UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for January 18th, 2007

Comment Spam Sent To This Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 January 2007

The WordPress.com com blogger service has an automated filter for spam sent to blog comments. I’ve looked at the records for the first time. Akismet has blocked 271 spam comments since the blog was set up (about 11 weeks ago). I’ve checked the records for the last 15 days (after this period, the spam comments are automatically deleted) and found only one legitimate comment which was treated as spam (which I’ve restored).

So thank you, Askimet – this is a very valuable tool. I guess such tools will be needed for all blogs with well-know APIs and which are open to comments. Note that the sofwtare can be installed on a range of blog applications, and there is a discount for education institutions (although it might be expensive for large numbers of blogs).

I don’t think I’ll have time to check through the records looking for legitimate comments, so I think the responsibility will be on anyone commenting, to ensure the posting gets through the spam filter – and to contact me if the comment doesn’t appear. (Note that if you give an email address, the comment should be posted straight away, whereas if you don’t include an email address, I’ll need to manually approve the submission).

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments »

What Can We Learn From Facebook?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 January 2007

Background

Before Christmas I received an email from someone wanting advice on social networking services to support a project. Initially I thought I was being asked for my opinions on blogging or wiki applications. However a phone call clarified the requirements, which was advice on the merits of different social networking services such as My Space and Facebook.

I had to confess that I have only limited experience of either of these environments. The question did make me reflect on who should provide such advice within an institution? If such services can be used to support the teaching and learning or research activities in an institution, shouldn’t there be some provision of advice and support? And even if such services are used for social purposes (which, of course, they are) why should that be a factor in ruling out a level of support? After all, email and the Web, in general, is used for social purposes.

Facebook

In light of these musing, I decided I would try out Facebook – and, fortunately, the University of Bath has subscribed to Facebook, with currently 8,685 subscribers from the institution. (Note that, unlike many similar social networks, the institution, rather than an individual, needs to subscribe to the service – and the authentication is based on one’s email address). And a particularly note-worthy feature of Facebook is the integration across networks – there are many examples of friends spanning across universities (possibly friends from school or friends met at inter-collegiate activities, for example).

Profile Page

My profile page is illustrated. This has details of my friends together with a record of the date on which were selected (this struck me as rather cheesy – 9 Jan: “Brian and Pete Cliff are now friends“. And has for the double entendres of “Brian pokes Pete“. Ugh.)

A potentially very useful feature of the Mini-feed page is the ability to import RSS feeds, from blogs, for example.

The two key aspects of Facebook appear to be the network of people (friends) and participation in groups. Facebook users can join existing groups or set up a new group. The list of areas covered by the groups shows that Facebook is focussing on social aspects (with the possible exceptions of Business and Internet & Technology, none of the groupings covers academic disciplines.

Facebook; We Hate BUCS

Exploring the Internet & Technology section for the Bath network I discovered one use the service provides is to provide a forum for disgruntled users, with one group entitled “We All Hate BUCS” (BUCS being the Bath University Computing Services).

How should departments respond to such criticisms? Clearly it is not possible (not even desirable) to ban such discussions. Rather, I would argue, support services (in particular) may wish to visit Facebook (if their institution has subscribed to the service) and explore what students are talking about.

I would also argue that if students are spending significant amount of time using Facebook, then it is in the institution’s interest to ensure that they are using the service effectively. Perhaps advising students on a course how the RSS feeds related to the course can be embedded in Facebook would be a sensible approach to take.

A Radical Suggestion

Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on Facebook. The article claims that in April 2006 it was claimed that Facebook was making over $1 million per week in advertising revenue. If this is the case, we might ask ourselves whether institutions should spend tax-payer’s money in seeking to develop social networking services as part of an e-learning environment. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to explore the possibilities of using services such as Facebook to support e-learning, rather than trying to compete with such a successful and profitable existing service?

Such a suggestion is slightly tongue-in-cheek (Facebook is lacking various features which would be desirable in a system used in a more formal learning context). But if students are making intensive use of Facebook, don’t we have to ask ourselves such questions?

Posted in Blog, Web2.0 | 7 Comments »

MyBlogLog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 January 2007

I recently added this blog to the MyBlogLog service. From my personalised MyBlogLog page I can access manage the information about my blog and subscribe to other blog services. I’ve subscribed to a number of blogs of interest to me (including Mashable and Read/Write Web).

MyBlogLog

Why have I done this? For several reasons:

  • To provide greater exposure to the contents of my blog.
  • To exploring the community aspect of such blog aggregation services.
  • To gain a better understanding of the ways in which blog content can be reused and the implications.

We used to think that information should be held in one location. The information could then be managed by the owner, ensuring, for example, that a consistent and approved look-and-feel was provided.

Many people, no doubt, still subscribe to this view. My preference, though, is that access to my information is maximised by allowing it to be reused in a variety of contexts. Some of these contexts may be very specialised; others, however, may be locations where there are many users who, potentially, may benefit from, serendipitously, finding my blog postings.

The statistics page for my MyWebLog account show that on 8th January, there were 59 views of the blog by 34 readers. This is 34 readers who would probably not have found the blog otherwise, so this has been a useful exercise.

Statistics from MyBlogLog service

MyWebLog does provide access to statistics, although the free version only gives me access to statistics for the last 7 days and the top 10 visited pages.

My main interest in the service, however, was how it could be used to support the development of a distributed blogging community. What I would like would be for a community blog which aggregated content from a variety of related blogs (e.g. blogs from JISC development projects; blogs from members of institutional Web management teams; blogs from museums; etc.) Obviously I could do this within my personal RSS aggregator – but that would (normally) be available just to me. In some RSS aggregators I could share my feeds (e.g. PageFlakes). However I’m not convinced that this provides the sense of community you get from MyBlogLog, which provides a view of people who have read postings recently. (I’m aware, though, that some people may find this intrusive and an invasion of privacy – so it should be possible to view postings anonymously). As an experiment in this community aspect of MyBlogLog I have switched on the MyBlogLog widget in my sidebar.

Is anyone aware of services which will satisfy my requirements? I’ve noticed that the OSS Watch’s planet OSS Watch provides an RSS aggregation service using the Planet open source software, which provides a’ river of news’ feed reader’. But this doesn’t address the community angle. I do need to ask whether this is likely to be a service which people would find useful. Perhaps we’ll only find out through use.

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »