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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?