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iTunes U: an Institutional Perspective

Posted by Jeremy Speller on 25 October 2010

Recent posts which provided surveys of institutional use of third party services for content delivery generated a fair amount of interest and discussion. As a follow-up to the post on “What are UK Universities doing with iTunes U?” Jeremy Speller, Director of Web Services at UCL, has been invited to provide a guest post which provides an institutional perspective on use of this service.


Brian Kelly recently asked What are UK Universities doing with iTunes U?As an early adopter Brian invited me try to answer that question and to pick up on some of the comments which his post generated.

Let’s be clear on one thing – no one is fooling themselves. Apple is a hardware vendor intent on sales and iTunes U is just one of many ways in which it drives custom to its devices. Some have a philosophical objection to engaging with “trade” in this way, but for me the post-CSR university world demands that we use of the best that the commercial sector can make available to us. Have I sold my soul for the Yankee dollar? Maybe – but I’d kind of like a job next year. Strangely those that argue otherwise seem to accept Microsoft, Google and the rest.

Having dispensed with that argument let me examine why I believe that Apple has a positive contribution to make to higher education. I can think of no other major hardware vendor which has had such a clear policy over many years of engagement with education. And I’m not talking discount here – I mean services and assistance.

During 2004, Duke University bravely decided to issue iPods to its intake and to populate the devices with course material, timetables etc. Since there was no easy way to update the content en masse, Duke approached Apple to see what could be done. “Project Indigo” was born and iTunes U was the result. What’s important here is that Apple reacted to the requirement of a university and worked with Duke to deliver something that met its need.

It’s worthy of note too that many of the iTunes U team have backgrounds in education rather than software engineering or sales. Indeed Jason Ediger, who has a typical corporate title but for the purpose of this article heads up iTunes U, is a former teacher and educational technologist in the public sector.

Anyway, here are some of my views on “popular” opinions.

iTunes U is a closed ecosystem

Yes it is but the arguments for not using it are thin. In a comment on Brian’s post Andy Powell worried that:

… the overarching emphasis of sites who have bought into iTunesU is that they have bought into iTunesU – the other routes to content are presented as secondary to that. To me, that implies that users and lecturers who choose to use that route are somehow second class citizens of the institution.

I can only speak for UCL, but I would worry about any institution which bought into iTunes U as the only or primary means of distribution. Apple positively discourage use in this way – their take is “we provide the tool as one channel of communication“. UCL’s engagement with iTunes U came out of our desire to develop podcasting and other means of multimedia distribution as part of our mission to increase reach as London’s Global University. We were developing in that direction before iTunes U came to Europe. As far as primary teaching materials are concerned the Moodle course page remains the focus – the podcasts (whether taken from iTunes U or via feeds) are a value-added service to students. This is important for a metropolitan institution where students spend time offline on trains and buses getting about.

It is expensive to run

It depends. If you buy in to iTunes U without a background in multimedia distribution it could be, but I would argue that if you have not worked out a content or media distribution strategy taking into account a range of channels you shouldn’t be looking at iTunes U anyway. I have a department of around 30 souls of which a part (0.25 – 0.5 fte) of one post is a direct result of iTunes U, and that came a year after we joined. We have a multimedia unit who have been producing video since before U-matic was the format of the future. Over time the unit has moved with technology and now concentrates on streamed output and download formats – the staff complement hasn’t varied, they just do things differently. And we’d be doing all that to support a variety of distribution channels anyway.

It is PR fluff

For some reason this view is quite prevalent among those who don’t use the system and in my opinion misses the point of iTunes U completely. Sure, there is publicity to be had and, in UCL’s case as a launch partner, was valuable. Of course general PR shorts can be provided. But the real assets should be educational and examples of your institution’s scholarship. How you choose to do this and what material you provide is down to you. We increasingly provide course materials via the internal authenticated part of iTunes U to complement other teaching materials – others would argue that the provision of OER of high quality is the best PR there is for a university.

What wider and innovative uses could be made of the system in future?

adviewsBrian asks what the future holds in terms of innovative use of the system. Some of the most interesting uses we heard about at the iTunes U Conference in Munich involved the provision of primary sources for research. Duke University Libraries showed AdViews, a collection of 16mm movie film which had been digitized and which included thousands of TV commercials from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s. At Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich over 10,000 PDFs are available as LMU has chosen to provide all dissertations stored in its library back to 2002 as downloads. I’ll admit that at UCL we have yet to fulfill one of our original goals which was to open the system up to students as a collaborative environment and to submit work for assessment but that’s a matter of resource priority internally rather than a limitation of the system. Julie Usher has posted some other thoughts on innovations discussed at the conference.

Will institutional users regret lack of flexibility if Apple move in a different direction?

The lack of future-proofing is to my mind another non-argument because of the way iTunes U is architected. Apple maintain the framework and the serving of links via the iTunes Store mechanism while the feeds and media files themselves are hosted at the institution. This used not to be the case but all new sites since mid-2008, including all UK institutions, are split-hosted. This means that even if Apple pull the plug tomorrow all of your feeds and content remain yours and intact, and deliverable via whatever other channels you have in place.

Those who don’t buy into the ecosystem are 2nd class citizens

Again, if you are only providing iTunes U content this could be seen as an issue but not if you’re adopting the multi-channel model. I accept that at UCL we do sometimes plug iTunes U over other channels and that it’s something we should address. The content is nonetheless available for pretty much any modern device.

The content has poor discoverability

Because the iTunes software is a proprietary browser it does not afford discoverability to search engines. Apple fully accept that this has been an issue and have recently been including iTunes U in their iTunes Preview service. This is a conventional Web-based service which lists and includes metadata for all content in the system. Although it is early days and usage has not pumped too much to the top of Google rankings yet, search for a specific item by title and Google will return a top result. Audio content can be played directly in the page though it is still necessary to link out to iTunes to play video at present. Try searching for “Why species are fuzzy for an example. We also provide links to the preview service for the most popular items from our iTunes U launch page.

So…

… is there a cost-saving to adopting iTunes U as opposed to creating custom portals? Certainly the development grunt is removed and the system offers students who come to us with their own devices (another saving as I argued at the recent FOTE10 event) having bought into the ecosystem access to our content. For those of us committed to the distribution of media content whatever the channel the issue remains that the content has to be created and managed and therein lies the cost. I believe therefore that our efforts should lie in keeping the creation process efficient and demonstrating the value of the content to our users and paymasters. Content is, after all, still king – but as noted at the Munich Conference:

@thStamm: RT @jeremyspeller … content is king or there’s no point … I agree but we all want king arthur not king richard II #itunesuconf2010


Jeremy Speller has been involved with the UCL Web presence since 1995. Having headed UCL Web Servicesfor a number of years, Jeremy is now Director of Learning & Media Services which, along with the Web, covers AV, design, learning technology, multimedia and photography. Prior to full-time involvement with the Web, Jeremy’s background was in planning and statistics at UCL and previously at the University of Birmingham. Way back when he ran the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme at what was then CVCP.

Some of Jeremy’s presentations are on SlideShare. You can also follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremyspeller


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Evidence, Guest-post, Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Guest Post: Blogs At Imperial College

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 2 October 2009

After a gap of 11 months the guest blog post returns with a post by Jenny Evans, Liaison Librarian: Maths and Physics at Imperial College. Jenny provides a background to two blogs (to support the Physics and Maths and Engineering departments) which were set up by liaison librarians in 2006 and answers many of the questions which librarians in a similar role may be asking: how did you get agreement from the management?; who contributes; what is the target audience; what do you write about; how long does it take to support; is it sustainable and, perhaps most importantly, can the blog service be regarded as a success?


About Imperial

Imperial College London is a science-focussed institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research with approximately 12,000 full time students.  The Library comprises the Central Library and the Mathematics Department Library, located on our South Kensington campus, as well as campus libraries at Charing Cross Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Brompton Hospital, Hammersmith Hospital and Silwood Park.

Background

Our first two blogs were created by liaison librarians, Ruth Harrison and myself, in March 2006. There were three main reasons we considered using a blog.

Firstly, we had tried sending out emails and newsletters to departments informing them of relevant developments.  Problems with this method included academics wanting different formats, or complaining about email overload.  From our perspective, as a newsletter tended to be produced only once a term, information we wanted to get out to them quickly was often out of date by the time it was sent.

There was the option of adding pages to the library website, however this relied on us getting information to another library staff member, and then waiting for them to put the page up.  Which if you needed to get information out to staff/students quickly was not the ideal solution.

Finally, the library Web site doesn’t provide detailed subject specific information pages, which academics had complained about to us, so we wanted to address this issue – the blogs were a way in which we could provide very specific information and only to those people who wanted it.

As such, we felt a blog would be an ideal way to be able to communicate quickly, effectively and directly with our respective departments about information that was relevant to them. Blogs would enable us to post content as we needed to, they would be easy to set up and maintain, and we could delegate responsibility to staff where appropriate.  It also meant academics could set up an RSS feed to the pages so they could control how they viewed the information.

WordPress software

We decided to start the blogs using the free blogging software from WordPress.  It was a fairly new option at the time, but it was getting good reviews, seemed to be flexible, offered some useful features and was free.

Getting agreement from management

Working on the assumption that it is much easier to sell an idea that you can demonstrate we created a working prototype and began posting content to the blogs before presenting them to our respective managers.  They then took them to the relevant management meetings.  Although there was some unease about the lack of branding, and the idea that at the time not all liaison librarians would have a blog, it was agreed that as this was a form of communication, specific to a liaison librarian and their department (not unlike email) that we could continue.

Over the past 3 1/2 years, other liaison librarians have seen the success of our blogs and have created their own.  We now have thirteen blogs covering a variety of subject areas.  There is currently no specific ‘library style’ for the blogs, although some look more ‘Imperial-like’ than others.

Blog authors

Our blog authors are a mix of library staff – though all work in Library’s Faculty Support Services for Teaching and Research Directorate – as the blogs are aimed staff and students in specific departments/subject areas.  As such, the relevant library liaison team are responsible for the blog.  This could be a single person or more than one member of the same team.  Our medicine blog is aimed at all medical staff and students and as such members of staff from all of the medical campuses contribute to this blog.

Target audience

Each of our blogs has a different target audience, depending on what is thought appropriate for that subject area.  This can include:

  • Academic/research staff
  • Postgraduate research students
  • Postgraduate taught course students
  • Undergraduate students

For example the maths and physics blog that I am responsible for (as I’m no longer responsible for chemistry) is aimed at academic and research staff, and research post-graduate students, although some content is relevant to post-graduate taught course students and I do make them aware of its existence.  It is not so relevant to the undergraduate students, however I do have a maths projects blog I have created to support the projects they work on in the first and second year of their course.

Content

This is also something that relies on the particular person or group of people responsible for each blog.

Examples of what people include in their blogs:

  • New resources including new book purchases and journal subscriptions
  • News
  • Custom search engines
  • Journal citation reports/bibliometrics information
  • Help/advice pages
  • Support for teaching sessions
  • Identifying key resources such as e-books
  • Highlighting relevant parts of the library website
  • Highlighting the physical location of relevant collections
  • Overview of relevant key database and referencing information

Generally, we would try not to duplicate information found on the library Web site, but do highlight relevant content.

How long we spend maintaining our blogs

As you can imagine, this differs depending on who is working on the blog.  I did a quick survey of fellow bloggers as to how often they post on their blogs and this ranges from a couple of times a week to once a month.  Personally, I must confess I don’t spend as much time on mine as I used to, though my team member Katie does most of the posting these days.

Publicity/Marketing

You can find a link to our blogs on our library homepage and there is also a link from the College blogs page.  I’ve also got links on the Physics department website and the Maths Library web page.

For my blog, I email department staff, PhD students and MSc students at least once a term, reminding them the blog is there and highlighting any current news. Some bloggers use Feedburner which enables them to give people the option to receive updates by email.

Our Life Sciences team introduce their blogs to students in induction sessions and point out useful features.

This is possibly something we could market better than we do so at the moment. Suggestions from fellow bloggers include giving them a higher profile, making them more visually appealing, perhaps giving them a similar style/layout.

Success?

As a whole our blogs have been very successful – they are all getting used.  They enable us to raise our profile as liaison librarians within the departments we work with, and provide our users with a resource that is specific to their areas of expertise.

In the words of one of our Life Sciences bloggers:

Subject blogs are an ideal way to gather relevant subject specific material together in one place for your staff and students, they can be tailored and expanded to meet the need and are much more flexible than having to coordinate an official webpage update. We introduce our students to them in inductions and point out useful areas such as ‘Finding Books’ (which is a well-used page) and Academic Writing Skills (another well-used page which lists academic writing skills books in the library with links to the catalogue – this really picked up over the summer when Masters students were focussing on writing up).

The statistics available via WordPress do enable you to see details about how many people are viewing your blog, who is referring to your blog, what the top posts and pages are, search terms people are using to find you, and what people are clicking on and incoming links.  However, this doesn’t include RSS feeds (unless you are using Feedburner).  And these statistics do demonstrate that our blogs are being used.

Personally, I didn’t expect loads of comments on my blog – I use it more as a means of getting relevant information out to my departments (maths and physics) – however I do encourage people to get in contact via the comments mechanism of the blog. I have installed a MeeboMe widget on my blog which hasn’t had a great deal of use (though the widget I installed on the blog I created for my maths undergraduate students has had a few enquiries). My humanities colleague has also tried MeeboMe with limited success.

Our Life Sciences team has noticed that the more time they have invested in “developing, populating and marketing (not to mention regularly updating) the blog has seen a continued growth in usage figures”.

Another unexpected outcome has been the interest from third parties such as Victor Hemming from Mendeley who had seen “posts we had put up about referencing and networking for researchers. This initial contact led to Mendeley coming to Imperial to give a personal introduction. It was good to know that our blog was attracting the attention of useful people and sending them in our direction”.

Sustainability

Our blogs have been running for 3 and half years now and show no signs of slowing down. The bloggers I have been in touch with all feel that it is worth the time they spend maintaining and updating them.


Jenny Evans,
Liaison Librarian: Maths and Physics
Imperial College
London
Email: j.evans@imperial.ac.uk
Blog: http://physmaths.wordpress.com/

Posted in Blog, Guest-post | Leave a Comment »

Guest Post: Web 2.0 At The National Library of Wales

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 7 November 2008

In the guest blog post published on 1th October 2008 Jo Alcock Hannah Hiles described how the library at the University of Wolverhampton is engaging with use of Web 2.0.  Details of this work were included in the paper on Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends which I recently presented at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference in Singapore.

This month’s guest blog post has been written by another co-author of the paper. Below Paul Bevan, National Library of Wales describes how a national library is engaging with the opportunities provided by Web 2.0. Paul has recently been appointed to the post of Senior Research Officer (Web 2.0) and, as he describes is “very keen to work with libraries and librarians to explore all areas of emerging Web approaches“.  If you have an interest in the issues described in this post, feel free to respond to Paul, either on this blog or directly with Paul.


The National Library of Wales is one of the great libraries of the world and has a remit to:

collect, preserve and give access to all kinds and forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the other Celtic countries, for the benefit of the public, including those engaged in research and learning

As a result our readers represent a extremely varied demographic, reflecting the diversity of our published material, archival and other collections.

The Web and the online delivery of resources has been integral to the Library’s service portfolio for many years, providing a access to its resources in a way which helps to overcome distance and availability issues. To this end, the Library has an extensive digitization programme which has provided virtual access to some of the greatest treasures in the collections through a ‘Digital Mirror‘ using innovative access methods to deliver an enhanced user experience for remote readers.

Looking to the Future: Web 2.0

We’re constantly building on this solid foundation by seeking new ways of providing access to our resources and ‘Web 2.0′ and the Social Web are key to realising the goal of enhancing our remote provision. The use of Web 2.0 approaches to achieve Library 2.0 delivery is ingrained in the new Library strategy ‘Shaping the Future’ [pdf] which outlines the Library’s desire to explore collaborative and diverse models using external resources. This will allow the Library to leverage Web platforms which are heavily focused on user engagement in order to deliver future services. Leading up to this shift in emphasis for Web developments the Library conducted a review of how a National Library might understand the concept of ‘Web 2.0′ and how we might best make use of our existing digital resources in a Web 2.0 environment.

Of course, the we’re not just looking at the way in which we can enhance our collections through new technologies and platforms – the current Web content represents a proportion of the information produced by the Library and there is a ‘hidden’ silo of professional, training and development information (some of which is exposed through the Digital Asset Management Development Wiki, as well as a range of “lost opportunities” (such as guest talks which could in the future be streamed via the Web). Beyond this there are clear examples from other organisations of best practice in using the Web to communicate internally and to share procedures and information through wikis and other technologies.

The Library has begun to increase the level of Web 2.0 services available by creating presences in online environments (including presences on Facebook and YouTube) as well as by beginning to allow reuse of its data – initially through a pilot Wikipedia project. The Library is also developing an XML feed of its events (including exhibitions and talks) through the Typo3-based content management system underlying the Library’s main website.

Third-party Web environments will be key to the future delivery of library services and we’re also actively looking to explore how the exposure of data in open formats can allow the use of leading edge user interfaces and Web front-ends. One concern for the Library is that the ‘spreading out’ of services onto commercial and external sites might conflict with existing policies around accessibility, sustainability, and the commitment to bilingual access.

The Library is also host to a Welsh Assembly Government funded project to provide an innovative and flexible service delivery platform for all types of libraries in Wales. The library.wales.org Web site employs Web 2.0 technologies including social bookmarking and RSS to provide an alternative environment engaging with the public. This project explicitly includes the development of new services and the support of those services, allowing libraries to explore Web 2.0 technologies in a ‘safe’ environment where best practice can be easily shared.

The Library is also home to the not-for-profit company Culturent Cymru, which has taken great steps in bringing new levels of interaction to objects from cultural repositories from all accross Wales. Culturenet Cymru projects include Community Archives Wales – where users can upload their images via Flickr – and Gathering the Jewels- which has recently launched an enhanced GIS interface.

What Next for the National Library of Wales?

The Web’s ever-changing nature provides an exciting and challenging environment for any library service and the National Library of Wales has sought to directly engage with the opportunities that Web 2.0 will offer. In order to best do this the library has recently committed to a six-month review of the possibilities of Web 2.0 and emerging Web Technologies.

In my role as Senior Research Officer (Web 2.0) I will be exploring best practice from knowledge organisations around the world as well as possible technological approaches and content partnerships. The resulting Web 2.0 Strategy will provide the Library with a chance to build upon and mainstream the work detailed above and to explore new ways of working with Library users in a networked environment. I’m very keen to work with libraries and librarians to explore all areas of emerging Web approaches, so feel free to get in touch with me at paul.bevan@llgc.org.uk.

Posted in Guest-post, Web2.0 | 13 Comments »

Library 2.0 at the University of Wolverhampton

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 October 2008

Guest Blog Post

The guest blog slot provides an opportunity to include some different voices and views on the UK Web Focus, which can provide a fresh insight in the various topics covered in this blog.

I’m therefore pleased to welcome this guest blog post from Jo Alcock, Academic Information Assistant for the Harrison Learning Centre at the University of Wolverhampton – although perhaps better known in some circles as Joeyanne Libraryanne for her Joeyanne Libraryanne blog. In her post Jo describes a variety of ways in which Web 2.0 services are being used and goes on to highlight some of the challenges which this approach entails. I should also add that Jo is a contributor to the paper on Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends which I’ll be presenting at the Bridging Worlds 2008 Conference.


Setting the Scene

I work at the University of Wolverhampton which has a large proportion of part-time students (some schools are up to 70% part-time). The University is also geographically spread across the region with five campuses in total. This means students do not always come into Learning Centres and often use the closest geographical centre rather than their subject specific centre. We have recently adopted a University-wide Blended Learning strategy to support the changing nature of our students, and the Learning and Information Services department are developing ways to support students from wherever they choose to study. This includes obvious things like e-journals and e-books, as well as virtual reference support and Web 2.0/Library 2.0 initiatives to support students online.

Current Initiatives

Blogs

We currently have five subject blogs (the School of Computing and IT Blog, School of Applied Sciences BlogSchool of Engineering and the Built Environment Blog, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Languages Blog and the Wolverhampton Business School Blog to support students and staff of particular academic schools, along with an University of Wolverhampton Electronic Resources Blog for updates to services. We also have a number of project related blogs and internal communication blogs.

Social Networking

The Learning Centres have a Facebook Page which was established at the end of last year. The page includes links to relevant parts of our Web site, our aggregated RSS feeds (from our blogs) and search applications. One of the most useful features of the page are sending updates to “fans” – another way of letting users know about our services and reaching them where they already are (a quick scan of any communal PCs show numerous Facebook users!).

Wikis

We have started exploring wikis and although we do not currently have a departmental wiki we have a number of small scale wikis for sharing information.

Online calendars

I’ve included this as although it’s not usually included in general “Library 2.0″ initiatives, it’s something that we’ve found really useful. We have been using Google Calendar (see the University of Wolverhampton InfoBites Calendar) to manage our events for a few months now and it’s so much easier than updating numerous places when the timetable changes or a new event is added. Now we just update the calendar on Google and the changes are reflected wherever the calendar is embedded. Users can also subscribe to the calendar or add single events to their own calendar. We’ve also recently used it as a shared calendar for scheduling purposes for our busy induction weeks.

Barriers

There have been a number of barriers to the Library 2.0 developments, some which may have been exclusive to us but many that I imagine are shared with other libraries.

External Hosting and Software

Many of the Web 2.0 products we use are external products, often hosted externally. This has immediate issues when it comes to reliability and stability. Services change over time, which is often a positive thing but may mean that your service no longer functions in the same way you wanted it to. You may find that it suffers “downtime” whilst the software is being upgraded or simply because the servers are not reliable. You may even find that the service ends completely without warning.

This can be a big issue for institutions, and understandably so. An alternative option whilst still utilising the technologies is to use open source software but host it internally therefore passing control back to the institution. Examples of this are using the WordPress.org blogging software (rather than their hosted service at WordPress.com) and the MediaWiki software for wikis. This way, the institution can update when it wants to (and also therefore not when it doesn’t want to!) and also has greater flexibility with the functionality and style of the software.

Staff Awareness

Another issue has been lack of awareness and uncertainty about the technologies utilised. Quite often, I have found that people are pleasantly surprised when they realise how easy it actually is to use. I understand that some of the software is bewildering at first experience though, and getting over that stage if you are uncertain about the fundamentals of the technology (for example, what on earth is a wiki or a blog?!) can be a big hurdle. Something that I think is now being recognised by the profession is that more time needs to be allocated for keeping staff up-to-date and providing training or even just time during work to explore the technologies.

Culture Change

This is something I am particularly aware of, probably because I am part of the so-called “net generation”. I like to share experiences and work collaboratively, but I know this can be quite a culture change to many who are used to working in isolation and keeping their work to themselves. When you have a shared calendar for example, or a shared blog, it can take some getting used to. Clear definition of roles and expectations from the beginning can help alleviate this.

User Needs and Experience

This is one of the main issues for me – although I am a keen user of many new technologies and use a lot in my own life, I only want to adopt them at work if they make sense from a user point of view – whether this is other staff when we are thinking about a shared resource like a wiki, or our community when it is a development for users.

Over the summer we have thought a lot about the future of the blogs; whether to merge the subject blogs or keep them separate, and what the actual purpose of each blog is. There are many issues around merging the blogs – such as whether to include all subjects (not all currently have a blog) and the logistics of subscribing to your subject only. The main issue for me was to look at it from a user point of view. With many subjects all on one blog, you can use categories to create separate RSS feeds for each subject. This initially seemed like a feasible way of merging the blogs whilst still allowing users to subscribe to only their subject. However, from examining our blog stats, most of our users subscribe by e-mail, suggesting that many of them do not currently use RSS feeds. I considered having a guide on the blog and holding training sessions, but in the end decided it was too much to expect of our users and would likely put them off subscribing if it was too confusing.

Ultimately, we are here for our users and if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t of use to them, there is little point us investing time in it. For example, if Facebook fell dramatically in popularity, it would make no sense to continue to develop our Facebook page and we should instead concentrate our efforts on whatever else our users are familiar with.

This is a fundamental part of the Web 2.0 philosophy for me; have a go – if it works, great, if it doesn’t, there’s no big loss. I like to invest a small amount of time trying something and assess whether or not it is worth pursuing after you’ve given it a chance. If it isn’t or the barriers are too great, just scrap it or try something else.

How about you?  What barriers have you experienced with Library 2.0 Initiatives and how do you overcome them? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Jo Alcock, University of Wolverhampton

Posted in Blog, Guest-post | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Guest Post: You’ve Got A Friend

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 September 2008

It has been a while since I have a guest post published on the UK Web Focus blog. But as I am very keen on encouraging a debate on the role of Web 2.0 within our institutions I would like to welcome Hannah Hiles as a guest blogger.

Hannah Hiles has been Media & PR Officer for Keele University in Staffordshire since August 2006. Previously she was Keele’s Alumni Officer and before joining the University she was a journalist at The Sentinel newspaper in Stoke-on-Trent. Her views are her own and not necessarily those of Keele University.


Keele University has been exploring the potential for communications and connections that can be found in Web 2.0 technologies.

In just 16 months of using Facebook as a corporate tool we have developed a thriving community with links spanning the globe; it has revolutionised the way we run some events, reconnected us with dozens of “lost” alumni and provided a platform where we can interact with prospective students in their own domain.

The Keele University alumni LinkedIn group in particular provides networking opportunities for our professional graduates while at the same time allowing us to learn more about their careers and tailor our services to their needs.

And all this for just the cost of my time – we have no fancy paid-for online community platforms here.

We first started using Facebook in January 2007. One of our graduates had created a group called Keele Alumni and we thought we should get in there with our own official group, so Keele Society (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2224498996) was born. We didn’t go through any committees or get approval from anyone; we just recognised the potential and seized the opportunity, little knowing how quickly Facebook would grow within just a few months.

We soon added our official Keele University Page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keele-United-Kingdom/Keele-University/19097243336), as well as the Keele-network only Love:Keele group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9189098385&ref=ts to help me find student case studies.

One of the most exciting uses of Facebook for me has been the creation of groups aimed at prospective students. Keele 2008 (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7459213335) and Keele University 2009 (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=17727959813&ref=ts) have proved a lifeline for applicants wanting to get the lowdown on Keele from the people who know and love it best – the current students.

A team of volunteers from among our Student Academic Representatives (StARs) check the group regularly and answer any questions. Other keen students, including Students’ Union sabbatical officers, also participate. I monitor what is being said and give an official University response when necessary but usually allow the students to take the lead.

A major part of Keele University’s appeal is its friendly atmosphere, so I try to reflect that through my communication style. Our Twitter updates (http://twitter.com/KeeleUniversity are a mixture of news stories with web-links and general observations about what is happening on campus spoken in the “voice” of the University. I’m still very new to Twitter and I don’t think I have fully grasped the possibilities of its use, but it’s another opportunity for communication with prospective students, current staff and students and alumni to be explored.

The University recognises Web 2.0 as an important area for growth, so much so that developing Keele’s e-communications strategy has now been formally built into my job description.

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Guest Blog Post: Blogging Masterclass at ILI 2007: A Perspective

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 4 November 2007

In the second guest blog post of the month Eddie Byrne gives his thoughts on the Blog Masterclass facilitated recently by myself and Kara Jones.

Eddie Byrne is Senior Librarian with Dublin City Public Libraries with responsibility for Web Services. A graduate of University College Dublin School of Library and Information Studies, he has worked for many years in the public library sector. From 2000-2002 he served as Metadata Project Co-ordinator for the Irish public service.

Eddie’s review of the workshop, in which he describes the promotional video for the event, the structure of the workshop and the workshop materials, may be of particular interest to those who work in public libraries, museums and archives, as UKOLN is in the process of developing a series of events and briefing documents to support this community. It is particularly pleasing to receive this evidence of the success of the event.


Having flown into London on the morning of Sunday, 7th October, the scene was now a familiar one for me, as I made my way from Heathrow to the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington for the 9th Internet Librarian International 2007 conference. Familiar, as this was my third appearance on the trot at the conference, and familiar also as when I first came to London way back in the last century (!) having left school, I headed for my first ‘real’ job (read ‘summer job’) and, where do you think it was, yes, in the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington of course! Now the less said about that the better, let’s just say I was starting at the bottom! Three days there and I cracked! Peculiarly enough, my visits to the Copthorne Tara have on each occasion since also been of approx. three days duration. But those visits have been much more satisfying, let me add! I was attending the afternoon masterclass entitled ‘Using Blogs Effectively Within Your Library‘ and being given by Brian Kelly (UKOLN) and Kara Jones (University of Bath). Brian of course I was familiar with from last year, and from following his blog; Kara was new to me, but her ‘performance’ in selling the course to me on a VCasmo multimedia announcement was, let me add, a determining factor! This class appealed to me largely because the blurb in the programme included the words ‘practical’ and ‘sustainable’, and was also going to talk about ‘real user experiences’. Kara also mentioned in the VCasmo announcement others crucial elements such as ‘good practices‘ and ‘things that work and things that don’t‘. I was sold!

The first thing I must say is that the class had an agreeable format, with Kara and Brian interchanging in order to keep us attentive and on our toes (or rather the edge of our seats, seats were provided)! I also welcomed the multiple handouts distributed during the class – it saved one having to take copious notes, thereby freeing one up to do some ‘active’ listening and actually participate. Simple but invaluable. Kara also introduced a little technological gizmo that allowed her to poll participants to get their input at various points, fun and functional at the same time.

We involved ourselves in a number of exercises; one to identify possible blog uses and the benefits to be accrued, another to identify potential barriers, those we thought could be easily addressed, and those that presented greater challenges. The fruits of our labour were posted to the class wiki (in real time!), so I won’t reproduce them here, they can be seen over on the WetPaint wiki. Also, in this context, Kara’s presentation entitled “Why Have a Blog?” was particularly good in covering all the angles.

It is worth saying at this point that what I found of particular value was Kara’s and Brian’s use of the Web as a delivery platform and as a means of networking with potential participants prior to the conference. The social network platfom ‘Ning’ was used in this context in order to illicit user experiences that would contribute to the substance of the class. Some of the presentations were available on ‘Slideshare’ prior to the conference and others on ‘Google Presents’ immediately afterwards; making presentations available in this manner can be of great advantage to participants preparing in advance or reviewing material afterwards.

Many other topics were of course covered in the masterclass: blog basics; the technical issues in setting up and maintaining a blog (hosting, software, look and feel); launching and monitoring your blog (marketing, statistics); evaluation (role, policies, feedback); and more besides. What is of particular value in a workshop or masterclass such as this is that you are required to do some critical thinking, and you also get the invaluable perspective of others, those working in different areas, and therefore bringing a different perspective, as well as those who have tried something, been there, done that. I found it interesting to note that, despite the participants working in diverse areas and coming from different backgrounds, there was a commonality in terms of issues, concerns, perceived opportunities, and most of all a shared enthusiasm for using a tool that facilitates communication, user participation, user engagement, collaboration, and resource building.

If I can refer to that word ‘practical’ again, this class was that. From forcing us to ask ourselves the ‘why’ of doing it, the ‘how’ to doing it, to the ‘watch out’ while doing it. I particularly liked Brian’s suggestion of having a documented blog policy – I think it becomes so much easier for you, your organisation and your users if you have it down on paper (remember paper?). It clarifies so much. Stating the purpose and scope of your organisation’s blog, the intended audience, policy on comments and third party use. I also welcomed the focus on demonstrating value, using evidence to justify the setting up of a blog in the first place: analysing your blog statistics and seeking feedback, asking the user for their views on the blog and how it may better serve them. Brian recently involved himself in such an exercise on his blog, and the results make interesting reading. He provided a handout with those too!

The suggestion was put forward during the class that one should experiment with blogs for particular events or occasions. That to do so gave a taste of the strengths and opportunities of blogs. I would go further. They are more than just experimental, a one-off event of note, or a particular programme with a short-term lifespan, are ideal candidates of themselves for blogs in my estimation; they are relatively easy and quick to set up, involve little in the way of overheads, and are as easily de-activated should you want to when the event is over (I favour leaving the blog visible as a testament to the event and as a permanent record). And there is always a high profile event around the corner that merits its own blog. I indeed make widespread use of them in my library service. And whereas they do help inform and guide you in implementing other blogs in your organisation, their existence is no less important than that permanent presence you desire with your ‘lead’ blog. Is it contradictory to say that the temporary blog is here to stay?

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Guest Blog Post: The ILI 2007 Blog Masterclass

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 2 November 2007

The Month’s Guest Blog Post

The guest blog spot for November provides an opportunity to hear from participants at an event I have participated at recently. We start with Pernille Helholm‘s reflections on the half day Blogging Masterclass facilitated by myself and Kara Jones.

About Me

I work at a large company within the medical device industry in Copenhagen, Denmark. I am a (solo) librarian, information specialist and furthermore I attend The Master of Library and Information Science programme at The Danish School of librarianship.

At work my tasks are providing competitor surveillance, scientific searches, patent searches, supplying our users with all kind of information in the form of journal, books, web pages, etc. and to guide them through the various systems.

Furthermore (and very important!) I have to develop the library services all the time. I also have a blog at pnille.wordpress.com

The Guest Blog Post

Last year at Internet Librarian International 2006 I discovered a new world of social software, new and easy ways of communicating, the concept of sharing and some great new aspects of librarianship. So this year I signed up for the ILI2007 conference without hesitation. It was obvious to me, that I should attend the pre-conference Masterclass on Using Blogs Effectively within Your Organisation facilitated by Brian Kelly and Kara Jones.

During the past year I had explored many of the new social software tools and with the help of blogs, RSS, and online friends I constantly discovered new possibilities! And from all those tools I really find that blogging can be a very useful tool in an organisation like the one I work for.

I can see that it would be an excellent way for people within the organisation to share ideas, look for solutions to old and new problems, generate and administrate new ideas that lead to innovation.

Therefore, I decided that my goals for this masterclass were to bring home ideas and inspiration about blogging and share it with my organisation.

But how, where and when do I begin? Brian and Kara’s masterclass was right on target for finding answers to my questions. And I am happy to say, it was an absolute highlight at the conference for me. I have made a list of things that I particularly liked:

  • The practical angle and down to earth approach.
  • Our hosts talked about their personal experiences with blogging, which made it easy to relate to.
  • They managed to involve the attendants with “voting” and group assignments.
  • The handouts! Very practical and condensed format. Not just copies of the slides! Useful!
  • The laughs and the relaxed, personal attitude of the speakers.
  • The many good points they had to convince management and co-workers.
  • The wiki that Kara updated with our input.
  • That sometimes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to beg for permission.

I can find very few points for improvement, other than that it was much too short. I think that a full day with hands-on training would be very suitable. And for the next time I think it would be better to sit in an U-shape to improve interaction between the participants. I went back to my hotel with many thoughts in mind and I found that this Masterclass did give me answers to my questions of how, where and when to begin, plus a lot more! What I learned at the Masterclass has given me inspiration to start as soon as I get back to work

As I already described, I believe that blogging will be great for the company. But now I can put words and action to my thoughts. And I think the right way to start will be to get rid of my old one-way-information-intranet-web page and replace it with a blog. I decided, not to wait for permission from our IT department.

Practically, I will install a WordPress blog on an in-house server, so that I can keep the – often confidential – information between the walls of the company. I can use the features of a blog to share news otherwise distributed by mail and I can make additional pages for other content. After the initial launch of the blog, this will provide a great opportunity to start teaching my users about RSS in order to receive the library news on their desktop!

In a way you could call it a pilot project for internal blogging. It is going to be a great showcase for my users, and I am so sure that it will make a lot of people interested in blogging as a tool for the company!

And if anyone from the management or other sceptics will ask “What’s the big deal about blogging?” or “Why do we need one?” or “What’s wrong with e-mail?”, I will know what to answer!

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The Blogging Librarian: Pragmatic, Connected and Visible

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 October 2007

In a guest blog post for November Michael Stephens gives his thoughts on the Blogging Librarian. Michael is well-known to many in the library 2.0 world through his Tame The Web blog and his participation at the Internet Librarian International (ILI) conferences.


As the fall conference season gets into high gear, groups of librarians and information professionals will gather in conference centres and hotels all over the world to discuss issues and trends that offer challenges and opportunities for library services. Sadly, this year I can’t attend one of my favorite conferences: Internet Librarian International in London, England. Librarians from all over the world journey to London to exchange ideas, insights and, simply, talk.

I’ve attended ILI the past few years, serving on the advisory committee as well as presenting and teaching workshops, including on dedicated to blogging in 2005. I was happy to see Brian Kelly and Kara Jones are carrying that discussion forward with two sessions:

I look forward to reading blog coverage of their presentations.

Thinking about these presentations causes me to reflect on the history of the tool. In 2004, Merriam Webster online announced the most-searched word of the year was blog and noted that one of the most talked about online innovations of Web 2.0 was the use of blog software to create easily updated, content-rich Web sites.

The early definition the site provided offers insight into blogs’ genesis as a personal journaling tool:

Blog noun [short for Weblog] (1999) : a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.

From personal journaling onward, we can trace the evolution of blogging from “what I had for lunch” blogs to the adoption of the tool for businesses, organizations, and of course, librarians and libraries. In 2007, the thriving biblioblogosphere includes multiple library blogs as well as hundreds of individuals sharing their voices via personal, professionally focused blogs.

This summer, I completed my doctoral dissertation looking at those personal, professionally focused blogs. The research question centered around the motivations for librarians to write blogs. Based on the works of some library philosophers, I created and sought to prove my “Pragmatic Biblioblogger Model.” The model describes librarians who author a professionally focused blog beyond the scope of their job to find, share, and offer advice to others in the LIS profession. Constantly scanning via the tools of continuous computing, the pragmatic biblioblogger seeks to redesign library services in an era of enhanced technology. These librarians open comments and engage with other librarian bloggers to discuss and examine events, new technologies, and the LIS profession within a community they have created with a common goal: improving libraries.

I was pleased that my study yielded support for the model. As a participant, observer and examiner of the bibliobogosphere, I’ve seen a lot of changes, discourse and dissension – all of which add to the evolving nature of the medium within our profession.

When librarians blog for their institutions, it may seem that the mission is different, but it many ways it is most similar. Library weblogs, in all shapes and sizes from Ann Arbor District Library’s multiple blog presence to the smallest of the small “one person library” blog hosted at Blogger.com, sharing news and information is usually the number one goal. Pair this with what blogs do so well – enable conversation via commenting, librarians can now connect with their users online the way we have done across the desk for years.

These connections are playing out in some interesting ways in 2007: I’ve noticed the advent of administrator’s blogs, the extension of the blogging platform in some new and innovative ways, and the use of the tool as an educational vehicle for library staff to experience social software.

What was once the realm of the techie librarian in the basement of the library has moved to cadres of blogging librarians for individual libraries (such as my former library, the St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, Indiana, USA) on up to the actual involvement of administrators and directors. Look no further than Darien Library in Darien, Connecticut, USA for an example of a director’s blog.

There are definitely benefits to administrative blogging. It might be the library is about to launch a new initiative or fund raising campaign. The use of a blog as a communication mechanism to deliver transparent news and plans seems like a good fit. Properly marketed and utilized – key for an such project – the blog can be a visible means to connect users to library policy-makers. It would also set a good example for others in the library who may not want to participate. Top-down buy-in is so important for technology projects and organizational shifts to occur – and the voice of the director, shared openly and honestly, is a step in a good direction. Human discourse from the top might be very welcome in many libraries, internally and externally. Open comments would allow discussion. This also makes the library and staff visible on the Web.

Other library use blogs and more blog-like social tools as a clearinghouse of all manner of online content and links to multimedia offerings as well. Check out Allen County Public Library’s 2.0 clearinghouse to see this in action or take a look at Pierce County’s round up of their 2.0 tools with this post at Flickr.

Finally, no project has added more blogs to the Biblioblogosphere than Helene Blower’s Learning 2.0 course, used by libraries all over the world. As a means to acclimate staff to what blogs and other tools can do, there’s nothing better than actually doing it. Librarians and staff explore, play and report on their experiences via their blogs. Who knows how many may continue after the course is done – and how many may become vibrant voices within the Biblioblogosphere.

Are you curious? If you’re attending ILI be sure to check out the blog presentations – there’s still so much to discuss about this transformative tool. And please have a cup of tea for me as you enjoy the sessions, networking breaks and evening meals. ! If you’re reading from afar, explore on your own what’s happening online with blogs and other social tools. we truly are in the middle of an ongoing shift in libraries, where anyone can participate.

I am also very interested to hear what UK and other countries are doing with administrative blogs, 2.0 portals and Learning 2.0. Please share your comments here or email me.

Michael Stephens

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Guest Blog Post: The Eternal Beta

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 6 September 2007

Today’s guest blog post was written by Phil Wilson, who works in the Web Services Team at the University of Bath. Phil ran a workshop session at the IWMW 2007 event on “The Eternal Beta – Can it Work in an Institution?” in which he addressed the question of whether the Web 2.0 development philosophy of ‘always beta’ was applicable with the educational sector:

Google’s famous for it, Flickr’s moved to Gamma, Moo are on an eternal 1.0 – yet still in institutions we plod on with a tired, slow-moving and opaque process for developing and enhancing applications. From our closed support lines to official notices on unread websites and applications mysteriously changing in front of a user’s very eyes we look staid and tedious. But it doesn’t have to be like that, we could be fast faced and interactive – but at what cost? Continuity? Uptime?


I could ramble on about this for thousands of words, but I’ll try and keep it brief (for me):

  • you take too long rolling out software
  • you don’t do enough unit testing or user testing

One of the leading ideas of eternal beta is small improvements all the time. It’s the preferred model for developing Web 2.0 applications (just look at Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and about a billion Silicon Valley startups). The essence is that if you’ve changed something small and you’re waiting for the next milestone before you release, you’re crazy – just deliver it. If it turns out to be wrong or broken in some way, you can just change it again.

There are a couple of things people typically reply with:

One of the big fears that it hasn’t been user-tested enough. Well, in institutions we’ve got thousands of technically-minded members – staff and students alike; what do you think the odds are on being able to make, say, twenty of them beta testers? (It’s critical to get testers from outside your team; your team are effectively the alpha testers) I mean, you’ve probably got bloggers, Facebook group founders and tech contacts everywhere. See who you can find to test your apps – it doesn’t have to be the same people for all of them, and make it worth their while either by delivering a better application to them than everyone else, or maybe some mark of kudos inside the application that everyone else can see.

This does rely on being able to get good feedback from your testers – hey, you’d hope that if your software is good enough they’ll be telling you anyway, but you can use incentives or whatever floats their feedback-giving boat. The important part is exposing the feedback communication channel; maybe it’s a forum, maybe it’s blog where you post the new features and they add comments, maybe it’s a weekly meetup in the bar. Whatever you do, talking to those people and making sure that they can see that there are other active testers, whom you’re listening to and actually replying to is A1 critical. No trust == no good feedback.

The other big fear is that this basically throws traditional software development and delivery out of the window (farewell, cruel Gantt chart). When a team suddenly has deliverable dates measured in the days rather than the months you suddenly discover that the priorities change and you start getting people-focussed software rather than something focussed on year-old requirements. This is where agile techniques start kicking in. Things like pair-programming, continuous integration, automated deployment are all your friends. Techniques like PRINCE2 and Scrum are there to pick up the rest of the slack.

In the real world, although my team isn’t quite there yet (notably with the feedback), we’re trying hard and it’s paying dividends in terms of delivered software and happier users.

Phil Wilson
Web Services
University of Bath

Phil’s blog: http://philwilson.org/blog/

Posted in Guest-post, iwmw2007 | 3 Comments »

Guest Blog Post: Web 2.0 and Sustainability

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 5 September 2007

Today’s guest blog post comes from Ross Gardler, manager of JISC’s OSS Watch service and a co-facilitator of a workshop session at IWMW 2007 on “Sustainable Services: Solidity based on Openness?”.


At OSS Watch we spend a considerable amount of time highlighting sustainability as one of the key benefits of open source. There is no central organisation that can simply “pull the plug” on the product and its maintenance. Open source licences ensure that the software will always be available and, while there are active users of that software, it will always be maintained.This perpetual availability of open sourced software is only one of the key benefits provided by open source licences. Another is the ability to take that software and customise it for your own needs. To add new features and to disable features not important to your situation. In other words to take a “close fit” solution and mould it into a “better fit” solution.Web services that provide open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) present similar mix-and-match benefits, at least on the surface, that open source provides, but does it provide the same level sustainability in your solutions?This was the topic of a workshop session I hosted with Andrew Savory at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2007 entitled “Sustainable Services: Solidity based on Openness?“. In this session we asked how participants measured the sustainability of their chosen software solutions. The list of criteria produced included items such as:

  • reliability
  • reputation
  • scale of the provider
  • significance of us as a customer
  • data ownership and openness
  • fashion
  • community
  • flexibility

The full list was far too long to detail in this post, but a few were clearly more important than others. This became particularly evident when we proceeded to evaluate a number of well known Web services against the defined criteria.

For example, data access was critical in most Web services. Was the data available in an open standard that made it interoperable with other services? Having put data into the service, could you get it out again? Flexibility was another major concern for the API approach. Did the API allow us to achieve what we want to achieve?

I would argue, like Mark Pilgrim, that this should not be an issue, we should have access to our data, and all derived data, as a matter of course – it’s our data after all. Mark observes that “praising companies for providing APIs to get your own data out is like praising auto companies for not filling your airbags with gravel.

Workshop participants also noted that there is no guarantee that a service will be provided in the future. A topic that Brian Kelly discussed here in this blog when Splashblog closed its doors. Brian suggested that such closures could be considered by some to be a clear justification for not making use of such external Web 2.0 services – a point made by a number of our session participants. Indeed, many services were marked down quite heavily since they are largely unproven beta services with no clear business model. Despite this healthy concern over the longevity of service offerings, workshop attendees felt that some services, such as Shibboleth, are more sustainable because they have public money behind them. However, as Brian goes on to observe, even public sector services are not guaranteed to be there forever. To support his point Brian cites a BBC news article describing the closure of 551 government Web sites and wonders what happens to data held by the AHDS when funding ceases.

The overall conclusion of our workshop attendees was that Web services should only be relied upon for non-critical functions in your institution. Over time we may become more comfortable with relying on third party services, but for now we need to be careful. I liken it to the development of voice communications technologies. We don’t worry about having a dial tone the next time we pick up the phone, but the recent Skype outage shows we can’t rely on the newer voice communications services. The result is that Skype is not suitable for emergency calls.

Reaching Sustainability Through Openness

In my opinion one way of moving towards more sustainable services at a sensible pace is through openness in the development of those services. That is, if a service uses open data standards, provides fully open access to all its data and its APIs and encourages users to participate in the ongoing development of the service, I, as a user, am more likely to stick with it past my initial, experimental, use. For example, I love the idea of Dopplr, but I haven’t gone past exploration because it fails to provide the data in format that is useful to my objectives (Editor’s Note: Phil Wilson pointed out that a Doppler API has recently been announced at http://dopplr.pbwiki.com/. This comment was added at the request of Ross Gardler on 6 Septmeber 2007). Conversely, just 10 hours after the announcement of a beta API for OhLoh I had integrated OhLoh data into Simal, the OSS Watch project cataloguing tool. As soon as OhLoh produces an API for submitting data I’ll ensure the flow is two way, making both projects more likely to survive.

However, openness should not stop at the data and the APIs. I need to ensure that the service remains aligned with my strategic objectives. I want to be able to contribute directly to the flexibility and sustainability of the service in ways that suit my needs. This is where Oh Loh falls down, it is not open source and so my contribution options are limited.

Open source enables us, as users, to choose how to invest our resources in sustainable solutions. We can purchase related products such as support and hosting, or we can fund strategic development, or we can ensure our own staff help support and sustain the product through direct contribution of use cases, documentation, feature requests, bug fixes and even new feature implementations. All of these actions help ensure the product survives and continues to be available to our own organisation.

Web service companies will gladly accept similar contributions from us. The big difference between the two approaches is that with open source we have the freedom to decide where our resources are invested. We can maximise the impact our investment has on our individual utilisation of the service, thus making the service more useful. We are even free to take the software and create our own version should our objectives diverge considerably from the originating service provider (although this can usually be avoided if the project is well managed and cultivates a healthy community).

Most of us want the convenience of a service provider, but such convenience comes with the risk of potential lock-in and, even worse, the loss of a critical service. Having access to the source code means that we increase competition and consequently increase innovation in the code base. It does not prevent companies from differentiating themselves through the provision a more reliable and usable service within their chosen market niche.

Given the choice, I will always use a Web service that makes its source code available under an open source licence, even if that service is less developed than closed competitors. In most cases I will still purchase the service from a provider, but I want to keep my options open in order to ensure my own offerings are sustainable.

Our workshop participants largely agreed with this view, they too were more concerned about having control over their own organisations future in the long term than they were about the short term gains of adopting closed service models.

Ross Gardler
OSS Watch
OUCS
13 Banbury Road
University of Oxford
Oxford
OX2 6NN

OSS Watch Web site: http://www.oss-watch.ac.uk/
OSS Watch blog: http://involve.jisc.ac.uk/wpmu/oss-watch/

Posted in Guest-post, iwmw2007 | 14 Comments »

Guest Blog Post: The Web Community Discussion Group Session at IWMW 2007

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 4 September 2007

Debbie NicholsonToday’s guest blog post was written by Debbie Nicholson, of the Web Support Unit at the University of Essex.

Debbie writes about the Institutional Web Management Workshop and the discussion group session she attended on “The Web Community” and the implications for the Web community.


I didn’t sign up for this discussion group … I signed up for one of the Greener Web discussion groups. I got a bit seduced by the idea of the whole Web community though. Having written my workshop session extolling the virtues of social networking and facilitating community of practice, it seemed wrong to suddenly change sides and start rooting for the environment … Also, Mike McConnell was chairing the session and he offered me beer if I would take notes for him … fair exchange, or so I thought!

From past experience, the discussion groups can be either really good or really bad. This year was no exception. I know of a few people who didn’t go back to their second discussion group session as they just didn’t think it was worth it. I know of one group where the chair turned up, said he wasn’t sure what they were supposed to be talking about, but that he wouldn’t be there the second day anyway… I think we actually had more people at our second session than the first. Word had obviously travelled that we were having a good discussion and really trying to come up with some answers … either that or someone had heard Mike mention beer.

We went into our session and did the usual … little eye contact, talk to no one. I suggested moving the chairs from classroom style rows, into a more discussion friendly circle-ish shape … and all of a sudden people started smiling and talking, and making eye contact! Mike soon put a stop to that with the regulation and totally hateful ‘5 minutes to introduce yourselves to someone you don’t know’. Now this one is a little tricky… I’ve been going to IWMW for 6 years now. There are lots of people I don’t *really* know, but so many people I’ve seen around. So many names I’ve seen on documents and mailing lists, but like I say, I don’t really know them … but I almost feel as though I do.

Once we started the discussion it quickly transpired that we had quite a bit to say on the subject … 11 pages of notes in fact. And that only included the stuff that I was quick enough to write down. I also discovered that it’s actually quite difficult to be part of the discussion and write the notes. I wanted to jump in so many times, however, by the time I’d written up what was being said, someone else had got in first – and I had to write up their comments (repeat as necessary)!

After the conference I got the train back to London with Mike, his parting words were “thanks for writing the notes babe, just erm, type hem up and post them to me”. I sat at my desk about a week later looking at 11 pages of scrawl … Note to self: this just has to be easier if you do it straight away. Meaningless lines joining up one half a sentence with a whole load of words I couldn’t read, and some I clearly couldn’t spell… Only one thing for it… put the coffee on! I’m such a bugger for vacuuming the cat when there’s a rubbish job to be done.

Some time later, the notes started to emerge. What was really lovely about doing this job, apart from finishing it obviously, was the enthusiasm of the session really came back to me. The fact that we actually came up with action points. Things that we wanted to achieve … nothing that could be classed as rocket science, just practical things hat we want to put in place to take the ‘Web Management Community’ from being an idea, to a reality. Maintain the Facebook for IWMW, either year by year or a general IWMW group that we can all subscribe to. Try to encourage as many people as possible to sign up and become a part of it, and to think how we can make it bigger (can we incorporate any of the ideas from the Innovation competition…?). Like I said, not rocket science, but at least doable, something we can put our hands on … unlike the beer I was promised!!!

The mailing lists serve a purpose, they’ve worked well for many years to provide information, solutions, a point of contact … can we really call that a community though? When we go to the conference, we are only ever one drink in the bar away from making a fab new contact or a bloody good friend. With Facebook (or something similar) we can put a face to all the names we’ve seen around, or indeed a name to the face (how many people do we see year in year out and just can’t remember what they are called…?), we can post a comment, or make contact with someone we’ve wanted to speak to but don’t feel we know them well enough, we can invite people to gigs that are half way across the country … they might not be able to go – but god it’s nice to be asked (thanks Claire) … In short, we can create a community.

IWMW was the reason I joined Facebook. I wanted to know who else was going to the conference, all the details and any gossip … It’s turned into so much more than that for me though, and clearly that is the case for others too. People are using it, posting work related questions, joining groups that will provide us with more information and more contacts. I’ve managed to get back in touch with people I haven’t spoken to in years, made some really useful contacts, and made some lovely new friends too.

It’s scary to contact someone you don’t know for advice – how much easier is it to just get in touch and say “Thanks for  turning me into a vampire, by the way, do you know anything about…?

Discussion notes are available on the IWMW 2007 wiki at http://iwmw2007.wetpaint.com/page/Discussion_F

Debbie Nicholson
Web Support Unit
University of Essex

Debbie’s contact details are also available on Facebook.

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Guest Post: Post Your Favourite IWMW 2007 Video Moments

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 3 September 2007

Anthony LeonardThe regular guest blog post this month features a number of articles about the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2007 (IWMW 2007) held at the University of York on 16-18th July 2007.

In this month’s opening guest blog post Anthony Leonard, who coordinated the live streaming of the plenary talks at IWMW 2007, shares his favourite moments and invites readers of the blog to suggest their preferences.


Brian has kindly asked me to write about our experiences in streaming the recent IWMW 2007 plenary talks. What I’d like to do is to ask readers of this blog what they considered their favourite moments from what was, as usual, a great event. Anyone can create a link to a specific point in the streams simply by clicking the “Link To Now” button during playback. Once clicked, a new browser window opens a special URL which starts playing the stream at the point you specified. Simply cut and paste this URL into a comment on this post, or anywhere else you feel like for that matter. (Neat huh? Now there’s something you can’t do on Google Video, yet!).  For the record, here are my top three favourites:

  1. Satisficing
  2. PLEs digested
  3. Caught on camera

I’ve focused on the lighter side to get things going, but you might want to highlight something that made you think, learn, worry or recoil as much as smile or laugh – anything really that stuck in your mind and is worth a second look.

So go on, if you’d like to, why not find your favourite moments from the IWMW 2007 videos, click on the “Link to Now” button and post the URLs back as comments to this blog post.

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Guest Post: A Sense of Community

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 August 2007

A regular guest blog post at the start of every month aims to provide an fresh insight into issues which are covered in the UK Web Focus blog.

The month’s guest blog post comes from Kara Jones, Research Publications Librarian at the University of Bath. Kara explores the idea of ‘a sense of community’.


Futurelab made the observation, in a report last year that learning is moving towards the three Cs – community, collaboration and communication. These are concepts that go further than just learning – particularly building communities, which has become central to our professional interactions online with blogs, wikis and social networks keeping us up to date and involved in conversations with peers. In light of this, I see two important issues: (1) how to build a community and (2) how to find and join a community. Let’s take a look at these two sides.

Building a Community

How does a community evolve? They develop for many reasons – to share research thoughts, to work collaboratively, or to create social networks. How each of these communities grows can depend on the intention of its developers. Here are a few examples:

The Serendipitous Community

Craig Laughton’s Gooseania is a maths blog that grew into a community sharing experiences of undertaking a PhD. This community developed organically as Craig used his blog as a reflective journal to chronicle his studies, and apparently found himself answering questions and engaging in conversations with others undergoing the same process.

Communities of Interest

Developing a community around a subject or topic, such as this blog from Brian takes a concerted effort, and there’s been some discussion (and will be more discussion at a session to be held at the Internet Librarian International (ILI) 2007 conference on the struggles building a blog community, and measuring success and return on investment.

The Extension Community

Other times a physical group of people will create an online community to broaden their communication efforts. Take for example, the team at SHERPA who are developing a community of institutional repository managers. This is a concerted effort to pull a formal group together for the purposes of sharing experiences, and to add weight to statements with a collective voice. They are in the process of developing a wiki for members to add their details in a central location to share with others.

The Socially Networked Community

Often like the extension community, but also including online only contacts, this type includes not just Facebook or Myspace, but social networking sites such as Academici (for finding researchers with similar interests), Ning (with the Library 2.0 network of clued-in librarians) and most recently Nature Networks for scientists.

Finding a Community

So developing a community using blogs, wikis and social networking sites is one half of the story. Recently I delivered a training session for post-graduates about keeping up-to-date, expounding the value of social technologies for efficient and effective information management. I had the question asked of me, ‘How do I find a good blog or develop a list of useful feeds in my subject area?‘, and as a librarian it presents a bit of a dilemma. Mechanisms for exploring and joining new communities aren’t particularly sophisticated. Where do you start to look for the conversations of your community of practice?

To actively seek out web 2.0 communities in new subject areas is an exercise in learning how much you take for granted. I have a set of blogs, RSS feeds and social network sites that I’ve collected over the years. It’s an organic, evolving thing, which is quite personal with familiar voices and occasionally a new face/avatar/etc.

To purposefully seek to join or create a new community is a time-consuming process. How to find out what’s out there? What do I expect to be discussed? What am I missing? And of course, how do I evaluate what I find, on what authority does the author write, do they have a particular bias and what are their sources?

I’ve tried this both ways – the traditional structured way of literature searching, joining mailing lists, and so on. On the other hand I’ve just plunged in, searching Google, Technorati, following links and blogrolls.

At the end of the day, it’s recommendation and reputation, with a heavy dose of evaluation that helps in finding a community, such as the following:

  • Take refereed literature and track back for authors who might blog – D-Lib and Ariadne are great examples of this for information topics.
  • Looking the old-fashioned way – following reference lists and citation searching.
  • Personal recommendation from other experts.
  • Sites which are valued by others – blogrolls, trackbacks.
  • Reviews, social bookmarks, favourites (Slideshare has been great as a resource discovery tool).

I’ve thought about setting up an OPML file of useful feeds, or a collection of blogs on the subject specific resources pages for the departments I liaise with at the university but I’d like to get away from this idea of lists to constantly maintain. With folksonomies, tagging and social bookmarking we’re personalising resource discovery and I would suggest this is a skill to be developed using the approaches above.

Perhaps understanding why communities are developed, how they evolve and how to use a good community to discover others is the key. What do you think?

Kara Jones, Research Publications Librarian, University of Bath
http://myselfarchive.wordpress.com/

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Guest Post: Go Forth and Mash!

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 July 2007

A regular guest blog post at the start of every month aims to provide an fresh insight into issues which are covered in the UK Web Focus blog.

The month’s guest blog post comes from Mike Ellis, who posts on the Electronic Museum blog. Mike was also the lead author of a paper on Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers presented at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference, which I contributed to.


Recently, Ross Parry from the University of Leicester Museum Studies Department asked me to help put together a “mashup” day as part of the Museums Computer Group conference. I was delighted to be involved. Anyone who’s had the misfortune to hear me speak will know that I’m a big fan of a “just do it” attitude to Web development. We spent a day producing some interesting stuff which made us all think in new ways. We purposely ignored the constraints; we didn’t think about the politics. These are debates which happen quite enough elsewhere across our sector. In this session, we just wanted to do, to be naive, to see what we could come up with, with only 6-7 hours of focussed development time. Some people will claim that we were just playing, and to a certain extent that’s true – but R&D time for anyone working in this field should be rigorously defended. Furthermore, I believe that you can only produce great Web applications with two key approaches:

  1. by providing frameworks and project structures which are wholly driven by – and tested with – your users.
  2. by challenging what you’re doing, and have done before, with left-field, iterative, Darwinist style build and testing.

Often, these approaches are used in isolation to each other. The first is often seen as process-heavy; the second as belonging to the institution mavericks. I take the line that actually they complement each other beautifully. On the one hand, if you don’t listen to what your users want; if you don’t understand exactly who they are, you’ll never, ever achieve anything of any use. On the other, if you fail to innovate or to challenge the erstwhile status quo, you’ll never find better, cheaper, more innovative ways of doing things: you fail to embrace the whole point of technology.

The Web itself is a huge user-centred experiment – a sprawling, evolutionary, grungy mess. It has no vision, no roadmap, no sustainability plan, no overall purpose, no governing body. And that’s what makes it such an interesting, dynamic ecosystem.

Mashups echo this wilderness, and by that very fact, they’re immensely challenging:

  • They’re challenging for IT types because they’ve spent their entire careers building and encouraging systems which are stable, known, specified and tested.
  • They’re challenging for academic types because they are based on new paradigms of authority.
  • They’re challenging for people who sell stuff because they define a model of shared ownership which at first seems at odds with any concept of profit.

For many others, “mashing” simply isn’t a way of thinking which is familiar. And that’s difficult, too.

At the same time, the mashup approach give you unprecedented access to a limitless pool of data, services and ideas. It is liberating to work in this way. It is also (reasonably) easy, and usually free. You can read more about what we did, and why I think mashups are important over on Slideshare.

I’m really excited to see that UKOLN are hosting a similar opportunity the at IWMW 2007 event (and gutted that I’m on holiday when it’s on..). The museum and HE sectors have many similar traits. On the plus side we have brains, content and ideas. On the minus, we’re famous for our “Institutional Treacle”. The more we can do to challenge the latter and do justice to the former by JUST DOING, the better. Go forth and mash!

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Guest Post: Marketing Man Takes Off His Tie

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 6 June 2007

Peter ReaderToday’s guest post is from Peter Reader, Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Bath. Peter will be giving a plenary talk entitled “Marketing Man takes off his Tie: Customers, Communities and Communication” at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (which, incidentally, is now fully subscribed). And, as you’ll see from Peter’s post, he will be address a hot topic of the moment, which has been the focus of recent discussions on this blog – the role of social networking environments such as Facebook.


When Brian invited me to speak at IWMW 2007, little did I know what was to follow. I’ve very much a data immigrant, but I’m also an ideas person and, for example, I treat my PC as I treat my car. I plug it in and switch it on – and I expect someone else to be able to turn my ideas into reality, just like I expect the garage mechanic to know that ‘it’s got a little rattle’ means exactly what needs fixing. But I still know what I want. Where my approach differs is that I don’t want to pay garage bills for my ICT.

I am absolutely convinced of the importance of e-communications and e-marketing, not just for the recruitment of students but in all the other markets in which universities operate. As my University’s Marketing Director, never a day goes by without me being offered one package or another, including advertising of course. What’s more, it is clear change is taking place ever faster. Take the media – remember when the Times Educational Supplement was, in effect, a listing of all teaching jobs in the country. Not any more; it’s now a magazine. And The Higher, trade paper for universities, is also seeing its advertising revenue disappear; is that, maybe, why Murdoch sold The Times supplements?

 PR and marketing used to be all about campaigns, controlling the message, managing the communication channels and promoting the product. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. All neatly defined. But these old ideas of ‘control’ look more and more unrealistic. Now the talk is of focusing on the idea, ‘influence’, public reactions and not public relations, viral marketing, students as customers, B2B, client management and CRM, with the web and web technologies seen increasingly as the university’s most important marketing tools.

 As for social media, when most of our students arrive at university with a Facebook account, why are universities bothering to think about our own sites? Most prefer to use their own email address; the vast majority have their own account when they arrive and the old idea of universities offering email accounts is no longer any big deal. And, too, the idea of there being one youth market is just rubbish. Superbrands, such as Nike, are giving way to technology brands, such as Google, which has just been voted one of the top 10 companies for whom students would like to work. And all the time there is the staggering growth in user-generated content.How can universities harness this opportunity to best advantage? The product is still the key, but we have to give the customers, including our students and potential students, something worth talking about, to differentiate themselves. And universities are not very good at doing this; evidence from the Open University is students cannot tell the difference between institutions. What about their Web sites? We need to innovate, but universities are just so conservative.

I said I’m an ideas person; what about yours?

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Guest Post: The Promise of Information Architecture

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 5 June 2007

Today’s guest post is written by Keith Doyle, who will be giving a plenary talk on The Promise of Information Architecture at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop.


I have been asked to present a plenary session at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop on The Promise of Information Architecture. But what are promise, information and architecture? According to www.etymonline.com:
promise (n.)
c.1400, from L. promissum “a promise,” noun use of neuter pp. of promittere “send forth, foretell, promise,” from pro- “before” + mittere “to put, send”…
information
1387, “act of informing,” from O.Fr. informacion, from L. informationem (nom. informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from informare … Meaning “knowledge communicated” is from c.1450…
architect
1563, from M.Fr. architecte, from L. architectus, from Gk. arkhitekton “master builder,” from arkhi- “chief” (see archon) + tekton “builder, carpenter”…

The word promise is usually positive. Otherwise the session might have been called “The Despair of Information Architecture”.

For a circular definition: information is knowledge communicated, and knowledge is information with judgement. But information does have context which gives meaning to data. A paragraph is data; a blog post is information; a link to a blog post is knowledge.

Literally, the architect is the master (sic) builder, the one who might be present at the building site, but doesn’t engage in bricklaying, plastering or interior design; who does make the plans and does ensure that they are implemented as visualised by the commissioning body.

With extreme etymology, the plenary will offer a “declaration about the future impact that master building will have on contextual data.” The architect gives shape to a building so that it may serve its purpose. The information architect gives shape to the content framework so that the content might be findable, useful and used.

Keith Doyle
Web Content Architect
University of Salford
http://consequencing.com/

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Guest Post: Social Participation for Student Recruitment

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 4 June 2007

Paul BoagThis week sees a number of guest blog posts from plenary speakers at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, which will be held at the University of York on 16-18 July.

Today’s guest blog post is by Paul Boag. The title of the post is “Social participation for student recruitment“.


Social participation renaissance

I am really looking forward to attending my first IWMW this year. In particular I am excited about the number of sessions touching on the subject of social participation.

Not that social participation is anything new. I remember writing my dissertation on a virtual community called “The Well” back in 1994. In fact the Web itself is very much about social participation, the idea of sharing information in a peer-to-peer manner.

However, it is certainly true that “community” is experiencing a renaissance. Sites like Flickr, Digg, Delicious, and MySpace are appearing all the time, each dedicated to user generated content and social interaction.

Business is quick to capitalize

The business community certainly recognizes the value of social participations, sinking millions of dollars of venture capital into these yet unprofitable businesses.

In fact business has always been very switched on to the value of peer-to-peer recommendation. They are acutely aware that a recommendation from a unbiased third party (such as a friend) is worth considerably more than endless TV commercials or billboard advertising.

It is therefore unsurprising that we are seeing elements of social participation such as ratings, reviews and recommendations, appearing on ecommerce sites like Amazon.

Student recruitment

Even higher education websites are beginning to embrace the social participation phenomena with a growing number of institutions giving students blogs and encouraging participation in wikis, forums and other social software.

So does the “social participation revolution” offer a new and unique way of reaching prospective students? In my opinion it does, but I believe there are many opportunities to move beyond the current approach being used by many institutions.

As I see it there are two ways the social participation movement is currently being used by higher education institutions. The first is implementing social networking facilities of their own sites and the second is driving traffic by participating in existing social networking sites like YouTube or MySpace. In both these scenarios I would suggest that a slight change of approach would bring substantially improved returns.

Encouraging internal social networks

One of the factors that has spurred the explosion in social participation is the ease with which community software can be implemented on a website. Giving students a blog or implementing other similar tools is relatively straightforward but technology is not what drives social interaction, people do that.

Empowering existing students to speak to prospective students is a powerful (if slightly scary) way of promoting your organisation. As in business, HE institutions are recognizing that peer-to-peer recommendation is worth considerably more than any amount of traditional marketing.

However, simply adding some technology to your site is not going to make that interaction spontaneously happen. It has to be nurtured and encouraged by one or more individuals dedicated to the task.

Although building a community and social interaction cannot be forced or controlled, it can be encouraged. In many ways it is like tending a garden. In the early days it needs a lot of feeding and protection. As it grows it can require pruning and at times it may even need dead wood removing.

The garden metaphor aside, a good community is the result of a lot of effort behind the scenes to make it a reality. Currently I get the impression that many website owners (not just those in the HE sector) have the impression that if you build community tools, then the job is done.

Leveraging existing social networks

I am seeing similar first steps being made in the HE sector in leveraging existing social networks. I know of Universities who have posted videos to YouTube and other institutions who are exploring the use of social sites like del.icio.us, MySpace or third party forums.

However simply utilizing these sites does not guarantee you will reach your audience effectively. Successful Guerilla marketing using social networks involves two key factors that are largely missing from the HE campaigns I have seen.

Quality

The quality of the message being conveyed is fundamental to its success. Its not about how “slick” your message is, rather it is about how well it engages with your potential audience.

Let me share an example of what I mean. I recently came across a University who had submitted a promotional video to YouTube. It was a well-produced video, which was professionally put together. They also had the foresight to submit it to YouTube rather than just put it on their own website. However, despite this it was unlikely to grab anybody’s attention.

In order for a video like that to succeed on YouTube, people have to want to associate with it. By voting for a video or passing it on to a friend they are saying that they approve of, or associate with, that piece of content in someway. Different groups of people like to be associated with different values but it is fair to say that prospective undergraduate students likes to be associated with what is funny or “cool”. If your content doesn’t meet these criteria then people are not going to want to be associated with it. They are not going to vote for it or pass it on and so other more popular items will crowd out the content.

Trust

When it comes to other social sites like Digg, MySpace or even posting on forums the issue of trust and reputation comes to the fore. With so many individuals and organizations effectively spamming these sites in order to promote their business or product, it is important to build a reputation and relationship, which in turn earns you the right to post about your course or institution.

The primary way you build this trust is by contributing content of worth over a period of time and ensure your promotional messages are left firmly in the background. Over time the audience you are communicating with will naturally start enquiring more about what it is that you offer.

I myself am a member of several communities made up of prospective clients who maybe interested in my web design services. However, it is extremely rare for me to promote the services I offer in these communities. Instead I answer questions and help out in anyway I can and yet I regularly receive leads because of my contributions. No hard sell is required.

A call for resourcing

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and I believe that nowhere is that more true than in the realm of social participation marketing. I often encounter management who perceive marketing through things like social networks as a “cheap option”. After all there is no media spend and no print costs. However, although the costs in these areas are extremely low there is an enormous overhead in time and manpower.

If HE institutions want to see student recruitment through social participation as a viable reality they need to invest properly in the human resources to achieve it. Building peer-to-peer communities, encouraging student ambassadors, seeding forums, and contributing to social websites all requires time. Too often this work falls to somebody from within the web or marketing team. This person almost always has far too much on his or her plate to do the job effectively. Only when adequate resources are dedicated to the task will we begin to experience a real return on investment.


About The Author

Paul Boag is a user interface designer and long time advocate for virtual communities. He runs a web design company in the south of England called Headscape and is a prominent blogger at boagworld.com.
He also hosts one of the biggest web design podcast currently online, as well as writing for publications such as .net magazine and Think Vitamin.

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Guest Post: Let The Students Do The Talking

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 June 2007

This week I’ll be publishing a number of guest blog posts, from plenary speakers at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, the theme of which is “Next Steps for the Web Management Community“. I should also add that there are still a small number of places available – but we would advise you to book a place quickly (the cost, incidentally, is £355 per person which includes 2 nights’ accommodation).

Alison WildishThe guest posts begin with Alison Wildish, who will speak on the first day of the event. And during a week in which there has been much interest and discussion on the role of social networking services such as Facebook it is clearly timely for Alison to introduce her plenary talk on “Let The Students Do The Talking” – and please feel free to respond to Alison’s post.

Alison is Head of Web Services at Edge Hill University where, for the past seven years, she has led a team responsible for the development of the corporate Web site(s), intranet sites and Web services (which include the Web Services blog). Prior to joining Edge Hill, Alison was developing Web applications in the commercial sector. Most recently Alison has led the University portal project, the development of applicant and community Web sites, and has contributed to IDM and Single Sign-On implementations.


In my abstract for my “Let the Students do the Talking” session at July’s IWMW I talk about social networking and how “we’ve re-developed our thinking and systems to take advantage of this“. Whilst I stand by my statement it now feels somewhat naive almost as if I imply we have the answers when in fact the opposite is true. I firmly believe that student support should sit right up their alongside teaching and learning at a University and I believe it is the ‘support’ arena where social networking can have the biggest impact. During the recent shootings at Virginia Tech in the US students flocked to Facebook to inform friends of events – a platform that students have adopted as their preferred communication tool. When students have been disgruntled about staff or services, within a University, Facebook has been used by the students to air their views. So what can Universities learn from these behaviours? A lot. Whilst we “think” we’re in touch with the students needs unless we’re adapting in line with their behaviours we could be missing a trick. With this in mind I certainly favour the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach.

The majority of our ‘traditional’ students come to University equipped with a range of online skills, preferences and identities. When we questioned our students at last years Freshers Fair more than 95% of them had a MySpace, Facebook or Bebo account and used it regularly. We took the view that as students were familiar with these less formal environments we should adopt some of the same principles for the University supplied services and we did.In September last year we launched the “Go” portal for students which embedded some social networking and user-owned technologies with our institutional systems. We included a discussion forum which has proved hugely successful in allowing students to build and develop their own “communities” and a web notice board which is managed by the students themselves.Following on from this we launched a website for our applicants (Hi) in March which again is based around the community theme. The site allows our applicants to chat with our students (who also blog on the site) directly giving them an informal route to find out more about University life.

So have we really re-developed our thinking? Well yes and no. I’d like to say we’re getting there and listening to the student voice and adapting our services and systems accordingly. We’re in the process of re-developing Go to provide greater integration with social networking sites and allow for more customisation and integration of user owned technologies. From a student perspective its great and we feel it gives us additional routes to provide student support, maintain the engagement with the University and ensure our messages can be communicated to them.

On the other hand though we’re a University, a “new” one at that, and we’re working hard to establish our brand and reputation, social networking sites and user owned technologies allow our students to choose the information they engage with and their channels of choice. They have the freedom to develop these informally, outside of University constraints, and whilst that’s incredibly empowering we do need to consider the impact this has in relation to enforcing a code of conduct, the message this gives to our prospective students (outside ‘Marketings’ control) and how this can be utilised within (or distract from) the teaching and learning. So are we really that confident and prepared to “Let our students do the talking…” – that is a debate to be had!

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Guest Posting: Webbed or Web Sceptic? You Decide!

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 May 2007

Welcome To May’s Guest Blog Post

Following the interest generated by Roddy MacLeod’s guest blog post last month I am planning on having a regular slot from guest bloggers.

This month’s guest blog post is from Sheila Webber of the Information Literacy blog.

Webbed or Web Sceptic? You Decide!

Hi to all Brian’s blog readers and thanks to Brian for inviting me onto his blog.

When Brian asked me to guest here, I thought I’d write about the division that seems to be growing up between:

a) those information professionals who mostly gather and disseminate information to their peers in a webly fashion (I shall call these people the Webbed), and
b) those for whom all this faffing around on the web seems (frankly) a waste of time (I shall call these Web Sceptics).

My argument is that this seems to be adding to the existing divisions in our fragmented information profession. And, perversely, in some ways I think it’s getting harder to get into this Webbed information existence the more interesting information there is out there on the web.

In the past (generalising wildly) where you went for news and information about the information/library world tended to be driven by:

  • the sector you work in; plus
  • your specialist interest; plus
  • your geographic location.

However, from what I can see, an extra element “how you prefer to consume your information & interact with your peers” (Webbed or Web Sceptic) has been thrown into the mix.

This has been creeping up on us for a while, of course, but I now know people who mostly rely for their information (and a good deal of interaction) on blogs, online conference presentations, RSS feeds and so forth. On the other hand, I also know people:

  • who think blogs are vacuous ramblings,
  • who regard time spent faffing round the internet as time wasted,
  • who would see print publications as their formal information channel, and
  • would be highly sceptical of the idea of making useful professional contacts via Internet engagement.

And these Web Sceptics can be interesting, dynamic information professionals. It’s just that they don’t much like hunting out or consuming their information online.

What may also be happening is that people who write about the information world are tending to one mode or the other. Now, here I’m biased by my own experience, since I use to write a huge amount for Inform (the Institute of Information Scientists newsletter), fairly often for Information World Review and now and then for Library and Information Update.

Once I started blogging, though, basically I stopped doing much print stuff for professional mags. One element is the time factor. Another is that they are different kinds of writing (further information on this is available); getting back into “print article mode” becomes a bit more difficult. A further one is that when I blog I don’t have to worry about some Editor changing the title, or snipping out sentences: I can publish what I like. Plus it’s published immediately. Plus people can respond more easily. And this makes such a nice contrast with writing for peer-reviewed journals (which I have to do as part of my job).

Anyway, Big Trends in the information world seem to get through to everyone who takes any interest in professional things (since Big Trends get picked up in all media channels, print or online). However, details on what people think, and who the important thought leaders are, and what the not-so-big trends are may vary depending on whether you are Webbed or Web Sceptic.

Although, as more and more stuff is happening on the web, there may be more pressure on Web Sceptics to go to the web, on the other hand, the very fact that there is now so much stuff out there is becoming a bit of a turn off.

Take conference blogging. Brian has just blogged Museums on the Web, and he quotes people who found it useful. Similarly, I’ve blogged conferences, and had people thank me for it, and I’ve enjoyed other people’s conference blogs.

But …. a week or so ago I dropped in on the wiki for the then ongoing Computers in Libraries. A day or so in, there were already 150 posts from assorted bloggers. Now there are over 350 blog posts and 1,300 photos.

I just wanted to get a feel of how the conference went: where on earth do I start? Unfortunately, those photos are just too distracting (have you seen the one in the Museums on the Web set of a delegate apparently drinking from a bidet?? What was that all about?). And presumably Web Sceptics would look at the 350 postings and 1,300 and say: told you so: what we need here is a bit of quality control and filtering, like you get in those old fashioned print magazines.

To be honest, I find it a lot easier to get a feel for the conferences where there are just a few people blogging. Faced with 350 posts what I’m probably going to do is look for names of bloggers I know, and just follow their thoughts. I’m aware of the blogosphere expanding (even a year ago I think I knew about all the information literacy blogs, now I’m sure I don’t) with all sorts of useful stuff. There only being 24 hours in the day I’m carving out my own view of the information world, influenced most by the voices I hear online rather than the voices in print publications. I think this is also influencing who I talk to at conferences, who I correspond with most via email and so forth.

So I come back to what I said at the start, I think that this is probably fragmenting still further what is lumped together as “the library and information profession”. Within an organisation, this can be a good thing, if getting different perspectives from employees is seen as a positive thing, and reward and status isn’t associated with just one kind of information-world-view. I think in some organisations this might be a big “If”.

I also think it is making it even more difficult for any one national organisation to say it is the “voice” of the profession. There are lots of communication and news channels growing up that have no affiliation with any particular professional organisation. There are growing numbers of podcasts (e.g. Talking With Talis, UC Berkeley Webcasts, Information Literacy 2006 conference), presentations and online courses (e.g. Five Weeks to A Social Library), not to mention virtual shindigs in Second Life, which mean professional development via online is more of an option. I still feel meeting people face to face in real life is important for good relationships. But I wonder whether the role of associations in mediating this is getting less important?

As you might have gathered, I would see myself more in the Webbed category (with my name, I suppose I have to). And possibly the fact that I’m contributing to the online information universe as well as consuming it is an important part of being Webbed rather than Web Sceptic.

What do people think? Is this not a potential split at all, just a phase? Am I wrong to think that the Webbed and Web Sceptics are developing different information-world–views – it’s more than just reading things in different media? Am I right in thinking that in some ways it is getting more challenging for a Web Sceptic to start to become Webbed? Will associations and commercial information publishers start taking back some of the Webbed ground?

I’m hoping people will have some comments!

Sheila Webber

http://information-literacy.blogspot.com/

Posted in Blog, Guest-post | 9 Comments »

Guest Bloggers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 April 2007

A new blog experiment which is being launched on 1st April is the Guest Blogger. The aim of this is to allow a fellow blogger to give their views and thoughts on a topic area covered by this blog.

I hope that this will provide some variety to the blog. The experiment is also intended to provide exposure to a fellow blogger.

The first Guest Blogger is Roddy MacLeod of Heriot-Watt University. Roddy’s posting, which goes live on 2nd April 2007, will address the issue of blogging within a UK librarian context.

Depending on the success of this experiment I will look to have a regular Guest Blogger. So feel free to get in touch if you’d like to contribute.

Posted in Blog, Guest-post | 1 Comment »