UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for October, 2008

The Second Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 31 October 2008

The UK Web Focus blog was launched on 1st November 2006. Two years later I felt it would be worth keeping a note of some of the statistics for the blog.

There have been over  115,013 visits by 31st October 2008 and 1,971 comments on the 454 posts. The numbers of visitors grew steadily from the launch until March 2007. The numbers of visits then remained steady although there were two peaks in July and November 2007. However since June 2008 the traffic has started to increase again, with September 2008 being the busiest month ever. Of course, many blog readers will be aware that there are lies, dammed lies and blog statistics. So treat these figures with a pinch of salt!

Although the WordPress administrator’s interface provides statistics on the numbers of blog posts, comments and visits, it doesn’t provide any indication of the amount of content I’ve produced. So I thought I’d create a PDF of blog posts, partly to get a feel for the size but also for work I’m doing regarding various approaches to preserving the content of blogs (more of that in a subsequent post).

I created a backup copy of this blog and played with the themes in order to use a single column theme (although I couldn’t find a theme that used the full width of the screen). I then used the browsers Print function to create a PDF file which I then uploaded to Scribd. As you can see if you visit the page on Scribd or view the accompanying image, over a period of 1 year and 11 months I have created over 500 A4 pages, although this figure is slightly inaccurate due to the white space on the right hand side of the page and the embedded images which are displayed at full size (and this file was created on 3 October 2008).

I have found the process of using a blog for my reflective thinking really useful, and there are lots of ideas which I can now access which I would probably have forgotten if I hadn’t written them down. And having these thoughts exposed to a large readership has provided very valuable feedback, so thanks to everyone who has given their comments.

I also hope that as well as being valuable to me that you have found the blog useful and interesting to read :-)

Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

No, You Don’t Need to Blog, Tweet, …

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 27 October 2008

I’ve discussed potential benefits of a variety of Web 2.0 services including blogs, wikis, Twitter, use of audio and video, etc. over the past two years on this blog.  But it strikes me that a reason we can encounter resistance to use of new technologies is that people think that they will have to use them.  I personally don’t think everyone should blog, use Twitter or make use of Second Life, for example – a point I made recently in a video blog post.  Rather I feel that the early users of such services and the enthusiasts should be willing to explain why such technologies can provide benefits to others, but not mandate their use inappropriately.  And the role of managers and policy makers should be to provide an environment in which the diversity of tools which are available can be used to support a diversity of tasks and a diversity of user preferences.

The problem, it seems to me, is the attitude of “I don’t see the point – therefore you should be doing it either” – although I suspect that in my cases the unspoken fear is “I don’t get it, and I’m worried that if I don’t oppose it I’ll be forced to do it“. Perhaps the tensions are between the positions of “I want diversity, you need convincing and he wants things to stay the same“.

On the other hand if you decide that you don’t want to blog, tweet, make use of wikis, etc. and you are an information professional, how employable will you be if you decide to change jobs?

Posted in Web2.0 | 7 Comments »

No Risk…. No Innovation…

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 23 October 2008

A job advertisement for ICT Programme Managers in JISC begins with the phrase:

No risk…. no innovation…

The advert goes on to say:

To innovate, you have to take risks… well managed ones. By undertaking innovation programmes with universities and colleges we can build a world class ICT infrastructure for UK research and learning. To keep us moving forward, we now need five Programme Managers with excellent people and programme management skills to manage large-scale programmes …

This view of what it means to be a part of today’s IT development environment reflects a comment I made when I was interviewed by Hilary Swain for an article on “Web 2.0: boon or bane for universities”  published in the Education Guardian on 12th May 2008. The article concluded with my comment: “Universities should be risk-taking organisations. Learning is a risky process.

But its important to note the job advert’s comment on the need to take a ‘well-managed’ approach to risk-taking.  The need to identify approaches for managing risks was the main focus on my paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and this is an area in which further work will be needed. And this work will cover not just the JISC sector but also museums, libraries and archives. Roy Clare, the MLA’s Chief Executive, recently called forradical action on structure, far-sighted leadership vision and more public Private Partnerships“ within this sector and an editorial in the CILIP Update magazine (June 2008, Vol. 7, No. 6) had the byline “In This Climate, You Have To Innovate“.

I think 2009 will be a very interesting time for those involved in the development and support of networked services.

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

Getting Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 21 October 2008

I think Twitter has been the first application I’ve come across where people talk about ‘not getting it’. Such comments don’t reflect a lack of understanding of how the software works or how to use the software but what purpose it services and how it can be beneficial to the user. And as we know Twitter fans can be passionate about the benefits it can bring.

A Google search for “getting twitter” reveals an early example of someone who didn’t get Twitter back in March 2007, with a response from DrewB who commented:

Twitter will be huge. Nobody gets it at first. For sure it seems strange and it won’t be for everyone, but what it allows consumers to do will be re-spun in various ways, and soon having open, cross-platform conversations across instant messenger, SMS, blogs and RSS will make one-dimensional conversations like this message-board style blogging malarky seem really backward.

There are now various resources which provide advice on how to ‘get Twitter’ including one from PC World. Rather than repeating ny of the suggestions given in that article I will make a couple of my own suggestions:

Unless your intended use of Twitter is for communications across a closed group (e.g. keeping in touch with your family) you will need to follow a sufficient number of other Twitterers in order to gain the benefits provided by a sustainable community.

If you only follow one Twitterer you are probably a stalker rather than a member of a community :-) This stuck me when one (female) colleague decided to test Twitter by following me (and only me) and having my tweets delivered via SMS. I hate to think what her husband made of the frequency with which her mobile phone beeped when she received my tweets :-)

Twitter probably doesn’t work for lurkers; effective use of Twitter is likely to be gained by people who are willing to tweet.

You should respond to other people’s queries and comments if you expect people to respond to queries you may send.

You need to understand that @ and D commands and how such messages intended for a particular person (@) and sent only to a particular person (D) will be processed.

You should try and understand the various Twitter clients work and, if you choose to use one, learn how to configure it to suit your particular preferences.  

An example of a Twitter client. Tweetdeck, is shown below which illustrates my Twitter stream, tweets I have brought together in a group I have set up (based on people who live in or near Bath) and the results of a local search (tweets from my Twitter followers containing the string ‘JISC’). I also have a global search for ‘UKOLN’ which contains details of all tweets containing this string, although this isn’t included in the screen shot. 

From this I can see some figures on the popularity of social networks at the University of Leicester (Facebook is very popular, it seems), sympathise with Martin Weller who seems to be somewhat reluctantly reading EU reports and, see Talat request for access to a Fedora test application.  Over in the Bath group, I can see t1mmyb providing a suggestion to pip, see discussions relating to repositories between Talat and PeteJ and eavesdrop of music discussions.  Finally looked at tweets from my followers containing ‘JISC’ I can see further sharing of resources between Talat and PeteJ, an announcement of a repository deposit in Facebook using SWORD (this was news to me), my response to a query from AlisonWildish and, finally,  ostephens sharing his frustrations at the lack of RSS feeds on a Web site discussing the future of libraries.

Does this help you get it? If you still don’t get it, perhaps Dave Flanders post on What is Twitter? might help, with its explanation of the role Twitter can play in the development of an online community:

Twitter is small talk: a way of interfacing with other humans in a way that gives out information that may be meaningless in terms of content (“what the weather is like”, “how the sports teams are playing”, “what the hotel is like” etc) but is valuable in terms of establishing set patterns of trusting and communicating further information with one another. 

For Dave, it’s the building of trust relationships which are an important aspect of Twitter – something I’d not really thought about until I read Dave’s post.

Posted in Twitter | 7 Comments »

Who Is Suffering In The Economic Downturn?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 October 2008

At the end of the first day of the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference the speakers took part in a panel session during which the audience could ask questions related to the day’s series of talks. The question I asked was whether the upbeat nature of all of the talks I listened to was appropriate  in light of the economic downturn.  The speakers felt that the library sector should be feeling confident as there would be a continued demand for the expertise of information professionals in a rapidly changing world.  It was also felt that the skills gained by those who were making use of Web 2.0 technologies would be particularly valuable.  After all, suggested one of the speakers, there’ll be no going back to an old way of working.

I would agree with this – but who will be the providers of the Web 2.0 infrastructure?  Well a news item I could on the BBC World described how “Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, [has seen its] third-quarter profit climb[ing] more than 25% as more customers used Web search ads to spur sales in a slowing economy” (as also reported in The Telegraph, amongst others).

And as government funding is being used to bail out banks (no I didn’t expect George Bush and Gordon Brown to nationalise banks, either) on top of the costs associated with the “war against terrorism” and, in the UK, the draining of public sector funds to pay for the costs of the 2012 London Olympics, wouldn’t it be ‘prudent’ to seek to make use of commercial services where they can be used to support digital activities in the educational and cultural heritage sectors? After all as I described back in August in a post on the JISC Innovation Forum John Selby of HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council of England) “praised the work of the JISC and the JISC Services, but went on to warn of troubled financial times ahead for the educational sector. The glory days of the past 10 years are over, he predicted“. And this was before the current financial turmoil. Isn’t a reliance on public sector funding the risky alternative which we need to assess and manage carefully?

Posted in Finances, Web2.0 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The Long Tail of Pinky and Perky

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 16 October 2008

The Guardian in a recent article In Praise of  … preserving digital memories felt that “It ought to be reassuring that while governments are living a day-to-day existence trying to prevent a global financial implosion, some people are thinking centuries ahead“. The article went on to add that “If all goes well, we will have the capacity to preserve as many of our memories, personal and national, as we want“.

But what memories is it that we may wish to preserve? I was thinking about this during a recent trip back home to Liverpool for my Mum’s 80th birthday. After a trip on the ferry across the Mersey with a friend we became nostalic about the music of our past, the 60s and 70s, which included the tacky music of that period. I found that my feeble attempts (Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep) were trumped by Pinky and Perky singing Yellow Submarine – a cheesy TV programme of my youth; the link with The Beatles while we were in Liverpool resulted in me conceding.  And if you don’t believe me listen to this double A side taken from YouTube featuring Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machine (sadly it seems that their version of Yellow Submarine is not available – for copyright reasons, perhaps?).

But if you’d prefer to see what Pinky and Perky looked like then I’ve embedded a video clip from YouTube of their version of Let’s Twist Again, which is taken from their TV show.

But what does this have to do with preservation you may ask? Surely preservation is concerned with preserving the quality memories? I would argue differently.  The poor and the tacky, as well as the good and the worthy, are significant parts of our personal memories and shared culture.

And such memories can help us in the discussions we have today. I was convinced that Pinky and Perky pre-dated The Beatles  but the evidence from YouTube, together with the entry in Wikipedia and the various Pinky and Perky Web sites provides further information which I was unaware of – including the fact, from the H2G2 Web site, that the show was banned in 1966 for being too political!.

Who, I wonder, can provide help and support for people who may be interested in gathering such information and sharing it with others who have similar interests? In the case of Pinky and Perky this is likely to be small numbers, but let’s not forget the long tail which can apply to Pinky and Perky as well as niche books available in Amazon (and as the show originated in Czechoslovakia and had a long TV run in the US, there may be a global interest in the history of the show.

My view is that the cultural heritage sector can have a role to play in supporting individuals or small groups who wish to engage in such activities. I think it’s important to remember that the cultural heritage organisations need not be restricted to managing and curating objects in their own organisations, but provide support to others who may be interested in preserving our shared memories.

And this is one of the many reasons why I feel it is important to support staff within these organisations so that they can support their own communities. And this might include providing advice and supporting in making use of services such as Wikipedia and YouTube. I’d like to explore this idea at the next Web 2.0 workshop I will run, on behalf of CyMAL in Bangor in November. Are any readers of this blog involved in making use of Web 2.0 to support groups who have interests in topics which may be classed as part of the long tail?

And finally, for this, the 450th post on my blog, my friend has childhood memories of watching an automated puppet show of Pinky and Perky near the beach at Christchurch, Dorset when they sang Yellow Submarine. Now I can’t remember a Pinky and Perky automaton ever visiting Liverpool. Was their tour restricted to the south coast? Or were they concerned over copyright infringment if they visited the home of the Beatles?  Or perhaps more seriously (but only slightly) was there a single Pinky and Perky automaton or were they mass produced? Who made them? And are any left? Sadly it seems I’m developing an obsession :-)  But perhaps the long tail of others who have an interest in automatons can help? And I notice that the Wikipedia entry doesn’t have much on twentieth century example – an opportunity for someone, perhaps.

Posted in Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

What is the Evidence Suggesting About Facebook?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 15 October 2008

In a recent comment Mike Elllis reflected on the meaning of technology, where the complexity comes from, and what the bits under the hood bring to the party. Mike concluded “My take is: users aren’t just quite important, really important or reasonably vital: they are everything, bar none.

If you accept this proposition how should you respond to what appears to be the continuing popularity of Facebook? A quick snapshot of my friend’s status indicates that my Facebook friends are regularly updating their status, using a variety of mechanisms, with Twitter users automatically updating their Facebook status via Twitter.

Meanwhile Ruth Page on her Digital Narratives blog has written a post entitled “Facebook Fresher’s group: Success story“. In a review of the induction week at Birmingham City University (BCU) Ruth states that:

One of the great things has definitely been the take up and use of the Facebook group for the Freshers. At the beginning of the week we had 62 students joined up, and at the last look, 84 students out of an intake of around 120. But the numbers aren’t everything – it’s how the students evaluated it.

She goes on to add that the students:

loved the fact they could make friends with their fellow students before they even got here. That made a huge difference on the first day when it was so much easier to strike up conversations. But they also really appreciated the fact that they could ask questions and get the clarification they needed before arriving. Some of this came from me, but some of it also came from the students too, especially our student mentors who played a brilliant part in offering advice and encouragement from a student perspective.

Ruth concluded by saying:

The strength of using Facebook is that many of the students are already using it. I wasn’t asking them to take on yet another new form information, but tapping into a forum they are already familiar with. And, as a social networking site, that is what it is best at: encouraging friendships and connections that build the social cohesion so important for good progression and retention.

Now many IT developers and policy makers don’t like Facebook. I’ve heard comments along the lines of it’s a fad; it’s a walled garden; it’s commercial; it’s partly owned by Microsoft; the terms and conditions are unacceptable; …

These comments do have an element of truth to them. But if the users are willing to use the service, then maybe, as Mike suggests, these issues about the ‘behind the scenes’ factors simply aren’t as important as they are made out to be.

On the other hand, as Stuart Smith has commented, perhaps “variety is good” and although from “a user perspective the system doesn’t matter … from an educational grand plan perspective then lack of choice in education is limiting“. Stuart then goes on to argue that “We need to be careful that we don’t become populist for the sake of it, simply adopting systems because they are in mass use. Ideally we should consider why they are popular and then ask if they have educational value.

Facebook vs Twitter usage statisticsNow Stuart is right to acknowledge that popularity can be a factor. Back in April 2008 in a post entitled Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter I responded to those who were arguing that Facebook’s popularity was on the wane by showing a graph comparing Facebook usage with that of Twitter which demonstrated that that Facebook usage wasn’t in decline. And the latest figures demonstrate that Facebook’s popularity is continuing to grow at a much greater rate than Twitter’s as illustrated (with a graph available on compete.com).

But in avoiding being ‘populist for the sake of it, simply adopting systems because they are in mass use‘ don’t we face the danger of being elitist, and prioritising our view and our prejudices over the preferences of the users? And let’s remember that organisations can change – indeed as Andy Powell has just commented in a post on Thoughts on FOWA:

And finally… to that Mark Zuckerberg interview at the end of day 2.  I really enjoyed it actually.  Despite being well rehearsed and choreographed I thought he came across very well.  He certainly made all the right kinds of noises about making Facebook more open though whether it is believable or not remains to be seen!“.

What’s your take on this debate?

Posted in Facebook | 8 Comments »

The Social Aspect Of Resource Discovery

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 14 October 2008

How do I discover new things, new places and new ideas? An approach I take is the approach I’ve used ever since I was a child – I ask people and I eaves-drop on conversations.  And on the Social Web this approach can be even more useful as there are more people I can ask and more conversations I can listen to.

I’ve produced a slideshow with a 9 minute 25 second accompanying audio track which is available on Slideshare and is embedded below explaining why I feel that the social aspect of resource discovery is under-rated.

I should probably have added in the talk that when I publish peer-reviewed presentations the literature search and use of more formal resource discovery services does take place – however this tends to be done by one of the co-authors (David Sloan in the case of my accessibility papers).   Which I think illustrates another example of the social aspect of resource discovery – you have a co-author who is happy using traditional library-based resource discovery tools, while you another co-author focus on the social aspects to discovery.  Just as social Web tools need not be to every researcher’s taste, so the more formal approaches do not have to be used by every researcher.

Posted in Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 13 October 2008

I’m attending the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference  this week which will be held in Singapore on 16-17 October. I’ve been invited to present a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends“.

There are a number of interesting speakers at the conference. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting up with Jenny Levine again and hearing her talk on “Librarian 2.0 – New Breed or Just Another Day at the Office?“, meeting my former colleague Bernadette Daly Swanson and hearing what she has to say on “I am Library: Exploring the Library Experience in Second Life” and chatting to Peter Godwin, co-editor of a book on “Information Literacy meets Library 2.0” which I contributed a chapter to earlier this year.

As a blog post on the conference Web site describe, the conference will “try to give .. an insight into what for many is the unfamiliar world of Library 2.0 … [including] Second Life, Folksonomies and new approaches libraries, sharing and  community“. The blog post goes on to suggest that the Library 2.0 Meme Map available on Flickr with a Creative Commons licence, provides a useful insight into the topics which will be covered at the conference.

My paper will provide examples of ways in which Library 2.0 services are being deployed, with brief case studies provided by co-authors Paul Bevan, Jo Alcock and Richard Akerman on uses at the National Library of Wales, University of Wolverhampton and NRC-CISTI, Canada. The main focus of the paper, however focusses on ways of addressing the risks associated with use of externally-hosted services and user-generated content, with a section on the Childnet International and Digizen work being provided by Josie Fraser. 

And after the conference finishes I’m looking forward to taking a well-deserved holiday!

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

Experiments With Video Blogging To Support Presentations

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 10 October 2008

Use of Videos To Support Presentations

This year I’ve started to make use of video and audio technologies to support my work activities.  This has included giving a numbers of talks to remote audiences using the Elluminate software as part of the JISC Emerge project. There have also two occasions when I have been invited to give a talk at a conference but was unable to attend in person. The first on these was the UCISA 2008 Management Conference, where I had been invited to give a talk on “Digital Natives Run by Digital Immigrants“.   Unfortunately by the time the invitation had been confirmed (i.e. the speaker the organisers really wanted had let them know he couldn’t attend!) I had found that I was committed to attending another meeting.  Not a problem, I thought, as video technologies are now fairly mature. But as I was aware of (a) the risks of giving a live video presentation and (b) the dullness of a ‘talking head’ on a screen I decided to pre-record my presentation. And I agreed with the conference audiences that the talk would be a double act, with Andy Powell of the Eduserv Foundation, physically attending the conference and contributing to the talk.  And as neither Andy nor myself with keen on the proposed title, we jointly came up with the entitled “IT Services are Dead, Long Live IT Services 2.0!“.

The video of my talk is still available on Zentation which have been synchronised with the PowerPoint slides – unlike, of course,  the talks given by Andy and the other speakers at the conference. Conference participants will now only have faded memories of their talks, with (possibly) their PowerPoint slides being available on the UCISA Web sites, together with any conference reports which may have been published.

More recently I have purchased a Flip camera and used it to record presentations I have given, including presenting papers at the iPres2008 and ADDW08 conferences – and as I have suggested, this approach can potentially enhance the impact of such papers and the accessibility of the resources.

Should We Leave It To The Professionals?

However in a blog post published back in August entitled  What Web 2.0 teaches us… Andy Powell suggested that “Web 2.0 technology democratises production but creative talent and presentation skills remain rare commodities” (although to be fair to Andy, his post was prefixed with the remark that the post is “intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek and humorous but like most such things, from my perspective at least, I think it contains at least a grain or two of truth“).

Andy’s point was that “our desktop use of audio and video in particular tends to highlight an amateurish approach to production“. And as well as his doubts regarding the production values he also felt that “Some people’s voices simply become wooden when faced with a microphone and the ‘record’ light, to the point that listening to them is painful.”

And more recently in response to a post on “Videoing Talks As A Means Of Providing Equivalent Experiences” Andy suggested that for my video of a talk I gave at ADDW08 conference “Video is a nice gimmick (in this case) but no more.

Is Andy right? Should we leave the production of audio and video resources to the AV experts? Should we leave video presentation to those who have been received appropriate training in presentational skills? And is the use of video a nice gimmick?

Experiments At IWMW 2008

In addition to recording videos of talks at conferences, either in advance or at the event itself, I have been experimenting with the potential of video micro-blogging tools such as Seesmic.

Seesmic has been described as “the “Twitter of video” – you record a brief video giving your thoughts on a topic and people can respond, also using video.

Now people who don’t get Twitter are unlikely to what Seesmic could offer. But it seems that people who are happy to use Twitter and appreciate the benefits it can provide do not necessarily feel that Seesmic has much to offer.  And I myself was rather sceptical until I met with AJ Cann in Leicester a few months ago and he convinced me that it was a tool worthy of some experimentation.

My first Seesmic posts were made prior to the IWMW 2008 events, and I published video blog posts giving an Introduction to the IWMW 2008 Event, a summary of the Plenary Talks, the Social Aspect of the event and the Barcamp. And I was pleased that Mike McConnell and Mike Whymet also demonstrated their willingness to try out the service with their Welcome to Aberdeen. These experiments provided me with an opportunity to see how the service worked, how the content could be re-used – and to worry out the visual impression I may be giving.  I was particularly pleased at the ease with which the video posts can be embedded in Web pages.

Further Experiments

I will be unable to facilitate a blogging workshop at ILI this year, but my colleague Marieke Guy and Ann Chapman are able to take my place.  They will be reusing materials I developed for previous blog workshops, but it did occur to me that this workshop might provide an opportunity to experiment with Seesmic as a means of providing additional multimedia materials for use during a workshop.

I have created a number of Seesmic video posts on several topics related to blogging including:

  1. Why do I blog? [link]
  2. How do I find ideas to blog about? [link]
  3. How do I find the time to blog? [link]
  4. Is blogging rewarding? [link]
  5. Do I comment on other people’s blogs?
  6. Is blogging for everyone? [link]
  7. How should you get started blogging? [link]
  8. What’s best – a team blog or an individual’s blog? [link]
  9. What are the pros and cons of externally-hosted blogs versus in-house blogs? [link]

These video blogs posts can be accessed on the Seesmic Web site, embedded in other Web pages or viewed using desktop client tools such as the Twhirl Twitter client, illustrated.

For me an advantage which Seesmic may provide is the ability to receive video responses.  This has already happened with the author of the TechTicker blog, in particular, having provided a number of useful responses, including one in which he describes why he feels that users who are happy to publish their reflections in a public space are likely to be more willing to engage in public blogging activities.

Now at an event, such as the blogging workshop, this might be particularly useful in providing access to a diversity of multimedia content. And I think this type of use addresses Andy’s concern that “the linear nature of audio and video tends to defy attempts at scanning the content“. I would suggest that most participants at events are familiar with the linear nature of presentations and are willing to accept that they can’t fast forward past the boring parts :-)

So if any readers of this blog post would be willing to give their thoughts on any of the topics I’ve mentioned feel free to leave a video response. Who knows, there might be an opportunity for your thoughts – and your service – to be featured at the event.

But should we leave video production to the experts? I don’t think so, but your view may differ.  But if you do feel that Seesmic may have something to offer, then there will be a need to identify best practices (e.g. stick to a single topic in a blog post and in subsequent responses) and to be aware of potential pitfalls, including the dangers of video content being locked within the service – this is a reason I create the video posts in a separate application and have explored uploading the video to Seesmic via YouTube, as can be seen from the image above.

Posted in Web2.0 | 6 Comments »

Videoing Talks As A Means Of Providing Equivalent Experiences

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 8 October 2008

As I recently posted, a paper by myself and Liddy Nevile was accepted by the ADDW08 conference. In the paper we argued that the conventional wisdom regarding Web accessibility (just follow the WCAG guidelines and the Web environment will be universally accessible to all) has been shown to be flawed.  We argued that in a world of mass creation of digital objects, the hand-crafted approach which underpins the WCAG model doesn’t scale. We argued the need to embrace a diversity of approaches, including an exploration of the potential for exploiting the links between related resources in order to find equivalent resources.

Our paper is available (in MS Word, PDF and HTML formats) and our slides are also available (in MS PowerPoint and in (dodgy) HTML formats).  But in addition a video of the talk (which I took using a Flip video camera) is available on Google Video (and is embedded below).

And I’ve synched the video with the PowerPoint slides to provide an even richer experience. This is available on Zentation and a screen image is illustrated below.

Now although the HTML version of the paper should comply with WCAG guidelines (although as a peer-reviewed paper the language and writing style may mean that is is not necessarily  understandable by all), the MS Word, PDF, MS PowerPoint, HTML version of the slides and the .AVI video files will not.  Now I could make the resources conform to WCAG guidelines if I removed all but the HTML version of the paper.  But I would argue that this would diminish the impact of and accessibility of the underlying ideas I wish to communicate.  And seeking to make the various versions of the resources conform to the various checklists would be very time-consuming and would not, I would argue, provide an effective return on the tax-payers money.  And such consideration are, I suspect, informing policy decisions related to the provision of institutional repositories – although perhaps without the provision of links to related resources.

Now as devices such as a Flip can be purchased for less than £100 pounds, and uploading videos on Google Video can be done for free a question I would ask is “if conference organisers fail to make such alternatives for papers presented at conferences, could this be regarded as a failure to take reasonable measures to provide access to services for people with disabilities?”  Isn’t it unreasonable to fail to invest £100 to enhance the effectiveness of conferences along the lines I’ve suggested and demonstrated? And, indeed, doesn’t the informality used in talks provide a valuable alternative to people who may be put off by the nature of the language which is found in research publications.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 16 Comments »

“Directory of (E-)Learning Professionals on Twitter”

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 7 October 2008

Tony Hirst’s post on eduTwitterin’ alerted me to “Jane’s list of “100+ (E-)Learning Professionals to follow on Twitter” which has subsequently been renamed “Directory of (E-)Learning Professionals on Twitter”. Tony mentioned the staff at the Open University of the list (Tony himself, Martin Weller and Grainne Conole). These are all people I know and follow on Twitter, so I thought I would see who else was on the list. I was surprised but pleased (I think) to see myself on the list.

I had wondered if something was going on with Twitter after receiving an recent influx of email messages announcing new people who were following me on Twitter. My first tweet after finding myself on this list was to acknowledge that people were probably following people (and others on the list) in the expectation of reading something special. So my first tweet was:

Pressure now on for insightful edu-tweet. Hmm. Thinking of going to Raven to see Joley Rowan http://bit.ly/yFyR7 Will that do?

It’s my space after all :-) And it was about 8pm on Monday night, when I was torn between going to watch music in The Bell and The Raven, two of the music venues in Bath I live to frequent. 

I have added a couple of the people who have started to follow me recently to the people I follow, but these were people I either knew or people whose blog seemed of interest to me.  And I may stop following people if I feel I don;t gain any benefits from their tweets.  I guess the point being that there will be a limit to the size of one’s personal twitterverse.  But as well as the size of the network and the number of posts, I think the effectiveness of Twitter is based on the nature of the communications within the community. Whether having a list of 100+ e-learning professionals to follow is a good way of building a community I’m unsure about.  Buit on the other hand, there is a need to start somewhere.  I’ll give some thought on how I feel one should start to engage with Twitter in a subsequent post.

Posted in Web2.0 | 5 Comments »

On-The-Fly Professional Development And Learning

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 6 October 2008

Last week I received a tweet from Andy Powell announcing that he would be live-blogging at the Future of Technology in Education (FOTE) conference. On Friday, on the morning of the event, Andy sent another tweet saying that the live-blog was available on Eduserver’s new Livewire service. And so I went along (to the Web site, not to London for the event!) and read Andy’s comments on one or two of the presentations and the comments made by others.

We’re seeing increasing examples of ‘amplified conferences’ in which commentary on the talks is being made available to people who aren’t physically present.  This is even more effective if the event provides streaming video of the talks (which can, of course, be expensive) and if the slides used by the speakers are made available to the remote audience on services such as Slideshare.

I’m really pleased to see this happening and it’s good to see the approaches which are being taken by Eduserv. I think this is a good example of on-the-fly professional development. And it is particularly pleasing to see this example of openness – a participant at a conference who is happy to make notes on the talks and to share them with others. As Andy subsequently told me he has “have taken a decision to live blog most of the events that I attend“.

I’d like to make some suggestions for those who are involved in providing live blogging services at events:

  • Provide a clear statement of the rights issues, such as “Please note that this live blog is open to everyone. Any comments you make on this service will have a Creative Commons licence“.
  • Provide occasional statistics on the numbers of participants, if this isn’t provided by the software.
  • Clarification of the status of the live-blog and ensure that any possible conflicts with other live-blogs are addressed (i.e. avoiding having multiple live blogs which fragment discussions).
  • Clarification of whether the reporter is providing a neutral commentary on what the speakers are saying, or is giving personal comments on the talks.

I should add that Andy’s comments on the FOTE event did include his personal opinions including his final conclusions: “i think there have been some very good talks today and some very bad talks.  on balance, i think it has been a good and useful day.  as i mentioned, i think that suppliers (with the exception of huddle guy) have a tendency to talk down to the audience – we know the world is changing – what we want is help in thinking about how to respond“. In addition Andy’s also provided his opinions on the talks.  This was fine for me and, I suspect, those who know Andy, and helped to generate discussion and debate. But in other contexts I could envisage that this might cause problems. And

Are there other suggestions which others would like to make?

One final question. Do we have a clear understanding of what we mean by live-blogging? This to me seems more like a messaging environment.  How should we refer to a blog which is taken during a talk and published immediately afterwards, such as Chris Rusbridge’s report on sessions at the IPRES 2008 conference?

Posted in Web2.0 | 11 Comments »

The Wow Factor, The Openness, The Developers Environment, …

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 3 October 2008

It strikes me that the recent set of comments made to my post on “Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” have wider applicability to the networked development environment.

To summarise some of the issues which were highlighted in the original Guardian review which I cited and have been expanded on in John Naughton’s Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway” article published in Sunday’s Observer (28 September 2008):

The Wow factor: Yes, the iPhone clearly wins with its ‘wow’ factor, As the Guardian review admitted the Android phone lacks the “wow factor of the Apple device“.

The usability: The iPhone, like many Apple devices, also has its strengths in its ease-of-use. As Paul Walk has commented “I want a device which ‘just works’“.

The openness of the application environment: As John Naugton describes in his Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway article, a strength of the Android device there’s “a row brewing inside Apple’s cosily walled garden“. It seems that “developers are beginning to resent what they see as the company’s dictatorial attitude”. As one commentator puts it: ‘Trying to discern ahead of time [and of development expenditures] what Apple will or won’t accept has become close to impossible, not only because Apple isn’t talking about it, but also because it won’t let anyone else talk about it. All apps store dealings with developers are covered by a non-disclosure agreement“‘.

The potential for power users: Now the geeks will argue that the iPhone’s walled-garden is a non-issue as it’s possible to ‘jail-break’ the device to allow the installation of applications which may not be available via the Apple store. However this approach is clearly not one which the majority of users would be happy with, and conflicts with the need for a device which ‘just works’.

The hardware environment: The iPhone, like Macintosh hardware, is only manufactured by Apple. The Andoid phone, in comparison, can be made by any manufacturer. This competition should help to bring down prices, which will be beneficial to the consumer (as Stuart Smith pointed out to make use of a ‘free’ iPhone “you are still looking about £810 over 18 months“). So much for social inclusion and widening participation!

Now as Mike Ellis argues “most users couldn’t give a stuff about the closed nature of their devices, applications OR data. Facebook, iPods, iPhone, any gaming console – the list goes on. These all seem to be pretty popular, however much us IT types continue to shout about the dangers of closedness.” And I think he’s right – the IT development community tends to focus on the backend development processes and policies which are not necessarily of great concern to the majority of users. But even if we accept John Naughton’s premise that ‘Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway’ we need to emphasise the importance of word ‘could‘. It was not so long ago when people argued that Google’s Open Social widget environment would blow away the closed development environment provided by Facebook. But that, I would argue, hasn’t happened (and, indeed, Scott Wilson wrote a blog post back in November 2007 in which he described why he was singularly unimpressed by Open Social).  Let’s be honest and recognise that both the iPhone and Facebook are very popular with large numbers of users – and let’s acknowledge that the development community can learn from the popularity of these closed environments.

And let’s remember the point Mike Ellis made when he said “I find it sad when developers seem to think that any real users actually *care* about what’s under the hood ;-)“.   But why do I think that Mike isn’t just referring to the mobile phone debate when he makes this point?

Posted in Gadgets | 7 Comments »

iPres2008 Preservation Conference Gets Featured In The Guardian

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 2 October 2008

It was good to read the article in The Guardian Editorial page yesterday (1 October 2008) on the iPRES 2008 Conference on digital preservation which was held at The British Library on 29-30th September. As the article states “If all goes well, we will have the capacity to preserve as many of our memories, personal and national, as we want“.

The issues of how and what we should be preserving on our Web sites happened to be the content of the paper I presented at the conference on Monday. The paper on “Preservation of Web Resources: The JISC PoWR Project” is available online and the slides of the talk (in which I focus primarily on preservation within a Web 2.0 environment) are also available and are embedded below.

There is also a video recording of the talk available (I haven’t yet been able to upload the video to Google Video, I’m afraid).

As well as this paper, which described the work of the JISC-funded PoWR project, I’m pleased to add that two of my colleagues (Alex Ball and Manjula Patel) also wrote papers which were presented at this conference.

I should also add that Chris Rusbridge provided a comprehensive report on the conference. I was pleased to read Chris’s comments on my talk which he described as “a very entertaining talk, and well worth looking up“. He went on to describe me as “not a preservationist, but is a full-blown technogeek discussing the roles of the latest Web 2.0 technologies on his blog, in his role as UK Web Focus“. And this technogeek was particularly pleased to read that the JISC PoWR “project achieved a strong level of interaction through its several workshops“.

Posted in Web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Library 2.0 at the University of Wolverhampton

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 October 2008

Guest Blog Post

The guest blog slot provides an opportunity to include some different voices and views on the UK Web Focus, which can provide a fresh insight in the various topics covered in this blog.

I’m therefore pleased to welcome this guest blog post from Jo Alcock, Academic Information Assistant for the Harrison Learning Centre at the University of Wolverhampton – although perhaps better known in some circles as Joeyanne Libraryanne for her Joeyanne Libraryanne blog. In her post Jo describes a variety of ways in which Web 2.0 services are being used and goes on to highlight some of the challenges which this approach entails. I should also add that Jo is a contributor to the paper on Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends which I’ll be presenting at the Bridging Worlds 2008 Conference.


Setting the Scene

I work at the University of Wolverhampton which has a large proportion of part-time students (some schools are up to 70% part-time). The University is also geographically spread across the region with five campuses in total. This means students do not always come into Learning Centres and often use the closest geographical centre rather than their subject specific centre. We have recently adopted a University-wide Blended Learning strategy to support the changing nature of our students, and the Learning and Information Services department are developing ways to support students from wherever they choose to study. This includes obvious things like e-journals and e-books, as well as virtual reference support and Web 2.0/Library 2.0 initiatives to support students online.

Current Initiatives

Blogs

We currently have five subject blogs (the School of Computing and IT Blog, School of Applied Sciences BlogSchool of Engineering and the Built Environment Blog, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Languages Blog and the Wolverhampton Business School Blog to support students and staff of particular academic schools, along with an University of Wolverhampton Electronic Resources Blog for updates to services. We also have a number of project related blogs and internal communication blogs.

Social Networking

The Learning Centres have a Facebook Page which was established at the end of last year. The page includes links to relevant parts of our Web site, our aggregated RSS feeds (from our blogs) and search applications. One of the most useful features of the page are sending updates to “fans” – another way of letting users know about our services and reaching them where they already are (a quick scan of any communal PCs show numerous Facebook users!).

Wikis

We have started exploring wikis and although we do not currently have a departmental wiki we have a number of small scale wikis for sharing information.

Online calendars

I’ve included this as although it’s not usually included in general “Library 2.0″ initiatives, it’s something that we’ve found really useful. We have been using Google Calendar (see the University of Wolverhampton InfoBites Calendar) to manage our events for a few months now and it’s so much easier than updating numerous places when the timetable changes or a new event is added. Now we just update the calendar on Google and the changes are reflected wherever the calendar is embedded. Users can also subscribe to the calendar or add single events to their own calendar. We’ve also recently used it as a shared calendar for scheduling purposes for our busy induction weeks.

Barriers

There have been a number of barriers to the Library 2.0 developments, some which may have been exclusive to us but many that I imagine are shared with other libraries.

External Hosting and Software

Many of the Web 2.0 products we use are external products, often hosted externally. This has immediate issues when it comes to reliability and stability. Services change over time, which is often a positive thing but may mean that your service no longer functions in the same way you wanted it to. You may find that it suffers “downtime” whilst the software is being upgraded or simply because the servers are not reliable. You may even find that the service ends completely without warning.

This can be a big issue for institutions, and understandably so. An alternative option whilst still utilising the technologies is to use open source software but host it internally therefore passing control back to the institution. Examples of this are using the WordPress.org blogging software (rather than their hosted service at WordPress.com) and the MediaWiki software for wikis. This way, the institution can update when it wants to (and also therefore not when it doesn’t want to!) and also has greater flexibility with the functionality and style of the software.

Staff Awareness

Another issue has been lack of awareness and uncertainty about the technologies utilised. Quite often, I have found that people are pleasantly surprised when they realise how easy it actually is to use. I understand that some of the software is bewildering at first experience though, and getting over that stage if you are uncertain about the fundamentals of the technology (for example, what on earth is a wiki or a blog?!) can be a big hurdle. Something that I think is now being recognised by the profession is that more time needs to be allocated for keeping staff up-to-date and providing training or even just time during work to explore the technologies.

Culture Change

This is something I am particularly aware of, probably because I am part of the so-called “net generation”. I like to share experiences and work collaboratively, but I know this can be quite a culture change to many who are used to working in isolation and keeping their work to themselves. When you have a shared calendar for example, or a shared blog, it can take some getting used to. Clear definition of roles and expectations from the beginning can help alleviate this.

User Needs and Experience

This is one of the main issues for me – although I am a keen user of many new technologies and use a lot in my own life, I only want to adopt them at work if they make sense from a user point of view – whether this is other staff when we are thinking about a shared resource like a wiki, or our community when it is a development for users.

Over the summer we have thought a lot about the future of the blogs; whether to merge the subject blogs or keep them separate, and what the actual purpose of each blog is. There are many issues around merging the blogs – such as whether to include all subjects (not all currently have a blog) and the logistics of subscribing to your subject only. The main issue for me was to look at it from a user point of view. With many subjects all on one blog, you can use categories to create separate RSS feeds for each subject. This initially seemed like a feasible way of merging the blogs whilst still allowing users to subscribe to only their subject. However, from examining our blog stats, most of our users subscribe by e-mail, suggesting that many of them do not currently use RSS feeds. I considered having a guide on the blog and holding training sessions, but in the end decided it was too much to expect of our users and would likely put them off subscribing if it was too confusing.

Ultimately, we are here for our users and if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t of use to them, there is little point us investing time in it. For example, if Facebook fell dramatically in popularity, it would make no sense to continue to develop our Facebook page and we should instead concentrate our efforts on whatever else our users are familiar with.

This is a fundamental part of the Web 2.0 philosophy for me; have a go – if it works, great, if it doesn’t, there’s no big loss. I like to invest a small amount of time trying something and assess whether or not it is worth pursuing after you’ve given it a chance. If it isn’t or the barriers are too great, just scrap it or try something else.

How about you?  What barriers have you experienced with Library 2.0 Initiatives and how do you overcome them? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Jo Alcock, University of Wolverhampton

Posted in Blog, Guest-post | Tagged: | 6 Comments »