UK Web Focus

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Archive for April, 2009

CILIP: More Popular Than Swine Flu!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 30 April 2009

Background

When Bob McKee, CEO of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) wrote his blog post on “All of a Twitter” we can safely predict that he  wouldn’t have expect to CILIP to be featured as one of the top topics of discussion on Twitter, at one stage, according to one Twitter trending tools, seemingly being more widely discussed than swine flu.

Bob’s post, which was published back in February, looked at the question of CILIP’s involvement with Twitter. Should a professional organisation such as CILIP make use of Twitter? Bob view, which went beyond discussions of Twitter and addressed the wider use of social networking services hosted outside the institution, was unequivocal: “The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.

Phil Bradley responded with a blog post with an unequivocal title “CILIP – Epic FAIL”  although the tone of the post was measured

I like Bob – he’s a nice chap and very personable, but I can’t articulate enough how wrong he is on this issue, though I’ll try. He says ‘There’s some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have) any “official” presence on various lists or micro blog sites. Sorry Bob, but we were discussing this on Twitter two weeks ago. The boat has long since left on this one and we’ve moved onto other things related to CILIP now.

and invited CILIP to engage in a wider and more open discussion about how an organisation such as CILIP should be engaging with a Web 2.0 world.

CILIP2 Open Meeting

Phil was pleased that the CILIP Council responded to his post by arranging an open session on how CILIP could make use of Web 2.0 which was held yesterday afternoon (29 April 2009) after the morning’s Council meeting. I too was invited to speak at the meeting and, like Phil, was delighted to see how the Council had embracing a willingness to make use of Web 2.0 by encouraging live Twittering at the event and publicising it to a wider community who were invited to follow the #cilip2 tag on software such as Twitterfall.

The Twitter Channel

It was particularly pleasing to see the extent to which the wider CILIP community and other interested parties who couldn’t attend the meeting engaged with use of Twitter to get a feel for the talks and discussions at the Council meeting and also to raise a much wider set of issues about the role of CILIP. The popularity of the #cilip2 discussions became apparent as the Twitterfall display (which was displayed following the two presentations by myself and Phil) began to include posts from a number of Twitter-trending services – and the inclusion of a number of Twitter spam posts. Incidentally for me the spam provides an indication of how Twitter is now mainstream – and if you feel a service shouldn’t be used if it can attract spam, I assume you’re not using email!

Incidentally if you wish to see examples of the popularity of the Twitter discussions you can view the trends shown on the hashtags and Twitscoop services – although as the event is now over we have probably lost a record of the popularity of the tag.

The Discussions

Wordle display of Twitter posts tagged with #cilip2 tagDave Pattern, Library systems manager at the University of Huddersfield Library provided a good example of rapid software development when he wrote software to harvest tweets containing the the #cilip2 tag. And not only is a record of the discussions, annotated with the time of posting, now available, a Wordle cloud is also available (and shown below) which provides a visual summary of the topics which were discussed on Twitter.

There have already been a couple of blog posts published about the event which I’ll briefly summarise.

Alison Williams (a remote participant) felt that the Twitter channel wasexcellent in that it was discussing how librarians and specifically CILIP (1) could make use of web 2.0 tools, and it was doing it by…. making use of web 2.o tools! What a good idea!” She also joined in the discussions by “suggest[ing] that CILIP might look to the ALA (American Library Association) as a role model“.

Amelia Luzzi appreciated the Twitter channel in her post “Twitter – better than a conference“. She found it useful to be “able to follow the talks at CILIP 2.0, without an expensive trip down to London“. I also found her observation that ” in case you were wondering why video/audio isn’t a better solution – I can discuss what is said with other participants, also in real time: if an interesting comment comes up, the discussion can start amongst us virtual participants in a way that it simply can’t amongst real-life ones. I’ve heard it said, often, that the best bit of a conference is the bit where you end up talking to other participants in the hallway. Following #cilip2 on Twitter has had the feel of that“. That’s an interesting point – live audio and video simply amplifies the one-dimensional publishing aspect of conference whereas successful conferences often provide an environment for two-way(or rather multiple-way) discussions. She concluded “Today, I think I’ve expanded my professional network by about 25%. And, granted, the ties aren’t all that binding – but I now have a way of keeping an eye on what they’re talking about, and engaging them when I feel I have something to add. It’s a great starting point for building a more solid professional relationship“.

Neil Ford on the Random Letters blog also felt that “it was fascinating for me to attend an event like this on Twitter”. In answer to the question as to whether any concrete decisions were made on the day Neil  felt the he “didn’t pick up on any hard action or proposals. I can’t see that any actual decisions were made by the CILIP top brass“. But rather than this being regarded as a criticism Neil realised that the event “was more about CILIP Council *listening* to it’s members. This is something I’ve never heard of before and I really think CILIP Council deserve a big hats-off for hosting the event”.

Carl on the Sinto blog felt that CILIP  “does appear to have been slow to develop a coherent approach to some of the emerging technologies” but felt there was a need for “the more considered responses that will soon appear in blogs and printed articles“. Carl is concerned that although there are “Web 2 savvy professionals who are part of this debate”  we may find that “there is a larger group of web-sceptics who are excluded“.

Revisiting The Main Themes of the Day

Returning from the remote participants’ views on the day to some of the issues which I (who am not a CILIP members of librarian) picked one on.

CILIP As An Enabler
A view was expressed at the meetingthat , rather than providing a variety of Web 2.0 services on the CILIP Web site, CILIP shouldact as an enabler, perhaps sharing best practices and patterns of usage, aggragating content provided by members (as CILIP already do with CILIP memebr blogs) and providing directories of CILIP member users of various services which can help members to find like-minded collagues more easily on the various social networking services.
Exclusion
The dangers that sections of the CILIP membership ould be marginalised though an ainability to access social networkingservices down to organisational poplicies and firewalls, which Carl referred to, was discussed at the meeting. In my talk I suggested that CILIP should have a role to play in gaining a better understanding of such barriers and to explore ways in which organisational concerns, across the various sectors represented within CILIP, can be addressed. I also pointed out the dangers that CILIP members might feel pressured into using social networking tools in areas which are not appropriate and which do not reflect individual styles of working.

CILIP and Twitter

But what of the question which led to the CILIP2 meeting – should CILIP make use of Twitter? In all of the wider discussions about the role of CILIP we lost sight of that question during the meeting itself. However in the pub afterwards myself, Phil Bradley, Caroline Moss-Gibbon (leader of the CILIP Council) and a few others revisited that question. In my talk I described the risks and opportunities framework which I presented at the recent Museums and the Web 2009 conference. The framework described the need to clarify the purpose of a tool rather than developing policies for the tool itself. I illustrated this point by speculating on whether professional organisations in times gone by debated whether they should use new technologies such as the telephone, with the early adopters pointing out the benefits to the organisations whilst others pointed out the dangers that the technology could be used for social purposes and that employees may use the technology to bring the organisation into disrepute in ways that wouldn’t be possible when the established forms of communications (business letters) has editorial and work flow processes in place to minimise such risks.

My suggestion? CILIP Council should welcome initiatives from CILIP, CILIP branches and CILIP working groups in making use of social networking services such as Twitter in ways in which support their business aims. And rather than developing a policy (it’s too soon, for that, I feel) they should observe patterns of usage which work and share emerging best practices – but also monitor usage patterns which aren’t feel to be working and learn from such experiences.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 14 Comments »

What Can Web-Based Presentation Tools Offer?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 29 April 2009

Back at IWMW 2007 Helen Sargan ran a workshop session entitled “Just say No to Powerpoint: Web Alternatives for Slides and Presentations“. As someone who has used PowerPoint extensively since I’ve been at UKOLN and also have an interest in what Web-based alternative can provide I thought I would explore such alternatives.

And as I recently suggested an approach in which  “Critical Friends, Friendly Critics and Hostile Opponents” could either help or hinder a development or evaluation process I’d like to start off by describing the policies, environment, sensitivities and resources issues which I would regard as out-of-scope for such an evaluation, as the main area of interest are the specific issues related to the various Web-based presentations tool. A secondary agenda is to explore the limits of the model I described in my previous post.

But what of the policy issues which scope this evaluation work? I regard this exercise as looking at possible alternatives to PowerPoint as a desktop presentation tools to support mainstream teaching, learning and research activities. In my case this is for exploring ways in which over 10 year’s of PowerPointing can be made more interesting :-) whereas from an institutional perspective this might be to explore possible savings which could be made by replacing PowerPoint. And as my area of interest lies primarily in Web-based services I won’t be looking at desktop alternatives to MS PowerPoint, such as Open Office.

What are the environmental, sensitivities and resourcing issues which I have suggest could be disclosed in order to provide a context in which discussion and debate can be fruitful? Well, this work will be neutral about issues such as open source versus proprietary solutions.  It will also be neutral about the technologies used to provide access to Web-based solutions – so Flash-based solutions can be considered. And the discussions will be framed around a bottom-up approach for solutions which might be considered by the individual or small group or used within the context of an event which invites diversity in how speakers give their presentations. Similarly the issue of whether a presentational tool is an effective way of communicating ideas is out-of-scope.

But what type of tools should I be looking at? I think this should include office-based solutions available in the cloud and Web-based repositories of presentations, such as Slideshare and Slideboom.

Is this a useful approach? And any thoughts on what might be missing?

Posted in Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

Critical Friends, Friendly Critics and Hostile Opponents

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 28 April 2009

I recently wrote a blog post on We Need More Critical Friends! and have made this point in several of my recent talks on A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0 and Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Services and in a workshop I facilitated at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference on Openness in the Cloud.

In recently discussions with my colleague Paul Walk Paul has suggested that there is a need to differentiate between Critical Friends and Friendly Critics and I think this is a useful distinction. In the real world the critical friend is the person who would be honest about a response to a question such as “Does my bum look big in this?”  But the friendship would mean that this response would be given in private and not in a public space. The friendly critic, in contrast, might be someone who is willing to be critical in public, but would not do so in a way which is rude or undermines confidence.

Comments in response to my blog post by Pete Johnston and Mia Ridge made similar points arguing that “our choice of style and language matters – a lot” and “communication has to be both appropriately private and timely“.

But Mia goes on to conclude “That said, I’m not sure what happens when you raise concerns privately and don’t get an acknowledgement or other response“. And this is a legitimate concern to raise. What happens in one’s concerns are ignored? And in the context of services provided bu public sector funding don’t we all, as citizens,  tax-payers and, possibly users, have responsibilities to raise concerns which we have.   After all, aren’t we correct in raising objections to a wide range of mistakes which the Government has made? Weren’t we right in our objections to the Iraq war, despite being told that the Government had evidence of ownership of weapons of mass destruction and the ability to launch an attack within 45 minutes?

Of course there are huge differences between declaring wars and engaging in IT development work! But if we are in favour of openness and transparency in our development work this tension between open and closed criticisms is something which needs to be addressed.

A model for use of a Critical Friends approachIn discussions I had at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference there was an understanding of the need for projects to welcome feedback, especially in the current environment we find ourselves in in which there  is an increasing diversity of approaches to developments. But there is also a need for critics to appreciate the complexities of a specific development environment, aspects of which will not always be appreciated by the remote observer.

Based on the discussions I had will various people at the conference and my suggestion in the final session at the MW2009 that “We need more formal approaches for structuring feedback to the diversity of approaches to development work which can help to de-personalise criticisms” I have produced a diagram which is embedded in this post  which provides an initial attempt at providing a structure approach for gaining feedback.

The diagram acknowledges that there will be areas (such as policies, the local environment, sensitivities and levels of resources) within which a development project will have to work. Concerns about such issues are likely to be out-of-scope for Critical Friends. This should help to scope the areas in which input, comments and concerns can be raised and which should be able to be acted upon. The development project will need to provide an infrastructure for engaging with a Critical Friends community. We are finding in some areas of the JISC development sector that a Critical Friends approach is becoming a formal part of a bidding process. However it is likely that in many any cases it may not be possible to adopt such a formal approach. Perhaps then it is the responsibility of the the project team to open up their development processes, perhaps by making use of a blog for use by the developers to describe their development plans and decisions and any complications which may not be apparent to others, ideally at an early stage in the development process. This, I think, reflects the approaches take by the COPAC development team in their COPAC development blog which, for example, described back in August 2008, the reasons why they removed and then reinstated links to Google Book following feedback from “a vociferous few who questioned why Copac would give Google ‘personal data’ about them as users“.  As I wrote back in November 2008 “raising these issues in an open fashion is to be applauded“.

Our IT development work does need to have a reviewing process and I feel that we should be pro-active in seeking ways of opening up such processes. Let’s be aware of sensitivities, but let’s not use that as an excuse for being closed. And if there is a failure to open up feedback to development ideas remember that this may leave the concerned tax-payer to act not as a friendly critic but as an unfriendly, and perhaps even hostile, opponent.

Posted in General | 3 Comments »

Sharing the Rehearsal of my Talk at the CILIP 2 Council Meeting

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 24 April 2009

As I described a couple of days ago in a blog post on CILIP2.0 – Open Session on CILIP’s use of Web 2.0 myself and Phil Bradley will be giving brief talks about how we feel CILIP should respond to the opportunities and challenges of Web 2.0 at a CILIP Council meeting next Wednesday (29th April 2009).

I have produced the first draft of my slides and I’ll be chatting to Phil how this may fit in with the approach he will be taking. I have also created a ‘slidecast’ of the talk, by recording a rehearsal of the talk and synching the audio with a copy of the slide on Slideshare. This will help Phil to gain a better understanding of what I’ll be saying. But I also feel that their can be benefits to be gained by sharing this pre-release verion with a wider audience.  In suitably-configured browsers the slidecast will be embedded below:

I’m well aware of risks in doing this: I feel slightly self-conscious about listening to the sound of my own voice and towards the end of the talk I found myself forgetting what I was intending to say and start stuttering and repeating myself.  If I felt that as a professional all of my outputs mist be of high quality although I might write a script I would leave the reading of it to a trained actor. But this would undermine the key point in my presentation that information professionals (in particular) should be willing to make use of innovative approaches to one’s work, be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them and be prepared to be open with one’s user community in the early stages of development and not just when a service has been finalised.

Making this particular slidecast available can also provide some specific benefits:

  • Users can comment on my talk.
  • Users can suggest other relevant resources, either by commenting on this blog post on or Slideshare page or by bookmarking resources on del.icio.us using the same tag.
  • Anyone who would like to attend the meeting but can’t make it will get a feel for my contribution.
  • If I fail to attend the meeting (I’m ill or First Great Western fails to get my to London on time, for example) my slidecast can be used as a replacement.

But before you start listening to the slidecast (which lasts for about 20 minutes) I should say that the talk contains nothing that I haven’t written about in my blog previously. Indeed the talk is very similar to a talks on Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Services and A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Library 2.0 which I gave in the Indianapolis last week.

To summarise the key points.

The talk begins by reviewing examples of Library 2.0 approaches, add the University of Wolverhampton and the National Library of Wales.  A description of various barriers which have been identified at various UKOLN workshop for the cultural heritage sector is given. It is acknowledged that there are  legitimate concerns which need to be addressed such as sustainability, interoperability, staff development, cultural barriers, etc. The talk describes a variety of deployment strategies and outlines a risks and opportunities framework for the deployment of Library 2.0 services. The talk suggests how a ‘Critical Friends’ approach (which I will expand on next week) can be used in conjunction with this framework and help to identify possible problem areas. The need to balances such risks with the possible benefits to be gained and the risks of doing nothing – as well as the risks of doing something similar in-house which fails to meet user’s expectations.

The talk concludes by looking at what a professional organisation such as CILIP should be doing for a young librarian (using Jo Alcock as an example) and suggests that thinking about what might be provided in a ‘CILIP 2.0 Manifesto’ could be helpful in furthering the debate.

Your comments are welcomed!

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | 8 Comments »

CILIP2.0 – Open Session on CILIP’s use of Web 2.0

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 22 April 2009

Phil Bradley and myself have been invited to take part in an open session on CILIP’s use of Web 2.0 (CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is “the leading professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers“). This event, which is being referred to as CILIP2.0, will take place at CILIP offices, Ridgmount Street, London from 14.30-16.30 on 29th April 2009.

The information about the event describes how Phil and myself (well-known ‘gurus’) will be “kicking off the Open Session with presentations about what has worked elsewhere, and the types of things CILIP could try out“. The aim of the session is to generate ideas about how the CILIP Council could be using Web 2.0 to engage better with the library and information community.  These ideas will be fed into CILIP’s Communications Framework which is due to be published in the summer.

The Open Forum was set up following a blog post entitled CILIP – Epic FAIL made by Phil Bradley in response to a post entitled All of a Twitter by Bob McKee, CILIP CEO. I’ll not revisit the different visions of the role of a professional organisation such as CILIP in today’s Web 2.0 environment, but will simply say how pleased I am that CILIP have invited Phil and myself to facilitate a discussion for an audience who will be physically present on the day and a remote audience who may follow the tweets and live blog.

Phil Bradley will probably provide his vision in which information professionals are comfortable in making use of a variety of networked tools and services which are available ‘out there’, and don’t restrict themselves to applications which may be managed in-house. And I intend to explore the risks of this way of working and suggest that, rather than seeking to develop a safe, risk-free environment, information professionals do need to engage with the networked environment that exists today and need to recognise that a failure to take risks can result in a failure to innovate.

I’d be interested in the views of reaers of this blog.  What are your views on how information professionals should engage with a Web 2.0 world and how CILIP should respond?

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

(TwitterFall) You’re My Wonder Wall

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 April 2009

This year’s Museums and the Web conference (MW2009) marked the first occasion I have attended an event during which the Twitter back channel has been embraced by the conference organisers and by many conference participants and not just the usual early adopters.

At last year’s event (MW2008) we saw many developers making use of Twitter, with a display of the tweets about the conference (i.e. tagged with #mw2008) being shown near the registration area. And as a demonstration of the willingness of the conference organisers (David Bearman and Jennifer Trant) to embrace innovation at the conference a live display of the tweets, which were being aggregated by Mike Ellis’s Onetag software, were shown during Clifford Lynch’s closing talk at the conference. I have to admit, though, that there were concerns about this live, unmoderated display of Twitter posts during a talk: what if personal banter were displayed (“anyone fancy going for a drink later?”); critical comments about the speakers (“this is a boring talk”) or bad language or even spam from people who weren’t at the conference.

Twitterwall Display of MW2009 TweetsBut whilst such concerns may be legitimate, David and Jennifer showed that they were willing to take a risk and “just do it”. So when the conference delegates arrived at the auditorium for the conference welcome and opening talk we found two computer displays: one of the speaker’s slides and the other a display of Twitter posts tagged with the #mw2009 tag, using the Twitterfall software,

And judging by comments made on the conference blog, many people found that this live display of tweets in the opening session provided a valuable way of developing a shared sense of community and active participation which continued throughout the conference, with many newcomers subscribing to Twitter, following the more well-established Twitter users and engaging with the discussions themselves.   In fact use of Twitter at the conference was so popular that, during the opening talk, there was a message displayed showing the the #mw2009 tag was ‘trending’ – and was one of the top ten tags used during the day.

Pantygirl Twitter ImageWhich is not to say that everyone found the Twitterfall display useful: some participants, for example, did find the display distracting. And once the tag was included in the top tags of the day it, perhaps inevitably, attracted the attention of Twitter spammers, with a tweet from ‘PantyGirl’ - and an associated image being included in the live Twitterfall display.

But despite such concerns, others identified some perhaps unexpected benefits of such displays of live tweets. After I published a tweet one person in the audience, with whom I had worked with a few years ago but hadn’t spoke to since, spotted my image in the display and sent me a direct message suggesting that we should meet up. The ability for participants at a large conference to make their presence known in this way is a benefit which I hadn’t previously considered.

Someone else, who hadn’t used Twitter prior to the conference, reflected that in plenary talks people often lose concentration, even if the talks are interesting (as the opening plenary talk at MW 2009 was). Having additional channels, in which other participants can share their thoughts and provide perhaps different views can help to provide richer insights into the talks.

But what of the dangers that people might make inappropriate comments. Well at MW2009, apart from the PantyGirl spam (which I suspect most people found inoffensive) I feel that the Twittering participants were aware of the issues and avoided tweets which others might have felt inoffensive or inappropriate.

The benefits of the conference Twitter back channel were also officially recognised in the firanl session at the conference when Jon Pratty provided prizes for the MW2009 Backchannel Stars for Saturday. And I was pleased to be the first in the list of prize-winners for my two tweets:

briankelly Due to lack of unions in museums sector @jtrant& David Bearman have got us working at #mw2009 on a Saturday. Capitalist oppressors.

briankelly: @bsletten is right – photo at http://tinyurl.com/3aessg (expand) could be me. Waiting for groupies to arrive at #mw2009

But what of next year? Clearly many participants found the Twitter wall display useful, with one participant commenting thatbased on how well tweets were working @ mw2009 I set up a twitter account for our staff intranet. Public site next? #mw2009“. But this wasn’t true for everyone. Should this be managed by better use of the physical space, I wonder – perhaps suggesting that those who don’t wish to be distributed by the visual intrusion should sit on one side of the lecture theatre? Or perhaps, with the growing popularity of iPhones and iPod Touches participants should simply view the communal wall on their own mobile device?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Events, Twitter | Tagged: | 20 Comments »

The European Council Plans an Accessible Information Society

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 17 April 2009

The European Council has recently announced a set of conclusions on how to deliver an accessible information society. In the announcement the Council welcomes the European Commission’s communication on “Towards an accessible information Society” and acknowledges that ICT is “crucial in today’s society and economy and they can greatly improve personal autonomy and quality of life, particularly for people with disabilities or elderly” .

I too welcome such principles. However the document goes on to underline that “The adoption of the second version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides the necessary technical specifications“.

Hmm. So the answer to the delivery of an accessible information society is to be found in the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, is it? Well not according to Wendy Chisholm who, in a talk on “Interdependent Components of Web Accessibility” at the W4A 2005 conference described “how Web accessibility depends on several components of Web development and interaction working together” (namely ATAG and UAAG as well as WCAG). So even people who have worked on the development of WAI guidelines wouldn’t, I suspect, agree that WCAG  “provides the necessary technical specifications“.

And what evidence do we have that WCAG 2.0 by itself will “greatly improve personal autonomy and quality of life, particularly for people with disabilities or elderly” . What about accessibility issues which aren’t addressed in WCAG? What about the different definitions of accessibility (on 1st January 2009, for example, the definition of ‘disability’ was changed drastically in the Americans with Disabilities Act)? What about accessibility solutions which can be provided in ways not covered by WCAG guidelines? What about blended solutions to Web accessibility? What about the danger that the communication only covers access to Web resources and not other uses of IT by people with disabilities? What about the lack of evidence to support the positioning of WCAG guidelines as the only solution mentioned in the document?

The document could have focussed on a different part of the WAI model – it could have supported a requirement that member countries enact legislation that organisations must provide UAAG-conforming Web browsers, for example. This would be a more achievable goal, focusing on the small number of browser vendors rather than the much larger number of Web authors and Web publishing tools and work-flow systems.

Although I suspect many accessibility evangelists will welcome the publication of this document I fear that it is based on flawed underlying assumptions and will be ultimately counter-productive.  We need more open discussions about the limitations of the WAI’s approaches to Web accessibility and of ways of enhancing accessibility for people with disabilities in the complex environment in which we live. Where are the Critical Friends, I wonder?

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

Further Developments of a Risks and Opportunities Framework

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 16 April 2009

I have previously described a risks and opportunities framework which I will be presenting shortly at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference.

Risks and Opportunities Framework (generic)At the Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists conference I described a slightly updated version of the framework, which includes ‘Critical Friends‘ as a means of ensuring that a degree of scepticism is applied to planned innovative services.

The framework is based on the notion that the risks and benefits of innovation cannot be considered without considering its intended purpose.

In order to ensure that the framework does not result in inertia and an avoidance of new developments it is envisaged that the approach will also be applied to existing services, in-house development, etc.

During my talk on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0” at the Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists conference I gave an illustration of how this framework might be applied in two contexts related to use of Web 2.0 services: use of (a) Twitter by individuals in an organisation and (b) organisational use of Facebook.

Application of the Risks and Opportunities Framework

The intended use of Twitter by individuals described at the Archives .2.0 conference was to provide support for a community of practice. The individual should benefit from working in a community and such benefits would should also help the institution.   The risks might include the time required to use Twitter and to become part of a community and the dangers that Twitter is used inappropriately or excessively. It should also be noted that inappropriate use of Twitter could include requiring members of staff to use Twitter against their will or inclination. There might also be risks that to the organisation in terms of its brand (“I hate working here“). Failing to allow staff who so desire to make used of Twitter (by firewalls, policies or more subtle pressures)  could result in a failure to make use of the benefits provided by being part of a (virtual) community and a failure to understand the potential of Twitter for organisational use. It should also be noted that the costs of using Twitter can be small, as Twitter tools are available for free, no editorial mechanisms need to be deployed and no archiving of Twitter posts need to be kept.

The intended use of Facebook by organisation described at the conference was as a marketing tool for the archive or museum. This would have the advantages to the organisation of being able to market to the large numbers of Facebook users and to exploit the various functions provided by Facebook without needing any in-house development work. However there may be risks related to data lock-in, giving permissions to Facebook to commercially exploit content which is up-loaded and disenfranchising users who chose not to sign up to Facebook or users whose assistive technologies may not work with Facebook.  Failing to use Facebook could, however, result it missed opportunities for marketing to large numbers of users and a failure to allow users to engage with the service. The costs of setting up an organisational presence in Facebook should be low, but consideration does have to be given to ongoing maintenance (e.g. responding to wall posts).

Critical friends, such as my colleague Paul Walk’s various posts on possible risks associated with use of Facebook and Twitter, can help to inform organisational decision-making processes, as can discussions on mailing lists, sharing experiences at conferences and blog posts (such as recent guest blogs post on use of social networking tools at the National Library of WalesWolverhampton University Library and Brighton Museum and Art Gallery).

Finally I should add that there will be subjectivities and personal biases in how I’ve described use of this framework.  But let’s acknowledge that such biases and personal prejudices will always exist.

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking, Twitter | 4 Comments »

I Won’t Be Censored!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 15 April 2009

Stephen Downes recently published a blog post entitled “Lessons From Slidesharegate” which began “Brian Kelly wrote, in a post he later deleted“. In his blog post Stephen described some of his concerns regarding Slideshare and concluded by “wondering why Kelly deleted his Slideboom post“.

The answer to that is simple – I’d accidentally published the post prematurely, as I wanted to see if Slideshare published their comments on “Slidesharegate” before describing how I was evaluating alternatives to Slideshare.

No big deal – but I did wonder whether Stephen (or readers of his blog) had thought that I had deleted the blog post, perhaps having been ‘got at’ by Slideshare. The answer is no, there is no conspiracy. But could this happen?

Well as we have seen, once a blog post is published it is “out there” – and even if I delete the original there will be copies in people’s RSS readers and blog aggregators. And attempting to delete a blog post may well result in drawing people’s attention to it with people wondering, perhaps, if the post has been censored,

So I know that deleting a post once it has been published can be fraught with possible dangers. So if I publish a post and am subsequently asked to delete it, I can point to this post. Of course this also means that if I’m embarrassed about something I’ve written it will be difficult for me to erase it from public view. But that’s something I’m prepared to accept.

And I can’t help but think that the former Downing Street adviser Damian McBride should have been aware of the difficulties of deleting copies of digital resources once they have been published.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

Slideshare? I’m Now Flirting With Slideboom!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 13 April 2009

You know what it’s like. You’ve been together for some time. And you get on well together. And then something goes wrong. So you start looking for something new. And you start to get excited about the new things on offer. And perhaps you then decide it’s time to move on. Well this is happening to me at the moment, after Slideshare’s April Fool gag caused me to explore alternatives to their service.

SlideboomI signed up to Slideboom and uploaded my most recent presentation on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0“. I have embedded this in my Web page. And I have to say I’m impressed with the features it provides. However rather than describe these features (which are described on the Slideboom Web site) I thought it would be more effective to capture the screen display of my use of the service which is available on YouTube and embedded below:

Now although I like the functionality provided by Slideboom it is even more important than it used to be to consider the sustainability of remote services. And this is where Slideboom’s track record and financial stability is unknown to me.

But such considerations are also true of Slideshare. So I intend to continue to keep a master copy of my PowerPoint slides on the UKOLN file store, whilst using the richly functional and embeddable third party services to act as access points. And it will be useful to gain experiences of a competitor to the market leader in Web 2.0 slide repository services. After all, what would happen if Slideshare’s market lead went to their head and they started to treat their customers in a similar fashion to Microsoft?

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

How Many Publishers Does It Take To Change a Light Bulb?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 10 April 2009

“Submit Comments By Easter Monday”

I’m feeling a bit grumpy. On Wednesday night while listening to some excellent live music at The Bell, Bath I checked my email in the interval. There was an email from a publisher with the final corrections for an accessibility paper which had been accepted for publication. The email message give the blunt instructions:

“Please approve these proofs, or return any corrections by 13 Apr 2009. Failure to do so may result in delay of your publication, reallocation to a later issue, or review and approval of your article by the journal’s Editor-in-Chief.”

That’s right on Wednesday 8 April at 21:50 I received an email telling me my updates had to be submitted by Monday – that’s Easter Monday. And today (Good Friday) I’m in a cyber cafe in London sorting out the corrections before heading off the the Museums and the Web 2009 conference.

The email message (which was sent from India) also contained the stark warning:

PLEASE NOTE: The CATS system only supports Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and up, or Firefox 1.0 browser software. Popup blockers should be disabled. If you have any difficulty using CATS, please contact me.

And there’s me using FireFox 3.0 (not supported, it would seem).

As for the comments themselves, they were fine, asking us to supply, for example, years of publication which we had omitted for a couple of the references. But for one reference the Production Editor had requested the page numbers of one of my previous papers, and the URL of the online version of the paper had been removed. It would appear that the publishers are trying to help the reader of the printed journal by providing the page number, but hindering users who wish to access the paper online. Good business for the publishers who might expect to receive additional income for requests for the journal or paper but bad news for other researchers who might wish to access such papers which are freely avaailble online.

Why Do I Bother?

Why do I bother writing peer-reviewed papers, I sometimes ask myself. In this particular case myself and David Sloan were invited to submit a paper based on an update to a paper published at the W4A 2008 conference. As I received this request when I was preparing an invited keynote presentation at the OzeWAI 2009 conference I felt this would provide an ideal opportunity to publish my updated views on Web accessibility, which I described to a small but supportive audience at the OzeWAI conference. And after I gave my talk I discussed my ideas further with two delegates who, I discovered, had similar interests regarding the complexities of Web accessibility in the context of accessibility for the Deaf and implementing best practices for Web accessibility when challenged with limited budgets and short deadlines in a Government context. As I was in the process of finalising the paper, the meeting with Lisa Herrod and Ruth Ellison provided an opportunity for me to strengthen the paper with these two case studies.

I should also add that the (anonymous) reviewer’s comments we received were invaluable, pointing out flaws in our arguments, ways in which are ideas might be misinterpretted and suggestions for how the paper could be improved. The updated version of the paper was improved greatly following these comments, so you could argue that the publishers had a role to play in enhancing the quality. But why do I suspect that the reviewer was an academic who was doing this work for free?

Look on the Bright Side

I have now submitted the corrections to the production editor and am feeling less grumpy (I started this post yesterday evening).  And to cheer myself up (and others who might have had similar problems with publishes, here’s a joke:

Q. How many publishers does it take to change a lighbulb?

A. It’s a trick question – publishers are living in the drak ages and the light bulb hasn’t been invented yet. Mind you, they’ll charge you for use of a candle if you want to read your manuscript.

Have a good Easter.

Posted in General | 6 Comments »

Contrasting Visions of the Library of the Future

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 8 April 2009

My Views From 2001

I was invited to take part in a panel session at the Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference way back in 2001. Myself and my fellow panellists (Greg Notess and Mary Peterson) had encountered a number of bland panel sessions at previous conferences in which panelists uttered trite sentiments which nobody could possibly disagree with (yes, user testing is a good thing and so is accessibility and quality information). We decided to  avoid falling into this trap and I found myself in the position of having to respond to Greg and Mary’s views of the key role the library sector had in supporting use of networked services and supporting users in a networked environment. I suggested that librarians were just another group of users who had nothing special to add to the development of innovative networked services and, indeed, could inhibit development by seeking to take inappropriate methodologies to the Web environment. Now although these remarks were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it would be interesting to see how they may relate to today’s networked environment, 8 years later.

The Darien Manifesto

The authors of the Darien Manifesto (John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor) have no doubts regarding the importance of librarians, with a manifesto which begins by giving their view that “the purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization“. And this “purpose of the Library will never change“! Whilst a number of people have expressed concern over this monolithic description of The Library, and pointed out the unease we would feel if other bodies made similar statements (“The purpose of the government/the police/the Freemasons is to preserve the integrity of civilization and this purpose will never change“) other comments do appear to more accurately reflect the role of libraries  (“provides the opportunity for personal enlightenment“; “encourages the love of learning” and “empowers people to fulfill their civic duty“) and librarians (“select, organize and facilitate creation of content” and “connect people with accurate information“), various commentators, including the Annoyed Librarian, are questioning the manifesto.

The Researcher’s Perspective

Here in the UK a debate is taken place on the Libraries of the Future which is being led by the JISC. At a recent debate on Libraries of the Future Professor Peter Murray-Rust gave his thoughts on what he expects from an academic library from a research/scientific perspective.

Peter’s views had been outlined in a series of blog posts prior to the debate (Peter was living his open vision and encouraged those interested in helping to shape a vision to engage with the ideas he was developing in his blog).

As described by Professor Bruce Royan in a report on the event, Peter’s views challenged current orthodox thinking regarding the libraries’ relevance in a networked world:

The Librarians of the future will not emerge from the Libraries of today. The researchers of the future won’t want journals, they’ll want little bits of lots of papers, and they won’t respect faculty or subject boundaries, as their work will be interdisciplinary. If they need an information service, they’ll JUST DO IT for themselves

What Does The Future Hold?

The official blog for the debate provided a summary of Peter’s talk which began:

What is happening in the world is bypassing university libraries.  I talk to colleagues and the feeling is that libraries for STM (science, technical, medical) are not useful. That’s not my polemic view – that’s reporting on having spoken to people.

Will librarians have a significant role to play in the academic library of the future (the future of public libraries, whilst important, was not touched on in Peter’s presentation)? And is Peter’s assertion and question in a recent blog post: “Wikipedia has won – how can we convince you?” further evidence that the librarians who warn their users against such popular Web 2.0 services are becoming marginalised?

But maybe the Dryberg Darien manifesto does contain elements which reflect Peter’s views:

  • Adopt technology that keeps data open and free, abandon technology that does not.
  • Be willing and have the expertise to make frequent radical changes.
  • Hire the best people and let them do their job; remove staff who cannot or will not.
  • Trust each other and trust the users.

Perhaps Peter would endorse the third bullet point which calls for staff who aren’t prepared to adapt to a changing environment to be sacked. And there was me thinking that the manifesto simply endorsed woolly liberal values!

Posted in Events, library2.0 | 4 Comments »

Ask A Librarian? No Thanks, I’ll Ask The World!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 7 April 2009

On the same day that I came across a thread on “Ask a Librarian” on the LIS-LINK JISCMail list, Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, was sharing her 5 interesting things found on my Twitterfeed today… which included:

Ten years of The Guardian on-line plotted in expletives – very illuminating!

MPs expenses by geographical location- a good example of information from the Guardian’s databank, in a mashup with map and postcode data.

How cats can give us tips to be good corporate strategists – if you’ve got cats, you’ll appreciate this.

How to turn your house lights off using Twitter – will appeal to the really geeky

Bakertweet – a way for bakers to tell the world that their bread has just come out of the oven

I had also come across the first two examples in my Twitter feed. What Twitter provides to Chris and myself, it seems, is not only a mechanism for asking questions to my friends, colleagues and others  who have chosen to follow me, but also finding things out from them without needing to ask.

Do we, I wonder, need to develop Ask-A-Librarian type services any longer when services such as Twitter are now available to everyone for free? And if the response is we need a trusted service, can’t we make use of the existing infrastructure (which need not be Twitter, of course) and wrap a trust mechanism around it? And although on the LIS-LINK list there was a view thatSince IM widgets rely on external systems which sometimes crash, the reliability of any service based on them can be adversely affected” aren’t in-house systems also likely to fail? And will an in-house system provide the potential for a 24×7 coverage?

Now I should add that my speculation on whether a micro-blogging tool such as Twitter could be used as an Ask-A-Librarian type service  is very much ‘thinking out loud’. But it does seem to me that with the large numbers of Twitter applications which are now available it might be worth carrying out such speculative thinking.

Posted in Twitter | 9 Comments »

Must Institutional Repository and Open Science Software be Open Source?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 6 April 2009

Institutional Repositories Should Be Built on Open Source Software” is one topic in “Institutional Repositories: The Great Debate”  which is being held in the current issue (April/May 2009 -PDF format) of “The Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology”.

Meanwhile over on Glyn Moody’s Open … blog an argument is being made that “Open Science Requires Open Source“. Here we read that:

The central argument is important: that you can’t do science with closed source software, because you can’t examine its assumptions or logic (that “incomplete scientific record”). Open science demands open source.

And who could possibly disagree?

Well I’d challenge such conclusions. I feel that we need to reflect on the over-hyping of open source software over the past decade: we should now, if you believed the hype, all be using open source office software on our desktop PCs, and those desktop machines would all be running Linux. But this doesn’t reflect the working environment for most people, with open source email clients now seemingly in need of saving.

Despite its failure to live up to the expectations of the evangelists, we are now seeing more effective use of open source software. But for me this is because open source software is now being evaluated on par with licenced software, and not because open source software is felt to have any natural advantages. I would argue, in fact, that uncritical acceptance of open source software in the past led to disillusioned end users and the ‘counter-culture’ approach adopted by some open source developers led to the software development which failed to have a community to ensure that the software was sustainable  in the long-term future.

Despite the frequently cited examples of Apache, email server software and the like, is there evidence that open source software has a significant role to play beyond the server environment?

And in cases in which open source software is growing in use, such as Open Office on cheap Netbook computers such as the Asus EEE PC, isn’t it the case that the advantages provided by such software are in avoiding licence costs  rather than in the other benefits which open source evangelists promote?  Aren’t the benefits for most users to be found inthe amntra that the software is  “free as in beer” rather than “free as in speech”?

At the JISC OSS Watch’s inaugural conference Jeremy Wray, Business Development Executive for Public Sector, IBM argued that it would be a mistake to compete in well-established markets such as office software, citing IBM’s failures in competing with Microsoft. Perhaps open source software should be positioned in more niche sectors such as institutional repositories and open science?  And yet even here I have my doubts. If we are passionate about open access to research publications and open access to scientific data, then shouldn’t we be focussed on such issues and be neutral on the production mechanisms used to develop the associated software? And the argument that you need open source software to examine the assumptions and logic is flawed – source code can be made available for inspection without it being licensed under an OSI-conformant open source licence.

Yes, use open source institutional repository software and open source open science software. But do so because the software satisfies its intended purpose and is better than proprietary alternatives and not just because it is open source. And let’s not forget the associated risks of using open source solutions: many of the more widely used open source applications are bankrolled by large IT companies which are suffering from the economic downturn. And if widely used open source solutions start to suffer from a lack of ongoing inverstment, where will that leave the more niche solutions?

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

Lessons From ‘Slidesharegate’

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 5 April 2009

Blog posts from Phil Bradley and myself published at lunch time on 1 April 2009 where amongst the first to take Slideshare to task for the April fool’s prank. Now although a number of people felt that people should have expected such gags’s on April Fool’s Day, many others were very critical. And now Slideshare have admitted they were wrong and have just published a blog post in which they ask their users to “accept our whole-hearted apologies“.

I would agree Phil Bradley’s response to the blog post:

You’ve put this really nicely and thoughtfully. It’s going to be a harsh critic who’s still unhappy. As I said elsewhere, it’s not making the mistake, it’s how you deal with, and recover from the mistake. This makes you a bigger and better company. Thank you.

But what lessons can others learn from what by colleague Paul Walk has described as ‘Slidesharegate‘? I would like to suggest three areas in which pranksters for next year’s April Fool should give some thought to:

Don’t tamper with data: Rashmi Sinha, SlideShare’s CEO has admitted that “Statistics are sacred. (don’t mess with them, even in a prank!)”.  Concerns were expressed by many Slideshare users over the way in which their usage statistics had been artificially boosted. But as well as modifications to such data can upset the owners of the data and other users, there are also dangers that data could be reused (by screen-scraping software) and displayed in other environments. Let’s not foget that that software does not have a sense of humour and won’t be aware of April Fool pranks.

Time zones: Of course software could know that it is before midday on 1st April. But in the global environment of the Web, somewhere it will not be April Fool’s day. I have just come across the concept of the ‘International day’, on the CSS Naked Day Web site: this event lasts for one international day, so that “to ensure that everyone’s website will be publicly nude for the entire world to see at any given time during April 9”  the day when Web site owners are encouraged to remove CSS from there Web site will technically speaking, will be correct somewhere in the world for 48 hours. But until a standards body agrees to internationalise April Fool’s day there’s a need to remember that somewhere in the world it will not be April Fool’s day (which isn’t to say that one shouldn’t carry out April Fools gags, however).

Unsolicited mail: The use of email to encourage users of a service to view an April Fool’s gag is probably a mistake, since most users are likely to read such email when ‘April Fool is past and gone’ .

Rashmi Sinha has asked for comments on his blog post. I welcome his her apology and hope that my suggestions can help the Slideshare team in deciding what to do next year. Will it be like last year’s “hoax announcement that SlideShare would not allow bullets in presentations anymore” I wonder?

Posted in General | 5 Comments »

Have Slideshare Avoided Their Ratner Moment?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 2 April 2009

Background

Gerald Ratner was responsible for one of the most famous gaffes in corporate history when “he joked that one of his firm’s products was “total crap”, and boasted that some of its ear rings were “cheaper than a prawn sandwich“.

Did Slideshare come close to a Ratner moment with yesterday’s April Fool gag, I wonder? Yesterday I described how Slideshare had sent out an email entitled “You’re a SlideShare RockStar” which contained spoof statistics on the popularity of uploaded presentations.

The Reactions

Phil Bradley spotted the so-called joke and gave his reasons why he felt this was a “huge mistake” by Slideshare:

  1. I don’t appreciate anyone manipulating data on my content. That Slideshare are so relaxed about this, and feel they can do what they like is really sending entirely the wrong message about how they view users and content.
  2. Using an April Fool prank to generate comment and visits is dubious at best. If they’d not used the hashtag suggestion I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it’s a deliberate attempt to get publicity.
  3. This has lead to a huge spike in traffic to the site. This is the most annoying aspect because the whole POINT of the site is to allow people to get access to slideshows directly from the site. It’s slowed down to a point where it’s entirely unusable. I’m just grateful that I don’t have any need to use it professionally today.
  4. There’s already a really big backlash against this prank on Twitter – people who are using the hashtag are looking stupid, which is making them angry. Clicking on a link privately and realising you’ve been caught is one thing – getting them to do it in public is another thing entirely.

Now rather than revisit yesterday’s discussion on Slideshare’s blog on whether the joke was funny or not  I’d like to explore the issue of reputation management. After all, those “po-faced and humourless” Slideshare users are at liberty to migrate to other services such as Slideboom, Authorstream, Sliderocket or 280Slides. And if they feel they have been made to look stupid they may respond in a similar fashion to custmomers who used to shop at Ratner’s.

Reputation Monitoring and Management

In Ratner’s case his speech was picked up by the media, wiped an estimated £500m from the value of the company. Could Slideshare, who Secured $3M for Embeddable Presentations in May 2008, suffer a similar backlash?

In this case, however, I have to admire how quickly staff at Slideshare spotted that, in certain quarters, their joke had misfired and their honesty in their apologies. Rashmi, Slideshare CEO & Cofounder, SlideShare, responded to Phil Bradley’s blog post by sayingMy sincere, personal apologies. Its just an April Fool’s prank. I understand why you are upset, however, we did not mean to offend our users who we love. But I can see your perspective“. This comment was repeated on my blog. In addition Jonathon Boutelle, Slideshare co-founder addedReally sorry if we offended you. The prank was my idea, and I take full responsibility. There’s a lot of pressure to get April fools day right (sounds bizarre but is true), and it looks like we got it way wrong.” with an additional lengthy apology coming from Daniel in Slideshare’s marketing department.

In his blog post about this incident Phil Bradley commented thatI’m already seeing a lot of tweets from people saying that they’re annoyed and unhappy” and went on to provide a link to a list of 25 alternatives to Slideshare. Providing a well-read and well-respected blogger such as Phil with an opportunity to comment on rivals to Slideshare shows how inappropriate April Fool gags can go wrong.

Personally, though, I’m still a fan of Slideshare (although yesterday’s incident did cause me to sign up to Slideboom – and I’m impressed with my initial experience). And I admire the way they have responded. I’d go along with the comment from Steve Ellwood who saidkudos to the guys from slideshare for a clear explanation and what appears to be a genuine apology“.

And to be honest, this probably wasn’t a Ratner moment. It was just a bit of April fool’s fun, which only sad humourless people failed to get. Although, of course, Garland Ratner was also just having a bit of fun – although for Gerald Ratner  “It still hurts 16 years on“.

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

“You’re a Slideshare Rockstar!” – Not!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 1 April 2009

The April 1 Joke

Yesterday (1 st April 2009) I received a couple of email messages from Slideshare which stated that some of the slides which I have uploaded to the Slideshare repository have “been getting a LOT of views in the last 24 hours“.

Now back on 25th July 2008 I received an email informing me that a slideshow of mine on  Web Preservation in a Web 2.0 Environment had been included in the ‘Spotlight section’ on the SlideShare homepage. So I know that Slideshare do have mechanisms for highlighting slideshows, which can help to maximise the impact of the slides on behalf of the author. For me such exposure has resulted in a number of slides having up to about 10,000 views (and one on Introduction To Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges For The Institution, which was a featured Slidecast of the day shortly after Slideshare announced it slidecasting facility for synching audio with slides, having over 9,000 views) .  I’m pleased that Slideshare has allowed me to reach a much wider audience than would have been possible when the slides were only available on the UKOLN Web site.

Slideshare usage statistics, 1 April 2009But on this occasion on checking the numbers of visits I found that many of the slideshows were seemingly being viewed by 10,000, 20,000 and above occasions.

As I was a bit suspicious of the statistics, I send a Twitter post warning others that these figures appeared incorrect. I initially suspected that Slideshare had been the victim of a harvesting attack, as I suggested in my tweet: “Slideshare have emailed me saying that http://bit.ly/rbKi is v. popular (200,398 views) I suspect a robot! #bestofslideshare (not)“.

In response my Twitter followers suggested that this was “some kind of April Fool malarky” / “weird april fool thing“. Someone else who appeared to have received a similar email message pointed out that it “looks like the slides with 810 views are being displayed as 80010 view” – and this, I discovered, was also the case for me.

Is It Funny?

This seems to me some kind of April Fool joke, although not one that I find particularly funny – and although some appeared to have accepted the email message at face value others appeared bemused or puzzled. Normally there would be a subtle clue about the joke which would not be spotted on initial reading. So I revisited the email which said:

Hi lisbk,

We’ve noticed that your slideshow on SlideShare has been getting a LOT of views in the last 24 hours. Great job … you must be doing something right. ;-)

Why don’t you tweet or blog this? Use the hashtag #bestofslideshare so we can track the conversation.

Congratulations,
-SlideShare Team

Email from Slideshare on 1 April 2009Nothing obvious there, but there was an embedded image in the email which is not displayed by default, as shown.

I right-clicked the image place-holder  in order to download the image, but nothing was shown.

Viewing the source of the email I found the following image tag:

<img src=”http://marketer.slideshare.com/open.php?M=5662259&L=25&N=92&F=H”&gt;

So rather than this being an innocent April Fool joke, it seems that I’m being stalked by Slideshare’s marketing department. And they’ll also be able to relate my Slideshare ID to my Twitter ID if I use the “#bestofslideshare” hashtag as they suggested in their email. At least they were honest when they said “so we can track the conversation” – but I suspect most users won’t be aware of how intrusive such tracking would be.

Is this reaction over-the-top? Perhaps when Slideshare announce this joke they’ll also say that the extra advertising revenue which the additional views generated will be donated to a worthy cause – which would make me appear somewhat of a curmudgeon. And if I have got this wrong I’d be happy to apologise – after all I have in the past admitted to being a fan of the Slideshare service.

But I still think we have to be very wary that April fool gags may be being exploited by marketing peope in ways which would not be accepted during the rest of the year. What do you think? Phil Bradley, it seems, is in agreement with me.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 28 Comments »

Standards are for Catholics

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 1 April 2009

Being brought up in an Irish Catholic environment in the 1960s meant that life was full of religious and moral absolutes. If you were good you’d go to heaven (with some time in purgatory a likelihood) whereas protestants would go to hell. Black babies, who never had the opportunity for redemption, would go to limbo (it was only in 2006 limbo that limbo was abolished). And I can recall the Irish missionary priests who came to school collecting for the black babies – peer group pressure meant that the 12-sided 3d coin from your pocket money was the expected contribution. (The local catholic junior school, incidentally, hadn’t been rebuilt after being bombed in the war which meant we had the upstairs classroom in a protestant school – and we had staggered breaks so we wouldn’t mix. Little did we realise in the annual ‘Wessie Road’ upper vs ‘Wessie Road’ lower grudge football matches that the the over-the-top tackles were reflecting disagreements over the Virgin birth and Papal infallibility).

Now although I have already confessed to losing my religion the Jesuits may well have been right in their views on the power of indoctrination in early years. So although I no longer believe that I must not eat meat on Fridays, I am aware of the meaning and power of the word must and can differentiate it from should.

Such an understanding is very relevant in the works of standards. If a programming language requires statements to be terminated with a “;” then you must do so, otherwise your progam with fail (or, as is often said these days, FAIL). It’s not a fuzzy choice – it works or it doesn’t. Period.

But it seems that the meaning of must is slowly being lost. This first struck me several years ago when UKOLN was involved in the development of the standards and guidelines which support the national NOF-digitise programme. We were told that the document should state that “All Web sites must be available 24×7″ (or words to that effect). Our protestations were ignored – until projects reported that responses to the invitation to tender were rather over budget (to put it mildly).  We then described that 24*7 availability requires duplication of servers, backup networking capacity, backup power supplies, etc. and was only likely to be required by international organisations. It subsequently turn out that the requirement was that servers should not be turned off at 5 pm on Friday evenings, as had been the case in some circumstances in the past. The document was updated with the mandatory requirement being replaced by “Projects should seek to provide maximum availability of their project Web site” – as there was a contractual requirement to implement all of the ‘musts’ in the document this was needed in order to safe the entire NOF-digi budget being used to ensure 24×7 access for a single project!

Now I recently asked the question Is The UK Government Being Too Strict? as it similarly seemed to be requiring a must in circumstances in which the evidence suggests that such strict conformance very seldom occurs.

Is this just me and my background, I wonder?  When I see the word must in a standard, I think it really means must – otherwise you’ll be dammed forever in a non-interoperable hell.

But maybe I should chill out a bit? Maybe when I read must I should think of the kind friendly maths teacher I had at school who told me I should try harder, but he knew that it was sometime difficult, so he wasn’t too concerned if I gort it wrong. After all, I’ll probably find it easier in the future.

So tell me, are there policy makers and authors of standards and specifications who really do feel that must means must, whereas the developers interpret must as should? Is the problem that we have a non-interoperable mix of religions involved?

Posted in standards | 3 Comments »