REALITY CHECK—Commentary

Michael Daconta | UCore: The Twitter of information sharing

Twitter allows only 140 characters in a tweet, and suddenly everyone is tweeting, from President Barack Obama to Ashton Kutcher.  Even Oprah is tweeting, a sure sign of mainstream adoption. But its popularity doesn't interest me, its brevity does.

In essence, it is texting for the Web. You can even text — aka tweet — about Web sites by including URLs — which get shortened, but that is a topic for another article. It is in this capacity of concise and running commentary about the “other Web” where Twitter really shines. Some have called it the real-time Web and have proclaimed that searching Twitter offers more relevant results than searching Google for breaking news.

It is interesting how brevity feeds immediacy, and the instant gratification of immediacy feeds adoption. And the way Twitter has broadened adoption of publishing content to the Web leads us to another area in need of broad adoption: information sharing. In the federal information management ecosystem, UCore is the Twitter of information sharing.

UCore, or Universal Core — available at www.ucore.gov — is a simple Extensible Markup Language message format that I wrote about last August (GCN.com/1339). With UCore Version 2.0 — which arose out of pilot testing and refinement of UCore 1.0 — you create a digest, or summary, of your existing messages and link elements from the payload to your digest. This notion of UCore as a short, common digest is a powerful new concept in information sharing. Think of it as a tweet about your existing message.

Let’s continue the analogy further. If Twitter is real-time commentary overlaid on both current events and the static Web, UCore offers the opportunity for an interoperability layer over your domain-specific exchanges. For example, if I have a UCore-wrapped National Information Exchange Model message from Immigration and Customs Enforcement about illegal immigrants wounded during criminal activity and I have a UCore-wrapped Health and Human Service Department message on visitors to emergency rooms, I have enabled immediate cross-domain search. In crisis situations, immediacy saves lives, as there is no time for cross-domain harmonization of existing message formats. So digesting information with UCore is a process of extracting cross-domain commonality from your message flows, thereby massively broadening the possible adoption and use of your shared information. In information sharing, adoption by consumers is the key value metric.

I recently spoke on a UCore panel at the Navy Department CIO IM/IT Conference, where a recurring question was how UCore related to or competed with another message format currently in use. What became evident was that “digesting” is a foreign concept to many people. It is foreign in at least two ways: First, it requires creating additional content on top of existing exchange messages. Second, it requires a mapping exercise between concepts in your message and the UCore digest. 

Can you see the paradigm shift? This is part of a revolution in digital communication, as our information-production processes shift from producer-centric to consumer-centric. Extra effort in production is an unnecessary cost if you have a producer-centric mindset. However, from a consumer-centric point of view, a one-time added cost in production that drastically increases the target audience is just good business. 

When combined with automated techniques such as entity extraction, the notion of “auto-digesting” becomes feasible. On this subject of reinventing our digital production process, let me very briefly digress to a related topic: bridging the structured/unstructured divide. That divide will not be bridged through brute-force techniques on content after it is produced — instead, that divide will only be conquered by reinventing how we produce digital content by building in discovery during creation instead of after the fact. This is yet another example of emerging consumer-focused information production.

Just as Twitter adds a real-time overlay to the Web, UCore adds a commonality overlay to your domain-specific messages. So remember, a message digest is your tweet toward a new age. Happy tweeting!

About the Author

Michael C. Daconta (mdaconta@incadencecorp.com) is the Vice President of Advanced Technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former Metadata Program Manager for the Homeland Security Department. His new book is entitled, The Great Cloud Migration: Your Roadmap to Cloud Computing, Big Data and Linked Data.

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