UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for December, 2008

Revisiting Web Server Usage Statistics

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 December 2008

Back in April 2008 I published a blog post entitled “The Rise and Fall of Apache?” which described the sharp decline in use of the Apache Web server software – and the corresponding growth in use of Microsoft’s server software.

This led to a debate as to whether the figures gave an accurate picture, with Mike Nolan, Phil Cunningham, Stephen Downes and Phil Wilson pointing out some flaws in the statistics, outlining some of the complexities of the server environment and commenting on another set of figures which showed that the numbers of active Web sites using Apache was still growing, unlike the numbers for Microsoft.

Well the figures six months later show that the relative numbers of Web servers provided by Apache and Microsoft have stabilised, as shown below.

Netcraft Findings, Feb 2008

And I’m sure we will also find that these figures will continue to be interpreted in various ways, with marketing departments for Microsoft and Apache (if such a beast exists) and proponents for the two products using the same data to justify their own preferences.

But I also suspect that we’ll see similar responses being taken to graphs for a whole host of Web 2.0 services, including services often mentioned in this blog such as Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, etc. Indeed a tweet by Dion Hitchcliffe alerted me to a post on The Poverty of Social Networks and the Death of Web 2.0 which argued that “It is safe now to say that “Web 2.0″ is dead. The evidence is irrefutable …“.

We do need to monitor such trends, especially when we are using services to support important activities. But let’s remember that the discussion often starts with the figures. The evidence is often not irrefutable and open to discussion and debate – as many of the comments to Peter Schwartz’s post on the death of Web 2.0 has demonstrated.

Posted in Web Server | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

W3C’s Financial Difficulties Affects Their Validators

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 December 2008

Molly Holzschlag recently wrote a blog post entitled W3C Validators in Jeopardy in which she pointed out that “As many folks who follow the W3C are aware, financial and bureaucratic issues have challenged the organization for many years“. Molly went on to describe how “It’s come to pass that the funding necessary to maintain and grow validation services at the W3C has become overwhelming to the W3C’s operational budget. As such, the validators are in jeopardy.

A donation system has been set up which is described on the W3C Validator Donation Program page.

As Molly says “we’ve had the use of validation tools via the W3C for so long and without cost has been a significant component in the teaching and evangelism surrounding Web standards and best practices“.

But who will have the resources to support this request? And if funding for the validators is uncertain, what next? Is W3C in a position in which the long term sustainability of its standards can  be guaranteed? And didn’t we feel that open standards brought about freedom from the uncertainties  of commercial pressures? It’s time for the risk assessment of standards organisations, I feel, and not just the providers of networked services.

Posted in standards | Leave a Comment »

Facebook Saves Lives

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 December 2008

But let’s be honest – not all Facebook applications allow data to be exported. But need this be a overriding reason why Facebook should be avoided?” I asked recently. And Stephen Downes’s response was unequivocal – “Yes“.

Now Stephen is an intelligent man and I’m a regular reader of his blog.  But I feel that he’s wrong in his seemingly fixed position on Facebook – and note I say ‘seemingly’ as Stephen is a Facebook contact of mine! :-)

And when I read the article in the Guardian recently on how “Facebook is new tool in transplant donor appeals” which described how “Facebook users are coming to the aid of children who need life-saving transplants”  it struck me that if I or a friend or family member needed a transplant, I wouldn’t have a blinkered view on the mechanism used to provide the solution.

But it’s true that their are issues which need to be acknowledged and decisions which need to made for organisations which are thinking about making use of Facebook – and, let’s be honest, many organisations do make use of Facebook.

Richard Akerman (who, like Stephen Downes is from Canada – the country which has the highest Facebook usage) touched on the complexities in a recent comment on my blog post:

Facebook is quite a complex example of a walled garden unfortunately. In a way, it’s more like a one-way mirrored garden. You can easily bring content *in*, but it’s hard to let content *out*. And when we talk about wall, it has a couple meanings: 1) can’t be seen unless you’re logged in 2) can’t be indexed by Google (more important to me than #1). I guess the main issue I have with Facebook is it’s a garden where the plots have no markers. *Some* things are indexed on the public web. Others are not. *Within* Facebook, some kinds of content (e.g. notes) are very hard (impossible?) to search.

From this perspective we might regard Facebook as being like paper – it’s easy to get digital content into paper content but more difficult to get it back to digital format again, especially if you want to get it into a rich digital format.  And Facebook, like paper, isn’t easy to search.

Perhaps, also like paper, we should be less fixated with having an institutional ‘position’ on Facebook. And yet the development community does seem to want to continually discuss the problems with Facebook. I can appreciate the need for user education on best practices for making use of Facebook (I was surprised when recently I learnt that one museum was creating content about forthcoming events in Facebook rather than surfacing an RSS feed of its events).  Andf there’s a need to understand the terms and conditions – not many, people, for example, seem to have read that “Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content“.

Last year the evidence showed us that “A student campaign using the social networking website Facebook has forced a multinational bank into a U-turn over charges” and now Facebook seems to be saving lives.  And maybe it can attract potential students to a university or visitors to an exhibition. Is this so bad?

And to revisit the question “”not all Facebook applications allow data to be exported. But need this be a overriding reason why Facebook should be avoided?” perhaps the answer has to be “It all depends on the context”.

An answer which reflects a moral relativism which I suspect the Irish catholic  priests who were responsible for my education when I was young would not agree with – particularly on Christmas day. But lets leave the moral simplicities to the past .  And remember that as Kathryn Greenhill recently pointed out on this blog “… the recent change to the Facebook video platform – which allows the user to upload a video to Facebook and then embed it for public viewing outside Facebook – may be indicate a bit of experimentation with the usual “lock out” approach ??”  Perhaps we should be rejoicing for the sinner who has repented :)

Merry Xmas to all.

Posted in Facebook | 2 Comments »

14 UK Information Professionals to Follow on Twitter?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 December 2008

A tweet from Owen Stephens alerted me to the news that “TFPL blog has 14 info professionals to follow on Twitter Inc. @andypowe11, @paulmiller, @psychemedia, @briankelly, @karenblakeman“.

And yes, a post of the TFPL lists “14 UK information professionals to follow on Twitter” and goes on to suggest that “If you are not on Twitter, and are fed up of listening to everyone go on it, here are 14 UK information professionals whose tweets should be interesting enough to tempt you to dip your toes into the water“.

But this, to my mind, is missing the point of Twitter. You don’t follow someone on Twitter to listen to pearls of wisdom; rather Twitter is about your community and your engagement with the community.

I made a similar comment in a post on the “Directory of (E-)Learning Professionals on Twitter” which described “Jane’s list of “100+ (E-)Learning Professionals to follow on Twitter“.

Now if the blog post had mentioned the briefing documents we have recently published on micro blogs or the various posts about Twitter on this blog then the post might have been more useful to the readers. But when, I wonder, will blogs published by information professionals start to get Twitter?

Posted in Twitter | 2 Comments »

Just What Is A “Walled Garden”?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 December 2008

You read comments, from time to time, dismissing a service because it’s a ‘walled garden’. And no further discussion seems to be needed. It’s a walled garden. Period.

Except the research community is expected to challenge received wisdom and to be prepared to challenge conventional thinking. So let me ask the question. What is a walled garden?

The entry in Wikipedia states that the expression “refers to a closed set or exclusive set of information services provided for users (a method of creating a monopoly or securing an information system)“. The entry goes on to state that the term “is in contrast to providing consumers access to the open Internet for content and e-commerce“.

The examples of walled garden’s provided include the original AOL Service (“AOL started its business with revenue-sharing agreements with certain information providers in their subscriber-only space“), many of the initial set of services provided on WAP and Apple’s iPhone service.

But the definition is related primarily to phone and mobile devices – there is no suggestion that a Web-based service can be a walled garden.

The Whatis.com service’s definition does however address a broader notion of a walled garden: “On the Internet, a walled garden is an environment that controls the user’s access to Web content and services”.

It is interesting that this definition is not judgmental. The entry explains that “AOL UK’s Kid Channel established a walled garden to prevent access to inappropriate Web sites” although the entry does goe on to describe how a more common use of a walled garden is to protect business revenue: “a common reason for the construction of walled gardens is for the profits they generate: vendors collaborate to direct consumer’s Internet navigation to each others’ Web sites and to try to keep them from accessing the Web sites of competitors“.

A walled garden then, may be established to protect members of a community. So if an educational institution installs software “to prevent access to inappropriate Web sites” it then will be providing a walled garden.

Similarly as the UK’s JISCMail has been established to support the UK’s higher and further education communities an has policies which restrict use by people outside this community, we might also regard JISCMail as being part of a walled garden.

But the term walled garden seems to be more commonly used in a derogatory fashion, especially when used in the context of social networking services. But is Facebook, for example, really a walled garden? And if it is, then how significant is this fact?

I’m assuming that the criticism of Facebook is based on the belief that you can add data to Facebook but you can’t get it out again. Such criticisms could also be applied to Apple with its iPhone service: applications can only be installed using Apple’s iStore service, unless you are willing to take the (possibly criminal) risk of ‘jailbreaking’ the device.  And recently I’ve read an article published in the Register which argues that Apple [is]  more closed than Microsoft.

The good news for Facebook users, though, is that there are ways in which you can use the service without facing such barriers, Unlike, say, the situation with mobile phones there don’t seem to be significant barriers to getting your stuff into Facebook. There are, for example, a variety of ways in which blog posts can be incorporated into Facebook. And many other Web 2.0 services (such as Twitter, Slideshare, ) also provide Facebook applications which provide the convenience of allow their services to be used within the Facebook environment. And the data held in such services can still be managed by the host service – this, for example, is the approach I take with the UK Web Focus blog, which is managed in the WordPress.com environment, but is also surfaced within Facebook.

But let’s be honest – not all Facebook applications allow data to be exported. but need this be a overriding reason why Facebook should be avoided? After all when, in August 2007, students made use of Facebook which was successful in forcing the HSBC to make a U-turn on its plans to introduce student charges (a story which was picked up by the BBC and  by many newspapers and bloggers) the important aspect was the exploitation of a popular communications medium. Job successfully done, many of the students who were involved would probably argue. And to suggest that they should wait until a social networking service which the twittering classes would prefer is to miss the point.

What do you think a walled garden is? And how should we respond (as individuals and, perhaps, as educators and policy makers) to the popularity of services which may (or may not) be classed as walled gardens?

Posted in Web2.0 | 12 Comments »

An Alternative to Europeana?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 December 2008

A tweet from Owen Stephens alerted me to a blog post from Lorcan Dempsey entitled “Das Bundesarchiv and Wikimedia Commons“.

Lorcan’s blog post described the announcement from Das Bundesarchiv (German National Archive) and Wikimedia Commons:

Starting on Thursday Dec 4, 2008, Wikimedia Commons will witness a massive upload of new images. We are anticipating about 100,000 files from a donation from the German Federal Archive. These images are mostly related to the history of Germany (including the German Democratic Republic) and are part of a cooperation between Wikimedia Germany and the Federal Archive. [Commons:Bundesarchiv - Wikimedia Commons]

Lorcan went on to add that “This is another interesting example of a major cultural organization putting materials in an important web destination. Presumably there is some background context which explains why they are going here rather than in the Flickr Commons which has been providing a venue for image collections from several cultural institutions (most recently The National Library of New Zealand and the Imperial War Museum).

Indeed. Where should we provide access to such valuable cultural resources – Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons or elsewhere?

In his tweet Owen concluded with the question “An alternative to Europeana?“.  Could services such  Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons provide alternative access points to cultural resources?  Or could depositing such resources in these services as well as in centrally-funded services maximise the impact and use of such resources – whilst also sharing the bandwidth demands which caused Europeana to crash on the day of its launch (a topic, incidentally, which was addressed in some depth my my colleague Paul Walk)?

What do you think?  Is the future centralised and managed by public institutions, open to the commercial providers or a hybrid of the above? And if the hybrid approach appears to provide a safe compromise how do we establish where the boundaries should be?

Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Dipity Breaks – And Is Then Fixed

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 December 2008

Back in August 2008 I  wrote about problems with the Squirl.info service – and despite the “It works!” message I’m currently receiving it seems that the service is now no more, it’s an ex-service, it’s gone to meet its maker.

In light of the credit crunch we might expect to hear of more Web 2.0 failures (although, of course, it may be that it’s the more heavyweight traditional IT companies which fail to respond to changing market conditions). And when I went to my Dipity timeline for my involvement in Web accessibility work and discovered that no data was being displayed I wondered if the Dipity service was starting to break.

But rather than curse technology for failing to work I filled in the Feedback form on the Dipity Web site. And within a couple of hours I received the following response from Zack Steinkamp:

Hi Brian –

There seemed to be a small glitch in our rendering system.  I’ve cleared it out, and your timeline is whole again.

Regards,
Zack Steinkamp
dipity.com

Now I’ve encountered many small glitches in services provided locally. And I have to admit that they aren’t all resolved so quickly (these days the speedy response will tend to come from an automated fault reporting system).  So my thanks to Zack for responding so quickly.  And not only that – I now have more faith in Dipity as I know that they’re not only providing the service but also have an effective fault reporting and fixing service.

But this, of course, doesn’t guarantee that the service will survive the economic crunch.  So what should I do about the data hosted by the service?

It may be that I don’t need to worry about the long term sustainability of the data. The reason I created the timeline was to support a paper myself and David Sloan were writing on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility”. The visualisation of our work, which I described in a blog post on ” Over Ten Years Of Accessibility Work“, helped me to identify a number of distinct phases in my activities related to Web accessibility work, from a period of naivety (when I felt that the WAI model would provide universal accessibility), to a period of doubt (when I was doing littler work in this area), followed by a meeting of minds when I discovered others with timilar reservation which then led to our first paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility“. This then led to a period in which the holistic approach was further developed and extended to other areas, followed by a period of promoting this approach to various user communities, the most recent event having been described in a post on “Designing for Disability Seminar“.

So for that example the timeline was used as part of the process of reflecting on my work and the paper (and accompanying blog post) were the main outcomes of my use of the timeline. And just as I have thrown away the various scraps of paper I used when I was working on the paper and have forgotten the various discussions I had with my co-author, so I could regard the timeline as having fulfilled its main purpose.  But I’ve left it (and have recently updated it) because I feel it may have some additional worth.  And if I wish to manage the underlying data I can simply export the data as an RSS feed and host this elsewhere.

I’m pleased that the rich functionality provided by the Dipity service is based on the simplicity of this data:

<item>
<title><![CDATA[Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility]]></title>
<description><![CDATA[Brian Kelly gave a talk on
"Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility" at the "Designing for Disability"
seminar held at the British Museum, London on 5th December 2008.]]></description>
<link>http://www.dipity.com/briankelly/Web_Accessibility_Timeline_For_
Brian_Kelly?eid=a5b0837020c5cef0</link>
<guid isPermaLink="false" >a5b0837020c5cef0</guid>
<pubDate>Fri, 5 Dec 2008 12:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
</item>

But if I do wish to (or am forced to) move to another service, having the data isn’t sufficient. What alternative service can I use? And how easy would it me to import the data and have an equivalent service up and running?

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

Disappearing Resources On Institutional Web Sites

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 December 2008

I recently received the publisher’s proofs of an accessibility paper which will be published in the new year. The reviewers spotted a number of broken links in the references. Some of them were links to previous papers I had published, and the errors were introduced by the publisher (which I confirmed by checking the details of the paper which I submitted). But for a couple of other references the pages did seem to have disappeared. I contact Stuart Smith, one of the co-authors, and asked him if he knew anything about the references he had supplied which seemed to have disappeared.

Stuart told me that a new e-learning team in his institution has rebuilt the e-learning Web site, resulting, it seems, in the loss of existing resources. Stuart wrote a blog post about this incident entitled “Mummy I lost my MP3!“. Stuart felt that “My MP3 problem shows to me that the argument that the ‘cloud’ is too unstable doesn’t hold water … because institutional systems are open to the same criticisms“. Stuart concluded that “My solution to my MP3 problem will probably lie in the ‘cloud’ I’ll find a suitable archiving host that I like and also keep a backup offline (like I should have done in the first place) and if that host disappears at least I will know about it“.

I’m sure Stuart isn’t alone. How many resources do you think will have disappeared following the establishment of new Web teams or the release of new software?  Maybe institutional repositories will have a role to play, as they try to address the persistent identifier problem by at least decoupling the address of the resource form the technology used to access the resource.  But repositories won’t be used to manage all resources on an institutional Web site, will they?

Since our institutions don’t seem to have yet cracked the problem of management of resources across changes in policies, staff and technologies, is Stuart right, I wonder,  in regarding ‘the cloud’ (e.g. services such as the Internet Archive, perhaps) as the place (or one of the places) to deposit resources for safe-keeping?  Or perhaps the question is whether such services may be more reliable than the institutional Web site. After all, if your own institution misplaces your resources, you can;’t sue them, can you?

Posted in preservation, Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Why I’m A Fan Of The Edublog Awards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 December 2008

I mentioned recently that the UK Web Focus blog had been shortlisted for the Best Educational Tech Support blog in this year’s Edublog Awards. As I commented in the post there have been criticisms of the idea of awards for blogging and Paul Walk has recently joined in the discussion.

I disagree and am pleased to have been nominated by Martin Weller andAJ Cann. And I’d like to give my reasons.

In some quarters there is a view that because of the differences between blogs it would be unfair to have an annual awards ceremony.  But equally you could argue that you can’t judge the merits of different works of fiction – and yet this is done, with the Booker awards being the best known. And as to the flaws in making worthwhile comparisons of merit, you might also argue that the Premiership isn’t about the merits of 11 footballers over a season, but the purchasing powers of American, Russian, Thai or Saudi billionaires. This may be true, but it’s also irrelevant.

I don’t feel we should be living in an ideologically-pure IT environment, independent of the complexities, challenges and flaws of the real world. Martin Weller put such differing perspectives in an historical context in his post on Cato and Cicero – and, as I said in a post based on Martin’s observation, I am on the side of realism and pragmatism. I suspect that Stephen Downes’ comment that “… the internet is already awash with really vile and intrusive commercial activity”  (which I mentioned in that post will be regarded by the purists as applicable to blog awards) is a view that will be shared by some.  Indeed I’m aware of a certain antipathy towards those involved in commercial and marketing activities from many involved in IT development.  But as I say in my talks about Web 2.0, “Web 2.0 is a marketing term” before going on to add that “there’s nothing wrong with that“. Although I should add that despite acknowledging that I live in (and benefit from) a capitalist society I haven’t benefitted financially from the 483 blog posts published in just over 2 years – and there’s no personal financial reward for the winner of the Eddies.

Being shortlisted for awards such as the Edublogs will, however, be helpful in promoting the work I am involved in.  In brief this, and the main topics covered in this blog are standards, accessibility and Web 2.0. But rather than having a one-dimensional view of these areas I also try to ensure that readers are aware of associated complexities. For example:

Web accessibility: I have pointed out the limitations of WAI’s approaches to Web accessibility and described approaches which show how WCAG can be used in context.

Standards: I have discussed the limitations of a one-dimensional view of open standards and have tried to explore reasons why open standards have failed to live up to their expectations.

Web 2.0: I have described the potential benefits of Web 2.0, but have also described failures (such as Pownce and Squirl)  in a number of Web 2.0 services.

The approaches I have taken in exploring these issues has reflected the approach I take when I give presentations – I give a personal view which I hope engages with the audience. And this is an approach I feel others should take when they set up a blog. As I have said on a number of occasions recently, for workshops aimed at staff from museums, libraries and archives, you should encourage the passions, interests and professionalism of your staff, and avoid having a blog which is clearly the product of a committee, with any hint of controversy being suppressed by the editorial processes. Avoid the temptations of the corporate blog, for users will tend to be sceptical, as a recent blog post argued.

But how can you give clear evidence to justify the ROI for a blog?” was a question I was asked when I ran a blogging workshop recently. Now I don’t believe that responses such as “Blogs are all about the individual” would be appropriate. So I spoke about the purposes of a blog (e.g. engaging with new audience) and corresponding metrics which could be used . But in addition to figures which may indicate successful user engagement (although, of course, I do blog about the limitations of such metrics) awards ceremonies can also demonstrate the support of one’s peers – and can help in more effective promotion of one’s views.

So if you support such views and agree that this blog “manages to push at the comfort boundaries of IT services, but does so with intelligence and insight into the practical issues“ and would like to see such views being endorsed  at an international awards ceremony I’d encourage you to vote for the blog.  But if you disagree with such views, you can always vote for one of the other shortlisted nominations (I also read the eFoundations blog which I feel would be a worthy winner – although I should add that I know Andy Powell & Pete Johnston). And if you fancy being contrary, you can always vote for Paul Walk’s blog in the Best Library/Librarian blog category. Indeed as we’ve been nominated in different categories there’s nothing to stop you from voting from both our blogs. And if we both won, we’d be in the position of myself graciously accepting the award and Paul turning it down. Now that would make a wonderful publicity stunt! And as  to whether we have engineered this, on the advice of our agents, my response is “No comment” :-)

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments »

Pownce? It’s About The Community, Stupid!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 December 2008

I was an early adopter of the Pownce micro-blogging service, sending my first Pownce post on 22nd January 2008.  As you can see from the accompanying image I was interested in how Pownce differed from Twitter. After discovering that Pownce provided richer functionality than Twitter I then realised that in order for Pownce to provide a useful tool for me I needed to build a community of Pownce users.

But that’s where Pownce failed. Despite the functionality it provided it never caught on, whereas Twitter went from strength to strength.  And tomorrow (15th December 2008) Pownce will close. What, then, are the lessons to be learnt? I’d suggest there is a simple lesson which the development community should reflect on – the most important aspect of a social networking service is the community of users.  And it doesn’t matter how great the development methodologies are, how interoperable the standards may be, how widely accessible the interface is -  if you aren’t successful in attracting a sustainable user community the servicew will fail. Just as Pownce failed.

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

WCAG 2.0 is Now An Official W3C Recommendation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 December 2008

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines for Web content accessibility were officially launched yesterday (11 December 2009).  Hurrah – the very dated and flawed WCAG 1.0 guidelines are no more!  And organisations which require Web resources to conform to WCAG 1.0 should be quickly updating their policies, their training course, their workflow process, etc.  Although as the WCAG 2.0 guidelines have been under development for several years (the first draft was published in January 2001!) with a number of iterations of towards the published version having been released over the past couple of years this should have given organisations plenty of time to plan their migration strategy.

The guidelines are much improved, with an emphasis on conformance with four key POUR principles (resources should be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust). And although it should be remembered that the guidelines have not yet been proven to demonstrably enhance accessibility and there is little experience in how the guidelines will be implemented in a real world context it should also be pointed out that the WCAG 1.0 guidelines have been shown to be flawed. So there is no excuse not to move on.

The challenge will be knowing how to apply WCAG 2.0, based on the experiences we’ve had in the past.  And as I learnt from the Designing For Disability event I spoke at last week, the Deaf together with those with learning disabilities do seem to find visually rich content more accessible – although I should hasten to add that these findings were described as feedback from particular case studies and should not be regarded as universal truths.  Indeed I would suggest that it is a truth which should be universally acknowledged that universal accessibility is a pipe dream, and that we should be seeking to enhance access and widening participation.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Butler Group Report on “Enterprise Web 2.0: Building the next generation Workplace”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 December 2008

I recently was sent an evaluation copy of the Butler Group Report on “Enterprise Web 2.0: Building the next generation Workplace” for me to read. Some brief thoughts on the report are given below.

The Butler Group reports are aimed at senior managers who need to understand how emerging technological developments may affect organisational business processes and strategic decision-making. Often such reports fail to engage me, but this report acknowledges that “it would be a mistake to dismiss technology altogether” and goes on to describe how various technological and cultural aspects of Web 2.0 can have significant impact at a strategic level. So I did find the report of interest – and do feel that senior managers who have responsibilities for strategic policy-making which will be affected by use of Web 2.0 in an enterprise content need to be aware of the issues raised in the report.

The technical Web 2.0 description provided is likely to be familiar to many readers of this blog, the four main bullet points being:

  1. The principle tenets of Web 2.0 are that the Web is the platform, software and content are delivered as services, and that people participate.
  2. The technologies in Web 2.0 are generally disruptive.
  3. The technologies of Web 2.0 are still maturing and security and management are to be resolved.
  4. Organisations must investigate the opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 technologies.

Now I would agree with the second point: yes, Web 2.0 is disruptive using the definition in Wikipedia that “A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is a technological innovation that improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect“. But I would also agree that organisations need to investigate the opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 technologies.

The report went on to gives reasons why such evaluations are needed, ranging from the new business opportunities which are being provided, the need for corporate managers to acknowledge the importance of the user (something that was in many cases not regarded as a priority), together with a need for “Corporate IT departments [to] reduce, reuse, recycle, re-engineer and re-think if they are to deliver a sustainable IT service to the organisation“.

I think this is right – but I’m also worried that we’ll see large-scale public sector initiatives which fail to acknowledge the disruptive aspects of  the Enterprise Web 2.0 environment and simply seek to replicate existing services using Web 2.0 technologies and fail to engage the users in the processes.  The UK e-University (the government-backed initiative to provide online delivery of UK higher education courses to students worldwide and to give improved access to higher education for under-represented groups of students in the UK) provided a good example of a top-down approach to a national service which was launched with great expectations but “failed largely because it took a supply-driven rather than a demand-led approach to a very ambitious venture in an emerging market. Sufficient market research into the level or nature of consumer demand was not undertaken, and the project failed to form effective partnerships with private sector investors.” according to a report on “Lessons to be learned from the failure of the UK e-University” (PDF) by Paul Bacsich.

Am I wrong in being concerned that similar top-down approaches to national networked services will be taken without learning from the lessons of the past?  So can I suggest that policy makers read this report to discover why “Enterprise 2.0 is about business agility and IT flexibility” – and remember that this isn’t me (coming from a technical perspective)  speaking: it’s the considered reflections of a group of business analysts.

Posted in Web2.0 | 8 Comments »

What Makes A Good API? Doing The Research Using Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 December 2008

My colleague Marieke Guy is involved in work investigating best practice on “What Makes A Good API?“. The work began with a half-day workshop at the CETIS 2008 conference – we were fortunate that the topic we had been invitd to facilitate coincided with Marieke’s current area of work (although, of course, this wasn’t really coincidental, but reflects a growing awareness of the importance of APIs).

The CETIS workshop was entitled “Technological Innovation in a World of Web APIs“. This provided a valuable start for the work, with useful input from a number of important communities: developers who are already making use of APIs (either consuming APIs provided by other services or providing APIs to the services they are developing); project managers who may be considering the potential benefits – and correcpsonding costs – or providing APIs for their project deliverables and  and IT support staff who may have responsibilities of supporting such services once they are deployed into service.

But there’s still a need for further research and for listening into to the discussions which are taking place regarding use of APIs. How should one go about this, was a question Marieke and I discussed recently.

One suggestion I made was to explore the potential of Twitter.  As shown, you can set up a search query in Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck. Will searching for a term such as “API” provide useful information, I wonder?  Well I’ve found one person who is very critical of Skype’s closed APIs, another will has made great progress with iPhone APIs and someone who has responded to a query by stating that Tokbox APIs go out (are deployed, I think) very quickly.

Is the useful? Clearly the approach is not scaleable to all areas of research. But you might expect software developers to be early adopters of Twitter and to use Twitter to discuss their work.  Indeed the final example I gave above was from dbillian, a Toxbox employee.  And as I have previously written about Tokbox I potentially have a contact with someone who may be responsive to queries about, in this case, the APIs provided by the Toxbox video chat service.

Now in a previous version of the Tweetdeck client I could select whether to search across the tweets from the  Twitter users I follow or across all tweets globally. I personally found the former more useful as, in some but not all cases, I would know about them and their interests. However that feature seems to have disppeared following a recent upgrade of the Tweetdeck software.

Will Twitter help in the research, I wonder?  Let’s try it and see.

Posted in Twitter | 4 Comments »

Designing for Disability Seminar

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 December 2008

The Designing for Disability

A recent blog post by Neil Witt on The VC’s New VLE inspired me to provide a new introduction to a talk I gave at the “Designing for Disability” seminar held on  Friday 5th December 2008 at the British Museum.

I was an invited speaker at this event was organised by the Museums Association and the Jodi Awards. The title of my talk, the final talk of the day, was “Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility“.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Let me tell you the tale, I began, of the benevolent emperor. He was kind and wished to do his best for his subjects.  So when he was told of a secret formulae produced by a wizard from a far-off land which would ensure that all of the subjects of his empire would be able to access all of his edicts, he wanted to know more. He was told that the secret formulae would ensure that the blind, the handicapped and the crippled of his land (this story, I should add, took place long ago, when,sadly, such politically incorrect words were the norm) were would all be able to read his edicts. “This sounds truly wonderful” the emperor announced (thinking that it would also be good if they could also read about the new taxes he intended to implement – for even in fairy tales, there is a need for financial prudence and long term sustainability).

And so the emperor announced that henceforth all official pronouncements, all new laws, all new taxes must comply with the WAI way (as the magic new approach became known. And so the lord chief justice issued the proclamation and the Knights of the Accessible Table rode through the kingdom to ensure that the magic was being used everywhere.  “Anyone for fails to comply with the magic will be banished“, it was announced.

Life was good, in the land. And when one of the knights who was made blind in a battle complained that he could read the edicts but couldn’t understand them, he was ignored. And when rumours appeared that there were places in the far-flung regions of the empire where the magic wasn’t being used, but people could still read the emperor’s edicts, this was dismissed.

“But it’s true!” said a little boy.  “There’s a new magic, that’s even better. It’s not the WAI way magic, it’s called ‘Inclusive design“.

And in my talk I described the story which the little boy told.

And this story is true, dear friends. For I was that little boy – and so, too, were David Sloan, Liddy Nevile, Jane Seale, EA Draffan, Helen Petrie, Caro Howell, Lawrie Phipps, Andy Heath, Hamilton Fraser, Elaine Swift and many others. For that little boy was a member of the Knights Who Gathered Evidence. And here is the tale I told, which is available on Google Video and Zentation and is also embedded below (note video was added on 9th December 2008, after the post was originally published).

Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility
52:16
Talk on ‘Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility’

The Evidence From The Day

This tale introduced the talk I gave, in which I summarised the various peer0reviewed papers I’ve contributed to since 2004. I described the limitation of the WAI model and the WCAG guidelines, the evidence from a number of Web accessibility surveys which demonstrates that conforming with the guidelines does not necessarily provide accessible Web services and Web services which do not conform to the guidelines have been found to be very accessible.   I went on to describe some of the challenges to be faced in understanding what accessibility means in the context of learning and cultural appreciation.

I was particularly pleased that the holistic approach to Web accessibility which I described seemed to apply so closely to the various case studies which were described during the day.This included:

  • Andy Minnion’s talk on “New Media for Access and Participation by People with Learning Disabilities“. He concluded that universal access with a single interface and minor changes of style and appearance do not meet the needs of this group. Content itself needs to be adapted and technical compliance, while important for other groups, is not in itserlf and accessibility solution.
  • Linda Ellis’s talk on the use of  British Sign Language video guides to improve access for deaf visitors to Bantock House and Park. She argued that content aimed specifically for Deaf visitors was needed and that, as BSL is a language in its own right, information provided in BSL is needed, since Deaf visitors may find it difficult to understand information provided in English.
  • Andrew Payne, The National Archives, on a project to maximise access to the Prisoner 4099 archives. Andrew mentioned how “Flash can be accessible, but you need to be careful”. Based on experiences such as this Andrew concluded by suggest that we “Don’t believe the box tickers”.

I very much agree with Andrew – don’t believe the box tickers. And don’t believe anyone who suggests there’s a simple solution to difficult and complex challenges – whether they be wicked elves or government policy makers!

Posted in Accessibility, Events | 2 Comments »

UK Web Focus Blog Nominated For Edublog Award

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 December 2008

I’m pleased to report that the UK Web Focus blog has been nominated for the Best educational tech support blog category of the 2008 Edublog Awards. In addition my colleague Paul Walk’s blog has also been nominated in the Best librarian / library blog category.

The other blogs nominated for the Best Educational Tech Support award are The Edublogger, The Clever Sheep, The Wired Campus, Geeked, Tech Tutors, Teach42, Teacher in a Strange Land, Off on a Tangent, efoundations, JoeWoodOnline, Teachers love Smartboards and Langwitches blogs.

Now I am aware of Stephen Downes criticisms of this year’s awards (although he does ask readers of his blog to “be sure to vote“). And Stephen has cited Doug Johnson’s post “on ranking, awards and other nonsense“. But if you feel that the Edublogs awards do have a role to play I’d invite you to look at the other blogs nominated in this (and the other) categories – which might help you find new blogs which you find valuable – and, if you are so included, to vote for your preferred blog.

Martin Weller nominated my blog, stating that “rather obviously I’m opting for Brian Kelly’s blog. Brian manages to push at the comfort boundaries of IT services, but does so with intelligence and insight into the practical issues“. AJ Cann also nominated my blog and James Clay was torn, nominating Steve Wheeler’s  Learning with ‘e’ blog for the Best individual blog, although he went on to add that “Other blogs that were in the running include Josie Fraser’s SocialTech blog and Brian Kelly’s UK Web Focus. The key here was which blog did I read on a regular basis and which inspired me the most“. James went on to state that in choosing his selection for the Best educational tech support blog he “was torn between Andy Powell and Pete Johnston’s eFoundations blog and Brian Kelly’s UK Web Focus” before choosing eFoundations for this category.

But the final choice is up to you!

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Pinky and Perky and Swedish Topless Model Caught in Use as Learning Objects

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 December 2008

I introduced Pinky and Perky in a recent blog post and I used them when I presented my paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference. And recently I used the dancing and singing pigs from the days of my youth when I gave the final invited plenary talk on “Realising The Potential of Web 2.0” at the “Nordlib 2.0 – Get Inspired by Web 2.0 for Libraries” conference held in Stockholm.

In Stockholm I used the video clip to illustrate how the dangers of an over-managed approach to popular culture wasn’t introduced in the Web era – Pinky and Perky were banned from the BBC in 1996: there was a general election about to be held and I assume the BBC were concerned about “pinko lefty” sentiments which they might try to influence young and impressionable minds (after all, where do you think the term pinko came from :-). This reference is available 47 minutes into the presentation (see Google Video or the Zentation link- where its synched to the slide on “Inappropriate Content“).

On the day before the conference I visited the Nordiska Museum where I saw a cigarette case (I think it was - I couldn’t read the Swedish description) which featured a topless model – from the 17th or 18th century. Again I felt that this provided a useful example I could use at the conference to illustrate my point that use of new technologies for ‘pornography’ is nothing new.

Now these two examples meant something to me and where likely to be new to the audience, thus avoiding reuse of cliched presentational devices. In the talk in Stockholm I also updated my slides a hour or so before delivering the talk, using a tweet and subsequent blog post from Karen Blakeman in which she commented that PageFlakes had added advertisments on its Web site overnight, without prior notice. “How would you respond if that happened to a Web 2.0 service you used in your organisation?” I asked the audience.

Non of these example made use of learning resources from a learning object repository. And for the objects I used (a YouTube video of Pinky and Perky, a photograph I had taken in a local museum and an interesting discussion point I’d came across a few hours previously) it would make little sense for me to deposit for reuse by others. Their value, I feel, comes from their relevance to me and my style of presentation, their (regional) links with the place I’m talking at and their timeliness. In fact I also made use of a Barack Obama image and the “Yes we can” slogan which again will time out very quickly.

Do we need repositories for learning objects, I might ask. Or are such repositories for the chore presentations (yet another talk on the same old subject to a large group of undergraduates), which won’t be used by speakers who want to provide fresh and relevant talks? On the other hand, perhaps this is mere indulgencies on the part of the speaker. After all, will a group of Nordic librarians ‘get’ Pinky and Perky?  Mm, maybe I should have used the Swedish chef from the Muppets? or Abba, perhaps, if I want to go for the more popular British stereotypes of Swedish culture?

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

Realising The Potential of Web 2.0

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 December 2008

Earlier this year the JISC launched a debate of Libraries of the Future. UKOLN recently contributed to this debate by sponsoring the Mashed Library event which was facilitated by Owen Stephens, Imperial College.  My contribution has been in exploring best practices for exploiting the potential of Library 2.0. I presented a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference on “Libraries in the 2.0 Age and Beyond” held at the National Library of Singapore and gave an updated version of the talk at the Nordlib 2.0 conference on “Nordlib 2.0 – Get Inspired by Web 2.0 for Libraries” held at Aula Magna, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden on 21st November 2008.

It was a privilege to be asked to give the final talk at the conference, and to have a full hour to describe my thoughts on how libraries should go about “Realising The Potential of Web 2.0“.

The conference blog provides more information about the conference and the talks which were given. The talks were streamed live and the videos are currently being edited and will be uploaded shortly. In addition I used a Flip camera to record my own talk and this is available on Google Video (and Blip.tv) and embedded below.

In addition I have used Zentation to synch the video with the PowerPoint slides, as illustrated below. The slides are also available on Slideshare.

Realising The Potential of Web 2.0
59:32
Talk on Realising The Potential of Web 2.0

I hope these different versions of the talk are useful. But if I was to provide only one version of the talk what, I wonder, should it be. The PowerPoint file on the UKOLN Web site, the HTML equivalent, the Slideshare manifestation (with the ability to be embedded elsewhere), the original .AVI file (warning, large file), the Google Video or Blip.TV video of the talk or the synched version of the talk and the slides on Zentation? And is the provision of a variety of versions a sensible precaution at a time when the sustainability of Web 2.0 may be questionable or confusing to the end user?

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

A Year In The Life of IWR’s Information Professional Of The Year

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 December 2008

It was last year on 5th December 2007 when I reported that I had been awarded the Information World Review’s Information Professional of the Year. With this year’s winner due to be announced at the Online Information 2008 conference in the next few days I thought it would be timely to summarise what I’ve been up to during my year as holder of the award (and also to update the portrait on the blog).

It’s been a very busy year for engaging with my user communities: I’ve given 32 presentations to date (with one more presentation to come) together with 2 online presentations. As can be seen from the accompanying map, talks have been given in Montreal (a half day blog workshop and a professional forum on openness at the Museums and the Web 2008 conference), Taiwan (an invited presentation on “Library 2.0: Opportunities and Challenges” at the NDAP 2008 conference), Singapore (an invited paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference) and Stockholm (an invited presentation on “Realising The Potential of Web 2.0” at the Nordlib 2.0 conference), as well as many talks throughout the UK.

This year has also seen an increased amount of direct engagement with the cultural heritage sector.  I’ve run a number of day-long workshops for MLA regional agencies, as well as additional events in Scotland and Wales. These have all gone done very well – one of the Sharing Made Simple workshops for example, was rated (on 1 score of 1 to 6) 5.91 for the facilitator’s knowledge of the subject, 5.82 for engagement with the participants and had an overall rating of 5.82.

The workshops have also provided an opportunity to gain a much better insight into the ways in which Web 2.0 can be used within the cultural heritage sector and also the barriers to its effective use. This information has being stored in a wiki (as opposed to the traditional approach of licking such potentially valuable information into the walled garden of flip charts!). A task on the new year will be to synthesise this information and to make the findings more widely available.

Reflections of my work activities have also been included in two books which I contributed to this year: Web Accessibility: Practical Advice for the Library and Information Professional” by Jenny Craven (ed.) and Information Literacy meets Library 2.0” by Peter Godwin and Jo Parker (eds).

This year has also seen me gaining more experiences in the support of Amplified Conferences and use of networked technologies to provide distance support, with a couple of examples of participation in online conferences.

In the past 12 months I have also published 190 blog posts on the UK Web Focus blog, with additional contributions made to the JISC PoWR blog.

It has been an enjoyable 12 months in my role as Information Professional of the Year, made particularly rewarding for seeing how the benefits of Web 2.0 are now becoming more widely accepted.  As one person commented on one of the workshop I facilitated earlier this year “Brian in particular displayed a real knowledge and enthusiasm for the topic, which was infectious“. I’m looking forward to continue to infect others with my expertise and enthusiasm for many year’s to come :-)

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