlight thing, which means that I can't watch it. So all that Feynman and BBC awesomeness put behind an artificial wall, thanks a whole bunch. Note that yes, I did try this, and it doesn't work, and I'm not surprised.

OK, I realize that the Feynman thing is a driver to get people to use Silverlight, but honestly, what's wrong with putting up straight video files and having some accompanying text? Or plain streaming video? GAH.

(edit: the awesome reidid did a me a solid and told me that Silverlight can be gotten 'round with some monkeying. Thanks Didier!)

OK. I told you that story to tell you this one:

I fully expect this sort of shenanigans from the private sector, and I double-super-triple expect it from Microsoft, who have sort of a reputation for doing these sorts of things. I'm even not terribly surprised to find out that universities also do this -- iTunesU is a prime example of universities jumping on the next gee-whiz delivery method without giving a thought towards, you know, standards and accessibility.

But I did not expect this out of libraries. Especially not out of a big Stateside school, but here you go -- Duke University's library has this really exciting archive of TV ads from the 1950s to the 1980s. Exciting looking, that is -- it's on iTunes, I can't view it because I can't run iTunes. Would it have killed them to make a streaming video? Even Flash would have been a drastic improvement.

Note that I don't really have a problem with iTunes as a delivery mechanism per se. It's when it's the only option that I get ornery. Bad move, Duke.
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