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Forecasting Trends Backwards
Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
“Forecasting for the Future” was the title of an article published in the recent issues of the JANET Newsletter
(No. 9, September 2009 – PDF format). It won’t surprise people that the byline for the article was positive about
the future: “Outlook – sunny, with a good chance of videoconferencing“.
To be fair, the byline was a play on words of the topic of the article, which described use of the JANET Video
Conference Service (JVCS) at the Met Office. The article concluded with a quotation from Tim Marshall, JANET
“The Met Office videoconference programmes are an excellent example of how the JANET Videoconference
Service makes sense not only in terms of delivering excellent educational content and cost savings, but also
through its real contribution in reducing our customers’ carbon footprint“.
Such optimistic views of the benefits which technologies promise to deliver are, however, being criticised. In a
post entitled Postdigital: Escaping the Kingdom of the New? Dave White introduced the ‘postdigital’ concept, a
topic he revisited after co-facilitating (with Rich Hall) a post-digital F-ALT session on the opening night of this
year’s ALT-C conference. As Dave described in that post, in the session (which I attended) the participants were
invited to debate a series of statements which were designed to provoke post-digital thoughts, including:
• Learning technologists are obsessed with technology more than learning, which is why elearning will
never make the mainstream.
• We are purveyors of the worst kind of spin: ‘This new thing will solve all your problems’.
But how might we go about challenging such ‘technological determinism’ (which, of course, goes beyond the e-
learning community)? Inspired by the F-ALT session and further brief discussions with Dave, an approach I took
in a panel session on “Top Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals” at the recent ILI 2009
conference was to take as the starting point the optimism felt towards various of today’s technologies and to travel
backwards in time, and attempt to give plausible reasons why today’s exciting technologies will not be around in
This was an idea I got from a BBC 4 programme back in 2007 which I described in a post on “The History Of
The Web Backwards“. And following the postdigital discussions it occurred to be that the approach might be
The night prior to the panel session I described the idea to a number of fellow speakers including Tony Hirst and
Peter Murray-Rust. Tony was full of enthusiasm for the idea and, as he often does, came up with new ways in
which we could use this approach (e.g. looking at a variety of expected future trends and how we got there from
the present). And a few days later Tony alerted me of a YouTube video which took a similar approach:
After I had given my brief presentation, which I had published shortly before the conference, Peter Murray-Rust
did wonder whether such Radio 4 humour would be understood by an international audience. And I did notice
that some of the tweets about my talk had failed to pick up on the humourous intent of my presentation. To
summarise what I said (or meant to say) with respect to the demise of Twitter:
Today many people are exploiting the potential of Twitter to help them find resources they are looking for.
Indeed last night I tweeted that I was looking for a good pub to go to and my Twitter community helped me in
my information searching task – and because they knew me, they knew to suggest a good real ale pub and not
a trendy wine bar. An Ask-A-Librarian service wouldn’t be aware of my personal preferences.
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But, as we travel through time backwards, we need to ask “Why did twitter die off in the early part of the
The answer is obvious. Twitter doesn’t scale. As more and more people asked such questions, the
Twitterverse became clogged. “It’s similar to email spam” people felt and started to cancel subscriptions to
And of course although I can benefit, as an early adopter, from having large numbers of followers, many
people will have only small Twitter communities, and so won’t gain the benefits which I have. So Twitter is
inherently undemocratic and professions such as Librarians, with their commitments to social inclusion,
were amongst the first to move away from such undemocratic technologies.
The demise of Twitter was eventually accepted by all. And in the new environment of the latter part of the
twentieth century, people met in pubs with their real friends. The term ‘virtual friends’ was felt to be on par
with ‘imaginary friends’ – something you grow out of. And to mention the ‘followers’ you had would result in
strange looks and suggestions that you should seek psychiatric help!
Funnily enough, although I am aware of reasons why people are sceptical about Twitter and why some Twitter
fans feel that the service may eventually be replaced by an open source or distributed alternative service, it
wasn’t until I gave the talk that I used the “Twitter is inherently undemocratic” argument. So using the device of
seeking to give persuasive reasons why technologies disappeared as we travel backwards though time did give me
some fresh insights.
Why then, did video-conferencing, which had such a bright future in 2009 die out?
Although popular at the high of the envirornmental concerns in the early years of the twenty-first century
subsequent research by sociologists revealed that academic and librarians preferred face-to-face meetings.
Further research revealed that most conference participants can’t remember the details of talks given at
conferences, which made people question why one should use networked technologies to access talks which
are quickly forgotten. Rather than computer networking, people networking (including plotting, politicking
and such skull-duggery – as well as opportunities for sexual relationships) were found to be the real reason
why people travel to conferences, although for some strange reasons, such issues were not identified in the
user needs gathering exercise.
Might this have an element of truth?
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Viewing a WordPress Blog on a Mobile Device
Monday, October 26th, 2009
WordPress, in a post somewhat confusing entitled “The Hero Is In Your Pocket“, have recently announced that
they have “launch[ed] a couple of mobile themes that will automatically be displayed when your blog is accessed
with a compatible mobile phone“.
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The new theme is now enabled by default on blogs, such as this
one, which are hosted by Wordpress.com. And yes it does make blog posts much easier to read as the mobile
interface has a less cluttered interface which, although unlikely to provide significant usability problems on a
typical desktop computer, can be irritating on a mobile device, such as a iPhone or iPod Touch (which was used
to capture the image of the blog which is illustrated).
Best of all is that this enhanced interface has been provided without the need for me to do anything – no software
to be upgraded or new themes to install.
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Opening Up Institutional Training Resources
Friday, October 23rd, 2009
I’m now back from a few day’s at Aberystwyth University, where I had been invited to speak at the launch of
the HEFCW-funded Gwella project and to give a seminar on “The ‘Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World’
Report: Implications For IT Service Departments“.
As this involved a long train journey I also sought to maximise my time in Aberystwth by participating in a
regional meeting for Welsh Web managers. During the brief summaries of areas of work which the members of
institutional Web management teams had been involved in I noticed that a number of the institutions were
involved in the delivery of training in use of Terminal 4’s Content Management System. But why, I wonder, are
institutions still developing their own training resources? As the meeting took place at the start of the first
international Open Access Week I did wonder whether an institutional move towards (or committment to) open
access for research publications and research data shouldn’t be complemented by an institutional committment to
providing Creative Commons licence for institutional training resources. And shouldn’t Information Services
departments and Libraries be taking a leading role in this area? After all it is staff in the IT Services departments
who will be well-placed to develop the technical infrastructure to provide access to such resources and Library
staff who can advise on access mechanisms, use of metadata, etc.
This suggestion is not new – back in 2005 I presented a paper on “Let’s Free IT Support Materials!“ at
the EUNIS 2005 conference. But it is probably timely to revisit this subject, not only due to links with the Open
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Access Week but also the related interests in open access for learning resources, as described recently in an article
entitled “Get it out in the open” published in The Times Higher.
Now I’m not saying that the availability of open training resources, which might include podcasts and screencasts
as well as more conventional training resources, will necessarily always be used – perhaps trainers and user
support staff will continue to prefer to use resources they have developed themselves. But if that is the case, then
what is the point of services such as JORUM and funding initiatives such as JISC’s Open Educational Resources
programme? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the community in general if more people were involved in such debates?
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RSS Feeds For Welsh University Web Sites
Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
RSS Usage On Welsh University Home Pages
Last year I published a blog post which provided a summary of usage of RSS feeds on Scottish University home
pages. The survey was carried out in July 2008, shortly before the IWMW 2008 event was held in Aberdeen. The
aim was to collate evidence on the extent to which best practices in institutional use of RSS were being
implemented in Scotland and to facilitate discussions on reasons why best practices may not always be being
implemented and ways of addressing such barriers.
As I will be visiting Wales shortly I thought it would be useful to carry out a similar survey of the 12 Welsh
The findings, based on a manual survey carried out on 21 August 2009, are given in the following table.
No. of RSS
1 Aberystwyth University 0
2 Bangor University 0
3 Cardiff University 0
4 Glamorgan University 0
RSS feeds for news, sports news, Careers centre news
5 Glyndŵr University 4
and Student news.
Royal Welsh College of Music &
7 Swansea University 0
8 Swansea Metropolitan University 1 RSS feed for news.
9 Trinity University College 0
University of Wales Institute,
11 University of Wales, Lampeter 0
12 University of Wales, Newport 0
It appears that only two Welsh institutions are providing RSS feeds which can be found from the home page
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Revisiting Community Surveys
Last year’s blog post on RSS usage on Scottish University home pages discussed possible reasons for the low
levels of usage, and I don’t intend to revisit that discussion as I suspect the same reasons will be valid for both
communities. I should also add that Tony Hirst has developed a tool for dynamic discovery of auto-detectable
RSS feeds for all UK University home pages, which currently reports a total of 48 out of 133 institutions
So rather than discussing the specific example of RSS feeds across a sector, I’m more interested in ways in which
a sector (or interested and motivated individuals within a sector) can provide similar (factual) surveys which can
help to support discussions and, perhaps, inform policies.
Liz Azyan has compiled lists of UK Universities usage of YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace. But, as can be
seen from the list for MySpace usage, it is not always easy to provide complete coverage and there are likely to be
difficulties in ongoing maintenance of such resources. Would it be useful, I wonder, for the Welsh Web
management community to set up a wiki to keep a record of trends within their own sector? This is something I
will explore at a meeting of Welsh institutional Web managers at the University of Aberystwyth on Monday.
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Top Technology Trends – For The Twentieth Century!
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
Top Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals
Later this week I’m taking part in the Internet Librarian International (ILI) Conference in London. In addition to
running a workshop and giving a talk on standards I’ll also be taking part in the closing panel session on Top
Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals.
What should I say, I wonder? Should I talk about the importance of social tools for resource discovery, using
Twitter as an example of a tool whose success was unexpected. Or shall I try and quickly gain an understanding
on Google Wave and talk about its potential relevance to information professionals.
But doesn’t this approach simply repeat the technological determinism which the postdigital advocates point out
has continually failed to deliver on its promises.
Instead I’m intending to take today’s environment as the starting point and explore how technological
developments promise to take us towards a better world – in the 1990s.
Today’s Networked Environment
How can we summarise today’s environment, which provides the starting point for a journey towards the past?
Let’s mention a few examples.
Twitter: It might be appropriate for event aimed at the Library community to begin by talking about the
success of Twitter, not only for providing community support but as a mechanism for resource sharing and
resource discovery – yes, Twitter now seems to be a very effective tools for sharing links with one’s friends
Lightweight development: We now hear developers being critical of large-scale funding initiatives,
preferring instead small amounts of funding to support rapid development work. The JISC’s recent Rapid
Innovation Grants provided an example of a funding body recognising the benefits of such an approach.
Barcamps, Bathcamps, Hackfests, …: Proponents of light-weight development approaches also feel that
meeting up with like-minded people, perhaps at weekends, can be a useful way of supporting one’s
professional activities (and in the case of the recent Bathcamp, the weekend away also involved camping!)
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Crowdsourcing: Examples such as the crowdsourcing of the digitisation of MP’s expenses claims, Galaxy
Zoo, reCaptcha and other examples provide further illustrations of today’s networked environment, in which
enthusiasts, who need not be developers, can achieve benefits which previously may not have been felt to be
achievable without significant expenditure.
There is, of course, a political and social context to this technical environment – and, especially, for those
working in the public sector, the context is the gloomy economic situation, an expectation that things will get
even worse and a likely change of government in the near future.
Looking Forward to the 1990s
Let’s assume that, due to a malfunctioning (time) portal, we, like Benjamin Button, find ourselves being taken
backwards in time, in our case towards the 1990s. How might the networked environment I have summarised
above develop? Here ares my predictions:
Twitter: The sceptics who argued that Twitter doesn’t have a sustainable business model will be proved
correct. The Twitter service will die and, despite an attempt by Facebook to provide a simple type of service
using its Status updates, the concept of ‘micro-blogging’ will disappear. The resulting productivity gains
will be instrumental in helping the Twittering nations to move out of the global recession.
Lightweight development: The limitations of lightweight development approaches and simple (some say
simplistic) formats such as RSS become apparent and, despite providing interesting exemplars, fail to
provide an infrastructure for serious significant development work. ‘Enterprise development’ becomes the
new ‘lightweight development’ and large-scale Content Management Systems become the popular with
organisations facing pressures from their peers to deploy such technologies.
Barcamps, Bathcamps, Hackfests, …: The growth in large-scale enterprise development environment
(accompanied by pressure from friends and families to achieve a more healthy work/life balance) brings to an
end the culture of the amateur hacker and events such as barcamps, bathcamps and hackfests.
Crowdsourcing: The importance of the professional in the development of high quality networked services
goes beyond the developer community. The failure of amateurs to provide the required levels of quality for
digitisation, metadata standards, etc. results in an appreciation of the merits of the professional. Librarians
and related information professionals become critical in the development of sustainable networked services.
Of course, as with many technological predictions, this vision of the 1990s is an optimistic one. Not only does the
demise of social networks lead to an emphasis on real-world friends and relationships, but the political and
economic environment will also see tremendous improvements – indeed I predict that in 10 years, or possibly 12
years time (say 1997), we will be very pleased with our political and economic situation and positive about the
benefits that the future will bring.
This post was influenced by the post-digital session which Dave White facilitated and Rich Hall as part of the
fringe (#falt09) activities around the ALT-C 2009 conference. In a blog post about the session Dave White felt
that “After the fringe session I was even more convinced that the post-digital was a useful concept but that we
hadn’t found the right way of expressing it yet.”
John Maeda has described how “Recently I have had the sense that no matter what new digital territory may
arise, we end up where we first began – back in an infinite loop. My instinctive response to this personal
perception has been to proclaim a new effort to escape to the post digital . . . which I am certain lies in the past.”
Can we gain a better appreciation of our perhaps naive expectations of the benefits of technological developments
by, as John suggests, looking back into the past?
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Twitter Event Hashtagging Strategies
Monday, October 5th, 2009
In a recent post on the eFoundation’s blog Andy Powell wrote about “Flocking behaviour – why Twitter is for
starlings, not buzzards“. Based on the statistics I had provided for use of Twitter at the recent ALT C 2009
conference Andy picked up on the use of two tags (#altc2009 and #altc09) and pointed out that “if you don’t tweet
using the generally agreed tag you are effectively invisible to much of the conference audience“.
I agree – so there’s probably a need to agree on hashtagging strategies for events, which I’ll explore in this post.
And I’ll use this as an opportunity to consider what hashtag UKOLN should be using for next year’s Institutional
Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2010).
Issues To Consider
What are the issues to consider when selecting a hashtag for use at an event?
The initial requirement is that as tweets are limited to 140 characters, hashtags should be brief in order to
maximise the amount of content that can be containing in a tweet about an event.
Avoiding problems with non-alpha-numeric characters
It may be felt desirable to avoid use of certain non-alphanumeric characters which may cause problems in
some Twitter clients. For example, the hashtag #clip2.0 was initially suggested for an event on the
relevance of Web 2.0 technologies for the CILIP organisation and CILIP members. However Twitter clients
seem to truncate hashtags containing a full stop, so the hashtag #cilip2 was used. Similar problems have
been observed with use of a dash (-) as illustrated in the display of a tweet in the TweetDeck client. In
addition there was a complaint that use of an underscore (_) in the #cilip_lams event caused usability
problems, especially on mobile devices. The advice would seem to be stick with alphanumeric characters in
Avoid numbers at the start of hashtags
Hashtags which begin with a number (e.g. #2009foo ) are believed to cause hyperlinking problems in some
Should you be consistent with other tagging services?
Although those who make intensive use of Twitter may feel that the first two points are all that need to be
considered when formulating a hashtag for an event, there may be an argument for being consistent with
recommendations for tags using in other environments such as other Flickr, YouTube, etc. These services
do not suffer for the length constraints imposed by Twitter and so can provide more flexibility. There may
be an argument for using a Twitter-safe hashtag in these other services, but what if these other services are
the more widely-used services (e.g. events with an established use of Flickr)?
Should the year be included?
Many of the events I’ve attended or followed on Twitter have included the year in the hashtag (e.g.
#iwmw2009, #altc2009 and #solo09) but some have not (#alpsp and #cilip_lams). Does the year have to be
included, especially as the tweets will be readily accessible via the Twitter search APIs for only a short
period? But might a decision to save space by omitting the year cause problems if the Twitter API changes
or other tools are used? And might this cause additional confusions with tags for which date encoding may
One hashtag or several?
If there are multiple events associated with a main event (e.g. pre-conference workshops or fringe events)
you will need to consider whether to recommend use of the main event hashtag for these peripheral events
or to suggest an alternative hashtag.
There may be pressure to ensure that an event hasthtag provides the correct branding for the organising
bodies. The hashtag for the CILIP’s Umbrella 2009 conference, for example, was #cilipumbrella.
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Welsh institutions may need to consider use of bilingual tashtags. Note, for example, that for the CILIP
Wales 2009 conference the conference hashtag was cilip-cymru09. I should add, however, that I havent any
experience of the implications of use of non Latin characters (ironically, as Im typing this sentence on a
Croatian keyboard and cant find the single quote character!)
Perhaps because I’m getting older I am finding it difficult to remember random strings of characters – so I
wouldn’t appreciate a a tag such as #xuj740n9 (having to re-authenticate a username and password with a
similar pattern can also be irritating). I found the hashtags used for the recent Oxford Social Media
Conference (#oxsmc09) and Science Online London (#solo09) events easy to remember as the conference
names themselves were memorable.
Having an event hashtag which could clashes with other hashtags is likely to lead to confusion.
Avoiding ambiguities in the characters
Many years ago I was an information officer and I was very aware of the need to avoid confusions between
characters such as 1 and i and o and 0 (in some fonts these many be indistinguishable). Note that this may
be very relevant for events held next year. The (fictitious) Input Output’s annual conference hashtag #io10
could be particularly confusing depending on the font used on your computer.
Being timely and promoting the hashtag effectively
As mentioned recently, it is important to finalise a hashtag in advance of the event and to ensure that
participants and other interested parties are aware of the official hashtag for the event. In many cases
participants are likely to tweet about an event prior to the event, perhaps when a call for paper has been
published e.g. “Loking for partners to write a proposal for #altc2010 with“.
Obtaining buy-in from users of the tag
As it is not possible to mandate use of an official event hashtag you should seek to ensure that users of the
tag will be inclined to use the hashtag. If the hashtag is too long the users may choose to use a shorter one.
Explaining the tag
As well as promoting the hashtag to the event participants you should also try to ensure that other interested
parties, who perhaps might notice a stream of tweets with the tag, can easily discover more about the
associated event. One way of doing this might be to ensure that a Web page containing details of the
hashtag and the event is published early so that it may be indexed by Google. In addition it may be useful to
describe the event in Twitter aggregation services such as WThashtag (e.g. see the description for the
IWMW 2009 event).
#iwmw2010, #iwmw10, #iwmw – or something else?
This post has described some of the issues which should be considered when choosing an event hashtag. But to
put such discussions into context, I’d like to consider the hashtag UKOLN should be using for next year’s
Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2010) – the fourteenth in this series of annual events for
members of institutional Web management teams.
I’ve recently attended four events which had a Twitter hashtag, each of which took a different approach:
#altc2009, #techshare09, #alpsp and #cilip_lams.
As there aren’t pressures to brand our host institution, UKOLN, there’s no need for a ‘#ukoln_iwmw” style tag.
The options, and arguments for and against, are therefore:
For: Consistency with previous years and consistency with tags used in Flickr, YouTube, etc. Also
consistency with URL used on UKOLN Web site.
Against: Uses 9 characters – this could be shorter.
For: Saves two characters over #iwmw2010.
Against: Loses consistency with previous years and with other tag services. Possible confusion over the
characters (could it be confused with #iwmwi0?)
For: Saves four characters over #iwmw2010. No confusion with the ‘10′ characters.
Against: Loses consistency with previous years and with other tag services. Loss of the date may cause
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problems if data is to be used in content of other years (but not necessarily so as the tweets do have a
What do you think we should go for? And are there other issues one should consider when choosing a hashtag for
an event which I haven’t mentioned?
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Guest Post: Blogs At Imperial College
Friday, October 2nd, 2009
After a gap of 11 months the guest blog post returns with a post by Jenny Evans, Liaison Librarian: Maths and
Physics at Imperial College. Jenny provides a background to two blogs (to support the Physics and Maths and
Engineering departments) which were set up by liaison librarians in 2006 and answers many of the questions
which librarians in a similar role may be asking: how did you get agreement from the management?; who
contributes; what is the target audience; what do you write about; how long does it take to support; is it
sustainable and, perhaps most importantly, can the blog service be regarded as a success?
Imperial College London is a science-focussed institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and
research with approximately 12,000 full time students. The Library comprises the Central Library and the
Mathematics Department Library, located on our South Kensington campus, as well as campus libraries at
Charing Cross Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Brompton Hospital,
Hammersmith Hospital and Silwood Park.
Our first two blogs were created by liaison librarians, Ruth Harrison and myself, in March 2006. There were three
main reasons we considered using a blog.
Firstly, we had tried sending out emails and newsletters to departments informing them of relevant developments.
Problems with this method included academics wanting different formats, or complaining about email overload.
From our perspective, as a newsletter tended to be produced only once a term, information we wanted to get out
to them quickly was often out of date by the time it was sent.
There was the option of adding pages to the library website, however this relied on us getting information to
another library staff member, and then waiting for them to put the page up. Which if you needed to get
information out to staff/students quickly was not the ideal solution.
Finally, the library Web site doesn’t provide detailed subject specific information pages, which academics had
complained about to us, so we wanted to address this issue – the blogs were a way in which we could provide
very specific information and only to those people who wanted it.
As such, we felt a blog would be an ideal way to be able to communicate quickly, effectively and directly with
our respective departments about information that was relevant to them. Blogs would enable us to post content as
we needed to, they would be easy to set up and maintain, and we could delegate responsibility to staff where
appropriate. It also meant academics could set up an RSS feed to the pages so they could control how they
viewed the information.
We decided to start the blogs using the free blogging software from WordPress. It was a fairly new option at the
time, but it was getting good reviews, seemed to be flexible, offered some useful features and was free.
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Getting agreement from management
Working on the assumption that it is much easier to sell an idea that you can demonstrate we created a working
prototype and began posting content to the blogs before presenting them to our respective managers. They then
took them to the relevant management meetings. Although there was some unease about the lack of branding,
and the idea that at the time not all liaison librarians would have a blog, it was agreed that as this was a form of
communication, specific to a liaison librarian and their department (not unlike email) that we could continue.
Over the past 3 1/2 years, other liaison librarians have seen the success of our blogs and have created their own.
We now have thirteen blogs covering a variety of subject areas. There is currently no specific ‘library style’ for
the blogs, although some look more ‘Imperial-like’ than others.
Our blog authors are a mix of library staff – though all work in Library’s Faculty Support Services for Teaching
and Research Directorate – as the blogs are aimed staff and students in specific departments/subject areas. As
such, the relevant library liaison team are responsible for the blog. This could be a single person or more than one
member of the same team. Our medicine blog is aimed at all medical staff and students and as such members of
staff from all of the medical campuses contribute to this blog.
Each of our blogs has a different target audience, depending on what is thought appropriate for that subject area.
This can include:
• Academic/research staff
• Postgraduate research students
• Postgraduate taught course students
• Undergraduate students
For example the maths and physics blog that I am responsible for (as I’m no longer responsible for chemistry) is
aimed at academic and research staff, and research post-graduate students, although some content is relevant to
post-graduate taught course students and I do make them aware of its existence. It is not so relevant to the
undergraduate students, however I do have a maths projects blog I have created to support the projects they work
on in the first and second year of their course.
This is also something that relies on the particular person or group of people responsible for each blog.
Examples of what people include in their blogs:
• New resources including new book purchases and journal subscriptions
• Custom search engines
• Journal citation reports/bibliometrics information
• Help/advice pages
• Support for teaching sessions
• Identifying key resources such as e-books
• Highlighting relevant parts of the library website
• Highlighting the physical location of relevant collections
• Overview of relevant key database and referencing information
Generally, we would try not to duplicate information found on the library Web site, but do highlight relevant
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How long we spend maintaining our blogs
As you can imagine, this differs depending on who is working on the blog. I did a quick survey of fellow
bloggers as to how often they post on their blogs and this ranges from a couple of times a week to once a month.
Personally, I must confess I don’t spend as much time on mine as I used to, though my team member Katie does
most of the posting these days.
You can find a link to our blogs on our library homepage and there is also a link from the College blogs page.
I’ve also got links on the Physics department website and the Maths Library web page.
For my blog, I email department staff, PhD students and MSc students at least once a term, reminding them the
blog is there and highlighting any current news. Some bloggers use Feedburner which enables them to give
people the option to receive updates by email.
Our Life Sciences team introduce their blogs to students in induction sessions and point out useful features.
This is possibly something we could market better than we do so at the moment. Suggestions from fellow
bloggers include giving them a higher profile, making them more visually appealing, perhaps giving them a
As a whole our blogs have been very successful – they are all getting used. They enable us to raise our profile as
liaison librarians within the departments we work with, and provide our users with a resource that is specific to
their areas of expertise.
In the words of one of our Life Sciences bloggers:
“Subject blogs are an ideal way to gather relevant subject specific material together in one place for your
staff and students, they can be tailored and expanded to meet the need and are much more flexible than
having to coordinate an official webpage update. We introduce our students to them in inductions and point
out useful areas such as ‘Finding Books’ (which is a well-used page) and Academic Writing Skills (another
well-used page which lists academic writing skills books in the library with links to the catalogue – this
really picked up over the summer when Masters students were focussing on writing up).“
The statistics available via WordPress do enable you to see details about how many people are viewing your blog,
who is referring to your blog, what the top posts and pages are, search terms people are using to find you, and
what people are clicking on and incoming links. However, this doesn’t include RSS feeds (unless you are using
Feedburner). And these statistics do demonstrate that our blogs are being used.
Personally, I didn’t expect loads of comments on my blog – I use it more as a means of getting relevant
information out to my departments (maths and physics) – however I do encourage people to get in contact via the
comments mechanism of the blog. I have installed a MeeboMe widget on my blog which hasn’t had a great deal
of use (though the widget I installed on the blog I created for my maths undergraduate students has had a few
enquiries). My humanities colleague has also tried MeeboMe with limited success.
Our Life Sciences team has noticed that the more time they have invested in “developing, populating and
marketing (not to mention regularly updating) the blog has seen a continued growth in usage figures”.
Another unexpected outcome has been the interest from third parties such as Victor Hemming from Mendeley
who had seen “posts we had put up about referencing and networking for researchers. This initial contact led to
Mendeley coming to Imperial to give a personal introduction. It was good to know that our blog was attracting the
attention of useful people and sending them in our direction”.
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Our blogs have been running for 3 and half years now and show no signs of slowing down. The bloggers I have
been in touch with all feel that it is worth the time they spend maintaining and updating them.
Liaison Librarian: Maths and Physics
Filed in Blog, Guest-post | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
If It's Not "All About The Technology" Then What Else Is It Not
Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
The announcement of the availability of a video summary of the event reminded me of the opening F-ALT
session, held on 8 September in the Lass O’Gowrie pub (a pub I always try to get to when I’m at a conference at
Manchester University). This was my first time at F-ALT, the ALT’s Fringe event, and I was looking forward to
meeting up with the F-ALT organisers and participants, many of whom I’ve met previously or may not have met
but read their blogs or follow on Twitter.
From what I’d heard of last year’s F-ALT, the Fringe event would provide an opportunity to discuss topics related
to elearning in a informal and friendly setting. I’d heard anecdotes of last year’s debate on the “Edupunk” meme
and was looking forward to a similar light-hearted evening of geeky fun. However the topic of the opening F-
ALT session was “Postdigital” and the description on the F-ALT wiki read:
“What does this mean? Why is it not two words? Is it just Dave making-up another term in an attempt to get
keynote gigs? No, it actually has some substance to it and could be a very helpful way of framing the
learning-tech discussion over the next few years. If you are sceptical about all this then you should definitely
turn-up. The chances of an argument breaking out are very high.“
Perhaps this year’s F-ALT wouldn’t turn out to be the informal evening and drink and chat that I had expected!
The participants at the event were asked to give a two-minute response to a number of ideas we were presented
with. Mine was, if I recall correctly:
The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow
‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is
the main driver of change.
Being presented with this serious topic in the pub on the opening evening of the conference I tried to response in a
light-hearted fashion. I suggested that it was appropriate that this topic was raised in a traditional Manchester
boozer, possibly a pub which Fredrick Engles drank in when he spent time in the city. And just as we call for
ownership of our scholarly works in ours IRs (institutional repositories) so Engels called for ownership of the
means of production in the better known IR – the industrial revolution. So the arguments we are having now
aren’t about primarily about the technologies, but reflect arguments which date back hundreds of years (indeed
Martin Weller has suggested that the debates go back many centuries).
The publication of the video summary of the evening (which is embedded below) provides an opportunity to
revisit ‘postdigital’ debate …
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If, as Dave White suggests in a post on “Postdigital: Escaping the Kingdom of the New?“, we tend to overhype
the new and exciting, and fail to appreciate the aspects which are actually useful, what are the implications?
Perhaps this is a topic which is worthy of more considered thinking.
Now maybe it is correct to suggest that we in the development community, who consider ourselves to be agents of
a transformational change to a better environment, fail to appreciate that our users often ignore our developments
and our vision. After all, if the initial evidence reflects a more general trend, we seem to be living in a world in
which most users use an MS Windows platform to access institutional resources – they’re not interested in Linux,
for example, despite many years of evangelism from the open source community. A computer’s a computer, just
like a fax machine is a fax machine – only nerds care about what goes on underneath the bonnet.
But if this is true, what are the implications for accepting that we are in a postdigital age? Don’t we then accept
that our IT environment will be owned by the mega-corporations – Google and Microsoft. And let’s forget
debates about device independence and interoperability – unless the mega-corporations feel such issues may
provide a competitive edge.
It strikes me that the postdigital agenda is a conservative one, in which we are asked to accept that we (in our
institutions and in our working environment) cannot shape our digital environment. And for me that is a worrying
point of view which I don’t accept.
Filed in Events, General | Tagged altc2009 | Permalink |
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Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
On 6 September 2008 I published a post entitled 100,000 Views which documented the date of this blog having
received 100,000 views according to the usage statistics provided on the Wordpress.com site. I described how:
“I’ve found it useful in the past to write about significant landmarks on this blog in order to provide some
data which other bloggers may find useful in drawing parallels. And such factual data may also be useful in
the various blog workshops which myself and colleagues have been running“.
Just over a year later, with the blog having yesterday received
200,000 views, this milestone provides another opportunity for some reflection. As can be seen from the graph,
there has been a significant increase in the number of average monthly page views which began (coincidentally?)
after the blog reached 100,00 views in September 2008.
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There was a peak (of 9,108 views) the following month (October 2008) followed by a plateau of over 7,000 views
until June 2009, which saw a new peak of 9,300 views. This peak coincided with work I had been involved in for
a workshop on “Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources” – it would seem that the
experiments (including gathering evidence of the influence of Twitter in generating traffic) were successful.
However there has been a significant decrease in traffic since that peak, although the figures are still higher than a
year ago (the dip could be accounted for by the summer holidays and a decrease in the numbers of posts while I
was away at conferences recently – but could also reflect a more general decrease in blogging activities which
some commentators have speculated about recently).
Although I recognise that it is not possible to gain a picture of the state of the blogosphere based on usage figures
for a single blog (to say nothing of the view that there may be Lies, Dammed Lies, Blog Statistics and
Unexpected Spikes) I hope this snapshot is of interest to others. It would be particularly interesting to hear if
others are experiencing a downwards trend in light of the supposed move away from blogs to use of Twitter.
Filed in Blog | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (2)
We Need Evidence – But What If We Don't Like The Findings?
Monday, September 28th, 2009
The Need For Evidence
We know that technologies have the potential to provide many benefits, but this potential is not necessarily also
realised. We therefore need to gather evidence in order to inform our policies – perhaps to help us recognise that
what seemed to be a great idea has actually not been delivered in practice, perhaps to make us aware of a need for
greater advocacy and user engagement or perhaps for refining the approaches we initially took.
Usage Statistics For Mobile Devices
Such issues came to mind following a recent discussion on the website-info-mgt JISCMail list. The discussion
began by addressing the question of whether institutions should be developing iPhone applications providing, for
example, resources of interest to new students.
Following a discussion as to whether we should be developing generic applications for mobile devices and
whether this could fail to exploit device specific features, especially features which might be particularly valuable
for students with disabilities, David Bailey (Bath Spa University) put the discussion into context by providing
statistics on access to his institutional Web site from various platforms.
His statistics revealed that 80.55% of visits to the Web site in the past month came from an MS Windows
platform, 17.84% from the Apple Macintosh and 0.66% from a Linux platform, The figures for mobile devices
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were iPhone (0.44%), iPod (0.11%) and Symbian (0.10%) with the figures for mobile devices such as the Palm,
Blackberry and Android and gaming devices such as the Wii and Playstation being less than 0.1%.
In response to this sharing of evidence a number of follow-up posts provided additional statistics:
Heriot-Watt: MS Windows (93.51%), Apple Macintosh (5.05%), Linux (0.67%), iPhone (0.34%), Symbian
(012%) and iPod (0.11%) (see email).
Sunderland: MS Windows (92.4%), Apple Macintosh (5.7%) and Linux (0.7%). The figures for other
devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).
Imperial College: MS Windows (91.69%), Apple Macintosh (6.9%), Linux (0.87%), iPhone (0.3%),
Symbian (012%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).
University of Warwick: MS Windows (89.19%), Apple Macintosh (8.4%), Linux (1.85%) and iPhone
(0.25%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).
Before reflecting on the implications of this evidence we need to be aware of the limitations of these figures: it
reflects the experiences of only four institutions; the data is not necessarily based on institutional data and may
reflect usage for departmental Web servers and the data reflects usage in the summer vacation. But having
acknowledged these caveats, what might the implications be if this evidence does prove to be indicative of the
wider higher educational community?
Ironically although the discussion on the website-info-mgt list began over access to institutional Web sites from
mobile devices the data provides little evidence of significant usage by mobile devices. But the data does reveal
patterns of desktop usage which are worthy of further consideration.
I suspect many of the Web and IT developers and support staff who have been critical of Microsoft over the years
will be disappointed at the overwhelming popularity of the MS Windows platform for accessing the institutional
Web sites described above. Should we now accept that MS Windows has won the battle for the desktop operating
system environment? And at a time when, if the predictions are correct, we may see a reduction in staffing levels,
do these figures suggest that the time and effort in testing Web sites on the Linux platform may not be justified?
This isn’t to suggest that Web sites should be designed for the MS Windows platform, rather that the effort in
testing and tweaking for little-used platforms may not be justified.
Of course an argument could be made that the figures suggest that there is no point in developing services for the
mobile Web as the current levels of usage are very low. But the difference is that the desktop and laptop computer
environment is now mature, whereas the mobile environment is new.
I think there is a debate to be had – and there is also, perhaps, the need to ask “Where did it go wrong? What
happened to the diversity of operating systems? Where have the Mac users and Linux users gone?” Or perhaps
they are still around, and simply aren’t visiting institutional Web sites. What do you think?
Filed in Gadgets | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (14)
Tweetboard: Adding Twitter To Web Pages
Thursday, September 24th, 2009
I was recently alerted to a blog post on TechCrunch entitled “Tweetboard Launches Twitter Client And URL
Shortener“. The article described how this service “lets you create a Twitter-powered forum on any site“. In
addition Tweetboard provides “the ability to view discussions as a thread, similar to what you’d find on
FriendFeed or Facebook“.
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This sounded interesting so I signed up for a (free) Tweetboard account and created a page in which I added the
HTML code to created the embedded interface.
An screenshot of my experiment is illustrated.
As can be seen the tool provides a threaded view of replies to tweets – something I’ve not seen before but a
feature which does seem popular in FriendFeed.
However as has been pointed out, the service does seem slow (although I wonder if this might be due to the
increased usage of the service which the TechCrunch article may have generated) and the tweet display cannot be
Now although many experienced Twitter users may be interested in the threaded replies feature I suspect that a
typical response is likely to be “So what? There are lots of good twitter clients available – why should I be
interested in this one?“. This may be true, but will this approach be a useful way of introducing new Twitter users
to the service, in a specific context of use. At an amplified event, might an event page with this embedded
interface prove useful, I wonder? And if the HTML <script> fragment can be embedded in more mainstream
applications environments – such as a VLE, for example – might this be a way of embedding Twitter functionality
in the context of existing widely used services? Hmm, might there be life in the VLE yet?
Filed in Twitter | Tagged Tweetboard | Permalink | Edit |
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Reflections on Web Adaptability and Techshare 2009
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
Last week I gave a talk entitled “From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability” at the RNIB’s Techshare 2009
conference. I have already posted about this talk and described how I had created a slidecast of a rehearsal of the
talk (containing an audio track synched with the slides) in order to (a) check the timings for the talk and (b) allow
the co-authors of the paper on which thew talk is based to see how I intend to present our work. An additional
benefit is that the talk is more accessible to people who attended one of the parallel sessions at the conference or
who couldn’t attend the conference. In addition people who could attend the talk will be able to revisit the ideas
and share them with colleagues.
In addition to the slidecast of the rehearsal I also brought a Flip
video recorder with me, together with a tripod and recorded my live talk. This 30 minute talk is now available on
Vimeo.com (and a master copy is also held on the UKOLN Web site).
It should be noted that there are some differences between the rehearsal and the live talk. In part this is due to the
delayed start of the talk (due to technical difficulties) which meant I had to skip a couple of my slides. But in
addition on the evening before the conference I met up with a number of conference participants, including Lisa
Herrod (one of the co-authors of the paper) and Joshue O Connor, who is a member of the W3C WAI Protocol
and Formats WCAG 2.0 and WAI-ARIA Working Group.
The chat I had with Joshue provided me with a fresh insight of my criticisms of the WAI model. I’ve argued
previously (initially in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for
Applying the WCAG in the Real World” published in 2005) that expecting a combination of best practices for
accessible Web content (WCAG), Web authoring tools (ATAG) and Web user agents (UAAG) to provide rich
accessibility is naive. And, in addition, focussing on this model fails to provide any assistance on what content
creators should be doing in a world of flawed browsers and a rich diversity of ways of creating Web content.
The valuable discussion I had made me realise that the flaws aren’t in the model itself. Rather it’s with the user
community’s acceptance of the model as the approach which should be accepted in the real world. The WAI
model is valuable in managing WAI’s development activities and clarifying different areas of responsibilities
(how the content can be described; how tools can be used to create and manage that content and how user agents –
browsers, automated agents; aggregators, etc. can then access and render such information). But this isn’t a model
which we need to use ourselves when we are developing institutional policies for our approaches to enhancing the
accessibility and usability of our services or when legislators are writing laws describing the legal responsibilities
organisations have in providing accessible services.
Following my talk, Joshue and I had a brief chat. Despite the concerns I’d raised it seems that we had similar
views. The difficulties, I feel, is in how the WAI approach is being adopted in the real world. So whilst I
appreciate WAI’s advocacy in promoting take-up of their guidelines, I now have a better appreciation that their
hands are tied when it comes to real world deployment challenges. WAI aren’t in a position to advise on how we
should prioritise our (increasingly scarce) resources – such as the example I gave in my final slide on how higher
educational institutions should go about enhancing the accessibility of PDFs in institutional repositories.
But perhaps WAI could help by openly stating that decisions on how WAI guidelines should be deployed is up to
individual organisations to decide. We do need to remember that there are ‘accessibility fundamentalists’ who
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bought wholesale into the WCAG 1.0 vision and who may now be finding it difficult to come to terms with a
more flexible approach. Let’s use the release of WCAG 2.0 to promote a more flexible approach to accessibility
in the real world. And let’s also not forget that the UK Government’s blunt approach of “The minimum standard
of accessibility for all public sector websites is Level Double-A … Websites owned by central government
departments must be Double-A conformant by December 2009” . This policy fails to recognise the low
penetration of UAAG-conformant browsers in the Government sector, the resources needed to implement this
policy, the reduced level of funding which government departments will be faced with and the likelihood that risk
-averse decisions-makers in government departments will use the policy as an excuse to deploy innovative Web-
The slidecast and video of my talk at Techshare 2009 gives another illustration of how providing a diversity of
resources might enhance the accessibility of a resource (my talk and the related ideas) which is, to my mind,
preferable to not making these resources available as they aren’t universally accessible. And this view appeared to
be shared by a number of people at the conference who couldn’t attend my talk but werre interested in listening to
what I had said.
Filed in Accessibility | Tagged techshare09 | Permalink |
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A Lack of 'Social' and 'Media' at the Oxford Social Media Conference
Monday, September 21st, 2009
The Oxford Social Media Conference
The Oxford Social Media Conference, held on Friday 18 September 2009 at Said Business Centre, University of
Oxford, was one of the few events I’ve attended this year in which I haven’t spoken at. And it came at the end of
a very busy two weeks, having facilitated workshops and given talks at the ALT-C, ALPSP and Techshare
conferences and the Silos of the LAMs briefing event.
But despite not being on the programme, these days attendance at many conferences can provide opportunities for
more active participation than was the case in the past, through use of Twitter and other ways in which Social
Media can be used to engage with the audience (both local and remote) and facilitate informal discussions
amongst the participants.
I have already described how the failure to announce a conference hashtag in advance led to participants being
unable to meet up in advance (I’m sure I wasn’t the only participant to arrive the night before – and I was
fortunate in spotting a colleague in my Twitter network who was also travelling to the conference). But what of
use of Social Media at the conference itself?
Use of Social Media at the Event
The summary for the event began “With corporations, governments, newspapers and universities embracing
blogs and Twitter feeds as key elements in their communication strategies, social media have finally come of age”
and promised to “look back at the evolution of blogs and other social media to give a more nuanced
understanding of the ways in which such tools have or have not made a difference at the social, political or
Although the event did not have a technical focus, I expected it to embrace use of various aspects of Social Media
as the opening statement suggested universities are doing. I was pleased, therefore, when it became clear that the
panelists in the opening session were using Twitter to observe what the participants were discussing. And,
following a Twitter response from Bill Thompson to a my tweet in which I linked to a screenshot of an
Augmented Reality view of twitterers in the nearby locality, I took the opportunity ask (slightly tongue in cheek)
whether such engagement by the panel with the audience’s ‘backchannel’ wasn’t a somewhat worrying
appropriation by those in a position of power (the speakers) of what may be regarded as a democratising tool. I
went on to ask whether the expected spamming of the event’s hashtag (which happened) provided an example of
the inevitable commercialisation of the Social Web. We were naive in 1993 and 1994, I suggested to Bill (whom I
first met at the first WWW conference in Geneva in 1994) when we described that conference as the “Woodstock
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of the 1990s” and predicted that what we might now refer to as ‘Web 1.0″ would bring about a radical
democratisation of society. Aren’t we being equally naive to suggest that the Social Web will bring about this
The response was, not unexpectedly, uncertain, with the panelists pointing out that it is difficult to predict the
future and that the Social Web is likely to develop in unexpected ways, and what may be regarded by some as
spam (I gave an example of advertising from a taxi firm at the end of the Techshare conference) could equally be
felt to be useful information by others.
For me this opening session established a lack of experts in Social Media and would be followed by more open
discussions – and would avoid the lengthy responses to questions made by each member of the panel. But what
happened throughout the rest of the day was a repetition of the opening panel session: talks from each of the
panelists, with the occasional question or comment being made by the chairperson. I felt like I was a member of
the audience at a Radio 4 programme.
So for a conference on Social Media the event was missing on the ’social’ aspect, with little opportunity for
participants to engage with the discussions. There was also little ‘media’ at the conference, with none of the
speakers using any visual aids. For me meant the day was very repetitious, with little visual stimulation. It was
also at odds with a comment made in the final session that “it’s all about video, video, video. There will be
screens EVERYWHERE very soon“.
Now perhaps I’m being unfair. I have to admit my recent intensive spate of travelling meant that I was probably
suffering from an overdose of conferences – and the enjoyable lunch provided did mean that I wasn’t paying full
attention to the sessions after lunch. And an early departure meant that I missed the panel session on corporate
blogging which was described as “by far the most entertaining and informative of the day, mostly dealing with the
politics of setting corporate blog tone and complaint/query response rate“.
I’ve described how the description for the conference suggested that “With corporations, governments,
newspapers and universities embracing blogs and Twitter feeds as key elements in their communication
strategies, social media have finally come of age“.
For me many of the events I now attend make use of technologies such as Twitter, blogs and video streaming as a
key part of the ‘amplification’ of the event – and this amplification takes place before, during and after the event.
For an event about Social Media such expectations do not seem unreasonable. It is pleasing, therefore, to note that
a number of blog posts about the conference have already been published including:
• What we learned at the Oxford Social Media Convention, Digital Content Blog, The Guardian
• How social networking is changing journalism, Digital Content Blog, The Guardian
• A social media proposal (you’re not going to like it) #oxsmc09, jennifr.net
• Kara Visits the Oxford Social Media Convention: I Say Twitt-er, You Say Twitt-ah, BoomTown
• Oxford Social Media Convention 2009, MarkAttwood.com
The first of these links, from The Guardian, concludes: “PS: To find more detailed bits about the conference, look
up the hashtag #oxsmc09 on twitter“. However as I have described previously, content posted to twitter becomes
unavailable via Twitter’s search interface after about 10 days. Since media organisations such as The Guardian
are likely to ensure that such evidence does not disappear, I have created a copy of the #oxsmc09 tweets which
should make subsequent analysis of the discussions easier to carry out. And looking at the HTML version of the
archive there is a noticeable lack of tweets by the conference organisers – unlike, say, the recent ALT C and
Techshare conferences, both of which used Twitter during and after the event.
Filed in Events, Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
What! No Event Hashtag?
Sunday, September 20th, 2009
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Tim Berners-Lee at the Science Museum
Last Monday I attended a talk on “The Web Revealed” given by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Science Museum as
part of the centenary celebrations for 100 years of the Science Museum. This was a last minute decision – I was
about to head off to London as I was taking part in a session at the CILIP Executive Briefing on “Beyond the
Silos of the LAMS” the following day and spotted a tweet about a spare ticket for the event which was available.
When I joined the queue for the event I tweeted my location – to indicate to any Twitter followers where I was,
with the possibility of meeting up and perhaps going for a drink afterwards. As I commented at the time it felt
slightly strange to be at an event about the Web which did not have an event hashtag, thus making it difficult to
make links with other Twitterers at the event and share thoughts on the content. However one of my Twitter
followers, @brian@condon, who was following the event from a distance, spotted my tweet and suggested “How
about #bernerslee?” as a tag for the event. A few minutes later he tweeted:
RT @martingoode: Am following the #Berners-Lee talk via twitter thanks to @joannabutler @briankelly-
seems to be a hashtag!
So now it seems we have two people (@martinegoode and @brian_condon) following the talk on Twitter, via
tweets from myself and @joannabutler, with two hashtags (#Berners-Lee and #bernerslee) having being
suggested. I also spotted some tweet from @filce who concluded:
Sir Tim Burners-lee was amazing. Very interesting and brilliant. It was recorded so hopefully it will be
available the web!
And thanks to @filce I’ve spotted a recording of the opening of Sir Tim’s talk. as well as a link to his slides (the
URL was displayed very quickly at the end of his talk, and I had no time to make a note of the URI). Without
following up on @filce’s tweets, I would probably have missed out on this information.
But how could have it been made easier for the event Twitterers to be found and for them to be aware of each
other’s presence? Perhaps the Science Museum should be suggesting hashtags for its anniversary talks (especially
with another distinguished Web luminary – Dame Wendy Hall scheduled to talk in November). And what
approach should be taken to coining the hashtag? Should it be related to the venue (”I’m at the @sciencemuseum
to listen to Sir Tim Berners-Lee”), the anniversary series (”I’m at the @sciencemuseum-100 talk”) or, as
mentioned above, should the tag be based on the individual speaker’s name? If the latter, there will probably be a
need to avoid possible organisers – @timberners-lee (note the hyphen can cause hyperlinking problems in some
Twitter clients) or @timbl, for example. Or in the case of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Dame Wendy Hall and other
members of The Knightage, will an updated version of Debretts guide to forms of address require the title to be
included, so we’ll have to use #sirtim and #damewendy?
The Oxford Social Media Conference (#oxsmc09)
On Friday I attended the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009 held at Said Business School, University of
Oxford. As might be expected for an event which promised to “look back at the evolution of blogs and other
social media to give a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which such tools have or have not made a
difference at the social, political or economic level” the event did have a hashtag (#oxsmc09) which was widely
used by the Twitterers in the audience. Indeed, following a suggestion I made at the event a colleague set up a
wthashtag page for the tag, so that we can see that there were almost 1,000 tweets during the day, from 200
contributors (note there would probably have been more, but the conference WiFi network went down during the
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But as can be seen
from the histogram of the event tweets, nothing was said prior to the event. This was due to the hashtag only
being announced in the conference pack when the delegates registered at the event.
This resulted in a missed opportunity for participants at this conference on Social Media to, for example, meet up
prior to the event and, err, be social. Indeed it was rather fortuitous that while travelling from London to Oxford I
spotted a number of tweet from EDINA’s Nicola Osborne who was travelling from Edinburgh to London
Heathrow and then, I noticed, to Oxford. In response to my tweet:
@suchprettyeyesI’m on way to Oxford for Social Media conf. Fancy drink tonight? Am sure someone can
suggest decent real ale pub.
I discovered that Nicola was going to the same event and we met up at the Eagle and Child (thanks to
@sboneham for the suggestion). But despite asking:
Is there a tag for Social Media conf at Said College? Would be good to meet up with others.
it wasn’t until the next morning that we found out the event’s hashtag (with the first event tweet coming from
Nicola ). A missed opportunity, I feel, which was echoed by Bill Thompson, one of the conference speakers:
@deejacksonI’m looking forward to Oxford Social Media Convention tomorrow – no idea of hashtag but
will be tweeting…
The need to find the information containing the hashtag also caused confusion for people who had arrived and, in
the absence of advance notification, had started to make us of their own hashtag. As rohanjay commented:
foxed by random hashtagging, calls for order at the Oxford social media bunfight -is it #oii or #oxsoc or
There are lessons which can be learnt from such confusions, especially for anyone organising events about Social
Augmented Reality and Geo-Location
But need an event’s Twitter discussions necessarily require agreement on a hashtag? Following problem’s with
the conference WiFi network I started to use my HTC Magic Android mobile phone to follow the conference
tweets. Due to the phone’s poor user interface, I didn’t contribute significantly to the discussions. However it did
occur to me that the event might provide an opportunity to make use of the LayarAugmented Reality application
which I’d installed the previous week, after hearing about it from Joss Winn, a fan of the HTC Android phone (he
has the newer model which has, I understand, an improved user interface).
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I had first started to use the application the previous night in the pub, using it to find information
on nearby pubs and historic building which could be viewed on a map and relevant Wikipedia pages or geo-
located photos displayed.
The Layar environment also has two Twitter applications which enable me to view nearby Twitter users and
Twitter posts. I used this at the conference and posted a link to a screenshot of my mobile phone display, which is
It would be nice if the display showed that a prolific Twitter user was located in from of my and slightly to the
left, with another prolific user being near the front of the lecture theatre. However that wasn’t the case – the image
shows tweets within about a mile of my location, some of which had been posted the previous day. So this isn’t a
way of finding tweets from others at the same conference – yet!
To conclude, events such as Tim Berner’s Lee’s talk at the Science Museum and the Oxford Social Media
Conference need an event hashtag. There’s also a need for the tag to be announced in a timely fashion and not just
on the day itself. There’s also a need for process for selecting a tag (which I’ll discuss in more detail in a future
post). But perhaps the importance of hashtagging at events may be complemented by developments such as geo-
location application. But as we will still need to talk about the events we are planning to attend as well as the
event we are at, we’ll still need the event hashtag,
Filed in Events, Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
Use of Twitter at the ALTC 2009 Conference
Monday, September 14th, 2009
Back After A Week Away
Last week was unusual – not a single blog post published in the week. Although there were suggestions at last
week’s ALT-C 2009 conference that blogging is in decline with established bloggers making greater use of
Twitter, my failure to blog last week was due to being away all week at the ALT-C conference followed by the
ALPSP 2009 conference. And although I’d brought along my ASUS EEE PC, I couldn’t get it connected to the
network in my bedroom at either of the conferences. So my connectivity was restricted to use of my iPod Touch
and HTC Magic mobile phone – which I used for reading email messages, tweets and RSS feeds and writing the
occasional Twitter post.
ALT-C 2009 Summaries
A number of valuable summaries of the conference have already been published. I don’t intend to repeat what has
already been said, apart from mentioning that the two plenary talks I saw (from Michael Wesch and Martin Bean )
were both excellent (I had to leave on the final morning and so unfortunately missed Terry Anderson’s closing
plenary talk); the VLE is Dead debate was entertaining, with witty contributions made from the four speakers and
was useful in raising issues and providing insights which I hadn’t previously considered.
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Twitter at ALT-C 2009
But what of the use of Twitter at ALT-C 2009? Philip Paasuke, an e-learning enthusiast based in Adelaide,
Australia, has described how he followed the conference from home using a variety of technologies: watching the
keynote plenary talks on Elluminate and using Tweetdeck to follow the back channel discussions. As Philip
describes: “The Twitter postings gave me an interesting perspective on what participants at the conference and
those observing it remotely were thinking about the various presentations“. Philip went on to add that “Following
ALT-C 2009 on Twitter has also led me to increase the number of people that I am following using this service
from what might loosely be called ’the elearning community’. The Twitter posts also included a lot of useful links
to more detailed blog postings by some of the conference participants“.
extensively was Twitter used at the conference? And what was the profile of its usage?
I have previously described how I used a variety of Twitter analysis and management tools to analyse use of
Twitter at UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event. For that event, which had 200 participants, there were 1,530 tweets. For
the ALTC 2009 conference, with had over 700 participants, there were over 4,300 tweets published in a week!
This figure, which was obtained using the wthashtag service, provides a summary, illustrated above, based on
tweets posted from Monday 6 to Sunday 13 September. We can expected further tweets this week, as other
participants get round to writing their reports on the conference and continue the discussions. And I should add
that Philip Paasuke’s blog post mistakenly gives #altc09 as the official Twitter hashtag – there were a further 128
tweets using this tag from 51 contributors.
During my analysis of #iwmw2009 event Tweets, I discovered that tweets seem to disappear after a short period
of time. I subsequently came across a TechCrunch post which reported that tweets currently become unavailable
from the Twitter search API after about 10 days.
In order to carry pout more detailed analyses, it will be necessary to ensure that a copy of the relevant tweets is
kept, ideally in a format suitable for data analysis. I have therefore once again used the wthashtag, Twapperkeeper
and Tweetdoc services to keep a local copy of the conference tweets. Links to the data and to these servicesis
available on the UKOLN Web site.
Why The Interest?
What is the point of the analysis of the Twitter posts made at the ALTC 2009 conference? Isn’t the point of
Twitter it’s spontaneity and perhaps its subversive use?
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Well although that may be one use case for Twitter, it’s not the only one.
The interest in use of Twitter as an educational tool can be gauged from the popularity of the Teaching With
Twitter workshop facilitated by Steve Wheeler and colleague. And mining the data might also provide interesting
insights into the event, the community and the ideas discussed and shared. Looking at the summary of trending
words provided by the Tweetdocs service, for example, might indicate an interest in Twitter (to be expected) but
also in openness and people. And the two people who seem to have been most discussed (or, in the case of James
Clay, contributed to the discussions) seem to be James Clay and Anderson (probably Terry Anderson, the final
The conference organisers might be pleased to see the popularity of the words “good” and “great” – but what
about the criticisms that were made of the queues for the food and coffee and the conference accommodation?
Will analysis of the Twitter discussions start to from part of an organisation’s debriefing after an event - and
might not the venue itself have an interest in what was said about the facilities? Well the data is now available for
Filed in Events, Twitter | Tagged altc2009 | Permalink |
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"Realising Dreams, Avoiding Nightmares, Accepting Responsibilities"
Thursday, September 3rd, 2009
Martin Weller and I will be facilitating a workshop session entitled “Realising Dreams, Avoiding Nightmares,
Accepting Responsibilities” at the ALT-C 2009 conference. Martin and I met over blog comments and Twitter
posts and discovered we had similar interests. In particular Martin and I bounced around some ideas on the theme
of “Even if we’re wrong, were right”, which started with a blog post by Martin on “Web 2.0 – even if we’re
wrong, we’re right“.
When a few months ago I saw a tweet from someone saying they were find it difficult to think of a proposal top
submit which fitted in with this year’s ALT-C theme of “In dreams begins responsibility” I felt that this theme
provided the ideal opportunity to write a joint proposal.
So on Wednesday 9 September, starting at 9 am, we’ll be facilitating a workshop session. In the 90 minute session
the participants will explore the (probably) diverse visions (the dreams) they have for e-learning and the barriers
(nightmares) which may be faced. We will then explore the approaches (the responsibilities) we may need to
avoid the nightmares and bring about a realisation of the dream.
The workshop session itself has a dream in which interested participants, including those who may not be
physically present at the session, will engage in the discussions and debates and contribute to examples or the
dreams and nightmares and suggestions for the responsibilities.
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In order to bring about this dream we hope to provide live
streaming of the talks in the session using the Bambuser service on my HTC Magic Android mobile phone.
Discussions will take place on Twitter and contributions to the session can be made by tagging tweets with the
tags “#altc2009″ and “#s113″ (as described previously, the second hashtag will enable tweets to be
differentiated from other Twitter posts at the conference).
My nightmare is that video streaming won’t work (will there be a mobile phone signal for the venue, I wonder) or
will be of poor quality. My responsibility, however, will be to write a summary of the session so that if you tried
to participate remotely but failed you will at least be able to read a summary of the discussions.
Filed in Events | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (2)
"From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability" Talk at Techshare
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
A proposal for a talk I submitted to the RNIB’s Techshare 2009 conference has been accepted. The talk on “From
Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” will be given on 17 September 2009.
The talk is based on the paper of the same name which was published recently in the Disability and Rehability:
Assistive Technology journal. The talk at the Techshare conference will provide an opportunity for the ideas in
the paper (which I have also outlined in a recent blog post and in an article published in the e-Access Bulletin) to
be described to those in the disability community who may not read academic journals or blogs.
There is an expectation that presentations at the conference will be accessible to those with visual
impairments. An approach I have taken to enhancing the accessibility of the slides (and the ideas which will be
described in the talk) has been to create a slidecast of the talk, by synching the audio of a rehearsal of the talk
with the slides. This slidecast is available on Slideshare and is embedded below.
The rehearsal also provided an opportunity for me to time the talk – and I found that at 34 minutes it was slightly
too long, so the version I will give at the conference will be slightly shorter.
As well as helping me with the timings and allowing me to spot where the material can be improved, creating the
slidecast prior to the talk has some additional benefits:
• It provides a back-up in case I lose my voice or am ill at the conference or fail to arrive at the conference
venue due to travel difficulties.
• Conference delegates can listen to the talk after the event.
• The talk can be shared with others.
• The slidecast is a richer resources than the slides on their own
In addition there are parallels with open source software development – this early release of a talk and exposing it
to many eyes ears can potentially allow my peers, including co-authors of the original paper, to listen to what I
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intend to say and provide comments and suggestions as to how the talk can be improved. The talk isn’t trapped in
my head until the live delivery!
If you have a particular interest in Web accessibility your comments and questions are welcomed.
Filed in Accessibility | Tagged techshare2009 | Permalink
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Skype, Two Years After Its Nightmare Weekend
Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
The headline in the Technology Guardian supplement read “Skype’s nightmare weekend highlights peer-to-peer
fears” two year’s ago back on 23 August 2007. The article described how “Skype’s popular internet telephone
service went down on August 16 and was unavailable for between two and three days“.
I remember this incident as, with people’s attention focussed on the loss of this service (fortunately at a non-
critical time in the academic year) our University IT Service department took the opportunity to remind the Skype
users on campus (which included me) that Skype was a proprietary application. The recommended VoIP
application, which was about to be deployed for the start of the academic year, was the FreeWire phone service.
This, I was told, was recommended as it was based on open standards. This sounded interesting, especially if it
provided the application independence which Skype lacks. So I looked at the FreeWire Web site and found that
“It’s only when you call non-Freewire phones that you have to pay“. So its’ based on open standards, but you
have to pay if you try to call a user who isn’t running the same software as you. It’s no different from Skype, it
would seem – except, perhaps, that as I speak there are almost 17 million Skype users online. In comparison the
standards-based FreeWire service services a niche market (and perhaps a satisfied niche market as, here at Bath
University several student residences now have Voice-over-IP telephones in the bedrooms).
But the promise of VoIP telephony services seems further away than it did two years ago (and the access
problems Skype suffered from were due to a bug triggered by large numbers of automated Microsoft Windows
updates – a bug now fixed). I now have Skype clients on my office PC and my laptop (both running MS
Windows), my Asus EEE netbook PC (running Linux), my iPod Touch and my HTC Magic Android. A
proprietary application running on four different platforms seems pretty good!
So what’s the future for VoIP telephony services? Yesterday the BBC News announced “eBay reaches deal to
sell Skype“. The article states that “Online auction site eBay has agreed to sell the majority of internet phone
company Skype for about $2bn (£1.2bn)” and goes on to explain that the deal values Skype at $2.75bn, a slight
increase on the $2.6bn it paid for the company in 2005.
Attempts by JANET to deploy a standards-based VoIP service (called JANET Talk) for the UK’s higher/further
education community were abandoned a few months ago bacause, as described in JANET News (PDF format): ”
The results from both trial feedback and market research showed that the appetite for a service like JANET Talk
had diminished. The reasons cited include a preference for alternative solutions that are now available from the
commercial sector. These solutions were deemed easier to use, reliable and free.”
Sometimes standards-based solutions don’t take off, it would seem, even when there are JISC-funded initiatives
encouraging the take-up of such solutions. And as Nick Skelton suggested in a post entitled “Why did JANET
Talk fail?” perhaps this is due to a failure to appreciate the importance of the network effect. Nick concluded:
“When planning a new service, see if it has built-in positive network effects. It is doesn’t have these naturally,
find a way to connect it to larger networks so it can benefit from theirs. If you can’t find a way to do this then
you are dooming your project from the start. You’re better off doing nothing, unless you want to see your
service become irrelevant, pushed to one side by a larger, more popular one.“
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Hashtags for the ALT-C 2009 Conference
Friday, August 28th, 2009
This Year’s ALT-C Conference
I will be attending the ALT-C 2009 Conference at the University of Manchester in a couple of weeks time where
I’ll be facilitating a session with Martin Weller on “Realising Dreams, Avoiding Nightmares, Accepting
Responsibilities” – a title chosen to reflect the conference theme of “In dreams begins responsibility“.
Yesterday I was involved in discussions on Twitter regarding use of hashtags (hash tags?) for referring to specific
sessions at the conference. The conference tag has already been agreed – it is altc2009 and this has been
announced on the conference home page. Let’s hope that this high visibility avoids tag fragmentation.
But there are many sessions at ALT-C and many parallel sessions. So an active Twitter community – which we
are likely to find at the conference – may well find itself talking at cross-purposes if nothing is done to
differentiate between the sessions. It may also be useful to be able to be able to identify particular sessions using a
short and unambiguous tag e.g. so people can say “Are you going to Brian’s session?” or “What did you think of
Martin’s session?” without confusion and using fewer characters.
Experiences of Using Hashtags at UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 Event
At UKOLN’s recent IWMW 2009 event we allocated a two-digit code for the plenary talks (P1-P8) and the
parallel sessions (A1-A9, B1-B4 and C1-C5) . This short code was used consistently on the Web site, initially for
selection of the parallel sessions.
Shortly before the event we
encouraged use of these codes, together with the codes we assigned for the plenary talks, in Twitter. And, as I’ve
described previously, after the event we captured the tweets for the plenary talks and provided links to this record
of discussions which used the Twitter hashtags in this fashion (see, for example, the tweets made during Paul
Boag’s plenary talk P3 which is illustrated).
After the event we used the Archivist Twitter archiving tool in order to capture these tweets are store them
locally. These local archives are available in CSV and XMLformats. As can be seen, for Paul Boag’s talk, 78
tweets containing the pair of hastags were found.
What To Do For ALT-C?
What approach should be taken to use of hashtags at this year’s ALT-C conference? A similar answer might be to
do nothing other than use the event’s hashtag. After all, some may argue, Twitter’s strength is its simplicity and
adding anything new is likely to undermine this simplicity. Whilst I’d agree with this sentiment I don’t feel that
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adding an additional optional tag is complex. And we know have some examples of the benefits of doing this,
which I’ve described in a recent screencast published on this blog.
But how should we select the hashtags for the session? I recently discovered that the unique identifier for the
workshop myself and Martin Weller are facilitating is 113. And looking at the conference introduction and
abstracts which arrived in the post a few days ago it seems that the session ids range from 0012 to 0322. I’m
assuming that the unique ids were assigned when the proposals were submitted as the numbers aren’t consecutive
(hmm, were the first 11 proposals rejected, I wonder?). To avoid confusion and to save space I’d suggest that
leading zeroes are ignored. So my proposal for a hashtag to identify the session would be #snnn – in my case this
would be #altc321 and James Clay’s four sessions would have the identifiers #s208, #s221, #s286 and #s301.
These tags would be used in conjunction with the main conference tag. A Twitter search for “#altc2009 #s321″
should find tweets referring to my session. Simple? Indeed a simplification of my initial suggestion of #altcnnn as
a session identifier.
But although this approach worked at IWMW 2009 and would work for my workshop session it has been pointed
out to me that this approach won’t work for the sessions which have multiple papers being presented. Although
the individual papers have a unique identifier, the sessions themselves do not. Owen Stephens suggested that the
identifier used in the conference’s CrowdVine social networking environmentcould be used but this then causes
potential confusion with the identifiers allocated by the conference and won’t easily be found by conference
participants who aren’t using CrowdVine. And further discussions is only likely to lead to confusions and
So my proposal is this:
• The conference hashtag is #altc2009.
• If Twitter users wish to identify a specific session they should use the #altc2009 hashtag in conjunction
with a session tag which has the format #snnn when nnn is a the session identifier given in the conference
programme, with leading zeroes omitted (the prefix s standards for the session identifier).
Is this approach worth trying?
In light of the workshop session on
Teaching With Twitter which Steve Wheeler will bve giving at the ALT-C Conference, I can’t help but think we
do need to be experimenting with ways in which Twitter can be used in a learning context and in enriching its use
in community building.
Reflecting on Tony Hirst’s recent post on “A Quick Peek at the IWMW2009 Twitter Network“ which analysed
and visualised tweets at the IWMW 20009 event in order to “help to identify amplification networks” it occurs to
me that something similar might be useful at a larger event such as ALT-C. Do, for example, the Twitterers
who @ each other and RT tweets tend to go to the same sessions, I wonder?
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And if you still think this may be too complicated I intend to include details of the session hashtag on the opening
slide for the session Martin Weller and I will be facilitating, as illustrated.
Filed in Events, Twitter | Tagged altc2009 | Permalink |
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The Science Online 2009 Unconference Video
Thursday, August 27th, 2009
As described on the On The Roof blog a video clip of the Fringe Frivolous Unconference is now available. The
Fringe Frivolous Unconference took place on the evening of Friday 21 August 2009 on the roof terrace of the
Mendeley offices. About 40-50 people attended this event, which provided an opportunity for science bloggers
and other interested parties to talk about and discuss science blogging.
The video clip (which lasts for 7 minutes 47 seconds) is available on YouTube and is embedded below.
As you can see the video contains brief interviews with many of the participants who attended the unconference
in which they explain why the blog or mention other topics of interest to them.
In a blog post about the event Richard Grant described how he “stalk[ed] the rooftops with a Flip camera (kindly
loaned by Alom Shaha)” and subsequently “edited the clips into a short film that I think captures the essence of
the evening perfectly“. And I think Richard is to be applauded for so quickly taking so many video clips and
editing thenm to produce the short film.
But is this YouTube video accessible? Where are the captions which are needed to ensure that the resource
complies with the Web Acessiility Initiative’s (WAI’s) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)? After all
the WCAG 2.0 guidelines state that:
1.2.2 Captions (Prerecorded): Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media,
except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such. (Level A)
But do the unconference organisers (unorganisers?) have to follow these guidelines? Legislation requires
organisations to take reasonable measures to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against
unfairly. And is it reasonable to expect a light-weight approach to recording a video of an event to require
captioning? I think not – and recall a suggestion that ‘reasonable measures’ meant an addition 10-15% of effort. I
suspect the time it would take to caption this video would probably be significantly greater than this.
In addition perhaps as this event wasn’t ‘official’ and the video wasn’t a deliverable of a public sector
organisation, conformance with WCAG guidelines is not needed. But might there not be a moral responsibility to
enhance the accessibility of this resources – after all, discussions of the ethical as well as legal aspects of blogging
cropped up during the unconference as well in the opening talk at the Science Online 2009 conference the
But how might one go about enhancing the accessibility of the video, in light of the limited effort to do this – and
the difficulties of doing this on a sustainable basis?
One approach might be to crowd-source the captioning to share the effort. If, for example, everyone who was
interviewed in the video provided a textual summary of what tey said, could that be used to caption the video? I’m
not sure – but I am willing to provide a summary of my contribution:
4 minutes 45 seconds: Brian Kelly introduces himself. Brian is based at UKOLN, a national centre of
expertise in digital information management, lcoated at the University of Bath. He blogs about Web and Web
2.0 issueson the UK Web Focus blog, which is available at ukwebfocus.wordpress.com
5 minutes 7 seconds: end of Brian Kelly’s clip.
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Filed in Accessibility | Tagged solo09 | Permalink | Edit |
The Back Channels for the Science Online 2009 Conference
Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
The Science Online 2009 Conference
On Saturday 22nd August 2009 I attended the Science Online 2009 Conference which was held at the Royal
Institution of Great Britain, London. The conference followed on from last year’s event, which had the title
Science Blogging 2008, but had a broader remit addressing issues such as “What is a scientific paper?”, “Author
identity – Creating a new kind of reputation online”, “Real-time statistics in science” and “Google Wave: Just
another ripple or science communication tsunami?” as well as blog-related talks such as “Blogging for impact”
and “Legal and Ethical Aspects of Science Blogging “.
With an audience of experienced scientific bloggers present it is only to be expected that, just a few days after the
conference, blog posts about the conference has already been published. So rather than repeat what has already
been said, I will link to one blog post which provides links to a number of posts already published: Thoughts on
the Science Online London Conference.
The Event Back Channels
This post mentions the Twitter hashtag for the event (#solo09) and provides links to the FriendFeed Science
Online London group (which used the tag solondon for the Friendfeed room) and also the Flick group for the
event (which used the tag solo09).
For an event aimed at scientists which focussed on innovative online technologies (as well as a talk on Google
Wave several of the talks were also available in Second Life) and which discussed the implications of the online
environment on traditional views on scientific papers and mechanisms for measuring the impact of scientific
research in this environment it was perhaps surprising that there wasn’t more discussions of ways of preserving
the online discussions associated with the conference itself which took place on Twitter, FriendFeed and Second
Life, in addition to blog posts, some of which were published during the conference itself.
Preserving the Back Channel Discussion
Now although links have been provided to Twitter searches for “solo09″ I suspect the short lifespan of Twitter
searches may not be well-known. Following my recent blog post containing links to the Twitter channel for
UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event I subsequently discovered that tweets disappear from Twitter’s search index in a
short period of time: as reported in a recent TechCrunch article “According to Twitter’s search documentation, the
current date limit on the search index is “around 1.5 weeks but is dynamic and subject to shrink as the number of
tweets per day continues to grow.“”
Further information on these experiences has been published. As I have described many (but not all) of the tweets
associated with the event were stored locally using the Backupmytweets, Twapperkeeper, and WTHashtag
services in order to avoid the dependencies on the Twitter service.
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Testing one of
these services with the #solo09 hashtag I find that currently Twapperkeeper finds 1,1472 tweets for the “#solo09″
tag. This service also provides a graph of the numbers of tweets which is illustrated. To summarise in the last 7
days there have been:
• 1,435 tweets
• 193 contributors
• 205.0 tweets per day
• 29.8% come from “The Top 10″
• 16.0% are retweets
• 43.0% are mentions
• 5.7% have multiple hashtags
In addition the top contributors were:
1. @kejames – 65
2. @rpg7twit – 55
3. @kjhaxton – 51
4. @Allochthonous – 50
5. @skyponderer – 41
6. @brian_condon – 38
7. @morphosaurus – 36
8. @PaoloViscardi – 34
9. @phnk – 29
10. @allysonlister – 29
We might expect the science community to have a particular interest in citations and the online science
community and the early adopters to have a particular interest in citations related to new collaborative and
communications techn0logies such as Twitter, FriendFeed and Second Life.
In previous discussions on this topics there has been a view expressed by some that Twitter should be regarded as
a transient form of communication and the loss of data should be regarded as one of Twitter’s strengths. And this
might be particularly relevant when the communications relates to trivial issues or issues which time out quickly.
Examples of both instances took place at Science Online 2009: the unaswered iPhone caused lots of people to
complain on the various channels and the updates on the Ashes test scores are no longer relevant.
The experiences of Science Online 2009 do, however, underscore an additional challenge: the diversity of the
back channels. In addition to the Twitter channel, the science community has been an adopted of FriendFeed and
this was popular at the event. Discussions were also taking place on Second Life. As well as the different
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applications being used there were multiple variants of the event tags: ‘#solo09′ on Twitter, ’solo09′ on Flickr and
’solondon’ for the name of the FriendFeed room.
The conference was also faced with the question of how to display the back channel. At one point a Twitter
Search screen was displayed alongside the FriendFeed display. However since the Twitter display required
manual refreshing to display new tweets this was replaced by the Twitterfall software during one of the
presentations. Unfortunately this last minute adjustments meant that the text on the screen display wasn’t large
enough to be read comfortably by many in the audience.
Where does this leave us? I would hope that the experiences of Science Online 2009, IWMW 2009, etc. and the
subsequent sharing and discussions of experiences will help to inform approaches and best practices for future
amplified events. And as suggested in a recent blog post on Feral Event Data: Twitter at IWMW 2009 aren’t the
benefits of preserving the (reusable) data associated with live blogging at events particularly relevant for the
research community? Tony Hirst has recently given his Preliminary Thoughts on Visualising the OpenEd09
Twitter Network. And he has started “thinking about how we might start to analyse the structure of the network
around the hashtag, in part so we can understand information flow through that part of the open education
Tony has written a follow-up post
giving “A Quick Peek at the IWMW2009 Twitter Network” which shows who cited who on Twitter during the
IWMW 2009 event. This might give rise to some interesting questions. But might the interesting observations
which can be made about the IWMW 2009 event (an event aimed at Web practitioners) be of more relevance in a
research context? Perhaps not -but you can only ask the questions and carry out this type of analysis if you have
the data. So if there is anyone who wishes to mine the ‘#solo09′ Twitter data I hope the data I have captured is
Filed in Twitter | Tagged solo09 | Permalink | Edit |
Feral Event Data: Twitter at IWMW 2009
Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
I have been asked to give a talk at a workshop session to be held at the Dublin Core DC-2009 conference on
“Semantic Interoperability of Linked Data”. The invitation arose after my recent posts on the use of Twitter at
UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event. The talk is intended for a session on “feral data”. This, I assume, is meant to cover
data which may be uncontrolled and unmanaged but which may be useful in ways which are not originally
The DC-09 event is being held in Seoul, South Korea in October 2009. I won’t be attending the conference, but
have agreed to produce a brief pre-recorded presentation. My first rehearsal of the talk was too long (20 minutes
rather than 10) and the sound quality wasn’t great (interference caused my the close proximity of my mobile
phone to the microphone). However I thought it might be useful to make this draft presentation available for those
who may have an interest in this subject. The draft abstract for the talk is give below:
Increasingly research conferences, such as DC 2009, will have a WiFi network which conference attendees
will use to enhance their learning and engagement with ideas, as well as for supporting administrative and
Tools such as Twitter enable conference attendees to engage in discussions during talks in ways which would
have been frowned upon before hand-held devices and laptop computers became an essential item for many
The pre-recorded presentation will describe the approaches which were taken at UKOLN’s recent IWMW
2009 (Institutional Web Management Workshop) in which Twitter (together with technologies such as
Twitter, an event blog, Flickr and live video streaming) was used to enrich the quality of the event and
maximise its outreach.
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The presentation covers:
• The reasons for the ‘event amplification’.
• Tools used to aggregate information provided on a diversity of services.
• Tools used to ‘preserve’ the event ‘tweets’.
• Challenges in curating the event ‘tweets’.
• The dangers in attempting to manage an event’s back-channel”
This talk is available as a slidecast (slides plus audio) on Slideshare and is also embedded below.
Your comments are invited.
Filed in Twitter | Tagged dc09 | Permalink | Edit |
25 years of PowerPoint. But What Next?
Thursday, August 20th, 2009
PowerPoint was born 25 years ago, on 14 August 1984. An article on the BBC News Magazine, entitled “The
problem with PowerPoint” points out that “They’re often boring” and goes on to point out the problems with
PowerPoint presentations which are too wordy, make excessive use of bullet points, etc.
The Need For Good Design and Visual Impact
Nothing surprising, you may think. And I too have been bored with such presentations and have been impressed
with more visually oriented presentations, in which the design creativity is apparent.
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In particular I remember how impressed I was with Alison
Wildish’s plenary talk at IWMW 2007 – a talk which was radical, at the time, in the summary of how a relatively
new institution (Edge Hill University) was embracing Social Web services to engage with students and potential
The accompanying slides were also visually impressive, with each slide having its own visual identity and some
of the slides challenging the assumptions that a speaker from a marketing background would invariably promote
their own institution.
As someone who gives a lot of talks my slides should be more like Alison’s, I can remember thinking at the time.
I should ditch the UKOLN template and make the individual slides distinctive, as Alison did. And I should reduce
the amount of text on the slides, leaving it to my memory, or the accompanying speaker notes, to provide the
details of what I will say in my talks.
An Alternative View
But whilst I’ll acknowledge the impact that good design and visual diversity can have on an audience I do wonder
whether the points made in the BBC article start to become slightly less relevant in the environment I increasingly
work in, in which ‘amplified conferences’ will be built around the speakers and their slides but the audience may
not be physically present in the lecture theatre but viewing the talks on a video streaming service or accessing the
slides after the event is over.
UKOLN’s recent IWMW 2009 event was one such amplified event. And for this event we sought to treat the
remote audience watching the video stream as first class participants, providing access to the plenary speaker’s
slides using Slideshare, as well as using various social media services, such as Twitter to encourage discussions,
etc. Liz Azyan, in a blog post entitled “Iwmw2009: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly…“, picked up on the
importance of this approach:
“Let’s talk a bit about some of the stuff I liked about the conference…
There were alot of things that this conference did get right in terms of using social media to fully aggregate
the workshops content effectively online. Check out how #iwmw2009 came alive online and created real-time
conversations and feedback …
1. Slideshare of all presentation slides (Excellent!) – I always find myself needing to ask for these at
events and often take a long time to become available. So, well done!“
In a follow-up post Liz, in a report on the opening session at the event, embedded the slides from the two opening
talks, thus illustrating how such slides can now be decoupled from their use in the live presentation.
I personally am finding larger numbers of people seem to access to my slides on Slideshare than are present when
I give the live presentation. Looking at the statistics I notice that a the slides for a talk on “Introduction To
Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges For The Institution“, which was given to a small number (less than 20)
of staff at Bath University has been viewed 10,900 times.
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Who, then, is my main audience? Should I seek to treat the remote audience on par with the live audience? And if
I do wish to do this, will it (should it) have any relevance to the design of the slides? Perhaps for the remote
audience, there should be a greater emphasis placed on the informational content, whereas for the live audience
the emphasis may be on engaging with the audience?
And does a personal visual appearance for slides possibly make it difficult for the slides to be reused? For a
number of years I have provided a Creative Commons licence for my slides, and have welcomed their reuse. But
if they were less neutral in the appearance and contained less content, would this detract from their potential for
Or are these just excuses for my lack of design skills!?
Filed in General | Tagged Slideshare | Permalink | Edit |
If Not Too Large, Are University Web Teams Poor Communicators?
Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
I recently posed the question “Are University Web Teams Too Large?“. The context to this question was a
suspicion that the UK HE sector is lagging behind smaller US colleges in exploiting the potential of various Web
2.0 services. And maybe organisations with well-established IT Service departments try to develop services in-
house because of the relatively large Web team and Web developers.
A response to this assertion would be to argue the diversity of services which University Web teams are engaged
in. But do Web teams take the time to communicate within their institutions and inform their user communities of
the work they are engaged in? And do they work effectively by sharing their approaches with their peers in other
institutions, and learn from approaches taken in other higher educational institutions?
This was an issue raised last year by Mike Nolan on the Edge Hill University Web team blog on a post on
“Blogging web teams” in which he pointed out that “Blogging web teams are rare. I suspect you could count
them on one hand“.
In the blog post Mike provided a whole series of reasons why Web teams should be making use of blogs
• Communicating what you’re doing.
• Personal Development.
• Community Engagement.
• Practice what you preach.
• Networking with peers.
Those suggestions, which I’d endorse, were made before the economic crisis began to seriously affect the higher
educational sector. But in a recent issues of the Times Higher Education (6 August 209) I read a news item which
states that “The University of Wolverhampton is to cut about 250 jobs – about 11% of its total staff“.
So to Mike’s list of reasons why Web teams should be blogging I’d add:
• To ensure that University policy makers are aware of the importance of the activities of the Web
team to the institution.
And if you still argue that you haven’t got time to blog, be warned – you may find yourself with more time on
your hands than you bargained for! At least the Web Team for the Electronics and Computer Science department
at the University of Southampton seem to have got the message – they set up a Web team blog at the start of
August with a simple and clear remit: “This blog is aimed at people doing similar jobs to ours, and to members of
our school so they can see a bit of what we do“.
Filed in Blog, General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
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The Use of Blogs and Wikis in Scholarly Communication
Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
I have been invited to give a talk on “The Use of Blogs and Wikis in Scholarly Communication” ALPSP 2009
conference to be held at the at the The Oxford Belfry, Milton Common, Thame on 9-11th September. The talk will
will take place on the final day in the closing session on “The Transformation of Scholarly Practice”. The abstract
for this session is given below:
The way that researchers work is changing and so is the way they interact with the scholarly literature.
Publishers and academics are experimenting with different types of scholarly content ranging from
‘informal’ scholarly communication on wikis and blogs through different ways of writing books and journal
articles, linking data to the primary literature and on to new technologies that render information in ways
that transform online content beyond a mere digital facsimile of print. This session will provide food for
thought for publishers by exploring this transformation and examining the new ways in which scholars and
practitioners are generating and interacting with the literature.
But what should my take be, I wonder? I suspect that a simple promotion of the potential benefits of blogs and
wikis in the research community could easily be too bland for a final session at the conference. Some ideas which
reflect my areas of interest which I could cover in the 25 minute talk include how micro-blogging fits in; the risks
of reliance on services in the cloud and using the Social Web to help to maximise the impact of research activities.
I’d welcome comments on ideas which I could explore in this session? And if any readers are using blogs and
wikis in innovative ways to support the “Transformation of Scholarly Practice” I’d love to hear about such
Filed in Events | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
The Live Video Streaming Of IWMW 2009
Monday, August 17th, 2009
This year, once again, we provided a live video stream of the plenary talks at IWMW 2009, something we have
been doing since IWMW 2006.
But how many people watched the live stream? Last year 160 remote viewers watched the final plenary talk given
by Ewan McIntosh. The statistics provided by the University of Essex are not directly comparable, but indicate
that there were about 50 viewers for Derek Law’s opening plenary talk with slightly larger numbers for the
opening plenary talks on the second day of the event.
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As can be seen, a location
map of the viewers has also been provided by the University of Essex. And clicking on the icons will provide
further details on the numbers of viewers at the IP address together with the total time spent viewing the
A good example of the global impact of the event? On an initial view of the map this would seem to be the case.
But on further examination we can see that some of the views were only for a few seconds. For example the
information for the viewer in Africa tells us that:
Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the
1 hits (1 unique IPs), 0d0h0m12s total.
The 8 hits from Finland, which lasted for over 4 hours, appear to indicate a commitment to watching several of
the talks (assuming the video wasn’t simply left on over lunch). But is there a viable business model for providing
live video-streaming for such events? As the event was fully subscribed (as it has been for a number of years) we
can argue that the live stream helps to maximise access and the impact of the talks, especially to the core target
audience in the UK. And the (apparent) popularity of the video stream in North America help to enhance the
UK’s activities to a wider audience.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the video streaming have been the experiences we have gained in the
delivery of ‘amplified events’. The four year’s of video streaming of IWMW events have helped us to gain a
better understanding of the best practices. And we have tried to summarise our experiences in a briefing paper on
“Using Video at Events“.
Filed in Events, iwmw2009 | | Permalink | Edit |
Social Networks, Open Source and Risk Assessment
Thursday, August 13th, 2009
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Does The Ownership Of Social Networks Really Matter?
In my most recent post entitled “Facebook Buys FriendFeed; Identica is Open Source; Does It Matter?” I asked
“But how relevant is this dogma?” in response to the apparent suggestion on a mailing list for an international
standards body that since “above all laconi.ca is Open source“ the standards body (DCMI) should make use of
the laconia.ca micro-blogging service in preference to the closed source Twitter solution.
I sought to draw parallels with the recent announcement that Facebook had bought FriendFeed, suggesting that,
although some may feel that this announcement will force them to leave FriendFeed and use an alternative micro-
blogging environment, for me and, I suspect, for many the ownership of the service and the underlying software
isn’t a clinching argument. We know that this is the case generally (although many won’t like it to admit it, the
reality is most users use Microsoft Office products rather than Open Office and Internet Explorer rather than
FireFox). And for social networking environments there is a added complication – social networks don’t work
unless there is a community – you might be happy to use Open Office on your own, but an open source
community with few members is likely to be an unproductive environment for many.
So rather than the ‘we must use an open source micro-blogging environment – full stop‘ argument, let’s explore
the reasons ownership issues could matter and the associated challenges if it is felt there may be a need to
consider migrating to a new environment.
A Risk Assessment Approach
In response to my post Cameron Neylon pointed out that “if Friendfeed goes away from what our community
wants from it we have no way of maintaining our community because it isn’t open source“. He went on to add “If
twitter were swallowed by google tomorow and everyone forced to use Google Talk instead (I don’t say its likely,
just possible) then you’re in trouble“.
That’s true, and as I have recently had a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise
the Dividends” published recently in the Program journal I would endorse Cameron’s approach of identifying
risks. What then are the risks? I think, in the case of the Facebook purchase of FriendFeed, these might include:
• Facebook shuts down FriendFeed. It regarded it as competition for its core business and bought the
company in order to remove the threat.
• Facebook continues FriendFeed, but changes its terms and conditions which are felt to be unacceptable to
significant parts of the FriendFeed community.
• Facebook makes changes to the FriendFeed user interface which users don’t like (e.g. provision of ads in
the free version of the client).
These are legitimate questions to raise. But that does not necessarily mean existing users should abandon
FriendFeed. There is a need to ask how realistic such risks may be and also to consider the costs and the effort of
moving to an alternative. I remember being told that organisations shouldn’t use Google as a search engine as we
can’t guarantee that Google wouldn’t change their terms and conditions. True – but most people are prepared to
accept that risks.
The likelihood that such changes will happen is likely to be very subjective, so I’ll not engage in that assessment
here. I would suggest, however, that if FriendFreed users are seriously considering a migration to an alternative
environment (as opposed to just having a moan) then they will need to think about what the migration strategies
would be. There is also a need to be honest about the costs and difficulties of such a migration, including the
difficulties of migrating a community, the associated costs of doing this and the dangers of associated losses (of
data, communities and credibility).
And although FriendFeed users may be asking such questions in light of the purchase of the company by
Facebook, the general issues I’ve raised are likely to be true in other context, whether a move from Flickr if
Microsoft were to purchase Yahoo or a move from Twitter if its ownership were to change.
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The Risks Of Change
As well as the risks associated with use of current well-established services such as FriendFeed or Twitter, there is
also a need to consider the risks of alternatives, especially when the alternatives are immature or unproven. And
simply arguing that, for example, “above all laconi.ca is Open source” is an inappropriate response. Look, for
example, at the evidence provided by failed open source initiatives in the area of social networking environments.
Who remembers “Marc Canter’s much anticipated PeopleAggregator“, which provided, as described in
TechCrunch in 2006, “free downloads of the software for organizations who prefer to host it themselves” which
meant that “it will be easy to come and go from new social networks, instead of being locked in to one just
because you’ve put the time and energy into using your account there. Instead of being at the mercy of one
centralized database and service, if Canter’s vision succeeds then countless social networks will proliferate with
unique styles and function but with interoperability.”
The People Aggregator software may not have been open source but, as it could be downloaded and installed
locally, it avoided the single point of failure problem which has recently troubled Twitter. But let’s now consider
Eduspaces, an open source social networking environment designed for the educational community which
announced the closure of the service in 16 December 2007, giving the user community just a few weeks before
the service was scheduled for closure.
And looking at the Eduspaces Web site today I see it describes itself as “the world’s first and largest social
networking site dedicated to education and educational technology“. But looking at the FAQ to see who owns the
company, where it is based, what jurisdiction covers the content and terms and conditions I find a series of
questions but no answers, other than the stark message “[available soon]“. And the terms and conditions state
• We reserve the right to modify or terminate the EduSpaces service for any reason, without notice at any
• We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time.
So remember, there may be flaws and concerns over the social networking services we are using today. But an
uncritical adoption of alternatives just because they are open source could lead to a worse scenario than the
potential risks identified above.
Filed in Social Networking | | Permalink | Edit |
Facebook Buys FriendFeed; Identica is Open Source; Does It Matter?
Wednesday, August 12th, 2009
As described on TechCrunch a couple of days ago, Facebook Acquires FriendFeed. The Monkey Bites blog
advises “Let’s Be Friends in its article on how Facebook acquired FriendFeed. But the reaction in the
Twitterverse seems to be negative, with concerns that Facebook’s walled garden mentality will be applied to
FriendFeed and that the ownership which Facebook claims for content posted within Facebook will also apply to
content on FriendFeed. This acquisition may be a threat to Twitter, as suggested on the ZDNet Asia blog:
“Facebook takes aim at Twitter, buys FriendFeed“.
Meanwhile the announcement that the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative has “started a little DC twitter activity”
has been met with comments suggesting that identi.ca should be used on the grounds that “above all laconi.ca is
Open source“. Dan Brickley backs this suggestion:
While it has a smaller userbase than twitter, the project is very friendly to standards such as RDF which
DCMI is also committed to. Identi.ca/laconi.ca is also API-compatible with Twitter, and allows you to repost
from identi.ca to twitter accounts automatically.
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Oh, last thing re identi.ca: there’s a groups mechanism, so we could experiment with groups for DCMI or
But how relevant is this dogma? FriendFeed, it seems, is cool in some circle, as is identi.ca, whereas Twitter and
FaceBook aren’t. And some FriendFeed users are talking about closing down their accounts whilst fans of
identi.ca are seeking to encourage newcomers to joint, citing the richer functionality it provides as well as its open
source pedigree. But to what extent will the issues of ownership of the code, rights over the data and the richness
of the functionality affect people’s decisions?
For me the important aspect of these social tools is the associated community – and as a well-established Twitter
user I am not too concerned regarding the openness of the source code. And although I am willing to experiment
with providing richer functionality with Twitter, such as recent experiment with use of multiple hashtags for
events, I do appreciate the point which Mike Ellis has raised, suggesting that it’s Twitter’s simplicity which is a
key aspect of its success. So is there any evidence that identi.ca open source code and richer functionality will be
successful in migrating a community to it? And is it really true that the integration between Twitter and identi.ca
will be seamless and transparent? Why do I feel I’ve heard these arguments before – without the supposed
benefits actually being delivered? Facebook buys FriendFeed; Identica is open source; does it matter? To you it
might, but to the vast majority of users I suspect it doesn’t.
Filed in Social Networking, openness | | Permalink | Edit |
Paper on "Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise
the Dividends" Published in Program
Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
A paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” has recently been
published in the Program journal (Program Electronic Library and Information Systems, 2009, 43 (3), pp. 311-
327). This paper is accessible from the University of Bath Opus institutional repository service.
This paper was originally presented at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference held at the National Library of
Singapore in October 2008. I am the lead author of the paper and the other contributors are Paul Bevan (National
Library of Wales), Richard Akerman (National Research Council Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical
Information, Ottawa, Canada), Jo Alcock (University of Wolverhampton) and Josie Fraser (consultant).
The process of depositing the paper into the institutional repository was much easier than my previous experience
– now that I know which option to select when a DOI for the paper is available. However since depositing my
various papers in our institutional repository it has struck me that although my papers should now have a stable
URI and will have associated metadata designed to make the papers easier to discover the institutional repository
does not provide a forum for interested readers to discuss the paper openly. So, as I did with another recent paper,
I am writing this blog post which will allow comments to be made. And after this post has been published I
should updated the details in the repository to link to this blog post.
Hmm – shouldn’t all papers have a mechanisms whereby readers can ask questions about the ideas which have
been exposed to a peer-reviewing process?
Filed in Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
Are University Web Teams Too Large?
Friday, August 7th, 2009
Mike Richwalski was very busy at IWMW 2009 (and beyond). Mike, Assistant Director of Public Affairs at
Allegheny College, submitted a proposal to run a workshop session on “Using Amazon Web Services (AWS)”
which we were happy to accept. In subsequent discussions with Mike I discovered that he was not only a techie
who knew about managing Amazon services but had recently presented a webinar on Facebook & Twitter
Recruitment Tools to Engage Prospective Students.
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This was a topic which was directly related to a series of workshops I was involved with on behalf of the SCA
(Strategic Content Alliance). When I discovered that Mike was arriving in London on the day of the workshop in
London (they day before the start of IWMW 2009) I tentatively asked if he’d like to give a brief talk at the SCA
workshop (I have to admit that I was particularly interested in any cultural differences between educational
institutions in the US and the UK in a willingness to make use of Social Web environments such as Facebook and
Twitter). Mike not only agree to take part, he was also able to participate in the workshop in Cardiff, as he was
returning to the US from Cardiff airport. And Mike also gave a bar camp at IWMW 2009 in which he summarised
the ways in which Allegney College is using Social Web services.
In the IWMW 2009 bar camp Mike described his college’s use of Facebook, Twitter (for general use, admissions,
student orientation and sports) and YouTube. Amazon Web Services (AWS) also powers many areas of their Web
site, such as their multimedia fund-raising activities.
Following Mike’s overviews of these services, I asked others in the bar camp whether UK higher educational
institutions were taking similar approaches in exploiting such Web 2.0 services. The answer, it seems, is not yet.
But why, I wonder? What are the barriers? Is it because we are seeking perfection? Do we hide behind phrases
such as ‘creepy tree-houses’ and ‘walled gardens’ when the evidence seems to suggest that institutions feel that
they gain benefits from use of such services? And, secretly, are members of Web teams feeling threatened? Is
there a view that if we don’t develop the services in-house, we’re not doing our jobs properly? And is it
significant that members of UK institutional Web management teams are leaning from the approaches taken by a
small US college with 1 Web team, of 1.5 FTEs?
I recently suggested that The Recession Has Still To Hit the Public Sector! And I’ve heard rumours of layoffs and
early retirements in University Web teams. So it strikes me that it is now very timely to make use of the global
infrastructure which various Web 2.0 services can provide to support our institutional activities. I was therefore
pleased that Barry Cornelius, for example, ran a workshop session at IWMW 2009 on “Time for iTunes U“.
But will this provide an opportunity for the bean-counters in the institutions to ‘right-size’ the Web team?
Possibly, but I also feel there is so much more that could be done to make in exploiting the potential of the Web to
support our institutional objectives. Why waste effort in attempting to replicate in-house what is already working
on a global scale?
Filed in Web2.0, iwmw2009 | | Permalink | Edit |
How People Access This Blog – 600 Posts On
Thursday, August 6th, 2009
This is the 600th post since the blog was launched in November 2006. As I have done a couple of times in the
past, I will use this occasion to document some statistics related to this blog.
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How do people access the blog site? Well as the
WordPress.com service provides me with analytics on the Web site usage I can easily answer that.
Unsurprisingly Google is the Web site which has delivered most traffic to the blog site since it was launched, as
can be seen from the accompanying image. However unlike conventional Web sites, it is the Google RS Reader
which delivers the traffic, rather than the Google search engine.
In second place is another RSS reader: Netvibes.
But perhaps of most interest is the Web site to be found in third, fifth and sixth place – which is Twitter. Yes,
although Twitter has only became such a popular service after this blog was launched it is responsible for
delivering a significant amount of traffic to the blog.
I noticed recently that Twitter was frequently appearing in the list of referrers to this and to UKOLN’s Cultural
Heritage blog. I then came across the TechCrunch articles on “For TechCrunch, Twitter = Traffic (A Statistical
Breakdown)” and “The Value Of Twitter Is In ‘The Power Of Passed Links’“. The latter article suggests that:
Twitter “will surpass Google for many websites in the next year.” And that just as nearly every site on the
Web has become addicted to Google juice, they will increasingly try to find ways to get more links from
Twitter. Because Twitter equals traffic.
Hmm. It could be that the Twitter users who follow links to this blog would have viewed the posts anyway in
their RSS reader. But maybe Twitter is becoming a replacement for RSS for many users.
Filed in Blog, Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (5)
Evidence on Use of Twitter for Live Blogging
Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
When we encouraged use of Twitter at the IWMW 2009 event we ensured that tweets containing the event’s
#iwmw2009 tag were archived using a variety of services including Backupmytweets, Twapperkeeper service,
wthashtag and Tweetdoc.
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A page on the IWMW 2009 event’s Web site provides links to the various archives of the tweets, allowing the
different approaches taken by the services to be compared. But the most interesting feature was provided by the
wthashtag which provides a record of tweets over a user-definable date range in HTML and RSS formats. But
even more interestingly, it provides a range of statistics on usage of the selected hashtag.
As well as the histogram of usage of the tag which is
illustrated, I also discover that over the past seven days the top contributors have been:
1. @iwmwlive – 255
2. @spellerlive – 60
3. @mecb – 58
4. @bensteeples – 54
5. @MikeNolanLive – 45
6. @catmachine – 41
7. @PlanetClaire – 36
8. @kammer – 35
9. @webpackets – 34
10. @m1ke_ellis – 32
Unsurprisingly the official @iwmwlive Twitter account was in top place (this belonged to the event’s live blogger
who had a remit to keep a record of the plenary talks). Two of the other top contributors, @spellerlive and
@MikeNolanLive also contains the ‘live’ suffix, indicating regular Twitter users who have chosen to create a
second account to be used for live blogging at events. The numbers of tweets from @mecb is perhaps surprising
as the user has previously been an infrequent blogger, although, as described in a video interview, Miles Banbery
has discovered a new found enthusiasm for Twitter
In addition there have been:
• 1,530 tweets
• 170 contributors
• 218.6 tweets per day
• 42.5% come from “The Top 10″
• 4.4% are retweets
• 20.0% are mentions
• 34.5% have multiple hashtags
I am particularly interested in the statistics of usage of multiple hashtags. As described in a post on Use of Twitter
at IWMW 2009 published a few days before the event began we suggested that “if you wish to refer to a specific
plenary talk or workshop session [in your tweets], we have defined a hashtag for each of the plenary talks (#p1 to
#p9) and workshop session (#a1-#a9, #b1-#b4 and #c1 top #c5“.
Mike Ellis responded to this suggestion: “I’ll be interested to see what take-up is for your
#complexhashtagsuggestion. Personally (as you know!) I think it’s an error of complexity over usability.”
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I feel the evidence indicates that many of the participants were willing to use multiple hashtags when their use
was appropriate (hashtags were not suggested for the bar camp sessions or for social events, so we wouldn’t
expect 100% of the event tweets to have multiple hashtags.
We can now, after the event, exploit
the multiple hashtags to more easily find what people were saying about particular sessions. Use of #iwmw2009
and #p3 in a Twitter search, for example, enables us to quickly discover what was being said about Paul Boag’s
talk on Making your killer applications… killer!. Why might we want to do this? Well towards the end of the
talks we invited participants to post a single tweet summarising what they felt they had gained from the session.
This may be useful information to reflect on after the event.
And it should be noted that some of the comments were made after the talk had been given – without the
additional hashtag it would have been difficult to relate a comment to a particular session (in the example
illustrated the reference to Paul Boag’s plenary talk #P3 was made in the final summing-up session).
An approach to be recommended for future events?
Filed in Twitter, iwmw2009 | | Permalink | Edit |
Event Amplification at IWMW 2009
Monday, August 3rd, 2009
This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2009, is now over. Despite being the 13th in the
series on annual events aimed at members of institutional Web management teams, the event was not unlucky!
The largest event audience for an IWMW event (200 registered delegates) arrived at the University of Essex
campus which began on Tuesday 28 July with the opening plenary talk on “Headlights on Dark Roads” given by
Professor Derek Law. And despite a rail dispute on Thursday (the final day of the event) there was still a large
audience for the final talk on “How the BBC make Web sites“, an entertaining session on the importance of
developers by the two Mikes (Ellis and Nolan) and my closing summary.
Amplification of the IWMW 2009 Event
I’ll not attempt to summarise everything that took place at IWMW 2009 in this blog. However there were a
number of issues which were raised during the event which will be worth exploring in future posts. But for now I
thought I’d summarise three aspects of the event organisation (rather than the content) which I feel are
The IWMW 2009 Blog
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Last year we provided a Ning social network for use by the workshop participants. This year. inspired by the
approaches taken at the Dev8D and Mashed Library Oop North events, we decided to set up a IWMW 2009
blog. The aim was to provide a less formal environment than the main event Web site, for both published
information about the event and about the workshop participants, including their interests, recollections of
previous IWMW events from those who have attended previous event and reasons why newcomers at the
event have decided to travel to Essex in the last week of July. The blog proved very successful. We will be
continuing to encourage some further posts to the blog before the participants disappear off for their summer
For the third year running we provided a live video stream of the plenary talks. I understand that there were
about 50 people viewing the opening plenary talk. It will be interesting to see the viewing statistics for the
second and third days.
In order to provide a richer experience for the remote audience we ensured that the slides for the plenary
speakers who used PowerPoint were available on Slideshare (and note that many of the slideshows used in
the parallel sessions are also available) .
In addition an official live blogger used the iwmwlive Twitter account to provide a running commentary of
the plenary talks. Kirsty McGill, who provided the live blogging service, also used these notes as the basis of
a summary of the talks which was posted to the blog shortly afterwards.
We made a conscious effort to treat the remote audience as ‘first class citizens’. As well as the technologies
listed above, we also tried to ensure that everyone used a microphone so that the remote audience could hear
not only the speakers, but also the session chair and any questions posed by the live audience.
As well as the official use of Twitter for recording plenary talks and an IWMW Twitter account for
administrative use (I’m pleased the missing phone reported on Twitter was found) we also encouraged
participants to use the #iwmw2009 tag when tweeting about the event.
Links with the US
Thus year, for the first time, we worked with Higher Ed Experts who provide professional development and
social networking online opportunities to higher education professionals working in Web, marketing, PR and
admissions offices in the USA. Two of the parallel sessions, Where’s the University? Building an
institutional geolocation service by Janet McKnight and Sebastian Rahtz (Oxford University Computing
Services) and Using Amazon Web Services by Mike Richwalsky (Allegheny College) had been pre-
recorded in advance of IWMW 2009 and were provided as free Webinars on the Higher Ed Experts Web site.
Reflections on the Event Amplification
None of the aspects of IWMW 2009 I have described is significantly new. We have made use of wikis (at
IWMW 2007) and social networks at previous events; the use of communication technologies to facilitate
discussions during plenary talks dates back to IWMW 2005 when we made use of IRC (as you can see from the
archive of the IRC discussions) and we have been video streaming the plenary talks since 2007.
In previous years use of these technologies to ‘amplify’ the ideas and thinking beyond the physical event and
enhance the discussions and debate at the event has been experimental. This year we have attempted to provide
this as a service. The local participants have expectations of reasonable levels of service for the food and
accommodation at the event. But now we can expect remote participants to have similar expectations regarding
access to the content and the discussions and debate.
Did we provide a satisfactory level of service? Please let us know.
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A World Where No-One Visits Our Web Sites
Friday, July 31st, 2009
In a blog post entitled Pushing MRD out from under the geek rock Mike Ellis provides access to the slides he
used in a session on “Digging into data: text and data mining” at the recent JISC Digital Content Conference.
Mike’s blog post goes on to explain his views which he helpfully summarises “I think that MRD (That’s Machine
Readable Data – I couldn’t seem to find a better term..) is probably about as important as it gets“. Mike goes on
to ask us to:
… be prepared for a world in which no-one visits our websites any more, instead picking, choosing and
mixing our content from externally syndicated channels.
This world in which people don’t visit Web sites to read content as the content appears in their preferred
environment is one in which I live. The content I have an interest in reading appears on my iPod Touch ready for
me to read on the bus travelling to work in the morning. I seldom visit Mike’s Electronic Museum blog site or the
other blogs (such as the eFoundations, OUseful, The Ed Techie, and From a Distance blogs which are on my
must-read list) – these appear automatically in my RSS reader.
Of course I still visit Web sites – and increasingly I am finding that the new Web sites I visit are those I am
alerted to by the people I follow on Twitter. But the more traditional marketing campaigns for new Web sites or
redesigned Web sites tends to have little impact on my browsing habits. Unless the content can be accessed
without having to visit the Web site I am unlike to be a regular visitor, no matter how useful the content may be.
Now we still do need Web sites – the content needs to be held somewhere. And not everyone makes use of an
RSS reader. But we are finding that Web sites are sucking in content held elsewhere, perhaps using RSS. And of
course the growth in popularity of mobile devices is likely to see a renewed interest in ways in which content can
be accessed without having to visit Web sites and navigate the Web sites on small screens.
Mike Ellis suggests we need to rethink our approach to Web site development: “Don’t Think Websites, think
data” he argues. His slides are available on Slideshare and are embedded below. Well worth reading.
Filed in Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
The Recession Has Still To Hit the Public Sector!
Monday, July 27th, 2009
Last week began with the gloomy headline in the Sunday Times Whitehall sharpens the knife for university cuts.
The article began:
WHITEHALL is drawing up plans for deep cuts in the higher education budget that in the worst case would
slash a fifth from university finances, funding officials have disclosed.
and went on to point out that:
If implemented, they [the cuts] would lead to the widespread closure of university departments and could
cause some institutions to shut altogether.
A few days later the times then described how “Arnold Schwarzenegger [is] in last-minute deal to save broke
California“. But this isn’t Arnold playing a heroic role as:
“The higher education system, including the University of California, will be hit by nearly $3 billion in cuts“
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It seems that public sector organisations are facing the brunt of such cuts. Indeed the Time praises Arnold
Schwarzenegger: “His greatest victory was standing firm and warding off tax increases“.
I’ve heard financial commentators suggest that the recession hit the private sector first, whilst public sector
organisations were initially protected by 3 year funding agreements. But as the private sector slims down and
closes unprofitable areas of their activities they will be in a better position to respond to the economic recovery,
whilst public sector organisations begin to experience their financial difficulties. Indeed in a blog post entitled
“Universities and financial crisis” the elearningspace blog reports that:
“The Bank of Canada has declared that the recession is over. While the numerical indicators (small growth
predicted) may support this assertion, reality will tell a different story for many people and institutions.
Universities, for example, are only now beginning to feel the impact. University of California is starting with
deep cuts. Canadian universities are facing cuts as well. Few universities, however, face the difficulties of
Harvard. Hard Times at Harvard provides a rather depressing glimpse into university systems that have lost
focus and direction.“
Whilst I appreciate that the Times may be accused of using a tabloid headline and language in its article, I do
think we need to reflect on the implications of significant cutbacks in the education sector. Especially in light of
the Conservative’s recent success in the by-election and the headline on the front page of Saturday’s Guardian
“I’ll be nation’s hate figure, says top Tory Philip Hammond” in which the shadow Treasury chief secretary,
“anticipat[ed] an era of deep short-term cuts in public spending“.
We can’t say that JISC has failed to provide support for such a gloomy future: they did, after all, commission
work on Scenario Planning which was was originated by the JISC’s Users and Innovation programme, and further
developed by JISC infoNet in partnership with Netskills with the aim of “providing a sustainable online resource
as well as a range of workshops for the sector“.
My scenario, based on these recent reports: “The higher education sector has to deal with severe cuts in its
funding, at a time when the weaker Web 2.0 companies have gone against the wall, leaving the stronger
companies well-placed to deliver services on a global scale”. How should we plan to respond to this increasingly
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (5)
The IWMW 2009 Blog
Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009) takes place at the University of Essex on 28
-30th July. In order to support the institutional Web management community we have made use of social
networking environments over the past few years. Last year we made use of Ning but this year, inspired by the
approaches taken at the Dev8D and the recent Mashed Library Oop North events, we have decided to make use of
a blog to support the workshop.
The blog was created on 26th June but was officially launched on 10 July. Since them the blog has published
introductions from UKOLN’s organisers (Marieke Guy, Natasha Bishop and Michelle Smith and myself),
provided a multimedia record of last year’s event, explained the barcamps and barpicnics, summarised the
plenary talks from Derek Law, Paul Boag and David Harrison and Joe Nicholls and, perhaps most importantly,
provided an opportunity for the workshop participants to introduce themselves.
Additional posts will be published which are likely to be of interest to the participants who will be physically
present at the event. But if you can’t attend, please note that IWMW 2009 will, once again, be an amplified event.
You’ll be able to join in the discussions using the #iwmw2009 hashtag on Twitter and we also intend to provide a
video stream of the plenary talks.
Filed in iwmw2009 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
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This Year's Technology That Has Blown Me Away
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009
The history of the Bathcamp is described by Mike Ellis on the Bathcamp Ning service:
Back on 13/14th September 2008, we ran a BarCamp in Bath called – obviously – BathCamp. It was a fun
event and brought together a bunch of local (and some not-so-local) people who talked about a range of
interesting stuff. Some of it was geeky, some of it wasn’t. You can read more about BathCamp over on the
blog or see some Flickr pics.
After the event, I had a think about what we could do to keep the momentum of BathCamp going, without
(necessarily!) having to organise another BarCamp any day soon. I did a survey, and a large bunch of people
seemed interested in meeting up more regularly.
Last night’s Bathcamp, held in conjunction with the Bath-based Carsonified company, was entitled
“BathCamponified: 3 minutes, one technology…“. The task which the Bathcamp participants were invited to take
was to identify “the one technology that has blown you away more than any other in the last year, and [describe]
why?“. The challenge was in three minutes or less to “tell us about your chosen technology: why it has changed
your life, the way you work or ways in which it has improved the world“. As there was a promise of a free bar and
a prize I decided to miss my normal Wednesday night rapper sword practice and summarise the one technology
which has changed my life this year. For those of you who weren’t there, here is a summary of the script I’ve
The Technology That Has Transformed My Life in 2009
As there’s a prize at stake I’ve decided to go for a crowd-pleaser for the geeky Bathcamp audience. It’s a
technology that is close to my heart. It is [takes phone from shirt pocket] my HTC Magic Android mobile phone.
And as I’m sure you know it has an open source operating system. I decided to get the phone after reading a blog
post about it written by Dave Flanders who works for the JISC. Dave described the features of the phone, and
concluded by arguing that you should get the phone for ethical reasons.
Now I have to confess – I’m not as ideologically pure as Dave – or, I suspect, many of you. I got the phone for
free, and simply had to upgrade my voice-only contract from £15 to £20, which includes data. OK, the device
which has transformed my life this year may be free (as in open source software) but is also cheap (as in the costs
of the device and the monthly contract).
And I can download applications from anywhere. I avoid the censorship of the single source for applications. Yes
I can download music with rude words which certain other companies will block for fear of offending the
sensitivities of the American mid-west. This is a feature which I’m sure Mike Ellis (@dmje to his followers) will
warmly endorse (warning, adult content!).
A camera, video camera and sound recorded were supplied with the phone. I’ve also installed GPS software,
Shazam, an Augmented Reality browser and the Qik live-video streaming application. OK, I’ll admit, the results
from Qik weren’t great. Well, they were pretty poor. Some might even say unusable. But its open source, so let’s
not quibble about minor details.
I’ve also installed a couple of Twitter clients – so if I have problems with one I can always use the other. I should
apologise, by the way. If you follow me (briankelly) on Twitter and you sometimes see a half-composed or
misspelled tweet I’m (probably) not drunk – it’s just the Magic’s virtual keyboard and annoying auto-correct
feature. Oops, sorry, I’m getting a bit off-message. It’s probably my fault – I’ve got the wrong size fingers for the
phone or I’ve got used to tweeting on my iPod Touch.
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I ought to confess that I also own an iPod Touch. It’s easy to use. I can easily install new applications. It has
WiFi, so I can connect to the Internet. I can – and indeed have – installed Skype, which I used when I was in
Australia earlier this year.
Now it did occur to me that if you were to take the telephony aspect of the Android device and couple it with the
usability of the iPod Touch, you could create a market leader. But that, I fear,would be dangerous. The ease of use
would appeal to the naive and gullible. But us geeks know about the dangers of walled gardens, single providers
of hardware and device lock-in to single network providers. We know we don’t want to unleash a twenty-first
century Microsoft into the mobile world.
And although we may be geeks, we also care about non-geeks – so we know that ‘jail-breaking’ isn’t an ethical or
scalable solution to vendor lock-in.
So join in with me and rejoice in the technology which has blown me away this year.
Embrace the system error messages which pop up from time to time. These remind you
that your phone is a computer and not a fashion accessory! Smile, as I did, when I upgraded the NewsRob RSS
reader at the message “Version 2.5.1 Fixed an issue where Mark All Read marked too many articles read“.
Exercise your brain: see if you can work out how to use the Augmented Reality app.
Remember the Android device is for clever people!
Become part of a thriving community: tell me how the application you find cool works and I’ll tell you about the
application that I’ve eventually mastered.
Note My slides from last night are available on Slideshare. In addition a video clip of part of my talk is available
on YouTube part 1 and part 2 (I’m afraid I was over the time limit as I was so passionate about the technology I
I failed to win a prize last night (but congratulations to my colleague Julian Cheal who won a ticket to FOWD
Tour Bristol) – I’d forgotten that most of the people at the event were proud owners of an iPhone!
But seriously, doesn’t the popularity of the iPhone amongst many software developers, including those who are
supporters of open source software, tell us something about the limitations of open source software. And it’s not
just me who feels the Android device is flawed – Tony Hirst recently commented “A few weeks ago, I got my first
“real” mobile phone, an HTC Magic (don’t ask; suffice to say, I wish I’d got an iPhone:-(”
As someone said last night, open source software might be fine for server applications, but the user interfaces
often appear clunky. Does the open source development community or open source development processes fail
when it comes to developing applications to be used by non-techies?
Filed in Gadgets | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (4)
Depositing My Paper Into the University of Bath Institutional
Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
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I recently mentioned that my paper on “From Web accessibility to Web adaptability” had been published in a
special issue of the Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology journal. Shortly after receiving the
notification that the paper had been published I deposited the author’s version of the paper in Opus, the University
of Bath Institutional Repository. As I had attended a short training course on use of Opus (which uses the ePrints
repository software) a few hours before uploading the paper to the repository I decided to time how long it took to
complete the process.
I discovered it took me 16 minutes to do this. As someone responded to my tweet about this, this seemed too
long. I subsequently discovered that I had mistakenly chosen the New Item option – as a DOI for the paper was
available I should have selected the Import Items option (not an intuitive name, I feel). In addition I also copied
the list of 46 references and tried to apply some simple formatting (line breaks between items) to the list and also
to the abstract. This was a mistake, as any line breaks appear to be ignored.
In order to understand what I should have done, I went through the deposit process a second time and this time
recorded my actions, with an accompanying commentary as a screencast which is available on YouTube and
The video lasts for 10 minutes and the deposit process took 7 minutes (although this includes the time taken in
giving the commentary and showing what I did the first time).
It does occur to me that it might be useful to make greater use of screencasting not only as a training aid for
institutional repository staff to demonstrate the correct processes for depositing items but also to allow authors
themselves to show and describe the approaches they take. I’m sure that some of the mistakes I made are due to
limitations of the user interface and I won’t be alone in making such mistakes. Indeed having shown this view to
the University of Bath’s institutional repository manager she commented:
I’ve also noticed, from your video a few issues that should be fixed, so it was helpful to see.
Why aren’t we making more screencasts available of user interactions with the services we develop, I wonder?
And why aren’t we sharing them?
Note: Just to clarify, this post was intended encourage users to described (openly) their experiences in using
services such as repositories. and to share these experiences. The video clip is not intended as a training resource
on how to deposit an item in a repository! [24 July 2009]
Filed in Repositories | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (13)
"From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability": A Summary
Monday, July 20th, 2009
I recently announced that a paper on “From Web accessibility to Web adaptability” by myself, Liddy Nevile,
Sotiris Fanou, Ruth Ellison, Lisa Herrod and David Sloan has been published. I also said that, due to copyright
restrictions, access to this article will not be publicly available until next year, when it will be released from the
embargo on the University of Bath institutional repository.
David Sloan, who also edited the special issue of the Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology journal
which published the paper, has written a brief summary of the paper:
A review of web accessibility from an organisational and policymaker’s perspective. This paper focuses on
ways to strike a balance between a policy that limits the chances of unjustified accessibility barriers being
introduced in web design while also providing enough flexibility to allow the web in a way that provides the
best possible user experience for disabled people by acknowledging and supporting the diversity of and the
occasional conflicts between the needs of different groups.
In this post I will give a extended summary of the ideas and approaches outlined in our paper.
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The paper begins by adopting the UN Convention’s view that “disability results from the interaction between
persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective
participation in society on an equal basis with others“. Disability is therefore a social construct and not an
attribute of an individual. In particular, resource accessibility is the matching of a resource to an individual’s
needs an preferences – and is not an attribute of a resource.
From this perspective we see the limitations of the WAI’s approach to accessibility, which regards accessibility
as a characteristic of the resource (which should conform to WCAG guidelines) and the tools used to create the
resource (which should conform to ATAG guidelines) and view the resource (which should conform to UAAG
guidelines). In a previous paper we have described in more details the limitations of the WAI approach to
accessibility (see Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG
in the Real World) and here we describe the limitations of what we call ‘Web accessibility 1.0‘ in the context of
the UN Convention.
The paper reviews the holistic approach to Web accessibility which we have described in several papers
previously (see Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility, Holistic Approaches to E-
Learning Accessibility, Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes and Reflections on the Development of a
Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility). The approach, which we refer to as ‘Web accessibility 2.0‘, explores
accessibility in a number of areas which are more challenging than the simple provision of information, such as
access to e-learning and cultural resources.
We then describe an approach which we call ‘Web accessibility 3.0‘ in which access to resources can be
personalised to match an individual’s needs and preferences. As described in our paper Accessibility 2.0: Next
Steps For Web Accessibility instead of seeking to ensure that all resources are accessible to all potential users (an
approach which the evidence suggests is not a realistic goal), this approach aims to provide resources and
information about them that enables users or automated services to construct resources from components that
satisfy the individual user’s accessibility needs and preferences.
The paper accepts that the labelling of these different approaches (which has parallels with the ‘Web 2.0′ and
‘Web 3.0′ terms) can be confusing: for many it would imply that Web accessibility 1.0 and 2.0 are now obsolete.
This is not the case: there will still be a need for certain types of informational resources (a bus timetable, for
example) to conform with WCAG guidelines and the Web accessibility 2.0 and 3.0 approaches describe different
approaches which can complement each other.
We have therefore coined the term ‘Web adaptability‘ to described an approach which attempts to support the
“interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full
and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.
The paper provides four case studies which illustrate how a Web adaptability approach is being used:
Support for users with learning disabilities: An example is provided of a project at the University of West
of England of an e-learning system for people with learning disabilities. The approach taken is to engage the
end users in the design and development of the system, rather than the application of WCAG guidelines. A
decision was taken “not to try to create a system and content that are universally accessible, but rather to try
to maximise the usefulness and usability for a specific audience of learning users with particular permanent
Adaptability for the deaf: This example illustrates the inappropriateness of the medical model of
disabilities which underpins the ‘Web accessibility 1.0′ approach. The deaf community itself recognises both
the medical and cultural model of Deafness (and note that the capital D is used to distinguish them as an
ethnic community, just as we would use a capital E for English). The case study (which is described in an
article on Deafness and the User Experience published on A List Apart) reinforces the merits of the ‘Web
adaptability’ approach which can apply a cultural rather than a medical definition of deafness.
Adaptability in a government context: The challenges of applying best practices when faced with limited
resources and timescales form the basis of the third case study. This example considers the decisions taken in
an Australian government organisation and how the challenges of addressing several constraints: government
policies, budgetary measures specific deadlines to meet legislative requirements and availability of staff with
the expertise to develop the accessible solutions. The ‘Web adaptability’ framework supported a holistic and
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pragmatic approach to the challenges by enabling both usability and accessibility issues to be addressed and
appropriate solutions to be deployed on time and within the budget.
Adaptability and institutional repositories: Increasing numbers of universities are providing institutional
repositories in order to enhance access to research publications and to preserve such resources for future
generations. However many of the publications will be deposited as a PDF resource, which will often fail to
conform with accessibility guidelines (e.g. images not being tagged for use with screen readers; text not
necessarily being ‘linearised’ correctly for use with such devices, etc.). Rather than rejecting research
publications which fail to conform with accessibility guidelines the Web adaptability approach would support
the continued use and growth of institutional repositories, alongside an approach based on advocacy and
education on ways of enhancing the accessibility of research publications, together with research into
innovative ways of enhancing the accessibility of the resources.
The paper addresses some of the criticisms which may be made of the Web adaptability approach such as ‘doesn’t
the Web adaptability approach allow organisations to disregard accessibility considerations?’ and ‘if WCAG
conformance isn’t mandated in law, won’t organisation simply ignore accessibility issues?‘
How does one specify accessibility requirements in a tender document? How does an organisation audit its
resources for accessibility?
We describe how we regard the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as a valuable resource for enhancing the accessibility of
resources. The guidelines should be used in they can be used in a cost-effective way and if they do not detract
from the core purpose of the service.
We also point out that legislation isn’t the only driver for implementing best practices – and indeed focusing on
legal requirement can be counter-productive as if case law subsequently rejects WCAG conformance in a test case
(after all the RNIB home page doesn’t conform with the guidelines) this would undermine WCAG as a key
component for enhancing the accessibility of Web resources.
Rather than the threat of disability legislation for ensuring organisations enhance the accessibility of their Web
services we describe a range of other drivers such as peer pressure, cultural pressure, user engagement,
maximising business opportunities and corporate social responsibility and reputation management.
The paper concludes by describing the areas in which standardisation is beneficial. Since we have adopted the
UN’s perspective on disability as a social construct and not an attribute of an individual or the resource, we feel
that standardisation work should focus on the practices which facilitate the “interaction between persons with
impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in
society on an equal basis with others“. The BSI PAS 78 on “Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible
websites” provided a good example of a code of practice which documented best practices for the commissioning
of accessible Web sites. The draft BSI PAS 8878 on “Web accessibility. Building accessible experiences for
disabled people” has the potential to build on this, although, as I pointed out earlier this year, the initial draft
provided too great an emphasis on the potential of the nearly arrived WCAG 2.0 guidelines, rather than
documenting proven best practices.
I will conclude this summary of the paper by repeating the final paragraph of the paper:
[This paper] argues for the adoption of a Web adaptability approach which incorporates previous
approaches and, perhaps more importantly, embraces the future, including technical innovations, differing
perceptions of what is meant by accessibility and real world deployment challenges.
Your views and feedback are welcomed.
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"From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability" Paper Published
Friday, July 17th, 2009
I’m pleased to report that a paper on From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability has been published in the
Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology journal. The full citation details are:
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From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability, Kelly, B., Nevile, L., Sloan, D., Fanou, S., Ellison, R. and
Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology, Volume 4, Issue 4, July 2009, pages 212 – 226.
I’ll summarise the contents of this paper in a subsequent post. For now I thought it would be worth describing
how this paper came to be written.
I, along with other authors of paper published at the W4A 2009 event, was invited to submit an updated version of
my paper, entitled “One World, One Web … But Great Diversity“, although there was a requirement that the
requested paper would be substantially different.
I received this invitation in early January 2009, with the deadline of early March. As I had been invited to give
the opening plenary talk at the OzeWAI 2009 conference in January and was already thinking about further
developments to the holistic approach to Web accessibility I had been involved in developing over the past 5
years or so, this invitation provided an ideal opportunity to put down in writing the approaches I intended to talk
about at the OzeWAI conference.
As I have described previously, immediately following the talk I received tweets from two participants at the
conference saying how valuable they found my talk and wished to have further discussions about the ideas I had
Following those further discussions I invited Ruth Ellison and Lisa Herrod to provide case studies based on their
involvement in Web accessibility work in Australia as examples of the ‘Web adaptability’ approach which the
Although I was a bit grumpy at having to submit the final edits to the paper over Easter, I’m pleased that our
paper has been published. And the ideas described in the paper were strengthened by the concrete examples
provided by Ruth and Lisa. A good example of how Twitter can help in bringing together people with shared
interests who can then engage in publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed journal
The other aspect of the process which I was pleased with was the two pages of comments we received from the
anonymous reviewer of the first draft of our paper. The reviewer pointed out a number of weaknesses in our
arguments, challenged us to justify a number of our assertions and queried whether our criticisms of the
traditional approaches to Web accessibility could be interpretted as suggesting that institutions could ignore
accessibility considerations. Our responses to these comments helped us to submit a much-improved final version
to the publisher – and we were pleased when the reviewer warmly endorsed the final version.
The paper is available on the publisher’s Web site. In addition my version of the paper is available on the
University of Bath Institutional Repository. Unfortunately, due to copyright restriction, access to this version is
embargoed until next year
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The Network Effect Is Missing From The Standards Debate
Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
In a recent post I asked “Do We Want A Standards-based Voice/Video Service?“. The post suggested that the
failure of the JANET Talk service to gain significant support or interest provided evidence of the failure of a
development approach based solely or primarily on support for open standards.
In a response to the post, Nick Skelton provided his explanation for why JANET Talk didn’t take off – the lack of
positive network effects. Nick pointed out that as network grow “its usefulness increases in proportion to the
number of potential connections between people in the network – the square of the number of people“. Nick felt
that JANET Talk’s failure was inevitable as it “was only for people in UK HE to talk to others in UK HE“.
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Although Nick’s point specifically addressed telephone networks I feel his arguments are also applicable to social
networks in general – an argument I made at the JISC Digitisation Conference back in July 2007 in a talk on
“Globalisation Of Social Networks and Networked Services.
We are now beginning to appreciate the importance of the network effect in a range of application environments –
saving bookmarks used to be a function of the user’s browser but now we are seeing advantages of social sharing
services such as del.icio.us.
But this seems to be missing from the approaches which have been taken to support IT development activities. In
a post about the JISC e-Framework, for example, Andy Powell questions whether the e_framework is of “any
value to anyone“. In a response Wibert Kraan felt that we can’t “forget about [the e-Framework] and pretend it
never happened” – rather there’s a need to “look at what went well and why and what went wrong and why“. And
this is equally true when considering the failure of open standards to live up to their expectations.
We need a better model for the adoption of open standards in our development activities since the current
approach, which tends to assume that an open standard from a trusted and mature standards body will inevitably
be accepted by the marketplace, is clearly flawed. And the network effect would appear to be a significant aspect
in solutions which do become widely deployed and used.
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Do We Want A Standards-based Voice/Video Service?
Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Last year JANET(UK) launched a trial of a voice, video and collaboration application called JANET Talk. As
described in JANET News No.8 June 2009 (PDF format):
“The aims of the trial were to understand the precise requirements and service provisioning model for an ‘on
net’, standards-based SIP service that could be used for communication between JANET users via a software
PC client interface, mounted on the user’s PC or a SIP-based traditional phone handset“.
A survey of potential users also “showed a requirement for a feature rich collaboration tool for exclusive
use by JANET connected users that didn’t use peer-to-peer technology“.
Sounds good doesn’t it? A standards-based solution should avoid the problems caused by use of proprietary
services and access would be available on both a PC and a phone handset which supported the SIP (Session
Initiation Protocol) standard. Who, apart possibly Macintosh and Linux users who seem to have been excluded
from the trial, would not wish this trial well (which attracted over 100 institutions) and look forward to
deployment of the service across the JANET community?
However, as described in JANET News
“The results from both trial feedback and market research showed that the appetite for a service like JANET
Talk had diminished. The reasons cited include a preference for alternative solutions that are now available
from the commercial sector. These solutions were deemed easier to use, reliable and free.“
So now we know. Users don’t care about standards. Users care about solutions that work, are easy to use and,
ideally, are free!
I know this is true for me, as I was an early adopter of Skype. At one stage use of Skype was frowned upon here
at Bath University due to the load it could place on the campus network as well as the concerns about its
proprietary nature, and the licensing conditions. However over time the local network team deployed solutions to
manage the network load and we now seem to have happy Skype users, such as myself.
The University has also deployed a SIP solution which is available on SIP-compliant phones in various halls of
residence. I must admit that when I heard about this offering I was interested. Was there a service based on open
SIP standards which would enable me to talk to others without being constrained by a particular client? Sadly it
seems that with the Freewire service used at Bath calls are free “when they’re made from one Freewire user to
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another” although you can “download the Freewire Telephone software for nothing“. But if you want to talk to
someone on another service (Skype, for example) you’ll have to pay for the call
So let’s remember, open standards don’t always succeed. And users may reject standards-based solutions in
preference to other alternatives. There are risks in investing in open standards. And there should be lessons to be
learnt from examples such as this. But I sometimes feel that we will ignore evidence which does not fit in with
Filed in standards | Tagged JANET, SIP, VOIP |
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Thoughts About Dopplr and the Environment
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
I’ve been using Dopplr for a couple of years now, and
have used it to keep a record of my substantial work trips over the last three years.
Wikipedia describes the service as “a free social networking service, launched in 2007 that allows users to create
itineraries of their travel plans and spot correlations with their contacts’ travel plans in order to arrange
meetings at any point on their journey“.
Although there is a social aspect for the service (I can share my trips with others) the aspect which is of particular
interest to me is the way it can be used to the carbon costs of one’s trips.
Could we envisage a future in which institutions are required to account for the carbon emissions associated with
travel by members of staff, with targets for reducing the amounts? And possibly the contracts for JISC-funded
projects could require projects to report on the carbon costs of the travel associated with project-funded activities.
If this did happen I hope that rather than developing an application for aggregating such data from scratch, the
potential of existing services, such as Dopplr, was explored. And this is something we can be doing now. Now
although I know I can share this information with others, I wonder if I can export the carbon data (which is
created by the AMEE service) for use by other applications? And what about the traveller’s individual
sensitivities? We can appreciate why one might not wish information about futiure trips to be made publicly
available (so opportunistic burglars can’t find out when your home might be empty) but what about the carbon
costs? Is this something we should be more open about (as the general public expect MPs to be with their
expenses claim)? And if so, who will be the first?
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged Dopplr | Permalink | Edit |
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Enthusiastic Amateurs and Overcoming Institutional Inertia
Monday, July 6th, 2009
I was very pleased but also slightly embarrassed when Dave Pattern invited me to speak at the Mashed Library
UK 2009 event (also known as ‘Mash Oop North‘). Pleased because this event, which is building on the success
of the first event which took place at Birkbeck College in November 2008, reflects the interests I have in this area
and will provide an opportunity to learn from some of the people (such as Tony Hirst, Mike Ellis and Dave
Pattern) who are actively engaged in significant development activities. But embarrassed because I’ve been asked
to speak to an audience who would, I suspect, prefer to listen to and talk to the gurus of mashup developments!
Dave convinced me, however, that as there appear to be a significant number of participants at the event who
don’t regard themselves as mainstream developers, but rather as ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ that there is a role to play
in exploring how the learning which will take place at the event can be exploted.
So I will be giving a talk and inviting discussion on the topic of “Enthusiastic Amateurs and Overcoming
Institutional Inertia“. This session will take place on Tuesday 7 July 2009. My slides are embedded below (and
are also available on Slideshare). If you have any thoughts on this subject, especially if you regard yourself as an
‘enthusiastic amateur’ yourself I’d welcome your comments. Of you may wish to particuipate in the Twitter back
channel, using the hastag “#mashlib09″.
Filed in Events, mashups | Tagged mashlib09 | Permalink |
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Wolfram|Alpha's Terms and Conditions
Friday, July 3rd, 2009
Wolfram|Alpha is described in Wikipedia as “an online service that answers factual queries directly by
computing the answer from structured data“.
Comparing Web Sites
When I discovered that Wolfram|Alpha could be used to compare Web sites I thought it would be interested to
compare the Web sites for Oxford and Cambridge Universities. From this I found that the www.ox.ac.uk Web
site has 960,000 daily pages views and 230,000 daily visitors and the site is ranked 6,289th, whereas the figures
for www.cam.ac.uk are 760,0000,d 260,000 and 6,269 respectively.
Table comparing three blog Web sites (from
Closer to home I thoughts I’d compare the figures for this blog with those for the eFoundations blog provided by
Andy Powell and Pete Johnston and Martin Weller’s EdTechie blog – of some interest in light of recent
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discussions about impact metrics for Social Web services. Here I find the amazing statistics that my blog has 150
million daily page views and 53 million daily visitors and is ranked 15th of all Web sites. The eFoundations blog
has 16 million daily page views and 7.3 million daily visitors and is ranked 195th with the Ed Techie trailed way
behind with 61,000 daily page views and 47,000 daily visitors and is ranked 53,872th.
Unbelievable, isn’t it? And, of course, wrong! The figures provided by Wolfram|Alpha, which they got from the
Alexa.com service, seem to be based on the figures for the wordpress.com and typepad.com domains, with Martin
Weller’s blog trailing as it is hosted on the typepad.co.uk domain.
So further analysis has given us a better understanding of how WolframAlpha uses the statistics provided by
Alexa.com. And the comparisons for Oxford and Cambridge Universities Web sites may be skewed bv the
number of Web services in their domains.
And maybe other services which make use of such figures can be similarly skewed. Does this, I wonder, have any
relevance to the metrics to measure online digital reputation described recently by Martin Weller? Perhaps my
unexpectedly high ranking in a list of influencers in ‘distance learning’ is due to the service which hosts my blog?
Wolfram|Alpha’s Terms and Conditions
Interesting questions which we need to ask if we are to build up a better understanding of the digital world we’re
living in, the tools that can help us in our tasks and the strengths and weaknesses of such tools.
as my colleague Emma Tonkin recently pointed out to me there are “no guarantees, no under 18s, no organised
repeated access, no mashups (don’t think about accessing this service in your software). Use must be personal, ad
hoc (no organised groups of users please, so don’t think about teaching or training with it) and not for a
professional reason unless you buy a licence for an unspecified price (curious amateurs only please). They reserve
the right to assert IP rights over anything given as input to their site if they can think of any reason for doing so.
Whilst they got much of their data for free by spidering sites, they will be deeply upset if you do the same.”
In addition is the requirement that “the results you get from Wolfram|Alpha are correctly attributed to
If you make results from Wolfram|Alpha available to anyone else, or incorporate those results into your own
documents or presentations, you must include attribution indicating that the results and/or the presentation
of the results came from Wolfram|Alpha. Some Wolfram|Alpha results include copyright statements or
attributions linking the results to us or to third-party data providers, and you may not remove or obscure
those attributions or copyright statements. Whenever possible, such attribution should take the form of a link
to Wolfram|Alpha, either to the front page of the website or, better yet, to the specific query that generated
the results you used.
So if I ask Wolfram|Alpha what 1+1 is, if I published the result ‘2′ I must provide a link back to Wolfram|Alpha.
And if I ask “What were the dates of the second World War?” I need to provide a similar link before using the
answer “1 September 1939 to 2 September 1945″.
What Should We Do?
What should we make of this? As students are encouraged to cite their sources, perhaps educational institutions
should welcome the support they are getting from a commercial company? And maybe we should work with the
manufacturers of calculators and require that any numerical calculations include details of the make of the
calculator used. There might be sponsorship possibilities in doing this, as well as allowing the teachers to spot
flaws in the answers which might be due to errors on the chips on the calculators (after all, we don’t have open
source calculators so, according to Peter Murray-Rust, we probably shouldn’t be using them to carry out open
I’m joking! But what should we do? Should we block access to Wolfram|Alpha from our firewalls? Should we
simply ignore the terms, as we know that few people will bother reading them (although this story has been
picked up on the Grocklaw blog, Slashdot, CNet and The Register)? Or should we actively break them? After all
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Peter Murray-Rust recently argued that “We must reform the practice of copyright. We may be getting close to
civil disobedience. Because unless we do we shall not control our future but be controlled by others.“.
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged WolframAlpha | Permalink |
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Facebook Usage by US Colleges and Universities
Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
I’m pleased to publish a guest blog post by Mike Richwalsky, assistant director of public affairs at Allegheny
College, a small, private liberal arts college in the United States. Mike provides a US perspective on a topic which
often generates heated debate in the UK – the role of Facebook in higher educational institutions.
Facebook Usage by US Colleges and Universities
First, thank you to Brian for allowing me to use this space to talk about how we at US colleges and universities
are using Facebook. I’ll be presenting a session at IWMW 2009 (on cloud computing, not social media), and I’m
interested to learn more about how schools in the UK and Europe are using tools like Facebook and Twitter to
communicate with different audiences. Here we go…
Several years ago, in its infancy, Facebook was all the rage among students on campuses large and small across
the United States. At that time, many schools were panicked about what services like Facebook and MySpace
allowed students to do, often with an eye towards potential liabilities the school may face due to photos being
posted, thoughts being shared, disagreements and much more.
Fast forward to today, and a large majority of schools have changed their tune about Facebook. Yes, we still
worry when students post photos of themselves drinking and the like, but now we in college administrations have
adopted the site as an effective way to reach students, both prospective and those students already attending our
I’d like to examine how schools in the US are using Facebook and share some thoughts and experiences I’ve had
from managing my school’s presence there.
First, why are schools using Facebook? First, it’s where the students are. College students today in the US live
and breathe Facebook all day long. For us, using it to reach them makes sense – after all it’s a medium they are
comfortable in. Second, it’s free for our institutions to use. Finally, the tools that Facebook offers have developed
to the point where it’s become a compelling communication platform for us to use to reach a large number of
people very easily.
Now that we’re in the golden age of social media, many colleges are developing strategic plans on how to use
Facebook. At Allegheny, our adoption of this medium and the successes we’ve had have been very organic. We
didn’t jump right in with a set plan, instead we started small, just creating an official page before someone else
did. As we got more comfortable with the tools, we added more and more and have grown to the presence we
When Facebook launched its Groups tool, many schools, mine included, created a group for not only our
institution but many offices across campus, such as career services, student life, libraries and more. The groups
behaved much like they do today, we could post events, participate in discussions and more.
Eventually, Facebook created its Fan page platform, and many schools transitioned their main institutional
presence from the Groups tool to the new Fan page format, which offered many similar functionality but added
new tools like video, wall posts and most importantly, analytics.
At the time I write this, we have just north of 2,100 fans of our institution (http://facebook.com/alleghenycollege).
Our largest number of fans are in the 25-34 age group, which includes graduates of the last several years, so it
makes sense that number is high. The next largest group is the 18-24 group, with the 35-44 group a close third.
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The smallest age group is 13-17, which is interesting since that’s an audience we actively market to since they are
the college students of the near future. 2% of our college’s fans fall in that age group. It’s great that 45 or so
people have indicated they are a fan of our institution, I wonder why that number isn’t larger. Perhaps people of
that age don’t want to commit to a college in this way, or they are still into their college search research and
This past academic year, we actually had a student working in our office 10 hours a week that posted events and
news to our Facebook fan page. The student worked under close supervision, but it worked out well for us and
gave our presence some authenticity and a voice that even someone in their early 30’s can’t provide.
As I mentioned, our college moved its institutional profile from a group to a fan page, but that doesn’t mean
Facebook Groups are no longer used by offices on our campus.
Our most active group is a yearly “Class of” group – this year its the Class of 2013 group. For several years prior
to this one, incoming students would create an unofficial group for their class and use it to start to get to know
each other. The challenge for us as marketers and admissions folks was that we didn’t want our new students to
think that group was sanctioned by the college or an official voice of the college, so in 2008, we created the
official Class of 2013 group, with several people in different offices across campus serving as administrators.
Now, it’s become a very useful tool for communicating quickly with that group of students. Our student
orientation program leaders use it to answer questions, be a part of the conversation and post reminders and prod
the students to complete tasks like completing necessary paperwork or registering for fall events.
We’ve also had great success in our career services group, who have used Facebook to promote employment fairs,
recruiter visits and other employment-related activities on campus. They have seen program attendance increase
over previous years, and Facebook has been a great way for them to reach an audience they otherwise may not
have been able to be in contact with.
Hopefully, as Facebook grows they will continue to develop new technologies and ways for us to communicate. I
think they’ve done a good job of it thus far, but it highlights one of the perils of social media in general – things in
this area change very quickly and without warning. It can require a bit of work to keep track of all the new
features, rules and more.
Four years ago we had no idea of how to use Facebook and two years ago we didn’t know how to use Twitter.
There may be a new tool that’s being developed right now that may come along and change everything we’re
doing and we’ll look back and say “wow, we didn’t even think about how to use X two years ago.”
Mike Richwalsky is assistant director of public affairs at Allegheny College, a small, private liberal arts college in
the United States. He is also a technology fellow at NITLE, the National Institute of Technology in Liberal
Education. He has a blog at HighEdWebTech.com, is on Twitter at @mrichwalsky and Facebook at
Filed in Facebook | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (6)
From Search Engine to Twitter Optimisation
Monday, June 29th, 2009
Workshops on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
As described on the JISC Digitisation blog the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) are running a series of free
workshops entitled “Improve your online presence“. The workshop series, which will be held in June and July in
London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, is being coordinated by Netskills. The workshops will “introduce simple
and inexpensive search engine optimisation techniques to improve your online presence, web visibility and
website traffic“. I will be contributing to the workshop content by running a session on the role of the Social Web
in enhancing access to scholarly and cultural content.
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The Potential of Twitter
The potential of Twitter was recently discussed in a post entitled How much is it worth to be one of Twitter’s
suggested users? which was published in the Guardian’s Technology blog. As described in this post, being
included in Twitter’s Suggested Users List can boost one’s numbers of followers, and thus traffic to links
included in the tweets being published.
Coincidentally on Friday 5th June 2009, whilst accessing this blog’s administrators interface in order to delete one
or two spam comments which had failed to be detected by the Akisimet spam filter, I noticed that the top three
referrers for the day were from the Twitter Web site (from Twitter.com, twitter.com/home and
twitter.com/Twitter_tops). On further investigation I discovered that a page on the Twitter Web site which
provides links to resources about use of Twitter had included the following link to a post on this blog:
What is Twitter? It’s An Interactive Business Card: http://cli.gs/YL6R4D –Share this article:
Now although this link resulted in driving the most traffic to the blog in over 3 weeks, this was disappointing to
me. I had been after evidence that Twitter can provide successful in driving traffic to arbitrary resources, rather
than just traffic to an article about the Twitter service.
However a better example was provided by the blog statistics for
UKOLN’s Cultural Heritage blog. As illustrated the statistics for May 2009 showed that, after Google, the second
most popular Web site for driving traffic to the blog was Twitter.
In this particular example the most popular post in the month was one on Explaining the Risks and Opportunities
Framework- a blog post which was announced on Twitter at 08.55 on 21st May:
Blog post explaining the Risks & Opportunities Framework published at http://tinyurl.com/p72kld
Evidence, it would seem, that Twitter can enhance the visibility of one’s Web content and therefore provide an
example I can use in the workshop. But what of the dangers of using Twitter in this way? Might not Twitter
followers resent being used as fodder for marking materials? Isn’t there a danger of killing the goose that lays the
Although some people regard Twitter as being essentially an informal communications channel and a tool for
community building we can now observe that it is being used for a much wider variety of purposes. But what are
the emerging best practices which one should adopt in order to optimise Twitter’s potential to maximise access to
’stuff’ out there, as opposed to engaging with one’s Twitter community?
Keep it short: Perhaps the best advice is to keep your tweets short to allow other to retweet (RT) the
message, perhaps including their own comments.
Acknowledge the limitations: If you do intend to use Twitter as a one -way publishing mechanism (as, for
example, the MLA does) then you need to recognise that you should not expect to gain the benefits which
fans of Twitter, as described in a post entitled “The person is the point” by Mike Ellis, feel they gain from its
use as an individual.
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Consider publishing a policy: You may also wish to consider having a policy covering your use of Twitter,
as described in a recent post on “Emerging Best Practices For Institutional Use of Twitter“.
Think about your followers: If you are using Twitter as an individual but also wish to promote areas of your
work you will need to consider the balance between engagement (chatting with your mates), support (helping
your mates), requests (asking your mates for held) and dissemination (telling your mates what you’ve being
doing and what you’re proud of). This was an area I addressed in a post on “Twitter Can Pimp Up Your Stuff
– But Should It?“.
And if you’re still sceptical that Twitter has any significant role in delivering traffic to a Web site I’d suggest you
read the TechCrunch article “For TechCrunch, Twitter = Traffic (A Statistical Breakdown)“.
Filed in Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (4)
"Is It Really A Good Time To Be Asking For More IT Money?"
Friday, June 26th, 2009
Michael Cross in the Technology Guardian asked back in April “Is It Really A Good Time To Be Asking For More
IT Money?” Michael poked fun at the notion that “as the chancellor announces the largest peacetime deficit in
history, the IT industry is lining up to say what the government really needs to do is spend more taxpayers’ money
on computers“. His blunt response: “Dream on“.
He is, of course, correct to remind us that public sector funding is in decline and this is likely to impact grandiose
plans for large-scale IT developments. Indeed, as I pointed out recently, we have already seen the recent demise
of the Hero gateway to UK higher educational institutions.
Michael Cross’s suggestion is to “freeze budgets at just those needed to keep existing big systems … ticking
over“. He goes on to propose that “Any new programmes would have to be achieved with Gmail, Flickr, and
whatever other free stuff can be found on the web. Preferably running on public employees’ own laptops and
mobile phones” and points out that “the market research firm Gartner is peddling a similar line, under the
heading ‘The future of government is no government‘”.
A ridiculous notion? Maybe, but consider the alternatives which might include a lack of services and innovation
or a move towards centralised solutions. And let’s be honest about the dangers of the centralised solutions. I’ve
heard people talk about ideas floating in government circles that the Open University should be the provided of e-
learning resources for the high education sector – a suggestion which Open University e-learning staff I know are
happy to debunk.
And what of he wider public sector service? A tweet from Joss Win pointed out that it cost:
£168,000 to out-source the Treasury’s website last year?! (only 4 visits/minute) http://bit.ly/zndCW Surely
this deserves full disclosure?
which led to suggestions from other Twitters that they would be happy to deliver Web pages on a memory stick
transported on a Rolls-Royce if funding of that scale was available And the response given in Hansard went on
to add that “Staff costs are not included as they could only be established at disproportionate cost“.
Now I’m not suggesting that we should necessarily or in all cases require that “new programmes would have to
be achieved with Gmail, Flickr, and whatever other free stuff can be found on the web” (or, as Tony Hirst
describes this “Appropriating Technology“). But these are possibilities which should be treated on par with in-
house development work, just as open source software solutions should be evaluated along side proprietary
solutions for public sector procurement exercises. And yes, the risks of such out-sourcing to such Web 2.0
companies should be included in any procurement exercises.
But let’s also ensure that development work outsourced in more conventional ways is also open to public scrutiny.
Otherwise we may find that figures such as £168,000 of the public’s money to outsource hosting or development
to companies which have close links with public sector bodies is being wasted. As Joss suggests, this deserves full
disclosure! (Oh, and if you don’t think that public sector should be reliant on commerical services, remember that
the U.S. Government Ask[ed] Twitter to Stay Up for #IranElection Crisis) .
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Launch of 'The Edgeless University': a new Demos report
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
A report entitled “The Edgeless University: why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology” was launched
earlier today. As described on the JISC Web site:
The Edgeless University argues that technology in higher education is not just about virtual learning
environments, but is increasingly central to the way institutions provide learning and facilitate research.
Technology is making research and learning possible in new places, often outside of institutions. Far from
undermining them, this is creating exciting opportunities for universities to demonstrate and capitalise on
their value so will take strategic leadership from inside institutions, new connections with a growing world of
informal learning, and a commitment to openness and collaboration. This is the radical role of The Edgeless
I haven’t yet had a chance to fully absorb this 90 page report but there were a number of aspects to the report
which reflect my areas of interest. I should first disclose, however, that I contributed to the report (Peter Bradwell,
author of this DEMOS report, was aware of my work in this area and invited me to give my views).
The need for fundamental changes in the higher educational sector: The report describes the comment
made by one participant at a roundtable meeting who described the current predicament of the higher
education sector: ‘This seminar feels a bit like sitting with a group of record industry executives in 1999’.
The report went on to say “It is no use lamenting the golden age of universities (or record companies). The
goals of the two ‘industries’ remain the same, but they must refocus on how to achieve them. Society’s
aspirations for the sector remain the same. The challenge for institutions is to find the way to do it.“
The need to understand changing student expectations: The report quoted an interviewee who said
“Technology is part of people’s daily life in a university, I would say everywhere except in the classroom” in
order to illustrate the need for institutions to “get better at understanding exactly what it is these students
New tools to support teaching: It was interesting to note that the report, in a section on how social media
tools can support collaborative teaching described Michael Wesch’s work at the University of Kansas in the
US in using using online tools for collaborative and team-based student coursework including tools such as
sites such as Netvibes, Yahoo Pipes and Diigo. Although I’m pleased to see Web 2.0 tools being highlighted
in the report, it was somewhat strange to see a US-based example of use of these fairly mainstream tools.
Aren’t there similar examples to be found in UK HEIs?
“A renewed commitment to openness“: The report includes a section with this title. The opening quotation
for the section “Science is as much about conversations in corridors as it is about papers in journals” strikes
me as summarising the benefits which the Social Web can provide for the research community. However this
section seems to focus more on the ease of access provided by tools such as Scribd and iTunesU rather than
the issues of open access and open data.
“Experimentation and investment“: I was particularly pleased to see that JISC Developer Happy
Days’ (Dev8D) being mentioned as an “event brought together communities of coders and users from
educational software and beyond” with the aim of “mix[ing] people interested in civic society with those
who have the skills to develop tools to encourage social change“. Dave Flanders (now of JISC) will be
pleased to see that his work in bringing together a set of developers has been appreciated in this report.
A few weeks ago the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report was published. And today we see another
report which provides a similar top-down view on the importance of Web 2.0 in higher education. If you
encounter resistance to change from senior managers in your institution I’d suggest you beat them over the head
with these two report until they realise that Web 2.0 is changing the higher educational environment.
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged #edge09 | Permalink | Edit |
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Openness and IWMW 2009
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
IWMW 2009 Fully Subscribed
Bookings are now closed for this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009), with the event
again fully subscribed with 190 participants (the limit imposed by the numbers of bedrooms available and the size
of the venue for the reception).
Amplification of IWMW 2009
If you haven’t booked a place but do have an interest in the range of plenary talks which will be given, don’t
worry – the event will be ‘amplified’.
This reflects our commitment to openness which I argued the higher educational community should embrace
more fully in a recent post on Respect Copyright (and Subvert It!). In that post I also suggested that we need to
be more open about the risks and the approaches taken to managing the risks. So here is a summary of the various
approaches we are taken to encouraging openness for the event.
Maximising the Impact of the Plenary Talks
The plenary talks at IWMW 2007 and IWMW 2008 were streamed live and we will be doing the same again this
We hope to have an official ‘live-blogger’ who will take responsibility for providing a live summary of the
plenary talks. This will be available using the event hashtag #iwmw2009 and may also be aggregated in another
environment (such as Coveritlive, use of which has described in a Review of Web2.0 amplification at
CILIPS Conference) to allow people to contribute to the discussions if they don’t have a Twitter account.
Due to logistical reasons (only one screen display in the lecture theatre) we will not be providing a live display of
tweets during the talks (which means we aren’t addressing the issue of whether a live display would be valuable
or distracting). However we intend to make use of a live Twitter display (a ‘Twitterwall’) during the opening of
the event and at other times in order to allow participants to say hello to each other if they are not sat in adjacent
seats, an approach I felt worked well at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference.
We will also try to ensure that the speaker’s slides are available on Slideshare so that the remote audience is able
to view the slides and the talk simultaneously. We know that speakers sometimes change the slides at the last
moment – we’ll try and keep the versions in synch, but can’t guarantee this.
Note we’ll need speaker’s permissions for this – and will respect their (e.g. if their organisation doesn’t allow this;
they want the freedom to be more open; etc.).
I’ve described what we are planning on doing. But what about the risks of embracing openness more fully at an
We will be seeking permission from the speakers for the live streaming of their talks. And we do appreciate that
there may be reasons why such permission may not be given (the speaker wishes to be able to speak freely or the
speaker’s organisation may not allow this). We also intend to have a Creative Commons notice on the lectern (as
we did last year) so that a rights statement will be embedded in the video. We will allow the speaker to change
their mind about making a recording of the talk available after the event (we will clarify this immediately after the
talk, so that we do not have to write off time which may be spend on post-processing the video).
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We will be providing a ‘quiet zone’ in the lecture theatre for participants who wish to avoid possible distractions
caused by live-blogging and who do not wish to be photographed or videoed. We will also ask other participants
to respect the guidelines for this area.
We will, of course, be evaluating the event, including the innovative aspects as well as the mainstream aspects.
As we would like to share the user feedback more widely the evaluation form will state that anonymised
comments may be published openly.
We appreciate that amplified conferences are still in their infancy, and there may be a diverse range of
expectations from the audience, both local and remote. We are interested in learning from related events, such as
Dev8D, Mashed Library UK 2009 ‘Mash Oop North’, Amplifiedat Nlab 09 day and the Eduserv Symposium.
We’d welcome feedback and suggestions. But, please no suggestions that will take too much time and effort –
there’s not much time left!
Filed in Events, iwmw2009 | | Permalink | Edit |
I'm A Top Influencer For The Open University! (Or Am I?)
Monday, June 22nd, 2009
Metrics For Measuring Impact in the Social Web
Martin Weller has published a blog post on Connections versus Outputs which discusses a report produced by the
Open University Online Services team in collaboration with external consultants (MarketSentinel). The aim of the
work was to examine “the broader influence of various web sites and looking at sentiment mining. The idea from
an official communications perspective being you can see how well regarded your institution is in different
sectors, and maybe influence that perception“.
Their findings? Well it seems this UK Web Focus blog is:
• In 4th 6th place in a list of the Open University’s top 100 influencers in ‘distance learning’;
• 4th in a ‘betweenness‘ category of “Stakeholders who are “stations” where information (on the issue in
focus) is passed via in order to reach the constituency of said stakeholder”;
• 8th in a ‘hubness‘ table which “is a characteristic of disproportionately linking to those who are
authoritative on a given topic”.
Andy Powell responded to this post in a comment saying “Sorry… not meaning to pick on Brian here but the
appearance of his blog, given this particular choice of topic [distance learning], stuck out a little“. Andy was
correct in mentioning this strange result. I will have a better awareness of the topics I have covered in my 580
posts and I know this isn’t a topic I write about – and a search for the term confirms this (although there may have
been a couple of occurrences of the term in comments).
Andy’s comment also touched on the sensitivity of discussing an individual, and this concern was shared by
others on Twitter. Let me make it clear that I think it is appropriate to explore both the reasons for my inclusion
in this list and the relevance of such an approach. As Martin Weller commented, this is very appropriate academic
Interpreting The Findings
Let’s begin by trying to explore the reasons why I’m listed so highly (Martin Weller and Tony Hirst are also
featured highly in the tables, but this can probably be explained by the fact that they work at the Open
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Collusion: Perhaps Martin Weller, Tony Hirst and myself collude in linking to each other, in order to boost
our rankings. After all we know each other and follow each other on Twitter. That could be a possibility –
but we don’t.
Echoing: It may be, as was suggested on a second post on Martin Weller’s blog, that we are echoing each
others views and the metrics simply reflect that. There may be some truth in that. As you can see from Martin
Weller’s post on Web 2.0 – even if we’re wrong, we’re right following a talk I gave on What If We’re
Wrong? and my follow-up posts on “Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right” and What If We’re Right? we can
see this in action. Now this reflecting on other’’s views and adding new insights is, for me, part of the
learning process. And although we’ve created something new in this process (we’re thinkers and not just
linkers, as the saying goes) I appreciate that the metrics may give (undue?) weight to this.
Complementing: It may also be that the reason this blog is ranked so highly is that it complements the topics
covered by Martin, Tony and others. This blog tends to reflect my background in working in IT Services and
my interests in, say, Web accessibility – areas which tend not to be addressed in Martin or Tony’s blogs so
much. So perhaps my ‘influence’ reflects this?
Being an early adopter: Although I wasn’t an early adopter of blogging (I started in November 2006) it may
be that my high profile in the Open University reports simply reflects my presence in various the Social Web
technologies (Twitter, Friendfeed, etc.) This could mean that the survey is picking up on the technologies
I’ve been using, rather than the content I publish on this blog.
Blog is outside the institution: This blog, as is the case for the blogs published by others mentioned in the
report, is hosted outside my institution. Perhaps the high ranking is a manifestation of the hosting
arrangements? Or perhaps the fact that we have chosen an external hosting body indicates early adoption of
blogging (before our host institution provided a blogging service) and the survey is skewed by the presence
of the early adopters? Or perhaps a willingness to use a third party service, when this may have been
discouraged (it’s not open source; what about sustainability of the service? …) , reflects a level of
independence and willingness to take risks which the survey picks up on?
Social Web presence builds on peer-reviewed publications: I don’t just publish on Social Web services,
such as blogs, Twitter, Slideshare., etc. I also write papers for peer-reviewed journals and conferences and
invited papers for conferences. I then reference the papers on the social Web on my blog and make slides
(and sometimes video recording) of the accompanying presentations available on services such as Slideshare,
Vimeo and Google Video. Perhaps the amplification of peer-reviewed ideas and approaches via the Social
Web helps to enhance the impact I have, which is being detected in the survey?
Writing style, linking style, etc.: I may be that my writing style, the ways I try to cite relevant posts, Web
resources and even tweets contribute to the high ranking.
Relevant, Useful and Interesting Content: In an attempt to document the range of possibilities for this blog
being identified as a significant influencer and hub for ideas related to ‘distance learning’ I should include the
possibility that the content of the blog are felt to be relevant, timely, useful and interesting!
These are some thoughts which occur to me for my high ranking in the survey. But surely we simply need to find
out what algorithms are being used. And, as Peter Murray-Rust has pointed out in a bog post on “Open Source
increases the quality of science” if we have access to the source code we will be better placed to spot any flaws in
the code itself.
This argument reminds me of the time I attended a WWW conference and heard a research er describe how his
team had reverse engineered the algorithms used by a number of the global search engines. In the subsequent
questions an engineer from Google said he wished the paper hadn’t been published, as Google would have to
change the algorithms in order to prevent spammers from exploiting this knowledge. I suspect that we’d find
institutions looking at ways to game Social Web metrics,especially if this became competitive. And as we know
how one’s position in the University league tables are to institutions, I suspect this would happen.
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Is This A Useful Starting Point?
If we have to accept that there are likely to be various metrics covering use of the Social Web, the question may
be whether the approach which is being taken at the Open University provides a useful starting point.
Andy Powell agrees with Martin that metrics on how the Social Web can impact scholarly activities are needed:
“I think we want to get to the same place (some sensible measure of scholarly impact on the social Web)” but goes
on to add “ I disagree with you that this is a helpful basis on which to build.”
Is this glass, as Martin feels, half full or would you agree with Andy that it’s half empty? I’ll add a third
alternative – I’ll finish off what’s in the glass while the rest of you are arguing! Or to put it another way, while
the academics go off in pursuit of the perfect metric the marketing departments will make use of a variety of
impact measurements in any case. I suspect we’ll find people in marketing departments asking “How can we use
the Social Web to market our institutions, attract new students and new funding?” and then asking “How can we
measure the impact – or ROI – of our presence in the Social Web?“. I’ll conclude by echoing Martin’s
We’ve got to start somewhere – my take on this is that the output may have problems, but it’s a start. We
could potentially develop a system focused on higher education, which is more nuanced and sophisticated
than this. By analysing existing methodologies and determing problems with them (such as the three I’ve
listed above) we could develop a better approach. I hold out hope that we can get interesting results from
data analysis that reveals something about online scholarly activity.
And we should be analysing the existing methodologies in an open fashion. I hope my observations have
contributed to this analysis.
Filed in Impact | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
Twitterers Subvert Daily Mail's Racist Poll
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
On Friday I was alerted by one of the people I follow on Twitter to
a poll which asked “Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue?“.
I responded by voting Yes, and send a tweet which said
I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q
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My tweet was then echoed (’retweeted’) around the Twitterverse by a
number of people including lucy3point0 and ccsnjf with others picking up on my posts and adding their own
commentary (as shown). Other communities picked up on this for, as you can see, there were over 90% of people
voting on the Daily Mail Web site that the NHS should allow gipsies to jump the queue!
I was intriguing to see what the final total was (it reached 96% at one point and I grabbed the screen image
shown above – to use in a forthcoming talk – with the total of 94%). But on Saturday I found that allow the
question was included in a list of Daily Mail polls, clicking on the link took me to another page on the Daily Mail
Web site, and not to the results of the poll. (Ironically another discussion which took place on Twitter on Friday
discussed URL shorteners and the possible dangers of a lack of long-term persistency of URL shortening services
– in this case the short URL for the Daily Mail poll is still available – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q – but the page it points
to – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/index.html?pollId=1011506 – is not the gipsies poll.
The reason I captured the screen was to make use of this example in a forthcoming workshop session I am
facilitating on “Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources“. I’ll make the point that Twitter can
be used to engage a community through a viral campaign for (or against) a particular idea. I’ve an interest,
therefore, in how this poll went viral, and also in the ethics of commenting on the poll and attempting to influence
This story has been picked up on blogs.journalism.co.uk with an article on Twitterers claim victory over loaded
Daily Mail gypsy poll. Here I find that :
Brighton-based senior lecturer in experimental psychology Dr Sam Hutton contacted Journalism.co.uk today
to reveal that there was also an email campaign among UK-based psychologists who, as part of their jobs,
take questionnaire neutrality seriously.
Was this the start of the viral campaign? Or did a number of people become aware of the poll and mention it on
Twitter independently of each other? And why did this become viral whereas, for example, a poll on Should
immigrants be forced to respect British culture? has failed to attract a similar level of interest, despite covering a
similar topic which is liable to inflame liberals? Do successful viral campaigns need to attract the attention of
‘hubs’ to use a concept from Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which Martin Weller mentions in a post, also published on
Friday, on “Connections-versus outputs“.
And what of the ethical aspects from those of us who are engaged in observing, commenting on and analysing the
way in which the Social Web is shaping our society?
You should note that my initial tweet did not suggest how people should vote:
I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q
The wording I used was also intended to intrigue people; anyone who knows me or has read my tweets or blog
posts over time will know that I am not in sympathy with the Daily Mail’s views. The tweet was also brief, and so
allowed other to easily retweet it i.e. append “RT @briankelly” to the front and add heir own commentary, such as
lucy3point0’s “Laugh or cry?“.
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However I should disclose that I voted three times in the poll. Despite responding to a suggestion that “If you
disable cookies you and refresh the page and vote gain to your heart’s content” by saying that we should keep the
high moral ground over the Daily Mail I did vote on two additional occasions (using the Flock and Opera
browsers) – as I wanted to see if I could get the error message which a couple of people had encountered. In
retrospect I should have ensured that these two votes cancelled each other out.
And finally I’m also linking to, citing and including a screen image of a number of people who have engaged in
the debate. Should this be done? Am I infringing copyright (indeed, am I infringing the Daily Mail’s copyright in
including a screen image taken from their Web site)?
I am taking a risk management approach to this. Rather than seeking written permission (which may be time-
consuming) I have made a judgement as to whether the people I have mentioned are likely to be concerned. I
suspect not. And inclusion of the poll from the Daily Mail Web site? This may be a risk, although I might claim
fair use. But won’t it be a greater risk for the Daily Mail if they ask me to remove? If I do get a letter from their
solictors I don’t intend to fight them. But everyone will know they have done this.
Filed in Twitter | Tagged #dailymail | Permalink | Edit |
Respect Copyright (and Subvert It!)
Thursday, June 18th, 2009
The Digital Britain Report
The Digital Britain report was published a few days ago and as is stretches to over 230 pages we’ve needed that
time to digest the report or, perhaps more likely, allow others to read the report and publish their summaries! My
specific area of interest in the report is what it says about copyright.
The report describes how “Already today around 7.5% of total UK music album purchases are digital and a
smaller but rapidly increasing percentage of film and television consumption is streamed online or downloaded”
and that although “User-generated and social content will be very significant” it will not be “the main or only
The report goes on to argue the case for the ‘creative industries’ and repeats their claims that they “have indicated
they suffer considerable losses from unlawful peer-to-peer file-sharing” – and fails to acknowledge the criticism
of these figures described by Ben Goldacre’s “Illegal downloads and dodgy figures” article in the Guardian’s Bad
Section 18 of the report puts the recommendations bluntly:
This is unacceptable. The Government considers online piracy to be a serious offence. Unlawful
downloading or uploading, whether via peer-to-peer sites or other means, is effectively a civil form of theft.
This is not something that we can condone, or to which we can fail to respond. We are therefore setting out
in this report a clear path to addressing this problem which we believe needs to result in a reduction of the
order of 70-80% in the incidence of unlawful filesharing.
My fears are that equating use of networked technologies with large scale copyright infringement will lead to
organisations’ being conservative in their approaches and being unwilling to take any risks that they might be
seen to condone the ’serious offence of online piracy’.
So let’s look at other views on copyright, beyond the teenage kids who seem to stand accused of downloading
music and videos and ruining the country’s economy (I’ve tried to avoid the temptation to say the bankers have
done that, but have failed!)
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Earlier this year Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University wrote a blog post
on “Universities as copyright warriors“, this being a follow-up post to one which asked “Should universities break
copyright law?“. In the former post Martin described how he:
“wasn’t arguing that universities should ignore copyright because they think they’re special, or that they
should advocate wholesale piracy. Rather it was that universities are in a privileged position. They can fight
on behalf of the general populace.“
Professor Stephan Harnad, University of Southampton, has been fighting for the research community for several
years. You just have to visit the Open Access Archivangelism blog to see evidence of the work being done by
Stevan and many fellow open access researchers not only here in the UK but around the world. “Ensure your
research publications are published in an open archive” is their cry “and make publicly-funded research openly
available“. And such simple requests are supported by significant examples of technical solutions, business
models, institutional services and growing international pressures to build on this work.
Professor Peter Murray-Rust, Reader in Molecular Informatics at the University of Cambridge (who,
incidentally, has his own entry in Wikipedia), has been making a similar plea to open up scientific data. Peter
recently argued that “Copyright in Scientific Theses is holding us back; Ignore it“. Peter’s opening comments are
I feel the dread hand of copyright hanging Mordor-like over the whole area of scholarly publishing. I heard
to my horror in PennState that one University had embargoed all its theses in case they violated copyright.
So I tested this in my talk and asked “are there repositories that embargo all their content for fear of
copyright?” and got a few nodding heads. So I am taking this as fact, and asking:
Why is no-one except me angry about the way that copyright (or exaggerated fear of it) is stifling electronic
innovation in academia?
Pete goes on to make the plea “let’s abandon copyright in science. What does it gain us? Almost nothing, unless
you author a successful textbook. Nowhere else is copyright the slightest use to a scientist and its stands in their
way at every step.” And note that Peter is not arguing for the abolition of copyright; he makes it clear that “if you
are working in creative arts you may wish to protect your work“. Peter’s views are focussed on science. And he
repeats this message loudly “SO AS A FIRST STEP LET’S JUST PUBLISH ALL OUR **SCIENCE**
THESES OPENLY AND ALLOW UNRESTRICTED DOWNLOADING AND RE-USE?”.
Beyond The Professors
If you read Martin Weller’s, Stephan’s Harnad’s and Peter Murray-Rust’s blogs you will find much more in-
depth discussions on the benefits of openness in teaching and learning and research. But the danger is that such
views will be dismissed as the ramblings of professors who are secure in their own position. How can others
engage in maximising the openness of resources? How should young researchers and academics respond? And
what approaches can the service departments – libraries and IT Services, for example – take?
A Personal Approach
Back in 2005 I gave a paper on “Let’s Free IT Support Materials!“ which concluded “IT Service departments are
well-positioned to encourage a culture of sharing by encouraging an open access approach to IT support
materials through use of Creative Commons licences“.
In January 2006 I made a commitment that the resources used in my public presentations would be available with
a Creative Commons licence – and since giving a talk on “Web Futures: Implications For HE” at King’s College
London on 27th January 2006 the title slide of my presentations has contained a Creative Commons licence. That
talk was also the first time (I think) in which I recorded my talk and made the talk available also under a Creative
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But what of the risks in making one’s own resource available under a Creative Commons licence? What if the
slides contains resources owned by others (e.g. the JISC and MLA logos on the title slide; a screen shot of the
BBC Web site; etc.)? What if I make defamatory comments in my talk?
Rather than ensuring that no copyrighted material are used in my presentations I take a risk assessment approach.
I weigh the risks that if I use the JISC logo on my title slide that JISC will sue me for copyright infringement –
pretty unlikely! I also try to ensure that a provide hypertext links to third party resources so that the original site
can be easily found. And the Creative Commons logo has a caveat which links to a statement that points out that
the slides may contain copyrighted resources. The onus is then on anyone who wishes to reuse my resources to
undertaken their own risk assessment.
Professor Charles Oppenheim helped me to understand a risk management approach at a seminar he gave at
UKOLN on the copyright implications of institutional repositories. In response to my question as to whether the
complex copyright questions (”Podcasting lectures? What about performance rights?” ) meant that institutional
repositories were unlikely to take off, Charles suggested a simple formula which could be used to gauge the risks.
The Oppenheim formula is simply:
where R is the risk factor of your decision; A is the probability that you are infringing copyright; B is likelihood
the the copyright owner finds out; C is the likelihood that they will care enough to take any action and D is the
compensation they are likely to seek.
A simple formula which (when I asked permission to publish it) Charles told me is intended as rhetorical device
rather than aiming to provide any significant deep insight. But this has been an approach I have found useful.
What can we do if we are supportive of the views which Professors Weller, Harnad and Murray-Rust, but feel
constrained by our perceptions of the risks and barriers? My suggestions:
Free your materials: Make use of Creative Commons for the materials that you create.
Take a risk management approach: Change does not occur without taking risks. So we prepared to take
risks, but asses the risks and make an informed decision.
Be open about the risks: Share the approaches your have taken with others. Help them to assess the risks
they may face in reusing your content.
And remember that there will be people and organisations within our sector who will have vested interests in
maintaining the status quo. If, for example, you are involved in negotiating copyright deals, you may be
concerned that your empire would be threatened by the widespread available of open content. Or maybe you
simply don’t want to rock the boat. But change is needed!
Filed in openness | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (7)
Who Needs Social Networks? I've Got Opera Unite
Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Opera, the browser vendor, have released a new version of their browser, Opera Unite. And they launched their
browser will the slogan “Today, we reinvent the Web“. So what’s behind this rather grandiose claim?
Opera Unite allows you to easily share your data: photos, music, notes and other files. You can even run
chat rooms and host entire Web sites with Opera Unite. It puts the power of a Web server in your browser,
giving you greater privacy and flexibility than other online services.
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What if you use Opera at home, and a different Web browser at work? Opera Unite services can be accessed
from any modern browser, including mobile browsers! At home, just select what you want to share, and you
can view it later using your work Web browser without any problems.
A post on Mashable.com sums this up nicely “Opera Unite: Web Browser Becomes the Web Server“. But do we
need another Web server environment? Do we need the ability of every networked PC to be able to share files?
What are the networking implications? What are the security implications? How will we find the stuff?
I suspect this may the the reaction of members of institutional Web teams. But, on the other hand, mightn’t this
free us from a reliance of the commercial sector and the concerns we have over companies such as Facebook?
And might not the innovative e-learning developers welcome the opportunity to explore how the sharing of
learning resources and the use of collaborative technologies can be provided without having to rely on the local
Web services team whilst avoiding the need to deal with companies such as Google and Facebook. Opera, it
might appear, are unlikely to have a desire to take over the networked world as Google, Facebook and Microsoft
want to do.
Have Opera really reinvented the Web? And is this announcement good news or bad? Or perhaps it is irrelevant –
this is file sharing for home users and need not concern those of us who work in a networked environment?
Filed in browser | Tagged opera, unite | Permalink | Edit |
Which Will Last Longer: Hero.ac.uk or Facebook?
Monday, June 15th, 2009
A Hero For Our Sector
One of the real strengths of the UK higher education sector is the
way in which we can work together as a sector, meaning that the whole is geater than the sum of the individual
parts. This is undoubtedly true of JISC (which is envied in the higher education and research sectors around the
world) but also applies elsewhere. One example of this is Hero: “the official gateway to universities, colleges
and research organisations in the UK“: a gateway funded by the various funding bodies (HEFCE, SHEFC,
HEFCW and DENI) and supported by other higher educational agencies and by the high educational institutions
themselves (and note that I was involved in the technical advisory group for the “HE Mall” as it was originally
Indeed will a service such as Hero, why would higher educational institutions wish to use other channels for
online marketing, particularly social networking service such as Facebook which, despite its popularity are, in
some circles, regarded with suspicion in not hostility?
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Our Hero Is Dead …
Alas for those who believe that the sector should own its marketing channels, the Hero.ac.uk service was closed
on 4th June 2009 (and the image shown above was taken from Hero’s most recent entry in the Internet Archive,
from 10th February 2008) I should disclose that last year I was interviewed by a consultant who had been
appointed in order to identify future directions for the service, including whether the service was viable. I pointed
out the flaws in the Hero service: it did not have the community aspects which potential new students might
expect and it was a ‘walled garden’ – information could be uploaded to the service but there were no easy ways of
getting the data out again. “Make ‘Hero 2.0′ a trusted service which could host structured institutional data“, I
suggested “and provide APIs to allow developers elsewhere to add value to the service“. But this did not happen.
… Long Live a New Hero?
If the managed service to promote UK higher educational institutions is too costly to provide, why don’t we
appropriate popular social networking services to fulfil this role? This is an idea inspired by a Tony Hirst’s post
on “Appropriating technology” which he described as “appropriating technologies that might have been designed
for other purposes in order to use them in an educational context” but I would replace ‘educational context‘ by
And, if we’re honest, isn’t Facebook the new Hero? It can provide the popular service for hosting institutional
marketing materials. And it can provide the community aspects which Hero failed to provide. Admittedly it may
be a ‘walled garden’ – but then so was Hero, so nothing is being lost.
But if we wish to use Facebook in this way, don’t we as a sector need to identify the best practices for making
use of Facebook, including minimising the risks associated with the service? And shouldn’t we be exploring the
benefits which might be gained by working collaboratively?
Some initial thoughts on this:
Institutional URL: As mentioned in my recent post on “Have You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional
Facebook Vanity URL?” we are seeing Facebook URLs being minted as a single string (edgehilluniversity)
and words separated by dots (aberystwyth.university). We might wish to consider whether there are
advantages in seeking agreement on the form of the name – perhaps even using an institutional domain name
in the URL (e.g. www.facebook.com/www.bath.ac.uk). However it is probably too late to do anything about
this (which arguably demonstrates the failure in having not had such discussions previously).
Trademark disputes: We’ll want to avoid the possibility of trademark disputes. Might we see one between
Leeds Metropolitan University and say, Loyola Marymount University over www.facebook.com/lmu?
Ownership of Facebook resource: Who has access to the institutional Facebook account in your institution?
And what if they’ve left or you can’t find the owner? The information should be regarded as a valuable
institutional resource and ownership should be managed appropriately.
Workflow processes: There’s a need to establish effective workflow processes for information provide on
the institutional Facebook page. Ideally information would be hosted elsewhere and automatically updated in
Facebook though use of, for example, an RSS application in your Facebook page.
Will Facebook pages enhance or diminish Google Juice: Might not institutional content which is
replicated on Facebook pages diminish institutional ‘Google juice’ as my colleague Paul Walk has
suggested? Or, alternatively, might content held in popular services such as Facebook and Wikipedia (and
previously, to a lesser extent, Hero) held to increase traffic to the institutional Web site? Indeed if such
replication of content is felt to be counter-productive, shouldn’t institutions try to prevent Web sites having
links to their content rather than seeking to maximise such links?
Facebook Terms and Conditions: It would be useful to gain a better understanding of the Faceboom terms
and conditions and the implications for an organisation’s pages in order to inform appropriate risk
management approach. If the concern is that Facebook will claim ownership of marking material provides, is
that really of concern?
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Explore Possibilities for Facebook Applications: Might there be benefits in developing Facebook
applications to make the UK HEI pages more appealling?
But have we, in the UK, missed the boat? Looking at the timetable for the forthcoming Eduweb 2009 conference I
notice sessions on topics such as “Facebook — a case study of building virtual relationships“, “Cheap, Fast, &
Out of Control: Brand management & recruitment..” and “Recruiting and Marketing in the Web 2.0 World“.
We’ve nothing along these lines planned for IWMW 2009 – but as the bar camp sessions can be submitted at the
workshop itself, perhaps there’s an opportunity to build on these ideas?
Oh, and if you think it is inappro[oriate for an organisation to make use of a social network in this way, look at
what companies such as Starbucks and McDonalds are doing on Facebook.
Filed in Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (8)
Have You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional Facebook Vanity
Saturday, June 13th, 2009
Short URLs for Personal Facebook Accounts
The Facebook vanity URL landrush began at 9 PM PST (5 am in the UK). I woke up early and claimed my
personal short URL for my Facebook page at about 06.30 (actually I wasn’t awake early enough as the obvious
short form had already been claimed). Now I won’t divulge this short form of my Facebook ID as I don’t
necessarily want you trying to befriend me just because you read this blog. But I now have a much easier way of
sharing my Facebook details with people I may wish to befriend in Facebook – previous they had to search
through the large numbers of ‘Brian Kellys’ or I had to give them my email address. The short form is much more
Short URLs for Organisational Facebook Accounts
You can also claim short Facebook URLs for an organisational Facebook page – provided you had more than
1,000 fans before the cut-off date. Again if you are in this position this strikes me as a no-brainer – as described in
a TechCrunch article you should go to facebook.com/username and log into Facebook. And then enter your
preferred name. That’s it.
Earlier this morning I discovered that some of my Twitter contacts had already got a short name for their
institution. Mike Nolan announced first thing that his institution has claimed edgehilluniversity and slightly later
Matthew Cock took the opportunity to promote a group on the britishmuseum’s Facebook account. Both Matthew
and Mike had already made there plans for claiming a short form for their organisational Facebook account. Keele
University had also made their plans, pre-registering their institutional name as a trademarked name – but then
subsequently encountering difficulties in using this name.
“Somehow Feel Dirty After Minting Fb URL”
Despite the ease of getting such short URLs, a number of my Twitter contacts seems very discomforted with the
notion. Now I understand why people may not approve of Facebook, but if they, or their institution, do have
Facebook accounts then surely it’s only sensible to make access to the Facebook pages easier?
And in the case of institutional pages which are used to market the institution, then surely we should be expected
the marketing departments to have spend 10 seconds or so on a Saturday morning to claim the short name which
can, if so desired, be used in marketing materials. And I would hope that rather more time would have been spend
in selecting the short name – poppletonuniversity, poppleton-universityor university-of-poppleton, for example.
Or perhaps there’s even a case for www.facebook.com/www.poppleton.ac.uk?
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So tell me, what is the logic in having a personal or institutional Facebook account and keeping the long form for
its address? Or are the tweets I’ve been seeing simply a minority view from the ideological purists (the 21st
century equivalent of the Tooting Popular Front?)
Of course, it may be that your institution hasn’t claimed the short name as it doesn’t know who owns the acount!
But that’s another matter. Institutional ownership of services in the Social Web is worthy of a post in itself.
Filed in Facebook | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (10)
"#firefoxcrashes or #firefoxisfine"
Friday, June 12th, 2009
Recently the FireFox browser has been crashing on me. But because FireFox is a Good Thing TM I’ve tending to
gloss over the problems (we do this for our loved ones, don’t we). But when the browser started to crash
consistently when embedded images in this blog I decided enough was enough. I’ve moaned a bit on Twitter
about FireFox over the past few days and was interested to see that other people had had similar experiences. So I
thought I’d try and find out how widespread this problem might be.
In order to minimise the time and effort in analysing responses I sent the tweet:
Firefox is crashing frequently. Is this true for others? Respond with #firefoxcrashes or #firefoxisfine. Please
I then used the search capabilities in Tweetdeck to search for tweets containing #firefoxcrashes or #firefoxisfine
(bearing in mind that retweets would contain both strings. The response are illustrated in the screen shot (or you
can see the live search results for #firefoxcrashes and #firefoxisfine).
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There seems to be growing evidence that FireFox is not as reliable as we might have expected. And as I know a
number of the people who responded I am confident that these responses aren’t coming from people who think
that open source software is some form of communism, but from people who prefer the FireFox browser to
The next question might be “what is the cause of the problem?” A couple of people suggested it might be FireFox
plugin bloat or maybe problems with specific FireFox plugins.
The final question is “what do I do next?” Tolerating the problem was no longer acceptable, so I wondered
whether I should use Google Chrome (which is installed on my PC) as my main browser. But I also wondered
whether it would be timely to try out a new browser, But rather than installing Apple’s Safari browser, which a
couple of people suggested, I decided to try out Flock.
However during the installation of Flock I also restarted my PC, which had been put in hiberation at the end of the
working day for a while. And as there were various plugins I was missing I decided to restart FireFox – which I’m
now finding is working fine. So I think I’ll stick with FireFox unless the problems re-occur.
But to me the ease of getting a rapid and semi-structured response from Twitter was the most interesting part of
the exercise. A couple of people responded asking for details of my operating system I was running, FireFox
version number, installed plugins, etc. Now I could have set up a SurveyMonkey form to gather such information
– but I know that not many would have responded. I feel that the important thing was that the survey was
available from within the recipient’s environment – they could immediately respond from whichever Twitter
client they were using.
What, though, of the others for whom #firefoxcrashes? What do you intend to do? Opera, Chrome, Safari, Flock –
or even the other browser?
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Filed in Twitter, browser | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
The JISC SIS Landscape Study
Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
The JISC is funding a landscape study on the UK HE sector use of content, communication and social
networking services developed by commercial companies (or, perhaps more accurately, outside of the JISC
As we know although JISC has developed a number of services specifically for use within the UK higher and
further education sector (e.g. Jorum, JISCmail, etc.) people within the sector are increasingly using services
developed outside the sector, either in addition to – or in some cases instead of – JISC-provided services.
Since evidence of this usage is fragmented and often anecdotal, the JISC SIS Landscape study aims to provide a
snapshot of the current situation in the UK.
My colleagues Ann Chapman and Rosemary Russell are leading this work and have set up the JISC SIS
Landscape Study blog to facilitate their work. We welcome contributions to this blog in order to collate evidence
on how such services are being used within the sector. Please note that JISC are primarily interested in use of such
services within the UK higher and further education sectors. If you are outside this sector, feel free to contribute
but please make it clear in your comments the sector you work or study in.
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
There Is No Institutional Blueprint for Web 2.0 – So Let's Develop One
Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
Last week I gave a talk on “The ‘Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World’ Report: Implications For IT Service
Departments” to staff in BUCS (the Bath University Computer Services Department.
The following day, as she described in a blog post, Chris Sexton, IT Services Director at the University of
Sheffield and UCISA chair, facilitated a similar session on “IT Service 2.0“.
Chris concluded that “There was a general acceptance of the conclusions of the report which was that
Universities need to change, and that change will be driven by students and what they will demand“. Such
comments could also apply to the discussions at the BUCS seminar. And the reservations which Chris described:
“However, there was some opinion expressed that the report was an exaggeration of the change that web
2.0/social web will make in students. There was also a concern that we could be in the situation of using
technology to cut costs – to deliver more with less – to the detriment of what a University education means“.
also reflected some concerns which were aired here at Bath.
Both of these events were based on the recent report on the recent “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World”
One of the points made in the report was the lack of a clear institutional blueprint for action:
Decisions on whether or not to implement Web 2.0 technologies are, however, the responsibility of each
institution individually having regard to its particular ethos and circumstances. Here, experience can be
shared, but there is no blueprint for action and, indeed, it may not be possible to develop a blueprint in an
area that is so highly context specific.
Senior managers in IT Services at the Universities of Bath and Sheffield have started the discussions regarding
such an institutional blueprint. I’m also aware of a forthcoming Web Community event at the University of
Bradford which will address how the Web can be used to support the University’s mission and objectives.
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Is there scope, I wonder, for an event for the community on exploiting the potential of Web 2.0 which could help
in the process of developing an institutional blueprint? In November 2006 UKOLN organised an event on
“Exploiting the Potential of Wikis” followed a year later by a similar one-day event on “Exploiting the Potential
of Blogs and Social Networks“.
Both of these events, which were fully subscribed, provided an opportunity to explore some of the policy issues
associated with provision of or access to wikis, blogs and social networks.
I think we are now in a situation in which we need to address the institutional issues associated with use of
services in ‘The Cloud’ (e.g. sustainability, reliability, and legal issues) , the relationships between the bottom-up
and personal use of networked services and the institutional provision of such services and the relevance of
‘Social Web’ technologies to support teaching and leaning and research activities within our institutions.
I’ll start exploring the possibilities of organising such an event. I’d welcome suggestions on the topics which
should be addressed at such an event and possible speakers.
I’ll conclude by sharing the resources for the talk I gave at Bath. The slides are available on Slideshare (and
embedded below) and a video of my talk is available on Vimeo. In addition local-hosted copies of the resources
are also available on the UKOLN Web site.
Please note that this post originally had a link to an incorrect version of the slides (a version which had been
uploaded to a guest account). The post has been updated with a link to and an embedded versionof the managed
resource. However the original version of the slides has not been deleted.
Filed in Events, Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
Who'll Last Longer – Gordon or Google?
Monday, June 8th, 2009
On Friday I gave a talk on Benefits of the Social Web at the Association of Independent Museum’s (AIM)
annual conference. In the subsequent workshop sessions the issue of the sustainability of the services provided by
companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr was raised. In response I asked “Which do you think is likely to
be more sustainable – Gordon Brown or Google?” And that was a question I asked before I heard Friday’s
announcement that DIUS (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) was no more, being replaced by
DBIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills).
Now the question of the sustainability of instiuional services is something I’ve raised previously, ever since the
Guardian had a front page article on the Secret List of Universities Facing Collapse, which I described in a post
entitled “Universities, Not Facebook, May Be Facing Collapse“.
But this news item (which the Guardian subsequently admitted was inacurate) was concerned with higher
educational institutions which were in financial difficulties. The demise of DIUS made lead us to the situation in
which well-regarded bodies and initiatives cease to be funded due to political manouvering in Westminster, Matt
Jukes, whilst admitting that he is “no expert on the comings and goings in Westminster” goes on to add that “I
really don’t see how this can be anything but bad news for FE and HE“. I would agree with this – as, it would
seem, would many people I know on Twitter who sharing similar misgivings since the announcement on Friday.
Indeed Andy Powell created a Wordle map of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skill press release
which formed the basis of discussion on the lack of any mention of learning and the emphasis on skills and the
And such concerns shoudn’t be restricted to the higher education sector. I suspect we’ll see other significant
changes which affect public sector organisations such as libraries, museums and archives, either before or after
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Shouldn’t we now be including the dangers that our funding bodies and government quangos won’t be around for
very much longer in our risk assessments and scenario planning exercises? And just as IBM has lived through the
rise and fall of several generations of governments and government policies, might not Google provide a level of
stability amid the current uncertainies in the government?
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"Wanna chat with me on cam?"
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
Last year we set up a Ning social network
to support the IWMW 2008 event. Afterwards I forgot about the network until a few days ago I was alerted that a
number of members had received spam messages. And on checking I discovered that Lucile Sawyer was sending
messages asking others “Wanna chat with me on cam?, come see me here You’ll enjoy it. I promise!!!!” And on
checking the membership details I discovered that Genvieve has a twin sister called Lucile Sawyer, as you can
I have now banned Lucile and Genvieve and changed the registration options for the site, so that any new
members have to be approved. The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks
set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however,
in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually.
Filed in Social Networking | | Permalink | Edit |
The Ethical Mobile? (No, not the iPhone!)
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
Dave Flanders recently published a blog post which gave an Independent UK Hardware Review of HTC Magic
(Vodaphone) vs HTC G1 (T-Mobile). The blog post (and embedded video clip) made a case for the HTC Magic
mobile phone (which uses Google’s Android open source operating system) in preference to Apple’s iPhone for
several reasons and concluded with an ethical argument:
Ethical computing! <–! Last but certainly not least (IMHO)–> In an age of global financial crisis and
corporate bastardising the technology we decide to spend our money on says a lot for how we want the world
to turn out for the next generation. In my opinion using an Open Source phone (like Android) says you want
a world where we as a global community decide what we want, NOT one where a company decides how we
want it. Choice is yours, but this phone proves without a doubt that you can have both the ethical openness
of Open Source while still having all the functionality and services of a proprietary company. Truly, this
could be the first time Open Source is the top of the stack and I can only hope it will stay this way (for a
month or two anyways
Now a debate of the relative merits of the iPhone and the Google Android device took place following my post
on Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” in September 2008 and a follow-up post on The Wow
Factor, The Openness, The Developers Environment, … published the following month. That debate appeared to
conclude with a concensus of the benefits of the usability of the iPhone, which outweighed the closed nature of
the platform, the centralised Apple Store and the costs of the the iPhone.
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Well I have now got myself a HTC Magic Android device. And have I selected this device based on the ethical
considerations which Dave has raised? Of course not! I chose the HTC Magic phone as wanted a device which
meant I could be always connected, and not tied to a WiFi network. And I was out of contract I was able to obtain
the HTC Magic free-of-charge, with an increase of my monthly tariff from £15 to £20, which included the data
And having had the device for a few days I’m enjoying it. I’ve installed a variety of Android applications (all of
them free) included an email client (K9), an RSS reader (NewsRob), a couple of GPS applications, a Twitter
client (Twidroid), a barcode reader (to experiment with), Quikipedia (for cheating in pub quizzes), Skype, Shazam
For me the deciding factors were the cost and usability – and the iPhone’s better usability isn’t enough to
outweigh its costs. And although this might not be a fashionable comment to make in developers’ circles, the
ethical issues which Dave has described have IMHO little to do with the selection of mobile phones. You just
need to ask an iPhone user to see the truth of this.
Now where are the other HTC Magic users to chat to and discuss the cool apps to install?
Filed in Gadgets | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
Google Wave, HTML 5 and Browser Policies
Monday, June 1st, 2009
Over the past few days the Twitterverse seems tobe full with of discussions regarding Google’s announcement of
Wave. The Techcrunch article on “Google Wave Drips With Ambition. A New Communication Platform For A
New Web” is worth reading. But I was also interested to read a couple of blog posts on how Google Wave might
be used to support teahcing and learning and research activities within higher educational instituions.
In a post entitled”Google Wave and teaching & learning” Wilber Kraan, who works for JISC CETIS, described
how a technology like Google Wave has the potential to support a social constructivist’s model based on group
collaboration activities, especially those that can be constructed, annotated or modified collaboratively. And
whilst Wilbert feels that Google is “evil” he feels that “a technology like Google Wave has the potential to impact
this area significantly” and as Social Networking isn’t a market in which Google dominates, Google “needs to
play nice and open“.
Meanwhile over on the Science in the Open blog Cameron Neylon feels that “OMG! This changes
EVERYTHING! – or – Yet Another Wave of Adulation“. Cameron, a research scientist who is an unapologetic
evangelist for open science, describes how, up till now “Those of us interested in web-based and electronic
recording and communication of science have spent a lot of the last few years trying to describe how we need to
glue the existing tools together, mailing lists, wikis, blogs, documents, databases, papers“. But Google Waves
seems to have fundamentally changed things (if the service lives up to the hype): The lack of a framework to glue
various communications and collaboration tools together “as far as I can see has now ceased to exist. The
challenge now is in building the right plugins and making sure the architecture is compatible with existing tools.
But fundamentally the framework seems to be there. It seems like it’s time to build“.
An exciting future, if Google Wave lives up to the hype, for the learning and research communities, it would
seem. And therefore Google Wave could be of particular important to the higher education community. There
will be lots of issue that will have to be addressed, not least the dangers of a monopoly provider and concerns
over privacy. But, less emotive, perhaps, but of particular importance to IT Service departments is the question of
the browser environment which will be needed to access Google Wave. It appears that Google Wave is an HTML
5 application – and HTML 5 is supported, in part, by all modern Web browsers, with the exception of Microsoft’s
Internet Explorer – which dominstates he marketplace.
Isn’t it time for IT Services department to acknowledge that Internet Explorer is a major barrier to innovation in
higher education? Would it be too much to expect a search and destroy operation to be carried out during the
summer vacation to the desktop environment across the sector? Or, as a Google member of staff was quoted as
saying that Google aim to get it working for all browsers: “People will not have to upgrade their browser to use
Wave” maybe not? Perhaps if we find the innovators and early adopters grow to like Google Wave and wish to
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see it used more widely within or institutions, we’ll also find that it will eventually be made to work in the latest
version of Internet Explorer. So maybe the summer’s search and destroy operation could be a less radical search
and update operation.
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Defend this Tory MP (yes, really!)
Friday, May 29th, 2009
Whilst reading the Guardian’s RSS feed on my iPod Touch on the bus yesterday I came across an article entitled
“The internet – a threat to free speech?“. The opening sentence was intriguing “It’s probably not the best time to
be seen defending an MP, but here goes“. In the article Padraig Reidy described how “Conservative MP Nadine
Dorries has been pilloried for likening the Daily Telegraph’s handling of the MPs’ expenses story to “torture” –
drip-feeding information and keeping MPs waiting nervously by the phone each morning, awaiting the dreaded
call“. And this complaint, it seems, was published on her blog, in which Nadine Dorries questioned the motives
of the Telegraph and its owners, the Barclay brothers.
Now although I have little sympathy for Tory MPs, I am concerned with the news that “solicitors acting for the
Telegraph and the Barclay brothers sent [a] complaint about not just to Dorries, but to her internet service
provider, TDMWeb” which resulted in Dorries’ blog being taken down by the ISP. And although the blog was
later restored, it seems that the material the Telegraph and the Barclays found so offensive has been removed.
The Blog of Nadine Dorries MP was launched in August 2006. It has a blog policy on the home page stating:
“It’s simple. Be nice. If you try and misinterpret the position I have laid out in a blog; if you swear, are rude,
abusive, aggressive or threatening, I will not publish. If you want to be any of the above, there are lots of
other sites you can go to.
This blog is civil, respectful and will try always to be caring (except when in verbally, armed, political
combat) I will not tolerate the harsh political, aggressive tones accepted on other blogs. Anyone who breaks
these rules will be sent to the naughty step until they learn to behave. I have a very keen nose for Trolls, so
Although I’ve not read any of the posts on the blog I’m pleased that an MP has been blogging for that length of
time. And I’m very concerned that a newspaper can insist that a critical blog post can be removed and that the ISP
will cave in. A clear example of the dangers of flaws in the legal system which can cause an ISP to cave into such
threats. And we should be pleased we won’t experience such problems in our sector.
Of could we? I recently looked at the “IT ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY” at the University of Bath, which covers
us of blogs hosted at the University. This states that “You must not use University computing services to harass,
defame, libel, slander, intimidate, impersonate or otherwise abuse another person“. It goes on to state that a
breach of the AUP can include “Copyright infringement“. Hmm. A search reveals I’ve written several blogs posts
containing the words ‘George Bush’ – and they were unlikely to have been complementary! And I’ve also
embedded various images, YouTube videos, etc. which may infringe copyright. So if this blog was hosted on the
University of Bath blog server there could be a risk that I could face pressure to moderate my posts. A very slight
risks, I’ll admit, and I would be prepared to justify the content I’ve published. But if the IT Services department
was as easily intimidated as the provider of Dorries’ blog, there might be a risk.
I’ve also recently come across consortia agreements which contained a clause that organisations would not
publish content which critical of other signatories (this wasn’t the exact wording, please note). So if, for example,
JISC has signed up to such an agreement and I was posting on a JISC Involve blog, I might not be able to post
anything critical of other partner organisations. Now I don’t think such possibilities are likely. But, in light of
the Nadine Dorries incident I think we need to be careful.
I could imagine some academics or academic disciplines in which one could envisage tensions between the
individual and the institution. And the clause in the JISC Involve blog terms and conditions which states that JISC
has the “right (though not the obligation) to, in JISC’s sole discretion (i) refuse or remove any content that, in
JISC’s reasonable opinion, violates any JISC policy or is in any way harmful or objectionable” seems to set a
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particulurly worying precedent – content can be removed if someone in JISC deems it “in any way harmful or
objectionable“. I wonder if this post, which expresses concerns over this clause, could be considered
objectionable and subject to removal if my blog was hosted on the JISC Involve service?
In order to avoid such risks wouldn’t it be desirable to make use of an external blog provider will whom one has a
disinterested relationship? And if the service provider in based overseas we might avoid the pressures which have
occurred in the Dorries blog case. Wordpress pr Blogger, anyone? And that includes MPs such as Nadine Dorries.
Filed in Blog | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (7)
The Social Web and the Belbin Model
Wednesday, May 27th, 2009
I have previously suggested that although I feel that the Social Web has much to offer that doesn’t mean that I
would want everyone to have a blog, to Twitter, to record talks and make them freely available on video sharing
services. Rather I feel that these approaches should be available to people who wish to exploit their potential,
whether in teaching and learning, research or enriching access to scholarly and cultural resources. But who are the
people who may be best suited to using Social Web services in this fashion?
A couple of decades ago I took part in a team building workshop during which I was introduced to the Belbin
model. On completing the questionnaire on my personal preferences I discovered that I was a plant and a resource
investigator. According to Wikipedia these are defined as:
Plants are creative, unorthodox and a generator of ideas. If an innovative solution to a problem is needed, a
Plant is a good person to ask. A good plant will be bright and free-thinking. Plants can tend to ignore
incidentals and refrain from getting bogged down in detail. The Plant bears a strong resemblance to the
popular caricature of the absentminded professor-inventor, and often has a hard time communicating ideas to
The Resource Investigator gives a team a rush of enthusiasm at the start of the project by vigorously
pursuing contacts and opportunities. He or she is focused outside the team, and has a finger firmly on the
pulse of the outside world. Where a Plant creates new ideas, a Resource Investigator will quite happily steal
them from other companies or people. A good Resource Investigator is a maker of possibilities and an
excellent networker, but has a tendency to lose momentum towards the end of a project and to forget small
Are these characteristics still true, I wonder? And do they reflect the way I use Social Web tools, such as this
blog? As I defined the role of this blog as an environment to provide “an opportunity for me to ‘think out loud“:
i.e. describe speculative ideas, thoughts which may occur to me, etc. which may be of interest to others or for
which I would welcome feedback” I think I have been using the blog to support my preferences as a plant.
I most definitely use the blog to pursue contacts and opportunities beyond my host institution. And as well as
sometimes creating new ideas (such as the holistic approach to Web accessibility) I will also “quite happily steal
them from other companies or people” (though I do always try to provide links back to the original ideas, whether
in blog posts or even tweets).
Is the Belbin model useful in identifying the characteristics of those who enjoy blogging and micro-blogging, I
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged Belbin | Permalink | Edit |
Reflections on Use of Twitter at the #CILIP-CYMRU09 Conference
Tuesday, May 26th, 2009
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Last week I gave a
talk on “Virtual Space for All: The Opportunities and Challenges Provided By The Social Web 2.0” at the
CILIP Wales, Welsh Libraries, Archives and Museums Conference 2009. The organisers, Mandy Powell in
particular, were keen on building on the success of the amplification of the recent CILIP2 open meeting by
encouraging exploitation of the conference’s WiFi network though use of Twitter with the conference tag ‘#cilip
-cymru09‘. Although the numbers of twitterers were small I thought it was interesting to observe and reflect on
the ways in which Twitter was being used and the possible benefits it can provide as usage grows.
Jane Stevenson of the Archives Hub, MIMAS, University of Manchester, was the main conference twitterer. As
can be seen for the accompanying image, Jane provided a running commentary of the talks (in this case my talk)
with, on a number of occasions, links provided to the resources being described, such as the link to the National
Library of Wales community wiki at www.ourwales.org. What we have here is potentially an accessibility benefit,
provided by the textual transcript of a talk.
In contrast a tweet by BeccaDavies, who chaired my session which asked “have we ritualised our reasons for not
allowing access to web 2.0 – can we remember why? #cilip-cymru09” provided me with a new insight into my
talk (a talk which I have given on a number of occasions recently). Have established a number of unthinking
reasons for not engaging with the Social Web? I’d not thought of it in those terms before.
Bob McKee, CEO of CILIP, in his introductory comments for the panel session, suggested that as well as the
physical space provided by libraries and the virtual space which I described, there is also an internal space, where
the learning takes place. A tweet by MartinNHW commented on this remark: “#cilip-cymru09 Bob McKee – re
Martyn Wade: space between our ears – echoes of JG Ballard’s inner space – as well as physical and virtual“.
Afterwards I heard Bob remark that he hadn’t made the connection with JG Ballard’s ‘inner space’, but seemed to
welcome this analogy. Again we are seeing how Twitter can provide differing perpectives on a talk, which can
help enrich the learning for others.
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We are starting to see a number of posts describing experiments in using Twitter in lectures, such as Where for
art thou Twitter? on the Classroom 2 blog, and The Twitter Experiment – Bringing Twitter to the Classroom at
UT Dallas on the Kesmit-ing blog, Classroom idea: Twitter note-taking on Steve Outing’s blog, and Embracing
the Twitter Classroom on the Huffington Post. We’ll be seeing much more of this, I suspect.
Filed in Twitter | Tagged #cilip-cymru09 | Permalink |
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You Care About Innovation? Then Tell Me What You Think, Not Who
You Work For!
Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
I recently commented how Twitter provides a means for not only finding out and discussing new ideas but also
establishing and developing new professional relationships. And sometimes the contacts may take place initially
in the blogosphere which can then be supported by discussions, or even just listening, on Twitter.
But how easy do we make it for others to establish new contacts and engage in discussions in this way? I was
thinking about this in the context of a comment made recently by Nicole Harris who described how “the fact that
I am connected to JISC in my e-mail address is important…“. As I wanted to read Nicole’s blog to see what else
she’d written on this topic I Googled “Nicole Harris JISC Blog” - and found that her staff page on the JISC Web
site was the first hit. This page provided contact details (including her JISC email address) and a brief summary of
her areas of work – but no link to her blog. I had to scan through the Google results more carefully before finding
her JISC Access Management Team blog – and, interestingly the link was to a post entitled “The opinions
expressed on this blog are only the opinions of…?” which concluded with the questions:
- As a manager at JISC, should my blog posts reflect my personal opinions or that of the corporate body of
- How can senior managers within our organisations best understand the role of web2 platforms so we don’t
get our wrists slapped for being vocal on such platforms?
- Should we be vocal on such plaforms?
- Should policies be governed by communication mode (i.e. blogging), platform (JISC Involve versus general
Wordpress) or job role (would this policy be different for me and mark, who now lives in JISC Collections
but continues to blog with me)?
Now a discussion about the contents of a blog is worthy of another post. In this post my interest is in how one’s
active participation in innovation can be surfaced for the wider community. Shouldn’t it be the address of the blog
which is included in one’s profile in various social networking services (e.g. Link-in). And shouldn’t a staff page
on one’s organisational Web site link to the place where views and opinions are being surfaced and discussions
Surely if you care about innovation (which I know Nicole does) then you’ll make it easy for your user community
and your peers to find out what you think and help then to engage in the discussions and debate? And these days
that is increasingly likely to take place on blogs and via Twitter. And the debate never took place on instituional
Web sites, did it?
Filed in Blog | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (6)
How Do New Ideas Start? How Do New Contacts Develop?
Monday, May 18th, 2009
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How do you ideas start? How can a informal conversation lead to an exploration of new ideas? How do such
conversations start? And how does one participate in such conversations, especially with new people?
These were a series of questions which occurred to me a few days ago, following some early morning light-
hearted banter on Twitter. I thought I’d share the dialogue and invite comments on the more general issues.
The Twitter Discussions
At 7 am on Friday 15th May 2009 I got up and downloaded the new tweets on my iPod Touch. I noticed that
James Clay had spotted that the “Latest upgrade to TwitterFon on the iPhone now includes Ads. There will be a
paid for Pro version which doesn’t“. As I was using Twitterfon to view the tweet I had an interest in alternative
Twitter clients, in case the ads on the new version were to intrusive. In response to my query on alternatives Joss
Winn responded by suggesting that “if you’re going to pay, Tweetie is worth every penny“. Now I’ve not met Joss
(as far as I know) but, a few months ago started following him on Twitter and subscribe to his blog.
In order to put his suggestion into context, I visited his blog and spotted his (then current) post on “The user is in
control“. This post was written in response to Andy Powell’s post about Identity in a Web 2.0 World and
contained some comments which reflected my view of how Web 2.0 is requiring higher education to challenge
some of the assumptions we have previously taken for granted (in particular that higher educational institutions
should regard themselves as automatically the main provider of a student’s digital identity). As I appreciated
Joss’s work in this area, I tipped my hat in his direction with a tweet posted at 07:23 saying “Ta for suggesting
Tweetie app. BTW have just looked at your blog & will cite your post on “The user is in control” l8tr today“. I’d
made links with a new contact before 07.30 am.
When I arrived at work forthy minutes later Joss had responded with a jocal tweet:
responded shortly afterwards saying “excellent A citation from Brian Kelly surely counts towards the REF!“.
And in a similar vein I made fun on the notion that citing tweets would have any relevance to REF (the Research
Exercise Framework alternative to the RAE for identifying the merits of research publications:
“A citation from Brian Kelly surely counts towards the REF!” True – so if I cite u, will u cite me? (hmm
should have DMed that!)”.
Martin Weller observed this dialogue and joined in by suggesting that “semi-seriously we should work up our own
set of metrics of reputation etc so we can compare when REF is done“. Following a few further tweets between
Martin, Joss and myself a few hours later Martin published a blog post on “What would ALT-REF look like?“.
The blog post included an image (shown below) which captured the discussions:
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Martin Weller’s suggestion was that an alternative to REF would “take in the sort of distributed identity we have
online, so measures activity in blogging, delicious, slideshare, YouTube, twitter, etc. It would need to measure not
just activity but influence, impact, etc in some data driven manner“. Whether this idea has any merits might be
worth exploring on Martin’s blog. My more specific interest is how the people who may be working together
across the “blogging, delicious, slideshare, YouTube, twitter, etc” services might find each and share ideas which,
at some later point, might provide significant benefits.
Martin and myself have already benefitted from the discussions we’ve had on Twitter and from reading and
commenting on each other’s blog posts, with the shared understanding we’ve gained having led to a submission
for a workshop session at the ALT-C conference which we’ll be faciliting at the conference in September. I have
also received contributions to a number of peer-reviewed papers from contacts I’ve met on Twitter.
Thinking about this in more detail, I realise that typically I might start following someone on Twitter if I feel I
might gain something from this, such as new insights into digital library developments, use of Web 2.0, digital
preservation, etc. If I do find myself following links embedded in tweets or enjoying contributions to a twitter
discussion I might look at the Twitterer’s blog (if, as is often the case, they have one) and subscribe to it so I can
read their ideas in more depth on their blog. And this might then lead to further sharing of ideas and possibly joint
But if you don’t tweet or don’t blog then you are likely to be invisible to me. This, I’m sure, won’t be of concern
to many people! But, more generally, won’t a failure to have a presence in the blogosphere, on Twitter and in
other social media which are being increasingly used in certain sectors of the research community result in a
failure to have one’s ideas being known about and opportunities to engage with others being missed? Speculation
on my part, I’ll admit. And there will be a need to gather evidence. So I’ve provided my anecdote. Anyone had
Filed in Twitter, Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
Not Your Father's IT Innovation!
Friday, May 15th, 2009
Yesterday a leader column in The Guardian suggested that the current global economic crisis is “Not your father’s
recession“. Rather than being simply the latest downturn in a economic cycle which has been with us since 1945
the leader writer feels that this recession is very different from those we (and our parents) have experienced in the
On the same day Andy Powell on the eFoundation’s blog invites us to consider The role of universities in a Web
2.0 world? Andy feels that the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX)’s report on
“Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” should have sought to address the question”what is the role for
universities in a Web 2.0 world?” rather than “how do universities best use Web 2.0 to enhance their current
Similarly Andy feels the the recent CILIP2 Open Session missed an opportunity to address the fundamental issue
of”What is the role of an organisation like CILIP in a Web 2.0 world?” instead discussing the much safer
question of “how should CILIP use Web 2.0 to engage with its members?“.
Andy’s post concludes by suggesting that “if Web 2.0 changes everything, [he] see[s] no reason why that doesn’t
apply as much to professional bodies and universities as it does to high street bookshops“. Or to put it another
way, it’s not just about sometimes slow-moving institutions eventually accepting the importance of the IT
innovations which the early adopters have been talking about – and using – for some time now. Rather we don’t
just have to develop the “best practices for institutional engagement (or not) with Web 2.0” which I suggest. This
needs to be done (and I’ve very pleased that the CLEX report and the CILIP community seem to have accepted
this) – but we also need to look closely at the roles which our institutions have traditionally played and the
services they have provided and questions whether these are still needed.
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On one level support services in our institutions need to question their traditional roles. Is there a need for IT
Service departments, for example, to continue to provide and host mainstream services such as email. In her blog
Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield and
UCISA chair has described proposals to move its email service for students to Google – and the comments from
the users on her blog seems very positive. And how should academic libraries respond to the wide range of
information sources of available ‘out there’ . The traditional approach has been to ensure that information literacy
provision allows users to be able to differentiate between quality controlled sources of information, such as
academic journals, and widely used services such as Wikipedia which don’t provide such managed approaches to
quality. But as we have recently discovered that publishers of research journals such as Elsevier publish fake
academic publications, it would seem that such traditional notions are already questionable.
Put as well as the provision of services such as email we also need to question whether it is desirable for
institutions to provide email addresses for staff and students. Since email is used to authenticate registration and
subsequent changes for many Web 2.0 services, what will happen when people leave the institution and thus can
no longer use their email address? Wouldn’t it be sensible for institutions to advice students on short course and
staff on short-term contracts to use an email account which can still be used when they leave if they wish to use
Web 2.0 services, whether for social or academic purposes? And if so, how short is a short course? A diploma,
lasting a few months? A 1 year MSc? Or a 3 year undergraduate course?
This is part of a wider discussion about identify in a Web 2.0 world, and the focus of another post on the
eFoundations blog. “Identity in a Web 2.0 world is not institution-centric” argues Andy; a view strongly
supported by Paul Miller. Joss Winn explores these issues in more depth in a blog post entitled “The user is in
control” in which he describes a blueprint outline which recognises that “University students are at least 18 years
old and have spent many years unconsciously accumulating or deliberately developing a digital identity” and will
increasingly question and resist the idea that the instituion will impose a new digital identity.
What, then, “is the role for universities in a Web 2.0 world?” to revisit Andy’s question? And will a combination
of the continuing economic recession, possible implications of global warming and the availability of Open
Educational Resources does the traditional higher education institution have a future? And if you point out the
failure of the UK eUniversity (see The Real Story Behind the Failure of U.K. eUniversity – PDF) to argue for a
continuation of the status quo I’ll suggest that that provides a valuable learning experience, illustrating some of
the ways approachs to radical transformation of the sector which we now know to avoid.
Web 2.0 is not just the latest in a series of IT developments (ranging from mainframes, mini-computers,
workstations, standalone PCs, PCs on a LAN, PCs with Internet and Web access to today;s mobile devices) which
institutions have successfully absorbed and integrated into the mainstream, I feel. It’s not your father’s IT
innovations – it’s something much more radical. And if you deny this aren’t you behaving in a similar fashion to
the music industry, which refused to acknowledge that developments such as the Internet, mobile music players
and P2P networks fundamentally changed how the industry needed to operate?
Or is this a tongue-in-cheek post, which I’ll be happy to distance myself from in a few year’s time? To be honest,
I don’t know. What do you think?
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged clex09 | Permalink | Edit |
The Launch of the CLEX09 Report
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
Yesterday morning I wrote a blog post about the report on “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” published
by the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX). In the afternoon I went to the
Barbican Centre London in order to attend the official launch of this report. It was good to meet up with Sir
David Melville, who chaired the Committee of Inquiry, and Ewan McIntosh, both of whom spoke at the launch
event. The two speakers had also spoken at UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshops, incidentally,
Sir David in 2003 and Ewan McIntosh at last year’s event.
I think it is fair to say that the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report does not provide any new insights
for those who have been actively involved in the Web 2.0 world over the past few years. What it does provide,
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however, is senior management endorsement for the work of those of us who have been involved in promoting
and exploiting the potential of Web 2.0 and the Social Web within higher education. And the list of
recommendations should be closely looked at by policy makers and senior managers as well as those of us who,
like me, will be welcoming this report.
I brought along a digital camera (which could also take video recordings) to the meeting and, with permission of
the two speakers, recorded their two talks (I also recorded the third speaker, Wes Streeting, President of the NUS
but haven’t been able to upload it).
The videos of Sir David Melville (13 mins long) and Ewan McIntosh (16 mins long) have been uploaded to the
Vimeo service. It is not possible (I understand) to embed the Vimeo video player in this blog. However clicking
on the images below will take you to the Vimeo Web site.
What do you think of their views of the future for Higher Education in a Web 2.0 world?
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged clex09 | Permalink | Edit |
"Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World" Report Published
Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
The CLEX Final Report
The final report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) entitled” Higher
Education in a Web 2.0 World” has just been published.
The report built on work which began last year included a “Report of the review of current and developing
international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education” (available in PDF Format) to
which I contributed the section which provided a history of use of Web 2.0 in the UK.
Article In Today’s Education Guardian
The official launch of the CLEX report has been accompanied by an article entitled ”Time to get with the
program” published in today’s Education Guardian. As I mentioned in a blog post on How Is HE Embracing Web
2.0? How Is Web 2.0 Changing HE?” published yesterday I had been interviewed by the author of the article,
Anthea Lipsett, last week.
The article in the Guardian begins with a description of a student experience which is at ease with the social web:
The “Google generation” of today’s students has grown up in a digital world. Most are completely au fait
with the microblogging site Twitter; they organise their social lives through Facebook and MySpace; 75% of
students have a profile on at least one social networking site. And they spend up to four hours a day online.
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The article cites the CLEX report ’s conclusions that although UK Universities are doing “pretty well” there are
“major issues to address if universities and colleges are to keep up with these changes in student practice and
attitude” since “use of Web 2.0 … is far from systematic in universities” and is “driven by enthusiastic individuals
who have embraced the opportunities it offers” .
The CLEX report is very positive in its views on the potential of Web 2.0 in higher education. The report provides
a series of recommendation including, for example, the recommendation that that “JISC continues to develop a
research and support programme into the use of Web 2.0 for all aspects of university business“.
Should this be regarded by higher educational institutions as encouragement to make more systematic use of the
Wocial Social Web? After all, today’s Guardian includes, as well as the Education supplement, a University
Guide supplement which contains on the front page an article on “Tweet and lowdown” which describes how
“most univerities are so desperate to come across as cool that they’ve joined Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,
and are happy to meet you online” and how “a lot of institutions offer free podcasts of lectures and tutorial
recordings via their individual websites or Apple’s portal iTunesU“.
Evidence that Universities are successfully embracing Web 2.0 technologies (despite the snide remark about
‘desparation’)? Or should we be concerned regarding the way in which social networking technologies are being
institutionalised to support marketing purposes?
In our contribution to the “Time to get with the program?” article myself and Professor Martin Weller both
warned of the dangers of institutions “infiltrating Facebook”. Martin described how “If you ask students: do you
want the university to come on Facebook, the answer is no. They don’t want their professor as a friend” and I
questioned whether “universities [need] to get involved in … informal learning” which can be supported by social
But what if Martin and myself are wrong? After all the CLEX report concluded with a quotation from a student:
I think it’s great to have tutors/university staff on Facebook. After all, it is supposed to be a social community
network and I think they [deserve] the right to have their own community or form a network with students (if
the students are willing).
The answer to this dilemma should be addressed by another of the recommendations of the CLEX final report:
“JISC works with the HE funding bodies and Universities UK to explore issues and practice in the development of
new business models that exploit Web 2.0 technologies“. We haven’t yet identified the best practices for
institutional engagement (or not) with Web 2.0. But the report makes it quite clear that we need to be asking these
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged clex | Permalink | Edit |
How Is HE Embracing Web 2.0? How Is Web 2.0 Changing HE?
Monday, May 11th, 2009
On Thursday I received a message followed by a subsequent email asking me to contact a journalist at the
Guardian newspaper who was writing an article about institutional use of Web 2.0 in higher education. In her
email Anthea Lipsett told me that she was writing an article for the Education Guardian about a report on ‘HE in
a Web 2.0 World’ due to be published on Tuesday, 12 May 2009. Anthea wanted some background information
on whether HE had embraced Web 2.0 technology, how Web 2.0 is changing HE and whether universities
keeping pace with the changes and had been given my name as someone to talk to.
A challenge for me, then, to give my thoughts on these questions! My initial response was to post a tweet inviting
suggestions from my Twitter followers. I then drafted some notes which on some of the key points which I felt
might be useful to raise in the interview. Although I didn’t have an opportunity to mentioned all of these points in
the brief interview I felt it might be worth expanding on my notes and sharing them on the blog so that others can
see how I feel the higher education sector is responding to and engaging with Web 2.0.
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What is Web 2.0?
If you are writing an article about how Web 2.0 is changing higher education and how higher education is
responding to Web 2.0 you first need to clarify what you mean by the term ‘Web 2.0′.
‘Network as a Platform’
Web 2.0 could refer to the concept of ‘network as a platform’. In the past I feel that institutional IT service
providers have felt threatened by this notion which, in the UK, seems to imply Thatcherite out-sourcing and
privatisation. This doesn’t go down well with the Guardian and Independent readers you will typically find in the
university sector! However back in 2006 at the UCISA management Conference I gave a talk on “IT Services:
Help Or Hindrance?” in which I argued there was a need to embrace the mixed economy of in-house and external
providers of IT services. I was pleased (and slightly surprised) to discover a willingness to accept such changes –
this was a very different response to my “A Controversial Proposal” talk which I gave to an audience of
institutional Web managers back in 2000 which, in retrospect, made similar arguments but at a time in which the
underlying technical infrastructure and business models had not been established.
I think now, however, IT services departments are much more comfortable with embracing ’services in the
Cloud’. As an example, see the recent blog post on “Google for students” by Chris Sexton, IT Services Director at
the University of Sheffield and UCISA Chair in which she described how a “project group agreed to recommend
that we outsource our service to Google and implement Google mail and calendar in the first instance – possibly
moving to more of the apps later such as Google docs” and then went on to add “first major service we’ve
outsourced, but I suspect that over the next few years it won’t be the last“.
Culture of Openness
Web 2.0 also embraces a culture of openness. And this is an area in which the higher education community has
taken a high profile in for several years. The research community has been pro-active in promoting open access to
research publication, with advocates such as Professor Stevan Harnard playing a prominent role in promoting
alternative business models which can enable research publications to be freely available for use by others whilst
maintaining editorial and peer reviewing processes which are essential for maintaining the quality of research
This culture of openness is increasingly being applied in other areas of higher education, such as open educational
resources, with the JISC funding an Open Educational Resources Programme) to expand on the amount of
educational content which is available. Similar initiatives are being taken to open access to scientific data as can
be seen from the blog posts of open science advocates such as Professor Peter Murray-Rust and Cameron Neylon.
Blogs, Wikis, …
But rather than the more philosophical aspects of Web 2.0, perhaps the issues concern the provision of Web 2.0
technologies such as blogs and wikis. The University of Warwick was the first UK university to provide a blog
service for its staff and students. And after some initial concerns about how an institution should go about
managing the content I suspect we are now finding that IT Services are starting to regard blogs and wikis as fairly
mainstream the higher education sector – that the impression I had after the UKOLN workshop on Exploiting the
Potential of Wikis held back in November 2006 and Exploiting the Potential of Blogs and Social Networks held a
I suspect, however, that the main area of interest may be how universities are engaging with the Social Web and
social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
The first example of institutional engagement with such social networking services I was aware of was Edge Hill
University, which Alison Wildish (who is now manager of the Web Services team here at the University of Bath)
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described in a plenary talk on “Let the Students do the Talking…” at the IWMW 2007 event (and note that a
video of her talk is available). I suspect that nowadays institutional marketing departments and alumni offices
will be familiar with the potential of social networking services and many will have established a presence in
popular service such as Facebook. In addition institutions have also started to make use of Twitter as another
channel for engaging with their communities.
Social Networks Beyond Marketing
Of more interest, I feel, is the question of how universities are using social networks to support their teaching and
learning activities. And this is probably an area in which there it is more speculative as to is happening beyond the
early adopters . I suspect there is also more diversity of opinions on the question of what institutions are seeking
to achieve through use of social networks and how institutional policies and decisions should be developed to
support such nebulous aims.
If we regard social networks as supporting informal learning it may be questionable as to whether institutions
need any formal policies beyond not banning their use. After all informal learning has always taken place in
universities, in bars, coffee rooms, students kitchens, etc. but we haven’t sought to manage the discussions and
interactions. Should we seek to do so in online social spaces? And if we try do, isn’t there a danger that student
will simply move to other online spaces?
Some Concluding Thoughts
I feel it is important that universities should be pro-active in developing and implementing new media literacy
strategies for members of their institutions, including members of staff (academic, senior policy makers, …) as
well as students. This should not only cover assessment of information found on the Web but also issues related to
creation of content and engagement with communities.
There will be a need to gather evidence as to the effectiveness of informal learning and the effectiveness of use of
social networks in more formal contexts. I suspect there will be a need to understand how the effectiveness of
social networks differs across different disciplines and also across different groups of users.
And as well as gaining a better understanding of how social networks can support student learning, there is also a
need to understand how social networks can enhance the effectiveness of teaching and research staff within our
institutions, through, for example, support for communities of practice. This is an area of particular interest to me,
with my interests in engaging with and learning from a number of communities related to my professional areas
of interest and activities, including standards development, Web accessibility and the broad area of digital library
That’s my summary of how I feel the higher education sector is embracing Web 2.0. I’d welcome your thoughts,
comments and observations.
Filed in Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (9)
Reflections on eLib and Other National Digital Library Programmes
Sunday, May 10th, 2009
I have been invited to give a talk at the CILIPS Annual Conference 2009 on “Inspiring Excellence: Yourself,
Your Service, Our Future” which will take place in Peebles on 1-3rd June 2009.
I have been invited to give a talk in a session on “How Far Have We Come?” and the draft title of my talk is
“From eLib to NOF-digi and Beyond“. In the talk I’ll give my thoughts on a number of national digital library
development programmes which I have had some invovement with: namely eLib, DNER (which was
subsequently renamed the JISC Information Environment) and the NOF-digitise programme.
Rather than looking at the outputs of such programmes I’ll be exploring the technical guidelines which funded
projects were expected to follow. This will include a review of the standards documents developed to support
these programmes and some of the important architectural decisions which had an influence across a range of
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projects. I’ll also explore the things I feel we got write – and also the things we missed or were late in adopting.
The intention is to try to inform large-scale initiatives in the future by learning from our successes and failures.
I’ll write a number of blog posts in which I’ll describe my thoughts prior to writing the presentation. And I’d
welcome comments from people who may have been involved in these programmes or have views and opinions
they would like to share.
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IWMW 2009 Event Open For Bookings
Friday, May 8th, 2009
This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009) is now open for bookings. This year the 3-
day event, which is aimed at members of institutional Web management teams and others with interests in
institutional use of Web services, will be held at the University of Essex, Colchester on 28-30th July 2009.
Although the event is well-established, having been launched in 1997, the event continues to develop in response
to the ever-changing Web environment and the needs and expectations of the Web management community. We
will continue to have a number of plenary talks which will provide a shared context for all workshop participants.
However this year, in response to feedback we’ve received from previous events, we are splitting the talks (and
related workshop sessions) on the second afternoon into two strands: a ‘front-end’ strand which focusses on the
services as perceived by the end user and a ‘back-end’ strand which addresses the ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities
which are needed in order to deliver the user services.
We will also continue to provide the parallel workshop sessions. These sessions aim to provide all participants
with the opportunity to contribute actively to the sessions, rather than simply sit back and listen to talks!
A significant development to the event, which was trialled for the first time last year, are the bar camp sessions.
These sessions will be more informal than the workshops, and ideas can be submitted during the event itself.
Another new development is the developer’s lounge. We will be encouraging active participation from the
development community but will let developers provide a structure to how this will develop.
The cost is £350 per person which includes two nights ensuite accommodation (or £300 with no accommodation).
The delegate fee includes attendance at the workshop, conference materials, refreshments and lunch, workshop
dinner and social events.
We hope to see you in July!
Filed in Events | Tagged iwmw2009 | Permalink | Edit |
The "Good Practice for Provision of APIs" Project
Thursday, May 7th, 2009
For the past few months my colleague Marieke Guy has been working on the “Good Practice for Provision of
APIs” project. As described on the project blog “the ‘Good APIs’ project aims to provide JISC and the sector
with information and advice on the factors that encourage use of machine interfaces, based on existing practice“.
This work involved working with a community of developers in order to collate and disseminate advice on best
practices for the provision of and use of APIs. In addition background information about APIs (what they are and
why they are important) was also produced which is aimed primarily at project managers, programme managers
and policy makers.
An initial report was produced but, following discussions with a number of the stakeholders, it was felt to be more
appropriate to provide access to the report using a blog in order to allow discrete parts of the document to be
referenced and commented upon. Use of the blog’s comment facility will also provide an opportunity to receive
additional feedback from the developer community prior to submission of the final report to JISC.
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The deadline for comments is 18th May 2009. Once any additional feedback has been incorporated into the report
the document will be available as entries on the blog together with a final project report in PDF resource.
If you would like to provide feedback, please visit the Good APIs blog site.
Filed in Technical | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
Lessons Learnt from the Amplification of the CILIP2 Event
Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
Reasons for This Post
At last week’s CILIP2 Open Session both Phil Bradley and myself argued that there was a need for the Library
community to actively engage with Web 2.0 tools and even be prepared to make mistakes. Without making
mistakes, it will not be possible to innovate, we argued. We also felt that we should be open about our mistakes,
in order to learn from them and to help others in the sector from repeating such mistakes.
Such views echo the sentiment expressed by Mia Ridge who, in a blog post about the recent Museums and the
Web 2009 conference entitled “Oh noes, a FAIL! Notes from the unconference session on ‘failure’ at MW2009 ”
explained her “motivation in suggesting the ['Failure' unconference] session – intelligent, constructive failure is
important. Finding ways to create a space for that conversation isn’t something we do well at the moment“.
This post is my attempt at explaining aspects of the ‘amplification’ of the CILIP2 open session which failed or
could have been improved, and to identify ways in which the next attempt at amplifying a physical event to a
wider remote audience can be improved. (Note the term amplified conference was coined by Lorcan Demsey
Dempsey and a summary is provided on Wikipedia).
Things Which Worked
Before describing areas for improvement it is worth summarising the things that worked!
I was pleased that the pre-event publicity of use of Twitter at the event succeeded in attracting large numbers of
participants, with some, I think, being willing to subscribe to Twitter and possibly even install a Twitter client in
order to participate on the day itself.
The event organisers played their in supporting the amplification of the event. Caroline Moss-Gibbon, who
chaired the event, described the live-blogging at the event and asked the participants physically present at the
meeting at CILIP Headquarters to regard any comments they made or questions they asked as being in the public
domain. The evnt organisers had also arranged for two official bloggers, who would act as public note-keepers at
the event, using both a Twitter channel and a CILIP blog post as a means of keeping the remote audience up-to-
date with the talks and discussions.
The Twitterfall client which was suggested as a way in which remote participant could keep up-to-date with
Twitter posts containing the ‘cilip2′ tag also seemed to prove popular judging from subsequent comments I read
of various blog posts. And the goodwill of software developers – in particular Dave Patten – was appreciated by
the CILIP community for his transcript of the tweets and his Wordle visualisation of the content of the tweets.
I was also pleased to have recorded a slidecast of a rehearsal of my talk prior to the event. A couple of people
commented that they had listened to my talk prior to the event which enabled them to have a feel for the issues I
would be raising in my talk.
Areas For Improvement
There are a number of areas in which I felt improvements could have been made. Most of these will not have been
apparent to others and so I could feel safe in keeping them to myself. However sharing the experiences with
others will remind me to do better next time and will allow others to make additional suggestions.
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After the event it was pointed out to me that the description of ‘official’ Twitterers and bloggers at the event
could have been interpretted as a way of ensuring that an official party line was documented which censored
any criticisms of CILIP. As Caroline Moss-Gibbons, chair of the CILIP Council, described in her brief
report on the session the reporters ”had full editorial freedom of course, no ‘party line’ to follow“. Although
Caroline made this point in her introduction to the session, the remote audience would not necessarily have
picked up on this.
Lesson: next time I feel it would be helpful to provide a Web page about the amplification of the event which
explictly clarifies the autonomy of the reporters.
Lack of audio/video recordings:
I recorded a video of Phil Bradley’s talk at the event using my Nokia N95 mobile phone – but despite having
deleted old videos from the memory card the previous day, the phone ran out of memory after only two
minutes. I subsequently discovered that the phone was storing the video on its built-in memory rather than
using the 2 Gb memory card.
Lesson: check configuration options on mobile phone to ensure recordings are being made to correct storage
I also brought along a digital camera which could take video recordings (and isn’t limited to the 10 minutes
of video footage which my personal camera has). I also brought along a tripod to avoid camera shakes. As
my intention was to record my own talk I needed a helper to start the recording. Unfortunately no recording
was made, possibly because the camera had switched itself off.
Lesson: I need to remember that people who I ask to use my digital devices are unlikely to be familiar with
them and there will be a need to provide some training.
Lack of streaming audio/video:
I brought along my Asus EE PC and intended to try out Skype in order to its potential for allowing a remote
user to listen in to the two opening talks (and also possibly record the talks). I also brought along a Polycom
Communciator device and tested that it worked correctly as a microphone and speaker. Unfortunately
although the devices worked correctly I couldn’t connect to the two new Skype contacts who had expressed
interest in listening to the talks. This may have been due to user interface problems on my Linux-based Asus
Lesson: I need to authenticate remote users in advance, on user interfaces which I am more familiar with.
How Else Could the Event Amplification Have Been Improved?
What else could have been done to enhance the amplification of the event to the remote audience and to people
who may have wished to hear the talks and discussions but did not have networked access at the time of the
I am aware that James Clay, e-learning resource manager at Gloucestershire College, has been using Qik at
various conferences for some time. I did wonder whether a streaming video service such as Qik might have been
used by members of the CILIP2 audience with a suitable mobile phoneand a contract which allowed for data to be
transmitted within incurring significant charges. However I suspect that this service is still being used by the
early adopters, such as James, and hasn’t yet caught the attention of the early mainstream user community.
Perhaps there’s an opportunity for its use at a forthcoming CILIP event?
But if members of the audience did not have a device and contarct which could be use for video streaming, I
suspect many of them did have mobile phones which culd be used for sound recordings. SHould we have
encouraged the audience to record the talks, I wonder? Rather than a single centralised approach, which has a
single point of failure (as I’ve described above!) possibly we should be adopting a LORKSS approach (Lots of
Recording Keep Safe and Secure). Should we be encouraging others to take recording in order to minimise the
risks of failures?
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CILIP: More Popular Than Swine Flu!
Thursday, April 30th, 2009
When Bob McKee, CEO of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) wrote his blog
post on “All of a Twitter” we can safely predict that he wouldn”t have expect to CILIP to be featured as one of
the topic topics of discussion on Twitter, at one stage, according to one one the Twitter tending tools, seemingly
being more widely discussed than swine flu.
Bob’s post, which was published back in February, looked at the question of CILIP’s involvement with Twitter.
Should a professional organisation such as CILIP make use of Twitter? Bob view, which went beyond discussions
of Twitter and addressed the wider use of social networking services hosted outside the institution, was
unequivocal: “The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like –
if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it
Phil Bradley responded with a blog post with an unequivocal title “CILIP – Epic FAIL“ although the tone of the
post was measured
I like Bob – he’s a nice chap and very personable, but I can’t articulate enough how wrong he is on this
issue, though I’ll try. He says ‘There’s some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have)
any “official” presence on various lists or micro blog sites. Sorry Bob, but we were discussing this on
Twitter two weeks ago. The boat has long since left on this one and we’ve moved onto other things related to
and invited CILIP to engage in a wider and more open discussion about how an organisation such as CILIP
should be engaging with a Web 2.0 world.
CILIP2 Open Meeting
Phil was pleased that the CILIP Council responded to his post by arranging an open session on how CILIP could
make use of Web 2.0 which was held yesterday afternoon (29 April 2009) after the morning’s Council meeting. I
too was invited to speak at the meeting and, like Phil, was delighted to see how the Council had embracinga
willingness to make use of Web 2.0 by encouraging live Twittering at the event and publicising it to a wider
community who were invited to follow the #cilip2 tag on software such as Twitterfall.
The Twitter Channel
It was particularly pleasing to see the extent to which the wider CILIP community and other interested parties
who couldn’t attend the meeting engaged with use of Twitter to get a feel for the talks and discussions at the
Council meeting and also to raise a much wider set of issues about the role of CILIP. The popularity of the #cilip2
discussions became apparent as the Twitterfall display (which was displayed following the two presentations by
myself and Phil) began to include posts from a number of Twitter-trending services – and the inclusion of a
number of Twitter spam posts. Incidentally for me the spam provides an indication of how Twitter is now
mainstream – and if you feel a service shouldn’t be used if it can attract spam, I assume you’re not using email!
Incidentally if you wish to see examples of the popularity of the Twitter discusisons you can view the trends
shown on the hashtags and Twitscoop services – although as the event is now over we have probably lost a record
of the popularity of the tag.
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Dave Pattern, Library systems
manager at the University of Huddersfield Library provided a good example of rapid software development when
he wrote software to harvest tweets containing the the #cilip2 tag. And not only is a record of the discussions,
annotated with the time of posting, now available, a Wordle cloud is also available (and shown below) which
provides a visual summary of the topics which were discussed on Twitter.
There have already been a couple of blog posts published about the event which I’ll briefly summarise.
Alison Williams (a remote participant) felt that the Twitter channel was “excellent in that it was discussing how
librarians and specifically CILIP (1) could make use of web 2.0 tools, and it was doing it by…. making use of web
2.o tools! What a good idea!” She also joined in the discussions by “suggest[ing] that CILIP might look to the
ALA (American Library Association) as a role model“.
Amelia Luzzi appreciated the Twitter channel in her post “Twitter – better than a conference“. She found it useful
to be “able to follow the talks at CILIP 2.0, without an expensive trip down to London“. I also found her
observation that ” in case you were wondering why video/audio isn’t a better solution – I can discuss what is said
with other participants, also in real time: if an interesting comment comes up, the discussion can start amongst us
virtual participants in a way that it simply can’t amongst real-life ones. I’ve heard it said, often, that the best bit
of a conference is the bit where you end up talking to other participants in the hallway. Following #cilip2 on
Twitter has had the feel of that“. That’s an interesting point – live audio and video simply amplifies the one-
dimensional publishing aspect of conference whereas successful conferences often provide an environment for
two-way(or rather multiple-way) discussions. She concluded “Today, I think I’ve expanded my professional
network by about 25%. And, granted, the ties aren’t all that binding – but I now have a way of keeping an eye on
what they’re talking about, and engaging them when I feel I have something to add. It’s a great starting point for
building a more solid professional relationship“.
Neil Ford on the Random Letters blog also felt that “it was fascinating for me to attend an event like this on
Twitter”. In answer to the question as to whether any concrete decisions were made on the day Neil felt the he
“didn’t pick up on any hard action or proposals. I can’t see that any actual decisions were made by the CILIP top
brass“. But rather than this being regarded as a criticism Neil realised that the event “was more about CILIP
Council *listening* to it’s members. This is something I’ve never heard of before and I really think CILIP Council
deserve a big hats-off for hosting the event”.
Carl on the Sinto blog felt that CILIP ”does appear to have been slow to develop a coherent approach to some of
the emerging technologies” but felt there was a need for “the more considered responses that will soon appear in
blogs and printed articles“. Carl is concerned that although there are “Web 2 savvy professionals who are part of
this debate“ we may find that “there is a larger group of web-sceptics who are excluded“.
Revisiting The Main Themes of the Day
Returning from the remote participants’ views on the day to some of the issues which I (who am not a CILIP
members of librarian) picked one on.
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CILIP As An Enabler
A view was expressed at the meetingthat , rather than providing a variety of Web 2.0 services on the CILIP
Web site, CILIP shouldact as an enabler, perhaps sharing best practices and patterns of usage, aggragating
content provided by members (as CILIP already do with CILIP memebr blogs) and providing directories of
CILIP member users of various services which can help members to find like-minded collagues more easily
on the various social networking services.
The dangers that sections of the CILIP membership ould be marginalised though an ainability to access
social networkingservices down to organisational poplicies and firewalls, which Carl referred to, was
discussed at the meeting. In my talk I suggested that CILIP should have a role to play in gaining a better
understanding of such barriers and to explore ways in which organisational concerns, across the various
sectors represented within CILIP, can be addressed. I also pointed out the dangers that CILIP members
might feel pressured into using social networking tools in areas which are not appropiate and which do not
reflect individual styles of working.
CILIP and Twitter
But what of the question which led to the CILIP2 meeting – should CILIP make use of Twitter? In all of the wider
discussions about the role of CILIP we lost sight of that question during the meeting itself. However in the pub
afterwards myself, Phil Bradley, Caroline Moss-Gibbon (leader of the CILIP Council) and a few others revisited
that question. In my talk I described the risks and opportunities framework which I presented at the recent
Museums and the Web 2009 conference. The framework described the need to clarify the purpose of a tool rather
than developingpolicies for the tool itself. I illustrated this point by speculating on whether professional
organisations in times gone by debated whether they should use new technologies such as the telephone, with the
early adopters pointing out the benefits to the organisations whilst others pointed out the dangers that the
technology could be used for social purposes and that employees may use the technology to bring the organisation
into disrepute in ways that wouldn’t be possible when the established forms of communications (business letters)
has editorial and work flow processes in place to minise such risks.
My suggestion? CILIP Council should welcome initiatives from CILIP, CILIP branches and CILIP
workinggroups in making use of social networking services such as Twitter in ways in which support their
business aims. And rather than developing a policy (it’s too soon, for that, I feel) they should observe patterns of
usage which work and share emerging best practices – but also monitor usage patterns which aren’t feel to be
working and learn from such experiences.
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What Can Web-Based Presentation Tools Offer?
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009
Back at IWMW 2007 Helen Sargan ran a workshop session entitled “Just say No to Powerpoint: Web Alternatives
for Slides and Presentations“. As someone who has used PowerPoint extensively since I’ve been at UKOLN and
also have an interest in what Web-based alternative can provide I thought I would explore such alternatives.
And as I recently suggested an approach in which “Critical Friends, Friendly Critics and Hostile Opponents”
could either help or hinder a development or evaluation process I’d like to start off by describing the policies,
environment, sensitivities and resources issues which I would regard as out-of-scope for such an evaluation, as the
main area of interest are the specific issues related to the various Web-based presentations tool. A secondary
agenda is to explore the limits of the model I described in my previous post.
But what of the policy issues which scope this evaluation work? I regard this exercise as looking at possible
alternatives to PowerPoint as a desktop presentation tools to support mainstream teaching, learning and research
activities. In my case this is for exploring ways in which over 10 year’s of PowerPointing can be made more
interesting whereas from an institutional perspective this might be to explore possible savings which could be
made by replacing PowerPoint. And as my area of interest lies primarily in Web-based services I won’t be
looking at desktop alternatives to MS PowerPoint, such as Open Office.
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What are the environmental, sensitivities and resourcing issues which I have suggest could be disclosed in order
to provide a context in which discussion and debate can be fruitful? Well, this work will be neutral about issues
such as open source versus proprietary solutions. It will also be neutral about the technologies used to provide
access to Web-based solutions – so Flash-based solutions can be considered. And the discussions will be framed
around a bottom-up approach for solutions which might be considered by the individual or small group or used
within the context of an event which invites diversity in how speakers give their presentations. Similarly the issue
of whether a presentational tool is an effective way of communicating ideas is out-of-scope.
But what type of tools should I be looking at? I think this should include office-based solutions available in the
cloud and Web-based repositories of presentations, such as Slideshare and Slideboom.
Is this a useful approach? And any thoughts on what might be missing?
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Critical Friends, Friendly Critics and Hostile Opponents
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
I recently wrote a blog post on We Need More Critical Friends! and have made this point in several of my recent
talks on A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0 and Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A
Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Services and in a workshop I facilitated at the Museums and the Web 2009
conference on Openness in the Cloud.
In recently discussions with my colleague Paul Walk Paul has suggested that there is a need to differentiate
between Critical Friends and Friendly Critics and I think this is a useful distinction. In the real world the critical
friend is the person who would be honest about a response to a question such as “Does my bum look big in this?“
But the friendship would mean that this response would be given in private and not in a public space. The friendly
critic, in contrast, might be someone who is willing to be critical in public, but would not do so in a way which is
rude or undermines confidence.
Comments in response to my blog post by Pete Johnston and Mia Ridge made similar points arguing that “our
choice of style and language matters – a lot” and “communication has to be both appropriately private and
But Mia goes on to conclude “That said, I’m not sure what happens when you raise concerns privately and don’t
get an acknowledgement or other response“. And this is a legitimate concern to raise. What happens in one’s
concerns are ignored? And in the context of services provided bu public sector funding don’t we all, as citizens,
tax-payers and, possibly users, have responsibilities to raise concerns which we have. After all, aren’t we correct
in raising objections to a wide range of mistakes which the Government has made? Weren’t we right in our
objections to the Iraq war, despite being told that the Government had evidence of ownership of weapons of mass
destruction and the ability to launch an attack within 45 minutes?
Of course there are huge differences between declaring wars and engaging in IT development work! But if we are
in favour of openness and transparency in our development work this tension between open and closed criticisms
is something which needs to be addressed.
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In discussions I had at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference there was an
understanding of the need for projects to welcome feedback, especially in the current environment we find
ourselves in in which there is an increasing diversity of approaches to developments. But there is also a need for
critics to appreciate the complexities of a specific development environment, aspects of which will not always be
appreciated by the remote observer.
Based on the discussions I had will various people at the conference and my suggestion in the final session at the
MW2009 that “We need more formal approaches for structuring feedback to the diversity of approaches to
development work which can help to de-personalise criticisms” I have produced a diagram which is embedded in
this post which provides an initial attempt at providing a structure approach for gaining feedback.
The diagram acknowledges that there will be areas (such as policies, the local environment, sensitivities and
levels of resources) within which a development project will have to work. Concerns about such issues are likely
to be out-of-scope for Critical Friends. This should help to scope the areas in which input, comments and
concerns can be raised and which should be able to be acted upon. The development project will need to provide
an infrastructure for engaging with a Critical Friends community. We are finding in some areas of the JISC
development sector that a Critical Friends approach is becoming a formal part of a bidding process. However it is
likely that in many any cases it may not be possible to adopt such a formal approach. Perhaps then it is the
responsibility of the the project team to open up their development processes, perhaps by making use of a blog for
use by the developers to describe their development plans and decisions and any complications which may not be
apparent to others, ideally at an early stage in the development process. This, I think, reflects the approaches take
by the COPAC development team in their COPAC development blog which, for example, described back in
August 2008, the reasons why they removed and then reinstated links to Google Book following feedback from
“a vociferous few who questioned why Copac would give Google ‘personal data’ about them as users“. As I
wrote back in November 2008 “raising these issues in an open fashion is to be applauded“.
Our IT development work does need to have a reviewing process and I feel that we should be pro-active in
seeking ways of opening up such processes. Let’s be aware of sensitivities, but let’s not use that as an excuse for
being closed. And if there is a failure to open up feedback to development ideas remember that this may leave the
concerned tax-payer to act not as a friendly critic but as an unfriendly, and perhaps even hostile, opponent.
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Sharing the Rehearsal of my Talk at the CILIP 2 Council Meeting
Friday, April 24th, 2009
As I described a couple of day’s ago in a blog post on CILIP2.0 – Open Session on CILIP’s use of Web 2.0
myself and Phil Bradley will be giving brief talks about how we feel CILIP should respond to the opportunities
and challenges of Web 2.0 at a CILIP Council meeting next Wednesday (29th April 2009).
I have produced the first draft of my slides and I’ll be chatting to Phil how this may fit in with the approach he
will be taking. I have also created a ’slidecast’ of the talk, by recording a rehearsal of the talk and synching the
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audio with a copy of the slide on Slideshare. This will help Phil to gain a better understanding of what I’ll be
saying. But I also feel that their can be benefits to be gained by sharing this pre-release verion with a wider
audience. In suitably-configured browsers the slidecast will be embedded below:
I’m well of of some risks in doing this: I feel slightly self-conscious about listening to the sound of my own voice
and towards the end of the talk I found myself forgetting what I was intending to say and start stuttering and
repeating myself. If I felt that as a professional all of my outputs mist be of high quality although I might write a
script I would leave the reading of it to a trained actor. But this would undermine the key point in my presentation
that information professionals (in particular) should be willing to make use of innovative approaches to one’s
work, be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them and be prepared to be open with one’s user community
in the early stages of development and not just when a service has been finalised.
Making this particular slidecast available can also provide some specific benefits:
• Users can comment on my talk.
• Users can suggest other relevant resources, either by commenting on this blog post on or Slideshare page or
by bookmarking resources on del.icio.us using the same tag.
• Anyone who would like to attend the meeting but can’t make it will get a feel for my contribution.
• If I fail to attend the meeting (I’m ill or First Great Western fails to get my to London on time, for example)
my slidecast can be used as a replacement.
But before you start listening to the slidecast (which lasts for about 20 minutes) I should say that the talk contains
nothing that I haven’t written about in my blog previously. Indeed the talk is very similar to a talks on Time To
Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Services and A Risks and
Opportunities Framework For Library 2.0 which I gave in the Indianapolis last week.
To summarise the key points.
The talk begins by reviewing examples of Library 2.0 approaches, add the University of Wolverhampton and the
National Library of Wales. A description of various barriers which have been identified at various UKOLN
workshop for the cultural heritage sector is given. It is acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns which
need to be addressed such as sustainability, interoperability, staff development, cultural barriers, etc. The talk
describes a variety of deployment strategies and outlines a risks and opportunities framework for the deployment
of Library 2.0 services. The talk suggests how a ‘Critical Friends’ approach (which I will expand on next week)
can be used in conjunction with this framework and help to identify possible problem areas. The need to balances
such risks with the possible benefits to be gained and the risks of doing nothing – as well as the risks of doing
something similar in-house which fails to meet user’s expectations.
The talk concludes by looking at what a professional organisation such as CILIP should be doing for a young
librarian (using Jo Alcock as an example) and suggests that thinking about what might be provided in a ‘CILIP
2.0 Manifesto’ could be helpful in furthering the debate.
Your comments are welcomed!
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CILIP2.0 – Open Session on CILIP's use of Web 2.0
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
Phil Bradley and myself have been invited to take part in an open session on CILIP’s use of Web 2.0 (CILIP, the
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is “the leading professional body for librarians,
information specialists and knowledge managers“). This event, which is being referred to as CILIP2.0, will take
place at CILIP offices, Ridgmount Street, London from 14.30-16.30 on 29th April 2009.
The information about the event describes how Phil and myself (well-known ‘gurus’) will be “kicking off the
Open Session with presentations about what has worked elsewhere, and the types of things CILIP could try out“.
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The aim of the session is to generate ideas about how the CILIP Council could be using Web 2.0 to engage better
with the library and information community. These ideas will be fed into CILIP’s Communications Framework
which is due to be published in the summer.
The Open Forum was set up following a blog post entitled CILIP – Epic FAIL made by Phil Bradley in response
to a post entitled All of a Twitter by Bob McKee, CILIP CEO. I’ll not revisit the different visions of the role of a
professional organisation such as CILIP in today’s Web 2.0 environment, but will simply say how pleased I am
that CILIP have invited Phil and myself to facilitate a discussion for an audience who will be physically present
on the day and a remote audience who may follow the tweets and live blog.
Phil Bradley will probably provide his vision in which information professionals are comfortable in making use of
a variety of networked tools and services which are available ‘out there’, and don’t restrict themselves to
applications which may be managed in-house. And I intend to explore the risks of this way of working and
suggest that, rather than seeking to develop a safe, risk-free environment, information professionals do need to
engage with the networked environment that exists today and need to recognise that a failure to take risks can
result in a failure to innovate.
I’d be interested in the views of reaers of this blog. What are your views on how information professionals should
engage with a Web 2.0 world and how CILIP should respond?
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(TwitterFall) You're My Wonder Wall
Monday, April 20th, 2009
This year’s Museums and the Web conference (MW2009) marked the first occasion I have attended an event
during which the Twitter back channel has been embraced by the conference organisers and by many conference
participants and not just the usual early adopters.
At last year’s event (MW2008) we saw many developers making use of Twitter, with a display of the tweets
about the conference (i.e. tagged with #mw2008) being shown near the registration area. And as a demonstration
of the willingness of the conference organisers (David Bearman and Jennifer Trant) to embrace innovation at the
conference a live display of the tweets, which were being aggregated by Mike Ellis’s Onetag software, were
shown during Clifford Lynch’s closing talk at the conference. I have to admit, though, that there were concerns
about this live, unmoderated display of Twitter posts during a talk: what if personal banter were displayed
(”anyone fancy going for a drink later?”); critical comments about the speakers (”this is a boring talk”) or bad
language or even spam from people who weren’t at the conference.
But whilst such concerns may be legitimate, David and Jennifer
showed that they were willing to tak and risk and “just do it”. So when the conference delegates arrived at the
auditorium for the conference welcome and opening talk we found two computer displays: one of the speaker’s
slides and the other a display of Twitter posts tagged with the #mw2009 tag, using the Twitterfall software,
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And judging by comments made on the conference blog, many people found that this live display of tweets in the
opening session provided a valuable way of developing a shared sense of community and active participation
which continued throughout the conference, with many newcomers subscribing to Twitter, following the more
well-established Twitter users and engaging with the discussions themselves. In fact use of Twitter at the
conference was so popular that, during the opening talk, there was a message displayed showing the the #mw2009
tag was ‘trending’ – and was one of the top ten tags used during the day.
Which is not to say that everyone found the Twitterfall display useful: some participants, for
example, did find the display distracting. And once the tag was included in the top tags of the day it, perhaps
inevitably, attracted the attention of Twitter spammers, with a tweet from ‘PantyGirl’ - and an associated image
being included in the live Twitterfall display.
But despite such concerns, others identified some perhaps unexpected benefits of such displays of live tweets.
After I published a tweet one person in the audience, with whom I had worked with a few years ago but hadn’t
spoke to since, spotted my image in the display and sent me a direct message suggesting that we should meet up.
The ability for participants at a large conference to make their prescence known in this way is a benefit which I
hadn’t prevviously considered.
Someone else, who hadn’t used Twitter prior to the conference, reflected that in plenary talks people often lose
concentration, even if the talks are interesteding (as the opening plenary talk at MW 2009 was). Having additional
channels, in which other participants can share their thoughts and provide perhaps different views can help to
provide richer insights into the talks.
But what of the dangers that people might make inappropriate comments. Well at MW2009, apart from the
PantyGirl spam (which I suspect most people found inoffensive) I feel that the Twittering participants were aware
of the issues and avoided tweets which others might have felt inoffensive or inappropriate.
The benefits of the conference Twitter back channel were also officially recognised in the firanl session at the
conference when Jon Pratty provided prizes for the MW2009 Backchannel Stars for Saturday. And I was pleased
to be the first in the list of prize-winners for my two tweets:
briankelly Due to lack of unions in museums sector @jtrant& David Bearman have got us working at
#mw2009 on a Saturday. Capitalist oppressors.
briankelly: @bsletten is right – photo at http://tinyurl.com/3aessg (expand) could be me. Waiting for groupies
to arrive at #mw2009
But what of next year? Clearly many particioants found the Twitter wall display useful, with one participant
commenting that ”based on how well tweets were working @ mw2009 I set up a twitter account for our staff
intranet. Public site next? #mw2009“. But this wasn’t true for everyone. Should this be managed by better use of
the physical space, I wonder – perhaps suggesting that those who don’t wish to be distributed by the visual
intrusion should sit on one side of the lecture theatre? Or perhaps, with the growing popularity of iPhones and
iPod Touches participants should simply view the communal wall on their own mobile device?
Filed in Events, Twitter | Tagged MW2009 | Permalink |
Edit | Comments (15)
The European Council Plans an Accessible Information Society
Friday, April 17th, 2009
The European Council has recently announced a set of conclusions on how to deliver an accessible information
society. In the announcement the Council welcomes the European Commission’s communication on “Towards an
accessible information Society” and acknowledges that ICT is “crucial in today’s society and economy and they
can greatly improve personal autonomy and quality of life, particularly for people with disabilities or elderly” .
I too welcome such principles. However the document goes on to underline that “The adoption of the second
version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
provides the necessary technical specifications“.
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Hmm. So the answer to the delivery of an accessible information society is to be found in the WCAG 2.0
guidelines, is it? Well not according to Wendy Chisholm who, in a talk on “Interdependent Components of Web
Accessibility” at the W4A 2005 conference described “how Web accessibility depends on several components of
Web development and interaction working together” (namely ATAG and UAAG as well as WCAG). So even
people who have worked on the development of WAI guidelines wouldn’t, I suspect, agree that WCAG
“provides the necessary technical specifications“.
And what evidence do we have that WCAG 2.0 by itself will “greatly improve personal autonomy and quality of
life, particularly for people with disabilities or elderly” . What about accessibility issues which aren’t addressed
in WCAG? What about the different definitions of accessibility (on 1st January 2009, for example, the definition
of ‘disability’ was changed drastically in the Americans with Disabilities Act)? What about accessibility solutions
which can be provided in ways not covered by WCAG guidelines? What about blended solutions to Web
accessibility? What about the danger that the communication only covers access to Web resources and not other
uses of IT by people with disabilities? What about the lack of evidence to support the positioning of WCAG
guidelines as the only solution mentioned in the document?
The document could have focussed on a different part of the WAI model – it could have supported a requirement
that member countries enact legislation that organisations must provide UAAG-conforming Web browsers, for
example. This would be a more achievable goal, focusing on the small number of browser vendors rather than the
much larger number of Web authors and Web publishing tools and work-flow systems.
Although I suspect many accessibility evangelists will welcome the publication of this document I fear that it is
based on flawed underlying assumptions and will be ultimately counter-productive. We need more open
discussions about the limitations of the WAI’s approaches to Web accessibility and of ways of enhancing
accessibility for people with disabilities in the complex environment in which we live. Where are the Critical
Friends, I wonder?
Filed in Accessibility | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
Further Developments of a Risks and Opportunities Framework
Thursday, April 16th, 2009
I have previously described a risks and opportunities framework which I will be presenting shortly at the
Museums and the Web 2009 conference.
At the Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between
Users and Archivists conference I described a slightly updated version of the framework, which includes ‘Critical
Friends‘ as a means of ensuring that a degree of scepticism is applied to planned innovative services.
The framework is based on the notion that the risks and benefits of innovation cannot be considered without
considering its intended purpose.
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In order to ensure that the framework does not result in inertia and an avoidance of new developments it is
envisaged that the approach will also be applied to existing services, in-house development, etc.
During my talk on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0” at the Archives 2.0: Shifting
Dialogues between Users and Archivists conference I gave an illustration of how this framework might be applied
in two contexts related to use of Web 2.0 services: use of (a) Twitter by individuals in an organisation and (b)
organisational use of Facebook.
The intended use of Twitter by individuals described at the Archives .2.0 conference was to provide support for a
community of practice. The individual should benefit from working in a community and such benefits would
should also help the institution. The risks might include the time required to use Twitter and to become part of a
community and the dangers that Twitter is used inappropriately or excessively. It should also be noted that
inappropriate use of Twitter could include requiring members of staff to use Twitter against their will or
inclination. There might also be risks that to the organisation in terms of its brand (”I hate working here“). Failing
to allow staff who so desire to make used of Twitter (by firewalls, policies or more subtle pressures) could result
in a failure to make use of the benefits provided by being part of a (virtual) community and a failure to understand
the potential of Twitter for organisational use. It should also be noted that the costs of using Twitter can be small,
as Twitter tools are available for free, no editorial mechanisms need to be deployed and no archiving of Twitter
posts need to be kept.
The intended use of Facebook by organisation described at the conference was as a marketing tool for the archive
or museum. This would have the advantages to the organisation of being able to market to the large numbers of
Facebook users and to exploit the various functions provided by Facebook without needing any in-house
development work. However there may be risks related to data lock-in, giving permissions to Facebook to
commercially exploit content which is up-loaded and disenfranchising users who chose not to sign up to
Facebook or users whose assistive technologies may not work with Facebook. Failing to use Facebook could,
however, result it missed opportunities for marketing to large numbers of users and a failure to allow users to
engage with the service. The costs of setting up an organisational presence in Facebook should be low, but
consideration does have to be given to ongoing maintenance (e.g. responding to wall posts).
Critical friends, such as my colleague Paul Walk’s various posts on possible risks associated with use of
Facebook and Twitter, can help to inform organisational decision-making processes, as can discussions on
mailing lists, sharing experiences at conferences and blog posts (such as recent guest blogs post on use of social
networking tools at the National Library of Wales, Wolverhampton University Library and Brighton Museum
and Art Gallery).
Finally I should add that there will be subjectivities and personal biases in how I’ve described use of this
framework. But let’s acknowledge that such biases and personal prejudices will always exist.
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Filed in Facebook, Social Networking, Twitter | |
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I Won't Be Censored!
Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
Stephen Downes recently published a blog post entitled “Lessons From Slidesharegate” which began “Brian Kelly
wrote, in a post he later deleted“. In his blog post Stephen described some of his concerns regarding Slideshare
and concluded by “wondering why Kelly deleted his Slideboom post“.
The answer to that is simple – I’d accidentally published the post prematurely, as I wanted to see if Slideshare
published their comments on “Slidesharegate” before describing how I was evaluating alternatives to Slideshare.
No big deal – but I did wonder whether Stephen (or readers of his blog) had thought that I had deleted the blog
post, perhaps having been ‘got at’ by Slideshare. The answer is no, there is no conspiracy. But could this happen?
Well as we have seen, once a blog post is published it is “out there” – and even if I delete the original there will
be copies in people’s RSS readers and blog aggregators. And attempting to delete a blog post may well result in
drawing people’s attention to it with people wondering, perhaps, if the post has been censored,
So I know that deleting a post once it has been published can be fraught with possible dangers. So if I publish a
post and am subsequently asked to delete it, I can point to this post. Of course this also means that if I’m
embarrassed about something I’ve written it will be difficult for me to erase it from public view. But that’s
something I’m prepared to accept.
And I can’t help but think that the former Downing Street adviser Damian McBride should have been aware of
the difficulties of deleting copies of digital resources once they have been published.
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
Slideshare? I'm Now Flirting With Slideboom!
Monday, April 13th, 2009
You know what it’s like. You’ve been together for some time. And you get on well together. And then something
goes wrong. So you start looking for something new. And you start to get excited about the new things on offer.
And perhaps you then decide it’s time to move on. Well this is happening to me at the moment, after Slideshare’s
April Fool gag caused me to explore alternatives to their service.
I signed up to Slideboom and uploaded my most recent presentation
on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0“. I have embedded this in my Web page. And I have
to say I’m impressed with the features it provides. However rather than describe these features (which are
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described on the Slideboom Web site) I thought it would be more effective to capture the screen display of my use
of the service which is available on YouTube and embedded below:
Now although I like the functionality provided by Slideboom it is even more important than it used to be to
consider the sustainability of remote services. And this is where Slideboom’s track record and financial stability is
unknown to me.
But such considerations are also true of Slideshare. So I intend to continue to keep a master copy of my
PowerPoint slides on the UKOLN file store, whilst using the richly functional and embeddable third party
services to act as access points. And it will be useful to gain experiences of a competitor to the market leader in
Web 2.0 slide repository services. After all, what would happen if Slideshare’s market lead went to their head and
they started to treat their customers in a similar fashion to Microsoft?
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged Slideboom, Slideshare |
Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
How Many Publishers Does It Take To Change a Light Bulb?
Friday, April 10th, 2009
“Submit Comments By Easter Monday”
I’m feeling a bit grumpy. On Wednesday night while listening to some excellent live music at The Bell, Bath I
checked my email in the interval. There was an email from a publisher with the final corrections for an
accessibility paper which had been accepted for publication. The email message give the blunt instructions:
“Please approve these proofs, or return any corrections by 13 Apr 2009. Failure to do so may result in delay
of your publication, reallocation to a later issue, or review and approval of your article by the journal’s Editor
That’s right on Wednesday 8 April at 21:50 I received an email telling me my updates had to be submitted by
Monday – that’s Easter Monday. And today (Good Friday) I’m in a cyber cafe in London sorting out the
corrections before heading off the the Museums and the Web 2009 conference.
The email message (which was sent from India) also contained the stark warning:
PLEASE NOTE: The CATS system only supports Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and up, or Firefox 1.0
browser software. Popup blockers should be disabled. If you have any difficulty using CATS, please contact
And there’s me using FireFox 3.0 (not supported, it would seem).
As for the comments themselves, they were fine, asking us to supply, for example, years of publication which we
had omitted for a couple of the references. But for one reference the Production Editor had requested the page
numbers of one of my previous papers, and the URL of the online version of the paper had been removed. It
would appear that the publishers are trying to help the reader of the printed journal by providing the page number,
but hindering users who wish to access the paper online. Good business for the publishers who might expect to
receive additional income for requests for the journal or paper but bad news for other researchers who might wish
to access such papers which are freely avaailble online.
Why Do I Bother?
Why do I bother writing peer-reviewed papers, I sometimes ask myself. In this particular case myself and David
Sloan were invited to submit a paper based on an update to a paper published at the W4A 2008 conference. As I
received this request when I was preparing an invited keynote presentation at the OzeWAI 2009 conference I felt
this would provide an ideal opportunity to publish my updated views on Web accessibility, which I described to a
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small but supportive audience at the OzeWAI conference. And after I gave my talk I discussed my ideas further
with two delegates who, I discovered, had similar interests regarding the complexities of Web accessibility in the
context of accessibility for the Deaf and implementing best practices for Web accessibility when challenged with
limited budgets and short deadlines in a Government context. As I was in the process of finalising the paper, the
meeting with Lisa Herrod and Ruth Ellison provided an opportunity for me to strengthen the paper with these two
I should also add that the (anonymous) reviewer’s comments we received were invaluable, pointing out flaws in
our arguments, ways in which are ideas might be misinterpretted and suggestions for how the paper could be
improved. The updated version of the paper was improved greatly following these comments, so you could argue
that the publishers had a role to play in enhancing the quality. But why do I suspect that the reviewer was an
academic who was doing this work for free?
Look on the Bright Side
I have now submitted the corrections to the production editor and am feeling less grumpy (I started this post
yesterday evening). And to cheer myself up (and others who might have had similar problems with publishes,
here’s a joke:
Q. How many publishers does it take to change a lighbulb?
A. It’s a trick question – publishers are living in the drak ages and the light bulb hasn’t been invented yet.
Mind you, they’ll charge you for use of a candle if you want to read your manuscript.
Have a good Easter.
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (6)
Contrasting Visions of the Library of the Future
Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
My Views From 2001
I was invited to take part in a panel session at the Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference way back in
2001. Myself and my fellow panellists (Greg Notess and Mary Peterson) had encountered a number of bland
panel sessions at previous conferences in which panelists uttered trite sentiments which nobody could possibly
disagree with (yes, user testing is a good thing and so is accessibility and quality information). We decided to
avoid falling into this trap and I found myself in the position of having to respond to Greg and Mary’s views of
the key role the library sector had in supporting use of networked services and supporting users in a networked
environment. I suggested that librarians were just another group of users who had nothing special to add to the
development of innovative networked services and, indeed, could inhibit development by seeking to take
inappropriate methodologies to the Web environment. Now although these remarks were somewhat tongue-in-
cheek, it would be interesting to see how they may relate to today’s networked environment, 8 years later.
The Darien Manifesto
The authors of the Darien Manifesto (John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor) have no doubts
regarding the importance of librarians, with a manifesto which begins by giving their view that “the purpose of
the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization“. And this “purpose of the Library will never change“!
Whilst a number of people have expressed concern over this monolithic description of The Library, and pointed
out the unease we would feel if other bodies made similar statements (”The purpose of the government/the
police/the Freemasons is to preserve the integrity of civilization and this purpose will never change“) other
comments do appear to more accurately reflect the role of libraries (”provides the opportunity for personal
enlightenment“; “encourages the love of learning” and “empowers people to fulfill their civic duty“) and librarians
(”select, organize and facilitate creation of content” and “connect people with accurate information“), various
commentators, including the Annoyed Librarian, are questioning the manifesto.
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The Researcher’s Perspective
Here in the UK a debate is taken place on the Libraries of the Future which is being led by the JISC. At a recent
debate on Libraries of the Future Professor Peter Murray-Rust gave his thoughts on what he expects from an
academic library from a research/scientific perspective.
Peter’s views had been outlined in a series of blog posts prior to the debate (Peter was living his open vision and
encouraged those interested in helping to shape a vision to engage with the ideas he was developing in his blog).
As described by Professor Bruce Royan in a report on the event, Peter’s views challenged current orthodox
thinking regarding the libraries’ relevance in a networked world:
“The Librarians of the future will not emerge from the Libraries of today. The researchers of the future won’t
want journals, they’ll want little bits of lots of papers, and they won’t respect faculty or subject boundaries,
as their work will be interdisciplinary. If they need an information service, they’ll JUST DO IT for
What Does The Future Hold?
The official blog for the debate provided a summary of Peter’s talk which began:
What is happening in the world is bypassing university libraries. I talk to colleagues and the feeling is that
libraries for STM (science, technical, medical) are not useful. That’s not my polemic view – that’s reporting
on having spoken to people.
Will librarians have a significant role to play in the academic library of the future (the future of public libraries,
whilst important, was not touched on in Peter’s presentation)? And is Peter’s assertion and question in a recent
blog post: “Wikipedia has won – how can we convince you?” further evidence that the librarians who warn their
users against such popular Web 2.0 services are becoming marginalised?
But maybe the Dryberg Darien manifesto does contain elements which reflect Peter’s views:
• Adopt technology that keeps data open and free, abandon technology that does not.
• Be willing and have the expertise to make frequent radical changes.
• Hire the best people and let them do their job; remove staff who cannot or will not.
• Trust each other and trust the users.
Perhaps Peter would endorse the third bullet point which calls for staff who aren’t prepared to adapt to a changing
environment to be sacked. And there was me thinking that the manifesto simply endorsed woolly liberal values!
Filed in Events, library2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
Ask A Librarian? No Thanks, I'll Ask The World!
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
On the same day that I came across a thread on “Ask a Librarian” on the LIS-LINK JISCMail list, Chris Sexton,
Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, was sharing her 5
interesting things found on my Twitterfeed today… which included:
Ten years of The Guardian on-line plotted in expletives – very illuminating!
MPs expenses by geographical location- a good example of information from the Guardian’s databank, in a
mashup with map and postcode data.
How cats can give us tips to be good corporate strategists – if you’ve got cats, you’ll appreciate this.
How to turn your house lights off using Twitter – will appeal to the really geeky
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Bakertweet – a way for bakers to tell the world that their bread has just come out of the oven
I had also come across the first two examples in my Twitter feed. What Twitter provides to Chris and myself, it
seems, is not only a mechanism for asking questions to my friends, colleagues and others who have chosen to
follow me, but also finding things out from them without needing to ask.
Do we, I wonder, need to develop Ask-A-Librarian type services any longer when services such as Twitter are
now available to everyone for free? And if the response is we need a trusted service, can’t we make use of the
existing infrastructure (which need not be Twitter, of course) and wrap a trust mechanism around it? And
although on the LIS-LINK list there was a view that “Since IM widgets rely on external systems which sometimes
crash, the reliability of any service based on them can be adversely affected” aren’t in-house systems also likely
to fail? And will an in-house system provide the potential for a 24×7 coverage?
Now I should add that my speculation on whether a micro-blogging tool such as Twitter could be used as an Ask-
A-Librarian type service is very much ‘thinking out loud’. But it does seem to me that with the large numbers of
Twitter applications which are now available it might be worth carrying out such speculative thinking.
Filed in Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (9)
Must Institutional Repository and Open Science Software be Open
Monday, April 6th, 2009
“Institutional Repositories Should Be Built on Open Source Software” is one topic in “Institutional Repositories:
The Great Debate“ which is being held in the current issue (April/May 2009 -PDF format) of “The Bulletin of
the American Society for Information Science and Technology”.
Meanwhile over on Glyn Moody’s Open … blog an argument is being made that “Open Science Requires Open
Source“. Here we read that:
“The central argument is important: that you can’t do science with closed source software, because you can’t
examine its assumptions or logic (that “incomplete scientific record”). Open science demands open source.“
And who could possibly disagree?
Well I’d challenge such conclusions. I feel that we need to reflect on the over-hyping of open source software
over the past decade: we should now, if you believed the hype, all be using open source office software on our
desktop PCs, and those desktop machines would all be running Linux. But this doesn’t reflect the working
environment for most people, with open source email clients now seemingly in need of saving.
Despite its failure to live up to the expectations of the evangelists, we are now seeing more effective use of open
source software. But for me this is because open source software is now being evaluated on par with licenced
software, and not because open source software is felt to have any natural advantages. I would argue, in fact, that
uncritical acceptance of open source software in the past led to disillusioned end users and the ‘counter-culture’
approach adopted by some open source developers led to the software development which failed to have a
community to ensure that the software was sustainable in the long-term future.
Despite the frequently cited examples of Apache, email server software and the like, is there evidence that open
source software has a significant role to play beyond the server environment?
And in cases in which open source software is growing in use, such as Open Office on cheap Netbook computers
such as the Asus EEE PC, isn’t it the case that the advantages provided by such software are in avoiding licence
costs rather than in the other benefits which open source evangelists promote? Aren’t the benefits for most users
to be found inthe amntra that the software is “free as in beer” rather than “free as in speech”?
At the JISC OSS Watch’s inaugural conference Jeremy Wray, Business Development Executive for Public
Sector, IBM argued that it would be a mistake to compete in well-established markets such as office software,
citing IBM’s failures in competing with Microsoft. Perhaps open source software should be positioned in more
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niche sectors such as institutional repositories and open science? And yet even here I have my doubts. If we are
passionate about open access to research publications and open access to scientific data, then shouldn’t we be
focussed on such issues and be neutral on the production mechanisms used to develop the associated software?
And the argument that you need open source software to examine the assumptions and logic is flawed – source
code can be made available for inspection without it being licensed under an OSI-conformant open source licence.
Yes, use open source institutional repository software and open source open science software. But do so because
the software satisfies its intended purpose and is better than proprietary alternatives and not just because it is open
source. And let’s not forget the associated risks of using open source solutions: many of the more widely used
open source applications are bankrolled by large IT companies which are suffering from the economic downturn.
And if widely used open source solutions start to suffer from a lack of ongoing inverstment, where will that leave
the more niche solutions?
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Lessons From 'Slidesharegate'
Sunday, April 5th, 2009
Blog posts from Phil Bradley and myself published at lunch time on 1 April 2009 where amongst the first to take
Slideshare to task for the April fool’s prank. Now although a number of people felt that people should have
expected such gags’s on April Fool’s Day, many others were very critical. And now Slideshare have admitted
they were wrong and have just published a blog post in which they ask their users to “accept our whole-hearted
I would agree Phil Bradley’s response to the blog post:
You’ve put this really nicely and thoughtfully. It’s going to be a harsh critic who’s still unhappy. As I said
elsewhere, it’s not making the mistake, it’s how you deal with, and recover from the mistake. This makes you
a bigger and better company. Thank you.
But what lessons can others learn from what by colleague Paul Walk has described as ‘Slidesharegate‘? I would
like to suggest three areas in which pranksters for next year’s April Fool should give some thought to:
Don’t tamper with data: Rashmi Sinha, SlideShare’s CEO has admitted that “Statistics are sacred. (don’t
mess with them, even in a prank!)”. Concerns were expressed by many Slideshare users over the way in
which their usage statistics had been artificially boosted. But as well as modifications to such data can upset
the owners of the data and other users, there are also dangers that data could be reused (by screen-scraping
software) and displayed in other environments. Let’s not foget that that software does not have a sense of
humour and won’t be aware of April Fool pranks.
Time zones: Of course software could know that it is before midday on 1st April. But in the global
environment of the Web, somewhere it will not be April Fool’s day. I have just come across the concept of
the ‘International day’, on the CSS Naked Day Web site: this event lasts for one international day, so that
“to ensure that everyone’s website will be publicly nude for the entire world to see at any given time during
April 9” the day when Web site owners are encouraged to remove CSS from there Web site will technically
speaking, will be correct somewhere in the world for 48 hours. But until a standards body agrees to
internationalise April Fool’s day there’s a need to remember that somewhere in the world it will not be April
Fool’s day (which isn’t to say that one shouldn’t carry out April Fools gags, however).
Unsolicited mail: The use of email to encourage users of a service to view an April Fool’s gag is probably a
mistake, since most users are likely to read such email when ‘April Fool is past and gone’ .
Rashmi Sinha has asked for comments on his blog post. I welcome his her apology and hope that my suggestions
can help the Slideshare team in deciding what to do next year. Will it be like last year’s “hoax announcement that
SlideShare would not allow bullets in presentations anymore” I wonder?
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (5)
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Have Slideshare Avoided Their Ratner Moment?
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
Gerald Ratner was responsible for one of the most famous gaffes in corporate history when “he joked that one of
his firm’s products was “total crap”, and boasted that some of its ear rings were “cheaper than a prawn
Did Slideshare come close to a Ratner moment with yesterday’s April Fool gag, I wonder? Yesterday I described
how Slideshare had sent out an email entitled “You’re a SlideShare RockStar” which contained spoof statistics on
the popularity of uploaded presentations.
Phil Bradley spotted the so-called joke and gave his reasons why he felt this was a “huge mistake” by Slideshare:
1. I don’t appreciate anyone manipulating data on my content. That Slideshare are so relaxed about this, and
feel they can do what they like is really sending entirely the wrong message about how they view users and
2. Using an April Fool prank to generate comment and visits is dubious at best. If they’d not used the hashtag
suggestion I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it’s a deliberate attempt to get publicity.
3. This has lead to a huge spike in traffic to the site. This is the most annoying aspect because the whole
POINT of the site is to allow people to get access to slideshows directly from the site. It’s slowed down to a
point where it’s entirely unusable. I’m just grateful that I don’t have any need to use it professionally today.
4. There’s already a really big backlash against this prank on Twitter – people who are using the hashtag are
looking stupid, which is making them angry. Clicking on a link privately and realising you’ve been caught
is one thing – getting them to do it in public is another thing entirely.
Now rather than revisit yesterday’s discussion on Slideshare’s blog on whether the joke was funny or not I’d like
to explore the issue of reputation management. After all, those “po-faced and humourless” Slideshare users are at
liberty to migrate to other services such as Slideboom, Authorstream, Sliderocket or 280Slides. And if they feel
they have been made to look stupid they may respond in a similar fashion to custmomers who used to shop at
Reputation Monitoring and Management
In Ratner’s case his speech was picked up by the media, wiped an estimated £500m from the value of the
company. Could Slideshare, who Secured $3M for Embeddable Presentations in May 2008, suffer a similar
In this case, however, I have to admire how quickly staff at Slideshare spotted that, in certain quarters, their joke
had misfired and their honesty in their apologies. Rashmi, Slideshare CEO & Cofounder, SlideShare, responded
to Phil Bradley’s blog post by saying “My sincere, personal apologies. Its just an April Fool’s prank. I
understand why you are upset, however, we did not mean to offend our users who we love. But I can see your
perspective“. This comment was repeated on my blog. In addition Jonathon Boutelle, Slideshare co-founder added
“Really sorry if we offended you. The prank was my idea, and I take full responsibility. There’s a lot of pressure
to get April fools day right (sounds bizarre but is true), and it looks like we got it way wrong.” with an additional
lengthy apology coming from Daniel in Slideshare’s marketing department.
In his blog post about this incident Phil Bradley commented that “I’m already seeing a lot of tweets from people
saying that they’re annoyed and unhappy” and went on to provide a link to a list of 25 alternatives to Slideshare.
Providing a well-read and well-respected blogger such as Phil with an opportunity to comment on rivals to
Slideshare shows how inappropriate April Fool gags can go wrong.
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Personally, though, I’m still a fan of Slideshare (although yesterday’s incident did cause me to sign up to
Slideboom – and I’m impressed with my initial experience). And I admire the way they have responded. I’d go
along with the comment from Steve Ellwood who said “kudos to the guys from slideshare for a clear explanation
and what appears to be a genuine apology“.
And to be honest, this probably wasn’t a Ratner moment. It was just a bit of April fool’s fun, which only sad
humourless people failed to get. Although, of course, Garland Ratner was also just having a bit of fun – although
for Gerald Ratner “It still hurts 16 years on“.
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged Slideshare | Permalink | Edit |
"You're a Slideshare Rockstar!" – Not!
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
The April 1 Joke
Yesterday (1 st April 2009) I received a couple of email messages from Slideshare which stated that some of the
slides which I have uploaded to the Slideshare repository have “been getting a LOT of views in the last 24 hours“.
Now back on 25th July 2008 I received an email informing me that a slideshow of mine on Web Preservation in a
Web 2.0 Environment had been included in the ‘Spotlight section’ on the SlideShare homepage. So I know that
Slideshare do have mechanisms for highlighting slideshows, which can help to maximise the impact of the slides
on behalf of the author. For me such exposure has resulted in a number of slides having up to about 10,000 views
(and one on Introduction To Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges For The Institution, which was a featured
Slidecast of the day shortly after Slideshare announced it slidecasting facility for synching audio with slides,
having over 9,000 views) . I’m pleased that Slideshare has allowed me to reach a much wider audience than
would have been possible when the slides were only available on the UKOLN Web site.
But on this occasion on checking the numbers
of visits I found that many of the slideshows were seemingly being viewed by 10,000, 20,000 and above
As I was a bit suspicious of the statistics, I send a Twitter post warning others that these figures appeared
incorrect. I initially suspected that Slideshare had been the victim of a harvesting attack, as I suggested in my
tweet: “Slideshare have emailed me saying that http://bit.ly/rbKi is v. popular (200,398 views) I suspect a robot!
In response my Twitter followers suggested that this was “some kind of April Fool malarky” / “weird april fool
thing“. Someone else who appeared to have received a similar email message pointed out that it “looks like the
slides with 810 views are being displayed as 80010 view” – and this, I discovered, was also the case for me.
Is It Funny?
This seems to me some kind of April Fool joke, although not one that I find particularly funny – and although
some appeared to have accepted the email message at face value others appeared bemused or puzzled. Normally
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there would be a subtle clue about the joke which would not be spotted on initial reading. So I revisited the email
We’ve noticed that your slideshow on SlideShare has been getting a LOT of views in the last 24 hours. Great
job … you must be doing something right.
Why don’t you tweet or blog this? Use the hashtag #bestofslideshare so we can track the conversation.
Nothing obvious there, but there was an
embedded image in the email which is not displayed by default, as shown.
I right-clicked the image place-holder in order to download the image, but nothing was shown.
Viewing the source of the email I found the following image tag:
So rather than this being an innocent April Fool joke, it seems that I’m being stalked by Slideshare’s marketing
department. And they’ll also be able to relate my Slideshare ID to my Twitter ID if I use the “#bestofslideshare”
hashtag as they suggested in their email. At least they were honest when they said “so we can track the
conversation” – but I suspect most users won’t be aware of how intrusive such tracking would be.
Is this reaction over-the-top? Perhaps when Slideshare announce this joke they’ll also say that the extra
advertising revenue which the additional views generated will be donated to a worthy cause – which would make
me appear somewhat of a curmudgeon. And if I have got this wrong I’d be happy to apologise – after all I have in
the past admitted to being a fan of the Slideshare service.
But I still think we have to be very wary that April fool gags may be being exploited by marketing peope in ways
which would not be accepted during the rest of the year. What do you think? Phil Bradley, it seems, is in
agreement with me.
Filed in Web2.0 | Tagged Slideshare | Permalink | Edit |
Standards are for Catholics
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
Being brought up in an Irish Catholic environment in the 1960s meant that life was full of religious and moral
absolutes. If you were good you’d go to heaven (with some time in purgatory a likelihood) whereas protestants
would go to hell. Black babies, who never had the opportunity for redemption, would go to limbo (it was only in
2006 limbo that limbo was abolished). And I can recall the Irish missionary priests who came to school collecting
for the black babies – peer group pressure meant that the 12-sided 3d coin from your pocket money was the
expected contribution. (The local catholic junior school, incidentally, hadn’t been rebuilt after being bombed in
the war which meant we had the upstairs classroom in a protestant school – and we had staggered breaks so we
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wouldn’t mix. Little did we realise in the annual ‘Wessie Road’ upper vs ‘Wessie Road’ lower grudge football
matches that the the over-the-top tackles were reflecting disagreements over the Virgin birth and Papal
Now although I have already confessed to losing my religion the Jesuits may well have been right in their views
on the power of indoctrination in early years. So although I no longer believe that I must not eat meat on Fridays,
I am aware of the meaning and power of the word must and can differentiate it from should.
Such an understanding is very relevant in the works of standards. If a programming language requires statements
to be terminated with a “;” then you must do so, otherwise your progam with fail (or, as is often said these days,
FAIL). It’s not a fuzzy choice – it works or it doesn’t. Period.
But it seems that the meaning of must is slowly being lost. This first struck me several years ago when UKOLN
was involved in the development of the standards and guidelines which support the national NOF-digitise
programme. We were told that the document should state that “All Web sites must be available 24×7″ (or words
to that effect). Our protestations were ignored – until projects reported that responses to the invitation to tender
were rather over budget (to put it mildly). We then described that 24*7 availability requires duplication of
servers, backup networking capacity, backup power supplies, etc. and was only likely to be required by
international organisations. It subsequently turn out that the requirement was that servers should not be turned off
at 5 pm on Friday evenings, as had been the case in some circumstances in the past. The document was updated
with the mandatory requirement being replaced by “Projects should seek to provide maximum availability of their
project Web site” – as there was a contractual requirement to implement all of the ‘musts’ in the document this
was needed in order to safe the entire NOF-digi budget being used to ensure 24×7 access for a single project!
Now I recently asked the question Is The UK Government Being Too Strict? as it similarly seemed to be requiring
a must in circumstances in which the evidence suggests that such strict conformance very seldom occurs.
Is this just me and my background, I wonder? When I see the word must in a standard, I think it really means
must – otherwise you’ll be dammed forever in a non-interoperable hell.
But maybe I should chill out a bit? Maybe when I read must I should think of the kind friendly maths teacher I
had at school who told me I should try harder, but he knew that it was sometime difficult, so he wasn’t too
concerned if I gort it wrong. After all, I’ll probably find it easier in the future.
So tell me, are there policy makers and authors of standards and specifications who really do feel that must means
must, whereas the developers interpret must as should? Is the problem that we have a non-interoperable mix of
Filed in standards | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (3)
We Need More Critical Friends!
Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
My First Encounter With The Term ‘Critical Friend’
I first came across the term ‘critical friend’ when it was used to describe my colleague Paul Walk when he was
interviewed at the JISC-funded Dev8D event. Shortly after the event I noticed the term being tweeted by a
number of participants at an e-learning event.
The Critical Friend Network
On further investigation I found the Critical Friends Network which quotes Professor John MacBeath, Professor
of Education Leadership, University of Cambridge:
“The Critical Friend is a powerful idea, perhaps because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a
high degree of unconditional positive regard. Critics are, at first sight at least, conditional, negative and
intolerant of failure.
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Perhaps the critical friend comes closest to what might be regarded as ‘true friendship’ – a successful
marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique.“
The Critical Friend’s Network has been funded by the JISC Users and Innovation (U&I) Benefits Realisation
programme and aims to build a community of shared effective practice for current and future JISC Programme
Critical Friends. Membership of the CF Network is open to Critical Friends, JISC Programme Management and
project teams as well as the HE/FE sector as a whole.
Critical Friends I’ve Encountered
The term ‘critical friends’ would seem to be self-explanatory. And I find it a valuable concept to describe, for
example, the approaches myself, David Sloan and a number of other accessibility researchers and practitioners
have been taking over the past four years in our criticisms of the approaches taken by WAI in the developments of
guidelines to enhance the accessibility of Web resources.
Peter Murray-Rust is applying similar critical thinking in a series of blog posts on “Libraries of the Future” which
will inform his talk at the ‘Libraries of the Future’ debate to be held at the Bodleian Library on 2 April 2009.
We Need More Critical Friends!
I feel we need more critical friends, especially at a time in which organisations will find funding increasingly
difficult to obtain. We can see the need for such critical thinking by looking at recent history, such as the rise and
fall of the UK eUniversity, from the HEFCE Press Release published in 2002 described the appointment of the
senior management team for the “government-backed initiative to provide online delivery of UK higher education
courses to students worldwide and to give improved access to higher education for under-represented groups of
students in the UK” through to the The Real Story Behind the Failure of U.K. eUniversity (PDF) which described
how “The picture behind the public failure of the UKeU is more complex, interesting and salutary than many
reports would suggest“.
Frankie Roberto demonstrated how the role of a critical friend need not be resource intensive when he initiated a
discussion on the MCG (Museums Computer Group) JISCMail list with the one-word question “Why?” about the
launch of the Creative Spaces service by a group of museums. In the email messages about this newly launched
service, questions were raised as to whether the debate was really needed with the complexities of, for example,
copyright issues being suggested as a reason why discussions on an open mailing list where not helpful. Paul
Walk responded to this by saying:
So, this thread was started by Frankie Roberto asking the question, “Why?”. His approach, a simple one-
word question, was criticised – unfairly I think. Implicit in Frankie’s question is a challenge – it invites
someone to explain, very succinctly and convincingly what it is that that Creative Spaces (in its guise as a
user-facing application) is for. I think this challenge is well made, and deserves to be answered.
Well-said Paul. And if the general public can listen to, read about and , if they so desire, engage in discussions
about complex issues such as sub-prime markets and global warming professionals in the sector should also be
not allowed but encouraged to contribute to the discussions about the networked services we are seeking to
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (11)
Pupils to Study Twitter and Blogs in Primary Shake-up
Friday, March 27th, 2009
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It was announced in the lead article in yesterday’s Guardian
“Pupils to Study Twitter and Blogs in Primary Shake-up” (and note this was the main section of the paper, and not
the education supplement).
There have already been a number of blog posts about this headline, ranging from the sceptical (”It’s already bad
enough having students checking their mobile phones for text messages every five minutes. Soon they’ll all be
Twittering as well!“) to the neutral. But in my initial skim though the search results I couldn’t find any positive
responses. So I’ll position myself in this space.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers was quoted in the article saying “It [the report]
seems to jump on the latest trends such as Wikipedia and Twitter“. So once again, it would seem, defenders of the
status quo are dismissive of innovation as being merely trends (the term ‘fads’ is sometimes used in this context)
with the implication that is detracts from traditional areas of study.
My view is that there is a need to engage young people from a early age in understanding communications
technologies, especially those they are likely to be using before they become adults. And understanding how
micro-blogging tools such as Twitter and Yammer (and related technologies such as SMS messages) work, their
subtle differences and the ways in which they can be misused is a new media literacy skill which young people
need to develop.
Now Andy Powell pointed out that the “twitter terms of service prevent use by primary age children“. But for me
this is not a show-stopper: terms of conditions can change and the term “Twitter” may be being used to describes
a range of micro-blogging applications and not just the Twitter services itself.
I would expect many in the higher and further education sectors to particularly welcome this news, as ensuring
that student arriving at college or university will several years of experience of such technologies should help to
ensure that they can make use of such communications and collaborative tools more effectively when begin their
And I find this announcement particularly interesting coming as it does that day after Ewan McIntosh, in the
closing plenary talk at the recent JISC09 conference, praised the Twitterers in the audience who were engaging in
active learning and discussions during his talk, whilst others were being passive consumers – which is particularly
ironic as JISC and many learning developers are actively seeking ways in which innovation can enrich learning
experiences. Perhaps in a few year’s time those senior managers will be seeking help from their children – or
possibly grand-children – on how to make effective use of such micro-blogging services.
Filed in Blog, Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (6)
UKOLN and the FE Sector
Thursday, March 26th, 2009
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A number of years ago, following the announcement that the LSC (Learning and Skills Council) was to be a co-
funder of JISC along with the various funding councils the various JISC-funded organisations set about extending
their remit to provide support for Further Education (FE) colleges. I was involved, for example, in running several
workshops which were organising in conjunction with JISC Regional Support Centres).
However following subsequent changes in funding it was suggested to us that we need not be pro-active in
engaging with the FE sector.
But recently we have been asked to provide evidence of ways in which we have engaged with the FE sector. Now
although some people are uncomfortable with the notion of metrics and impact measures, I am happy to go along
with this New Labour phenomenum, as am aware that the people requesting such information have no say over
the policy decisions. The question for me is how to gather such evidence, especially as we had felt that there was
no need to record such information.
At the recent JISC09 conference I was told that this blog is read by practitioners in the FE sector and it was
suggested that the blog may also be embedded in FE college Web sites – who may read the blog without being
aware of its provenance.
So if you are in the FE sector and are a regular reader of this blog , have attended any of our talks or workshops,
have made use of our QA Focus or Cultural Heritagebriefing documents or have benefitted from UKOLN’s work
in other ways (perhaps being influenced by our work in the area of Web accessibility, for example) then please let
me know, either by leaving a comment on this post or sending an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
Blessed Are The Software Developers
Wednesday, March 25th, 2009
I have to admit that at one point I had somewhat of a downer on software developers. I felt that there was a
tendency for many in the development community to be driven by ideology rather than than supporting user-
needs. I encountered this amongst the Web community where there was a tendency to be dismissive of software
which wasn’t open source, even if it would provide benefits to the users. And similarly open source software was
often given an uncritical support, even if it was difficult for typical users to use.
In many respects things have progressed. Open source software is now being evaluated alongside proprietary
solutions and the failings of poor quality open source software will be acknowledged. And many developers will
themselves make use of proprietary software if it provides benefits over closed solutions – look at the popularity
of the iPhone, Skype, etc. for example.
I now feel that we should acknowledge the ways in which software developers are making today’s Web
environment, in particular, a much richer and easy-to-use environment. But there are still ideological positions
which are being held – in particular the view that light-weight development is to be preferred to ‘enterprise’
solutions and that tangible user benefits can be delivered quickly without the need for large-scale budgets.
The good news is that such views are being supported by the JISC in its Grant Funding Call 03/09: Rapid
Innovation Grants. Under this call funding is available for technical rapid innovation projects, lasting up to 6
months. Grants of £15,000 to £40,000 are available for individual projects. The call states, for example, that “Any
outputs (prototypes, services and/or code) should strive to maintain a lightweight architecture. Using, for
example, ReST, XML over HTTP, Cool URIs, JSON, etc, other machine interfaces such as SOAP will need to be
justified in terms of their ease in reuse“.
At a time of an economic recession I am pleased that the JISc is encouraged such initiatives. We still need to
recognise, however, that not everthing can be solved in this fashion – there will still be a need for heavy-weight
enterprise solutions in certain areas. But I do wonder whether those who many be critical of small levels of
funding for IT development work may be those who have vested interests in maintaining power bases and hoping
that large-scale investment in funding will tide them over until the econonmy recovers. But am I just being
paranoid about this?
Filed in Web2.0 | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (4)
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Metrics For Measuring The Impact Of Blogs
Wednesday, March 18th, 2009
I have an interest in approaches to measuring the impact of Web 2.0 services such as blogs – and this is an area of
work which is being discussed with our funders, JISC and MLA.
The conventional approach when engaged in such activities could be to carry out a literature search (which of
course these days tends to mean Google, especially for Web-related areas of work).
Sometimes, however, rather than having to search for information, the information comes to you. What do I mean
by this? On this blog’s admin page I recently noticed a referrer link from a post on the Intelligent Measurement
blog which provided details of the Eleven Evaluation Blogs. This contained a link to a list of 11 blogs that focus
on evaluation published by the American Evaluation Association (which included the Intelligent Measurement
Incoming links are normally from pages which have a author-created reference to a post on the blog. However last
year WordPress announced a new feature on blogs hosted in WordPress.com which “show[s] posts related to
yours a little section at the end [of the post]“.
So resource discovery doesn’t have to mean going to a search engine – instead blog posts of interest to you can
arrive in your blog based on the title of and content of your blog posts. So if I write a blog post entitled “Metrics
For Measuring The Impact Of Blogs” I might discover incoming links for possibly related posts automatically
embedded at the bottom of this post.
It will be interesting to see how well this works. And will we be able to say that “blessed are the blog authors for
they shall find what they seek”?
Filed in Blog | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (1)
Attention – Services Unavailable!
Monday, March 16th, 2009
Bath University Computing Services (BUCS) is planning engineering work from 4:30 pm on Friday 27 March
until 9:00 am on Monday 30th March 2009. This means that no UKOLN Web sites or services will be available
for that period. Further information is available on the BUCS Web site.
As a variety of UKOLN services will be unavailable over the period (which is the weekend after next) we will
need to ensure that our key stakeholders are informed (including our funders, JISC and MLA) and take steps to
ensure that we alert anyone who may be making use of such services over this period – and possibly afterwards, if
any unexpected problems are encountered.
Before alerting the key stakeholders we needed to identify affected services. As well as the obvious Web sites on
a .ukoln.ac.uk domain there are also the Web sites, such as Exploit Interactive (http://www.exploit-lib.org/) and
Cultivate Interactive (http://www.cultivate-int.org/) which, although they are hosted locally, do not have an
obvious dependency on UKOLN servers.
There was also a need to identify other network services besides Web sites. Being unable to send email messages
or receive incoming email may be obvious, but do we have any services which rely on automated processing of
emails (such as various Listserv mailing lists we host?) Similarly what about other networked services besides
Web and email – what about any LDAP services, streaming video services, Z39.50 services, etc. , etc.? And what
about the services outside of Bath which may make use of our services? Will they degrade gracefully if our
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servers are unavailable over the weekend or mwill such services (which are not only external to us, but we may
not even know they exist) fail or timeout as they await a response from our servers?
Having (we hope!) identified the key services we need to disseminate the news of the unavailability of our
services and the possible implications for other service providers who have dependencies on our services and the
end user communities we need to make use of the various dissemination challenges in order to alert the various
Clearly email has an important role to play in communication with the key stakeholders. And we have provided
an alert on UKOLN’s news service, which is also available via RSS. These are the obvious dissemination
channels, but what else can we use?
In this blog post about the associated issues (which I’ll expand on in the following section) I’m also alerting
readers of this blog (who may also be users of UKOLN – and Bath – services) of the scheduled downtime. And I
will also use Twitter to send out an announcement about this post which will be followed by another tweet shortly
before the services are brought down.
I’ve also updated the RSS feed for the QA Focus Web site and will do something similar shortly for the Exploit
Interactive and Cultivate Interactive news feeds.
For this scheduled downtime we have had time to discuss the implications and
make plans for informing our users. And we’ve had useful discussions with other affected parties in the
University, including the e-learning unit. But what about the wider issues such as whether a weekend of service
down-time should be regarded as acceptable, whether we should provide mechanisms for prov9ding backup
services which aren’t dependent on the local network or even looking to migrate our services to external
We, of course, aren’t alone in having to consider such issues. Last week there were a number of Twitter posts
about service problems with a number of MIMAS services including COPAC and the Archives Hub. And
although a MIMAS news item was published when the service was restored I felt that the various tweets which
were published when the services first became at risk demonstrated how Twitted can be useful in immediate
feedback and also a mechanism for feedback.
Back in January 2008 I wrote a post entitled When Web Sites Go Down which was concerned with the
announcement by the University of Southampton that its Web site was down for scheduled maintenance from 2-
4th January 2008. In light of the service unavailable of well-established services hosted by prestigious institutions
such as the universities of Bath, Manchester and Southampton it might be timely to ask ourselves whether
educational institutions need still to be involved in the hosting of widely used services? Wouldn’t it be better, we
may ask, to leave hosting to the global organisations such as Google and Yahoo? But if that’s your view, reflect
on a recent email sent out by Yahoo to users of the Yahoo Mail service:
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From: “Yahoo! Mail” <email@example.com>
Date: 10 March 2009 23:50:43 GMT
To: Subject: Scheduled Maintenance
We are undertaking some essential, but extensive, maintenance to improve Yahoo! Mail this weekend. The
maintenance is part of our ongoing efforts to give you the best Mail service we can.
Beginning the evening of Friday March 13th (PDT) you may experience problems accessing your Yahoo!
Mail account. If your account is affected, it should be available again by midday on Saturday March 14th
We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience.
The Yahoo! Mail team
I think we do need to keep asking such questions. But we also need to remember that the grass isn’t always
greener on the other side of the fence. And I hope the email send by Yahoo’s support team on the 10 March about
the downtime on 13-14 March wasn’t the only notification which Yahoo Mail users received!
But as well as asking ourselves the longer term question about how our services should be hosted, we still need to
address the issues of service downtime (whether scheduled or not) and how we alert our users and other service
providers who may be affected. Any thoughts?
Filed in General | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (7)
Guerilla Accessibility Researchers
Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
The recent Dev8D Developer Happiness Days provided an environment for developers in the JISC development
community (and more widely) to engage in rapid software development. As the “Dev8D produces rapid results”
post described “Day three of Developer Happiness Days is only just beginning but two ideas have already been
made real by the keen coders here“.
As I attended only for parts of the first two days of the event I’ll not blog about the event – if you’d like to hear
more about what happened I suggest you look at some of the search results for the ‘dev8d’ tag. However the
enthusiasm I came across from developers who could see tangible outputs being produced over a period of a few
days (although the more significant outputs will probably have been finalised over the following week) I’ve
recently seen echoed in another context.
David Sloan, a researcher based at the University of Dundee (and co-author of several of our joint papers on Web
accessibility) recently announced, on Twitter, the launch of his blog. And in a post entitled “Sad Professors”
David described his frustration with “the slow process of peer reviewing” and went on to add that “If I find
accessing the research I need can be challenging what about the people who are making day to day decisions that
might affect the accessibility of the resources they produce, and who could benefit from the results of research?”
This is a heart-felt plea from someone who sees clearly the tangible benefits that his accessibility research can
have for people with disabilities.
Coincidentally a few days after reading David’s blog post in which he criticised slow peer-reviewing processes, I
received an email saying that a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” authored by
myself, David and several others had been published in the Journal of Access Services, Vol.6 Issues 1 & 2, 2009,
pp. 265-294. That was the good news – the bad news was that the deadline for submissions was 30 September
However rather than simply complaining about the seemingly glacial processes of engaging in publishing
research findings in peer-reviewed publications David has decided to engage in guerilla accessibility research.
This is “work typically done in a short period of time, to answer a very specific question, or target a very
particular group of web users and published online in a (usually) easy to find place, such as a blog“.
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David goes on to add that:
As a bonus … research written for the web is generally easier to read than an academic paper, and easy to
extract the key points. It will be peer-reviewed, but after publication. If the work is good, people talk about it;
if it’s of poor quality, reaction in the blogosphere will be swift. And more and more often, the results of this
work are referenced in academic literature, yet I’ll bet is of more direct impact to the people it aims to
inform – web designers and developers, assistive technologists, policy makers and anyone else who needs
accessibility information quickly.
In David’s first post on his blog he admitted: “I succumbed! After resisting a blog for years, joining Twitter made
me realise that I do actually have things to say on a fairly regular basis, things that other people just might be
interested in reading” He went on to confess that “Yep, I work in a university, where there is a culture of
publishing information at conferences and peer-reviewed journal papers – not always the easiest (or quickest)
way to share information. This means we sometimes neglect more direct (and to be honest, probably more
effective) routes – such as blogs like this“.
Perhaps we could say, to paraphrase a recent post, that in the research community “slowly, one by one, the lights
are switching on“. David’s “The 58 Sound” blog should be a must read for anyone with interests in Web
accessibility and usability.
Filed in Accessibility, Blog | | Permalink | Edit |
From 'Archivus Coelacanth' to 'Archivus Sapiens'
Monday, March 9th, 2009
I’m pleased to report that a proposal for a talk on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0” has
been accepted for the “Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists” conference which will be
held in Manchester on 19-20th March 2009.
The risks of Web 2.0 are often mentioned but those who use this as an argument for refusing to engage may miss
out on the risks of doing nothing and the missed opportunities.
It struck me recently that Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers Guide series, provided a wonderful historical
perspective on the need to take risks in order to evolve. In the first series “The Book” described “an utterly
insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still
think digital watches are a pretty neat idea“.
The book then went on to add: “Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in
coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no
one should ever have left the oceans.”
In homage to Douglas Adams I’d therefore like to describe the evolutionary history of the Archives
profession. Feel free to adapt this to other scenarios – I’ve sure we are all familiar with theAcademus Coelancanth
and the Librarian Coelancanth (and if I’ve confused Latin and Greek terms I’d welcome more approariate
Archivus Coelancanth is rarely spotted in the wild these days, still
to be found but can still be spotted in the depths of the archives. This is the species which failed to evolve with the
changing environment. As documented in Wikipedia “the coelacanth is almost worthless” although it is worthy
of interest to those who have an interest in evolutionary dead ends.
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In contrast to Archivus Coelancanth the Archivist Raptor has failed
This species was terrifying when it ruled, rapidly destroying many of its competitors. However the destruction of
the local IT Servitus proved to be its own undoing and the species is now in grave danger of becoming extinct
following an inability to respond to the rapidly changing (economic) climate.
Archivus Sapiens (the wise archivist) is not as intimidating as its predecessor. However it has the agility and
mental capacity to respond quickly to the changing environment. A distinctive feature of the Archivus Sapiens is
the ‘elbow patches’ on its outer garments which have no practical important but, like the appendix in the related
Homo Sapiens is a relic of a previous environment.
Which species, I wonder, is to be found in your archive?
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The Long Tail of the Topless Swedish Model
Friday, March 6th, 2009
What is the usage profile like for a typical blog post on this blog? I
suspect the statistics for the post on “Are You Able?” is fairly typical (although, as I confessed recently I did pimp
up this post on Twitter.
What we can see is the post was viewed by most users on the day it was published, with a steady drop after that,
although there was a slight increase in the numbers of viewers on the Monday after the weekend. It was also
pleasing to note that most uses have been via the syndicated RSS feed. This is good news and provides evidence
that much greater use is being made of RSS readers, by readers of this blog at least.
But let’s look at another blog post to see a very different usage profile. As can be seen we again saw a peak of
about 200 views (again mostly views of the syndicated feed) on the day the post was published. But since the
post was published there has been a long tail of daily views of the post and with a current total of 1,946 views on
23rd February 2009, most of the views of this post have taken place in the weeks and months after it was
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What’s the reason for the difference? Although it may be felt that there aren’t significant differences as, over
time, the Are You Able post might have a long tail of views. I’ll address that point by concluding this post with
the usage statistics for a post published around the same time as the one mentioned above. And the title of that
post “Pinky and Perky and Swedish Topless Model Caught in Use as Learning Objects” might give a indication
for its popularity.
Yes, you’re right. This post is so popular because of the numbers of people searching for “topless model” and
“Swedish topless model“. And I’ve been caught out for the unethical approach of using an inappropriate title with
the sole intention of boosting the blog’s usage figures. Well, not (quite) true in my opinion. I did have a legitimate
interest in how use of such phrases could effect the amount of traffic. But I also have a need to think of new titles
for blog posts (I’ve published over 500 posts, and I can’t call them all stuff I think is interesting about Twitter,
Facebook, …). And I’ll continue to think of puns and word plays for the titles of the blog posts – and I know I’m
not alone in this. I will, though, try to ensure that the titles are relevant to the post (there was a photograph of a
topless Swedish model included in the post) – but a post called “Britney Spears nude” purely to pull in the traffic
would be inappropriate (as well as showing that I’m not up-to-date with the latest pop babe).
But what about concerns that although it may help to motivate me as the author to think up interesting titles, this
can skew the usage figures may may be requested by funding agencies? My response is that there are many ways
to enhance usage statistics – as I illustrated in a post on Lies, Dammed Lies, Blog Statistics and
Unexpected Spikes. So for me, if funding bodies wish to request inappropriate metrics, then that is their
prerogative. But at least I’ve been open about my awareness that the usage statistics are flawed. And hopefully
going public about the dangers of over-simplistic metrics will discourage the civil servants and bean-counters
from mandating their use.
As I mentioned above in order to provide a meaningful comparison
a graph of the usage statistics for a post on Butler Group Report on “Enterprise Web 2, published on 11th
December 2008, a week after the Swedish model post, is shown. As can be seen, after the first week the number
of views dropped off sharply, confirming, I believe, the reasons for the popularity of the Swedish model post.
Now isn’t it strange that the Swedish topless model has the long tail and not Pinky and Perky? I guess she must be
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What Are the #jiscbid Evaluators Thinking?
Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
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A few weeks ago Gráinne Conole, a professor of e-learning at the Open University, used Twitter to ask for
suggestions on how to go about writing a bid for one of the forthcoming JISC calls. And, as I recently described,
many useful suggestions were given – despite that fact that this was a competitive process and the suggestions
were being provided in an open space. A great example of a community working in an open fashion, I feel. And
the benefits (better prepared submissions, clearer ideas of approaches to project management and dissemination
described, etc.) will be beneficial to many stakeholders, including the JISC programme managers, evaluators of
the proposals and, eventually, the users of the project deliverables.
But did this happen? Were the bids well-written and had they followed the guidelines? Or was marking the bids a
time-consuming and difficult process for the many evaluators who were involved in marking the bids?
Well we can get an insight into the evaluators though processes by looking
at the Twitter stream for tweets tagged with “jiscbids”. I think this tag was originally developed by an informal
process, although at one point Amber Thomas (JISC Programme Manager) did suggest that this should be the tag
adopted for sharing thoughts on the evaluation process:
#jiscbids dons [corporate hat] i am assuming all other markers are using this hashtag to offer constructive
comments on anonymised bids too
Subsequently Sam Easterby-Smith (CETIS) commented that he was:
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Finding the #jiscbids tweet feed rather too fascinating… @briankelly MUST do follow up to his blog post
from feb 5th – woo
I’ll not, however, discuss the details of the tweets, other than to say that having the opportunity to observe
evaluators’ thoughts on the marking process should provide immensely valuable feedback to those at JISC who
are responsible for managing the evaluation process. There have been discussions, for example, on whether bids
which were over the maximum number of pages allowed should be automatically discarded (possibly before
reaching the markers) or whether such bids should be marked down, but could still be funded it the bid is strong
Having been involved in bid marking in the past it has only just struck me that in my experience there has been
very little discussions on the evaluation process itself, perhaps because once the marks are returned to JISC the
programme managers will be busy comparing the responses, making final decisions, suggesting changes to
proposals, etc. By the time this is all over, I suspect there will be little energy left for reflecting on the evaluation
So I hope that someone will find the time and energy to go through the various tweets made by the evaluators
(including those which did not have a #jiscbids tag). But as well as identifying aspects of the reviewing process
which can be improved, there will also be a need to consider whether the openness and informality which Twitter
has provided could be in conflict with a closed reviewing process. I disagree with Mike Ellis’s view that Twitter
“needs an edge, a voice, a riskiness” – in some cases this may be true, but in discussing a bidding process or, as
my colleague Marieke Guy has recently commented, in the context of discussing talks at conferences, we need to
establish best practices. But I hope the best practices which emerge acknowledge the benefits which can be gained
from using services such as Twitter.
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Rethinking Web Accessibility for E-Learning
Monday, March 2nd, 2009
Why would we want to rethink Web accessibility in an elearning context? Surely
application of WAI’s WCAG guidelines will provide universal accessibility? And the recently released WCAG
2.0 guidelines should improve things further.
As described in a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” the WAI approach
is flawed when applied in an elearning context. The WCAG guidelines seek to ensure that information can be
processed by people with disabilities using a variety of assistive technologies. But learning isn’t about the simple
processing of information (effective learning isn’t provided by encylopedia!).
This was the core of our initial work. Further research described flaws in WAI
guidelines and provided evidence that, although a political success, WCAG guidelines aren’t being implemented
to any significant extent. The reason for this isn’t that educational institutions aren’t aware of the guidelines or
don’t care about enhancing the quality of learning for students with disabilities. And although there are instances
in which accessibility could be enhanced relatively simply, there is a need for an alternative approach which
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recognises the complexities of user needs and requirements, the rapidly changing technical environment, our
understandings of what is meant by ‘accessibility’ and ‘disability’ and our ability to implement desirable solutions
(and not just policies) within our institutions.
Our proposed approach (solution would be too bold a term)
describes a Web Adaptability framework which builds on our holistic framework and focusses on the accessibility
of learning outcomes rather than e-learning resources and the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
And rather than a simplistic legal framework, institutions should deploy such approaches due to peer pressure,
involvement of learners with disabilities in the design process, corporate reputation management, peer group
pressure and sharing of solutions and failures.
Please join in the debate on how this goal can be realised!
Please note that this post was submitted to the Edu Blogger Scholarship contest and has been shortlisted in the 20
finalists. For details on why I am entering this contest see my previous post.
Filed in Accessibility | Tagged WAI, WCAG | Permalink |
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Entering the Edu Blogger 2009 Awards
Sunday, March 1st, 2009
I know from recent discussions that some people don’t like awards being given to
bloggers for various reasons (blogging is a personal activity; awards can be divisive; etc.). But although there may
be an element of truth in such comments I also feel that there can be benefits providing in entering such
competitions. For me entering a blog post in an international Edu Bloggers scholarship contest allows me to
reach a much wider audience and to have the potential that this wider audience can provide feedback on my ideas
and also, perhaps, be influenced by the topic of my post. And, to be honest, much of my work is about seeking to
influence the educational sector in making effective use of networked technologies. I may be getting on a bit, but
I still feel passionate about such things!
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Tomorrow’s post will provide me with the challenge of saying something important and influential in 200-300
words. And that in itself will provide me with a valuable learning opportunity – Twitter has helped me develop
skills in writing pithy comments in 140 characters and my peer-reviewed papers are often about 5,00 words long.
But how will I do in a middle distance event?
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Revisiting Web Accessibility Metadata
Friday, February 27th, 2009
At the OzeWAI 2009 conference Liddy Nevile gave a talk on “AccessForAll Metadata for all Australian
Resources”. I’ve known Liddy for over 10 years (I think we first met at a W3C working group meeting on PICS).
Liddy has interests in both metadata and accessibility and has been working on the development of standards for
accessibility metadata for some time. Liddy prefers the term ‘adaptability’ to ‘accessibility’ for reasons she
explains in her paper on “Adaptability and Accessibility: a New Framework” – and I’m in broad agreement with
Liddy gave several reasons why the vision of making every digital resource universally accessible to all was
flawed (but unfortunately her talk was not recorded, so you’ll have to take my word for that .
Her talk reminded me of the ideas concerning accessibility and metadata which I had about 10 years go and
presented in a talk in May 1999 on “Accessibility, Automation and Metadata” at a WAI meeting held in Toronto
after the WWW 8 conference.
It’s funny looking back at a presentation like this after a period of almost 10 years. Sentiments such as those
expressed by Julie Howell (who then worked at the RNIB):
“Rather than encouraging ’simplicity’ in Web design … we try to encourage ‘flexibility’, so that Web sites
can be tailored to individual need ’simply’. Flexibility affords the personalisation which people with sight
still do not seem to be accepted in some quarters (such as policy makers in the Government) where there still
seems to be a culture of mandating a single approach rather than responding to a diversity of requirements.
I suspect that the (rather vague) ideas suggested in my talk haven’t yet really surfaced in widespread use not
because of the lack of tools to implement such approaches, but because ideas based around personalisation
weren’t popular back then. But now that PLEs and PREs are in vogue, we need to be revisiting these issues – and
not just at the application level, but also the metadata standards needed to implement this. But as Liddy and I
admitted in a paper on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future” we also need
to acknowledge that good ideas are not necessarily implemented. There a need to learn from failures of the past
and take into account the following when seeking to develop alternative approaches:
• The need for acceptance in the market place for tools which support the a personalisation vision for
• The dangers of seeking to standardise too soon;
• The dangers of embedding technological decisions within legislation too soon;
• The need to ensure that solutions can scale to vast numbers of resources and users.
Are we, I wonder, now in a position in which such concerns can be addressed?
Filed in Accessibility | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (0)
Impact Of This Blog On My Publication Record
Thursday, February 26th, 2009
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Does The “Blogging Bug” Affect Academic Publishing?
Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University, recently wrote a blog post on
Blogging impacts on formal academic output in which he describes how the numbers of his published articles had
declined since being “bitten by the blog bug“. He didn’t regard this as necessarily a bad thing, though, as Martin
feels that “Blogging meets these needs [to share ideas and fulfill a creative urge to write] better than formal
publications” and the benefits of networking, which was an important factor in submitting papers to conferences
can now be achieved using online communications technologies such as blogs and micro-blogs.
My Publishing History
Martin asked if anyone else noticed a similar trend. So I checked
my publication record – the figures are illustrated in the accompanying diagram.
I started to write papers for peer-reviewed journals and conferences seriously in 2004 with four papers being
published: two based on a JISC-founded QA Focus which I was the project manager of, one on standards and the
fourth a short paper I co-authored with Andy Powell and Pete Johnston, then colleagues at UKOLN. Interestingly,
although one of the QA Focus papers was co-authored by fellow team members the second was written jointly
with staff from the University of Strathclyde, following a discussion in the pub after I gave a seminar in Glasgow.
The following year another four papers were published which cover three of my main areas of interest: Web
accessibility, social networks and interoperability. Again three of the papers were written with contacts I had
made professionally but another one arose from discussions in a pub in Bath, at a Semantic Web Southwest
My most productive year for publications was 2005 with nine papers published, covering accessibility, social
networking and standards. In retrospect this was the year in which I had gained the confidence that I had
something worthy of publishing, the necessary writing skills, a good appreciation of the effort needed and
contacts who I knew could contribute to a joint papers.
By 2006 I was able to further develop ideas on Web accessibility and standards and contribute to a short paper in
a new area which I suspected would be of increasing relevance to myself and UKOLN, preservation of Web
resources. A total of six paper were published that year.
The UK Web Focus blog was launch in November 2006, so during 2007 I was developing my skills in writing
blog posts and responding to comments. But I still managed to publish four papers in the year, on accessibility,
open standards and the first on Web 2.0 – the lead author of this latter paper, incidentally, was Mike Ellis whom I
first got talking to in a pub in Leicester after the UK Museums on the Web conference. “Let’s write a paper” was
my parting shot to Mike as he left the pub – which we went on to do (and subsequently much more).
Six further papers were published in 2008, together with two contributions to books. The papers included one on
Web site preservation with fellow members of the JISC PoWR project (I was correct in 2007 when I felt this
would be an important area). The final paper of the year was an invited paper which was presented at the Bridging
Worlds Conference in Singapore. The co-authors for that paper included people I had met once at a workshop in
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Wales, had met at a conference several year’s ago but re-established informal contact through Twitter and one
person who I have met primarily via blog posts, blog comments and on Twitter.
The first comment I should make is that I’m not attempting to suggest that there is any equivalence in quality
between my papers and Martin Weller’s. My papers, for example, include those which have been accepted by a
formal peer-reviewing processes, but also include short papers, papers for which only the abstract has been
reviewed and, in the final example, an invited paper for presentation at an international conference. But at least I
am aware of a level of consistency across my publications.
Writing this post has given my an insight into the ways I have gone about the task of discovering people to
collaborate with in writing such papers (I’ve realised that, apart from the two books, there have been only two
papers which I have written on my own). The approaches I have taken can be summarised as:
Initially the papers were a dissemination activity of a funded project (initially the QA Focus project) and
this has continued with, for example the recent JISC PoWR project).
I had also supported the staff development of colleagues in my team at UKOLN and regarded joint
authorship of papers as a way of developing writing skills and adding valuable content to their CVs.
Several of the papers were written with staff from our strategic partners – other JISC services with whom
we have good links with and a desire to work with (and be seen to work with) including JISC TechDis,
CETIS and OSS Watch.
But I was surprised when I did this analysis and found that significant numbers of my papers had been
written with people with whom I had developed good social links. And this is even more important than I’d
realised as the papers with strategic partners and project partners also reflected good social contacts with
individuals within those organisations.
For me it seems that the social contacts can be important in the writing process. On a number of occasions a paper
has arisen from discussions and a shared understanding which have taken place over several pints which has led
to papers been written and accepted for publication. More recently it seems that discussions based abound blog
posts and on Twitter have served to support the social lubrication when a pint (or two) of real ale was not
Discussions based on the content of blog posts supported by getting to know people on Twitter may have helped
to build links with authors and potential authors, but has blogging affected the quality of the papers themselves? I
feel my papers have improved in quality, although clearly this would be expected as one gains experience and
gets a better understanding of the topics of the papers.
But I also feel that blogging has been beneficial to the process of writing papers. I’ve used my blog as an open
notebook, recording ideas which previously I may have forgotten when it came around to writing a paper. And as
the ideas have been exposed to a wide audience I have benefitted from comments I have received (and perhaps
even a lack of comments which may possibly that the idea isn’t too outrageous).
And as a number of my papers have been about observing how the world is approaching particular uses of
technologies (such as Web accessibility) I’ve made use of blogs and microblogs (both as an author and reader) in
order to gain a better understanding of patterns of usage.
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The dissemination aspect of the blog for my papers is self-evident. For papers presented at conferences I normally
publish something on this blog. Over the past six months of so I have also recorded my talk on video, providing
an additional dimension for those who prefer the more chatty explanation of the ideas to the more formal prose of
the scholarly publication.
Returning to the question posed by Marin Weller “Does the ‘Blogging Bug’ Affect Academic Publishing?” I
would say it does. But for me, unlike Martin, I feel it has enhanced the quality of my publications, enhanced
awareness of the papers and the ideas they have explored and widened my circle of peers with whom I collaborate
And although I recognise that thing may be different in other disciplines and for people with different working
styles and organisational priorities (e.g. the RAE) for me blogging and engaging with blogs (reading other blogs
and commenting on them) is now an essential part of my paper-writing process.
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Crowd-sourcing Ideas for IWMW 2009
Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
In a trip report on the Institutional Web Managers Workshop 2008 Andy Stewart was full of praise for the event:
“it was absolutely fantastic“. Andy went on to say that although “The plenaries, parallel sessions, discussion
groups and social events are all extremely useful in their own right” for him “it’s the inspiration and sense of
belonging that one feels during and after the conference I think makes the difference“.
We’re currently inviting proposals for this year’s event, IWMW 2009, which will be held at the University of
Essex on 28-30th July 2009. Last year we providing an innovation competition and encouraged developers to
make use of the data provided by the university of Aberdeen, Bath and Edge Hill University. This encouragement
for openness within the community was welcomed by Andy:
“One theme which stuck out above all, to me, was that of transparency through initiatives to open up our
information allowing others to do what they feel with it“.
We are looking to build on this culture of openness. So this year rather than simply inviting submissions for talks
and workshop sessions to be sent to the chair of the event (my colleague Marieke Guy) we are using the Ideascale
service in order to crowd-source suggestions for content at the workshop.
We’re doing this to allow potential participants and other interested parties to provide suggestions on topics
they’ve like to see covered at the address (as well as provide other more general suggests for the event – such as
what type of social event we should provide). Doing this in this open fashion, as illustrated below, enables
participants to become more active participants in the processes of putting together the programme for the event.
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Now we have to be honest and admit that we can’t guarantee that the most popular options will necessarily be
provided or that seemingly unpopular topics won’t be covered. But at least everybody will have had the
opportunity to participate in this process. And this is also a learning process for ourselves – in retrospect we
realise that the suggested titles should have been neutral in tone, rather than the provocative title which could be
suited for a session itself (we don’t know if people are voting on the sentiment expressed in the title or on whether
the topic should be addressed at the workshop).
And I’m not sure what the usage statistics are meant to be saying. It doesn’t
seem likely that 16 users have cast 1018 votes!
But if you have views on topics which members of institutional Web management teams should be discussing feel
free to provude your suggestion. Now this won’t be regarded as a submission to the event, but if you would like to
give a talk or run a session at this year’s event details of how to submit proposals are available on the IWMW
2009 Web site.
Filed in iwmw2008, iwmw2009 | | Permalink | Edit |
Twitter Can Pimp Up Your Stuff – But Should It?
Monday, February 23rd, 2009
I recently published a blog post entitled “Are You Able?“. Shortly after it was published I wrote a tweet which
linked to the post. Although at one stage I had registered with a service which would automatically send a tweet
when I published a new post I no longer do this. Rather I’ll send a tweet if I think the post might be of particular
interest or is relevant to discussions which have taken place in my Twitter community.
Shortly after I sent out my tweet I received a response from George Brett who had retweeted my post (forwarded
my tweet to his group of followers):
RT @briankelly: Are your resources available, reusable, usable, accessible, exploitable and preservable? Is
it feasible? http://is.gd/jOWg
6:57 AM Feb 17th from TweetDeck
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This was followed by another retweet by digicmb (Guus van den Brekel) tweeted:
RT @briankelly: R ur resources available, reusable, usable, accessible, exploitable & preservable? = ur
approach feasible? http://is.gd/jOWg
6:32 AM Feb 17th from TweetDeck
Now at recent Web 2.0 and blogging workshops I’ve facilitated for staff working in museums, libraries and
archives I have been asked how one can demonstrate that time spent in using various Web 2.0 technologies
provides an positive return on investment. The impression I get is that people in these sectors do need to
demonstrate tangible and measurable benefits in order to justify their usage (and perhaps even have firewalls
configured so that the services can be accessed).
How, then, might you provide evidence that Twitter can be used to support organisational aims? Well I currently
have 777 followers on Twitter, so I might argue that Twitter can provide a cost-effective dissemination
mechanism. And as George Brett has 1,109 followers and Guus van den Brekel has 332, there could be over 2,000
users who have received the notification of my latest blog post.
Job done, you may feel, I’ve provided an example of the how Twitter has the potential to maximise access to
one’s digital resources, whether this is a blog post, as in this example, an event, a new service or whatever
(although I should add that I haven’t said anything about whether those followers still use Twitter or that they
may not be people, but spam harvesters).
But yesterday (Sunday 22 February 2009) Mia Ridge sent a tweet saying:
You are not you, you are a brand. ‘no one enjoys someone who posts spontaneously’ http://bit.ly/qGRdk I
don’t get the obsession w followers
Mia was linking to a blog post on Being a Useful Twitter User [and receiving followers in the process] which
provided advice (”Be consistent and organized”; “Pace yourself!”; etc.) aimed at helping you to maximise the
number of your followers.
I think Mia was quite right to highlight the dangers of such depersonalisation of Twitter. And as the individual
and quirk, aspect of Twitter has played a role in its success following a set of guidelines which aim to provide a
sterile environment could well lead to a killing of the golden goose.
Which isn’t to say that one shouldn’t ‘pimp up’ one’s blog posts, however. Mia herself tweeted a few hours after
her previous post that she “blogged my dev8D talk (http://bit.ly/d9z5y) on happy museums, developers and
punters (right URL this time), open to suggestions, comments“.
But rather than Twitter users using the service to post factual information about themselves, their work and their
organisation I’d suggest that the emphasis should be on those aspects that you care about and, as Martin Weller
suggested recently, the things you love: your iPhone, your musical taste, your football team and the like.
And as Mike Ellis recently suggested that Twitter “needs an edge, a voice, a riskiness” I think I’ll announce this
post with the tweet “Pimping up my blog post on the attractions & dangers of pimping up blog posts:
Filed in Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (10)
"Slowly, One By One, The Stars Were Going Out"
Friday, February 20th, 2009
I recently asked on Twitter “Who remembers the SciFi short story ‘Slowly, one by one, the stars were going
out’?” I went on to add “It’s happening with Twitter profile pictures“.
It turned out that this came from Arthur C Clark’s short story “The Nine Billion Names of God, although I’d
misremembered the final sentence which, according to the entry in Wikipedia, actually read “overhead, without
any fuss, the stars were going out“.
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The reason many people are blacking out their profile image is to
express support for the New Zealand Internet Blackout campaign. This campaign, which has successfully made
use of a number of social networking services (and not just Twitter) in a viral fashion to protest against a new law
in New Zealand – the Guilt Upon Accusation law ‘Section 92A’. As described in a post on the Read Write
Webblog “this law may have major implications for Internet users in NZ, because it calls for internet
disconnection “based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up
to court scrutiny.”
The use of social networking services as a way of exploiting the network effects in protests against political
decisions which seek to impose restrictions on Internet services is not restricted to just New Zealand. I was
surprised to learn recently that in Australia, as described on the No Clean Feed Web site: “The Australian Federal
Government is pushing forward with a plan to force Internet Service Providers [ISPs] to censor the Internet for
all Australians. This plan will waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and slow down Internet access“.
Regional protests, such as the No Clean Feed Canberra rally held in December 2008 made use of Facebook event
page. to provide details of the rally (with an alternate page provided for those who could not/would not access
Now I haven’t blacked out my Twitter (or Facebook) profile, although I would agree that the proposed
developments (in Australia as well as New Zealand) are to be regretted. I’ve chosen not to do this as I prefer to
reserve any protests I may wish to make to something I feel more strongly about – and rationing such protests
should enhance the impact of any campaigns which I may chose to support. I also find that blacked out profile
pictures is reducing the usefulness of Twitter, as it is more difficult to see who is writing the tweets.
However that is not to say that I do not want to contribute to the protests, so I am writing this post in order to alert
readers of this blog who may not be aware of the New Zealand Internet Blackout campaign (and I know that not
everyone is a regular Twitter user and so may not have seen these blacked out images). I also thought it would be
worth embedded this YouTube video:
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Note that if you wish to join in with this campaign you’ll have to hurry as the dates of the campaign are 16-23
Filed in General, Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments
My Thoughts On The Facebook Debate
Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
The blogosphere and the Twitterverse have been full of angry posts and tweets on the recent changes to
Facebook’s terms and conditions and the subsequent reversal in the light of the negative publicity. My, perhaps
somewhat controversial, view is that there has been a failure to recognise the complexities related to ownership of
data in a social networked environment and instead we have been seeing simplistic solutions being proposed
which, if applied generally, would undermine the development of the more open social networks which,
ironically, many of those engaged in the discussions would actually prefer to see.
Consider the view that “it’s my data and if I wish it to be deleted then this must be permitted“. There’s no
ambiguity in such a view which, on the surface, appears reasonable. But how might this be applied in other
contexts such as, for example, the UK’s JISC-funded JISCMail service. This service has a policy document which
is publicly available. This states that “When you leave JISCmail, your name, email address and, if relevant,
Shibboleth Targeted_ID will be removed from our database“. That sounds good, and is in keeping with the
expectations which have been raised in the context of Facebook’s changes to its terms and conditions. However
the JISCMail policy goes on to state that “However, any message you have posted to a list will remain in the
archives“. What? JISCMail are going to keep my data (forever, I assume) even though, in the policy on copyright,
JISCMail have admitted that “When you send a message to a JISCmail list, you retain your copyright in that
message“. JISCMail, it would seem, are behaving even worse than Facebook; at least Facebook have been honest
and openly stated that they won’t delete users’ data, with (new) users having to acept these terms and conditions.
JISCMail, on the other hand, states that it’s the user’s data but keeps the data if the user leaves the service. What
about all of those embarrassing messages I posted when I was young and naive, I may wonder?
Now I should hasten to add that I’m not saying there is anything wrong in JISCMail terms and conditions; I am
simply pointing out one example of the complexities. And yes, I am aware that an email message will be
replicated in many places, so deleting one instance in the JISCMail archive wouldn’t be of much use. And I am
also aware that deleting individual messages would undermine records of discussions.
And these are arguments which Mark Zuckerberg has been making in his defence of the changes to the terms and
conditions. But many of the initial responses have failed to acknowledge such complexities. The first post I read
which did have a more considered view was the Dataportability blog which, in a post on “Redefining and
Standardizing ‘Ownership“, acknowledged that “Facebook, by virtue of its sheer size and scope, is often the first
to run into issues that the rest of the social web will need to address sooner rather than later“.
The other post which gave carefully considered thoughts was published by my colleague Paul Walk in his post
which argued “Facebook wants your attention, not your photos“. Now Paul has admitted “I’m certainly not a fan
of Facebook. I have yet to find a use for it in my professional life and have criticised before the assumption that,
for example, Higher Education should be embracing it as a service because it is widely popular“. But rather than
taking an opportunity to join in the general condemnation, Paul describes how he “think[s] the furore about
Facebook’s ‘ownership’ of user-generated-content has, by and large, slightly missed the point“.
As someone who has posted a number of posts which have had a more positive view towards Facebook than Paul
it would be appropriate for me to agree that Facebook have made mistakes in the way it has handled the changes
to its terms and conditions. And yet, ironically, Facebook can manage (and delete) content held in its ‘walled
garden’ than would be the case in more open and distributed social networked environments.
But let’s join in with the Data Portability blog and Paul Walk in having a more mature and considered discussion
of the complexities of ownership and controlled within social networks.
Filed in Facebook | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (3)
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Are You Able?
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
There were two invited keynote speakers who travelled from Europe to speak at the OzeWAI 2009 conference.
As well as my talk (which I described recently ) Dr. Eva M. Méndez (an Associate Professor in the Library and
Information Science Department at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and not the American actor!) gave a talk
entitled “I say accessibility when I want to say availability: misunderstandings of the accessibility in the other
part of the world (EU and Spain)“.
Eva’s research focuses on metadata and web standards, digital information systems and services, accessibility and
Semantic Web. She has also served as an independent expert in the evaluation and review of European projects
since 2006, both for the eContentPlus program and the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies)
program and her talk was informed by her knowledge of the inner working of such development programmes
funded by the EU.
Her talk explored the ways in which well-meaning policies may be agreed with the EU, although such policies
may be misinterpreted or misunderstand and fail to be implemented, even by the EU itself.
I don’t have access to Eva’s slides, so I will give my own interpretation of Eva’s talk.
We might expect the EU to support the development of a networked environment across EU countries across a
range of areas. These areas might include:
Available: Have resources been digitised? Are they available via the Web?
Reusable: Are the resources available for use by others? Or they it trapped within a Web environment which
makes reuse by others difficult?
Findable: Can the resources be easily found? Have SEO techniques been applied to allow the resource to be
indexed by search engines such Google?
Exploitable: Are the resources available for others to reuse through, for example, use of Creative Commons
Usable: Are the resources available in a usable environment?
Accessible: Are the resources accessible to people with disabilities?
Preservable: Can the resources be preserved for use by future generations?
Since the acronym ARFEUAP isn’t particularly memorable (and ARE-U-API would be too contrived) we might
describe this as the Able approach to digitisation. But there is 0ne additional concept which I feel also needs to be
Feasible: Are the policies which are proposed (or perhaps mandated) feasible (or achievable)? We might ask
are they actually possible (can we make all resources universally accessible to all?) and can they be achieved
with available budgets and with the standards and technologies which are currently available?
There is, of course, a question which tends to be forgotten question: is the proposed service of interest to people
and will it be used?
The worrying aspect of Eva’s talk was that the EU don’t appear to be asking such questions – or even used the
same vocabulary. We need to have the bigger picture in order to address tensions between these different areas
and the question (and power struggles) of how we prioritise achieving best practices – for example, should we be
digitizing resources, even if we can’t make them accessible; should we regard access by people with disabilities
as being of importance than ensuring the resources can be preserved? And let’s not fudge the issue by suggested
that each is equally important and all can be achieved by use of open standards. That simply isn’t the case – and if
you doubt this, ask managers of institutional repositories. They will probably say that they are addressing the
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available, reusable, findable, preservable and, perhaps, exploitable issues, but I suspect that the repository
managers would probably admit that many of the PDFs in the repositories will not be accessible.
Filed in Accessibility, preservation, standards | Tagged
ozewai2009 | Permalink | Edit | Comments (3)
Should Projects Be Required To Have Blogs?
Monday, February 16th, 2009
Last week CETIS’s Mark Power started off a brief Twitter debate when he asked “Is the use of project blogs
becoming too formalised by JISC? Still strikes me that many set one up simply because they feel they *should*“.
Amber Thomas, a JISC Programme manager, responded by informing the Twitter community that she was
“interested in what you all think about project blogs. for lightweight projects we like the idea of enforced
transparency” concluding this request with “… thats easier said than done. we don’t expect every project blog
frequently but it does provide the chance to aggregate easily“.
The Tweet Debate
The responses received over the next few hours included:
Brian Kelly: @MarkPower I disagree. Project blogs mean words get written, content is public and content is
syndicable. let’s encourage such openness!
Sheila McNeil: @briankelly but how much really gets written in project blogs? I think still an onerous task
Owen Stephens: @ambrouk don’t necessarily think you shouldn’t mandate, but keep in mind you are
mandating a tech/platform not attitude. What to achieve?
Andy Powell: @MarkPower blogging is an attitude not a technology, so simply “setting one up” doesn’t
necessarily lead to results anyway
Amber Thomas: project blogging: so … noone says make it mandatory, some say strongly encourage, some
say don’t. good blogging good, bad blogging bad. ok
Brian Kelly: @ambrouk bad blogging ok as part of learning proces. Allow mistakes please
Amber Thomas: @markpower scoping a Call as we speak where we want to make it mandatory to use a blog
Paul Walk: @MarkPower not sure that JISC is culpable – but there are definitely examples of project blogs
where you wish they hadn’t felt the need
Amber Thomas: @sheilmcn i guess community engagement and collaboration are one thing, reflection is
another, transparency of progress is another again???
Andy Powell: @MarkPower blogging is an attitude not a technology, so simply “setting one up” doesn’t
necessarily lead to results anyway
Mark Power: @andypowe11 Exactly right…that’s why they won’t always work for a project and why the use
of them shouldn’t be mandatory…not that they
Paul Walk: @ambrouk the attitude of ‘publish early, publish often’ is worth cultivating. But team blogs are
often terrible. Encourage – don’t mandate
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Amber Thomas: ..but is the issue that they create extra “noise” that makes it hard to spot the real voices
amongst the dutiful posts?
Brian Kelly: @ambrouk Project managers should encourage ‘noise’ and use good filtering tools . Noise is
better than silence!
Paul Walk: @ambrouk @briankelly ‘noise is better than silence’ just doesn’t work for lots of ppl –
especially researchers. It’s not appropriate for all
Now as Paul Walk’s last tweet was preceded by “@andyramsden nah – that one wasn’t James’s fault surely. The
Calamity will come in the second half. The dropped ball came close though” we can see that this discussion was
taking place at around 10pm, while people were also watching the Spain vs England match live on the TV. I think
from this dialogue we can see that a useful discussion can take place using Twitter, and that JISC are getting their
money’s worth from their investment in UKOLN and CETIS, with us (together with a number of others) being on
call on Wednesday evenings, even when we are in the pub watching England, once again being beaten!
But what of the discussion itself? Should projects be required to have blogs? I think the Twitter debate brought
out many of the important issues, but as Mark Power commented “twitter [is] not the best for such an in-depth
discussion really“. However I do think it is worth exploring these issues in more depth.
I would very much agree with Amber’s comment on the need for transparency for JISC-funded project work and,
as a couple of people commented, blogs can provide a simple lightweight way in which projects can make visible
what they are doing, what they are thinking and what they are planning – and feedback can be easily obtained
using blog comments.
However concerns were raised regarding the time and effort in may take to write blog posts, the associated
(writing) skills needed and the dangers of too much information being published. There are also the dangers that
blog posts will be written for their own sake, so that contractual requirements or expectations will be achieved to
little concrete benefit.
But surely skills in writing useful blog posts will only be gained through experience? And we should remember
that blog posts can be useful for a variety of purposes: not only should project managers find blog posts useful in
seeing how project work is progressing and seeing how the project is engaging with its user community but
benefits can be gained by other project partners (through open sharing) and by the intended user community.
There can also be a public record which might prove useful if project staff leave.
The benefits of syndication of blog posts, which allow the content to be easily viewed on various devices as well
as on a range of RSS readers should also be considered. And this is where filtering capabilities and other
visualisation tools (e.g. Wordle) may help programme managers and other interested parties to have access in
ways which are appropriate to their specific interests.
Having said that, I’d still avoid a formal contractual requirement for project blogging, preferring, instead, an
expectation that the benefits of open engagement with the key stakeholders and ease of use and reuse of the
content would be provided. I would hope then that the bidding process would see projects which fulfilled such
requirements would be funded. This approach, it should be noted, should also be future-proofed, allowing new
technologies (Podcasting, micro-blogging or whatever) to be included in the range of options.
So for me, project blogging would be a strong should rather than a must. But how do we ensure that blogs are
useful? We all have come across the good, informative and perhaps opinionated blog with a clear voice and a
passion which engages our interests – and this is no doubt something we would like to see more of. But how do
we get there? And what about the dangers that we’ll end up with bland team blogs? Are such blogs an inevitable
part of a learning process and better than no blog at all? Or are counter-productive?
What’s are your view of blogs to support project work?
Filed in Blog, Twitter | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (16)
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"Standards Are Like Sausages"
Friday, February 13th, 2009
“Standards are like sausages” suggested Charles McCathieNevile at the OzeWAI 2009 conference. “I like
sausages” he went on to say “but I’m not keen on exploring too closely how they’re made“.
This was a wonderful metaphor which appealed to several Twitterers at the conference, including scenariogirl and
A quick Google suggests the origin of this saying is “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being
made” by Otto von Bismarck (although this origin is disputed) with the Healthcare Standards blog applying it to
standards-making in a post on The Making of Standards and Sausages published in August 2008.
Paul Downey, an advocate of Web Architecture at BT and formerly BT’s Chief Web Services Architect, chair
of the W3C XML Schema Patterns for Databinding Working Group and BT representative at various
organisations including OASIS and the WS-I, may has some sympathy with this view judging by the title of his
talk at the QCon conference ”Standards are Great, but Standardisation is a Really Bad Idea“. The abstract for this
talk is worth quoiting in full:
Standards arise from consensus between competitors signaling maturity in a marketplace. A good standard
can ensure interoperability and assist portability, allowing the switching of suppliers. A widely adopted
standard can create new markets, and impose useful constraints which in turn foster good design and
innovation. Standards are great, and as the old joke goes, that’s why we have so many of them!
If standards represent peace, then formal standardisation can be war! Dark, political, expensive and
exclusive games played out between large vendors often behind closed doors. There are better ways to forge
consensus and build agreements and the notion of a committee taking often a number of years to writing a
specification, especially in the absence of implementation experience appears archaic in today’s world of
Agile methods, test driven development, open source, Wikis and other Web base collaborations.
This talk will draw upon Paul’s personal experiences forged in the wonderful world of XML and Web service
standardisation, examine the risks of premature standardisation, unnatural constraints, partial
implementations and open extensions, puzzle how to avoid cloud computing lock-in, and contrast formal
activities with lightweight open processes as exemplified by open source, Microformats, OpenID, OAuth and
other Web conventions being ratified through open, lightweight, continuous agreement.
Now I’ve heard it suggested that in order to avoid choosing the wrong standard, you simply need to look at the
worthiness of the organisation which produced the standard, perhaps on the assumption that a reputable standards-
making organisation is like an approve sausage-making company. But as Paul Downey suggests, and Keith Boone
seems to confirm in his post on the Healthcare blog, the unsavoury standardisation processes take place in an
organisation responsible for delivering globally-accepted standards such as HTML, CSS and XML.
Selecting the standards that will not only work as specified but will be widely accepted and supported in the
marketplace is not an easy task. And it is good to see that evidence of such concerns is now becoming more
Filed in standards | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (2)
What Can We Learn From The eduWeb Conference?
Thursday, February 12th, 2009
Background to IWMW
The Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series was launched in July 1997 and has been held
every year since, with the 3 day format being used since 1998. This event is aimed at members of institutional
Web management teams and has been attracting an audience of 150-200 for some time now.
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The eduWeb Conference
But what, I’ve wondered, is the equivalent in the US? I recently came across the eduWeb conference Web site,
which appears to be similar to IWMW. Reading the history of the eduWeb conference page I find that the original
conference started in 2000 although it previously had a different name and location. The event, which is privately
owned, was relaunched in 2005. I found it interesting to read about how it perceives its target audiences:
“The conference continues to focus on “both sides f the fence” (front end and back end) regarding a
• The “front end” includes marketing, communications, advancement, admissions – it includes any non-IT
office that now has a website and knows that part of its strategy is to communicate to internal and
• The “back end” includes information technology, database development, applications, instructional
design, mobile technology, RSS and more.
The core to having a conference like this was to bring these sides together…to learn from the other side, to
learn to talk each other’s language and hopefully bring a better working relationship among the personnel
that now create the Web.“
It was also interesting to view the call for papers, which has three strands: (1) Marketing Communications; (2)
Design & Development and (3) a Guest Track on Getting It Done!. An accompanying page provides suggestions
for possible topics. A draft timetable is also available which, although it doesn’t yet provide details of the
individual sessions, does show how the conference is themed into the three strands.
The IWMW event, like eduWeb, has sought to engage with the marketing, design and management communities
as well as those involvement in development work. And I have to admit that I find eduWeb’s terms ‘front end’
and ‘back end’ quite useful – although I’m unsure how those involved in RSS, XML and other TLA and XTLA
work will take to the ‘back end’ term. I wonder if developers in the UK, with the pantomime tradition which is
probably not significant in the US (”oh no it’s not”), would resent being relegated to the back end of the
Unlike eduWeb, plenary talks at IWMW are intended for all participants. We have wondered whether we should
provide streamed plenary talks, but feel that having a small number of plenary talks (ideally by charismatic
speakers, such as Ewan Mcinosh’s closing talk at IWMW 2008) can provide a unifying theme which we can all
talk about during the conference and afterwards. But is it time for a change?
As all twelve IWMW events have been organised by UKOLN with myself, initially and my colleague Marieke
Guy having responsibility for the events, we have been able to ensure continuity of access to the event Web sites.
This enables myself and Marieke to be able to review the content over the years and to spot trends and themes –
and as this Web site are publicly available, others can do the same. In the past few years we have also provided
RSS feeds for various data sources, which enables us to, for example, provide a Google Map of the locationof the
events and locations of the plenary speakers.
Trying to find out what had happened at previous eduWeb conferences has proved somewhat difficult. The best I
could find were the Google results for searches for “eduWeb 2008“, “eduWeb 2007“, etc. which typically take me
to individual blog posts about the event. I could find an official Web site or even a page which aggregates content
from blogs of the event.
In the bar at the recent dev8D event I did, however, learn that a number of developers from the UK repository
community had attended the eduWeb 2008 event. The developers, who attended several events in the US thanks
to funding from the JISC CRIG project, have provided a video in which Dave Flanders (who, despite his
American accent is based at Bloomsbury Colleges consortium and will shortly be starting work at the JISC)
describes how the University of Chicago winning web site could be made even more effective. As described in
the accompanying description of the video:
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The EduWeb Awards had the University of Chicago as the winning web site (CMS). It was acclaimed for its
minamalistic design, but we thought it could even take it a step further by utilising the Google minamalist
search approach. We also thought it might be worth looking into Google SiteMaps to provide a common way
of presenting University web sites to the user which could be optimised via the kinds of searches that took
place on the local search engine.Point being that better search facilities (analytics) should be put into the
institutional search engine so as to guarantee that the user is getting back what they want
It seems that valuable links have already been established with eduWeb. What other links could be made, I
wonder? And has anyone attended both the eduWeb and IWMW events? If so, it would be useful to hear about
the similarities, differences and things we can learn from each other.
Note that eduWeb 2009 will be held in Chicago on 20-23 July and IWMW 2009 in the University of Essex on the
following week (28-30 July). An enthusiastic University Web developer could therefore attend both!
Filed in Events | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (2)
Is The UK Government Being Too Strict?
Monday, February 9th, 2009
I recently noticed a blog post published on the home page of the WASP (Web Standards Project) Web site. The
blog post, UK government browser guidelines: good sense prevails by Bruce Lawson, Opera applauded the UK
Government for responding to pressure from the Web standards and Web development communities on its
guidelines aimed at providers of UK Government Web services. The document initially stated that
… webmasters need not test in less popular browsers (those with less than 2% in that site’s usage statistics)
and that there should be a page on the site listing the popular browsers which had been tested with the
message “We advise you to upgrade your browser version as far as your computer allows and if possible to
one of those listed above”.
Following over 400 emails made in response to a plea from Bruce, Adam Batenin, author of the document,
published a revised browser testing guidelines, and, according to Bruce “he’s done a great job of including best-
practice development.” I too welcome that change.
However the guidelines also state (paragraphs 21-23) that:
All (X)HTML content must validate with respect to your chosen DTD.
Now although I’d agree with Bruce in his comments on the ”importance of valid code” I feel that a formal
requirement that all (X)HTML content must validate with the appropriate DTD will be counter-productive.
We should recognise that the vast majority of HTML content does not comply with HTML standards – and it will
be difficult for one sector to deviate substantially from the norm. This situation is likely to be made worse as use
of embedded Web 2.0 technologies grows (e.g. YouTube videos of the Prime Minister embedded in UK
Government pages) as embedding these services typical causes HTML validation problems.
Now such problems are (primarily) the responsibility of the third party Web 2.0 providers. And here we should be
lobbying them to ensure that code to embed their content does not break HTML standards. But they might argue
that, as global services, they need to be very conservative in making changes to services which work, even if they
don’t necessarily comply to published HTML DTDs. The companies could argue that they are being user-
focussed in such considerations, as isn’t there some truth in this? I can recall one hard-line ’standardista’ who, on
being told that a (University-developed) service didn’t render correctly in Internet Explorer, was told that the user
should upgrade to a standards-compliant browser. And of course the university’s provided browser, was Internet
Explorer! Such indulgences may occur in the public sector, but a commercial company which behaved likewise
would soon find itself out of business.
As well as concerns that a formal requirement that UK Government Web pages must be fully HTML compliant
may mean that pages aren’t rendered by the (flawed) browsers which people use, there is also a danger that this
requirement will stifle developments and innovation in Government.
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HTML itself has, sadly, proven a difficult language to evolve over time. We are now in a position in which the
usability and accessibility benefits which sensible use of AJAX technologies can provide and being made
accessible to, for example, screen-reading software and assistive technologies through a standard known as ARIA.
However use of WAI-ARIA (to use its official name) will normally mean that strict HTML compliance will not
be possible. And when I’ve raised this issue with people involved in development of the standards and assistive
technologies the response I have consistently received is that accessibility benefits which can be provided shown
be prioritised over strict HTML. And this view has been endorsed in WCAG 2.0, which has dropped WCAG 1.0’s
formal requirement for HTML compliance, requiring, instead, that markup elemnts are currectly opened and
I would therefore suggest that the guidelines document should state that:
(X)HTML content should validate with respect to your chosen DTD.
After all, if the Web Standards Project Web site isn’t able to fully comply with the standards, should we expect
every government Web site to?
And let’s also remember that these requirements only apply to (X)HTML content. If these requirements are too
difficult to achive, won’t we see content being trapped in PDFs? You might, for example, like to think that the
Digital Britain – Interim Report would be available as a HTML resource, but no, it’s only available in PDF and
MS Word formats. But at least the such PDF documents won’t fail the government guidelines I’ve described.
Let’s not pretend that mandating conformance with HTMLK guideines will result in better HTML documents.
I’m convinced that it won’t – it will result in documents being provided in formats such as PDFs. And who
bothers checking that PDFs conform with PDF standards?
Filed in standards | | Permalink | Edit | Comments (5)
Web Accessibility Framework in 3 Words
Friday, February 6th, 2009
Since 2005 I, in conjunction with a number of other accessibility researchers and practitioners in the UK and
Australia, have sought to develop a framework for Web accessibility which addresses the shortcomings of the
WAI model (which suggests that universal accessibility will be provided by a combination of guidelines for Web
content, authoring tools and user agents).
This work began with a paper on “A Holistic Approach to E-Learning Accessibility” by myself, Lawrie Phipps
and Elaine Swift published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Research in 2005. Ten further papers weres
subsequently published which furter developed these ideas.
A fair amount of thinking and discussions have taken place in the past 5 years. However at the recent OzeWAI
2009 conference Lisa Harrod summarised our work in a Twitter post:
massive thanks and kudos to @briankelly for adding context & purpose to my accessibility methodology i.e.
Accessibility isn’t binary.
Yes, that’s a great summary: “Accessibility isn’t binary“. It’s not about following a set of rules to achieve
universal accessibility. It’s about shades of grey, differing interpretations, differing user requirements, differing
scenarios, etc. And the advocacy, the policies and the appropriate areas for standardisation all arise from those
Thanks to Lisa for spotting the key aspect – and for perhaps coming up with an appropriate title for my next talk
on this topic.
Filed in Accessibility | Tagged ozewai | Permalink | Edit |
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Twitter For JISC Bid Writers And Web Developers
Thursday, February 5th, 2009
Twitter and Bid Writers
On Tuesday (3rd February 2009) Grainne Conole send off a Twitter post:
just about to do presentation at OU on how t get JISC dosh – any tweet suggestions to throw into the pot???
In response she recei