We don’t know where you live…

    Start a conversation 
Estimated reading time 2–4 minutes

Earlier this month the Estonian government opened its “digital borders”, allowing registrations for “e-citizenship” (there are two interesting pieces about this in New Scientist: E-citizens unite: Estonia opens its digital borders and Estonia’s e-citizen test is a test for us all).

Does the new form of citizenship mean the end of the nation state?

The Estonians appear to be creating a new category of “nationality” and the move has prompted a flurry of debate on whether or not this heralds the end of the nation state. “Nationality” has always been a problematic and somewhat fluid concept. Although people are often emotional about their nationality, in practice it is largely an artificial administrative device. Birthplace, at least in developed countries, tends to be well known and is often formally and officially recorded, so has been relatively administratively straightforward. The Estonian move is interesting because it takes away the requirement of some kind of physical presence for citizenship, so gaining a second “e-nationality” is far simpler than going to live somewhere else, making it a very attractive option.

A new category of citizen

The new category of “e-citizens” will not have the same rights (or, presumably responsibilities) as “traditional” citizens – immediately adding a layer of complexity to information management around citizenship. According to The Economist, Estonia’s chief information officer, Taavi Kotka, has stressed that the [new form of] ID is a privilege, not a right. E-citizens can have their e-citizenship removed if they break the law, for example.

The creation of a new category of citizenship in itself should not threaten the nation state. There are six different types of British nationality, for example, as a consequence of the UK’s colonial past.

One question that may arise is how many e-citizenships a single individual can hold at once? How much will it cost Estonia to police and manage their new citizens and will all countries want to or be able to offer such services? Any outsourcing e-citizenship and identity management services to technology companies will have huge security and surveillance implications.

A citizenship marketplace?

A “marketplace” for e-citizenships may arise, with countries and even cities, or perhaps even other administrative entities, competing to offer the best services or biggest tax breaks to attract wealthy e-citizens. Revenues will likely flow into places like Estonia and away from wherever the new e-citizens live. The location of your e-citizenship could become more important than the place you were born, even if you still reside there. How your e-citizenship (where taxes will be paid) and your place of residence interact (where services like roads and schools need to be provided) could become a highly politicized. The immediate challenge to existing nation states is how they will decide to co-operate with each other over their e-tax revenues.

Aggregations and basic categories

    Start a conversation 
Estimated reading time 2–3 minutes

I recently enjoyed reading about the work Safari are currently and doing to create a controlled vocabulary and topic aggregation pages to underpin navigation and discovery of their content.

Iterate, again

I very much liked the mix of manual and automated techniques the team used to maximise capturing value from existing resources while using machine processing to help and support the human editorial curation work. Lightweight iterative approaches have become standard in some areas of design, but achieving high quality information structures also usually requires several stages of revision and refinement. It is not always possible to predict what will happen in attempts to index or repurpose existing content, nor how users will respond to different information structures, and so the ability to iterate, correct, re-index, correct, adjust indexing methods, re-index, correct… is vital. Small samples of content are often not sufficient to find all potential issues or challenges, so it is always worth being prepared for surprises once you scale up.

Basics, as always

The Safari team identified the huge intellectual value locked into the existing human-created indexes and it is great to see them being able to extract some of that value, but then augment it using automated techniques. I was very interested to read about how the level of granularity in the individual indexes was too fine for overall aggregation. The team realised that there were “missing subtopics” – key topics that tended to be the subjects of entire books. These “missing subtopics” were found at the level of book titles and it struck me that this vital level of conceptualization aligns directly with Eleanor Rosch‘s work on basic categories and prototype theory. It is not surprising that the concepts that are “basic categories” to the likely readership would be found at book title level, rather than index level.

This is further illustrated by the fact that the very broad high level topics such as “business” did not work well either. These needed not to be “clustered up”, but broken down and refined to the level of the “basic categories” that people naturally think of first.

So, the Safari team’s work is a very clear illustration of not only how to combine manual and automated techniques but also how to find the “basic categories” that match users’ natural level of thinking about the subject area.