UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for June, 2009

From Search Engine to Twitter Optimisation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 June 2009

Workshops on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

As described on the JISC Digitisation blog the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) are running a series of free workshops entitled “Improve your online presence“. The workshop series, which will be held in June and July in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, is being coordinated by Netskills. The workshops will “introduce simple and inexpensive search engine optimisation techniques to improve your online presence, web visibility and website traffic“. I will be contributing to the workshop content by running a session on the role of the Social Web in enhancing access to scholarly and cultural content.

The Potential of Twitter

The potential of Twitter was recently discussed in a post entitled How much is it worth to be one of Twitter’s suggested users? which was published in the Guardian’s Technology blog. As described in this post, being included in Twitter’s Suggested Users List can boost one’s numbers of followers, and thus traffic to links included in the tweets being published.

Coincidentally on Friday 5th June 2009, whilst accessing this blog’s administrators interface in order to delete one or two spam comments which had failed to be detected by the Akisimet spam filter, I noticed that the top three referrers for the day were from the Twitter Web site (from Twitter.com, twitter.com/home and twitter.com/Twitter_tops). On further investigation I discovered that a page on the Twitter Web site which provides links to resources about use of Twitter had included the following link to a post on this blog:

What is Twitter? It’s An Interactive Business Card: http://cli.gs/YL6R4D –Share this article: http://bit.ly/180g9w

Now although this link resulted in driving the most traffic to the blog in over 3 weeks, this was disappointing to me. I had been after evidence that Twitter can provide successful in driving traffic to arbitrary resources, rather than just traffic to an article about the Twitter service.

Referrer statistics for UKOLN's Cultural Heritage blog, May 2009However a better example was provided by the blog statistics for UKOLN’s Cultural Heritage blog. As illustrated the statistics for May 2009 showed that, after Google, the second most popular Web site for driving traffic to the blog was Twitter.

In this particular example the most popular post in the month was one on Explaining the Risks and Opportunities Framework- a blog post which was announced on Twitter at 08.55 on 21st May:

Blog post explaining the Risks & Opportunities Framework published at http://tinyurl.com/p72kld

Evidence, it would seem, that Twitter can enhance the visibility of one’s Web content and therefore provide an example I can use in the workshop. But what of the dangers of using Twitter in this way? Might not Twitter followers resent being used as fodder for marking materials? Isn’t there a danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?

Twitter Optimisation

Although some people regard Twitter as being essentially an informal communications channel and a tool for community building we can now observe that it is being used for a much wider variety of purposes. But what are the emerging best practices which one should adopt in order to optimise Twitter’s potential to maximise access to ‘stuff’ out there, as opposed to engaging with one’s Twitter community?

Keep it short: Perhaps the best advice is to keep your tweets short to allow other to retweet (RT) the message, perhaps including their own comments.

Acknowledge the limitations: If you do intend to use Twitter as a one -way publishing mechanism (as, for example, the MLA does) then you need to recognise that you should not expect to gain the benefits which fans of Twitter, as described in a post entitled “The person is the point” by Mike Ellis, feel they gain from its use as an individual.

Consider publishing a policy: You may also wish to consider having a policy covering your use of Twitter, as described in a recent post on “Emerging Best Practices For Institutional Use of Twitter“.

Think about your followers: If you are using Twitter as an individual but also wish to promote areas of your work you will need to consider the balance between engagement (chatting with your mates), support (helping your mates), requests (asking your mates for held) and dissemination (telling your mates what you’ve being doing and what you’re proud of). This was an area I addressed in a post on “Twitter Can Pimp Up Your Stuff – But Should It?“.

And if you’re still sceptical that Twitter has any significant role in delivering traffic to a Web site I’d suggest you read the TechCrunch article “For TechCrunch, Twitter = Traffic (A Statistical Breakdown)“.

Posted in Twitter | 4 Comments »

“Is It Really A Good Time To Be Asking For More IT Money?”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 June 2009

Michael Cross in the Technology Guardian asked back in AprilIs It Really A Good Time To Be Asking For More IT Money?” Michael poked fun at the notion that “as the chancellor announces the largest peacetime deficit in history, the IT industry is lining up to say what the government really needs to do is spend more taxpayers’ money on computers“. His blunt response: “Dream on“.

He is, of course, correct to remind us that public sector funding is in decline and this is likely to impact grandiose plans for large-scale IT developments. Indeed, as I pointed out recently, we have already seen the recent demise of the Hero gateway to UK higher educational institutions.

Michael Cross’s suggestion is to “freeze budgets at just those needed to keep existing big systems …  ticking over“. He goes on to propose that “Any new programmes would have to be achieved with Gmail, Flickr, and whatever other free stuff can be found on the web. Preferably running on public employees’ own laptops and mobile phones” and points out that “the market research firm Gartner is peddling a similar line, under the heading ‘The future of government is no government‘”.

A ridiculous notion? Maybe, but consider the alternatives which might include a lack of services and innovation or a move towards centralised solutions. And let’s be honest about the dangers of the centralised solutions. I’ve heard people talk about ideas floating in government circles that the Open University should be the provided of e-learning resources for the high education sector – a suggestion which Open University e-learning staff I know are happy to debunk.

And what of he wider public sector service? A tweet from Joss Win pointed out that it cost:

£168,000 to out-source the Treasury’s website last year?! (only 4 visits/minute) http://bit.ly/zndCW Surely this deserves full disclosure?

which led to suggestions from other Twitters that they would be happy to deliver Web pages on a memory stick transported on a Rolls-Royce if funding of that scale was available :-) And the response given in Hansard went on to add that “Staff costs are not included as they could only be established at disproportionate cost“.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should necessarily or in all cases  require that “new programmes would have to be achieved with Gmail, Flickr, and whatever other free stuff can be found on the web” (or, as Tony Hirst describes this “Appropriating Technology“).  But these are possibilities which should be treated on par with in-house development work, just as open source software solutions should be evaluated along side proprietary solutions for public sector procurement exercises. And yes, the risks of such out-sourcing to such Web 2.0 companies should be included in any procurement exercises.

But let’s also ensure that development work outsourced in more conventional ways is also open to public scrutiny. Otherwise we may find that figures such as £168,000 of the public’s  money to outsource hosting or development to companies which have close links with public sector bodies is being wasted. As Joss suggests, this deserves full disclosure! (Oh, and if you don’t think that public sector should be reliant on commerical services, remember that the U.S. Government Ask[ed] Twitter to Stay Up for #IranElection Crisis) .

Posted in Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Launch of ‘The Edgeless University’: a new Demos report

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 June 2009

A report entitled “The Edgeless University: why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology” was launched earlier today. As described on the JISC Web site:

The Edgeless University argues that technology in higher education is not just about virtual learning environments, but is increasingly central to the way institutions provide learning and facilitate research. Technology is making research and learning possible in new places, often outside of institutions. Far from undermining them, this is creating exciting opportunities for universities to demonstrate and capitalise on their value so will take strategic leadership from inside institutions, new connections with a growing world of informal learning, and a commitment to openness and collaboration. This is the radical role of The Edgeless University.

I haven’t yet had a chance to fully absorb this 90 page report but there were a number of aspects to the report which reflect my areas of interest. I should first disclose, however, that I contributed to the report (Peter Bradwell, author of this DEMOS report, was aware of my work in this area and invited me to give my views).

The need for fundamental changes in the higher educational sector:  The report describes the comment made by one participant at a roundtable meeting who described the current predicament of the higher education sector: ‘This seminar feels a bit like sitting with a group of record industry executives in 1999’. The report went on to say “It is no use lamenting the golden age of universities (or record companies). The goals of the two ‘industries’ remain the same, but they must refocus on how to achieve them. Society’s aspirations for the sector remain the same. The challenge for institutions is to find the way to do it.

The need to understand changing student expectations:  The report quoted an interviewee who said “Technology is part of people’s daily life in a university, I would say everywhere except in the classroom” in order to illustrate the need for institutions to “get better at understanding exactly what it is these students need” .

New tools to support teaching:  It was interesting to note that the report, in a section on how social media tools can support  collaborative teaching described Michael Wesch’s work at the University of Kansas in the US in using using online tools for collaborative and team-based student coursework including tools such as  sites such as Netvibes, Yahoo Pipes  and Diigo. Although I’m pleased to see Web 2.0 tools being highlighted in the report, it was somewhat strange to see a US-based example of use of these fairly mainstream tools. Aren’t there similar examples to be found in UK HEIs?

A renewed commitment to openness:  The report includes a section with this title. The opening quotation for the section “Science is as much about conversations in corridors as it is about papers in journals” strikes me as summarising the benefits which the Social Web can provide for the research community. However this section seems to focus more on the ease of access provided by tools such as Scribd and iTunesU rather than the issues of open access and open data.

“Experimentation and investment:  I was particularly pleased to see that JISC Developer Happy Days’ (Dev8D) being mentioned as an  “event brought together communities of coders and users from educational software and beyond” with the aim of  “mix[ing] people interested in civic society with those who have the skills to develop tools to encourage social change“. Dave Flanders (now of JISC) will be pleased to see that his work in bringing together a set of developers has been appreciated in this report.

A few weeks ago the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report was published. And today we see another report which provides a similar top-down view on the importance of Web 2.0 in higher education.  If you encounter resistance to change from senior managers in your institution I’d suggest you beat them over the head with these two report until they realise that Web 2.0 is changing the higher educational environment.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Openness and IWMW 2009

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 June 2009

IWMW 2009 Fully Subscribed

Bookings are now closed for this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009), with the event again fully subscribed with 190 participants (the limit imposed by the numbers of bedrooms available and the size of the venue for the reception).

Amplification of IWMW 2009

If you haven’t booked a place but do have an interest in the range of plenary talks which will be given, don’t worry – the event will be ‘amplified’.

This reflects our commitment to openness which I argued the higher educational community should embrace more fully in a recent post on Respect Copyright (and Subvert It!).  In that post I also suggested that we need to be more open about the risks and the approaches taken to managing the risks. So here is a summary of the various approaches we are taken to encouraging openness for the event.

Maximising the Impact of the Plenary Talks

The plenary talks at IWMW 2007 and IWMW 2008 were streamed live and we will be doing the same again this year.

We hope to have an official ‘live-blogger’ who will take responsibility for providing a live summary of the plenary talks. This will be available using the event hashtag #iwmw2009 and may also be aggregated in another environment (such as Coveritlive, use of which has described in a Review of Web2.0 amplification at CILIPS Conference) to allow people to contribute to the discussions if they don’t have a Twitter account.

Due to logistical reasons (only one screen display in the lecture theatre)  we will not be providing a live display of tweets during the talks (which means we aren’t addressing the issue of whether a live display would be valuable or distracting). However we intend to make use of a live Twitter display (a ‘Twitterwall’) during the opening of the event and at other times in order to allow participants to say hello to each other if they are not sat in adjacent seats, an approach I felt worked well at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference.

We will also try to ensure that the speaker’s slides are available on Slideshare so that the remote audience is able to view the slides and the talk simultaneously. We know that speakers sometimes change the slides at the last moment – we’ll try and keep the versions in synch, but can’t guarantee this.

Note we’ll need speaker’s permissions for this – and will respect their (e.g. if their organisation doesn’t allow this; they want the freedom to be more open; etc.).

The Risks

I’ve described what we are planning on doing. But what about the risks of embracing openness more fully at an event?

We will be seeking permission from the speakers for the live streaming of their talks. And we do appreciate that there may be reasons why such permission may not be given (the speaker wishes to be able to speak freely or the speaker’s organisation may not allow this). We also intend to have a Creative Commons notice on the lectern (as we did last year) so that a rights  statement will be embedded in the video. We will allow the speaker to change their mind about making a recording of the talk available after the event (we will clarify this immediately after the talk, so that we do not have to write off time which may be spend on post-processing the video).

We will be providing a ‘quiet zone’ in the lecture theatre for participants who wish to avoid possible distractions caused by live-blogging and who do not wish to be photographed or videoed.  We will also ask other participants to respect the guidelines for this area.

We will, of course, be evaluating the event, including the innovative aspects as well as the mainstream aspects.  As we would like to share the user feedback more widely the evaluation form will state that anonymised comments may be published openly.

We appreciate that amplified conferences are still in their infancy, and there may be a diverse range of expectations from the audience, both local and remote. We are interested in learning from related events, such as Dev8DMashed Library UK 2009 ‘Mash Oop North’, Amplifiedat Nlab 09 day and the Eduserv Symposium.

We’d welcome feedback and suggestions. But, please no suggestions that will take too much time and effort – there’s not much time left!

Posted in Events, iwmw2009 | 1 Comment »

I’m A Top Influencer For The Open University! (Or Am I?)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 June 2009

Metrics For Measuring Impact in the Social Web

Martin Weller has published a blog post on Connections versus Outputs which discusses a report produced by the Open University Online Services team in collaboration with external consultants (MarketSentinel). The aim of the work was to examine “the broader influence of various web sites and looking at sentiment mining. The idea from an official communications perspective being you can see how well regarded your institution is in different sectors, and maybe influence that perception“.

Their findings? Well it seems this UK Web Focus blog is:

  • In 4th 6th place in a list of the Open University’s top 100 influencers in ‘distance learning’;
  • 4th in a ‘betweenness‘ category of “Stakeholders who are “stations” where information (on the issue in focus) is passed via in order to reach the constituency of said stakeholder”;
  • 8th in a ‘hubness‘ table which “is a characteristic of disproportionately linking to those who are authoritative on a given topic”.

Andy Powell responded to this post in a comment saying “Sorry… not meaning to pick on Brian here but the appearance of his blog, given this particular choice of topic [distance learning], stuck out a little“. Andy was correct in mentioning this strange result. I will have a better awareness of the topics I have covered in my 580 posts and I know this isn’t a topic I write about – and a search for the term confirms this (although there may have been a couple of occurrences of the term in comments).

Andy’s comment also touched on the sensitivity of discussing an individual, and this concern was shared by others on Twitter. Let me make it clear that I think it is appropriate to explore both the reasons for my inclusion in this list and the relevance of such an approach. As Martin Weller commented, this is very appropriate academic debate.

Interpreting The Findings

Let’s begin by trying to explore the reasons why I’m listed so highly (Martin Weller and Tony Hirst are also featured highly in the tables, but this can probably be explained by the fact that they work at the Open University).

Collusion: Perhaps Martin Weller, Tony Hirst and myself collude in linking to each other, in order to boost our rankings. After all we know each other and follow each other on Twitter. That could be a possibility – but we don’t.

Echoing: It may be, as was suggested on a second post on Martin Weller’s blog, that we are echoing each others views and the metrics simply reflect that. There may be some truth in that. As you can see from Martin Weller’s post on Web 2.0 – even if we’re wrong, we’re right following a talk I gave on What If We’re Wrong? and my follow-up posts on Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right and What If We’re Right? we can see this in action. Now this reflecting on other”s views and adding new insights is, for me, part of the learning process. And although we’ve created something new in this process (we’re thinkers and not just linkers, as the saying goes) I appreciate that the metrics may give (undue?) weight to this.

Complementing: It may also be that the reason this blog is ranked so highly is that it complements the topics covered by Martin, Tony and others. This blog tends to reflect my background in working in IT Services and my interests in, say, Web accessibility – areas which tend not to be addressed in Martin or Tony’s blogs so much. So perhaps my ‘influence’ reflects this?

Being an early adopter: Although I wasn’t an early adopter of blogging (I started in November 2006) it may be that my high profile in the Open University reports simply reflects my presence in various the Social Web technologies (Twitter, Friendfeed, etc.) This could mean that the survey is picking up on the technologies I’ve been using, rather than the content I publish on this blog.

Blog is outside the institution: This blog, as is the case for the blogs published by others mentioned in the report, is hosted outside my institution. Perhaps the high ranking is a manifestation of the hosting arrangements? Or perhaps the fact that we have chosen an external hosting body indicates early adoption of blogging (before our host institution provided a blogging service) and the survey is skewed by the presence of the early adopters? Or perhaps a willingness to use a third party service, when this may have been discouraged (it’s not open source; what about sustainability of the service? …) , reflects a level of independence and willingness to take risks which the survey picks up on?

Social Web presence builds on peer-reviewed publications: I don’t just publish on Social Web services, such as blogs, Twitter, Slideshare., etc. I also write papers for peer-reviewed journals and conferences and invited papers for conferences. I then reference the papers on the social Web on my blog and make slides (and sometimes video recording) of the accompanying presentations available on services such as Slideshare, Vimeo and Google Video. Perhaps the amplification of peer-reviewed ideas and approaches via the Social Web helps to enhance the impact I have, which is being detected in the survey?

Writing style, linking style, etc.: I may be that my writing style, the ways I try to cite relevant posts, Web resources and even tweets contribute to the high ranking.

Relevant, Useful and Interesting Content: In an attempt to document the range of possibilities for this blog being identified as a significant influencer and hub for ideas related to ‘distance learning’ I should include the possibility that the content of the blog are felt to be relevant, timely, useful and interesting!

These are some thoughts which occur to me for my high ranking in the survey. But surely we simply need to find out what algorithms are being used. And, as Peter Murray-Rust has pointed out in a bog post on “Open Source increases the quality of science” if we have access to the source code we will be better placed to spot any flaws in the code itself.

This argument reminds me of the time I attended a WWW conference and heard a research er describe how his team had reverse engineered the algorithms used by a number of the global search engines. In the subsequent questions an engineer from Google said he wished the paper hadn’t been published, as Google would have to change the algorithms in order to prevent spammers from exploiting this knowledge. I suspect that we’d find institutions looking at ways to game Social Web metrics,especially if this became competitive. And as we know how one’s position in the University league tables are to institutions, I suspect this would happen.

Is This A Useful Starting Point?

If we have to accept that there are likely to be various metrics covering use of the Social Web, the question may be whether the approach which is being taken at the Open University provides a useful starting point.

Andy Powell agrees with Martin that metrics on how the Social Web can impact scholarly activities are needed: “I think we want to get to the same place (some sensible measure of scholarly impact on the social Web)” but goes on to add “ I disagree with you that this is a helpful basis on which to build.

Is this glass, as Martin feels, half full or would you agree with Andy that it’s half empty? I’ll add a third alternative – I’ll finish off what’s in the glass while the rest of you are arguing!  Or to put it another way, while the academics go off in pursuit of the perfect metric the marketing departments will make use of a variety of impact measurements in any case. I suspect we’ll find people in marketing departments asking “How can we use the Social Web to market our institutions, attract new students and new funding?” and then asking “How can we measure the impact – or ROI – of our presence in the Social Web?“. I’ll conclude by echoing Martin’s conclusions:

We’ve got to start somewhere – my take on this is that the output may have problems, but it’s a start. We could potentially develop a system focused on higher education, which is more nuanced and sophisticated than this. By analysing existing methodologies and determing problems with them (such as the three I’ve listed above) we could develop a better approach. I hold out hope that we can get interesting results from data analysis that reveals something about online scholarly activity.

And we should be analysing the existing methodologies in an open fashion. I hope my observations have contributed to this analysis.

Posted in Impact | 1 Comment »

Twitterers Subvert Daily Mail’s Racist Poll

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 June 2009

Daily Mail pollOn Friday I was alerted by one of the people I follow on Twitter to a poll which asked “Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue?“.

I responded by voting Yes, and sent a tweet which said:

I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q

Comments on Twitter about the Daily Mail pollMy tweet was then echoed (‘retweeted’) around the Twitterverse by a number of people including lucy3point0 and ccsnjf with others picking up on my posts and adding their own commentary (as shown). Other communities picked up on this for, as you can see, over 90% of people voting on the Daily Mail Web site felt that the NHS should allow gipsies to jump the queue!

I was intriguing to see what the final total was (it reached 96% at one point and I grabbed the screen image shown above – to use in a forthcoming talk – with the total of 94%). But on Saturday I found that allow the question was included in a list of Daily Mail polls, clicking on the link took me to another page on the Daily Mail Web site, and not to the results of the poll. (Ironically another discussion which took place on Twitter on Friday discussed URL shorteners and the possible dangers of a lack of long-term persistency of URL shortening services – in this case the short URL for the Daily Mail poll is still available – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q – but the page it points to – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/index.html?pollId=1011506 – is not the gipsies poll.

The reason I captured the screen was to make use of this example in a forthcoming workshop session I am facilitating on “Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources“. I’ll make the point that Twitter can be used to engage a community through a viral campaign for (or against) a particular idea. I’ve an interest, therefore, in how this poll went viral, and also in the ethics of commenting on the poll and attempting to influence the votes.

This story has been picked up on blogs.journalism.co.uk with an article on Twitterers claim victory over loaded Daily Mail gypsy poll. Here I find that :

Brighton-based senior lecturer in experimental psychology Dr Sam Hutton contacted Journalism.co.uk today to reveal that there was also an email campaign among UK-based psychologists who, as part of their jobs, take questionnaire neutrality seriously.

Was this the start of the viral campaign? Or did a number of people become aware of the poll and mention it on Twitter independently of each other? And why did this become viral whereas, for example, a poll on Should immigrants be forced to respect British culture? has failed to attract a similar level of interest, despite covering a similar topic which is liable to inflame liberals? Do successful viral campaigns need to attract the attention of ‘hubs’ to use a concept from Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which Martin Weller mentions in a post, also published on Friday, on “Connections-versus outputs“.

And what of the ethical aspects from those of us who are engaged in observing, commenting on and analysing the way in which the Social Web is shaping our society?

You should note that my initial tweet did not suggest how people should vote:

I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q

The wording I used was also intended to intrigue people; anyone who knows me or has read my tweets or blog posts over time will know that I am not in sympathy with the Daily Mail’s views. The tweet was also brief, and so allowed other to easily retweet it i.e. append “RT @briankelly” to the front and add heir own commentary, such as @lucy3point0′s “Laugh or cry?“.

However I should disclose that I voted three times in the poll. Despite responding to a suggestion that “If you disable cookies you and refresh the page and vote gain to your heart’s content” by saying that we should keep the high moral ground over the Daily Mail I did vote on two additional occasions (using the Flock and Opera browsers) – as I wanted to see if I could get the error message which a couple of people had encountered. In retrospect I should have ensured that these two votes cancelled each other out.

And finally I’m also linking to, citing and including a screen image of a number of people who have engaged in the debate. Should this be done? Am I infringing copyright (indeed, am I infringing the Daily Mail’s copyright in including a screen image taken from their Web site)?

I am taking a risk management approach to this. Rather than seeking written permission (which may be time-consuming) I have made a judgement as to whether the people I have mentioned are likely to be concerned. I suspect not. And inclusion of the poll from the Daily Mail Web site? This may be a risk, although I might claim fair use. But won’t it be a greater risk for the Daily Mail if they ask me to remove? If I do get a letter from their solictors I don’t intend to fight them. But everyone will know they have done this.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Twitter | Tagged: | 12 Comments »

Respect Copyright (and Subvert It!)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 June 2009

The Digital Britain Report

The Digital Britain report was published a few days ago and as is stretches to over 230 pages we’ve needed that time to digest the report or, perhaps more likely, allow others to read the report and publish their summaries! My specific area of interest in the report is what it says about copyright.

The report describes how “Already today around 7.5% of total UK music album purchases are digital and a smaller but rapidly increasing percentage of film and television consumption is streamed online or downloaded” and that although “User-generated and social content will be very significant” it will not be “the main or only content“.

The report goes on to argue the case for the ‘creative industries’ and repeats their claims that they “have indicated they suffer considerable losses from unlawful peer-to-peer file-sharing” – and fails to acknowledge the criticism of these figures described by Ben Goldacre’s “Illegal downloads and dodgy figures” article in the Guardian’s Bad Science column.

Section 18 of the report puts the recommendations bluntly:

This is unacceptable. The Government considers online piracy to be a serious offence. Unlawful downloading or uploading, whether via peer-to-peer sites or other means, is effectively a civil form of theft. This is not something that we can condone, or to which we can fail to respond. We are therefore setting out in this report a clear path to addressing this problem which we believe needs to result in a reduction of the order of 70-80% in the incidence of unlawful filesharing.

My fears are that equating use of networked technologies with large scale copyright infringement will lead to organisations’ being conservative in their approaches and being unwilling to take any risks that they might be seen to condone the  ‘serious offence of online piracy’.

So let’s look at other views on copyright, beyond the teenage kids who seem to stand accused of downloading music and videos and ruining the country’s economy (I’ve tried to avoid the temptation to say the bankers have done that, but have failed!)

“Copyright Warriors”

Earlier this year Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University wrote a blog post on “Universities as copyright warriors“, this being a follow-up post to one which asked “Should universities break copyright law?“. In the former post Martin described how he:

wasn’t arguing that universities should ignore copyright because they think they’re special, or that they should advocate wholesale piracy. Rather it was that universities are in a privileged position. They can fight on behalf of the general populace.

Professor Stephan Harnad, University of Southampton, has been fighting for the research community for several years. You just have to visit the Open Access Archivangelism blog to see evidence of the work being done by Stevan and many fellow open access researchers not only here in the UK but around the world. “Ensure your research publications are published in an open archive” is their cry “and make publicly-funded research openly available“. And such simple requests are supported by significant examples of technical solutions, business models,  institutional services and growing international pressures to build on this work.

Professor Peter Murray-Rust, Reader in Molecular Informatics at the University of Cambridge (who, incidentally, has his own entry in Wikipedia), has been making a similar plea to open up scientific data. Peter recently argued that “Copyright in Scientific Theses is holding us back; Ignore it“.  Peter’s opening comments are worth noting:

I feel the dread hand of copyright hanging Mordor-like over the whole area of scholarly publishing. I heard to my horror in PennState that one University had embargoed all its theses in case they violated copyright. So I tested this in my talk and asked “are there repositories that embargo all their content for fear of copyright?” and got a few nodding heads. So I am taking this as fact, and asking:

Why is no-one except me angry about the way that copyright (or exaggerated fear of it) is stifling electronic innovation in academia?

Pete goes on to make the plea “let’s abandon copyright in science. What does it gain us? Almost nothing, unless you author a successful textbook. Nowhere else is copyright the slightest use to a scientist and its stands in their way at every step.” And note that Peter is not arguing for the abolition of copyright; he makes it clear that “if you are working in creative arts you may wish to protect your work“. Peter’s views are focussed on science. And he repeats this message loudly “SO AS A FIRST STEP LET’S JUST PUBLISH ALL OUR **SCIENCE** THESES OPENLY AND ALLOW UNRESTRICTED DOWNLOADING AND RE-USE?”.

Beyond The Professors

If you read Martin Weller’sStephan’s Harnad’s and Peter Murray-Rust’s blogs you will find much more in-depth discussions on the benefits of openness in teaching and learning and research. But the danger is that such views will be dismissed as the ramblings of professors who are secure in their own position. How can others engage in maximising the openness of resources? How should young researchers and academics respond? And what approaches can the service departments – libraries and IT Services, for example – take?

A Personal Approach

Back in 2005 I gave a paper on “Let’s Free IT Support Materials! which concluded “IT Service departments are well-positioned to encourage a culture of sharing by encouraging an open access approach to IT support materials through use of Creative Commons licences“.

In January 2006 I made a commitment  that the resources used in my public presentations would be available with a Creative Commons licence – and since giving a talk on “Web Futures: Implications For HE” at King’s College London on 27th January 2006 the title slide of my presentations has contained a Creative Commons licence. That talk was also the first time (I think) in which I recorded my talk and made the talk available also under a Creative Commons licence.

But what of the risks in making one’s own resource available under a Creative Commons licence?  What if the slides contains resources owned by others (e.g. the JISC and MLA logos on the title slide; a screen shot of the BBC Web site; etc.)? What if I make defamatory comments in my talk?

Rather than ensuring that no copyrighted material are used in my presentations I take a risk assessment approach. I weigh the risks that if I use the JISC logo on my title slide that JISC will sue me for copyright infringement – pretty unlikely!  I also try to ensure that a provide hypertext links to third party resources so that the original site can be easily found. And the Creative Commons logo has a caveat which links to a statement that points out that the slides may contain copyrighted resources. The onus is then on anyone who wishes to reuse my resources to undertaken their own risk assessment.

Professor Charles Oppenheim helped me to understand a risk management approach at a seminar he gave at UKOLN on the copyright implications of institutional repositories. In response to my question as to whether the complex copyright questions (“Podcasting lectures? What about performance rights?” ) meant that institutional repositories were unlikely to take off, Charles suggested a simple formula which could be used to gauge the risks. The Oppenheim formula is simply:

R=AxBxCxD

where R is the risk factor of your decision; A is the probability that you are infringing copyright; B is likelihood the the copyright owner finds out; C is the likelihood that they will care enough to take any action and D is the compensation they are likely to seek.

A simple formula which (when I asked permission to publish it) Charles told me is intended as rhetorical device rather than aiming to provide any significant deep insight. But this has been an approach I have found useful.

What Next?

What can we do if we are supportive of the views which Professors Weller, Harnad and Murray-Rust, but feel constrained by our perceptions of the risks and barriers? My suggestions:

Free your materials: Make use of Creative Commons for the materials that you create.

Take a risk management approach: Change does not occur without taking risks. So we prepared to take risks, but asses the risks and make an informed decision.

Be open about the risks: Share the approaches your have taken with others. Help them to assess the risks they may face in reusing your content.

And remember that there will be people and organisations within our sector who will have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. If, for example, you are involved in negotiating copyright deals, you may be concerned that your empire would be threatened by the widespread available of open content. Or maybe you simply don’t want to rock the boat.   But change is needed!

Posted in openness | 8 Comments »

Who Needs Social Networks? I’ve Got Opera Unite

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 June 2009

Opera, the browser vendor, have released a new version of their browser, Opera Unite. And they launched their browser will the slogan “Today, we reinvent the Web“. So what’s behind this rather grandiose claim?

Well:

Opera Unite allows you to easily share your data: photos, music, notes and other files. You can even run chat rooms and host entire Web sites with Opera Unite. It puts the power of a Web server in your browser, giving you greater privacy and flexibility than other online services.

In addition:

What if you use Opera at home, and a different Web browser at work? Opera Unite services can be accessed from any modern browser, including mobile browsers! At home, just select what you want to share, and you can view it later using your work Web browser without any problems.

A post on Mashable.com sums this up nicely “Opera Unite: Web Browser Becomes the Web Server“. But do we need another Web server environment? Do we need the ability of every networked PC to be able to share files? What are the networking implications? What are the security implications? How will we find the stuff?

I suspect this may the the reaction of members of institutional Web teams. But, on the other hand, mightn’t this free us from a reliance of the commercial sector and the concerns we have over companies such as Facebook? And might not the innovative e-learning developers welcome the opportunity to explore how the sharing of learning resources and the use of collaborative technologies can be provided without having to rely on the local Web services team whilst avoiding the need to deal with companies such as Google and Facebook. Opera, it might appear, are unlikely to have a desire to take over the networked world as Google, Facebook and Microsoft want to do.

Have Opera really reinvented the Web? And is this announcement good news or bad? Or perhaps it is irrelevant – this is file sharing for home users and need not concern those of us who work in a networked environment?

Posted in browser | Tagged: , | 16 Comments »

Which Will Last Longer: Hero.ac.uk or Facebook?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 June 2009

A Hero For Our Sector

Hero home page (from Internet Archive)One of the real strengths of the UK higher education sector is the way in which we can work together as a sector, meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is undoubtedly true of JISC (which is envied in the higher education and research sectors around the world) but also applies elsewhere. One example of this is Hero:  “the official gateway to universities, colleges and research organisations in the UK“:  a gateway funded by the various funding bodies (HEFCE, SHEFC, HEFCW and DENI) and supported by other higher educational agencies and by the high educational institutions themselves (and note that I was involved in the technical advisory group for the “HE Mall” as it was originally called.

Indeed will a service such as Hero, why would higher educational institutions wish to use other channels for online marketing, particularly social networking service such as Facebook which, despite its popularity are, in some circles, regarded with suspicion in not hostility?

Our Hero Is Dead …

Alas for those who believe that the sector should own its marketing channels, the Hero.ac.uk service was closed on 4th June 2009 (and the image shown above was taken from Hero’s most recent entry in the Internet Archive, from 10th February 2008) I should disclose that last year I was interviewed by a consultant who had been appointed in order to identify future directions for the service, including whether the service was viable. I pointed out the flaws in the Hero service: it did not have the community aspects which potential new students might expect and it was a ‘walled garden’ – information could be uploaded to the service but there were no easy ways of getting the data out again. “Make ‘Hero 2.0′ a trusted service which could host structured institutional data“, I suggested “and provide APIs to allow developers elsewhere to add value to the service“. But this did not happen.

… Long Live a New Hero?

If the managed service to promote UK higher educational institutions is too costly to provide,  why don’t we appropriate popular social networking services to fulfil this role? This is an idea inspired by a Tony Hirst’s post on “Appropriating technology” which he described as “appropriating technologies that might have been designed for other purposes in order to use them in an educational context” but I would replace ‘educational context‘ by ‘marketing context‘.

And, if we’re honest, isn’t Facebook the new Hero? It can provide the popular service for hosting institutional marketing materials. And it can provide the community aspects which Hero failed to provide. Admittedly it may be a ‘walled garden’ – but then so was Hero, so nothing is being lost.

But if we wish to use Facebook in this way, don’t we as a sector need to  identify the best practices for making use of Facebook, including minimising the risks associated with the service? And shouldn’t we be exploring the benefits which might be gained by working collaboratively?

Some initial thoughts on  this:

Institutional URL: As mentioned in my recent post on “Have You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional Facebook Vanity URL?” we are seeing Facebook URLs being minted as a single string (edgehilluniversity) and words separated  by dots (aberystwyth.university). We might wish to consider whether there are advantages in seeking agreement on the form of the name – perhaps even using an institutional domain name in the URL (e.g. http://www.facebook.com/www.bath.ac.uk). However it is probably too late to do anything about this (which arguably demonstrates the failure in having not had such discussions previously).

Trademark disputes: We’ll want to avoid the possibility of trademark disputes. Might we see one between Leeds Metropolitan University and say, Loyola Marymount University over http://www.facebook.com/lmu?

Ownership of Facebook resource: Who has access to the institutional Facebook account in your institution? And what if they’ve left or you can’t find the owner? The information should be regarded as a valuable institutional resource and ownership should be managed appropriately.

Workflow processes: There’s a need to establish effective workflow processes for information provide on the institutional Facebook page. Ideally information would be hosted elsewhere and automatically updated in Facebook though use of, for example, an  RSS application in your Facebook page.

Will Facebook pages enhance or diminish Google Juice: Might not institutional content which is replicated on Facebook pages diminish institutional ‘Google juice’ as my colleague Paul Walk has suggested? Or, alternatively, might content held in popular services such as Facebook and Wikipedia (and previously, to a lesser extent, Hero) held to increase traffic to the institutional Web site? Indeed if such replication of content is felt to be counter-productive, shouldn’t institutions try to prevent Web sites having links to their content rather than seeking to maximise such links?

Facebook Terms and Conditions: It would be useful to gain a better understanding of the Faceboom terms and conditions and the implications for an organisation’s pages in order to inform appropriate risk management approach. If the concern is that Facebook will claim ownership of marking material provides, is that really of concern?

Explore Possibilities for Facebook Applications: Might there be benefits in developing Facebook applications to make the UK HEI pages more appealling?

But have we, in the UK, missed the boat? Looking at the timetable for the forthcoming Eduweb 2009 conference I notice sessions on topics such as “Facebook — a case study of building virtual relationships“, “Cheap, Fast, & Out of Control: Brand management & recruitment..” and “Recruiting and Marketing in the Web 2.0 World“.  We’ve nothing along these lines planned for IWMW 2009 – but as the bar camp sessions can be submitted at the workshop itself, perhaps there’s an opportunity to build on these ideas?

Oh, and if you think it is inappro[oriate for an organisation to make use of a social network in this way, look at what companies such as Starbucks and McDonalds are doing on Facebook.

Posted in Web2.0 | 10 Comments »

Have You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional Facebook Vanity URL?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 June 2009

Short URLs for Personal Facebook Accounts

The Facebook vanity URL landrush began at 9 PM PST (5 am in the UK). I woke up early and claimed my personal short URL for my Facebook page at about 06.30 (actually I wasn’t awake early enough as the obvious short form had already been claimed). Now I won’t divulge this short form of my Facebook ID as I don’t necessarily want you trying to befriend me just because you read this blog. But I now have a much easier way of sharing my Facebook details with people I may wish to befriend in Facebook – previous they had to search through the large numbers of ‘Brian Kellys’ or I had to give them my email address. The short form is much more convenient.

Short URLs for Organisational Facebook Accounts

You can also claim short Facebook URLs for an organisational Facebook page – provided you had more than 1,000 fans before the cut-off date. Again if you are in this position this strikes me as a no-brainer – as described in a TechCrunch article you should go to facebook.com/username and log into Facebook. And then enter your preferred name. That’s it.

Earlier this morning I discovered that some of my Twitter contacts had already got a short name for their institution. Mike Nolan announced first thing that his institution has claimed edgehilluniversity and slightly later Matthew Cock took the opportunity to promote a group on the britishmuseum’s Facebook account. Both Matthew and Mike had already made there plans for claiming a short form for their organisational Facebook account. Keele University had also made their plans, pre-registering their institutional name as a trademarked name – but then subsequently encountering difficulties in using this name.

“Somehow Feel Dirty After Minting Fb URL”

Despite the ease of getting such short URLs, a number of my Twitter contacts seems very discomforted with the notion. Now I understand why people may not approve of Facebook, but if they, or their institution, do have Facebook accounts then surely it’s only sensible to make access to the Facebook pages easier?

And in the case of institutional pages which are used to market the institution, then surely we should be expected the marketing departments to have spend 10 seconds or so on a Saturday morning to claim the short name which can, if so desired, be used in marketing materials. And I would hope that rather more time would have been spend in selecting the short name – poppletonuniversity, poppleton-universityor university-of-poppleton, for example. Or perhaps there’s even a case for http://www.facebook.com/www.poppleton.ac.uk?

Discussion

So tell me, what is the logic in having a personal or institutional Facebook account and keeping the long form for its address? Or are the tweets I’ve been seeing simply a minority view from the ideological purists (the 21st century equivalent of the Tooting Popular Front?)

Of course, it may be that your institution hasn’t claimed the short name as it doesn’t know who owns the acount! But that’s another matter. Institutional ownership of services in the Social Web is worthy of a post in itself.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Facebook | 13 Comments »

“#firefoxcrashes or #firefoxisfine”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 June 2009

Recently the FireFox browser has been crashing on me.  But because FireFox is a Good Thing TM I’ve tending to gloss over the problems (we do this for our loved ones, don’t we). But when the browser started to crash consistently when embedded images in this blog I decided enough was enough. I’ve moaned a bit on Twitter about FireFox over the past few days and was interested to see that other people had had similar experiences. So I thought I’d try and find out how widespread this problem might be.

In order to minimise the time and effort in analysing responses  I sent the tweet:

Firefox is crashing frequently. Is this true for others? Respond with #firefoxcrashes or #firefoxisfine. Please RT.

I then used the search capabilities in Tweetdeck to search for tweets containing #firefoxcrashes or #firefoxisfine (bearing in mind that retweets would contain both strings. The response are illustrated in the screen shot (or you can see the live search results for #firefoxcrashes and #firefoxisfine).

Twitter responses to "#firefoxcrashes" or "#firefoxisfine"
There seems to be growing evidence that FireFox is not as reliable as we might have expected. And as I know a number of the people who responded I am confident that these responses aren’t coming from people who think that open source software is some form of communism, but from people who prefer the FireFox browser to Internet Explorer.

The next question might be “what is the cause of the problem?” A couple of people suggested it might be FireFox plugin bloat or maybe problems with specific FireFox plugins.

The final question is “what do I do next?” Tolerating the problem was no longer acceptable, so I wondered whether I should use Google Chrome (which is installed on my PC) as my main browser. But I also wondered whether it would be timely to try out a new browser, But rather than installing Apple’s Safari browser, which a couple of people suggested, I decided to try out Flock.

However during the installation of Flock I also restarted my PC, which had been put in hiberation at the end of the working day for a while. And as there were various plugins I was missing I decided to restart FireFox – which I’m now finding is working fine. So I think I’ll stick with FireFox unless the problems re-occur.

But to me the ease of getting a rapid and semi-structured response from Twitter was the most interesting part of the exercise.  A couple of people responded asking for details of my operating system I was running, FireFox version number, installed plugins, etc. Now I could have set up a SurveyMonkey form to gather such information – but I know that not many would have responded. I feel that the important thing was that the survey was available from within the recipient’s environment – they could immediately respond from whichever Twitter client they were using.

What, though, of the others for whom #firefoxcrashes? What do you intend to do? Opera, Chrome, Safari, Flock – or even the other browser?

Posted in browser, Twitter | 6 Comments »

The JISC SIS Landscape Study

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 June 2009

The JISC is funding a landscape study on the UK HE sector use of content, communication and social networking services developed by commercial companies (or, perhaps more accurately, outside of the JISC sector).

As we know although JISC has developed a number of services specifically for use within the UK higher and further education sector (e.g. Jorum, JISCmail, etc.) people within the sector are increasingly using services developed outside the sector, either in addition to – or in some cases instead of – JISC-provided services.

Since evidence of this usage is fragmented and often anecdotal, the JISC SIS Landscape study aims to provide a snapshot of the current situation in the UK.

My colleagues Ann Chapman and Rosemary Russell are leading this work and have set up the JISC SIS Landscape Study blog to facilitate their work. We welcome  contributions to this blog in order to collate evidence on how such services are being used within the sector. Please note that JISC are primarily interested in use of such services within the UK higher and further education sectors. If you are outside this sector, feel free to contribute but please make it clear in  your comments the sector you work or study in.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

There Is No Institutional Blueprint for Web 2.0 – So Let’s Develop One

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 June 2009

Last week I gave a talk on “The ‘Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World’ Report: Implications For IT Service Departments” to staff in BUCS (the Bath University Computer Services Department.

The following day, as she described in a blog post, Chris Sexton, IT Services Director at the University of Sheffield and UCISA chair, facilitated a similar session on “IT Service 2.0“.

Chris concluded that “There was a general acceptance of the conclusions of the report which was that Universities need to change, and that change will be driven by students and what they will demand“. Such comments could also apply to the discussions at the BUCS seminar. And the reservations which Chris described:

However, there was some opinion expressed that the report was an exaggeration of the change that web 2.0/social web will make in students. There was also a concern that we could be in the situation of using technology to cut costs – to deliver more with less – to the detriment of what a University education means“.

also reflected some concerns which were aired here at Bath.

Both of these events were  based on the recent report on the recent “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” CLEX report.

One of the points made in the report was the lack of a clear institutional blueprint for action:

Decisions on whether or not to implement Web 2.0 technologies are, however, the responsibility of each institution individually having regard to its particular ethos and circumstances. Here, experience can be shared, but there is no blueprint for action and, indeed, it may not be possible to develop a blueprint in an area that is so highly context specific.

Senior managers in IT Services at the Universities of Bath and Sheffield have started the discussions regarding such an institutional blueprint. I’m also aware of a forthcoming Web Community event at the University of Bradford which will address how the Web can be used to support the University’s mission and objectives.

Is there scope, I wonder, for an event for the community on exploiting the potential of Web 2.0 which could help in the process of developing an institutional blueprint? In November 2006 UKOLN organised an event on “Exploiting the Potential of Wikis” followed a year later by a similar one-day event on “Exploiting the Potential of Blogs and Social Networks“.

Both of these events, which were fully subscribed, provided an opportunity to explore some of the policy issues associated with provision of or access to wikis, blogs and social networks.

I think we are now in a situation in which we need to address the institutional issues associated with use of services in ‘The Cloud’ (e.g. sustainability, reliability, and legal issues) , the relationships between the bottom-up and personal use of networked services and the institutional provision of such services and the relevance of ‘Social Web’ technologies to support teaching and leaning and research activities within our institutions.

I’ll start exploring the possibilities of organising such an event. I’d welcome suggestions on the topics which should be addressed at such an event and possible speakers.

I’ll conclude by sharing the resources for the talk I gave at Bath. The slides are available on Slideshare (and embedded below) and a video of my talk is available on Vimeo.  In addition local-hosted copies of the resources are also available on the UKOLN Web site.


Please note that this post originally had a link to an incorrect version of the slides (a version which had been uploaded to a guest account). The post has been updated with a link to and an embedded versionof the managed resource. However the original version of the slides has not been deleted.

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Who’ll Last Longer – Gordon or Google?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 June 2009

On Friday I gave a talk on Benefits of the Social Web at the Association of Independent Museum’s (AIM) annual conference. In the subsequent workshop sessions the issue of the sustainability of the services provided by companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr was raised. In response I asked “Which do you think is likely to be more sustainable – Gordon Brown or Google?” And that was a question I asked before I heard Friday’s announcement that DIUS (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) was no more, being replaced by DBIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills).

Now the question of the sustainability of instiuional services is something I’ve raised previously, ever since the Guardian had a front page article on the Secret List of Universities Facing Collapse, which I described in a post entitled “Universities, Not Facebook, May Be Facing Collapse“.

But this news item (which the Guardian subsequently admitted was inacurate) was concerned with higher educational institutions which were in financial difficulties. The demise of DIUS made lead us to the situation in which well-regarded bodies and initiatives cease to be funded due to political manouvering in Westminster, Matt Jukes, whilst admitting that he is “no expert on the comings and goings in Westminstergoes on to add that “I really don’t see how this can be anything but bad news for FE and HE“. I would agree with this – as, it would seem, would many people I know on Twitter who sharing similar misgivings since the announcement on Friday. Indeed Andy Powell created a Wordle map of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skill press release which formed the basis of discussion on the lack of  any mention of learning and the emphasis on skills and the economy.

And such concerns shoudn’t be restricted to the higher education sector. I suspect we’ll see other significant changes which affect public sector organisations such as libraries, museums and archives, either before or after the election.

Shouldn’t we now be including the dangers that our funding bodies and government quangos won’t be around for very much longer in our risk assessments and scenario planning exercises?  And just as IBM has lived through the rise and fall of several generations of governments and government policies, might not Google provide a level of stability amid the current uncertainies in the government?

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

“Wanna chat with me on cam?”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 June 2009

Spammer on the Ning social networkLast year we set up a Ning social network to support the IWMW 2008 event. Afterwards I forgot about the network until a few days ago I was alerted that a number of members had received spam messages. And on checking I discovered that Lucile Sawyer was sending messages asking others “Wanna chat with me on cam?, come see me here You’ll enjoy it. I promise!!!!” And on checking the membership details I discovered that Genvieve has a twin sister called Lucile Sawyer, as you can see.

I have now banned Lucile and Genvieve and changed the registration options for the site, so that any new members have to be approved. The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however, in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually.

Posted in Social Networking | 6 Comments »

The Ethical Mobile? (No, not the iPhone!)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 June 2009

Dave Flanders recently published a blog post which gave an Independent UK Hardware Review of HTC Magic (Vodaphone) vs HTC G1 (T-Mobile). The blog post (and embedded video clip)  made a case for the HTC Magic mobile phone (which uses Google’s Android open source operating system) in preference to Apple’s iPhone for several reasons and concluded with an ethical argument:

Ethical computing! <–! Last but certainly not least (IMHO)–> In an age of global financial crisis and corporate bastardising the technology we decide to spend our money on says a lot for how we want the world to turn out for the next generation.  In my opinion using an Open Source phone (like Android) says you want a world where we as a global community decide what we want, NOT one where a company decides how we want it.  Choice is yours, but this phone proves without a doubt that you can have both the ethical openness of Open Source while still having all the functionality and services of a proprietary company.  Truly, this could be the first time Open Source is the top of the stack and I can only hope it will stay this way (for a month or two anyways

Now a debate of the relative  merits of the iPhone and the Google Android device took place following my post on Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” in September 2008 and a follow-up post on The Wow Factor, The Openness, The Developers Environment, … published the following month. That debate appeared to conclude with a concensus of the benefits of the usability of the iPhone, which outweighed the closed nature of the platform, the centralised Apple Store and the costs of the the iPhone.

Well I have now got myself a HTC Magic Android device. And have I selected this device based on the ethical considerations which Dave has raised? Of course not! I chose the HTC Magic phone as wanted a device which meant I could be always connected, and not tied to a WiFi network. And I was out of contract I was able to obtain the HTC Magic free-of-charge, with an increase of my monthly tariff from £15 to £20, which included the data rate.

And having had the device for a few days I’m enjoying it.  I’ve installed a variety of Android applications (all of them free) included an email client (K9), an RSS reader (NewsRob), a couple of GPS applications, a Twitter client (Twidroid), a barcode reader (to experiment with), Quikipedia (for cheating in pub quizzes), Skype, Shazam and Last.FM.

For me the deciding factors were the cost and usability – and the iPhone’s better usability isn’t enough to outweigh its costs. And although this might not be a fashionable comment to make in developers’ circles, the ethical issues which Dave has described have IMHO little to do with the selection of mobile phones. You just need to ask an iPhone user to see the truth of this.

Now where are the other HTC Magic users to chat to and discuss the cool apps to install?

Posted in Gadgets | 1 Comment »

Google Wave, HTML 5 and Browser Policies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 June 2009

Over the past few days the Twitterverse seems tobe full with of discussions regarding Google’s announcement of Wave. The Techcrunch article on “Google Wave Drips With Ambition. A New Communication Platform For A New Web” is worth reading. But I was also interested to read a couple of blog posts on how Google Wave might be used to support teahcing and learning and research activities within higher educational instituions.

In a post entitled”Google Wave and teaching & learning” Wilber Kraan, who works for JISC CETIS, described how a technology like Google Wave has the potential to support a social constructivist’s model based on  group collaboration activities, especially those that can be constructed, annotated or modified collaboratively. And whilst Wilbert feels that Google is “evil” he feels that “a technology like Google Wave has the potential to impact this area significantly” and as  Social Networking  isn’t a market in which Google dominates, Google “needs to play nice and open“.

Meanwhile over on the Science in the Open blog Cameron Neylon feels that “OMG! This changes EVERYTHING! – or – Yet Another Wave of Adulation“. Cameron, a research scientist who is an unapologetic evangelist for open science, describes how, up till now “Those of us interested in web-based and electronic recording and communication of science have spent a lot of the last few years trying to describe how we need to glue the existing tools together, mailing lists, wikis, blogs, documents, databases, papers“. But Google Waves seems to have fundamentally changed things (if the service lives up to the hype): The lack of a framework to glue various communications and collaboration tools together “as far as I can see has now ceased to exist. The challenge now is in building the right plugins and making sure the architecture is compatible with existing tools. But fundamentally the framework seems to be there. It seems like it’s time to build“.

An exciting future, if Google Wave lives up to the hype, for the learning and research communities, it would seem. And therefore Google Wave could be of particular important to the higher education community.   There will be lots of issue that will have to be addressed, not least the dangers of a monopoly provider and concerns over privacy. But, less emotive, perhaps, but  of particular importance to IT Service departments is the question of the browser environment which will be needed to access Google Wave. It appears that Google Wave is an HTML 5 application – and HTML 5 is supported, in part, by all modern Web browsers, with the exception of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – which dominstates he marketplace.

Isn’t it time for IT Services  department to acknowledge that Internet Explorer is a major barrier to innovation in higher education? Would it be too much to expect a search and destroy operation to be carried out during the summer vacation to the desktop environment across the sector? Or, as a Google member of staff was quoted as saying that Google aim to get it working for all browsers: “People will not have to upgrade their browser to use Wave” maybe not? Perhaps if we find the innovators and early adopters grow to like Google Wave and wish to see it used more widely within or institutions, we’ll also find that it will eventually be made to work in the latest version of Internet Explorer. So maybe the summer’s search and destroy operation could be a less radical search and update operation.

Posted in Web2.0 | 5 Comments »