UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for January, 2010

Openness? No Thanks, I’ll Have An iPad

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 January 2010

Apple IPadAfter month’s of speculation the iPad was announced yesterday And after a day in which many  Twitterers were responding to Steve Jobs’ announcement today we say the headlines in the press. The main photograph on the front page of The Daily Telegraph featured Steve Jobs with Apple’s latest creation and in an unusual display of agreement the technology correspondents of The Telegraph and The Guardian were in broad agreement: Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph’s technology editor  described how her “first impressions of the device are largely positive. Apple has once again built a product that looks good and feels great in the hand, and the familiar user interface, borrowed from the iPhone and iPod touch, is perfectly suited to the bigger screen“. Meanwhile Bobbie Johnson, the Guardian technology correspondent felt that “For anyone who loves new technology, getting the first touch of a new Apple device is a little like laying hands on the Shroud of Turin, or seeing a unicorn: the first experience of a mythical object imbued with miraculous properties“.

We are now starting to see the blogging community giving their views. One of the first I saw was from Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield. Her thoughts can be summarised in a few wordsyes, I am lusting to get my hands on one”.

So it’s a feel winner for the sector, then. And we can start to make plans for how we can exploit the potential of this device when the early adopters bring it into work and, a later date, how we can provide insitutional support for the device.

Or should we?  The Case against the iPad was made in a blog post by Timothy  B Lee.  Although Timothy is an Apple fan he is opposed to the closed nature of the iPad, in particular the app store which must be used to download new applications:  “The store is an unnecessary bottleneck in the app development process that limits the functionality of iPhone applications and discourages developers from adopting the platform. Apple has apparently chosen to extend this policy—as opposed to the more open Mac OS X policy—to the iPad.

I made a similar point in a post on “This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away” in which I compared the open environment of the HTC Magic phone and the Android operating system with the closed nature of the iPhone.

However the post, which summarised a talk I gave at a Bathcamp meeting last year, was a tongue-in-cheek commentary of the Android device which has many flaws – I use my iPod Touch whenever a WiFi network is available and only use my Android phone if I have to use the 3G network (or need to make a phone call).

So although I’m not a regular Apple user I do find my iPod Touch a great device which I use every day – andI also recently bought a second hand iMac which I now use as my main machine at home (and which I’m using to write this post). And I can understand the reasons why Chris Sexton is lusting after the iPad and appreciate the similar reactions which I have come across from various techies at work and on Twitter.

And yet these tend to be the same people who talk about openness and open source.  Perhaps those words are just used as code when seeking to knock Microsoft and aren’t meant to be applied as general principles. Or they might be felt to be regarded as important in an institutional context but are not felt to be relevant for personal choices.  But what does this mean to the users; those who aren’t early adopters but may feel that comments about openness, open standards and open source are used to suppress use choice?

Posted in Gadgets, openness | 18 Comments »

Use of Web 2.0 in Australian Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 January 2010

The JISC-funded Shared Infrastructure Services (SIS) Landscape Study has published two reports which describe how Web 2.0 is being used in higher educational institutions in the UK and Australia. The two surveys allow comparisons to be made across these two countries. This work was coordinated by my UKOLN colleagues Ann Chapman and Rosemary Russell, who were also the authors of the UK report.

Rather than discussing the UK report I’d like to comment on how Web 2.0 is being used in Australia – partly because I am reasonably close to how Web 2.0 is being used in the UK (and suggested a number of people who were interviewed for the report). But in addition as I went to Australia this time last year to speak at the OzeWAI 2009 conference I was interested to hear if my observations of an apparent reluctance by IT Service departments to support use of various Web 2.0 services was supported by this more comprehensive survey across Australian Universities. It seems my interest in how this describes use of Web 2.0 in Australia is also shared by Sarah Bartlett who has given her views on the report on the Talis blog.

The Australian Report, entitled “A Landscape Study of Shared Infrastructure Services in the Australian Academic Sector“, was written by Jane Hunter, Director of the eResearch Lab at the University of Queensland. The 26 page report (which is available as a PDF document) describes how:

The aim of this report is to survey the situation in Australia and hence enable comparisons with the UK. This survey therefore focuses on the current and active users of Web 2.0 tools and services in Australian Higher Education institutions and aims to identify what they are using and why.

We learn that:

the results of the survey indicate that the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies in the higher education sector in Australia is not significantly dissimilar to the situation in the UK. Users prefer to use Web-based services that are already adopted by the wider community and that are free, robust, simple to sign on to, and easy to install and use. Examples include: FaceBook, YouTube, Skype and Twitter. … As in the UK, the primary factors governing choice of service are: cost, ease of use/interface design, wide-spread adoption. The important factors in continuing use are reliability, efficacy and how much it is used by the user’s peer group.

The popularity of such services has an impact on services developed within the community:

The fallout has been that users don’t choose to use technologies that have specifically been developed by and for the eResearch community (e.g., Sakai, EVO) – unless they have been mandated by their research/peer group or institutional IT service providers or if there is nothing else available through the Web.

it was interesting to note that the SWORD Application Profile and RoMEO were highlighted as “examples of such services not available elsewhere” – applications which were developed as part of JISC-funded support for institutional repositories.

So we are seeing a user-led adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, which seems similar to the UK position. But there is a downside:

The lack of support in universities for freely available Web 2.0 technologies has led to tension between users, IT support and central management. University IT departments are often seen as “controlling” and obstructive. Users want to be able to download, install and use software services such as Skype onto their desktop computers or laptops – but often they do not have administrative rights to do so. There also exists a level of tension between mandated technologies (e.g., EVO) and widely adopted mainstream technologies (Skype) that both serve essentially the same purpose, but have different levels of support and security implications.

Many Australian institutions and faculty IT support are struggling to maintain both the security of content and services whilst also maintaining the flexibility required to support changing users’ needs. Slowly universities in Australia are beginning to adopt and support Web 2.0 services through their libraries and IT service departments. This is expected to grow over time in response to user demand. Universities also realize that although many staff and students are familiar with using Web 2.0 services, there may also be a need to provide training and support in these new technologies to more mature staff members or those staff and students from less technical disciplines.

The final section in the report looks to the future:

Web 2.0 technologies are changing the way that students, staff and institutional services in the Australian academic sector work and interact. Staff and students are embracing Web 2.0 technologies because they are so easy to download, install, experiment with and use – in order to quickly engage with colleagues and share the latest information. This has led to the gradual integration of Web 2.0 services into the academic digital infrastructure in Australia as universities recognize that they are not a passing fad and will be increasingly adopted.

The survey indicated that the number of Web 2.0 applications that staff/students access to perform daily tasks is continuing to rise and that the applications of choice change relatively frequently. This trend is having an impact on the role that academic IT service departments play. IT service departments are realizing that they can no longer control the applications that are being used for teaching, learning and research.

We also see a recognition of the need for a changes in the traditional approaches taken by IT Service departments:

Institutional IT departments need to evaluate different services and make recommendations. They need to identify when it makes sense to take advantage of services “in the cloud” such as Google Wave, rather than providing and mandating a local institutional or nationally-funded service that duplicates the freely-available and widely deployed service. Their role has changed from service development and service provision to one of providing technical support to people who need to engage with Web or cloud services [my emphasis] – by setting up accounts, assisting with problems and recommending the best services.

Withe the exception of the reference to EVO I feel that everything I have written could apply equally well to the UK higher education sector.   Common issues, then. I wonder if common approaches are being taken to addressing these issues?  For as the report concludes “these technologies are not perfect and they bring with them many challenges that need to be addressed. Consequently, there will still be a need for university IT service providers to identify gaps in user demand or security (or other) issues associated with Web 2.0 services - and focus on solutions and services to fill these gaps and solve associated problems“.  The report  concludes by arguing that “Universities need to start making proactive plans for how to apply these emerging technologies within organization-wide teaching, learning and research strategies“.  I wonder if such shared issues which have been identified across the UK and Australian higher education communities can be addressed by shared approaches to solutions?

Posted in Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

STRIDE E-Learning Handbook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 January 2010

Handbook CoverLast year I received an invitation to contribute to an e-learning handbook which was being produced by the Indira Gandhi National Open University. My contribution focussed on best practices for making use of Web-based slide hosting services such as Slideshare.  I’m pleased to say that the handbook, the STRIDE Handbook 8 on E-Learning, is now available online.

When I saw the published document I was very interested to see that contributions had also been made by well-known e-learning luminaries such as Stephen Downes (on Blogs in Learning) and Terry Anderson (on Social Networking) ; Andy Ramsden, head of the e-learning Unit at the University of Bath was also a contributor on Using Micro-blogging (Twitter) in Teaching and Learning.

The handbook is available as a PDF resource (for the entire handbook or the individual sections).  It should also be noted that the copyright for the handbook belongs to the individual contributors – and I intend to repurpose my work as a resource with a Creative Commons licence.

Posted in Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

My Significant Drop in Use of JISCMail Lists

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 January 2010

Back in October 2005 I gave a talk entitled “Email Must Die!” at the Internet Librarian International 2005 (ILI) Conference. The following summary of the talk was published in Elucidate (Vol. 3 Issue 1, January/February 2006 ISSN: 1742-5921 – PDF format):

One particularly provocative paper was from Brian Kelly, Email Must Die!, in which he suggests a whole plethora of alternative methods of communicating information that enable collaboration or that provide information to the gadgets or programs that people use in real life, such as RSS feeds from blogs, instant messaging, wikis, podcasts, and so on. He feels it won’t be too long before our users will expect libraries to be able to communicate using these channels, so we’d be well advised to explore them now!

Fast forward four years to the Online Information 2009 conference we find that there was a session entitled “Email is dead! The rise of Twitter, chat and communities” which began with a track keynote entitled “No More E-Mail: Pandora’s Box or Universal Panacea? An IBM Experience” in which Ian McNairn spoke about “how social networking in general and microblogging in particular has caught the imagination of users at all levels in IBM“.

Now it is true to say that despite the titles, neither myself nor Ian actually felt that email will die. This was clearly an attention-grabbing headline (similar to”The VLE IS Dead” title for a very popular session at ALT C 2009 and an accompanying series of blog posts and video clips).  Based on the Elucidate summary a more apt title for my talk may have been “A whole plethora of alternative methods of communicating information can enable collaboration or provide information to the gadgets or programs that people use in real life, such as RSS feeds from blogs, instant messaging, wikis, podcasts, and so on and may provide an alternative to use of email“. However as titles for talks need to be brief I am happy with the one I used.

But how has my email usage changed since I gave the talk? Well I was an early user of the Mailbase service, which was the predecessor of the JISCMail service. And although there are no records of my usage of Mailbase lists it is possible (although slightly cumbersome) to gather personal usage statistics of my use of individual JISCMail lists.

So visiting the JISCMail pages for the web-support list (a list I have been a member of since it was established on Mailbase in, I think, 1993 or 1994) I can search for posts from my email address.

It seems that the JISCMail service was set up in 2000, so there were only two posts in that year.

The following year was my busiest year, with 53 posts in the year.  The following three years saw a similar level of my postings.

Since 2005 (with the exception of 2007 when I joined in a couple of discussions on Will The UK Government Shut Down The Queen’s Web Site? (Friday post) and HTML mails) my usage of the list has dropped drastically – reaching a low of only 2 posts last year.

So whilst an overall picture of my usage of mailing lists cannot necessarily we extrapolated from this example (for example I will have joined new lists over the years and my areas of interest will have changed) I think this example does demonstrate how, for me, mailing lists have diminished in importance  to a significant extent.

It would be useful to be able to gain a more complete personal picture, but as there do not appear to be APIs to the JISCMail service it would be time-consuming to do this.

My new year resolution has been to manage my use of emails more effectively and part of this will be to unsubscribe from the various lists which are no longer of interest to me. I have found that I have been subscribed to a number of lists which have little traffic or are now only being used for job adverts, announcement of events, etc. Even though the traffic may be low, I find that a steady stream of repeated announcements of events can be irritating, so I’ll be unsubscribing from such lists.

I have also been subscribing to many lists via the Digest option, which groups all messages send during the day (typically) as a single message. This was useful a few years ago as it meant I only had to process (often delete) a single message. However as I now read my email on a variety of devices including my iPod Touch and Android phone as well as my desktop PC and a recently acquired Apple Macintosh G3 , the poor support for MIME attachments, failures to render HTML mail or support a cid: protocol (illustrated) means that processing digests is now an irritation.  So I have started to unsubscribe from several such lists.

Anyone else finding themselves doing likewise?

Posted in Web2.0 | 11 Comments »

Save £1million and Move to the Cloud?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 January 2010

University of Westminster Deploys Google Apps

Before Christmas a message on the UCISA-Announce JISCMail list provided details of a University of Westminster goes Google Case Study. The email described how:

When the University of Westminster asked students what campus email system they wanted, 90% requested Google Apps, which lets colleges and universities provide customized versions of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and other services on their school domain

and went on to describe how:

As a result, 25,000 students and staff at the University of Westminster now use Google Apps Education Edition — saving the university £1 million in the process“.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the case study itself is available on Google Docs.

Should All Our Institutions be Doing This?

We know from Peter Mandelson’s announcement that the higher education sector is set to lose about £900m of its funding over the next few years -  and in an article published recently in The Guardian entitled “Universities tell Gordon Brown: cuts will bring us to our knees” Universities were warning of the dangers of cuts of the order of up to £2.5bn.  And if, as appears likely, the Conservative party returns to power it is likely that a similar level (or perhaps even greater) level of cutbacks will be seen.

So how might the sector attempt to square the circle of maintaining the quality of its teaching and learning and research in the face of such cuts?  “Impossible”, you might think – and I would agree. But how might we go about minimising the impact of such cuts? Perhaps it is time for IT Services to radically reappraise the traditional approaches to the provision and hosting of services used to support institutional activities.

I believe there are over 160 higher educational institutions in the UK.  If all of them were to migrate to Google Apps, as the University of Westminster has done, this might make a significant saving for the sector – perhaps £160m if the cost saving reported by the University of Westminster was a typical average across the sector.

The Risks

Yes there are risks. These were discussed at the Educause 2009 conference last October. Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield described a debate on the relevance of Cloud Services to higher educational institutions in a post on “Cloud computing – Hope or Hype?“. After summarising the key points Chris concluded:

So that was the debate in a nutshell. I went in firmly on the “hope ” side but tried to listen objectively, and I must say my mind wasn’t changed! The “hype” arguments came over as defensive and ill informed. She made a big thing of it just being a cost cutting exercise, but in the current financial climate I couldn’t see what was wrong with that! Many of the other issues she raised we’ve dealt with – vendor lock-in is something we’re all familiar with (hello – Microsoft anyone?). The privacy and security issues are being addressed, and the service levels of many of the vendors are better than those we’re providing – we’re just lucky that when our services go down they don’t hit the press!

I recently floated the suggestion that “Web 2.0 Changes Everything“. I think I was wrong – I think, for the UK’s higher education sector, it will be the cutbacks which will change everything for several years to come.  And unlike the changes which Margaret Thatcher brought about in the 1980s, this time there isn’t an alternative waiting impotently in the wings – it doesn’t matter which party wins the next election, the cuts will come.

And the debates we’ve had in the IT sector in the past about the dangers of vendor lock-in, the legal risks in trusting third party services with our data and the conflicts with EU data protection rules and UK legislation will, I suspect, be brushed aside. I am aware that in a post entitled Should I continue hosting blogs and wikis on campus? Stephen Downes feels that the answer is “Well, no, it’s not OK to host Canadian student data on an American server. Privacy laws are quite different between the two countries, and Canada admits students that the Americans may have an interest in spying upon“. These issues are even more relevant in the UK, with the more stringent data protection requirements across the EU, but I suspect there may be political maneuvers around such concerns such as the “Safe Harbor agreement”. It’salso worth adding that Stephen Downes’ comments were madein reponse to an initial blog post published on the D’arcyNorman blog – with Scott Leslie responding that he is “increasingly back pedaling on this: partly because it paints the issue as too black and white“.

I think we need to live with this changed environment. In an opinion piece entitled “The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for higher education” published in yesterday’s issue of the Times Higher Education University of Bath vice-chancellor Glynis Breakwell argued that “universities should stop assuming that everybody has to do a bit of everything“. We need to stop assuming that we need to host commodity services such as email, I feel.

And if you don’t like this suggestion, how do you propose to make a saving of £160 million? Do you really think we can sacrifice an institution (the University of Poppleton, perhaps) and hope that this will be enough for us to continue as we did in the past?

PS. There May Also be Opportunities!

I have pictured a move to the ousourcing of email and office applications as an option which institutions need to consider in light of cutbacks. But perhaps we should regard this impetus as an opportunity to enhance the services provided to our users. After all, as Chris Sexton pointed out in a post entitled “You can be a victim of your own success” following the decision to provide Google Mail for students at the University of Sheffield:

Formally announced the Google mail for students option last night by sending an email to all staff and students. Replies are split almost 50/50. From students saying this is great news, and from staff saying why can’t we have it!

And as I described at the start of this post: “When the University of Westminster asked students what campus email system they wanted, 90% requested Google Apps“.  Giving users what they want and freeing money to support core institutional activities which can’t be provided by commercial companies – why not?

Posted in Finances | 10 Comments »

Twitter: Part of the Plumbing

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 January 2010

Part of the Plumbing

A tweet from @scilib alerted me to a New Year’s day post entitled “Why Twitter Will Endure” published in the New York Times. David Carr described how his first reaction on encountering Twitter, less than a year ago, was a feeling that “the last thing I wanted was one more Web-borne intrusion into my life“. But now he is convinced Twitter is here to stay.

David went on to cite Steven Johnson’s (the author and technology observer who “wrote a seminal piece about Twitter for Time“) comment that “The history of the Internet suggests that there have been cool Web sites that go in and out of fashion and then there have been open standards that become plumbing“.

The Implications

I feel that Twitter is rapidly becoming a key part of an organisation’s  information infrastructure – and a good example of this can be seen from the way in which the University of bath used Twitter (alongside email and its Web site) to provide an alert that the University was closed due to the bad weather last week.

But if Twitter is becoming part of the institutional informational infrastructure (and no longer is it a case that the “The person is the [only] point“) what are the implications for the institution? For me there will be a need to address the following areas

Twitter Policies: There will be a need for policies on the purpose of the Twitter account and its scope, as well as policies on following other Twitter users, responding to messages (public and private), etc. Although I am aware of a number of local authorities and museums that have developed policies on their use of Twitter (sometimes based on the Template Twitter strategy for Government Department) the only policy I can easily found online was produced by Mosman Municipal Council in Australia.

Information Policies: As well as the policies on use of Twitter itself, there will also be a need for policies on how Twitter will relate to other information channels. Is Twitter intended, for example, as a replacement for email for alerts or will it provide a complementary delivery channel?

Responsibilities and Procedures: As well as polices there will also be a need to clarify responsibilities and for documented procedures.

Workflow: Will an institution’s Twitter posts be published manually through use of the Twitter Web site or Twitter client or will it be integrated with other systems (e.g. linked to an automated RSS feed)? And if the latter how will the differences between the channels (e.g. Twitter’s 140 character limit) be addressed?

Trust: How can the followers of an institutional Twitter account be assured that the information is being provided by a trusted source? What would happen if, for example, a @universityofpoppleton account was set up as a joke to announce that the University was closed? Is there a need for a verified Twitter account for institutions?

User feedback: There will be a need to obtain feedback from the users – do they, for example, actually use the Twitter feed?

ROI: In today’s economic climate there will be a need to ensure that an institutional Twitter account provides a return on the investment.

Does anyone feel that their institution is using Twitter as part of the plumbing and is addressing these issues? And does anyone have any examples of best practices to share?

Posted in Twitter | 5 Comments »

Call for Speakers at IWMW 2010: The Web in Turbulent Times

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 January 2010

Call For Submissions to IWMW 2010

We have recently announced the call for speakers and workshop facilitators at UKOLN’s annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW).  This year’s event, IWMW 2010, which is the fourteenth in the series of events aimed at members of institutional Web management teams across UK higher educational institutions and related organisations, will be held at the University of Sheffield on 12-14 July 2010.

This Year’s Theme

The theme of this year’s event is “The Web in Turbulent Times“. Unlike previous years, in which the community has tended to be optimistic about the potential of the Web to support a wide variety of institutional objectives, this year we are likely to see a focus on managing and maintaining institutional Web services against the background of decreases in funding and possible reductions in staffing levels :-(

Might we be seeing a greater move towards Cloud Services to provide and deliver institutional services, I wonder? And if so, in what areas and what approaches might be taken to address the variety of associated risks?

Related to this, will there be an increased interest in marketing and outreach activities?  This is clearly an area in which the Social Web appears to have much to offer but, as described in a recent JISC-funded Shared Infrastructure Services Landscape Study on the use of Web 2.0 tools and services in UK Higher Education (PDF format),  “active use of Web 2.0 appears to still be largely centred on early adopters” and there do not yet appear to be well-established patterns of best practices for institutional use of such services.

If we do see interest in greater institutional exploitation of the Social Web there is likely to be a need to ensure that the benefits can be measured – so perhaps there’s an opportunity for a session on tools and approaches for measuring (and maximising) impact in use of the Social Web.

We might also ask whether we should be expecting institutions to make a greater commitment to openness on the basis that this can help stimulate the economy and avoid unnecessary replication of activities within the sector – or, on the other hand, institutions will seek to protect what they may perceive as their crown jewels or potential for income generation.

Alternatively we could see a consolidation in the services provided and an avoidance of anything new which might be considered too risky for current climes? Or perhaps the challenges of providing institutional services at a time when both main political parties are warning of significant cuts to funding for high education provide the motivation for innovation and risk-taking?

If we do start to see a move towards consolidation of services, requiring little-used or expensive services being withdrawn from service, perhaps there might be an interest in ways of managing such activities – so perhaps there may be a renewed interest in digital preservation activities for the decommissioning or mothballing of networked services, such as those addressed by the JISC PoWR (Preservation of We Resources) project.

These are some of the broad areas which might be addressed at the event – but we are also inviting a broad range of submissions on topics of interest to those involved in providing institutional Web services.

Why Submit a Proposal?

At a difficult time for those of us working in the higher education what is the motivation for submitting a proposal?

Perhaps now is the ideal time for submitting a proposal. Over the 13 years the event has been held many members of the community have contributed to the event.  The accompanying image shows the host institution of plenary speakers from the University sector. Note that a visualisation of the data is available with access to a more complete range of data about the IWMW series of events available on the IWMW Web site (and a map of the workshop facilitators for IWMW 2007-2009 is also available).

Those who have given a plenary talk at the IWMW events, or the much larger numbers who have facilitated a workshop session, should have gained benefits from their participation.  In addition to having something tangible to include on a CV (or a LinkedIn profile) the speakers and facilitators should have gained personal benefits from raising their profile across the community and from the experiences of speaking to large numbers of their peers or facilitating discussions and debates with a supportive audience who are familiar with the challenges involved in providing and supporting institutional Web services.

Giving a talk or running a session also provides a valuable opportunity to receive feedback on your ideas and plans.  It’s far better to have flaws in your plans for future work identified by your peers prior to the deployment or development of a service.  And in workshop sessions you can also get the participants to identify problem areas and work on the development of solutions!  I know this is an approach I often take.

So please visit the call for proposals and get in touch with myself or my colleague Marieke Guy, who is chair of the event, with your proposals – or tentative ideas. We’d love to hear from you.

Posted in Events | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

What’s The Score? And Whose Score Is It, Anyway?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 January 2010

What’s the Score?

What was the score in yesterday’s Chelsea versus Sunderland game? The final score was 7-2 – and according to the BBC Web site the score at one stage was simultaneously 5-0, 5-1 and 6-1!

Screen image showing three different football scores (taken from BBC Web site)

I managed to capture a screen image showing this inconsistency. This was slightly cumbersome to do as for my first attempt the page updated so that the scores were consistent before I completed the screen capture – and I failed to notice this before I published a tweet. I was somewhat surprised, but pleased, to find that I could launch another browser (Opera) and replicate the inconsistencies – at which point I quickly disconnected from the Internet prior to capturing the screen image before the display was updated.

As well as being an incident that Chelsea fans may appreciate, I thought it was also interesting example of issues such as assumptions of trust (“it’s on the BBC Web site – it must be correct”), technical complexities (the individual scores were correct at one stage – the inconsistencies were possibly due to caching problems with data coming from multiple sources), the possible dangers of scraping HTML pages, etc.

Whose Score Is It, Anyway?

Since my blog posts are published with a Creative Commons licence if anyone else wishes to reuse this example, perhaps in the content of new media literacy, you will be free to do so. Except, of course, the screen image is taken from the BBC Web site – and the scores and details of the fixture seem to be the copyright of Football Dataco Limited, a company which has a very long and detailed Rights Information page. However as is often the case Wikipedia provides a useful summary of the company:

Football DataCo is a British company in the football (soccer) industry that grants licences to third parties (such as newspapers) allowing them to reproduce certain intellectual property (such as fixture lists and statistics) owned by the UK’s four professional football leagues: the Premier League, The Football League, the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League.

The article goes on to describe the controversy surrounding Football Dataco’s ownership claims for the fixture list:

The company has been racked by controversy in the UK media, after a 2004 European Court of Justice ruling that the Premier League and Football League cannot use the European Database Directive to demand payment from media and pools companies for the publication of fixture lists. Football DataCo refute the ruling, arguing that a legal precedent was set in the UK back in 1959, when the Football League won a landmark copyright victory against Littlewoods, claiming income from the pools company for their use of the fixtures list.

Staunch opponents of Football DataCo argue that the ruling is long out of date, and needs to be brought more inline with the advances in information collection and delivery that we are seeing with the world wide web.

When I started looking at the ownership of football information I remembered that I used to follow a Twitter account which provided updates on Premier League football scores, but that service was shut down after the developer (@ollieparsley) received a Cease-and-Desist letter from Football DataCo. Ollie has written a blog post entitled “The FootyTweets ‘Cease and Desist’ Story” about this.

Back To Ownership

This post began when I thought it would be useful to capture the surprising screen image from the BBC Web site. I thought that this would make an interesting example to use in one of my talks about trust. But the post seemed to go in a new direction when I started to explore the copyright issues. Perhaps, as I suggested in a post on “How I Use Creative Commons For My Presentations” there’s a need to take a risk management approach to making use of such football scores. But isn’t that approach condoning the rights of large companies to take ownership of what should be public information?

PS I’ve just noticed that this is post number 666. I’ll say more.

Posted in General, openness | 3 Comments »

Time For A Blog Revival?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 January 2010

Blogging Is Dead?

In June last year Brian Clarke described on the Copyblogger blog how “Blogging is Dead (Again)“. The apparent demise of blogs was also discussed in a blog post (!) published on the Technovia blog in December: “2009 was the year tech blogging died“.

The truth is somewhat different than those headlines suggest; indeed the posts themselves suggest that we might be seeing an embedding of the benefits which blogging can provide, with a distancing from some of the blogging rhetoric. The post on the Copyrighter blog, for example, urged its readers to “forget blogging as a movement, if you’d like. But keep the content marketing rolling“. And the Technovia article was a critique of large professional blogging networks, such as TechCrunch. The article concluded “most of the best tech writing at the moment comes from people who don’t actually do it for a living“.

There is a danger, though, that the ‘blogging is dead’ meme might put off people in higher education and other public sector bodies from making use of blogs. I am convinced of the benefits blogs can provide, a view which is supported by today’s news that there have now been 250,000 views of posts on this blog since it was launched just over 3 years ago with a steady increase in the numbers of visits every year since the launch.

For me a blog provides a very effective way of carrying out my professional activities – engaging with my user communities; avoiding the delays associated with other communications channels; allowing the content to be easily viewed on mobile devices (a theme is used which is well-suited for readers using an iPhone or iPod Touch); ensuring that my content is easily found via Google and that it is not restricted to niche communities and to allow people to comment on my posts and challenge my opinions.

Before November 2006 I was forced to make use of much more limited communications channels, including publishing in ejournals and peer-reviewed publications, use of mailing lists (typically to a niche community where the content couldn’t easily be found by others) and at events.  Although I still make use of these communications channels, the blog now provides a much more effective channel, and, indeed, helps to ensure that materials published in peer-reviewed publications has been exposed for comments and feedback at an early stage.

Blogging Isn’t Dead!

So I would disagree with the view that blogging is dead – or that, as some people suggest, Twitter has replaced conventional blogs. However I do feel that many blogs have been set up which have failed to be sustainable and this may have resulted in a feeling of disillusionment by those involved in creating such blogs and those who have encouraged such activities. Meanwhile the sceptics may be feeling justified that their views that “blogging is just a fad” have proved correct.

What is needed, I feel, is a more realistic approach to blogging.  So although for many popular blogs the authors may have discovered best practices for themselves, there will be a need for advice for those who are uncertain how to proceed or who have found blogging difficult to sustain previously.

Issues which should be considered include the blog’s purpose(s), its target audience and who will write the blog (i.e. a team or an individual).  The technical issues (why blog platform to use and whether it should be installed in-house or not) are no longer major issues, I feel (WordPress.com, which is used to host this blog, is a good safe choice, I feel). More importantly are likely to be the softer issues; there may be personal characteristics which typify those who enjoy blogging, so forcing someone to blog may not be a sensible approach.  It may be wise to begin blogging with a blog which has a clearly defined life span, such as a blog to support a project or an event.  At UKOLN short-term project blogs were used to support the JISC-funded SIS Landscape Study on use of Web 2.0 in HE and Good APIs report and, last year, a blog was used to support the annual IWMW 2009 event.

Support For Bloggers and Potential Bloggers

UKOLN has published a series of briefing documents on best practices for blogging which, although developed primarily for the cultural heritage sector, may be useful for other audiences. These documents have been used in a number of workshops we have delivered, again primarily for the cultural heritage sector.

These documents cover An Introduction to Blogs, Use of Blogs in Libraries, Use of Blogs in Museums, Developing Blog Policies, Planning Processes for Your Blog, Quality Processes for Your Blog, Launching Your Blog, Building A Blogging Community, Evaluating Your Blog, Technical Issues For Your Blogging Service and Addressing Barriers to Blogging.  Are there other areas which people think may be useful? And is there demand for further workshops, such as the ones we ran at ILI 2008, ILI 2009 and for the Scottish cultural heritage sector?

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

Reflections on CETIS’s “Future of Interoperability Standards” Meeting

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 January 2010

On Tuesday I attended a “Future of Interoperability Standards” meeting which was organised by JISC CETIS.  The interest in the subject area can be gauged by the popularity of the meeting with about 40 people managing to arrive at Bolton despite the problems with the snow, with attendees travelling from as far as Belgium, Norway, Spain, Greece and the US. And the participants were willing to contribute actively in helping to identify limitations with the processes for the development of interoperability standards and approaches for addressing such limitations.  The active participation took place not only on the day but also in advance of the meeting, with 20 participants having submitted a position paper prior to the meeting.

In my position paper I described “An Opportunities and Risks Framework For Standards“.  In the position paper, which was published on this blog, I described some of the failings of open standards to live up to their expectations – ideas which I have previously described in several peer-reviewed papers dating back to 2003:

These papers were co-authored with colleagues from other JISC-funded services including AHDS, JISC TechDis, JISC CETIS and JISC OSS Watch together with Eduserv, as well as with colleagues from UKOLN.

But despite the limitations of open standards and the dangers of an uncritical belief in their benefits which experts from a number of JISC-funded and related organisations have identified there is a danger, I feel, that policy-makers are unaware of such limitations and seek to apply pressure to encourage (or perhaps even mandate) adoption of open standards far too early in their life cycle.

I was really pleased to discover that we were not alone in such views.  The focus of the CETIS meeting was exploring ways in which more informal approaches to standardisation processes can address the limitations of the more formal approaches.  The limitations of the traditional approaches to the development of standards in an e-learning context did not need to be addressed as many of the participants, most of whom had been involved in standardisation activities (in some case for several decades) , were well aware of the failings. Tore Hoel summarised the concerns succinctly in his position paper:

… the interoperability standards in the LET domain failed miserably. Second, the ICT developed more to the benefit of Learning, Education and Training than anybody could dream of. All of sudden, anybody (well, so we claim) can do almost anything with technology to support what they want in learning, e.g., finding information, expressing views from different perspectives, building communities, etc. Who asks any more for standards? Well, the enduser shouldn’t anyway, but then the ones that should ask for LET standards are not very enthusiastic either!

That’s right – ‘interoperability standards in the Learning, Education and Training domain have failed miserably’ (and in other domains, as I pointed out recently in the context of W3C standards).  And we have seen a huge range of technological innovations which are being adopted enthusiastically by many in the user community where there hasn’t been a significant focus placed in the development of new standards. And many developers are now also engaging enthusiastically  in exploiting the opportunities which are now available which don’t require support for slow-moving and possibly complex standards.

So there was broad agreement on the need for an alternative approach to the development of interoperability standards. The afternoon session explored ways in which informal approaches to the development of standards might help – and I should mention the position paper on “An agile approach to the development of Dublin Core Application Profiles” by my colleague Paul Walk which illustrates an example of an agile approach to the development of Application profiles (with an embedded video clip which illustrates the approaches which have been taken).

The discussions also addressed possible limitations of such approaches and ways in which such limitations could be addressed.  The concerns I highlighted focussed on the policy-makers, including the need to ensure that policy-makers were aware of the limitations of standards-making processes, the dangers of mandating standards prematurely, the dangers that mandating procurement of IT systems based on open standards would inhibit the take-up of emerging new standards and the dangers that a view that there was a preferred hierarchy for standards making organisations would be a barrier to the take-up of standards which have been developed through more agile processes.

I’m looking forward to reading the synthesis of the discussions which staff at JISC CETIS will be publishing shortly.

Posted in standards | Tagged: , | 15 Comments »

How I Use Creative Commons For My Presentations

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 January 2010

“Provide Case Studies”

Following my recent post in which I highlighted Glyn Moody’s concerns regarding “Threats to Openness” I received a tweet from @Brunella in which she suggested that she would prefer specific details based on case studies as opposed, I imagine, to a generic call to embrace openness.

The Spirit Is Willing; The Content is Complex!

Coincidentally there was an action on me to describe the approaches I take to making my presentations available with a Creative Commons licence, something I’d done for all of my public presentations since a talk on “Web Futures: Implications For HE” which I gave at King’s College London in January 2006.

The request came from Tom Baker, after I attended a Dublin Core tutorial which Tom and Makx Dekker gave just before Christmas.   Tom used a number of PowerPoint presentations in a series of talks on a variety of aspects of Dublin Core and Linked Data.  I noticed that the title slide for each of the slide decks contained a copyright statement  and wondered whether the slides would be made available after the event and if the content would be available with a licence which permitted reuse.  Tom responded that he would like to make the slides available with a Creative Commons licence but as the slides contained material from others, such as logos,  images and quotations, he was unsure whether he could make use of a Creative Commons licence.

I pointed out that this situation was not unusual – indeed slides which do not contain content from others are likely to be unusual, I would expect. This is certainly the case for my slides, which contain logos from funders, screen images, quotations, etc. So here’s a summary of the approaches I take to making the content available with a Creative Commons licence.

A Case Study in Use of Creative Commons

General Approaches

Since 2006 all of my presentations contain a Creative Commons logo on the title slide.  An example of a typical title slide, taken from my most recent talk on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web” is illustrated below.

The Creative Commons logo is provided not only on the title slide but also on the template for the thumbnails of the slides, which can be useful if hard copies of the slides are made available.

The title slide (and the template for the thumbnails) also contain a URL of where the master copy of the slides is held. This makes it easy for anyone who wishes to reuse the content.  The thumbnail temple also contains a UKOLN logo which can help to identify the host organisation of the author.

Quite often (as in this case) the slides are also made available on Slideshare.  The rights statement on Slideshare is modified so that it reflects the Creative Commons licence which has been used. The slides are also made available for download from the Slideshare repository.

In many cases I also give permission for my talk to be recorded, with a Creative Commons licence also used for the recording of the talk. Note, though, that I often reserve rights to change my mind after I have given the talk if I feel that I have said something I shouldn’t have (although I have never enforced this).

What of the Complexities?

But what of the complexities of a resource such as a set of slides which is likely to contain content from a variety of sources? As well as the copyrighted logos from JISC, MLA, the University of Bath and UKOLN which are contained on the title slide, my typical presentations will contain many screen shots. They are also likely to contain quotes from others as, in good scholarly fashion, I try to provide an academic audit trail for my thoughts and arguments.

Doesn’t the complexities of such rights rule out use of Creative Commons – or require time-consuming negotiations to obtain permission to reuse content from others?

My approach has been to take a risk management approach and to ensure that the origin of content from others can be easily identified.  Underneath the Creative Commons logo is the statement:

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 2.0 licence (but note caveat).

The caveat is followed by a link to a page on the UKOLN Web site which states that:

It should be noted that the presentation may contain screen images owned by others. Where possible citations for the images are provided (in the form of hypertext links to the source Web site).

Whenever I embed an image (which is normally a Web page) I try to include a link to the origin (typically as a hyperlinked blue arrow, but sometimes the URL may be displayed).  This is useful for me, as it can help me maintain my slides (e.g. checking whether a screen image is up-to-date).  But this also enables anyone who wishes to reuse my content to see where content came from, and to make their own judgement as to whether they are prepared to reuse such content.

I try to minimise the risks that a copyright holder will feel aggrieved by use of their content –  typically I use such content in a positive fashion (“here’s a good example of …“) so that any accusations that I am undermining the content owner’s revenue stream can be argued against.  And where I wish to be critical of a resource, I do not include any criticisms in the slides themselves, but make the content during the talk (or invite participants to give their opinions).

When I make use of a resource with a Creative Commons licence (such as a Flickr photograph) I will again provide a link to the origin. I also do this when I am including a quotation (although it may not always be possible to include a hyperlink).

To conclude, I regard a PowerPoint presentation as a complex object, containing multiple resources each with their own set of rights.  But rather than regarding such complexities as an excuse to avoid permitting reuse of my resources, my approach is to be open about the complexities and suggest that anyone who wishes to reuse the resources should make their own risk assessment, based on the information I have provided. This approach reflects the  ideas described by myself and Professor Charles Oppenheim in our recent paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“.

Is this an approach which others find useful?

Posted in openness | 6 Comments »

“Cuts will bring us to our knees”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 January 2010

May 1997 was an exciting time for many – the Labour party back in power after many years in opposition – and one of the key mantras back then was “Education, education, education”. And despite the many failings of the New Labour experiment we did see significant investments in education with even the Daily Telegraph acknowledging that “Education spending increased from £36 billion in 1996/97 to £56.9 billion in 2006” and giving the (qualified) conclusion of “Good“.

And during my time at UKOLN (which began shortly before the Labour party came to power) I have noticed how the public sector investment in JISC has been the envy of many of those working in higher education in other counties, such as the US, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe.

But yesterday a feature article in The Guardian had the headline “Universities tell Gordon Brown: cuts will bring us to our knees“:

Top universities accuse Gordon Brown of jeopardising 800 years of higher education, warning that they could quickly be “brought to their knees” by the government’s spending cuts of up to £2.5bn, thereby damaging Britain’s ability to recover from recession.

Back in August 2008 I wrote my first post which warned that economic difficulties were likely to have a significant impact on the higher education sector: “In his talk [John Selby, HEFCE] praised the work of the JISC and the JISC Services, but went on to warn of troubled financial times ahead for the educational sector. The glory days of the past 10 years are over, he predicted.“Subsequent posts on “Who Is Suffering In The Economic Downturn?“, “Britain Faces Worst Year Since 1930s” and “Is It Really A Good Time To Be Asking For More IT Money?” touched on the implications of the recession on use of IT across higher education.

It’s quite clear – we can’t ignore the implications of how the recession will affect the IT environment. Will we see a move towards consolidation? Or is there a need for innovation? Will we see a great move towards use of Cloud Services to replace or complement services traditionally carried out in-house? Or our such Cloud Services themselves at risks? Will be see significant losses of staff within the sector and how would such changes affect IT development activities? And what of digital preservation – even more important at a time when services are likely to close, or a luxury which can only be considered during a time of growth?

I don’t think there are easy answers – but I will try and explore such issues in future posts. And I would be interested in your views on how cuts to the higher education sector’s budget are likely to affect IT development work.

Posted in Finances, General | 4 Comments »

Will The SVG Standard Come Back to Life?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 January 2010

In November 2008 I asked “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?”  The post suggested reasons why the W3C’s Scaleable Vector Graphics standard (which became a W3C recommendation in 2003) had failed to be widely deployed in the market place.

In the comments to my post a number of people pointed at the lack of support for SVG in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as a significant factor in SVG’s failure to be adopted.

Despite the economic gloom the new year has seen some good news with the announcement by Patrick Dengler, Senior Program Manager of the Internet Explorer Team that “Microsoft Joins W3C SVG Working Group“.  And as described in an article on “Microsoft joins IE SVG standards party” published in The Register: “Commentors responding to Dengler’s post overwhelmingly welcomed Microsoft’s move, with people hoping it’ll lead to SVG support in IE 9“.

So what are the lessons regarding a standard released in 2003  for which it takes 7 years before a company which appears to be essential for its successful deployment shows interest. And even if IE 9 does have support for the standard how long will it be before the user community discards the legacy browsers such as IE 6, 7 and 8.  Let’s not forget that there is still significant usage of IE 6.

The lesson: we tend to be too over-optimistic of the benefits of open standards and their take-up.

The response: we need to take a risk assessment and risk management approach to standards.

Posted in standards, W3C | 5 Comments »

Nominations for the Shorty Awards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 January 2010

On Saturday morning I spotted a tweet from @timbuckteeth nominating me for a Shorty Award:

I nominate @briankelly for a Shorty Award in #tech because he is on the ball with new technology http://bit.ly/shorty

I had had noticed a number of similar tweets in my Twitter stream, but as I regard Twitter posts as potentially useful but also disposal, I was not motivated to follow any of the links.  But as this one arrived in my Mentions column in Tweetdeck it was easy to spot.

So what are the Shorty Awards? From the Shorty Awards Web site I discover that:

The Shorty Awards honor the best people and organizations on Twitter. These unique awards are for the Twitter community, by the Twitter community. Online voting is public and democratic, culminating in an awards ceremony that recognizes the winners in 27 official categories as well as those in brand new crowd-sourced ones.

The page goes on to describe the process:

In January 2010, the community is invited to nominate Twitter users for excellence over the past year. The awards recognize each content creator’s entire body of work, not just an individual tweet. Nominations are made by sending a tweet, whether it’s through this site or on Twitter.

As I’ve previously written quite a number of posts on the potential of Twitter I have no qualms if an organisation wishes to recognise those who have been involved in exploiting Twitter’s  potential.

As I have only one vote for each category I wondered who I should vote for in the #tech category.  Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) would be an obvious choice – and not just because he nominated me but because of his engagement with the “VLE is Dead” debate which took place at the ALT-C 2009 conference, but also on his blog and on Twitter, centred about the #vle tag during the ALT-C conference.

But to nominate Steve for his engagement in the VLE debate on Twitter would be to ignore the contributions made by @josiefraser, @jamesclay and @sputuk (Nick Sharratt), Steve’s fellow panellists at the ALT-C debate.

Mike Ellis has always been a lively Twitterer, as you can see from his blog posts on “The Person is The Point“.  But, as described in his “Many Me” post, Mike’s use of two Twitter accounts has fragmented possible nominations – if I nominated @m1ke_ellis I’d be worried that @dmje would get upset:-)

There are lots of others in the JISC development community I could mention whom I’ve got to know much better though use of Twitter.  But it is difficult to pick an individual from that list.  So I thought about the people I’ve encountered on Twitter outside the UK.

I first encountered @scenariogirl when she tweeted me immediately after a talk I gave a year ago at the OzeWAI conference a year ago – and followed that up with a tweet which succinctly summarised my talk in three words “Accessibility isn’t binary”. As I described in a blog post that encounter led to @scenariogirl (Lisa Herrod) contributing to my most recent accessibility paper – that was a tweet which had impact.

So I’ve nominated @scenariogirl for the tech categorty of the Shorty Awards (using the short form of the nomination):

#shortyawards @scenariogirl #teche Initial contact: http://bit.ly/76FL5U & followup: http://bit.ly/8BNAPF led to a paper http://bit.ly/8DBi8o

But what about the other categories? It would be nice to nominate @bathcsc, the pioneering work in use of Twitter to provide news and alerts (and a sense of community) for user of First Buses in bath and Bristol. But sadly that work, which was set up by @custardether (Kirsty McGill), ceased due to cutbacks:-(

In the absence of @bathcsc the @UniofBath Twitter account has come to the rescue for many at Bath University during this year’s bad weather.  As I mentioned recently  I heard the news that the University of Bath was closed due to the snow conditions via a tweet I received before 7.30 am, while I was still in bed.  So here’s my nomination in the #travel category:

I nominate @UniofBath for a Shorty Award in #travel because news of Uni closure arrived while I was in bed:-)  http://bit.ly/shorty

Anyone else any additional suggestions?

Posted in Twitter | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 January 2010

'Modern' Art in Parade Gardens, Bath (from Flickr)

It snowed yesterday :-)  The snow was, of course, predicted.  For school children this was an unexpected day off school, with the delights of snowball fights and sledging (the hills surrounding Bath can make this a particular delight). And the snow also provided fun for others, as can be seen from this photo which is available on Flickr.

But for some of us it was a day in which we wondered whether we’d be able to get to work. So when the alarm went off on my iPod Touch yesterday morning the first thing I did was to load Twitter to see if what people were saying about the snow. And yes, although it was only 7 am, I was hearing from people around Bath and Bristol how bad the weather conditions were.

As I knew the weather was bad I decided to stay in bed for longer than normal.  For those who haven’t been to Bath or have only seen the touristy sights in the town centre, the University of Bath is situated at the top of a plateau, with a steep hill up to the University and in bad weather conditions traffic can’t make it up the hill.

At 07.21 the news arrived. A tweet from @UniofBath announced that:

Snow’s arrived & the Emergency Management Team have decided to close the Uni today. http://bit.ly/6qjj8E

This information (which was also sent to all staff via email) linked to a news item on the University of bath Web site which informed us that:

The Emergency Management Team will continue to keep the position under review. Every effort will be made during the day and tonight to facilitate the campus reopening tomorrow (Thursday).

An update will be posted on the University website by 7.30am tomorrow (Thursday 7 January) about whether the University can function as normal tomorrow.

And this morning another tweet arrived just before 07.30 with the news:

The University is closed today (Thursday 7 January 2010) http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2010/01/07/university-closed-2/

A great example of how a diversity of communications channels (Twitter, email, Web site and telephone alert line) are being used for such important alerts. And unlike terrorist attacks, such news is not unexpected (didn’t we have similar problems with the snow last year?).

Isn’t every University using such tools in similar ways? From tweets from @HerrDoktorc yesterday and today it seems not! Why is this, I wonder?

Posted in Twitter | 18 Comments »

An Opportunities and Risks Framework For Standards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 January 2010

Future of Interoperability Standards Meeting

I have been invited to participate at the CETIS “Future of Interoperability Standards Meeting 2010” which will be held at the University of Bolton next week.

I have been invited to submit a position papers providing thoughts or opinions on the experience of developing both formal and informal specifications and standards, working with standards bodies and potential ways forward to achieve interoperability.

I would be concerned if the development community simply revisited top-down approaches to the development of standards (“it’s a standard from a mature and well-established standardisation body”) and focussed on the latest fashionable area for standardisation, without acknowledging past failures to live up to expectations.

My position paper, given below, argues that we should be sceptical about the potential of standards and have a more realistic view of the standardisation processes. And just as in other IT development activities the outputs of standardisation activities are liable to fail if there is a lack of engagement with the end users of the standards (typically the development community). An ‘opportunities and risks framework’ is described which is intended for use by organisations considering use of open standards.

Developers Can Be Excited by The ‘Potential’

At the “Universities API” workshop session held at the CETIS 2009 conference I can recall Tony Hirst at one point getting excited at some aspects of use of ‘University’  APIs. “Potentially” I seem to recall Tony saying  “exciting things could happen” – although I forget the specific details of the exciting things (and I am paraphrasing his remarks).

A Need For A Realistic Approach

My colleague Paul Walk responded by repeating the word “potentially” in a tone of voice which suggested that he was rather sceptical of the assumption that making policy decisions based on their potential was a desirable approach to technical developments.

Paul has recently expanded on his thoughts in a blog post entitled “An infrastructure service anti-pattern“. In the post Paul provides a definition:

An anti-pattern is a design approach which seems plausible and attractive but which has been shown, with practice to be non-optimal or even counter-productive. It’s a pattern because it keeps coming up, which means it’s worth recording and documenting as such. It’s anti, because, in practice, it’s best avoided….

Paul Walk's diagram of anti-patterns (from http://blog.paulwalk.net/2009/12/07/an-infrastructure-service-anti-pattern/Paul illustrates the anti-patent which concerns him in a diagram which highlights aspects of a service “are the product of little more than speculation“.

Paul concludes by arguing that:

In the end, the investment in creating a user-facing application based on an expectation of future demand which doesn’t materialise is wasted while, at the same time, the investment in providing unused machine interfaces is also wasted.

Paul’s concerns about wasted investment are of particular relevance at a time when we have heard that the “Hefce budget to be slashed by £915m over three year“: an article published in the Times Higher Education – and dated 31 December (not a Happy New Year for higher education!).

Application To Open Standards

Paul’s post got me thinking about how this argument might be applied in the context of the development, selection and use of open standards.

In the past there has been a tendency for those involved in IT development work (including policy makers, managers and developers) to avoid looking too closely into the standards making process. Indeed. as in a recent post and talk entitled “Standards Are Like Sausages” I cited Charles McCathieNevile “Standards are like sausages … I like sausages – but I’m not keen on exploring too closely how they’re made!”  The sausage analogy, incidentally, seems to have been coined by Otto Bismark is relation to the process of making laws, with Keith Boone (who was a participant in W3C’s standardisation of the DOM) using it in the context of IT standards on his Healthcare Standards blog.

I’ll not go into any details about the problems with the standards-making processes –  read Keith Boone’s post for examples of the difficulties which are encountered in such activities and the reference to “stories of the battles between two of the major players on how DOM2 would go“.

But we can see an example of the time and effort which went into the development of W3C’s XHTML 2 family of specifications which included the XHTML 2 draft which was published way back in 2002 – work which officially ceased at the end of 2009. A key design principle of XHTML 2 was thatit is not intended to be backward compatible with its earlier version” – this standard aimed to start from scratch in the development of a much more robust and elegant language.

But after a period in which W3C was supporting the development of a new XHTML 2 standard and the evolution of the existing HTML family of document markup standards,  the W3C are now supporting the development of HTML 5.  And, as described in the HTML 5 FAQ, this standard will be based on patterns of successful implementation of features: “If browsers don’t widely implement a feature, or if authors don’t use a feature, or if the uses of the feature are inconsequential of fundamentally wrong or damaging, then, after due consideration, features will be removed“.

We seem to be seeing a move away from features in standards which may be potentially useful, to a more evolutionary approach to the standardisation process, in which those aspects which can be demonstrated to have buy-in from the market sector (browser vendors) become standardised.

Difficulties For The Consumers of Open Standards

If the processes for the development of open standards has such flaws it should not be surprising if an uncritical acceptance of open standards can cause problems for the consumers of open standards, such as those involved in IT development work.

As I described in a talk I gave at the CILIP Scotland 2009 conference on ”From eLib to NOF-digi and Beyond“ a number of the open standards (such as SMIL and SVG) which were felt to provide the basis for development work failed to gain acceptance. And might it not be interesting to seek to estimate not the financial benefits of use of open standards but the costs that the sector might have incurred through use of failed standards (might we, for example, have developed a standards-based 3D immersive environment based on the VRML/Web3d standard, isolating the community from the proprietary Second Life environment which became the main player in this space?).

Perhaps in the 1990s and the early part of this century there was a feeling that the high education community could force acceptance of recommended open standards through mandating their use in funding agreements.  But as we have seen in the wider Web 2.0 context, attempting to mandate technologies in this way leaves the sector vulnerable if the user community refuses to buy into the view – there are now multiple providers of solutions so a top-down approach is unlikely to be successful, except perhaps in niche areas.

An Opportunities and Risks Framework

I feel it would be appropriate to make use of an “opportunities and risks” approach to the development, selection of use of open standards. In the past there seems to have been, I feel, a largely uncritical belief in the opportunities which can be provided by open standards (such as platform- and application-independence; freedom to choose from multiple providers of solutions; cost-reduction through this freedom of choice and avoidance of vendor lock-in; interoperability and long term preservation) with little consideration of the risks.

This needs to change, I feel. Based on the ‘opportunities and risks framework‘ developed to support the use of Social Web services I feel we should take a similar risk assessment and management approach to the development of and use of open standards. And since, despite various examples of failures, open standards are regarded in a positive light, I suggest a change in the word order, so that we make use of an “opportunities and risks framework” to support use of open standards.

So using the latest version of the framework (taken from the paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“) we might require use of open standards in development work to document:

Intended use: The specific details of the intended uses of a standard should be provided. A recent example of the limited use of RSS (for alerting and not wider syndication) provides a good example of the need to be open about how standards are to be used – especially if third parties may be expected to make use of the outputs.

Perceived benefits: Let’s not use open standards simply because they are open. Rather there’s a need to provide specific details of the expected benefits. And a time when funding is tight, these benefits should be tangible, and not potential benefits.

Perceived risks: A summary of the perceived risks which use of the standards may entail should be documented.

Missed opportunities: A summary of the missed opportunities and benefits which a failure to make use of standards should be documented.

Costs: A summary of the costs and other resource implications of use of the standards should be documented.

Risk minimisation: Once the risks have been identified and discussed approaches to risk minimisation should be documented.

Evidence base: Evidence which back up the assertions made in use of the framework.

Revisiting The Open Standards Philosophy

I have argued the need for a user-centred approach to the use of standards and described a mechanism by which the users (i.e. developers) can help to make the selection of appropriate standards. But what about the relevance of open standards themselves?

At a time in which we have heard that “Universities’ annual funding reduced by £398m” and the JISC “Funding postponement for capital funded calls and ITTs” I feel we need to be prepared to apply a critique of the relevance of a development culture which I’ve seen encapsulated in the slogan “Interoperability through open standards“.

Do we want open standards in their own right or do we want the benefits which open standards aim to provide? And do we want open standards for which there are trusted and neutral standards organisations responsible for the governance and maintenance of the standards - or by open standards do we simply mean that the standard isn’t owned by a commercial company?  RSS, for example (in its several guises) provides an example of a format which is widely used and felt to be of importance to the developer community (see Tony Hirst’s OUseful blog for examples of how a variety of freely available tools can be used to process RSS feeds). But might not even proprietary formats and standards be relevant – after all both Adobe’s PDF format and Microsoft’s Office formats were last year adopted as ISO standards. Might not, in some cases at least, proprietary formats have a valuable role to play in market-testing standards which at a later date may become open standards?

Posted in standards | 9 Comments »

How Did People Find This Blog in 2009?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 January 2010

On 1 January 2010 James Clay published a post on “The Top Ten Blog Posts of 20” which gave the top ten posts from his e-Learning Stuff blog according to the statistics for the number of views. The new year provides a useful opportunity for such reflections and for observing annual trends. So I thought I would summarise the top referrers to this blog: i.e. the Web sites which have delivered most traffic to this blog during 2009.

There were 90,088 visits to the Web site in 2009 according to the WordPress statistics (up from 75,101 in 2008 and 52,648 in 2007). But how did these visitors arrive at the blog?

The answer is quite simple – via Twitter and Google.  The top referrer was twitter.com (which delivered 1,047 views) with another variant of the Twitter home page (twitter.com/home) delivering 540 views and twitter.com/briankelly delivering a further 384 views.

The Google Reader Web site (google.com/reader/view) was in second place with 774 views with two other variants (google.com/ig and google.co.uk/reader/view) providing 171 and 131 views.

Another popular RSS reader (netvibes.com) was in fourth place, delivering 453 views.

Just outside the top ten were the UKOLN Web site, Stephen Downes’ blog and Chris Sexton’s blog.

Conclusions? Many readers of this blog view the contents via an RSS reader. So perhaps RSS isn’t dead :-) And Twitter is an important mechanism for delivering traffic.

But the figures I’ve provided don’t approach the total of 75,101 for the year.  So were does the additional traffic come from? Perhaps there is a long tail of Web sites which deliver traffic for which details aren’t provided by WordPress.  But perhaps a significant amount of traffic is delivered by services other than Web sites.  Perhaps by users who type in the URL – or by other Web user agents – such as Twitter clients.

Are other blog authors spotting similar trends?

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

It WAS a GREEAT Proposal!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 January 2010

UKOLN’s GREEAT Proposal

Before Christmas my colleague Marieke Guy and myself submitted a proposal to the JISC’s Greening ICT Programme. Our proposal was entitled GREEAT (GReening Events through Event Amplification Technologies). Unfortunately although the evaluators felt that the bid had many strengths, it was not funded.  A summary of the bid is given below.

The Strengths of the Proposal

In the feedback provided by JISC we were informed that the evaluator’s agreed with our view that the “question of amplified events and their role in reducing travel and those carbon emissions for the sector was acknowledged to be important“. In addition “the panel felt that [UKOLN] made the case well for (and obviously have immense experience in) the approaches you wanted to explore“.

We were also very pleased to have received 12 letters of support from a range of institutions, regional, national and international organisations with whom we have worked with over recent years and who appreciated the strength of our proposal and the benefits to those organisations and the higher education community in general.

We felt the bid would provide value for money for the JISC community since all universities are involved in delivering events and so could benefit from the outcomes of the project. 

The Weaknesses

However the evaluators were less impressed with the “amount of ‘greenness’ in the proposal“, and felt that the proposal “is not within the scope of this programme“. They also felt that there was “not enough attention being paid to the human factors“.

We were aware of the risk that our proposal, which addressed the greening of events through use of ICT rather than greening ICT per se, might have been regarded as out of scope for the call. However we were disappointed with the comments that the proposal that we did not intend to address the human factors associated with the provision of amplified events in sufficient detail, as this is an area which we do recognise as very important and have addressed in the past (for example we first began providing an Acceptable Use Policy covering use of networked technologies at events at IWMW 2005 and also ensured that we evaluated use of the networked technologies at the event).  In retrospect, though, we should have included more details of why this is important and how we would address the issues.  

A Summary of the Proposal

Our proposal was based on our involvement in the ‘amplification’ of events, making use of a variety of networked technologies (such as video streaming and Twitter back channels) to enhance the impact and maximise the outreach of events. Our work in this area dates back to use of an IRC back channel at UKOLN’s IWMW 2005 event. Since that event (when news of the London bombing first became known to the users of the back channel) we have been pro-active in the amplification of our annual Institutional Web Management Workshop series of events. 

In addition the proposal built on Marieke Guy’s experiences as a remote worker, which she describes in her Rambings of a Remote Worker blog (and the Remote Worker Award she announced back in September). 

The bid described how the project would:

  • Develop a methodology for establishing the carbon footprint for events.
  • Survey remote participants of amplified events in order to gather evidence of perceptions of the benefits of remote participation, limitations and suggestions on ways in which remote participation can be made more effective.
  • Support the provision and evaluation for amplified events at a number of institutional, regional, national and international events.
  • Support the provision and evaluation for a number of online events.
  • Develop guidelines for best practices for amplified and online events for the relevant stakeholders.
  • Provide advice on business models for the provision of amplified events.
  • Provide advice on risks associated with the provision of amplified events.
  • Provide advice on the human aspects associated with the provision of amplified events.

What Next?

Although the bid was not successful we will be continuing to make use of amplification technologies to support various UKOLN events, including IWMW 2010. As always we will try to share our experiences with the wider community, including the publication of further briefing documents of Networked Technologies at Events (which have been developed to support the cultural heritage sector).

And we’d welcome further discussions and comments on this topic.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

The Threats To Openness

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 January 2010

I’ve a folder called “Openness” in my RSS reader. And the most prolific blogger in this folder is Glyn Moody in his Open blog.

As indicated by the blog’s sub-title “open source, open genomics, open content” Glyn comments on a broad range of issues related to openness.

These are areas of interest to me too – indeed back in 2007 myself, Randy Metcalfe and Scott Wilson write a paper entitled “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access” which was published at the ELPUB 2007 conference.

As indicated by the paper’s abstract although we feel that open standards, open source and open content can provide many benefits in education and research we realise that there are also potential pitfalls and complexities:

For advisory services, the goal is to achieve the best solution for any individual institution’s needs, balancing its enthusiasm with its own internal constraints and long term commitments. For example, open standards are a genuine good, but they may fail to gain market acceptance. Rushing headlong to standardize on open standards may not be the best approach. Instead a healthy dose of pragmatism is required. Similarly, open source software is an excellent choice when it best meets the needs of an institution, but not perhaps without reference to those needs.

Despite the warning against “rushing headlong’ into the latest open technology I fell into this trap personally in my purchase of my open source HTC Magic Android phone (I use my closed source iPod Touch when a WiFi network is available, using my sophisticated Android SmartPhone mostly as a dumb mobile phone!)

However in general I promote a culture of openness – for example I’ve used a Creative Commons licence for this blog since it was launched and have used Creative Commons licence for my presentations since my first Web 2.0 talk entitled “Web Futures: Implications For HE” given at King’s College London in January 2006.

But although I personally have embrace the notion of open content and have promoted greater take-up of Creative Commons for over four years I haven’t really considered the ways in which organisations and industries which feel threatened by the notions of openness may be responding – and perhaps undermining my attempts to encourage public sector organisations to engage more actively with the openness agenda.

Glyn, however, does seek to warn his readers of ways in which organisations are seeking to undermine the notion of openness. And in a post entitled “The Great Digital Bait and Switch” he cites an article published in the Wall Street Journal:

The palm-sized Arduino serves as an electronic brain running everything from high schoolers’ robots to high-end art installations. But perhaps the oddest thing about the device is the business model behind it.

Plans for the Arduino, a simple microcontroller board, are available online, and anybody may legally use them to build and sell knockoffs.

As Glyn concludes the article is “equating the ability to *build* on the work of others, and improve upon it, as another kind of “knock-off”. This is not just wrong-headed, but really pernicious, because it implies that open source is little better than counterfeiting.

Back in 2005 we heard that from Bill Gates that “Free Culture advocates = Commies“. And now these arguments are being revived. But what’s different is that back in 2005 it was easy to dismiss Bill Gates’s views as being irrelevant. But today we have Peter Mandelson and the Digital Economy Bill which would “give government ‘unprecedented and sweeping powers’ to amend copyright laws“.

So maybe the gently pushing of open content is no longer enough. Perhaps we need to trumpet loudly our commitment to openness and be prepared to challenge those in the public sector who are still wavering over use of open licences. If we fail to stand up and loudly express our views, we may find that the commercial sector sets the agenda and influences public opinion into the mistaken belief that openness is about theft.

Will you join me in using a Creative Commons licence as a badge of pride and a means of encouraging creativity and innovation!? Can this be your resolution for 2010?

Posted in openness | 3 Comments »