UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for March, 2010

ASBOs, Linked Data and Open Data

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 March 2010

The ASBOrometer Mobile App

My colleague Adrian Stevenson commented on his eFragments blog recently that “The Linked Data movement was once again in rude health at last week’s ‘Terra Future’ seminar“. Adrian’s report on the conference highlighted the potential of Linked Data in geo-location applications – and the importance of this area can be gauged by the presence at the seminar of two very high profile surprise guests: Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt.

Adrian’s report mentioned the ASBOrometer application which is “a mobile application that measures levels of anti-social behaviour at your current location (within England and Wales) and gives you access to key local ASB statistics“. As this is freely available for iPhone and Android mobile phones I installed it on my iPod Touch (yes, it works on that device too).  I was interested in seeing a Linked Data application which may be of interest to an end user, as opposed to the various Linked Data application I’ve looked at recently which seems to display RDF triples in various ways.

ASBOrometer location displayThe ASBOrometer applicationWithin a minute or two I had installed the application and discovered a 14.4% “PBS ASB perception rating’ from my home in Bath (which, it seems, indicates a low level of anti-social behaviour).

I was also able to view a map showing the ASBO ratings across England and Wales. I used this to view the ratings for my home town of Liverpool – the red icon shown in the accompanying image indicates that, you will probably not be surprised to learn, there is a high level of anti-social behaviour – 31.4%.

Incidentally the somewhat inappropriately-named Leaderboard button informs me that Liverpool is lagging behind Newham (47.9%), Tower Hamlets (45.9%) and Barking and Dagenham (39.1%).

This application processed data that had been provided by the data.gov.uk initiative.  We can start to gain an appreciation of the momentum behind this initiative from Gordon Brown’s recent speech on “Building Britain’s Digital Future” in which he spoke about “building on this next generation web and the radical opening up of information and data” and also explicitly mentioned Linked Data: “Underpinning the digital transformation that we are likely to see over the coming decade is the creation of the next generation of the web – what is called the semantic web, or the web of linked data“.

In addition to Gordon Brown’s announcement there is also an article in the Daily Mail on “Asbo App for iPhone tells you how anti-social your area is” which tells us that “Housebuyers looking for a nice area to settle down in can check how many of their potential neighbours have Asbos, thanks to a new smartphone application“. If the Prime Minister and the Daily Mail are both talking about Linked Data applications it is clear something important is happening!

Where’s The Linked Data?

The article in the Daily Mail (correctly, I feel) focussed on the uses to which the application could be used and didn’t address how the application processed the data. My interest, however, is more concerned the role of Linked Data in supporting such applications – although I have an interest in the use cases too.

On using the ASBOrometer initially I did wonder where the Linked Data came in.  Wasn’t the application simply retrieving data provided by Government departments and visualising the data?  What’s new? And reading the FAQ I find that the application processes the ASB CDRP Survey Full Dataset and the Number of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), both provided by the Home Office. The former data is available as a Microsoft Excel file and the latter as a CSV file (provided in, it seems Microsoft Excel format).

So the Home Office seems to be providing open data (available under a “UK Crown Copyright with data.gov.uk rights” licence) but not Linked Data. I’m pleased that the Government is providing open data – and as we have seen, this allows developers to produce valuable application (on 20 February 2010 it was announced that after achieving over 80,000 downloads in two days the ASBOrometer became the number 1 free app in the UK iTunes App Store). But where’s the Linked Data?

I’m not the first person to notice that the Government seems to be conflating Linked Data with open data. An article on “Watching the geeks: do Gordon Brown’s promises on government add up?” published in the Guardian’s Technology blog cites to this analysis by Tom Morris of data published on data.gov.uk:

here are the aggregate results of the data.gov.uk format verification exercise: HTML – 252; XML – 5; Word – 4; RTF – 1; OpenOffice – 1; Something odd – 85; JSON – 9; Nothing there! – 190; CSV – 12; Multiple formats – 1211; PDF – 468; RDF – 10; Excel – 408. TOTAL: 2656

Sadly, this is over-optimistic. I’ve manually checked some of the data that has been categorised as JSON and RDF. Most of it is not actually correctly categorised – either people clicked, say, ‘RDF’ when they meant to click ‘PDF’, or they have seen an RSS or Atom feed and categorised it as RDF.

What this admittedly imperfect dataset is basically saying is that the vast majority of the ‘data’ on data.gov.uk is not actually machine-readable data but human-readable documents.

Discussion

There’s a danger, I feel, that of Linked Data being conflated with Open Data.  If, for example, a policy maker makes the decisions to provide Linked Data along the lines of data.gov.uk what does this mean?  Does this mean providing a CSV file on a public Web site or does it involve choosing appropriate ontologies, ensuring that persistent HTTP URIs are assigned and providing access to an RDF triple store?

There’s also a danger that Linked Data is being treated as a requirement to develop applications such as the ASBOrometer. Such applications can be developed without requiring Linked Data.

Such issues have been raised by Mike Ellis recently in a post on entitled “Linked Data: my challenge“. The post was aimed primarily at the development community and there have been a number of responses from software developers. The comment I found most interesting, however, was made by Kingsley Idehen what sought to reassure Mike: “don’t worry” and went on make what appears to be a significant announcement “Making Linked Data from CSV’s is going to be a click button oriented Wizard affair (any second now, I will be unveiling this amongst other things)“.

So maybe the providers of data sources shouldn’t be concerned about the need to provide RDF (with all the associated complexities) – perhaps the next stage will be tools which will make structure data (perhaps as basic as CSV files) available as Linked Data – and if this demonstrates the benefits of Linked Data a subsequent stage may be to provide the data as native RDF.  On reflection this has parallels with the Web in the early days of its use in CERN. One of the early data sources was the CERN telephone directory – and this was marked up on-the-fly by a script which avoided the need to commit resources to marking up data for what was then a very speculative service – the Web.

So should the push be for open data, I wonder?  Might it be beneficial to defer the debates related to the complexities of Linked Data and RDF to a later data?

Posted in Linked Data | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

#AskTheChancellors and Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 March 2010

According to the TwapperKeeper Twitter archiving service since yesterday there have been 3,713 tweets published containing the #AskTheChancellors hashtag. No doubt the political commentators and the political parties themselves have been analysing this archive of last night’s live TV debate between Alastair Darling, the Chancellor and his two rivals in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat’s party.

And in his recent speech on Building Britain’s Digital Future Gordon Brown mentioned that “Each week I record a podcast and use twitter most days“.

What might this be telling us? Perhaps use of Twitter is starting to become an important part of the political debate, with tweets becoming the twenty-first century’s equivalent to the heckles at election meetings – sometimes rude or irrelevant   but an important part of the democratic process. And the archiving and analysis of such tweets is likely to grow in importance – with the dangers that, as has been seen recently, that such discussions can be hijacked.

More importantly surely it needs to be acknowledged that dismissing Twitter as being a waste of time and full of irrelevancies is missing the point.  There will also be a lot of trivia being discussed on telephones, but nobody refuses to use the telephone because of this.  Or perhaps, in the past, people did, with a secretary being used to manage the access.  But in the near future will not having a twitter account be on par with not having a TV or mobile phone – yes, we can understand valid reasons why some people may make such a decision, but, secretly, we regard such people as being somewhat strange?

Posted in Twitter | 4 Comments »

Fragmenting The Discussion?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 March 2010

I’m An Occasional Facebook User

I have to admit that although I have a Facebook account I don’t make much use of it. I do have a large number of Facebook contacts  (which I think is a better term than ‘friends’) but tend to use Facebook for dipping into from time to time, such as when I want to get in touch with friends.  I also use it to view photos and videos uploaded by friends, especially those I know from the folk music and sword dancing world.

Automatic Facebook Updates

Facebook view of a blog postIt is only very rarely that I will update my Facebook status. However some time ago I installed the Dopplr app which automatically updates my Facebook wall with details of trips which I have taken (I’ve previously described the reasons I’ve used Dopplr).

Recently I installed the WordPress.com Facebook app which updates my Facebook wall profile with details of new blog posts I’ve published. As can be seen from the accompanying image it provides the title and opening few words from a blog post, together with a link to the original post. In addition, as can be seen from the image, it is possible for my Facebook contacts to provide feedback on the post.

Fragmenting The Discussion?

I’ve recently come across discussions regarding communications for IT support staff at Bath University in which the dangers of using a diversity of publishing and communications channels have been raised. “The discussions will be fragmented” the argument goes, with the suggestion that we should continue to make use of email in order to provide a single place for discussions.

I disagree. I think discussions have always been fragmented and that such fragmentation can be beneficial by allowing different communities to become involved in the discussions thus potentially allowing new insights to be provided.

And the fragmentation isn’t just related to announcements of new blog posts in Facebook – similar discussions can take place when I mention a blog post on my @briankelly Twitter account or when an automated summary is published on my @ukwebfocus Twitter account or my BrianKelly FriendFeed account.

Of course there may be dangers I’ll miss out on comments and discussions which, as the author, I am likely to be interested in.  But this is where I feel it can be beneficial to take responsibility for postings to other environments, as then you are likely to have ways of accessing responses to your posts.

Publishing to Facebook options from WordPressUnlike Twitter and FriendFeed, however, there may be risks that one is spamming one’s contacts with inappropriate status updates. I don’t think this is a significant risk – after  all many of my Facebook contacts have status updates based on whatever is the currently popular app. At one stage this was throwing sheep but now I see status updates along the lines of “Kirsty just earned the ‘Zoologist’ White Ribbon in FarmVille!“.

In addition the WordPress.com Facebook app does allow me to configure the status update or to choose not to update Facebook, as illustrated.

Fragmenting the discussion?  For me it’s about widening the discussion.

Posted in Facebook | 4 Comments »

It Started With A Tweet

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 March 2010

I’m pleased to say that a paper by myself, David Sloan and Sarah Lewthwaite has been accepted for the W4A 2010 conference, the 7th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility. The theme of this year’s conference is “Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems.

Our paper is entitled “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World“. The paper builds on previous papers which have been presented at the W4A conference (papers have been accepted in 4 of the past 5 years – I didn’t submit a paper at least year’s event). The paper argues that it would be a mistake for developing countries to simply require use of technical guidelines for addressing Web accessibility guidelines, as increasing evidence across developed countries is demonstrating the limitations of such an approach.  Sarah Lewthwaite has contributed a new insight to previous work, based on her thoughts on ‘adverse disablism‘ which she has described previously on her blog.

I will describe the ideas from our paper at a later date, after the paper has been presented at the conference. In this post, however, I’d like to describe how I first met Sarah and how our initial contact led to our successful collaboration on a paper which has been accepted at an international conference.

As you’ll have guessed from the title of this post, it started with a tweet. Sarah tell me that she started following me on Twitter in July 2009. Sarah then spotted a tweet I posted on 21 July in which I mentioned UKOLN was looking for Web 2.0 case studies, especially from Arts/Humanities sector & research students.  Having thus being alerted to a researcher with an interest in Web 2.0 and a willingness to write a case study (which was subsequently published on our JISC SIS Landscape Study blog) I looked at Sarah’s Twitter feed and profile before deciding to follower Sarah (@slewth) on Twitter.  Sarah’s profile had a link to her blog and it was here that I noticed Sarah had an interest in Web accessibility in addition to her Web 2.0 interests.

As we were now following each other on Twitter I was able to send Sarah a DM (direct message) in which I said “BTW was interested in your short paper on Aversive Disablism and the Internet. We’ve similar interests. See http://bit.ly/8BVFt“.

That initial exchange led to a couple of email messages and phone calls, which led to an agreement to collaborate on a paper which built on our complementary ideas on Web accessibility. And that paper was accepted and will be presented at the W4A conference next month.

So if anyone  asks you for examples of the tangible benefits which Twitter can provide, feel free to give this example of how Twitter brought together two researchers who were previously unaware of each others interests and resulted in this successful  collaboration.

Posted in Accessibility, Twitter | 5 Comments »

Microformats and RDFa: Adding Richer Structure To Your HTML Pages

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 March 2010

Revisiting Microformats

If you visit my presentations page you will see a HTML listing of the various talks I’ve given since I started working at UKOLN in 1996.  The image shown below gives a slightly different display from the one you will see, with use of a number of FireFox plugins providing additional ways of viewing and processing this information.

Firefox extensions

This page contains microformat information about the events.  It was at UKOLN’s IWMW 2006 event that we made use of microformats on the event Web site for the first time with microformats being used to mark up the HTML representation for the speakers and workshop facilitators together with the timings for the various sessions. At the event Phil Wilson ran a session on “Exposing yourself on the Web with Microformats!“. There was much interest in the potential of microformats back in 2006, which was then the hot new idea.  Since then I have continued to use microformats to provide richer structural information for my events and talks. I’ll now provide a summary of the ways in which the microformats can be used, based on the image shown above.

The Operator sidebar (labelled A in the image) shows the Operator FireFox plugin which “leverages microformats and other semantic data that are already available on many web pages to provide new ways to interact with web services“. The plugin detects various microformats embedded in a Web page and supports various actions – as illustrated, for events the date, time and location and summary of the event can be added to various services such as Google and Yahoo! Calendar.

The RDFa in Javascript bookmarklets (labelled B) are simple JavaScript tools which can be added to a variety of different browsers (they have been tested on IE 7,  Firefox, Safari, Mozilla and Safari). The License bookmarklets will create a pop-up alert showing the licence conditions for a page, where this has been provided in a structured form. UKOLN’s Cultural Heritage briefing documents are available under a Creative Commons licence. Looking at, for example, the Introduction to Microformats briefing document, you will see details of the licence conditions displayed for reading. However, in addition, a machine-readable summary of the licence conditions is also available which is processed by the Licence bookmarklet and displayed as a pop-up alert. This information is provided by using the following HTML markup:

<p><a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">
<img src="http://creativecommons.org/images/public/somerights20.gif"
   alt="Creative Commons License" /></a>This work is licensed under a
<a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">Creative Commons
License</a>.</p>

The power is in the rel=”license” attribute which assigns ‘meaning’ to the hypertext link.

The link to my Google Calendar for each of the events (labelled C) is provided by the Google hCalendar Greasemonkey script. Clicking on the Google Calendar icon (which is embedded in the Web page if hCalendar microformatting markup is detected – although I disable this feature if necessary) will allow the details to be added to my Google Calendar without me having to copy and paste the information.

The additional icons in the browser status bar (labelled D) appear to be intended for debugging of RDFa – and I haven’t yet found a use for them.

The floating RSS Panel (labelled E) is another GrreaseMonkey script. In this case the panel does not process microformats or RDFa but autodetectable links to RSS feeds. I’m mentioning it in this blog post in order to provide another example of how richer structure in HTML pages can provide benefits to an end user. In this case in provides a floating panel in which RSS content can be displayed.

RDFa – Beyond Microformats

The approaches I’ve described above date back to 2006, when microformats was the hot new idea.  But now there is more interests in technologies such as Linked Data and RDF. Those responsible for managing Web sites with an interest in emerging new ways of enhancing HTML pages are likely to have an interest in RDFa: a means of including RDF in HTML resources.

The RDFa Primer is sub-titled “Bridging the Human and Data Webs“. This sums up nicely what RDFa tries to achieve – it enables Web editors to provide HTML resources for viewing by humans whilst simultaneously providing access to structured data for processing by software.  Microformats provided an initial attempt at doing this, as I’ve shown above.  RDFa is positioning as providing similar functionality, but coexisting with developments in the Linked Data area.

The RDFa Primer provides some examples which illustrate a number of use cases.  My interest is in seeing ways in which RDFa might be used to support Web sites I am involved in building, including this year’s IWMW 2010 Web site.

The first example provided in the primer describes how RDFa can be used to describe how a Creative Commons licence can be applied to a Web page; an approach which I have described previously.

The primer goes on to describe how to provided structured and machine understandable contact information, this time using the FOAF (Friends of a Friend) vocabulary:

<div typeof="foaf:Person" xmlns:foaf="http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/">
   <p property="foaf:name">Alice Birpemswick</p>
   <p>Email: <a rel="foaf:mbox" href="mailto:alice@example.com">alice@example.com</a></p>
   <p>Phone: <a rel="foaf:phone" href="tel:+1-617-555-7332">+1 617.555.7332</a></p>
</div>

In previous year’s we have marked up contact information for the IWMW event’s program committee using hCard microformats. We might be in a position now to use RDFa. If we followed the example in the primer we might use RDFa to provide information about the friends of the organisers:

<div xmlns:foaf="http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/"> <ul> <li typeof="foaf:Person"> <a rel="foaf:homepage" href="http://example.com/bob/">Bob</a> </li> <li typeof="foaf:Person"> <a rel="foaf:homepage" href="http://example.com/eve/">Eve</a> </li> <li typeof="foaf:Person"> <a rel="foaf:homepage" href="http://example.com/menu/">Menu</a> </li> </ul></div>

However this would not be appropriate for an event. What would be useful would be to provide information on the host information for the speakers and workshop facilitators. In previous year’s such information has been provided in HTML, with no formal structure which would allow automated tools to process such institutional information.  If  RDFa was used to provide such information for the 13 years since the event was first launched this could allow an automated tool to process the event Web sites and provide various report on the affiliations of the speakers. We might be then have a mechanism for answering the query “Which institution has provided the highest number of (different) speakers or facilitators at IWMW events?“. I can remember that Phil Wilson, Andrew Male and Alison Kerwin (nee Wildish) from the University of bath have spoken at events, but who else? And what about the Universities which I am unfamiliar with?   This query could be solved if the data was stored in a backend database, but as the information is publicly available on the Web site, might not using slightly more structured content on the Web site be a better approach?

Really?

When we first started making use of microformats I envisaged that significant numbers of users would be using various tools on the browser to process such information.  However I don’t think this is the case (and I would like to hear from anybody who does make regular use of such tools).   I have to admit that although I have been providing microformats for my event information, I have not consumed microformats provided by others (and this includes the microformats provided on the events page on the JISC Web site).

This isn’t, however, necessarily an argument that microformats – or RDFa –  might not be useful.  It  may be that the prime use of such information is by server-side tools which harvest such information form a variety of sources. In May 2009, for example, Google announced that Google Search Now Supports Microformats and Adds “Rich Snippets” to Search Results. Yah0o’s SearchMonkey service also claims to support structured search queries.

But before investing time and energy into using RDFa across an event Web site the Web manager will need answers to the questions:

  • What benefits can this provide?  I’ve given one use case, but I’d be interested in hearing more.
  • What vocabularies do we need to use and how should the data be described? The RDFa Primer provides some example, but I am unsure as to how to use RDFa to state that, for example, Brian Kelly is based at the University of Bath, to enable structured searches of all speakers from the University of Bath.
  • What tools are available which can process the RDFa which we may chose to create?

Anyone have answers to these questions?

Posted in HTML, W3C | Tagged: , | 11 Comments »

Issues In Crowd-sourced Twitter Captioning of Videos

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 March 2010

Crowd-sourced Twitter Captioning of Videos

Back in March 2009 Tony Hirst write a post on his OUseful blog entitled Twitter Powered Subtitles for Conference Audio/Videos on Youtube in which he provided a proof-of-concept on how you could take time-stamped Twitter posts and synchronise them with a YouTube video to provide Twitter captions for videos.

Although people liked the idea people commented that the process was too difficult. So two weeks later Tony wrote a post on Easier Twitter Powered Subtitles for Youtube Movies.

Captioned video of Gordon Brown's talkMoving forward to February this year and we find a blog post written by Martin Hawksey of RSC Scotland North and East which describes Martin’s service for Twitter powered subtitles for BBC iPlayer. And yesterday Martin used his software to which provides Gordon Brown’s Building Britain’s Digital Future announcement with twitter subtitles. Great stuff. What this does is to provide cost-effective crowd-sourcing captioning (which provides accessibility benefits) as well as helping to contexualise tweets, which may otherwise lose their meaning when accessed from a Twitter archive which is decoupled from the talk.

Have a look at the video – and if you’ve not yet listened to Gordon Brown’s announcements I’d recommend that you do so.

Issues About Reusing Twitter Posts

My recent post on The “Building Britain’s Digital Future” Announcement summarised Gordon Brown’s talk based on tweets from @hadleybeeman. I was slightly worried about the ethics of doing this. Partly in light of the responses to my post last year on What Are the #jiscbid Evaluators Thinking? which cited a couple of tweets. In response to that post my colleague Paul Walk pointed out that Anything you quote from Twitter is always out of context and raised the issue of “courtesy and good practice” when citing tweets. Paul’s post generated a lot of interest, with 27 comments being made.Of particular relevance, I felt, was a comment Paul made; “Beyond the need for absolute privacy for some communications it’s a grey area of overlapping contexts & tacit trust“.

I agree that this a grey area and there is a need for what Paul described as a “sophisticated sense of proprietary in these matters“.

I was prepared to cite Hadley’s tweets as I judged these to have been made for the public good.  I also made a judgement call not to cite tweets (from others) which I felt to be trivial or may not accurately reflect the views of the person who posted the tweets.  And it seems that Hadley appreciated the approach I took, subsequently sayingI think that once my tweets are up, they’re cite-able published material. I’d like credit, but they live on their own!“.

So we can make a judgement call on how we cite and reuse tweets, without having to go to the extremes of regarding all tweets as public property which are fair game or personal remarks which should never by cited.

But what happens if a Twitter stream is embedded in another environment,such as Martin’s Twitter captions of Gordon Brown’s talk? And what if Nick Poole’s tweet posted at 09:03 which is captured on the opening frame instead of saying “Gordon Brown getting started on Building Britain’s Digital Future now. Anyone there doing reportage via Twitter? #bbdf” had said “Listening to Gordon Brown – but slightly hungover after too much to drink last night #bbdf“?

My Thoughts

My view is that we need to acknowledge that tweets which are published in an open space are always likely to be reused by others, possibly in ways that we might not always be happy with. “Caveat twitterer” might be our motto. But we might also find, as Hadley did, that the reuse of our tweets can be beneficial- and the accessibility benefits of crowd-sourced tweets might be a particular benefit to be aware of.

Perhaps we should start to regard tweets which contain an event hashtag as being particularly likely to be reused.

And maybe there is a need for more sophisticated tools for aggregating such tweets. Would it be possible for a video captioning service to allow a preferred Twitter user to be used for the captions (perhaps an official event Twitterer, as UKOLN used at last year’s IWMW 2009 event Twitter)? And would it be possible to delete inappropriate tweets from a stream used for captioning? After all, as Martin Poulter has recently pointed out on his Ancient Geeks blog in a post on The dark side of aggregating tags the Conservative Party’s experiment in social media fell foul of, presumably, left-of-centre geeks, embedding inappropriate content, markup and scripts in a feed which was automatically displayed on a Conservative party Web site. Let’s not repeat that mistake.

Posted in Twitter | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

The “Building Britain’s Digital Future” Announcement

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 March 2010

I have just caught the end of Gordon Brown’s live video stream (hosted on the number10.gov.uk Web site). I have also been following the Twitter discussions centred around the #bbcdf #bbdf tag (a topic which has trended on Twitter this morning).

There has been a certain amount of cynicism in my Twitter feed, with developers being sceptical about Gordon Brown’s knowledge of Linked Data (if it’s difficult for experience Web developers to get, why are politicians talking about it) and others asking “Who will pay for the announcements which have been made?”.

I’m sure that Gordon Brown doesn’t know much about Linked Data – but he does have advisers who do. And I’m pleased that Professor Nigel Shadbolt from the University of Southampton (who, together with Dame Wendy Hall, gave the opening plenary talk about Linked Data at the Online Information 2009 conference) has been advising the government on the benefits of openness, open data and Linked Data. The question of how such developments will be paid for is a more relevant one – perhaps further cuts could be made in the UK’s Trident programme?  More realistically I’m sure civil servants will be giving details of the associated costs and the Tories will be questioning how it will be funded. So I don’t intend to get bogged down in the details of the costs; rather I want to pick up on some of the key points which were made.  And I’ll use some of the tweets from @hadleybeeman as a summary of the various announcements.

The comments that “PM making a plan to secure recovery, growth, jobs, success in the global marketplace” and “PM committing to bring public borrowing down fairly and without damaging public services” are just electioneering and content-free. The comment thatPM says we can’t rely on an open market to look after all Britons; instead we need an open partnership of business, economics & gov” is more political and reflects a Blairite mixed economy vision. It seems that thePM is after open, interactive public services. Be prepared to cancel current projects (which?) to save £billions. Create 1/4 mill jobs“.  Hmm – cancelling IT projects (and Web sites). As Hadley commented, the devil is in the detail -which projects are to be cancelled?  And also won’t cancelling current projects result in job losses rather than job creation? Perhaps this is creative accountancy: 1/4 million jobs created for new projects (but 1/2 million jobs lost for those working on existing projects?).

Moving away from political speculation (and a degree of cynicism) the comment thatPM says that underpinning next generation of Britain is next generation of web: semantic web” is interesting and is the announcement that the “PM committing to access to every home, digital services transforming the way each citizen interacts with gov” (an announcement that has already been published in today’s Guardian). meanwhile researchers at the University of Southampton will probably be opening bottles of champagne at the news that the “PM announcing £30m to create Insitute of Web Science. Best of world scientists, headed by Prof Nigel Shadbolt & Sir Tim Berners Lee“.

I was particularly pleased with the announcements which demonstrated a commitment to greater openness. We heard thatPM announces commitment to greater transparency of workings of Whitehall. data.gov.uk, 1 Apr: Ordnance Survey data will be openand thePM announcing that in autumn ALL non-personal government data will be released. “New Domesday book”, overseen by National Archives”. In additionPM says we will release all @directgov content for reuse“.

The announcements were all about new initiative and policy decisions, though.  We heard thatPM: we will close 500 more gov websites. New requirement that each will be interactive with citizens“. The apparent demise of central government Web sites as publishing mechanism seems to  have been announced:  “PM: “My Gov” marks the end of the one-size fits all, man from the ministry knows best view of public services” and an announcement which will probably frighten civil servants:PM: “My gov” will be gov on demand. Civil svnts will no longer be editors. Citizens will be in control, determining lvl of engagement“.

My final comment is that Gordon Brown seems to have embraced a Web 2.0 vision:  “PM: Opening more policy to e-petitions, scrutiny & consultation. Podcasts, twitter, flickr, youtube, new No10 iphone app (free)“.

I have tried to provide a quick summary of this morning’s announcements, based on Hadley Beeman’s valuable live tweets.

So it seems that the Government will be shutting down many of its brochure-ware Web sites and replacing them with more interactive services which will incorporate use of various Web 2.0 approaches  and technologies (such as Twitter).   The Government will also be opening up access to its (non-personal)  data and will be providing access using Linked Data approaches.

I think this is a very radical series of announcements which, on the face of it, fit in with my views on the benefits of Web 2.0 in the public sector and the benefits of openness and open data.

What do you think?

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

Criteria for Successful and Unsuccessful Web Standards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 March 2010

Success and Failure Criteria for IETF Standards

As Erik Duval commented on my recent report on the CETIS Future of Interoperability Standards meeting, “it would be very useful to have more explicit criteria for the success (and, as pointed out in the meeting, for the failure!) of open standards“.

Coincidentally the IETF have recently set up a wiki which aims to summarise successful and unsuccessful IETF standards. The wiki page on Applications Area is the most interesting for me, although the IETF’s views on applications (MIME, IMAP, HTTP, etc.) differs from mine!

The table has a 5-point scale on usage (take-up):

++ :  became an essential capability
+  :  gained significant usefulness
0  :  outcome still pending
-  :  only gained minor usefulness
-- :  complete failure

>  :  prompted extensive derivative work (optional additional ranking)

MIME, POP3 and HTTP seem to be regarded as successful (ranked ++ or ++>) whereas Atom  is only ranked ‘+’ and AtomPub gets a ‘-‘.

In the Web area what might be regarded as the successful and unsuccessful standards? And how do we judge when a standard is successful or unsuccessful?

Success and Failure Criteria for Web Standards

In a previous post I asked “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?” These, then, are two standards developed by the W3C which have failed to live up to their expectations and my blog post suggests reasons for such failures. But what general criteria might be used for identifying successful and unsuccessful Web standards? My attempt to seek an answer to this question is to look at some of the standards themselves and to consider whether they might be regarded as successful or unsuccessful and use this as a means of identifying the appropriate criteria.

HTML is clearly a successful W3C standard.  It is widely deployed and has been widely accepted in the market place with a wide range of creation and viewing tools available, both as open source and licensed products.  The HTML standard has also evolved over time, with standards published for HTML 1, HTML 2, HTML 3.2, HTML 4 and XHTML 1, and the HTML 5 standard currently being developed. The XHTML 2.o proposed standard in contrast, illustrates a failed attempt to provide an alternative development path for HTML which addressed shortcomings in the original series of HTML standards by removing the need to provide backwards compatibility with existing standards and viewers.

Observations:  The benefits of simplicity and market acceptance can trump the technical elegance of alternative which do not have a clear roadmap for significant deployment.

CSS is another W3C standard which can be regarded as successful. Unlike HTML, however, it had a somewhat difficult birth, having to compete with presentations tags which became standardised in HTML 3.2 and the flawed support in browsers which were at the time widely deployed (e.g. early version of the Netscape Navigator browser). Despite ongoing support problems (which nowadays relate to versions of the Internet Explorer browser)  CSS is widely regarded as the most appropriate way of described ways in which HTML structural elements should be displayed in a Web browser.

Observations:  Despite an overlong gestation period, standards may eventually become widely accepted.

XML can be regarded as another successful W3C. Interestingly since the XML 1.0 specification was ratified in  February 1998 there have been four further editions which have addressed various shortcomings together with a release of XML 1.1. There have also been two edition of XML 1.1, which provides independence from specific Unicode versions. The W3C Web site states thatYou are encouraged to create or generate XML 1.0 documents if you do not need the new features in XML 1.1; XML Parsers are expected to understand both XML 1.0 and XML 1.1.“.

Obervations: Successful standards may be stable and not require regular developments to provide new features.

The RSS family of standards is somewhat confusing, with RSS having several meanings, with  RDF Site Summary and Really Simple Syndication describing RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0, which are independently managed forks in the development of the syndication format developed by Netscape and known, at one stage, as Rich Site Summary. The IETF has developed a complementary standard known as Atom, which has attempted to address the confusions caused in the forking of the standard and the uncertainties related to the governance of RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0.  Despite the confusions behind the scenes RSS is widely accepted as a stable and mature syndication standard, with RSS feeds being provided as standard by many blogging platforms.  RSS is also increasingly used by other applications and development environments, such as Yahoo Pipes!, provide environments for developers to process RSS feeds.

Observations: Despite confusions over the multiple versions and governance, the simplicity provided by RSS has been valuable in its success.

JavaScript was initially developed by Netscape’s. According to Wikipedia the name was chosen as “a marketing ploy by Netscape to give JavaScript the cachet of what was then the hot new web-programming language“). The benefits of a client-side language resulted in Microsoft developing a JavaScript dialect which they called JScript. Eventually JavaScript became standardised under the name ECMAScript, although this name tends not to be widely used. Although in its early days interoperability problems and the lack of support for JavaScript in assistive technologies resulted in professional Web developers tending to avoid use of JavaScript, the popularity of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) in Web 2.0 applications provided tangible usability benefits to end users. With developments such as ARIA which enable usability benefits to be made available to users of assistive technologies we can now regard JavaScript as being a successful standard for the development of usable and interactive Web services.

Observations: Although competition between software vendors may initially result in interoperability problems, such competition may also help to demonstrate that there is a role in the marketplace for a new standard, with interoperability problems being resolved afterwards.

What Does This Tell Us?

HTML, CSS, XML, RSS and JavaScript are all standards which professional Web developers would probably be expected to have expertise in. But the standards themselves have been developed in different ways, with HTML’s developments. But despite the importance of these standards it would appear that there aren’t any clearly identifiable criteria which can be used to establish the reasons for the successes.   And the successes within W3C for HTML, CSS and XML have not been repeated for other W3C standards such as SMIL and SVG. So I have to admit defeat in my attempt to clearly  identify success criteria for Web standards based on a small number of examples – and I haven’t attempted to address the perhaps more contentious issues of the criteria for failed standards.  Can anyone help – or are we condemned to wait for the marketplace to eventually let us know what next year’s failures will be?

Posted in standards, W3C | 3 Comments »

The Project Blog When The Project Is Over

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 March 2010

Last year I asked the question “Should Projects Be Required To Have Blogs?“. This generated a lively discussion with JISC Programme Manager Nicole Harris pointing out the potential dangers of a formal requirement that JISC-funded projects should be expected to provide a blog:

If a project has to have a blog, does it have to have a wiki, does it have to twitter? I think JISC should be telling projects to maximize their use of communication channels and providing the platforms to enable that, but i don’t think we should be mandating or recommending any particular route.

Although a formal requirement to provide a blog may be inadvisable, many projects are likely to chose to provide a blog to support their user engagement and dissemination activities. But what happens when the project has finished? The blog might continue if there is felt to be a business case to justify the effort in writing new posts, moderating comments, etc. But what if it is felt that it would not be appropriate to continue to post articles to the blog?  Should the blog be deleted? Should the content be migrated to another location? Or perhaps the content and blog software continues to be provided, but no additional content is published.

The JISC-funded SIS (Shared Infrastructure Survey) Landscape Study was completed recently by colleagues of mine at UKOLN. The JISC SIS Landscape Study blog played a key role in gathering information related to the study and keeping users engaged in the various stages of the project. Following the termination of the project and the announcement of the project’s final report the blog was kept open for three weeks to allow users to provide any comments on the final report. The blog was then formally closed and an announcement made which included a summary of how the blog had been used to support the work:

We made seven posts (this one is number eight) making various announcements about the progress of the study. We created 47 Pages in all, 16 of which were used to collect evidence based on specific work tasks; these attracted 186 comments from a wide range of respondents. We also used a Page to record the findings of our literature survey and share it with viewers, and used Pages for the 22 Case Studies we published.

In addition we described how the blog content is being ‘mothballed’ but the content, comments and URLs will continue to be available for the new future:

The blog will remain visible for the next three years (a condition of the JISC funding) but will be frozen in terms of adding new content and viewers will not be able to add any further comments.

I feel this is an  appropriate approach to the management of a project blog when the funding ceases. It should be noted that the process also included changing the blog’s configuration options so that no additional comments made be made to the blog, in order to avoid the need to manage spam comments.

However there may be occasions when it is not possible to simply lock down the content of a blog.  A case study on “Archiving Pebble Blogs at ramble.oucs” published back in 2007 provided an example showing why it may not be possible to continue to host the software used to provide a blog.  This case study illustrated how the content continued to be hosted without changes in the URLs of the posts, thus ensuring that bookmarks to posts continue to work correctly.

This approach though, did require technical expertise which may not be readily available for all projects hosting a blog.   It is possible to create a PDF copy of the content of a blog, which is another way of preserving the content of a project blog if it is not possible to maintain the content using the original blog software. However this approach will fail to maintain bookmarks and results in content which is not as easily reused or cited as the original blog content.

So my clear preference is to continue to host the content on the blog, whilst locking down the content if it is not possible to continue to manage the content, including spam comments.  I also feel that the policy decision on what is to be done with a project blog after funding has ceased should be made during the life time of the project.  Is the approach taken for the JISC SIS Landscape Study blog one that may be useful to be adopted by other project blogs?

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments »

Microsoft “Wilfully Infringed i4i’s Patent”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 March 2010

Last year i4i won an injunction preventing Microsoft from selling Word 2007 because of patent infringement. Microsoft, of course, appealed against this injunction – and, as described last night in the Guardian’s Technology blog, the court’s decision is:

a panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a revised opinion in i4i v. Microsoft which affirms the August 11, 2009 Final Judgment by The Honorable Judge Leonard Davis that ruled in favor of i4i and found that Microsoft had wilfully infringed i4i’s U.S. Patent No. 5,787,449

Good news at seeing a court decision going against the evil empire?  I think not.  We have  now seem a company winning an award based on their ownership of a software patent. So if you feel that software patents stifle innovation you should be regretting this decision.  And how will Microsoft react?  I suspect they will regret not having submitted a patent covering their use of XML in the MS Office application suite to prevent such decisions – i.e. use of a defensive patent, described in Wikipedia asthe purchasing of patents or patent rights in order to keep such patents out of the hands of entities that would assert them against operating companies“.

And as i4i have been successful in their claim against Microsoft, might they now make claims against other organisations? Such concerns were highlighted last year in an article published in eweek.com entitled “Microsoft Patent Lawsuit Could Spell Trouble for Open-Source Format“. A successful software patent claim is based news for open development, as far as I am concerned, even if Microsoft are the victims. What are  your thoughts?

Posted in openness | 2 Comments »

The ‘Quiet Zone’ At Conferences

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 March 2010

Earlier today I booked a place on the Eduserv Symposium 2010: The Mobile University which will be held at the Royal College of Physicians in London on 13 May 2010.

The online booking for the event uses the Eventbrite service – and as this Cloud service is free for free events it is ideal for events such as the Eduserv Symposium. I should also add that UKOLN also uses the service for its workshops for the cultural heritage service.

When completing the online registration I was interested to read how the event organisers (including my former UKOLN colleague Andy Powell) are addressing the use of social media tools (with technologies such as Twitter likely to be widely used on the day) including the implications for those who may, for whatever reason, not be users of or fans of use of such technologies at events:

We will be live streaming sessions from the Symposium and encouraging attendees to make use of social media throughout the day. By attending, you accept that your image may appear in photographs or videos made during the course of the event. There will be a limited Quiet Area where the use of social media is limited and where no photography or filming will take place. You can indicate your preference for being seated in this area below.

At last year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009)  we introduced a Quiet Area which was intended for “those not so keen to participate in use of mobile devices and networked technologies“.  We went on to add that “This area will also be appropriate for those who would like to avoid being filmed during the video streaming“.

Quiet zone at IWMW 2009The quiet zone was physically located in the back five rows of the conference auditorium and, as can be seen from the accompanying photograph, was clearly differentiated form the main row of seats.

We alerted IWMW 2009 delegates of this new aspect to our IWMW annual series of events (which has been an ‘amplified event’ since we first made use of WiFi technologies in 2005) in advance of the event and provided an Acceptable Use Policy which, rather than providing a list of what was or was not permissible, we summarised as “Don’t be stupid“.

The background to the provision of the Quiet Are was provided in a post entitled “How Rude! Use Of WiFi Networks At Conferences” which I wrote in May 2008. In my post I reported on experiences at an internal Open University conference during which an official live blogger “was told by three different people in separate sessions to stop as his typing was offputting”.

At many UKOLN events many participants are keen to exploit innovative approaches; for example a survey of the use of networked technologies at IWMW 2005 showed that “majority (of 26 to 3) felt that use of networked technologies should be encouraged at future events“.

But how should one address the preferences of the minority who do feel that people using laptops, netbooks or mobile devices during conferences can be intrusive and distracting? The approach taken at IWMW 2009 was to allow delegates to chose to sit in an area free from use of such devices.  The quiet zone also provided an areas for those who did not wish to appear on photographs taken during the event or on the live video stream – we instructed the official camera crew to avoid pointing the camera at the back of the lecture theatre  and asked the official photographer not to take photographs of people sat in that area. We also made a similar request to the event delegates, many of whom would also be taking photographs during the presentations.

I got the impression that our provision of the Quiet Area at IWMW 2009 was appreciated by the delegates as a pragmatic approach to reconciling the tensions between those who were appreciative of the benefits which event amplification can provide and those who have concerns.

I’m therefore pleased to see that this approach is being adopted at this year’s Eduserv Symposium.  I’ll be interested to see how effective it is – I should add, though, that on the booking form I have stated that I do not intend to sit in the Quiet Zone. It will also be interesting to see if this approach becomes used at other events – such as the JISC 2010 conference and the ALT-C 2010 conference. There’s a need, I feel, to observe emerging patterns of best practices for the provision of amplified events.


Note: This blog posts was initially published with the misleading title “The ‘Quiet Room At Conferences”. It has been retitled with the more appropriate “The ‘Quiet Zone’ At Conferences”.

Posted in Events | 11 Comments »

Call For Speakers For ILI 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 March 2010

I have spoken at all bar one of the Internet Librarian International (ILI) conferences and for a number of years have been a member of the ILI advisory group.  So I am pleased to announce that the call for speakers for the Internet Librarian International 2010 conference is now open. The theme for this year’s event, which will be held at the Novotel London West, London on 14-15 October 2010, is “Get real, stay relevant“.  The emphasis is, quite clearly, on the need for practical and implementable solutions which are relevant to the current economic climate.

The call to ‘get real’ does not mean a retreat from innovation, however. Rather the need to support today’s information challenges and changing users’ expectations may require a need to embrace innovation in order that libraries and other information professions continue to be relevant to their users.  Examples of such innovation might include mobile technologies and developments such as Augmented Reality.

If you do have an idea which you would be willing to share with others () please visit the call for speakers page – and as an abstract of up to 250 words is required, this should not be too onerous to do! And if you’d like to see what you are letting yourself in for, you can view last year’s programme.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »