UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for July, 2008

Popular IWMW 2008 Presentations

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 July 2008

We encouraged presenters and workshop facilitators at IWMW 2008 to make their slides available on Slideshare using the IWMW2008 tag. And I’m pleased to say that not only have a number of the slides have been uploaded, but that they getting large numbers of views.

The most watched slide is Ewan McIntosh’s Unleasing The Tribe closing keynote talk. However the figures are somewhat misleading, as the slides were uploaded a month ago, after Ewan gave a similar talk at a conference in Ireland. Discounting this the most popular slides and from the workshop session on “Mind Mapping for Effective Content Management” given by Gareth Saunders and Stephen Evans (University of St Andrews) following by Michael Nolan’s slides on “Stuff What we’re doing at Edge Hill University“.

I am pleased that the resources which were delivered to about 20-30 people at each of the two sessions I’ve mentioned have been shared with, and used by, a much larger community. Let’s do more of this, I say.

And if you are wondering why Gareth and Stephen’s slides are so popular, why now view them for yourself, or read Gareth’s blog post about his session.

Posted in iwmw2008 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Use of Twitter to Support IWMW Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 July 2008

Twitter has been used at a number of events recently, often as a discussion channel for participants and, on occasions when a live video stream is available, as a channel to facilitate discussions and questions with remote participants.

However there are potential problems with use of Twitter in this way. If, for example, only a small number of one’s Twitter followers are at the event (or interested in the event) the tweets can be annoying – as I found when I used Twitter to comment on a conference I was attending in Taiwan back in April.

There are other micro-blogging tools which may be better suited for use at events, which I’ll comment on in a forthcoming post. In this post I’d like to comment on the approach taken to use of Twitter to support the recent IWMW 2008 event.

For this event an ‘official’ IWMW Twitter account was set up. This was intended to provide a channel for the event organisers to deliver messages to participants who chose to follow the IWMW Twitter account.  A particular benefit of use of Twitter is that you can configure your Twitter account so that posted from selected Twitter accounts can be delivered as SMS text messages to your mobile phone free-of-charge.

The need for a communications channel for event organisers first occurred to me several years ago, when travel was being disrupted by floods. I asked participants at an event I was attended if they would be willing to give details of their mobile phone number to an organiser of an event, for use in emergencies.  The majority indicated that they would be happy with this and we became aware of the need to have the mobile phone numbers of speakers at our events when a bus failed to turn up to take delegates (including one of the speakers) to the lecture theatre at IWMW 2004.

So we updated our IWMW booking form back in 2005 in order to record mobile phone numbers.  The event organisers had this data available on a spreadsheet, but this could only be used to contact individuals – we didn’t have the backend processes to send bulk text messages to the delegates, and we were not keen on spending additional time and effort on evaluating and deploying software to allow us to do this. But as the middle day of the IWMW 2006 event took place on the 7/7 (the day of the London bombings) we felt this was something we would need to explore at some point.

After gaining experience in use of Twitter over the past year it struck me that this might provide a communications channel between the IWMW event organisers and the participants. And as the participants simply need to sign up for a free Twitter account and can then choose to have posts delivered to their mobile phone it avoids the need for us to store and manage the mobile phone numbers and to establish a service for sending text messages.  Perhaps best of all, the users are in control of whether or not they wish to receive text messages.

Twitter was used to send a small number of posts.  One of these was sent (automatically, using the Easy Tweets service which can be used to schedule posts) at 12.30, at the start of the event, reminding people to send their mobile phones to silent mode.

And we did have one example which demonstrated the potential benefits of this service – I was handed a set of keys belonging to one of the delegates. I sent a message out on Twitter and within a few minutes someone came up to me telling me that he had misplaced his keys. A great example of the benefits of Twitter? Well, not quite, as he wasn’t using Twitter and he came to see me as I was one of the conference organisers :-)

It should also be noted that if Twitter followers sent a message to the IWMW account this could also be delivered to a mobile phone, thus providing a 2-way SMS communications link, without the need to divulge a mobile phone number to conference delegates or organisers – the trusted party, in this case, is Twitter.

Twitter, it seems to me, has great potential in the support of events. Prior to encouraging its use we created a page describing Twitter and how it could be used.  I guess one issue we will need to address is what would happen if Twitter was unavailable during an event? This has been happening a lot recently, and some may argue that you shouldn’t rely on third party services which have proven reliability problems. I don’t agree with this – I regard this use of Twitter as a value-added service and if Twitter is not available we will use the communication channels we used previously. But what do you think?

Posted in iwmw2008, Twitter, Web2.0 | 8 Comments »

Social Networks Can Be Just For Christmas

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 July 2008

Due to one of the speaker’s not being able to attend, we had to find, at the last moment, a couple of speakers to take part in the opening session at IWMW 2008. I was pleased that Claire Gibbons, University of Bradford and Mike Ellis, Eduserv, were able to provide brief presentations which helped to engage with the IWMW 2008 theme of The Great Debate.

I videoed Claire’s talk, in which she described why the University of Bradford had set up a social network using Ning. I have previously commented on institutional use of Ning, including Bradford’s service, but it was good to hear why this social network was established (to support newly arrived students) and how it is envisaged that the social network is expected to have an impact only during the first term of the new academic year. Such social networks, according to Claire, don’t always have to have long term sustainability – and maybe a social network can be for just until Christmas.

Please note that this video is available on YouTube (and further details of Claire’s talk are available on the IWMW 2008 Web site).

Posted in iwmw2008, Social Networking | 3 Comments »

IWMW 2008 Innovation Competition

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 July 2008

The Innovation Competition held at this year’s IWMW 2008 event probably differentiates itself from other mashup events, hackfests, etc. in welcoming not only examples of technical innovations, but also submissions which do not require technical expertise. So it was pleasing that the most popular submission was the IWMW theme song, performed by Debbie Nicholson (University of Essex), Claire Gibbons (University of Bradford), Miles Banbery (University of Kent) and David White (Sheffield Hallam University), which received 117 votes on the electronic voting system (and is available on YouTube).

However although this submission (entitled A collaborative cross-institutional user-generated interactive mashup thing) may have been a clear crowd-pleaser a number of the more technical submissions could have more significant impact on the sector.

The Live Train Departures info submission by Dawn Petherick, University of Birmingham gathered 92 votes for, I think, two main reasons: it is user-focussed (we all have an interest in knowing when the trains we are planning to catch will arrive) and Debbie stated that the code used to develop this service can be freely used by others. I am sure, incidentally, that Debbie’s comment that it was her birthday did not influence the voting :-) An image of the interface within the University of Birmingham portal is shown. You can also view the full portal page, a more complete view of train information, and a diagram of the technical architecture of the service.

The first submission to the contest, Mashing Points of Interest for your Institutionreceived 87 votes. This submission, by David Mackland, University of Abertay display points of interest on a Google map without the need for any HTML or coding knowledge and allows the management of multiple maps for various audiences from a single source. This submission was popular with Mike McConnell, one of the local organisers for IWMW 2008, as he had used the service to support the IWMW 2008 event – a clear example of a mashup service developed for the use of one institution which provided a valuable service to another.

Tony Hirst’s submission: Steps towards a media release tracking/effectiveness dashboard widget received 84 votes. As Tony has described in his blog post, this application uses Yahoo Pipes and the Yahoo Search term extractor to explore the impact of institutional press releases, with a visualisation of the output being provided using a Dipty timeline. And in response to a question from Paul Walk, this demonstrator only took about a couple of hours to produce (the additional time taken in cleaning the data and learning the tools traditional doesn’t count in a developer’s man month :-)

Finally I should mention Mike Ellis’s StudentViews submission which received 72 votes. The Studentviews application is based on the premise that students (in fact most users) aren’t likely to be particularly interested in “the corporate, preened and sanitised view of an HE institution. Instead, peer viewpoints, reviews, alumni pictures, video and Facebook comments are likely to be the first port of call for most freshers when considering which HE institution to apply for.” The StudentViews application aimed to mash HE data with Flickr pictures of the institution and surrounding area within a quick, intuitive interface. Because the build involves the gathering of institution data which should be freely and easily available to all, this data will also be exposed via a simple Web API. However Mike’s plans were thwarted by the University of Aberdeen firewall which restricted access to devices on the WiFi network. But Mike did successfully build a very simple “API” which lets you query institution name (see example) with queryable RSS output. In addition Mike also produced a KML file of locations of UK HEIs (for use with the Google Earth application), a simple IM (Instant messaging) application for accessing institutional information and finally a Google Custom Search Engine which spiders all 190 UK HE sites.

Posted in iwmw2008 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Would You Like To Contribute To A Paper On Library 2.0?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 July 2008

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been invited to present a paper at the “Bridging Worlds 2008” conference, to be held in Singapore on 16-17th October 2008. I’ll be writing the paper over the next 6 weeks and have started thinking about the structure and things I want to say. But having recently heard Cameron Neylon give a talk on “Science in the You Tube Age” at IWMW 2008 I am reflecting on his summary of various open approaches which are being taken by scientific researches, which included a description of an open process for pulling together and submitting a bid to a funding body.

Could this approach be used for my paper, I wonder?  The title of the paper, which is a slight rewording of the topic I was invited to talk about, is “Library 2.0: Reaping the Scholarly and Cultural Heritage Dividends“. The paper will cover the benefits of Web 2.0 in a Library context, but will also address the possible risks and outline approaches for addressing such risks and ensuring that organisations maximise the potential benefits of Web 2.0 technologies and approaches.

Would you be interested in contributing ideas to the paper, or perhaps being a co-author? I appreciate there will be issues to clarify, such as IPR, but I would like to further explore the approaches to openness which Cemeron described. If you are interested either add your name, interests and contact details on the Google docs page, send me an email or add a comment to this blog post.

Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Ewan Mcintosh’s Talk At IWMW 2008

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 July 2008

I’ve now back at work after a very tiring (not helped by train delays from Birmingham airport last night) but also very enjoyable IWMW 2008 event at the University of Aberdeen.

Myself and my fellow co-chair of IWMW 2008 read though the evaluation forms for the event on the plane last night.  We agree with the overwhelming positive comments which were made for Ewan Mcintosh’s plenary talk which closed this year’s event.  For those who weren’t at the event or had to leave early, a version of the talk Ewan gave at a conference in May 2008 is available on Slideshare, and is embedded (with audio commentary) below.

We will see if we can get a video of Ewan’s (longer) talk given at IWMW 2008, which will be embedded in the IWMW 2008 Web site.  [Note a streaming version of the talk is now available - added on 26 July 2008.]

I will be writing further posts about the IWMW 2008 event, but I felt it would be worth giving a speedy comments on Ewan’s talk as those who were stimulated by his talk may wish to sow their appreciating by voting for his blog in the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2008 . And note that as Ewan’s blog has been shortlisted in the Public sector IT blogs category, the UK Web Focus blog, which has been shortlisted for the Web 2.0 and business blogs category, is (fortunately) not a competitor to me :-)   But hurry – as the deadline for votes in 31 July 2008.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Slideshare? Why Don’t We Video Our Talks?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 July 2008

My RSS reader (Feedreader) recently delivered to me a post on the eFoundations blog in which Pete Johnston mentioned that a “nice overview of RDFa and its potential applications, mostly here looking at Javascript client-side stuff” was available as an hour-long video clip on YouTube.

Video of a talk on RDFa

The video was, I believe, of a researcher who was giving a talk at a conference. He had a message he wished to communicate (of the value of RDFa) and, as he wished to maximise the impact of his message, was apparently willing for a video of his talk to be taken and subsequently made freely available.

In a recent post I described how Slideshare can help to maximise the impact of a researcher’s ideas, and Andy Powell has described how Slideshare was helping him to reach a large audience for one of his recent talks on Web 2.0 and repositories. Andy suggested that recording an audio commentary to accompany the slides would be even better, but acknowledged that he probably didn’t have the time to do this.

But seeing the above video clip, makes me wonder whether we should be encouraging videoing of talks, rather than the audio. And rather than attempting to do this for oneself or expecting the organiser of an event to provide a videoing service, perhaps all that’s needed is a colleague in the audience with a lightweight video device. And a blog post from Matt Jukes alerted me recently to the Flip F260N-UK Video Ultra Series Digital Camcorder, available from Amazon for about £100.

The approach I’d like to take the next time I give a talk (or if I find a speaker who’d be willing to be recorded) would be for the friendly face in the audience to video the talk, and also to have a laptop with the slides with a screen recording application (such as Camtasia or Jing) running. The video can record the speaker (which would be advanced by the helper) and the audio, which would then be in sync with the slides.

Of course the speaker would need to agree to this (and I feel should have the option to veto subsequent reuse of the recording if things go wrong). But as we found at last year’s IWMW 2007 event, many plenary speakers are happy for their talks to be recorded. And providing access to both an audio commentary of he slides and a video of the speaker might provide a richer experience for the audience. Or is this just using the technologies for their own sake?

Posted in Web2.0 | 6 Comments »

International study of the use of Web 2.0 technologies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 July 2008

I’m involved in a short-term international study of the use of Web 2.0 technologies in teaching, learning, support and administration.  This study is collecting evidence, in the form of case studies, of the use of Web 2.0 in higher education in the UK, Australia, USA, South Africa and the Netherlands. This study, which is being coordinated by Tom Franklin, will be informed by an online questionnaire which is now available.

If you have been using Web 2.0 in these areas I would be very grateful if you would complete the survey. It should take around 20 – 30 minutes to complete the survey.  If you leave your email address you will be sent the draft report for comment and final report.

Posted in Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 July 2008

JISC and Innovation

I recently attended the JISC Innovation Forum 2008, held at the University of Keele on 15-16thJuly 2008. Several blog posts about the event have already been published includes one’s by Paul Walk, Owen Stephens and Chris Rusbridge.  Rather than repeating such reports, I feel it is appropriate to mention Sarah Porter’s introduction to the event. Sarah, Head of Innovation Group at the JISC, described what JISC meant by ‘innovation’. She provided a description of the term which she obtained from Wikipedia (dated 17 July 2008):

Innovation is typically understood as the successful introduction of something new and useful, for example introducing new methods, techniques, or practices or new or altered products and services.

The emphasis which JISC is placing on innovation clearly reflects developments to the UK Government’s policy initiatives in this area, in particular the establishment of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, DIUS.

MLA and Innovation

Elspeth Hyams’ editorial in the CILIP Update magazine (June 2008, Vol. 7, No. 6) has the byline “In This Climate, You Have To Innovate“.  As Elspeth describes, the need to innovate applies equally to the information sector: “The age of the quiescent library or information manager or service is dead“. The editorial goes on to describe the MLA’s action plan for public libraries and reports on the MLA’s Chief Executive, Roy Clare, calls for “radical action on structure, far-sighted leadership vision and more public Private Partnerships“. The editorial concludes with the warning that “It’s not just a challenge for the academic schools, but for all of us” but also suggests that “we should use tough times as a golden opportunity to focus on the strategy – and upgrade and refresh our skills“.

UKOLN and Innovation

As UKOLN is funded by both the JISC (we are a JISC Innovation Centre) and the MLA, there is a need for us to respond to these clearly-stated policy directions.  So I’m pleased to report that we helped to provide staff in museums, libraries and archives in the London region with an opportunity to “upgrade and refresh [their] skills” with the most recent  Web 2.0 and Social Networks workshop aimed at the cultural heritage sector. And next week we’ll be running the twelfth of the annual Institutional Web Management Workshops (IWMW 2008),  in which we will be providing further examples of innovation which we hope will be both new and useful for members of the higher and further education communities including our explorations of use of Twitter by event organisers,  use of video blogging, a live video stream of the plenary talks, the establishment of a Ning social network for the event and the innovation competition

Regular readers will be aware that such technologies have been discussed for some time now. But their use at events and within institutions is still, I feel, fairly unusual and so can be regarded as new. Whether they will be regarded as useful can only be judged by trying things out and receiving feedback.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Institutional Use of Ning

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 July 2008

A post by Lorcan Dempsey cited Tony’s Hirst’s comments on use of the Ning social network at the University of Wales, Newport and the University of Bradford.

Michael Webb, Head of IT and Media Services at the University of Wales, Newport was responsible for helping to establish one of the first institutional strategy embracing use of Web 2.0 in the UK, as he described in a talk on “Developing a Web 2.0 Strategy” which he gave at the IWMW 2006 event (a video of his talk is also available).

AJ Cann responded to Tony Hist’s post by saying:

AARRRGHHH! Bad idea! These sites are just ghettos waiting to happen. Do they think that students joining the institution don’t already use social networks? Do they think they can compete with MySpace/Facebook?

He could be right – but we won’t know unless we start to gather evidence on the ways in which social networks may be in higher education.

And I have to say that I’m impressed with the approaches which are being taken at Newport. As Michael describes on his blog they first identified the purposes for the service (“The brief was to create a social place for students coming to the University to meet online before they join the University, and to be able to contact the student mentors“), they considered the legal implications of Ning’s terms and conditions (“we retain ownership of content. Hosting locating is ambiguous, but is the data isn’t that precious.“) and were willing to ‘address the constraints’ provided by the service (the use of adverts, the costs for additional storage space, the lack of single sign-on and the loss of institutional branding in the site’s URL).

In return Newport have gained an opportunity to evaluate the potential of a social networking environment for new students at little cost to the institution:

If we had created the site ourselves it would have taken months. If we had bought in software it would have still taken weeks. This took days. And no worrying about upgrades, downtime etc. What have we lost? We can’t control the development of the service – our users probably don’t understand this, and have already started suggesting functionality improvements.

I welcome this development – and I am particularly pleased that Michael is being so open in describing the reasons for this decision, the possible risks and how the institution has responded to the risks.

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

Using Searchcube

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 July 2008

One of the unexpected benefits of having a blog was to find that, via the incoming links to my blog posts, I would be alerted to developments likely to be of interest to me – after all, if a blogger has linked to one of my blog posts, I’m likely to find what they are writing about of interest.

It was via a referrer link from the Dougmuse blog that I spotted a post entitled “Bored with your search engine? Try searchcube“. I’ve previously described the SearchMe Visual Service which provides a 3D gallery style display of search results, so I was likely to be interested in how search results can be displayed on a 3D cube. This service is provided by Searchcube which “is a graphical search engine that presents search results in a compact, visual format“. It “uses the Google AJAX Search API. It displays the first thirty-two (32) results for each of websites, videos and images“. It requires support for JavaScript and Flash version 9 or above.

I’ve experimented with the service for a search for ‘iwmw’. The interface is illustrated below (although to get a better idea of how this service works you need to try it – it’s fun, for example, to see how the images on the cube are assembled).

Searchcube results for a search of \'iwmw\'

But is this ‘presentational fluff’? After an initial exploration of the interface, is this likely to be the type of search interface that people who be likely to use?   And even if it does have a role to play, what are the limitations of this service?

As I suggest in my post on the SearchMe service, although I personally would be unlikely to use a 3D style interface for general search queries, I could see a role for this type of interface in other contexts. If, for example, I wished to get a feel for the first page of Google results for a particular search term, this might be useful (and remember that most users are likely to only look at the first page of search results). And perhaps this type of 3D interface may provide accessibility benefits to users who find it difficult to make use of textual interfaces to search.

But even as a possible interface for niche applications there are some limitations to this tool. The service requires use of Flash and even though Flash support is available for many browsers SearchCube does not provide a URI for the searches – and even the help page doesn’t have a URI associated with it. But are these insurmountable barriers?

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Nudge: Improving Decisions About RSS Usage

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 July 2008

The ‘Nudge’ Phenomenum

Saturday’s Guardian has an article on ‘Nudge’, an idea developed by US economist Richard Thaler and other behavioural economists who “want to highlight the best option, while still leaving all the bad ones open“. This approach can be applied to social and economic areas such as healthy eating and pension schemes, but rather than the state mandating solutions which aim to bring about positive benefits to society or to individuals, people are made aware of the benefits of the preferred option, but are left free to make their own decisions. An example of this approach which David Cameron is exploring in the Conservative party return to power is a proposal that electricity bills should contain details of whether you are using more or less energy than other households in the area.  This subtle use of peer pressure is felt to encourage households to use energy more efficiently.

WebWatch Surveys

This has similarities with approach I’ve taken over the past ten years or so. A project called “WebWatch” ran a number of automated benchmarking surveys across a number of Web communities in 1998-9. After the funding had ceased the approach continued for a number of years, providing, for example, documented evidence of conformance with WCAG guidelines for institutional home pages based on use of an automated checking tool.  The approach was not intended to act as a league table, but to observe patterns across the community, identify and learn from best practices and also to discuss the limitations of the survey methodology (in this case it led me to a much better understanding of the flaws in the WAI model for addressing accessibility issues).

Survey of RSS Usage on Scottish University Home Pages

With the forthcoming IWMW 2008 taking place in the University of Aberdeen on 22-24thJuly 2008 it is timely to revisit the WebWatch approach across the Scottish higher educational sector, this time to monitor takeup of RSS which are embedded on institutional home pages.

The approach taken has been to visit Scottish institutes of higher education (based on the table provided on the Scottish Web Folk blog) using the FireFox browser. The RSS Panel extension will detect any embedded links to RSS files and the numbers of RSS links recorded.

The Findings

The findings are given in the following table.

Institution No. of RSS Feeds Thumbnail Comments RSS Feed
1 University of Aberdeen 0 University of Aberdeen No autodetect, but manual link to RSS news feed on home page Events feed
2 University of Abertay 0 University of Abertay No autodetect, but manual link to RSS news feed on home page News feed
3 Bell College 0 Bell College
4 University of Dundee 0 University of Dundee
5 University of Edinburgh 0 University of Edinburgh
6 Edinburgh College of Art 0 Edinburgh College of Art
7 University of Glasgow 2 University of Glasgow Two comprehensive news feeds, one of current news and one of an archive of news items dating back to October 2007 News -
University in the news
8 Glasgow Caledonian University 0 Glasgow Caledonian University
8 Heriot-Watt University 0 Heriot-Watt University Manual link to RSS page, containing links to two RSS feeds, together with help information News -
Events
9 Napier University 0 Napier University
(Thumbnail not available)
10 University of the West of Scotland 0 University of the West of Scotland
11 Queen Margaret University College 0 Queen Margaret University College
12 Robert Gordon University 2 Robert Gordon University Two RSS feeds, one of current news and one of events News -
Events
13 Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama 0
14 Scottish Agricultural College 6 Scottish Agricultural College Seven RSS feeds on news and events, farm diversification, crop issues this week, research funding bids (internal use only), student recruitment news, undergraduate and postgraduate courses and training courses News and events -
Crop issues this week -
Farm diversification -
Research funding bids (internal only) -
Student recruitment news -
Undergraduate and postgraduate courses -
Training courses
15 University of St. Andrews 2 University of St. Andrews Two RSS feeds, one of current news and one of events News -
Events
16 University of Stirling 0 University of St. Andrews
17 University of Strathclyde 1 University of Strathclyde RSS feed of press releases Press releases
18 UHI Millennium Institute 0 UHI Millennium Institute
19 University of the West of Scotland 0 University of the West of Scotland

Discussion

It is perhaps disappointing to find that several Scottish institutions do not appear to be providing RSS feeds which can be found from the home page. A number of them do provide a feed, which is displayed using one of the conventional orange RSS icons to indicate its role, but do not provide an autodetect mechanism, which can enable software to process the RSS file in some way.  An example of how the Internet Explorer browser provides access to RSS feeds which have been autodetected is shown below.

The mechanism for providing such auto-detection is use of a single <meta> tag for each RSS feed. In the case of Robert Gordon University they used the following:

<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” href=”http://www.rgu.ac.uk/common/xml/rssfeed.cfm” title=”RGU News RSS Feed”>
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” href=”http://www.rgu.ac.uk/common/xml/rsseventfeed.cfm” title=”RGU Events RSS Feed”>

Why, I wonder, aren’t all the institutions which have an RSS feed doing likewise? After all this approach can not only benefit end users, it also allows other automated tools, such as indexing robots, to find the feeds – and I suspect most institutions will want their news feeds and details of their events to be found.

Perhaps the reason for not doing this is a lack of awareness – in which case I hope that this post has addressed that issue. But it may be that changes to the content of the home page have to be approved by a committee – and suggestions for “inclusion of an autodetect link for RSS feeds” might be regarded as technobabble.  In which case show them the business benefits and show how other institutions are using this.

My final comment on the findings of this survey is to note how the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) have included links to seven RSS feeds, including not only the conventional lists of news and events but also various other feeds for content which is directly related to their agricultural interests.  Here SAC is making use of RSS as a syndication service in addition to an alerting service.

An image showing how these feeds can be displayed using the RSS Panel tool in FireFox.  I should hasten to add that on arriving at a page which has autodetectable RSS feeds the panel is displayed as a small transparent floating window – you need to open up the window in order to display the feeds as shown.

How usable this particular tool may be for processing more than one or two feeds may be open to question – I tend to just have one or two RSS feeds on my various Web sites, and have a dedicated RSS page which provides access to a full range of feeds. But I do think that the approach taken by the Scottish Agricultural College, of providing a number of structured resources (using RSS) is one to be welcomed. And I wonder why the Scottish Agricultural College seems to be ahead of the game. The talk I gave on Web 2.0: The Potential Of RSS and Location Based Services in Edinburgh in September 2006 didn’t have anything to do with this, did it?

Acknowledgment

The thumbnails of the institutional home pages were created by the Thumbshots thumbnails service.

Posted in Evidence, rss | 8 Comments »

Web Accessibility and Information Literacy Books

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 July 2008

Web Accessibility book coverInformaton Literacy Meets Library 2.0  book coverI’m pleased to report that two books which I’ve contributed to have been published this year. I’ve previously mentioned Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0, by Peter Godwin and Jo Parker (published by Facet Publishing and also available from Amazon). In addition Web Accessibility: Practical Advice for the Library and Information Professional by Jenny Craven, which is also published by Facet Publishing and available from Amazon, also contains a chapter by me.

My contributions to these two publications reflect various posts I’m published in this blog – a chapter which introduces Web 2.0 technologies is given in the Information Literacy book (this book, incidentally has been reviewed on the Joeyanne Libraryanne blog) and a description of the limitations of WAI’s approach to Web accessibility with a description of the holistic approach to Web accessibility concludes the Web Accessibility book. So rather than revisiting these topics, let me give some thoughts on the statistics on the sales of these book available on the Amazon Web site.

The ranking for Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0 on 10 July 2008 is:

Amazon.co.uk Sales Rank: 405,869 in Books

and for Web Accessibility: Practical Advice for the Library and Information Professional on the same date:

Amazon.co.uk Sales Rank: 370,249 in Books

My colleague Emma Tonkin brought to my attention an article on Inside the Amazon Sales Rank. This in turn links to another article on page on Amazon Sales Rank For Books which contains a couple of embedded YouTube videos which expand on the discussions. It seems that the Amazon sales ranks reflect the following numbers of sales:

Ranking Sales per day
1 3,000
10 650
100 100
1,000 13
10,000 2.2 (11 copies every 5 days)
100,000 0.2 (1 copy every 5 days)

This table has been produced by publishers who correlated their sales figures with the Amazon ranking figures. But it occurs to me that with Amazon publishing these figures in a consistent fashion on their Web site it should be possible to automate the harvesting of such data, and perhaps carry out trend analyses. And for scholarly publications available from Amazon might an institution find it valuable to aggregate data for books published by staff from the institution? Or maybe it will just be the individual authors who would like to receive an alert when their publication rises up the Amazon ranking table?

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Fragmentation, Ghettoisation and Polarisation or Diversification?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 July 2008

In response to my recent post on “The Open University’s Portfolio Of Web 2.0 Services” Stuart Smith described howIt’s really interesting how polarising the lowcost, easy development web 2.0 stuff is becoming“.

Stuart went on to comment that “Another problem I can forsee is ghettoisation. I am thinking about those who don’t have access to the technology, or don’t want to communicate this way, or can’t e.g. because of disability.” in response to a more recent post on “Experiments With Seesmic”.

Is this really the case? Are the Web 2.0 services I’ve been posting about responsible for fragmenting discussions within small ghettoised communities, resulting in polarised opinions across the community?

Is the answer to this ‘yes’? And, if so, is this answer to be welcomed?

Rather than regarding the developments as ghettoising communities, I would argue that we are seeing a diversification which allows communities to make use of technologies at their own rate. And this is to be welcomed over the McDonaldisation of the digital environment in which we all use the same software, either at an institutional, regional or international level.

But we shouldn’t gloss over the issues which Stuart rightly raises.

Fragmentation of discussions and content is happening. But this is nothing new – fragmentation happened back in the early 1990s, when there were tensions between those who were continuing to provide, use and promote their in-house Campus Wide Information Systems (remember CWISs?), Gopher services and Web services. It was only over time that the market leader was identified and became accepted. And even then the institutional Web service was regarded initially as a tool for the marketing department – it took another couple of years before the Web became accepted as a legitimate mechanism for the support of teaching and learning.

The thing that is new within the Web 2.0 context is that the fragmentation of discussions and content across the diverse range of Web 2.0 services can be aggregated. In part this is happening by the marketplace responding to the need for aggregation services, with tools such as Friendfeed allowing content to be aggregated from RSS feeds of blog posts, del.icio.us bookmarks, Flickr photo, Twitter tweets, etc.

And as well as the technical developments social services, such as Twitter, are allowing communities to share expertise, knowledge and links. For me Twitter is becoming my personalised agent, by which useful information can be quickly gathered by a group of context-aware agents (my Twitter followers) respond to my requests – and I respond by doing likewise.

In his response to my blog post Stuart went on to point out that “I can think of a number of people who don’t want to be on Facebook, for example, but are feeling increasingly left out“. Here, I feel, is where we need to ensure that when use of made of social networking tools for work or formal study purposes, the social networks are used as one of several ways of accessing the resources. A blog post I wrote back in July 2007 on MyNewport – MyLearning Essentials for Facebook provided an example of this approach. As described by Mchael Webb:

MyLearning Essentials is the VLE/portal used by our staff and student, including course material, news, blogs, forums, library access etc. MyNewport is a Facebook application that allows students to access to MyLearning Essentials resources from Facebook.

In this example staff and student can choose whether to use the managed in-house MyLearning Essentials or the MyNewport Facebook application to access the same resources. What is needed are institutional policies which ensure that students aren’t required to use social networking services such as Facebook in order to access required resources, coupled with new media literacy strategies which will ensure that users of such services are aware of the potential downsides (the privacy issues, for example) and are aware of how such issues can be managed (i.e. knowledge of how to change privacy settings).

I also feel that supporting a diversity of services which the end user may prefer to use can also address the accessibility challenges. If a user is uncomfortable with a text-based interface to communication tools, perhaps a video interface might provide a alternative which the user will prefer. So rather than forcing everyone to use the same interface (“we will only deal with email”) the organisation may wish to provide a range of channels. This approach can also enhance accessibility by regarding the user not as a disabled user but as a user with a particular set of preferences. The challenge, then, is to ensure that an appropriate level of response is provided to the various channels. Let’s say yes to the diversification – but let’s also ensure that we address the management and support challenges, as well, of course, the sustainability of the services (which has been discussed in a number of other posts on this blog).

Posted in Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

“How the Google generation thinks differently”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 July 2008

I was pleased to receive an email message this morning from Gill Smith, the Communications Officer here at the University of Bath. Gill’s ‘finely-tuned antenna‘ (a daily Google alert for news articles on “University of Bath” OR “Bath University” had alerted her to an article published on today’s Times (as an aside I should say how pleased I am that staff in our Corporate Communications department seem to be routinely making use of RSS).

Although I disagree with the title of the article – “How the Google generation thinks differently” – I am pleased with the second part of the byline: “Digital-age kids process information differently from parents. Our writer admits misjudging how her son was learning“.

The article describes the background to the story, which was published in the Women’s section (I mention this to make clarify that the article aims to give the perspective of a concerned parent rather than a scholarly article). In brief, the mother of a 15 year old boy is concerned that her son is spending a lot of time on the Internet, partly listening to music and chatting to friends and also doing his homework. As a journalist she spotted the opportunity for an article, which was based on reading the literature and talking to a number of experts in the field.

In our telephone interview I argued that (a) teenagers doing new things that parents didn’t really understand is nothing new and (b) the way teenagers use Google is not very different from how the parents do – whether we’re professional in academia or in the press. And, indeed, Catherine admits in her article:

Google has been my godsend as a writer. Research that once required hours of trawling through reports and cuttings, and days of fielding calls to source experts, can be done in a few clicks of a mouse.

It seems that my advice that she should encourage her son to make use of the Internet, but to ensure that she advises him on best practices has been taken:

I recovered quickly enough from my hissy fit and returned my son’s laptop the next evening. The proof of the pudding would be in his results, I decided, and now that they have come in, I have to concede that the social networking/internet surfing/revision combo threw up no surprises. From the pleasing to the mediocre, his grades were predictable.

I’m pleased that the 15 minute phone interview had such a positive impact in the O’Brien household. And it’s even more pleasing that this may be read by the hundreds of thousands of readers of The Times :-)

Footnote

After I published this post I bought a hard copy of The Times and found that the article (page 10 in the Times2 section) had the title “Why I confiscated my son’s computer (then gave it back)“: a much more appropriate title, in my view, although the same byline is used.

Posted in Web2.0 | 12 Comments »

Dipity Timeline Of IWMW Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 July 2008

For the Innovation Competition at the IWMW 2007 event I created a timeline of IWMW events using MIT’s SImile software. This software is being used to drive a number of timeline displays, such as the example created by Frankie Roberto at the recent Mashed Museum 08 event.

The Simile software is not, however, all that easy for a non-developer to use. So I was pleased to recently come across the Web-based Dipity service for creating and visualising timelines. I used this to create a timeline of IWMW events, which  can be accessed on the Dipity Web site. It has also been embedded on the UKOLN Web site. An image of the interface is shown below.

Timeline for IWMW 2008 events

In addition to providing a timeline of the annual event from 1997-2008 I also included photos from Flickr which had been tagged with ‘iwmw2008′. And as the service allows not only uploads from various popular Web 2.0 services (Flickr, YouTube, etc.) but also from any RSS feed I realised that I could also add the news feed for IWMW 2008 and details of the plenary talks, which is also available as an RSS file.

The timeline of the IWMW 2008 News provides a visual display of the public announcements such as when the Web site was set up, the call for speakers announced, the event opened for bookings, etc. The display of the timetable for the plenary talks can provide a similar overview – but in this case the times are not necessarily accurate, due to the complexities of time zones (I haven’t yet established whether this is a limitation of the Dipity service or the data I use).

More importantly, though, is the danger of data lock-in when using a service such as this, together with the question of the sustainability of the Dipity company -especially as a Crunchbase article on Dipity fails to provide any evidence of investment in the company.

The approach I have taken is to steer clear of making significant use of the data entry form for the service – and initially I thought that it wasn’t possible to export data added to the system, although I subsequently discovered an RSS feed for my timeline – although this does not appear to be documented. As a general principle, however, I would be concerned if my data is locked into an application,and lost if the service failed to be sustainable or if I wanted to migrate my data to an alternative service.

However as Dipity allows data to be imported from RSS feeds I am able to have my managed RSS feeds as the master source for my data, thus reducing the risks of data loss to any minor tweaks I may make to the data within the Dipity service.

So if you regard Dipity as a visualisation tool for data which is managed elsewhere, I would suggest that the service can provide a very useful way of displaying data.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Experiments With Seesmic

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 July 2008

I recently met Alan Cann and he mentioned to me how he has been exploring the potential of the Seesmic video micro-blogging service in a learning context. This renewed my interest in the Seesmic service – so I have started to evaluable its potential to support the forthcoming IWMW 2008 event.

My intention is to post a number of short video clips prior to the event which will describe some of the things that will be taking place at the event. I will also be inviting video responses from the IWMW 2008 delegates and others who have an interest in the event.  I’ve created a page on the IWMW 2008 Web site in which the Seesmic video posts are embedded. The first video post (illustrated below) provides an introduction to the event, and further posts are planned which will describe the IWMW 2008 bar camp, the innovation competition, the IWMW 2008 social network, the plenary talks, workshop sessions and the social activities planned for our time in Aberdeen.

Use of Seesmic

But what about the limitations of the services and the risks which use of the tool may entail? After all, I’ve previously suggested that when making use of new tools we need to be honest about potential risks.

The first point to make is that, although Seesmic video clips can be embedded in other Web sites, it does not seem to be possible to export the video clips.  And from a user’s perspective we have no evidence that there will be an interest in this type of service by the intended target audience. Creating the video posts might possibly be a waste of time.

Twhirl with support for SeesmicBut despite such concerns, I will be continuing to create the video posts. Even if the video clips are not currently exportable, this could change (after all the Slideshare service did not intially allow uploaded PowerPoint files to be downloaded from the service, but a download option was subsequently added to the service). And even though it cannot be guaranteed that an export function will be provided in the future I still feel it is worth evaluating a service such as this in order to gain experiences which could be transferred to other services.

And it is very interesting to read on Rafe Needleham’s blog that Twirl will be providing support for Seesmic video posts. As can be seen from the accompanying screenshot, the textual display of ‘tweets’ can be complemented by an accompanying video. And with many laptops having cameras bundled in with them and many mobile phones now also providing video facilities, perhaps this is the next stage in the development of the communications infrastructure of what is often refererd to as Web 2.0.

I should conclude by saying that following my first few Seesmic blog posts I have received a number of interesting replies.  In particular it was suggested that there is a need to ensure that any responses to an inital video post are kept on topic – unlike text it is not easy to quickly skim a video post.  I have therefore created a general Seesmic video post which I’m happy to be used for general responses – I’ll keep any responses to the IWMW 2008 video posts to their stated purpose.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

The Open University’s Portfolio Of Web 2.0 Services

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 July 2008

I’ve commented recently on the Open University’s use of Facebook (they have more ‘fans’ than any other university).

And it seems the Open University is proactive in making corporate use of several other Web 2.0 services.

Open University\'s Use ServiceAs can be seen from the accompanying screen shot the Open University are making use of iTunes University, YouTube and Twitter

Their use page describes how they are using these services – and encourages interested parties to make use of this content.

The Open University describes how it is the first UK university to have a dedicated page on YouTube, and they have stated that they’ll be making available a much greater range of their video materials available on the service.

And I wonder if they’re also the first UK university to have an official Twitter account?

I don’t think, though, that they’re the first to make use their institutional podcasts available on iTunes – indeed, as I posted about recently, the University of Bath won a European award for the quality of its podcasts, which are available for downloading from iTunes as well as from the University’ of Bath’s podcast page.

And finally, as well as their commitment to use of third party Web 2.0 services the Open University is also taking a high profile with its OpenLearn service which provides access to free learning resources.

I recently commented on how ‘Edupunks’ are challenging institutional inertia and conservatism by engaging with light-weight development. Is the Open University embracing an ‘edupunk’ approach in its use service, I wonder? And if so, does this mean that Tony Hirst, whose OUseful blog has often challenged conservatism in the Open University, is now being embraced by the establishment?

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 13 Comments »

WordPress has Gears (and my Glass is Half Full)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 July 2008

WordPress have just announced the availability of WordPress Gears:

Gears? It is a browser extension like Flash or QuickTime/Media Player. However Gears works with the browser to enhance web based applications. It can create local database and file storage, and run JavaScript in the background to update them without slowing down the browser.

Gears has been in the making for over a year and is well known among the web developers. Currently it supports Firefox versions 2 & 3 and Internet Explorer versions 6 & 7. Safari 3 support is coming soon.

On WordPress.com it is used to store all images and other web page components from the admin area to the user’s PC, speeding up access and reducing unnecessary web traffic.

The speed increase is most noticeable when Internet is slow or on high latency and makes everybody’s blogging experience more enjoyable.

We’re now starting to see the development of a numbers of tools which will reduce the bandwidth requirements for using a networked application and/or allow Web-based applications to be usable offline (e.g. Google Gears).

I’m pleased with the variety of developments which are taking place behind the scenes on the WordPress.com Web site which hosts this blog.  In January 2008, for example, there was an announcement on the WordPress blog that an interface which provides access statistics for syndicated accesses to blog posts had been relaunched and a week later there was an announcement of enhancements to the interface to the Akismet spam filter. Indeed if you look at the WordPress.com blog archive for 2008 you will see a whole host of developments which have been made, many to the hosted blog environment.

This is an example of the ‘always beta’ nature of many Web 2.0 services. But not everybody likes this. Stuart Smith, for example, has commented recently on my blog that:

Part of the problem is the eternal beta syndrome that dominates the world of web apps. It means nothing is ever finished or entirely taken responsibility for.

It’s true that an ‘eternal beta’ approach could be used to deploy new developments which have not been adequately tested, to the detriment of the end user. But to me the response to this criticism is to say that ongoing enhancements to services need to be carefully managed and mechanisms are needed to allow users to quickly and easily provide their feedback.  In the case of the WordPress.com blog, the announcement are made on their developments blog, are brought to the attention of blog authors in their administrators interface and they encourage feedback – which they do receive.

When the WordPress open source software is installed locally to provide a blog service, such ongoing developments do not happen. And this, I find, somewhat irritating when I use the JISC PoWR blogwhich is hosted by the JISC on their JISC Involve blog hosting service- the blog software is somewhat dated, and hasn’t benefitted from the developments I’m used to on the UK Web Focus blog.

Perhaps the differences between my perspectives and Stuart’s are based on particular experiences we may have had. On the other hand perhaps this reflects an individual mindset – do you see software development as bringing about improvements, or are developments more likely to be to disrupt well-established working practices?  Or to put it another way, is the glass half full or half empty?  I’m pleased to say that WordPress.com blog is half full :-)  (But WordPress shouldn’t get too complacent – if the quality deteriorates, I can always take my custom elsewhere).

Posted in Blog | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

UK Web Focus Blog Shortlisted for Web 2.0 and Business Blogs Award

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 July 2008

COmputer Weekly Blog Award NominationI’m pleased to report that the UK Web Focus blog has been shortlisted in the Web 2.0 and Business category of the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 08 competition.

The full list of the nominated blogs in this category are:

I’d like to invite readers of this blog to have a look at the shortlisted nominations – and vote for the blog you think is best.

I should add that Mia Ridge’s Open Objects blog is also shortlisted, in the Programming and Technical category.  And seeing as how Mia wrote a post on Sunday on Responsibility to users? I think her blog would be a worthy winner (in interest of transparency I should add that I know Mia and we went out drinking at the Museums and and Web 2008 conference!)

And finally I’ll mention that a Seesmic video post about the blog nomination is also available. Free to watch the video (it only lasts for 52 seconds) – and I’d invite comments and feedback.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

We Can Be Right And Wrong!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 July 2008

There has recently been a series of blog posts which have reflected on the differing views on and approaches to use of Web 2.0 within our institutions.

Initially I gave a talk on What If We’re Wrong? in which I described the legitimate concerns that have been raised related to Web 2.0 (privacy concerns, dangers that services may not be sustainable; etc.). I argued the need to listen to such concerns, refine the ways in which Web 2.0 services may be deployed and developed risk assessment and risk managements strategies.

Martin Weller responded with a post on Web 2.0 - Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right. Martin argued that even if, for example, some Web 2.0 services aren’t sustainable or if services suffer from performance problems (as is currently the case with Twitter) we can’t expect that we can go back to the previous environment of brochure-ware Web sites and disenfranchising users from the creation of content..

I then asked What If We’re Right? and asked what would be the implications of adopting an over-cautious approach to Web 2.0 in which we found that others (our competitors, perhaps) were successfully exploiting Web 2.0, while we were wasting time and resources in developing small-scale conservative alternatives – which we can’t even guarantee will be used by out user communities. (And I should add that I was pleased that this post was picked up by Michael Stephens on the Tame The Web blog).

Owen Stephens joined in the debate with his post on Even If We’re Right We’re Wrong in which he cited evidence from a number of JISC-funded reports on the use of the Social Web by students – and in particular the negative reactions from students if use of social networking services was imposed on them.

The final scenario, it seems to me, is to suggest that We Can Be Right And Wrong!  This approach would build on evidence such as that described by Owen but rather than responding with a blunt approach to concerns (“students don’t like use of social networks being imposed on them – so we’ll have nothing to do with social networks“) a more sophisticated approach would be adopted (“as the students do seem to find social networks useful and appear to welcome the availability of advice and support, but on their terms, we’ll (a) not ban the tools; (b) provide mechanisms – such as RSS feeds – whereby support can be provided and (c) we’ll ensure our institution provides a new media literacy policy“).  And, of course, there still remains the opportunity to make use of social networks in other areas, such as by the research community and engagement with one’s peers (this latter use case is the one I found most useful).

The approach of taking a number of different scenarios and exploring the implications of those scenarios was something I came across at a JISC workshop some time ago (JISC had funded consultants to develop and deliver a series of scenario planning workshops). And I think that many of those involved in Web 2.0 development are willing to explore a broad range of issues.  The danger is, I feel, those who may be sceptical of a Web 2.0 approach who aren’t willing to explore the implications if they are wrong. And I have come across people and organisations who seem to have been ignoring the developments we have seen over the past few years.

 

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