A little while ago I started reading up on Notube, an EU funded project that aims to explore how technology such as Linked Data can be used with televisions to (amongst other aims) produce personalised content. Inspired by this idea I started thinking about a small example that would build upon my earlier blog post How to use Linked Data on the Samsung Internet@TV platform to produce a personalised view of Open University Podcasts. In order for the example to be useful it would need to use data for the personalisation that was easy for the user to supply using just a remote control. I've got as far as producing a simple prototype that hopefully shows some of the potential of this technology.
Many organisations are offering rich Linked Data stores now that you can interrogate with the SPARQL language. This data might be interesting for the mobile app developer to work with so it would be great to be able to experiment with this data in Google App Inventor for Android applications. At the moment you cannot do this directly as App Inventor only offers quite limited functionality to interact with the web, however with the help of a server side "bridging script" we can close that divide and send a SPARQL query from inside the application and deal with the results we get back.
Extracting data from the web to use in our computer programs has always been a challenge. Many developers will be familiar with techniques such as Web Scraping, trying to parse a human readable web page and extract data and might dream of more reliable ways to query different sources for data in a standardised way. Linked Data is a proposed answer to this issue that seems to be gaining some momentum with data being exposed in this format by organisations such as the British Govenment and my own employer The Open University. So how do we query these resources and get the data into our PHP scripts?
If you are ready to make that move to Linux, but don't know where to start, the Open University's new ten week short course Linux: An Introduction might have caught your eye. First though, a bit of disclosure, my day job is with the Open University (but don't take my views and comments as representing them) and I'm an open source enthusiast. I met up with Andrew Smith of the Maths, Computers and Technology Faculty, who is the academic behind the course, to find out more. I had many questions for him, including some from colleagues and those of you who follow me on Twitter.
From the olnet.org site:
The aim of OLnet is to tackle gathering evidence and methods about how we can research and understand ways to learn in a more open world, particularly linked to Open Educational Resources (OER) but also looking at other influences. We want to gather evidence together but also spot the ideas that people see emerging from the opportunities.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is supporting The Open University to work with Carnegie Mellon University to develop OLnet.
The OU produces a range of podcasts covering a wide variety of subjects that can be interesting not only to current students but also to people who enjoy more informal learning, or who are maybe just curious about a subject. Up until recently, this treasure trove was sadly locked away in iTunesU and so unavailable to Linux users (as iTunes is not available for Linux). Users of other platforms also had to use iTunesU as well, regardless of how they felt about this software. Fortunately, the OU has put this situation right though the release of a website that makes these podcasts available to all, it can be found at: http://podcast.open.ac.uk. The website is so new the paint is practically drying on it, but, despite being in beta, it is still capable of delivering a first class experience. It includes a number of ways to easily subscribe to podcasts, including RSS feeds (useful for programs like Amarok), a really great feature though is the sites ability to integrate with Miro, an application which is described as an "internet tv and video player". Miro is free, open source, cross platform and provides the ability to subscribe to, watch and manage video and audio podcast feeds. You can use the OU podcasts site entirely within it, providing a nice integrated experience and leaving you to enjoy the content.
The Open University here in the UK regularly coproduces educational programming in partnership with the BBC. Some of these programmes are for a wide audience such as Coast, and other programmes are for more specialist audiences such as The Story of Maths. To catch these programmes you don't have to necessarily stay in and make sure that you are sat on your sofa in front of the TV at a scheduled time, instead you can catch the repeats on BBC iPlayer (sorry - UK, IoM & Channel Islands only). My colleague Tony Hirst recently created a mash up to find the OU programmes from the last seven days posted to iPlayer using feeds from Twitter, iPlayer and a Yahoo Pipe, he then presented the results in a web page. When looking at his blog post on this it struck me that it would be really nice if this could be presented in a way more suitable for a media centre PC connected to a TV, so this would mean nice big fonts, an attractive interactive-TV type interface and ease of use from a remote control, and then I thought it would be even better to feed this into MythTV, integrating seven days of OU programming alongside the rest of your entertainment.