Interview with Nicky Ferguson, ILRT, Bristol, UK

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"Clever Banana"

Have you had the chance to see Zagreb and what are your first impressions about the things you have seen and people you met?
I am here for the first time and I have seen a little bit of it, but I want to see more. I got lost and I went for a run in a park. Tomorrow I am going to Maksimir. I hope to see the old town, too. Everyone was very friendly. Apart form the sightseeing, I've just been here on the conference but impressions are of a beautiful, well-preserved town. Most of the towns in the U.K. have had the centers destroyed either by developers or during the war, either way the effect is the same. A lot of old buildings are gone and there is a lot of ugly new buildings but here is a lot of old buildings and the height is lower and there's not so many high-rise office blocks. If it stays the same it could be very big tourist attractions, there are not so many cities in Europe that are like that.

How come that you chose to come to Croatia and this conference?
I think it's important for us to promote international collaboration in this area because the Internet doesn't know anything about borders and boundaries so we should develop working practices that mirror that, if we're trying to build high quality services on the Internet, particularly for small countries like England for example and Croatia as well. We need to make a lot of international contacts and collaboration because there is a huge amount of resources internationally. It's in our interest to allow our users to access those high quality resources from around the world and the best way to build that is to make our work available to other people so that we can have exchange agreements and they would make their work available to us.

Have you come just to teach or you think that there are things to learn here?
There's lot that I can learn here. I've already learned several things and later today I'm going to have a tour around the faculty here, where, I understand, are several secularities including virtual reality work going on here and I hope to learn a lot. I think that, as I said, the collaboration is important for us as well. We need to get out to see what other people are doing and I have been very impressed...

"We" meaning your faculty?
Well, yes. I work in a research unit in the university, there is about 65 of us and we are probably the leading unit in the country for developing research technology but particularly focused on researchers ad lecturers and we also run a number of international services. So it is very important for us to find out what is happening in that area in other countries and to develop working relationship. Because if you're trying to build a catalog of the Internet you need people who speak languages and people from different cultures and people with different expertise to be able to do that so it is very important for us.

What are negative influences of Internet regarding the information (do people lose the sense of evaluating information; important from unimportant)?
Well, one of the negative things about the Internet is that the new users, particularly student users, tend to think that if it's on the Internet it must be true and that is a big mistake to make. There are a lot of things on the Internet that are not true either because someone is really maliciously trying to mislead but usually just because there is all sorts of rubbish out there just lying about and you don't always know where that came from, who said it and so on. That is why a lot of our work focuses on issues like where that information came from, who said it, can I really believe that they said it, that is why things like digital signature are going to be so important, because you'll be able to rely on the fact that information has come from a particular place. It is up to date, has this web page been put on yesterday, will it change tomorrow or is it five years old and no longer relevant and what do my colleagues from around the world think of this? Have they recommended it or do they think it's not worth looking at? So all those issues are very important to taking the Internet from its current stage where there is lots of stuff and you have to make your own mind up individually about what is good and what's not taking it to a real high quality of information they find there.

What could be possible solutions for better and easier search for information on Internet?
One of solutions is to share data, to share information as I said earlier. Not one library however big it is can take responsibility for making judgments on the whole of the Internet. So you here have specialists on this geographical area, you have language specialist that can comment on resources that are relevant to your history and your culture and so on. Our librarians in the U.K. would not be able to make those judgments and the other way around. So, we can share our data and that way we can rapidly build a high quality international library. So, I think that is the first thing: to share the data. Second thing is to follow the international standards, so there are emerging standards like the Dublin core, like the RDF (Resource Description Framework). We need to follow standards in cataloguing and classification practice so that you're selecting the same kind of quality resources that we are. So, that when somebody comes in to search, they do not care whether the cataloguer has lived in Croatia or the U.K. They just want to rely on finding a high quality resource. We have to follow the same standards.

Do you believe that the majority of people are capable of making the most of using Internet or is it only for a highly educated elite?
I think the majority of people are capable of using Internet. I don't think that there is any problem with that. I think we have some way to go in designing good interfaces for them so that they can do that. When the telephone was first invented you were only allowed to use it if you were a telephone technician and now everybody has a telephone in their home and most people have one in their pockets. It's the same with Internet. We are at a stage now when it's mainly the academic people accessing the high quality research information but there is no reason why the information couldn't go to everybody. The kind of information that ten years ago would go to top researchers in the world can just be available to everybody in their home. The other thing that will really affect is that computers won't be so recognizable as computers. So now, a computer is a box and you sit behind it and I cannot see your face but that will stop. There will be computers in all sorts of devices. In the very near future there will be a device I call it clever banana, it's my codeword for it. Clever banana is a little thing that you can hold in your hand and it knows where you are thanks to the Global Satellite Navigation. So it knows exactly where you are in the world even if you don't and it can give you geographical information about the area that you are in. It will tell you where the nearest restaurant is, how to get a taxi to the airport.

How much does it cost?
Well, mobile phones were very expensive when they first came out and now they are just giving them away. Banana will have access to those data bases we talked about earlier. It will make connection to your Internet Service Provider and it will look you up and it will say: O.K. you are subscribed to our geographical service and it will make connection to a data base and it will come back with a little map of the piece of information that you want. I thin it will be used by all sorts of people. People who want to know where the nearest restaurant is.

What will happen to tour-guides?
This is a future for tour-guides, this is where tour guides are, tour guides are the ones who will be able to supply those information, because they are the people who are already classifying and cataloguing information. You can imagine much more serious uses for it. You are working for an Aid agency and there's been famine in a country and you have to organize relief effort and they send you into the country and you're not very well briefed because it's all happened very quickly, there's a refugee crisis and people don't have water to drink. And there is hundreds of thousands people on the move. You turn on your Banana and you can find out where you are in the world, where the nearest water supply is, you can compare information and decide.