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Guest Post: Open Access to Science for Everyone

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 30 March 2012

Yesterday I announced a series of guest blog posts on the theme of openness. I’m pleased to launch this series with a post by Ross Mounce, a PhD Candidate at the University of Bath. In the post Ross outlines his views on the importance of open access for not just the research community but for everyone.


Before the internet, there were non-trivial costs associated with disseminating paper-based research publications – each and every page of every article of every journal cost the publisher money to produce. Every single paper copy of those journals needed to be physically sent by post to all institutions, libraries and individuals that wanted those journals. This was both a costly and complex process, so it was sensibly outsourced to full-time professional publishers to deal with, some of whom were commercial for-profit enterprises – at first this didn’t cause any problems.

But now the internet allows unlimited copies of research publications to be created for zero cost and these can be advertised and disseminated at relatively insignificant costs – just the cost of bandwidth, keeping servers up and running, maintaining a user-friendly website that search engines can crawl, and providing an RSS feed to notify interested parties of new journal articles. Indeed, when Tim Berners-Lee created the Web in 1991, it was with the aim of better facilitating scientific communication and the dissemination of scientific research.

Note that for the sake of clarity we’ll ignore the role of manuscript-submission, organising peer-review, and the peer review process itself here – I contend these are only of minor administrative cost. Peer-review is provided for free by other academics and manuscript-submission is a largely automated process often requiring little editorial input. Only organising peer review is an administrative task that might conceivably have a significant and real time cost. Furthermore these processes need not necessarily be performed by the same organisation that acts to distribute the publications (decoupled scholarly publication), a nice idea as popularised by Jason Priem.

Yet, the models of payment for publication of, and distribution of research works are still largely centred on paying-for-access, rather than paying-to-publish. In the digital age this is inefficient and illogical. Why try and charge millions of separate customers (institutions, libraries, academics, and other interested persons) for a resource – a complex undertaking to organise in itself, when you can simply ask for a sustainably priced one-off charge to the funder/authors of the content to be published. The latter author-pays model is clearly the simpler, easier to implement option. Yet, I contend that the reader-pays model is currently dominant, especially with commercial for-profit publishers because it can generate excessive profits through its opaqueness and inefficiency (relative to the ultimate goal of providing free, Open Access to scientific knowledge for everyone).

The interests of shareholders, and board members of for-profit publishing companies are now hugely conflicting with that of research funders, institutions and academics. By definition, the primary goal of a for-profit publishing company is profit. In that respect, some academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist, with their unscrupulous profiteering as gatekeepers denying access to scientific knowledge. Whereas the goal of STM researchers & funders is surely for knowledge to be created and shared with the world. To myself and thousands of other academics it is clear without further explanation that these two goals cannot be simultaneously be maximised. One strategy works to maximise profit by proactively denying access to vital materials, and punishing those caught sharing materials, whilst the other works to maximise dissemination potential, so that all (who have access to a computer – unfortunately not everyone has access to one of these, but this problem is out of scope) can if they wish read the material, whilst forfeiting maximum profit-potential.

Of course, if research is entirely privately funded, it need not be openly-published – one cannot force private companies to disclose all research and development they do (although efforts by certain privates to share to cure malaria and other humanitarian problems are certainly very welcome!). But as I understand it, the majority of scientific research is publicly-funded and thus there is a clear moral duty to share results with everyone e.g. taxpayers. To paraphrase James Harvey: if you want to keep your research private, fund it yourself. That’s the privilege of private funding.

The tension between librarians (who have to negotiate to buy subscription-access to journals) and academics united on one side, and for-profit publishing companies on the other is particularly noticeable at the moment, hence The Economist’s labelling of this as a potential Academic Spring, analogous to the recent revolutions overthrowing malevolent incumbent powers – the Arab Spring.  Note that a cartoon representation of this debate can be seen on YouTube and is embedded below.

Indeed it is not just academics who benefit from access to scientific literature – as is being documented by a new initiative called Who Needs Access? There are a huge number and variety of people that would benefit from legally unrestricted, free, Open Access to scientific publications e.g. patients, translators, artists, journalists, teachers and retired academics. When one hits a paywall asking for 51USD for just 24 hours access to a single article on palliative care – it’s no wonder people are often put-off reading scientific literature. Thus everyone with even the slightest bit of curiosity about scientific research would stand to benefit from Open Access to scholarly publications, as achieved by the author-pays model.

So where would all these publications go, if not on servers owned and controlled by for-profit publishers? The ideal, natural home as Björn Brembs argues are libraries and university presses as institutional repositories for research publications, code and data. Currently IRs are used as Green OA archives which achieve only limited success in providing free full-text access. But as Networked Repositories for Digital Open Access Publications perhaps they might enable Open Access for all, as well as reducing the overall cost of publishing research.

In areas of science that have already shifted to this model e.g. some of Physics and related subjects with ArXiv (which is arguably analogous to a subject-specific Cornell University IR); Science is distributed pre-review with remarkable ease and cost effectiveness at <$7 per article submitted.

Some final thoughts:

We lose so many legal freedoms with closed access publishing, and its tendency to assign all copyright to publishers (not just mere access, but also text-mining rights, and the right to re-use information in even vaguely commercial contexts) that we cannot and should not allow this continue any longer, as it is causing irreparable damage to the future usability of scientific literature.


Ross Mounce, a PhD Candidate at the University of Bath is an active member of the Open Science community, pushing for beneficial reforms in scholarly publishing. Having had trouble in the past getting research data from publications, he is very proactive in blogging and giving talks on how scientific publishing can improve utility and dissemination by making greater and better use of digital technologies.

Contact details

Email: ross.mounce@gmail.com
Blog: http://www.science3point0.com/palphy/
Twitter: @rmounce

Posted in Guest-post, openness | 10 Comments »

The Importance of Images in Blog Posts

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 March 2012

Over the past year or so I’ve become aware of the importance of images in blog posts. I noticed this after I started to move away from reading blogs on my RSS reader on my mobile device, which didn’t include images, to use of RSS and Twitter aggregator services, such as Smartr, Pulse, Flipboard or Zite.

An example of the interface which I use most mornings on the way to work can be seen. This image shows the Pulse App on my iPod Touch. As can be seen in the display of UKOLN RSS feeds my blog and the blog for my colleague Marieke Guy both feature images taken from the blog posts which can held differentiate posts; in contrast items available in the UKOLN News RSS feed, for which we tend not to provide images,  fail to stand out.

It was as the importance of such personalised newspaper apps started to become apparent that I decided to make greater use of images on this blog. In this respect I am well behind Martin Weller who, on his Ed Techie blog, frequently includes images in his posts.

The thing I didn’t expect was to see such interfaces being provided for desktop browsers. However last week when I followed a link to a post on Library 2.0 on Steve Wheeler’s Learning With ‘E’s blog I found a similar graphical interface, with an image for the most recent post displayed prominently and images for other recent posts displayed underneath.

I think it will be interesting to see the way in which user interface approaches developed for mobile devices start to migrate to a desktop environment.

In a post on Who let the blogs out? Steve discusses the new theme, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to a recent series of posts on the Context is King vs Context is King debate:

For all these years I have been focusing mainly on content. It was substance over style. Focusing solely on content at the expense of context is a mistake. 

Steve went on to describe the changes to the blog:

I gave my blog a makeover a few days ago. I invoked one of the new templates that Blogger has just started to offer its users. You can see the difference it has made.  …  It holds the content, and presents it in a manner that is more accessible, easy to explore and in a more dynamic way. 

The point about “accessible content” is important, I feel, particularly in the context of accessibility for people with disabilities, which often focusses on support for Assistive Technologies (AT). But since the content hosted on blogs is available as RSS feeds, this enables end users much greater flexibility in reading blog content in ways which reflect their own personal preferences, some of which may be determined  by particular disabilities.  So for me the accessibility challenge when presented with more graphical and flexible interfaces such as the one that can be seen on Steve’s blog is the ease by which such content can be rendered by AT tools, possibly including tools which don’t support JavaScript. It is good to see that the blog is felt to conform with accessibility guidelines according to WAVE (based, of course, on only checking guidelines which can be tested with automated tools) although the blog does not conform with HTML standards.

It will be interesting to see if developments such as this theme, which is provided on the Blogger.com platform, owned by Google, will challenge traditional views on the importance of HTML conformance and Web accessibility guidelines. I would be interested to find out if the content of the blog can be made available to AT tools whilst still providing the new interface for those who prefer this way of interacting with continually the updated content we often find on blogs.

I should add that Steve’s blog can be read on my iPod Touch and Android phone using apps such as Pulse. This makes me wonder if we can regard such devices as AT tools for users who may, for example, find it difficult to make use of desktop computers?

Posted in Accessibility, Blog | 17 Comments »

Risk Register for Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 February 2012

 

Bloggers’ Squabble Involves Lawyers

RisksAn article published in the Guardian the week before Christmas announced “Hacked climate emails: police seize computers at West Yorkshire home” and went on to describe how “Police officers investigating the theft of thousands of private emails between climate scientists from a University of East Anglia server in 2009 have seized computer equipment belonging to a web content editor based at the University of Leeds“. It seems that “detectives from Norfolk Constabulary entered the home of Roger Tattersall, who writes a climate sceptic blog under the pseudonym TallBloke, and took away two laptops and a broadband router“.

But rather than comment on a climate denier’s blog of more interest was Tattersall’s post regarding Greg Laden: Libellous article which describes how “Blogger Greg Laden has libelled me [Tattersall] in a scurrilous article on his blog“. In brief, Greg Laden appears to have accused Roger Tattersall of illegal activities. However being a climate denier is not illegal and Laden seems to have opened himself up to accusations of libel. He seems to have realised this and has updated his post so that it now begins:

I’ve decided to update this blog entry (20 Dec 2011) because it occurs to me that certain things could be misinterpreted, in no small part because of the common language that separates us across various national borders, and differences in the way debate and concepts of free speech operate in different lands.

I want to make it clear that I do not think that the blogger “TallBloke” a.k.a. Roger Tattersall has broken British law

I hope that will be the end of that matter, but it does highlight some additional legal risks related to publishing a blog, beyond the issue of the cookie legislation which was discussed in a recent post. This incident highlights possible reputational risks for an organisation which employs a blogger (even if, as in this case, the blog is published anonymously and is not related to work activities) and risks that impassioned debate may lead to libellous comments being posted.

Managing risksA Risk Register For Blogs

There may be dangers that risk averse institutions may use such incidents as an opportunity to restrict or even ban blogs provided by their staff. In order to minimise such risks it may be advantageous to take a lead in providing a risk register which documents possible risks and ways in which such risks may be minimised.

I am in the process of providing a risk register and the draft is given below. I welcome feedback on the risks listed below and the approaches described to minimising the risks. In addition I would welcome suggestions for additional risks which I may have failed to address = and suggestions for how such unforeseen risks can be minimised.

Risk Description Risk Minimisation
Legal Risks
Infringement of ‘cookie’ legislation Since the WordPress.com service uses cookies to measure Web site usage, this may be regarded as infringing the ICO’s ‘cookie’ legislation. The ICO’s guidance suggests that due to the technical difficulties in requiring users to opt-in, they will be unlikely to take further action, provided appropriate measures to address privacy concerns are being taken. In the case of this blog, a sidebar widget provides information on cookie usage.
Publication of copyrighted materials Blog posts may contain copyrighted materials owned by others. Images, such as screen shots, may be included without formal permission being granted. Where possible, links will be provided to the source. If copyright owners feel that use of their materials is inappropriate, the content will be removed normally within a period of a week.
Plagiarism Blog posts may plagiarise content published by others. Where possible links will be provided to content published by others and quoted content will be clearly identified.
Publication of inappropriate comments. Inappropriate blog comments may be published. The policy for this blog states that inappropriate comments will be deleted.
Sustainability Risks
Loss of content due to changes in WordPress.com policies. WordPress.com may change its policies on content which can be hosted. Alternatively since the service is based in the US the US Government may force content published on this blog to be removed. Since this blog has a technical focus, it is felt unlikely that this will happen.
Loss of blog service due to WordPress.com service being unsustainable. The WordPress.com service may go out of business or change its terms and conditions so that the blog cannot continue to be hosted on the service. It is felt unlikely that the WordPress.com service will go out of business in the short term. If the service does go out of business or changes in terms and conditions it is felt that due notice will be given which will allow content to be exported and the blog hosted elsewhere.
Reputational Risks
Damage to blog author’s reputation due to inappropriate posts being published. The author’s professional reputation will be undermined in inappropriate posts are published. The blog’s policy states that “the blog will provide an opportunity for me to ‘think out loud’: i.e. describe speculative ideas, thoughts which may occur to me“. If such thoughts are felt to be inappropriate or if incorrect or inappropriate content is published an apology will be given.
Damage to blog author’s host institution or funder due to inappropriate posts being published. The reputation of the author’s host institution or funder will be undermined in inappropriate posts are published. The author will seek to ensure that the conversational style of the blog does not undermine the position of the author’s host institution or funder. Occasional surveys will be undertaken to ensure that the content provided on the blog is felt to be relevant for the blog’s target audience.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Blog, Legal, Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

I Built It and They Didn’t Come! Reflections on the UK Web Focus Daily Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 January 2012

On 1 January 2011 I set up the UK Web Focus Daily blog. As described in the initial post:

Inspired by WordPress.com’s suggestion that WordPress users may wish to publish a blog post a day (see the post on “Challenge for 2011: Want to blog more often?“) I have set up this blog. This will be used for informal notes, ideas, etc.

The blog was used actively during the first six months of the year with 30 posts being published in January, 27 in February, 26 in March, 30 in April, 24 in May and 26 in June with the final 6 posts published during the year being published in July.

The blog made use of the P2 theme which is described as “A group blog theme for short update messages, inspired by Twitter“. As can be seen in the screenshot the post creation window is displayed at the top of the blog, thus making it simple to create brief posts.

The content posted is unlikely to be of significant interest to others; the blog was primarily intended to keep brief notes about topics of interest to me. However shortly after launching the blog I realised that it could be used to see how much traffic a blog generates if no attempt is made to promote the blog. However on 8 January a post in which I described how I intended to Unsubscribing from RSS feeds with only summary content contained links to two blogs, which subsequently resulted in comments being posted on the blog. I therefore subsequently did not publish any links to blogs in subsequent posts and I described this experiment in a post entitled Build It and They’ll Come? which was published on 23 January.

As can be seen from the accompanying image, as expected the numbers of visitors to the blog were low (apart from the home page there were only four posts which received over 10 visits).

It will be noticed that there was a big jump in the numbers of statistics in June. As described in a post entitled Blog Views Up By 300%! this occurred after the blog to search engines, including Google, was removed on 31 May.

Normally experiments look at ways of measuring strategies for maximising access to resources. This experiment looked at ways of publishing content openly whilst keeping the numbers of visitors to a minimum – along the lines of publishing the plans for the destruction of Arthur Dent’s home planet to make room for an expressway at the city planning office, “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.’

The suggestions I have for those who wish to minimise the chances that people will find a blog were:

  • Block search engines from indexing the site (note you can also create a unique string so you can check if Google has indexed the site).
  • Don’t link to other people’s blog posts: they’ll see the referrer link and possibly choose to subscribe to your blog).
  • Don’t allow comments: people may find what you are writing about of interest, add their own thoughts and then look for further comments.
  • Don’t add the blog to any directories.
  • Don’t refer to your blog on other web sites or blogs.
  • Don’t tweet about the blog.

Of course if you want others to read your posts you’ll do the opposite! More seriously, this experiment has helped to demonstrate the fact that simply building an online resource isn’t sufficient if you want users to make use of your resource.  The launch of the web site is just the start of the process.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

How can universities ensure that they dispose of their unwanted IT equipment in a green and socially responsible way?

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 26 December 2011

Christmas is a time for sharing and thinking of others. In this guest blog post I’m pleased to provide a forum for Anja ffrench, Director of Marketing and Communications at Computer Aid International. I met Anja at the recent Computer Weekly Social Media Awards and we discussed ways in which the importance of universities could ensure that their unwanted IT equipment could be disposed in a green and socially responsible way. Whilst I’m sure most universities will have appropriate policies and procedures in place, I would like to use this opportunity to raise the visibility of the Computer Aid International.


The Environmental Cost of using Computers

At every step of the PCs product life-cycle carbon footprints are left behind, during the initial extraction of minerals from the environment; the processing of raw materials; production of sub-components; PC assembly and manufacture; global distribution; and power consumption in usage.

The production of every PC requires 10 times its own weight in fossil fuels. According to empirical research published by Williams and Kerr from the UN University in Tokyo, the average PC requires 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1,500kg of water. That’s over 1.7 metric tonnes of materials consumed to produce each and every PC. PCs require so much energy and materials because of the complex internal structure of microchips.

Why it is better to reuse rather than recycle

Given the substantial environmental cost of production it important we recover the full productive value of every PC through reuse before eventually recycling it to recover parts and materials at its true end-of-life. A refurbished computer can provide at least another three years productive life.

How does the WEEE directive affect UK Universities?

Since July 2007 the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive has been in force. The WEEE directive is an EU initiative which aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment, by increasing reuse and recycling and reducing the amount of WEEE going to landfill.

The WEEE directive affects every organisation and business that uses electrical equipment in the workplace. The regulations cover all types of electrical and electronic equipment including the obvious computers, printers, fax machines and photocopiers, as well as fridges, kettles and electronic pencil sharpeners. The regulations state that business users are responsible, along with producers, for ensuring their WEEE is correctly treated and reprocessed. The regulations encourage the reuse of whole appliances over recycling. When you are disposing of your IT equipment you must ensure that it is sent to an organisation that has been approved by the Environment Agency to take in WEEE who will provide you with Waste Transfer Notes for your equipment.

Do I need to worry about data security?

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 it is your responsibility to destroy any data that may be stored on the machines. Just hitting the delete button is not enough to wipe the data. To ensure you are protected make sure any organisation you use to dispose of your IT equipment uses a professional data wiping solution that has been approved by CESG or similar.

An environmentally friendly and socially responsible solution to your unwanted IT equipment

Donating your unwanted IT equipment to a charity such as Computer Aid International is both environmentally friendly and socially responsible. You will be fully complying with the WEEE directive and benefiting from a professional low cost PC decommissioning service, which includes free UK Secret Services approved Ontrack Eraser data wiping.

Computer Aid is the world’s largest provider of professionally refurbished PCs to the not-for-profit sector in the developing world. It has been in the business of IT refurbishing for over 14 years. The charities aim is to reduce poverty through practical ICT solutions.

To date Computer Aid has provided just under 200,000 fully refurbished PCs and laptops – donated by UK universities and businesses – to where they are most needed in schools, hospitals and not-for-profit organisations in over 100 countries, predominantly in Africa and Latin America. In order for Computer Aid to continue with its work it relies on universities and companies donating their unwanted computers to them.

Schools and universities in the developing world using a PC professionally refurbished by Computer Aid will enjoy at least 3 years more productive PC use. This effectively doubles the life of a PC halving its environmental footprint whilst enabling some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world to have access to computers.

Anja ffrench

Director of Marketing and Communications
Computer Aid International
10 Brunswick Industrial Park
Brunswick Way, London, N11 1JL
Registered Charity no. 1069256

Tel: +44 (0) 208 361 5540
Fax: +44 (0) 208 361 7051

Email: anja@computeraid.org
Website: www.computeraid.org
Twitter: www.twitter.com/anjaffrench and www.twitter.com/computer_aid

_____________________________________________________________

Computer Aid International is the world’s largest and most experienced not-for-profit provider of professionally refurbished PCs to developing countries. We have provided over 185,000 computers to educational institutions and not-for-profit organisations in over 100 different countries since 1998. Our aim is to reduce poverty through practical ICT solutions.

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

Beyond Blogging as an Open Practice, What About Associated Open Usage Data?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 December 2011

 

Should Projects Be Required To Blog? They Should Now!

A recent post on Blogging Practices Session at the JISC MRD Launch Event (#jiscmrd) contains access to the slides hosted on Slideshare used at the JISC MRD Programme Launch Meeting. In the talk I reflected on the discussion on Should Projects Be Required To Have Blogs? which took place initially on Twitter and then on this blog in February 2009.

The context to the discussion was described by Amber Thomas: “I should clarify that my colleagues and I were thinking of mandating blogs for a specific set of projects not across all our programmes“. During the discussion the consensus seemed to be that we should encourage a culture of openness rather than mandate a particular technology such as blogs. One dissenting voice was Owen Stephens who commented “I note that Brian omitted one of my later tweets – not sure if this was by mistake or deliberately because he recognised it for a slightly more light-hearted comment “i say mandate – let them write blogs!” – but I wasn’t entirely joking.

Owen’s view is now becoming more widely accepted across the JISC development environment with a number of programmes, including the recently established JISC Managing Research Data and the open JISC OER Rapid Innovation call both requiring funded projects to provide blogs. This current call (available in MS Word and PDF formats) states that:

In keeping with the size of the grants and short duration of the projects, the bidding process is lightweight (see the Bid Form) and the reporting process will be blog-based

and goes on to state that:

We would also expect to see projects making use of various media for dissemination and engagement with subject and OER communities, including via project blogs and twitter (tag: ukoer)

I’m pleased that JISC have formalised this requirement as I feel that blogs can help to embed open working practices in development activities as well as providing access to information which is more easily integrated into other systems and viewed on variety of devices than formats normally used for reporting purposes.

But how should projects go about measuring the effectiveness of their blogging processes and should should the findings we made openly available, as part of the open practices which projects may be being encouraged to adopt, and as data which is available under an appropriate open data – as we might expect data associated with these two programmes in particular – which is unencumbered by licencing restrictions which may be imposed by publishers or other content owners?

Openness for Blog Usage Data

In addition to providing project blogs there may be a need to be able to demonstrate the value of project blogs. And as well as the individual blogs, programme managers may wish to be able to demonstrate the value of the aggregation of blogs. But how might this be done?

A simple approach would be to publish a public usage icon on the blog. As well as providing usage statistics such tools should also be able to provide answers to questions such as “Has IE6 gone yet?” and “What proportion of visitors use a mobile device?“. But beyond the tools which we will be familiar with in the context of traditional Web sites there may be a need to be able to measures aspects which are of particular relevance to blogs, such as comments posted on blogs and links to blogs posted from elsewhere.

A post on Blog Analytic Services for JISC MRD Project Blogs explored this issue and described how tools such as Technorati and eBuzzing may provide lightweight solutions which may help to provide a better understanding of a blog’s engagement across the blogosphere. It should be acknowledged that such tools do have limitations and can be ‘gamed’. However in some circumstances they may help to identify examples of good practice. In addition gaining an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of such analytic tools may be helpful if the altmetrics initiative which, in its manifesto, describes how “the growth of new, online scholarly tools allows us to make new filters; these altmetrics reflect the broad, rapid impact of scholarship in this burgeoning ecosystem” and goes on to “call for more tools and research based on altmetrics“.

In a post The OER Turn (which is, according to the author, ” the most read post of 2011 on [the JISC Digital Infrastructure] team blog“) Amber Thomas reflects on developments in the Open Educational Resources environment and describes how she now “find[s] [her]self asking what the “Open” in Open Content means” and concludes by asking “What questions should be asking about open content?“.

My contribution to the discussion is that I propose that when adopting open practices, one should be willing to provide open accesses to usage data associated with the practices.

This was an idea I explored in a post on Numbers Matter: Let’s Provide Open Access to Usage Data and Not Just Research Papers in which I highlighted the comment published in JISC-funded report on Splashes and Ripples: Synthesizing the Evidence on the Impacts of Digital Resources which said that:

Being able to demonstrate your impact numerically can be a means of convincing others to visit your resource, and thus increase the resource’s future impact. For instance, the amount of traffic and size of iTunesU featured prominently in early press reports.

which suggests how quantitative data can be used to support marketing activities. But beyond such marketing considerations, shouldn’t those who believe in the provision of open content and who, in addition, wish to minimise limitations on how the content can be reused (by removing non-commercial and share-alike restrictions from Creative Commons licences, for example) also be willing to make usage statistics similarly freely available? And to argue that “my use case is unique and usage statistics won’t provide the nuanced understanding which is needed” is little different from those who wish to keep strict control on their data?

In other words, what is the limit to the mantra “set your data free“? Does this include setting your usage data free?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Blog, Evidence | 7 Comments »

1,000 Posts On: Runner-Up In The IT Professional Blogger Award

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 November 2011

This is the 1,000th blog post since the blog was launched 5 years ago, on 1st November 2006.  This anniversary therefore provides an ideal opportunity to announce the news that the UK Web Focus blog was the runner-up in the IT Professional Blogger of the Year category of the Computer Weekly Social Media Awards.

The winner of this category was Elizabeth Harrin for her blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.  As described on the About page on her blog Elizabeth also launched her blog in 2006. Looking at the frequency of her postings, Elizabeth is clearly passionate about her blog and reading her page on Earning Disclosure she takes an open and responsible approach in being honest with the readers of her blog.  Elizabeth is a well-deserved winner of this award and I was pleased to have the opportunity to chat with her briefly last night.

For those who are unfamiliar with the UK Web Focus blog it “functions as an open notebook which provides personal thoughts, reflections and observations on the role of the Web in higher and further education which I hope will inform readers and stimulate discussion and debate“.

Although the blog regularly addresses technical Web developments an additional important area covers the importance of openness, in a broad sense to support key institutional activities.  As well as writing papers in this area (such as the paper on Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access and Let’s Free IT Support Materials!) the blog also embraces such values: content published on this blog is available under a Creative Commons licence (which, during Open Access Week 2011 was changed from CC-BY-SA to CC-BY) and comments are open on all 1,000 blog posts which have been published.

The approaches taken in providing this blog seem to be widely appreciated as can be seen not only from the people who voted for the blog but also from comments I have received recently:

Your blog is an inspiration, long may it continue!

Well done by the way – I catch your bog in my rss reader and am flabberghasted that you can post so much (and all good) – I’m cheering for you.

I love your blog. You have a knack of finding the right subject and the right lessons from it. 

Your blog is an excellent way to keep myself informed about Web 2.0 and it’s good to have a HE perspective.

Many thanks for the comments and the votes :-)   And note that if you’d like to see what happened at the awards ceremony, Elizabeth Harrin’s blog post on “Thank you! I’m IT Professional Blogger of the Year” blog post contains a brief video clip.

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

What Is Your Blog Community Talking About?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 November 2011

The Need for Better Blog Search

Quite a while ago I became somewhat frustrated with the limitations of WordPress.com’s search facility for searching this blog. I had hoped that there would be a Google search tool which could replace the search box at the top right of this blog’s Web site, but the limitations on the HTML code which can be included in blog widgets meant that this wasn’t an option. However whilst searching for alternatives I came across the Lijit search tool. Since I am not able to provide a search box for this tool it is instead provided as a link under the WordPress search box – and is probably little used. However in addition to providing a standard search for content posted on this blog  its key strength, for me, is its ability to search across my blogging community.

If, for example, I search for RDFa I find a conventional set of links to posts I have published about RDFa. But if I click on the Network tab I find details of posts published by contacts in my blog network, as illustrated.

Using a search for HTML5 I found that Anthony Leonard has published an interesting post on Fixing academic literature with HTML5 and the semantic web.

A search for “schema.org” reveals that Peter Sefton and the UK Access Management team have written several posts on this topic.

Similarly a search for “JISC” finds posts published by my networks on ‘JISC’ which might be of interest for those working in JISC, especially those with an interest in what people are saying about the organisation.

One of the interests I had in better searching was to be able to spot spam comments which I had failed to delete. A search for Viagra found only a legitimate post on “Dodgy Blog Link Spam“. How searching across my network for this term I found one blog which contained a large number of spam comments (I have informed the blog owner so hopefully the spam will be deleted shortly).

How Does It Work?

Initially I had thought that the Network search was based on harvesting blogs of people who have commented on my blog. However the FAQ states that

The Network tab contains all of the results found from the sites automatically detected from your blogroll, and any other site you’ve manually setup via the ‘Network’ section of Lijit.com.

This is somewhat strange as I know longer publish a blogroll. However use of Lijit did make me realise that the people who have commented on my blog (which, looking at the WordPress administrator’s interface, I find includes Christopher Gutteridge, Andy Powell, Chris Rusbridge, Les Carr, Anthony Leonard and Martin Hawksey) are probably people whose posts I am likely to find of interest – after all, if they are motivated to comment on my posts we will probably have shared interests.

As an experiment I have therefore revived the blogroll on this blog and populated it with the blogs provided by those listed above together with other bloggers whose content I find particularly interesting and relevant to my interests. I hope that this will mean that when I’m search this blog for things I have written about in the past that I’ll be able to see what my blogging peers have said on the same topic. And although this may be regarded as an ‘echo chamber‘ for me this provides valuable personalised searching.

I should add that I removed the blogroll several years ago in order to try to minimise clutter in the blog’s sidebar, so I’m not convinced that having a long list of blogs is my blogroll is desirable for this blog. But I do wonder what such an approach might be particular useful for project blogs, with blogrolls for all blogs provided for a particular programme helping to both help end users with an interest in the programme are to find other projects as well as providing a search facility across the blogs. It may be, of course, that others will have developed a more elegant solution for searching across a blog community, in which case I’ve welcome links to such approaches.

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

UK Web Focus Blog Short-listed for Social Media Award

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 November 2011

The Computer Weekly Social Media Awards

I’m pleased to say that the UK Web Focus blog has been short-listed for the Computer Weekly Social Media Awards. The blog has been nominated for the IT Professional blogger of the year category which is “for blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT profession“. There are eleven blogs nominated for this category:

All of these blogs, which are summarised on the Computer Weekly Web site, seem to be provided by IT professionals who care  about their work and are willing to share their thoughts, opinions and convictions with others. So why not use your opportunity to vote in these awards.  If you’d like to vote for a blog provided for the higher education sector, this blog might be the obvious one to vote for :-).

About The UK Web Focus Blog

If you haven’t come across this blog before I’ll provide a brief summary about the blog.

  • The blog was launched just over 5 years ago, on 1 November 2006.
  • Since the blog was launched there have been 991 posts published, an average of 3.8 posts per week (which includes a number of guest posts).
  • The blog author is Brian Kelly, who works for UKOLN’s Innovation Support Centre based at the University of Bath.  The UKOLN ISC is funded by the JISC and helps to support innovation within the UK’s higher and further education sector.
  • The blog addresses Web innovations and related ways in which networked services can be exploited across the sector.
  • In addition to covering Web developments, another important aspect of this blog is the commitment to openness as a way of helping embed innovation and best practices.
  • Blog posts are available under a Creative Commons licence – and slides hosted on Slideshare are also available under a similar licence.
  • In addition to publishing on this blog, Brian has also written over 50 peer-reviewed papers. Since the blog was launched many of the ideas, related to areas such as Web accessibility and Web preservation, have initially been published on this blog, encouraging feedback on the ideas before they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Writing so many posts means that errors are sometimes published. Blogs posts may well contain typos – the most embarrassing was probably the time I write about a “pee-reviewed papers“! But in addition to such typos, there may also be factual errors. But since all posts are open to comments, factual errors can be reported and posts corrected.
  • Surveys which have sought readers’ feedback on the blog have been published most years, such as this summary of an Analysis of the 2010 Survey of UK Web Focus Blog.

If you’ve found content published on this blog of interest I hope you will consider voting for this blog.  If the blog wins the award I will use this as an opportunity to promote the core values which underpin  many of the posts which I’ve published:  a combination of technical innovation and openness can help to enhance teaching and learning and research across the higher & further education sector.

One again, here is the link to the voting form. Please consider voting, it only takes a few seconds to check my name and it could make all the difference… Voting closes on 25 November, please vote now!

Posted in Blog | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

How People Find This Blog, Five Years On

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 November 2011

Summary of Blog Usage

Today sees the fifth anniversary of the launch of the UK Web Focus blog which took place on 1 November 2006. A year after the launch I provided  a review of  The First Year Of The UK Web Focus Blog and on 1 November 2009 reviewed The Third Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog. A year later I published a post on the Fourth Anniversary of this Blog – Feedback Invited.

In those reflective posts I asked in 2008 whether “on reflecting on the various feedback I’ve received, it seems to me that I’ll need to give some thought to perhaps creating a new blog” – in the end, although I contributed to several project and event-focussed blogs, I published posts primarily on this blog. In 2009 I commented that  “with over 600 posts published on the UK Web Focus blog, I can’t recall all of the things I have written about!“. The following year I described h0w “the blog [is] my open notebook [used] to keep a record of activities I had been involved in and my observations and thoughts on developments“.

This year I’ll again provide a snapshot of the statistics for the blog.  There have been 988 posts published and 4,610 comments (which, I should add, includes referrer links). There have been 377,300+ views, with an average of 205 views per day over the five years. The busiest day was 14 January 2011 when there were 1,420 views following the publication of a post on Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities.

The numbers of daily views peaked in 2009 with an average of 247 views per day. Last year there were 243 views per day and so far in 2011 there have been 230 views per day.  This slight decrease reflects the number of posts published, with 263 posts published in 2009, 200 in 2010 and 137 to date in 2011. In terms of the average numbers of views per post in 2009 there were 342 views per post,  443 in 2010 and 508 to date in 2011.

Analysis of Blog Referrer Traffic

In addition to these usage statistics I’d also like to analyse the Web sites which drove traffic to this blog. As can be seen from the accompanying image showing details of the referrer traffic (captured over a week ago) the Twitter Web site was the most significant driver of traffic (having provided 8,0291 views up to today – 28 October 2011) , sending more than twice as much traffic than Google Reader, which was in second place with 3,792 views.

After the UKOLN Web site (2,672 views ) there were then some further Web-based RSS readers (Netvibes and Bloglines with 2,356 and 2,300 views) followed by the Google search page (2,058 views) and then an individual’s blog provided by Stephen Downes which delivered 1,292 views followed by Facebook with 1,112 views and another aggregated collection of visits generated by Google search which delivered 1,006 views.  These were the only services which have delivered over 1,000 views. In total the top nine referring Web sites delivered 24,617 views.

This is, however, a very small proportion of the 376,700+ total number of views (~6.5%).  How else have people arrived at the blog if not by the Twitter Web site, Google, RSS readers and other popular blogs and Web sites?  The answer could be that there is a long tail of referring Web sites.

Unfortunately WordPress does not provide a total for referrer statistics. However after copying the data into Excel I find that there are 499 referring Web sites which deliver a total of 45,804 visits, with the last seven entries each delivering five visits.  I am assuming that there WordPress either displays a maximum 0f  500 entries or has a cut-off of five visits.  But based on the statistics which are available it seems that Web sites referrers only deliver ~12.2% of the traffic.  In order to understand how the missing 78% of the traffic arrived at the Web site I’ve looked at traffic for a particular post.

Looking  at the statistics for the recent post on Are University Web Sites in Decline? it seems that there were 297 views of the blog on the day the post was published, but there were only 102 referrers from Web sites. Looking at the bit.ly statistics for the post it seems that there were 36 clicks on this link on the day of publication and 32 on the following day, with only 11% of those views coming from the Twitter Web site. However over 50% of the views are still unaccounted for. Some of these will probably be from email subscribers of the blog; there are 95 subscribers who use the Feedburner email service with 32 subscribers viewing the post on 20 October. And the remainder?  I suspect they’ll be other Twitter users who have followed a URL provided by a link shortening services besides bit.ly.

Using another example, as described above the busiest day for this was 14 January 2011 when there were 1,420 views following the publication of a post on Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities. Looking at the bit.ly statistics for this post we can see that there were 798 of the shortened link on the day the short link was published on Twitter.  The WordPress statistics for the post show that there were 1,088 views of the post on the blog on the day of publication.

Conclusions

The conclusion I have reached: most people now view posts on this blog following alerts they have come across on Twitter rather than via a Google search or by subscribing to the blog’s RSS feed.  Or, to put it more succinctly, social search is beating Google and RSS.

Is this really the case or have I misinterpreted the data? And if the data is accurate for my blog is this trend being replicated across other blogs?

I’d be very interested to hear from other blog authors on how traffic is arriving at their blog. Tony Hirst has kindly provided a screenshot of referring traffic to his OUseful blog for the past year which shows that Twitter Web site is also, by a significant margin, the most popular referrer site. Any other bloggers have findings they are willing to share?

Posted in Blog, Evidence | 14 Comments »

Guest Post: Web archives: more useful than just a ‘historical snapshot’

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 September 2011

In this guest blog post Maureen Pennock, the Web Archive Engagement & Liaison Manager at the British Library, explores some possible approaches to exploiting the scholarly value of web archives.

Web archives: more useful than just a ‘historical snapshot’

The importance of the internet for research is well-known. As a constantly growing and evolving information source, the web contains vast amounts of information not available or published elsewhere. It is also a unique record of life and society in this technological age. Rarely these days do scholars carry out their research without going online, and the research value of the web is undeniable.

Web archives seek to capture this value and uniqueness by harvesting websites so that they may be re-used in the future even when they are no longer available on the live web. Over the past decade, numerous web archives have been established and grown, including the UK Web Archive. At almost 10 terabytes, over 9,300 web sites and 38,000 instances of archived sites, the UK Web Archive is a unique selective web archive that reflects the collection policies of the participating institutions.

Use of the web archive is steady. However, as recent reports have identified, there remains a gap between the potential community of researchers who could exploit the content, and those who actually do so. To address this, we are collaborating with researchers to explore different ways in which they may use the web archive and exploit the data contained within. We have developed and released a number of visualisation tools as an early first step:

  • the 3D Visualisation Wall, (shown below) which provides a high-level, more dynamic presentation of search results and special collections;
  • the N-Gram search, which encourages users to consider the web archives as data as well as websites, enabling visualisation and comparisons of term frequency;
  • the General Election 2005 Tag Cloud, which visualises the most frequently used (single and pairs of) words in the websites related to key political parties during the 2005 election campaign.

Analysis shows that our single most popular site is the One & Other site, otherwise known as the Fourth Plinth, the website of a 2009 public arts project by artist Anthony Gormley. The site is no longer available on the live web. This type of usage, where users browse websites in order to access content that was available at a given point of time but is no longer accessible, is a widely accepted, original user scenario. It is based largely on original user experiences and early interactions with the live web. But there are other ways in which a web archive may be used, aside from visiting sites as they were captured at a given date and time. For example:

  1. Resource citation. Researchers typically use the live web for research and cite live web resources with the date last visited. Why? Because content changes over time and they want to indicate when the content was available on the website. But if the content changes – and web pages are frequently updated or refreshed without archiving old versions – then there is no proof that the content cited actually existed. The web archive provides a more reliable and persistent citation than the live web.
  2. Data exploitation. Web archives enable automatic identification of social trends over time (automated temporal trend research). The tools available will impact on the type of research that can be undertaken. This is a chicken & egg scenario: we rely to an extent on users to tell us what tools they want, but users need some direction on what might be possible with the data available. We need to work together to further develop the archive and support the emerging research needs of our users.
  3. Intelligent querying, of the Q&A sort. Given the amount of data available in the web archive, it’s not inconceivable that future users will expect a more intelligent query mechanism than simple search and result presentation. More complex questions, for example, ‘tell me about the competing interests of oil companies in the late twentieth century’ are the stuff of sci-fi but rely upon an extensive historical database – such as a web archive.

Of course the characteristics of a web archive inevitably impact on how viable these different scenarios may be. For example, a selective web archive with limited scope but rich resource description will support research differently to a broad domain or international archive, with minimal accompanying metadata. The age of the web archive may be another factor. These factors must be recognised when developing tools and functionality.

Increasing usage and responding to researcher needs is an important element of our growth strategy for the UK Web Archive over the next five years. If you use the web archive for research and/or have ideas about tools or functionality to support specific types of research, we’d really like to hear from you. You can get in touch with us either by email, on Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.


Contact Details

Maureen Pennnock
Web Archive Engagement & Liaison Manager
The British Library (Yorkshire)

Email: maureen.pennock@bl.uk
Twitter: @mopennock

Posted in Guest-post, preservation | 2 Comments »

Guest Post: Lend Me Your Ears Dear University Web Managers!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 August 2011

This is a guest blog post by David F. Flanders (JISC Programme Manager responsible for persistent identifiers) and Joss Winn (Project Manager of the ‘Linking You Toolkit’). They ask for your opinions on some potential future work that JISC would like to take forward on behalf of the sector.

Lend Me Your Ears Dear University Web Managers!

JISC is considering future opportunities for innovation funding in collaboration with University Web Service departments who have responsibility for managing the .ac.uk pages of their institutional website. We’d like to make sure that what we are proposing would be of value to the sector and is interesting enough for several of you to consider bidding. Please make your opinion known using the #lncneu  hashtag on Twitter or by adding a comment to this post.

The ‘Linking You’ Project

The University of Lincoln undertook a four month project for JISC called “Linking You“, which surveyed 40 different websites across the .ac.uk domain (ten from each university group) and compared the similarities between the URLs of those websites.  The project found there was a lot of inconsistency in the representation of information for graduates and undergraduates.  However, there were also good conventions that have emerged across the sector and out of all this, the ‘Linking You’ project proposed a common set of URL syntaxes that could be used in principle across multiple corporate institutional websites. Before you get upset and think that we are suggesting you change your current URL structures, you should know that we are not suggesting anything of the sort!  Rather we are suggesting that via a transparent mapping exercise (using 303 or 301 redirects) you can mint all the suggested URLs that the ‘Linking You’ project proposes and then link them to the actual URLs that have grown up as part of your organic system. For example if you use:

http://www.foo.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses

You could follow the ‘linking you’ recommendations and mint a new URL that points to the above URL using HTTP code 303 or 301 to:

http://www.foo.ac.uk/courses/
In short, you’re just mapping what we hope will become a common URI structure to your current link architecture, which means you can continue to change and add more links to your architecture (as the organisation changes) and you would just continue to redirect the ‘common’ link as recommend by ‘linking you’ to the underlying link. This process need not affect the design or apparent structure of your website.

Ten Benefits to Institutions

Why should you mint the suggested set of ‘linking you’ URLs for your institution?  We recognise this work of minting and maintaining the redirects would be ‘yet another thing to deal with’ across your complex and growing .ac.uk websites, however we think there is potential value (both in time savings and value add) we could all communally benefit from in considering these URL conventions. Below we list reasons why we think will result if we can get multiple institutions to start adopting this syntax and vocabulary and some simply suggestions for ways of achieving these benefits:

  1. Better SEO: As a sector we can go to Google and say, “Hi we are the University sector and we think you should give priority to these URLs when people are searching for things like courses.”
  2. Management of robot.txt files: If a group of Universities started adopting these URL syntaxes, we could save time and money by generating a common robot.txt for all of us so to use so we don’t have to each write a robot.tx file, this would also make doing analytics across the sector enhanced as we could understand patters of clicking across all .ac.uk websites.
  3. A simple mapping tool: An apache mod_rewrite (or IIS, nginx, etc. equivalent) tool that will do most of this work for you that could be written once and support many!
  4. Improve discovery: Clear human-readable URLs are now integral to browser search and lookup technology and becoming essential if you want to enable ease by a student experiencing your website.
  5. Predictable, consistent, aggregations: It will be easier to build tools on behalf of the entire sector because people will know where to go for the data. See the below reasons (nos. 6, 7 and 8) for immediate experimentation JISC is already undertaking and just think what else could be leveraged if we could bring our data together:
  6. Provision  of  a course catalogue: As many of you know JISC is actively encouraging universities to create XCRI feeds for their courses.  If everyone producing an XCRI feed put it at the following URL http://www.foo.ac.uk/courses/xcri/ we’d lay the groundwork for persistent, structured course data that developers (many of them students) could use to build new and engaging apps and websites that we could all benefit from.
  7. Provision of news feed aggregators: If we all knew where all the corporate news feeds were e.g. http://foo.ac.uk/news/rss we could create a UK University News Aggregation Service where the sector could have their news published on demand, let alone text mining goodness and other filters for highlight key news developments across all higher and further education institutions.
  8. A sector wide directory: Common information such as institutional policies, contact information, news, about, events, etc. could be aggregated into a searchable directory; useful to both the public and HEI data geeks.
  9. Managing your assets: Your .ac.uk addresses can be understood as your ‘virtual real estate’. Adopting a well-formed, widely understood and persistent ‘portfolio’ of core web addresses will help University Web Managers manage these increasingly valuable assets.
  10. Use ‘Cool URLs’: Simple, stable, manageable URLs make sense. They are recommended by the WC3, to make Web Managers’ lives easier and keep users happy, too.

Those are some of the reasons we can think of and we think there are many more if even a little imagination is implied. We’re convinced that if we all worked together as University Web Managers across the UK sector we could achieve more than the sum of our parts by producing this URL structure for each institution.

Feedback

What kind of idea do you think you could achieve by adopting the ‘Linking You’ toolkit?  We’re thinking of funding several short projects to review and standardise the toolkit, put it into practice and then write up the case studies for the sector on how it worked for you and what value you see in doing this work. Are you interested? What are your thoughts on all of this?

Posted in Guest-post, IWMC | 4 Comments »

Memolane Timelines (Not Only For WordPress Blogs)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 July 2011

Last week’s news on the WordPress.com blog that “WordPress.com oEmbed Provider API Now Available” will be appreciated by developers who feel that the WordPress platform provides a rich and interoperable environment not only as a blogging platform but also as a content management system.  The announcement describes how:

oEmbed is a format for allowing an embedded representation of a URL on third-party sites. The simple API allows a website to display embedded content (such as photos or videos) when a user posts a link to that resource, without having to parse the resource directly.

Whilst reading this news earlier today I followed a link to Third Party Applications on the Develop WordPress.com site which currently only lists one application which is “built to work with WordPress.com and enable you to interact with your blog in new ways” – namely Memolane.

I registered with the Memolane service for producing timelines some time ago but the connection with WordPress made me revisit the service. A display of my timeline is illustrated.

I have configured Memolane to include a feed from this blog. In addition to a display of recent blog posts I have also included RSS feeds of areas of work for which several years ago I recognised that RSS could have a significant role to play.  In particular I have included a link to the RSS feeds for my forthcoming  events, previous events (for every year since I started in UKOLN in 1997)  and for my peer-reviews and related papers.

As show in the bottom of the image you can quickly display previous events, so I can find that in the latter part of 2000 I gave a talk on “Externally Hosted Web Services” on 12 October 2000 (well-before the current hype about Cloud Computing!) and a talk on “Approaches To Resource Discovery In The UK HE Community” at the Verity 2000 conference on 30 November 2000.

It seems from this timeline display that life was much more leisurely eleven years ago,  with the record of public engagement suggesting a six week gap between my activities! Of course I will have posted to email lists and written documents, but it is now difficult to see what I was doing back then.

RSS feeds provide a means of keeping a reusable record of activities which can be processed by a variety of applications. This is the reason why I maintain a page of RSS Feeds For UK Web Focus Web Site and provide similar links for the QA Focus project which I was the project director for from 2002-2004.

Despite a number of third party services having withdrawn support for RSS I am still convinced of the benefits of RSS.  Those who make use of WordPress software either as a blogging platform or as a CMS will be able to exploit the feeds provided by the platform and many other services still provide RSS.  The most significant gap in the services I make use of, however, is ePrints which drives our institutional repository service.  Sadly ePrints support for RSS is very limited and so I am forced to maintain my RSS feed for my publications separately :-(  It would be great if ePrints were to support the interoperably provided in a Web 2.0 world by RSS and not just the much smaller Library world based around OAI-PMH.  But, as I asked last year: Is It Too Late To Exploit RSS In Repositories?

Posted in Blog, rss, Web2.0 | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Event Report: Metrics and Social Web Services Workshop

Posted by Kirsty Pitkin on 18 July 2011

In this guest post, event amplifier Kirsty Pitkin reports on the key messages from the recent UKOLNeim workshop – Metrics and Social Web Services: Quantitative Evidence for their Use and Impact.


Introduction

In introducing the event, Brian Kelly emphasised that the aims were to explore ways of gathering evidence that can demonstrate the impact of services and to devise appropriate metrics to support the needs of the higher and further eduction sector.

Many people argue that you cannot reduce education to mere numbers, as it is really about the quality of the experience. However, Kelly argued that numbers do matter, citing the recent JISC-funded Impact Report, which found that the public and the media are influenced by metrics. As we have to engage with this wider community, metrics are going to become more relevant.

View the introduction in full on Vimeo

The slides to accompany this talk are available on Slideshare

Why Impact, ROI and Marketing are No Longer Dirty Words

Amber Thomas, JISC

Amber ThomasThomas mapped out the current landscape, drawing on her own experiences and those of colleagues working in other areas at JISC. She observed a dominant culture of resistance to measurement within education for a number of reasons, including the concern that caring about metrics will mean that only highly cited people or resources will be valued. She noted that the search for an effective impact model is taking place on shifting sands, as issues associated with the value, ownership and control of media channels are being contested, as is the fundamental role of the university within British society.

In discussing impact, Thomas noted that it would be tempting to use the language of markets – with education as a “product” – but stressed that this not how we see ourselves in the education sector. One of the challenges we face is how to represent the accepted narrative of the sector as a nurturer and broker of knowledge, through the use of metrics.

Thomas went on to describe some of the dirty words in this space and the measurements that are associated with them. However, she noted that these measurements can be used for good, as they can help to instigate change. To support this, she provided a model for the role of metrics in decision making, with metrics being one form of evidence, and evidence being only one form of influence on the decision maker.

She concluded by outlining our options for responding to the impact debate: we could deny the impact agenda is important, or we could deepen our understanding and improve our metrics so they work for us and are fit for purpose. The possible directions we could take include developing business intelligence approaches, improving data visualisation techniques and looking for better tools to give us deeper understanding of the metrics. She also stressed that we need to look more closely at the use and expectations of social media in the commercial sector, as we might find we are expecting too much of ourselves.

“I don’t think we can ignore the debate on impact and metrics… what we need to do is engage with the impact debate and use the sort of language that is expected of us to defend the values of the sector a we wish to defend them.”

View the presentation in full at Vimeo

The slides to accompany this talk are available on Slideshare

Surveying our Landscape from Top to Bottom

Brian Kelly, UKOLN

Brian KellyKelly provided an overview of the surveys he has been carrying out using a variety of analytics tools.

He began with a personal view: discussing the picture of his own Twitter usage provided by the Tweetstats tool, and how this differs from his own memory. He noted that the data did not always correspond with other evidence, emphasising that we cannot always trust the data associated with such tools.

“You need to be a bit skeptical when looking at this data… you can’t always trust all the data that you have.”

From an institutional perspective, he asked: “What can commercial analytics tools tell us about institutional use of Twitter?” He compared the Klout scores of Oxford and Cambridge Universities’ Twitter accounts, showing how visualisations of the numbers can give a much better understanding of what those numbers really mean than the numbers themselves do in isolation.

He continued in this vein by demonstrating Peer Index, which he used to analyse participants of the workshop. He noted that the top seven people are all people he knows and has had a drink with, so asked whether this shows that the gathering is really a self-referential circle? Kelly also noted how easy it can be to gain extra points and questioned whether it is ethical to boost your score in this way. However, he observed that research funding is determined by flawed metrics, and gaming the system is nothing new. So will universities head hunt researchers with valuable social media scores?

Next he looked at Slideshare statistics, using a presentation by Steve Wheeler as a case study. Wheeler made a presentation to 15 people, but his slides were viewed by over 15,000 people on Slideshare. Kelly asked us to consider the relationship between the number of views and the value of this resource. He also examined statistics from the collection of IWMW slides, observing that the commercial speakers had higher view rates, and that the most popular slides were not in corporate look and feel. This evidence could be used to challenge standard marketing perspectives.

Finally, Kelly compared Technorati and Wikio results to demonstrate that four people in the room were in the top 67 English language technology blogs. He pondered whether they should they share their success strategies, or how we could tell the story of this data in different ways.

To conclude, Brian emphasised that he believes this kind of analysis can inform decision making, so it is important to gather the data. However, the data can be flawed, so it is important to question it thoroughly.

View the presentation in full on Vimeo

The slides to accompany this talk are available on Slideshare

Learning From Institutional Approaches

Ranjit Sidhu, SiD

Ranjit SidhuSidhu focussed primarily on the role of pound signs in communicating particular messages and connecting social media metrics to reality in a powerful way.

He began by observing that the data is often vague. The analytics institutions receive look exactly the same as the analytics used by commercial organisations, despite the fact that their needs and objectives differ widely. He attributed this to the dominance of the technology, which has taken control over the information that gets delivered, thus ensuring everyone gets data that is easy to deliver, rather than data that is meaningful to them. Sidhu also observed that universities often fail to break down their data into relevant slices, instead viewing it at such a high level that it cannot usefully be interpreted in financial terms.

In a self-confessed rant, Sidhu emphasised that you have a chance to tell the narrative of your data. Most social media data is openly available, so if you don’t, someone else will and you will no longer have control over that narrative.

“You need to be proactive with your data. If you’re proactive, people don’t sack you.”

Sidhu went on to demonstrate the type of analytics dashboard he creates for universities, discussing the importance design as well as the analysis itself. His dashboard features nine groups of data and only three key themes, which fit onto one A4 sheet and are arranged in an attractive way. He also discussed his methodology when creating these dashboards, which involves finding out what people want to know first, then finding the data to match those requirements. This is the reverse of common practice, where people take the data that is readily available and try to fit that to their requirements.

He explained the need to match up offline experience with online experience to help to generate projections and quantify the savings produced by online tools and social media. He exemplified this by talking us through one of the most powerful statistics he creates: a calculation demonstrating the amount saved by online downloads of prospectuses compared to sending printed versions. This is usually around £500 per month. This takes the online data, combines it with existing data from the comparable offline process, and creates a tangible value.

He extended this to show other types of story we could tell with such data, including the potential value of a website visit from a specific country. Once you have this, you can more effectively demonstrate the monetary value of social media by using referrer strings to show how a visitor from that country reached your site, and therefore make better decisions about how you attract those visitors.

You have to justify your spend. Your justification has to be based on what you are trying to do at that particular time.

View the presentation in full at Vimeo

The slides to accompany this talk are available on Slideshare

Identity, Scholarship and Metrics

Martin Weller, The Open University

Martin WellerWeller posed many questions and points to ponder, focussing on how academic identity is changing now we are online.

He observed that identity is now distributed across different tools, with a greater tendency to intersect with the personal. There are more layers to consider: where once you had your discipline norms and your institutional norms, now there are more social media norms to observe to create cultural stickiness. You end up with a set of alternative representations of yourself, so your business card is now a much messier thing.

Weller went on to define impact as a change in behaviour, but emphasised that telling the story of impact online is actually very difficult. Your impact may be more about long term presence than an individual post. The metrics we currently use do not necessarily correspond to our traditional notions of academic impact: after all, what do views mean? What do links mean? What do embeds mean? How do they compare to citations?

He put forward the accepted view that blogging and tweeting provide you with an online identity, which drives attention to more traditional outputs. He placed this in the context of a digital academic footprint, which helps tell the story of the impact you are having within your community. Whilst metrics can be useful for this, he warned that they could also be dangerous, with official recognition leading to a gameable system.

He concluded by illustrating a sandwich model explaining why metrics will be increasingly important to what academics do: with top-down pressure from above to demonstrate impact when applying for funding, and bottom-up pressure from individuals asking why their impact via social media doesn’t count. Once you’ve got those two pressures, you have an inevitable situation.

View the presentation in full on Vimeo

The slides to accompany this talk are available on Slideshare

Impact of Open Media at the OU

Andrew Law, The Open University

Andrew LawLaw discussed the activities of the Open University when monitoring the various media channels used to disseminate content and how these metrics have led to real, significant funding decisions.

He observed that several of their online media channels did not necessarily have a very clear strategic remit. However, they found that the data was increasingly asking the question: “What is the purpose of all this activity?” Deeper analysis of this data led to the development of clearer stategies for these channels, based on their core institutional aims.

Law emphasised the importance of having all of the information about the different channels in one place to help dispel the myths that can grow up around particular tools. He used the example of iTunes U, which gets huge amounts of internal PR on campus, whilst channels like OpenLearn and YouTube sit very quietly in the background. However, the reality is very different and he observed that one of the challenges they face is ensuring that the broad story about the performance of all of these channels is well understood by the main stakeholders.

Law expanded on this, noting that whilst the iTunes U download statistics provide a positive story, it does not actually perform well against their KPIs compared to other channels, despite little or no investment in those other channels. He observed that their pedagogical approach to iTunes U – which includes offering multiple, small downloads, with transcripts and audio downloaded separately – can inflate the numbers. He compared this to their YouTube channel, which has received very little investment, but is performing very effectively. He also discussed the OpenLearn story, which has been quietly outstripping other channels against their KPIs – particularly in terms of conversions, because it has a lot of discoverable content. He emphasised that this is a very positive story for the university, which needs to be told and built upon.

By demonstrating these realities, the data has demanded of management a much clearer sense of purpose and strategy. This has led to real investment. The OU has massively increased the amount of money spent on YouTube and OpenLearn, representing a significant change in strategy.

In conclusion, Law did note that, so far, the data has only helped the university, not the end user, so their next steps include mapping journeys between these channels to identify the traffic blockages and better tune the service delivered across the board.

View the presentation in full on Vimeo

The Script Kiddie’s Perspective

Tony Hirst, The Open University

Tony HirstHirst provided a set of observations and reflections, which ranged from ethical issues about the use of statistics through to practical demonstrations of visualised data.

He began by observing that social media are co-opting channels that were private and making them public, so there is nothing inherently new going on. He quoted Goodhart’s Law, emphasising that, whilst measuring things can be good, once measures are adopted as targets they distort what you are measuring and create systems open to corruption.

Hirst went on to discuss the perils of summary statistics and sampling bias. He emphasised that the way you frame your expectations about the data and the information that can be lost in the processing of that data are both vital considerations if you are to accurately tell the story of that data.

Hirst discussed the role of citations as a traditional measure of scholarly impact and the ways your content can be discovered, and thereby influence through citation. He highlighted three layers of discovery: the media layer, the social layer and the search engine layer, each of which enables your material to be discovered and therefore influence behaviour. He noted that if links come through to your own domain, you can already track how they are reaching your content. What is difficult to track is when there is lots of social media activity, but none of it is coming back to your domain.

Hirst demonstrated some approaches to tracking this type of activity, including the Open University’s Course Profiles Facebook app; Google search results, which are including more personalisation; and social media statistics gleaned through APIs, many of which can be accessed via an authentication route using OAuth.

Hirst concluded by discussing some visualisations of Twitter communities to show how these can provide insight into external perspectives and how we are defined by others in our community.

View the presentation in full on Vimeo

The slides to accompany this talk are available on Slideshare

Conclusions

The workshop brought forward a number of concerns, that were often less about the tools and technologies involved, but more about the ethics and pitfalls of formalising the measurement of social media activity. The main concern seemed to be the potential for creating a gameable system, or metrics do not reflect reality in a useful way. Ensuring that the metrics we use are fit for purpose will not be an easy challenge, but the discussions held within this workshop helped to identify some potential routes to improving the value and integrity of social media data.

Posted in Evidence, Guest-post, Impact, Social Networking | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Review of this Blog’s Usage in 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 January 2011

I recently carried out a reader survey for this blog.  But in addition to such valuable anecdotal feedback I also feel it is useful to complement such surveys with objective metrics which provides answers to questions such as “How was this blog used in 2010?“; “ What were the most popular posts?” and “Where did the traffic come from? “.

I’m pleased to say that for blogs hosted at WordPress.com, an automated summary was sent to blog owners recently. Here is a summary of their report. Note that while I’m unconvinced of the merits of the images I felt it was particularly interesting to see that “the top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, Google Reader, facebook.com, ukoln.ac.uk, and google.co.uk“.  A few days ago TechCrunch published a post entitled “Twitter And Facebook Really Are Killing RSS (At Least For TechCrunch Visitors)” It seems that a significant volume of traffic to the UK Web Focus blog is also being delivered by Twitter and Facebook.  Is  this a matter of concern, as suggested by the title of the TechCruch article?  I’ll explore this issue in a forthcoming post.

By the way if you search for the opening words in the message: “The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over” you’ll be able to make comparisons with other blogs which have published the message from WordPress.com.


The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 87,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 194 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 848 posts. There were 148 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 11mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 16th with 811 views. The most popular post that day was University Web Sites Cost Money!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, Google Reader, facebook.com, ukoln.ac.uk, and google.co.uk.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for facebook short url, tokbox vs skype, doctor who tardis, youtube uk, and best university websites.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

University Web Sites Cost Money! November 2010
15 comments and 3 Likes on WordPress.com

2

Have You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional Facebook Vanity URL? June 2009
11 comments

3

iPad, Flash, HTML 5 and Standards February 2010
11 comments

4

Best UK University Web Sites – According to Sixth Formers August 2010
10 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

5

The ‘Cities Visited’ Facebook Application June 2007
2 comments

Posted in Blog, Evidence | Leave a Comment »

Non-Commercial Use Restriction Removed From This Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 January 2011

Posts and comments published on this blog have been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 licence (CC BY-NC-SA). I have used this licence since Creative Commons became accepted in UK legislation, initially for deliverables provided by the JISC-funded QA Focus project. As described in a paper on “Let’s Free IT Support Materials!” presented at the EUNIS 2005 Conference:

The decision to make QA Focus briefing papers available under a Creative Commons licence was made as part of the project’s exit strategy. The project deliverables will be available for at least three years after the end of funding, as required by the funders. However we were concerned that a passive approach would not be effective in maximising the project’s impact across the community and that the approach advocated and lessons learnt could be forgotten or ignored. There was also a concern that the project’s deliverables would become invalid or inaccurate over time, as a result of technological, legal, etc. changes. To ensure the deliverables continued to promote good practice in the long-term, a policy was developed to allow free use and modification of briefing papers.

The BY-NC-SA licence was chosen as it seemed at the time to provide a safe option, allowing the resources to be reused by others in the sector whilst retaining the right to commercially exploit the resources.In reality, however, the resources haven’t been exploited commercially and increasingly the sector is becoming aware of the difficulties in licensing resources which excludes commercial use, as described by Peter Murray-Rust in a recent post on “Why I and you should avoid NC licence“.

CC BY-SA licenceI have therefore decided that from 1 January 2011 posts and comments published on this blog will be licenced with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence (CC BY-SA).

Note that version 2.0 of the licence is being used, as this is the latest version which has been ported for use under UK legislation.

Also note that the licence applies to the text of blog posts – other objects published on the blog, such as screen images, video clips, etc. will not normally be covered by this licence.

Posted in Blog, openness | 9 Comments »

Blog Widget For Creating EPub and PDF Files

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 December 2010

I’ve recently installed a widget on the sidebar of this blog which enables users to download an EPub or PDF format of recent blog posts (an idea, incidentally, which I got from the RSC  MASHe blog).

Sidebar widget for creating EPub and PDF formats of recent blog posts.As indicated by my post on EPub Format For Papers in Repositories I’ve an interest in the potential EPub format so this blog provides an opportunity for testing various approaches to creating EPub resources. The widget uses the Feedbook service for creating the EPub updated link to ePub file) (and PDF<) formats.  The service processes a blog’s RSS feed, so the number of items it converts is determined by the numbers of RSS items which have been selected in the blog’s administrators interface  - for this blog there are 31 items in the RSS feed (this value was selected so that an RSS feed for the complete contents of the busiest month, July 2007, can be displayed).

Due to performance reasons the Feedbook service only process the text in the blog so accompanying images, for example, embedded  in a post will not be available. Via a recent comment on this blog I learnt about the Anthologize WordPress plugin which “is a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress 3.0 into a platform for publishing electronic texts“. Using the plugin you can “grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI“. However this plugin cannot be used for blogs, such as this one, which are hosted on WordPress.com.

But in addition to the tools which can be used to create ePub version of blog posts I have a concern on how users who may have an interest reading blog posts (and other documents) on mobile devices will discover the availability of resources published in this format.  I also wonder whether users will be confused if they click on the link will be confused when asked to select an application. Although Wikipedia provides a list of  EPub reading tools none of them are particularly well-known. Will we see a repeat of the confusion which non-technical end users experienced when links to RSS became prevalent?

I should also add that I’ve also an interest in process for easily getting blog posts on Kindle devices. I did wonder whether a PDF creation widget might be used in this process but 5 minutes of testing with a colleague’s Kindle was unfruitful. Hmm, in light of the interest in the new Kindle device I wonder whether we will see renewed interest in the PDF format, possible at the expense of EPub?


Note In February 2011 I became aware that this service had been discontinued. The widget has been removed from the sidebar and replaced by a link to the Newstoebook service which provides a similar format conversion service. However in 2012, due to limitations of the service, this link was also removed.

Posted in Blog, rss | 2 Comments »

Thoughts on Additional Costs of WordPress.com Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 December 2010

In a paper on “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web” (which I summarised in a blog post) I suggested that the early adopters of blogs hosted in the Cloud have established best practices which could be emulated by their peers: and, in this might involve providing professional blogs in the Cloud rather than on an institutional platform. After all, I suggested, in light of cuts, is it desirable to use in-house effort to install and maintain services when equivalent alternatives are freely available in the Cloud?

But can we put a price on the cost of such services?  Looking at the prices charged by WordPress.com to implement additional facilities on an out-sourced blog might help to inform such discussions.

WordPress provide information on additional charges for use of its free service to:

Add a Domain: “The Domain Mapping Upgrade allows you to use a custom domain name, such as example.com, instead of a standard WordPress.com domain name—like example.wordpress.com—for your blog. Domain name registration plus domain mapping costs $17.00 ($12.00 for mapping, $5 for registration) per year, per domain.

VideoPress: “The VideoPress upgrade allows you to host and play beautiful HD video right from your WordPress.com blog. VideoPress supports many filetypes and codecs. Your blog comes with 3 gigabytes of space. To get even more room to upload videos and other media, purchase the Space Upgrade.” The cost is $59.97 per year.

Custom CSS: “The CSS Upgrade allows you to use your own CSS code to customize the appearance of your blog. CSS allows you to change fonts, colors, borders, backgrounds, and even the layout of the blog.
With the CSS Upgrade, you’ll be able to take any of our 80+ themes and give it a little bit of style, or completely overhaul the design.
” The cost is $14.97 per year.

Space Upgrades: “If you find yourself running out of space for your media files, it’s easy to add more storage to your blog. You can add 5, 15, 25, 50, or even 100 gigabytes to your blog, so you’ll have all the room you need to host tons of photos, docs, and music.”  The cost ranges from $19.97 for 5 Gb through to $289.97 for 100 Gb per year.

No-ads: “We sometimes display discreet advertisements on your blog—this keeps free features free! The ad code tries very hard not to intrude on your design or show ads to logged-in readers, which means only a very small percentage of your page views will actually contain ads. To eliminate ads on your blog entirely this is the upgrade you want.” The cost is $29.97 per year.

Unlimited Private Users: “The Unlimited Private Users upgrade is available to all WordPress.com blogs that have been set to private by their owners or administrators. The maximum number of users that can be added to a private blog is 35. If you would like a larger private community, you can purchase the upgrade to add as many as you like!“. The cost is $29.97 per year.

Offsite redirect: “Do you want to move away from WordPress.com to your own self-hosted WordPress installation without losing SEO ranking and breaking links? This upgrade redirects your wordpress.com blog to your new blog by performing permanent (301) redirects for all of your content.” The cost is $12 per year.

These prices do seem very reasonable, especially when you consider what a WordPress.com user gets for free.  For example no additional extras have had to be purchased for this blog. I have used 2.5 MB filespace for the 470 objects in the media library of the 3.0 GB free allowance.  Although I have published over 840 posts I still have 98.9% of the free space allocation unused! So if you wish to argue that the costs might be extortionate if thousand of users have to pay them I would suggest that the free service is likely to be adequate for the majority of users.

A constraint of using WordPress.com is that you have no control over the plugins which are available.  There are a whole host of WordPress plugins which can be used to extend the functionality and appearance of WordPress blogs.  However since these would have to be installed by a WordPress administrator I can’t help but feel that the range of offerings might be constrained by institutional policies which will be influenced by resource implications, security issues, interoperability issues, need for testing, etc.

I can’t help but feel that whilst those who want the maximum flexibility will look to host and manage a blog on their own domain, for the majority of blog users a WordPress.com blog will provide a cost-effective and  satisfactory solution.  And will in-house blogs be sustainable  if we see reduced levels of technical resources available in IT Service and Web Service departments?  I’d be interested in hearing what people think.

Posted in Blog | 6 Comments »

Analysis of the 2010 Survey of UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 December 2010

An online survey aimed at readers of the UK Web Focus blog was announced on 1 November, the fourth anniversary of the launch of the blog. The survey was open for three weeks and attracted 27 responses. In comparison a survey carried out in 2007, shortly before the first anniversary, received 39 responses during the four week period the survey was open.

A couple of particularly noteworthy comments received were:

  • Excellent content, among the very best in the field.
  • Don’t stop. This is a fabulous resource.
  • The attention this blog generates for UKOLN’s activities are worth a great deal – buying that attention through more traditional forms of marketing would be very expensive. Seen that way, it’s easy to justify the effort that goes into it.
  • This blog is consistently thought-provoking and helps me to formulate my own ideas about the use of technology in libraries and HE. Definitely a leader in its field.
  • I have followed this blog for about four years and it is consistently ahead of the game – without alienating me with too much “early adopter” zeal. I respect Brian’s judgement and if he mentions something I know I need to find out about it; so he acts as a filter for all the other tech info on the Web – and his impartiality is vital to this role (unlike, say, Wired who need to keep their sponsors on side). Who could we rely upon to do the horizon scanning for us without this blog?

The complete set of responses is available with a summary of the findings and accompanying discussions given below.

Overview

From those who were willing to have their name and affiliation published is was pleasing to see a diversity of institutions represented. There were three responses from overseas (Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada and Wendell Dryden from Canada and Alistair Grant from Australia) and responses from well-known figures in the JISC development community (Kevin Ashley, Director of the DCC, Les Carr and Chris Gutteridge from the University of Southampton and Tony Hirst from the Open University). Other respondents were based in research departments closely involved with JISC work (Jo Alcock, Evidence Base, Birmingham City University and Virginia Knight, ILRT, University of Bristol) together with those responsible for the provision of institutional Web services (Anthony Leonard, University of York, Drew McConnell, University of Glasgow and David Williams, Sheffield Hallam University), library services (Mark Clowes, Faculty Team Librarian, University of Leeds), other researchers (Jethro Binks, University of Strathclyde) and those involved in dissemination work across the sector (Martin Hawksey, JISC RSC Scotland N&E). These individuals provide a good cross-section of the main target audiences for the blog so that if this is representative of all those who completed the survey this should provide an indicative views of the main audiences of the blog.

The Content

I was pleased to see the positive comments made about the content of the blog. I was particularly pleased that Stephen Downes, an internationally renowned Canadian e-learning guru had found the time to respond with the comment “Excellent content, among the very best in the field.” who also added “Don’t stop. This is a fabulous resource.

Other comments included:

  • very pertinent and insightful
  • Open notebook approach with an aim of demonstrating/illustrating the practice preached. Handy round-ups of what’s going on across the HE sector
  • Very relevant to me. Always thought provoking and interesting.
  • I’ve found your blog useful as it covers some of the same issues that we’re dealing with in our project (MeCAT, http://mecatproj.wordpress.com/) and have been able to use it to help clarify some of my thoughts.
  • A great range of content – some of which is outside of my main areas of interest/technical knowledge, but much of which is very interesting and has inspired me to blog more exploring my own experiences with various technologies
  • Often sparks thought / interest.
  • Interesting and varied
  • I have yet to have found anything not worth reading. I enjoy the fact that it has wide scope.
  • For me the content hits the spot covering topics I’m interested in.

But what didn’t the respondents like:

  • Occasional political and rapper dancing mentions add colour, though they may jar with some readers.
  • A bit variable in the depth of thought/research included, but this is to be expected for such prolific output on a wide number of fronts. Perhaps a little too much about Twitter, much as I love that particular channel!
  • Lots of times the blog talks about things I don’t understand, using terminology I’m not familiar with, so there are probably many other aspects of the site that I’m missing.
  • It’s good reading; it’s often messy, but it’s consistently messy so I don’t find that a problem. I know what to expect. The fact that I sometimes don’t agree is what makes it worth reading.

I wouldn’t disagree with these comments. The open notebook approach I take does mean that the quality of content is likely to be variable.

Regarding the frequency of publication most of the respondents felt that this was about right:

  • The frequency of posts is about right for me
  • You’ve got it about right.
  • The frequency feels about right to me.
  • I dip in and out and read a bunch of articles at a time, rather than most every day as published, but publishing frequency is fine.
  • Again frequency is fine
  • The posts are frequent enough that I check daily – no pressure LOL!
  • It’s OK.
  • Just about right
  • about right
  • Probably wouldn’t be able to keep up if it were more frequent.
  • I like the high frequency. It’s an impressive output, and gives the thoughts an up to the minute feel. It’s to Brian’s credit that he adds unthinking and value to very recent news, rather than simply regurgitating it like so many blogs.

although one respondent commented that:

  • Can’t always keep up with the frequency of the posts so occasionally miss some (if I’m behind on my RSS/Twitter)

Other comments related to the content of the blog included:

  • Don’t stop. This is a fabulous resource.
  • I’m afraid I don’t read blogs as much as I used to – I could blame twitter or the number of other commitments I currently have…
  • There’s a LOT of text on the home page – plus 4 other tabs which I’m sure I’ll never read.
    It’s none of my business, of course. But there’s a LOT of text.
  • Thank you for providing both informative and challenging posts over the last 4 years.
  • How often do you comment on other blogs? Is it an important part of your practise?
  • Sustainability is I think the elephant in the room of many IT services, including web-based ones. It needs more discussion. Brian always promotes accessibility also, which is very important and too easily ignored.
    The key benefit of this blog for me is that I think it’s the primary channel for web managers to discuss with each other. I rarely use email lists these days, and see greater benefit from a led discussion on blogs such as yours, with more free form heads-up messages happening via Twitter

Accessing The Blog

There some interesting comparisons in how people are now accessing the blog in comparison with the findings published in the last survey carried out in 2007.

Back then 59% read the blog using an RSS reader and 20% visited the web site, with 10% reading the blog at an alternative location (e.g. the Emerge, OSS Watch or MyBlogLog blog aggregators). This year 56% of those responding used an RSS reader; and 37% visited the blog site.

In 2007 64% used a MS Windows platform, 26% used an Apple Macintosh, 10% used Linux/Unix with nobody reporting use of PDAs, mobile devices of digital TVs. This year 67% of those responding used MS Windows; 26% used an Apple Macintosh; 4% Linux and 4% Android.

Whilst these figures do not indicate any significant changes, the changes were highlighted in a new question this year which asked about secondary platforms used to read blog posts. Here we found that 18% of those responding use MS Windows; 12% use an Apple Mac; 18% Linux; 41% iPod; 18% Android Smartphone; 6% Other Smartphone; 12% iPad and 6% Android phone.

What seems to have happened in that in 2007 people read the blog whilst at work using their office computer. This year this pattern of usage seems to be the same but, in addition, people use a mobile device to read posts at home, whilst travelling, whilst at conferences, etc. Such additional ways of accessing the blog may be, in part, responsible for the increased traffic to the blog.

Sustainability

A question about the sustainability of the blog sought to gain feedback on the value placed on the blog and its relevance at at time when blogs are supposedly no longer being read. The sustainability issues also covers sustainability of the WordPress.com service and, of course, prioritisation of work activities at a time of change across the higher education sector. The following comments were made:

  • I think your policy is very sensible
  • It’s more about the ‘sustainability’ of your job, isn’t it ? This is now a very personal blog, and it survives or not because you want to do it (and are able to do it.) The attention this blog generates for UKOLN’s activities are worth a great deal – buying that attention through more traditional forms of marketing would be very expensive. Seen that way, it’s easy to justify the effort that goes into it.
  • I don’t think it matters where the blog is hosted and often this becomes transparent as RSS is the delivery mechanism for me. Your biggest overhead is you, how do you make your post sustainable or would to continue UK Web Focus regardless?
  • I sustain my blog through use of free tools (Google Blogger, etc.) – but it’s not an official blog; i.e., it doesn’t represent an institution or organization. (I’m also interested in seeing how others use free tools.)
  • Good question. You should maintain it no matter what, if only because it will be a major calling card when you apply for your next job.
  • If you think communication is an important part of your role, and the keeping of an notebook something you need to do anyway, what’s the overhead?
  • I think it is very sustainable! Cloud services are the apotheosis of server consolidation, and the data should be portable meaning the effort involved in re-use / archiving is as small as it can be currently.
  • Wish I had a solution.

Other Indicators

In addition to the comments which have been received it should also be noted that there has been an increase in the number of visits to the blog every month for the past six months with this month there being 9,500+ visits, over 335 per day.

The blog is also listed in 41st place in Wikio’s list of top technology blogs – and although the relevance of such indicators may be questioned I’m happy to be positioned between two other blogs I rate highly: Tony Hirsts’ OUseful blog and Martin Weller’s The Ed Techie blog. For sake of completeness Technorati gives the blog an overall authority of 518 and a ranking 3,261 and, in the Technology category, an authority of 543 and a ranking 397 and, in the Info Tech category an authority of 578 and a ranking 167. Again whilst the relevance of such figures may be questioned I feel it is worth keeping a record in case of, for example, requests for indicators of the the value of this work.

Posted in Blog, Evidence | 4 Comments »

Fourth Anniversary of this Blog – Feedback Invited

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 November 2010

This blog was launched on 1 November 2006. It seems appropriate to use this anniversary to reflect on how this blog has developed over the years.

I originally envisaged that the blog would primarily have a dissemination function, describing and discussing significant developments in the information landscape. However over time I found that I was using the blog as my open notebook to keep a record of activities I had been involved in and my observations and thoughts on developments. The use of the blog as an open notebook was partly for my own benefit: the writing process has helped me to reflect on my thoughts as well as helping me to ensure that I will be able to revisit the ideas in the future – indeed many ideas initially described on the blog have subsequently been reused in my talks and my papers. The open approach using this blog has also provided an opportunity for others to comment on the thoughts and ideas, which again has helped me in developing these ideas. I also hope that this open approach has proved beneficial to the readers of this blog who may share similar interests.

This open approach to development and sharing is now central to much of my work. Posts on this blog and slides I host on Slideshare and Authorstream, for example, are provided with a Creative Commons licence and, as mentioned recently, I try to make use of event amplification technologies in order to ensure that remote audiences can benefits from events I speak at even if they aren’t physically present.

I have argued previously on this blog that development projects should be encouraged to be open about their development work. This might include not only publishing information on  decisions they have made and details of the successes  - and failures – but also encouraging discussions on such issues in a more open environment that use of a mailing list provides. Using a blog environment can provides ease of access and engagement which is not available when reports are published on Web sites or sent via email. I have tried to use this blog as a way of demonstrating the benefits of openness, seeking to achieve cultural change for those who make be reluctant to adopt an open approach to development work.

Is this approach working?  From the usage statistics for this blog it would seem that the approaches taken on this blog is helping to continue to attract readers: this month has been the busiest ever, with an average (at the time of writing) of 311 daily views in October. In addition the blog has also been shortlisted for a national award organised by Computer Weekly (and there is still an opportunity to vote).

But although I know that there are significant numbers of readers who have posts delivered via email I don’t have a clear idea of how users read the posts and the platforms they use.  And more importantly I don’t have the bigger picture from the readers of their thoughts on the contents of the blog and the approaches taken.

Back in the August/September 2007 I carried out a survey of the blog.  Three years later it is now opportune to revisit that survey, so I invite readers to complete a brief survey, which has just four parts: 1) how you access the blog; 2) your engagement with the blog; 3) the contents of the blog and 4) other comments.

Thanks in advance.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments »

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


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IT Blog Awards 2010: Individual IT Professional Male

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 October 2010

I’m pleased to say that this blog has been shortlisted for the Computer Weekly’s “IT Blog Awards 2010: Individual IT Professional Male“.

As described on the Computer Weekly Web site this category is “for blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT industry. Any male blogger working in IT below director level is eligible for this award“.

I feel that the UK Web Focus blog is ideally suited for this category – and not only because I’m male!  The blog does provide my perspectives on best practices and emerging technologies related to use of the Web in higher education and the wider public sector – with the blog having been quietly launched on 1 November 2006 as a slightly subversive act having been embarrassed at the ILI 2006 conference for talking about Web 2.0 but not having a blog.

The blog has grown in popularity since then and is currently listed in 60th place in the Wikio list of technology blogs.  But unlike many of the blogs in that list, this blog does not have a team of writers – rather it’s just me who has to take responsibility for the posts I publish. And, to be honest, providing a blog as an individual can be a risky business – not least because the lack of external QA processes can lead to sometimes embarrassing typos in the posts (did I really once write “pee-reviewed papers“?!).  More importantly, however, is the need to ensure that the posts I provide do support my professional activities and are beneficial to the sector.

The approach I have taken to ensure that the contents of my posts provide value to the readers is to embrace openness and invite comments and feedback (and to apologise when I get things wrong). I have published a policy for this blog which describes how:

  • The contents of the blog will primarily address issues related to the Web, including Web standards, innovative Web developments and best practices in providing Web services.
  • The blog will also provide a test bed for experiments and for testing new services and provide access to discussions about the experiment.
  • The blog will provide an opportunity for me to ‘think out loud“: i.e. describe speculative ideas, thoughts which may occur to me, etc. which may be of interest to others or for which I would welcome feedback.
  • The blog will seek to both disseminate information and encourage discussion and debate.
  • The blog will be used as an open notebook, so that ideas, thoughts and opinions can be shared with others.

The use of this blog as an open notebook is an important aspect – after launching the blog back in November 2007  (over 800 posts ago) I decided that rather than the blog simply having a dissemination role to support my day job I would use it to reflect on my professional activities and share such reflections with a wide audience. The blog also reflects the culture of openness I have sought to embrace, with all posts open to comments and all posts available with a Creative Commons licence.

Many of the posts have been written in my own time, sometimes at weekends and occasionally in the morning, before heading off to work.  The posts reflect a number of my areas of interest including Web standards, a variety of aspects related to Web 2.0 and Web accessibility.  I also often use the blog to provide reports on various events I have attended – and sometimes events I have ‘attended’ through my engagement on an event’s Twitter stream.

The blog does reflect my personal areas of interest, including rapper sword dancing (see the Wikipedia entry which I created if you are unfamiliar with this miner’s dance from the pit villages of Northumberland and Durham – just don’t call it Morris dancing!).  But I also try and relate these personal interests to my professional activities.  The blog is also informed by my political views, such as my thoughts on how the 40% cuts which are being applied across the higher education sector  with affect the provision of institutional IT services.

The shortlisting of this log for the category of “blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT industry” is particularly appropriate in light of the paper on “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web” which I will be presenting at the Online Information 2010 conference on 30 November.   In this paper I describe how the successful “must read” blogs which I follow (including the OUsefuleFoundationsThe Ed TechieLearning with ‘e’s and Ramblings of a Remote Worker blogs) are not only hosted in The Cloud but also have a personality behind them which are reflected in the posts.  These blogs, and, I hope, mine provide a valuable illustration of the ways in which IT professional who care about their work and wish to make changes for the better can to so without the need to be absorbed into a corporate infrastructure and bland institutional voice.

The following 17 blogs have been nominated in this category: Blending the mixInsufficient DataBrian TeemanEclipse on EGreat emancipatorMainframe UpdateSoftware RuminationsThom’s HeadSpaceJason Slater TechnologyMark WilsonTech for TescoJason PlantKris HayesVirtualised realityI am Charlie CowanSteve Clayton – Geek in disguise and the UK Web Focus blog.

I think the UK Web Focus blog is the only shortlisted nomination from the higher education sector and possibly also the only blog from the public sector.  A vote for this blog would help me to raise the profile of the sector and, in particular, the principles of openness, engagement and innovation which I have written about in, of average, four posts per week for the past four years.  I welcome your support.

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Guidelines for Professional Blogs Hosted In the Cloud

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 October 2010

Characteristics of My ‘Must Read’ Blogs

I recently highlighted five of my ‘must read’ blogs – and pointed out a characteristic they shared was that they were all hosted in The Cloud (on WordPress.com, Typepad.com and Blogspot.com). These blogs are all well-established and have continued to be active since they were launched, between two and five years ago.

The context of that post was a paper on “Approaches To Archiving Professional Blogs Hosted In The Cloud” which myself and Marieke Guy had written and Marieke presented at the iPres 2010 conference last week. In the paper we described the policy statement provided on both of our blogs which clarifies the scope of the blogs together with a statement of what would happen to the content if either of us were to leave our host institution. In my case the policy states that:

  • A copy of the contents of the blog will be made available to UKOLN (my host organisation) if I leave UKOLN. Note that this may not include the full content if there are complications concerning their party content (e.g. guest blog posts, embedded objects, etc.), technical difficulties in exporting data, etc.)
  • Since the blog reflects personal views I reserve the rights to continue providing the blog if I leave UKOLN. If this happens I will remove any UKOLN branding from the blog.

The other characteristics shared by the blogs are that they are written by academics, researchers or developers working in higher education. The higher education sector has traditionally provided flexibility for academics and researchers in the ways in which they go about their professional activities and this culture has been seen in the way in which a variety of Social Web technologies have been used.

Challenges Faced By Those Working In Service Departments

Those working in support departments (such as IT service departments, Libraries and University Administration) do not always have such flexibility and there may be internal pressures to make use of institutionally-provided services. Now it might be argued that the early adopters have, in many cases, been proved right and the institution should be looking to install services, such as blogs, in-house – and perhaps those who have been providing blogs in The Cloud should migrate thee blogs to the security of the institutional environment. After all WordPress.com, for example, have recently announced an offsite redirect service, which enables an WordPress.com blog author “to redirect yourblogname.wordpress.com (as well as all of your permalinks) to [a] new domain name” – which could be hosted within the institution.

I think should a move could be a mistake: the blogs I have mention are well-established, have developed an appropriate writing style and have well-established communities of readers and commenters.

I would also go further and suggest that such early adopters have not only demonstrated the benefits of, in this example, blogging (and I could also mention professional use of Twitter which is another shared characteristic of the above mentioned bloggers) but are also using a solution which minimises the support needed within the institution. The use of Cloud Services for hosting professional blogs can therefore be regarded as a desirable strategy for coping with cuts across the sector.

But what about the concerns of managers, especially those working in support departments for whom such loss of control would be a concern? And what of those working in other public sector organisations, such as those working in public libraries?

I feel the major concerns are now related to the content – is it appropriate and will the content be sustainable? Concerns regarding the sustainability of the companies hosting WordPress, Typepad and Blogspot are no longer regarded as critical concerns since it is the institutions themselves (Universities and public libraries) whose continued existence is now being threatened.

Examples of Guidelines

There are some examples of guidelines which aim to reassure those who may have concerns in letting members of staff publish without any formal editorial controls which others may find useful. Aline Hayes, Assistant Director of SLS/ Director of Information & Systems Technology at Sheffield Hallam University provides an example of a blogging policy for her blog (which is hosted in-house) based on this blog’s policy which addresses these points. This policy also addresses use of Twitter, making it clear that “The content of any Twitter feed relates to a mix of work and personal matters” and “I reserve the right to treat the Twitter id Aline_Hayes as mine and not the property of Sheffield Hallam University. In the event that I change role, or leave the University, I will change those specific aspects of my Twitter account that refer to either my role or the University (specifically, the Bio section) but will not remove historical posts from Twitter. I may choose to continue to use that specific Twitter account including for any future work purposes.“.

The JISC Involve blogging guidelines also provide useful advice on writing style.

  • You’re personally responsible When writing a work blog on the JISC Involve platform, readers will assume you are expressing the views of JISC. If you are writing a personal blog on a different platform (i.e. Blogger) and you are writing about work-related matters, it would be prudent to clearly state the following disclaimer in your blog post:

These are my personal views and not necessarily the views of JISC

  • Style Editorially, blog writing is more chatty and informal. Your blog post sets up a conversation, offering opinions and leaving loose threads open for comments and further discussion.

A Policy Framework

But I feel there is a need for a policy framework, which can be applied in a diverse range of situations. And I know I’m not alone in this – as I learnt from a post on Travel Bloggers Pledge – Towards a New Ethics in Travel Writing Amy Thibodeau is looking to start a movement  for travel bloggers. She pledges to:

  1. To disclose the source of any freebies or payments I receive in return for reviews.
  2. To express my honest opinion about all products, services and experiences on my website.
  3. To clearly label any advertorial content on my website so that it’s clear to my readers what is and is not advertising.
  4. To always aim to be transparent with my readers.
  5. To build my brand and online business without doing evil, underhanded things.

Would it be possible to develop a policy framework for those working in the public sector which would ensure that bloggers take a similar ethical approach to the content they publish whilst also addressing the concerns of their managers.

What might such a blogging framework cover? My suggestion for those providing professional blogs which are used to support work activities would be to ensure that the following areas are addressed:

  • Scope: The topics to be covered in the blog.
  • Style: The writing style – if the blog will be chatty, conversations and perhaps even controversial it would be advisable to be up-front about this.
  • Contributors: Is the blog provided by an individual or a team.
  • Sustainability: A statement on what will happen if the blog ceases to be used.
  • Ownership: Clarification of the ownership of the contents of the blog

These suggestions reflect the policies described in the two examples provided above and the policy for this blog.

Now although well-established bloggers may feel uncomfortable with the notion of a blogging policy I would hope that such an approach will be welcomed by those who would like to make use of blogs but who feel that the departmental culture is not conducive to such approaches.

Another question would be “who could develop a blogging policy framework which would be seen to be authoritative?” I recently came across the CILIP members blog landscape and wondered whether CILIP would be in a position to develop guidelines for use by their members? Could use of the ‘CILIP blogger’ logo provide an indication that the blogger has published a policy which respects the needs of both the blogger and the blogger’s institution?


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Sharing Discussions of a JISCPress Meeting

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 August 2010

Meeting With The JISCPress Team

Joss Winn and Alex Bilbie from the  University of Lincoln and Tony Hirst from the  Open University recently visited UKOLN  for a meeting with myself and colleagues at UKOLN about the JISC-funded JISCPress project. If you have not heard of JISCPress here is a brief summary:

The JISCPress project has developed a successful demonstrator platform for the discussion, deliberation, annotation and dissemination of documents, using the well-known WordPress blogging software. In particular, the digress.it plugin is now in use by a wide range of organisations, including Cornell University, the New York Public Library, WriteToReply and JISC. It is also being used by HEIs to support Teaching and Learning.

At UKOLN we have made use of the JISCPress for a number of reports we have either written or have close involvement with:

The meeting provided an opportunity for us to gain a better understanding of the software and how it is being used in order to explore the possibilities of making greater use of this software for providing what is becoming known in UK Government circle as  ‘commentable documents‘.

Issues Discussed

The main issues I raised during the meeting were:

Document processing: How long does it take to take a document (which might typically be provided in MS Word or PDF format)  and make it available via the JISCPress service?

Types of feedback and comments:  Is it envisaged that JISCPress is used to receive comments while a document is being developed, or to allow users to give comments and ask questions after a completed document has been published?

How to maximise user engagement: If you make a document available using JISCPress can you expect users to come and give comments or do you need to be proactive?

Naming conventions: There seems to be some confusion between the various names which are being used, such as JISCPress, WriteToReply, CommentPress and digress.it.  How can such confusions be addressed?

Target audience : Who is the software/service aimed at?

I received useful answers to these questions:

  • It can take a couple of hours to process a report, which involved copying and pasting the contents of the report into WordPress – and this time can be longer if the report containing complicated tables or large numbers of images. However if you wish to ensure that readers of your document can provided comments and feedback then  this effort may be needed.
  • JISCPress can be used to enable comments to be made at various stages in a document’s lifecycle.   So rather than attempting to define how JISCPress should be used it is probably better to observe the different ways it is being used.
  • There will be a need to continually encourage users to provide feedback.
  • There is some confusion between the name of the project, the software and various instantiations of the software. I think this can be summarised as JISCPress is the name of the project (which is described on the project blog) and the name of the hosting service which hosts commentable documents for the JISC; WriteToReply is the name of the hosting service for UK Government commentable documents; CommentPress is the name of a WordPress plugin which has been used to support the service and digress.it is both the name of an enhanced WordPress plugin and a generic hosting service for commentable documents.
  • The digress.it software is an open source plugin for WordPress.  Institutions which wish to provide a service for hosting their own commentable documents may wish to use the software.

I hope this is an accurate reflection of the responses I received at the meeting – but if not I am sure Joss, Tony or Alex will respond :-)

Publishing a Summary of the Meeting

I have to admit that I would not have published this summary of the meeting if I had not been alerted to the blog posts published shortly after Joss Winn and Tony Hirst had returned to their office.

Tony reflected “On the Different Roles Documents and Comments May Take in a Commentable Document” and suggested that “there are at least three different roles we might expect a commentable document to play in a open discussion context … (1) draft document … ; (2) consultation document … and (3)  guidance document

Meanwhile Joss’s asked “Who are our users?” and identified “three type[s] of user and therefore three areas of documentation that need to be developed:  (1) Site administrators; (2) Document Authors and (3) Document Readers/Commenters“.  Joss went on to address ways in which the project deliverables could be sustained:

I think that is a really useful summary. But I would add one additional suggestion: encouraging community discussion about the project’s work (and not just a community site for hosting documents  or developer community engagement in enhancing the open source plugin).

It struck me that in publishing their notes of the meeting in a public forum (their blogs) Tony and Joss have played a useful role in enhancing awareness of the project and facilitating further discussion – which, thanks to their posts,  I am participating in (and a tweet about their work should help to raise awareness even further).

As a general point I would ask: shouldn’t projects be doing more in sharing notes of project meetings in this way, rather than simply sending summaries to project mailing lists as I suspect may be the norm.

And having learnt about the need to be pro-active in encourage feedback on  commentable documents I’ll remind people of the documents UKOLN has made available on JISCPress:

Your feedback would be most welcome :-)

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“When The Axe Man Cometh” – the Future of Institutional Web Teams

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 August 2010

Doom and Gloom

The doom and gloom of the impending cuts rang out loud and clear” described Deborah F. in her report on the IWMW 2010 event. I introduced this concern in the opening talk and then, in the second talk at the event, Susan Farrell asked “Are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’?” As described in a report written by Amy Chamier and published on the IWMW 2010 blog Susan, former head of Web Services at Kings College, London, explained how those with front-end skills are most at risk. Susan’s advice was to “demonstrate the competitive advantage we deliver in turbulent times. We must show how websites run by web managers cut the cost of: (a) generating new customers (b) back office administration and (c) service delivery. And also, how websites run by amateurs can put an organisation’s reputation at risk.” In her conclusions Susan left the audience with a final question: “Without recognised qualifications and a professional body, do web managers and their specialist skills run the risk of extinction, as our duties are absorbed into other roles?

But isn’t this all a bit too late? Eleven days after Deborah published her post in which she described that, despite the doom and gloom, “being a hopeless optimist with a healthy realist streak I’m heading into this gloom looking for as many opportunities as possible to innovate and achieve despite the cuts” she wrote a follow-up post entitled “The Axe Man Came“. In the post Deborah described how “After the doom and gloom start to the IWMW event and the later encouragement that this could be a great time to innovate and to do things differently [she]returned to work engaged and enthused“. However shortly after she returned to work Deborah was informed that her “web team was being given to marketing, where there is already a manager“. Sadly seems that the only option available for Deborah is redundancy :-(

Death of the Web Team

The concerns over the future of Web teams isn’t restricted to the HE sector. On the Mission Creep blog Neil Williams, a “government web geek”, speculates on Death of the web team?. Neil describes the evolution of the Web within large organisations from its initial roots in IT. As the importance of content became appreciated responsibilities may have changed. As the need to engage with the user community became apparent we saw further evolution which was subsequently followed by the need to develop responsibilities for publishing. Neil feels that everyone now has the potential to be involved: “The explosion in social interaction online created direct communications between customers and employees, and before long it will be happening all over the place. The organisation is no longer in control of where customer-employee or customer-customer interaction happens; let alone what’s being said. Digital communications is now, or will soon be, everyone’s job – listening, collaborating and responding online must become core competences for all if the organisation wants to continue to manage its reputation and meet the expectations of its customers.

I agree. “Here comes everybody” – and the view that Web managers need simply to market themselves more effectively fails to recognise this changed environment. What then, is to be done? Neil Williams concludes by suggesting that “the future of the web team involves a simultaneous strengthening of control by the centre and a transfer of trust and skills to the wider organisation. It’s about choosing the right bits of digital, and the right bits of responsibility to hold onto or to devolve.

For me this transfer of trust and skills is particularly appropriate in the higher education sector. So rather than worrying about “websites run by amateurs [which] can put an organisation’s reputation at risk” there’s a need to recognise the value of the effort being provided across the institution. And such effort can ensure that an institution’s use of the Web is greater than the effort provided within central Web teams. We saw an example of this is the workshop session on “Sheffield Made Us – using social media to engage students in the university brand” which described a case study in which “the University of Sheffield ran a competition encouraging students to upload videos to Youtube with the incentive of a £3000 prize. The aim was to get the students to express in their own words what they thought of the University, and how Sheffield had made them.” This sounds like a great example of a “transfer of trust and skills to the wider organisation”.

What is to be Done?

But what of the idea of “simultaneously strengthening of control by the centre“? If you take an institutional perspective this would appear to suggest the need to strengthen centralised provision and control. But if we step outside our own institution and consider the wider perspective we may get a different perspective on what is meant by centralised provision and control.

The UK HE sector has taken a leading role in its provision of centralised services through its support for JISC services. We have also, over the past few years, seen institutions exploiting the benefits of Cloud Services. And if we focus on strengthening advice and support, rather than control, by the centre, we have a tradition which dates back since 1997 of the institutional Web management sector sharing advice on best practices and ways of exploiting new developments.

But how can Web teams continue to strengthen the support provided to higher educational institutions? Since members of institutional Web teams may regard departmental provision of Web services as failing to provide ‘competitive advantages’ why not apply that argument to the duplication which takes place across over 160 universities? How many members of institutions Web teams will currently be developing institutional strategies for exploiting the Social Web, I wonder? How much tax-payers’ money is being wasted in unnecessary duplication of effort? And how much tax-payers’ money is being wasted in a failure to share? These arguments are well-understood in the context of open access to research publications and research data but could equally be applied to support services such as institutional Web teams.

Specific Examples

In a way these suggestions are nothing new. The IWMW event was launched in 1997 and since then we have heard hundreds of talks given by members of institutional Web management teams who have been willing to share their experiences and invite discussion and debate. We have also see a similar willingness to share experiences and provide support on web-support and website-info-mgt JISCMail lists. But the IWMW event only takes place annually and, as described previously, discussions of the JISCMail lists have declined significantly over the past 5 years.

Centralised Services for the Web Management Community

An alternative approach (although it would probably be better to describe it as a complementary approach) would be to ensure that the work of institutional Web teams is published openly and in a format suitable for reuse in a variety of ways. This, quite simply, means use of blogs. In a recent post on Revisiting Web Team Blogs I described a number of benefits which can be provided by blogs. I also pointed out that the Google Custom Search Engine can be used to provide a search interface across such information, thus providing a cost-effective mechanism for knowledge sharing across the sector.

In order to encourage the “strengthening of control by the centre” I have created an institutional Web management Community page. This provides access to the search of University Web team blogs. In addition it provides links to two tools developed a couple of years ago by Tony Hirst after his participation at the IWMW 2008 event.

The Autodiscoverable RSS feeds on UK HEI home pages was developed following a suggestion that there was no reason for institutions to not publish press/media release, jobs and upcoming events auto-discoverable RSS feeds. Tony’s tool visits UK HEI home pages and dynamically reports on the numbers which are implementing autodiscoverrable RSS pages – today I find that the adoption rate for is 38.3% (51 out of 133 institutions). This is an example of a centralised auditing approach which members of institutional Web teams will be familiar with, with the intention being to encourage Web providers to implement recommended best practices.

Another tool Tony developed is the UK HEI “Page Not Found” page. In this case no statistics are provided: rather a display of thumbnails of institutional 404 pages is displayed which provides a simple means of observing the approaches taken across the community – and best practices can then be implemented locally.

The ‘Nudge’ Principle

Tony’s work was inspired, I think, by a post I wrote in 2008 on Nudge: Improving Decisions About RSS Usage which described an idea developed by US economist Richard Thaler and other behavioural economists who “want to highlight the best option, while still leaving all the bad ones open. … Rather than the state mandating solutions which aim to bring about positive benefits to society or to individuals, people are made aware of the benefits of the preferred option, but are left free to make their own decisions. In this case rather than best practices for the provision and support of institutional Web services being mandated (which is not, in any case, possible) people in Web teams are made aware of the benefits of the preferred option, but are left free to make their own decisions.

Are you convinced? Or do you think that the view that the Axe Man is visiting institutional Web management teams is an exaggeration and there is not need for change? If you are worried that the Axe Man will be paying you a visit, perhaps in the autumn, after the Comprehensive Spending Review is announced, then perhaps you may want to play a more pro-active role in a centralised but informal national network of institutional Web managers. A good start would be to create your Web team blog and leave a comment so that it can be included in the list of the early adopters amongst Web teams which have already appreciated the benefits which can be gained from greater openness and transparency. As for what the early adopters are doing, well look at the Web team and related blogs for the University of Bath, Birmingham City UniversityCanterbury Christ Church University, City UniversityUniversity of Essex, Edge Hill University, Glamorgan University, University of Lincoln, St Andrews UniversityUCL or the University of York, the aggregated blog provided by Scottish Web Folk, the departmental ECS blog at the University of Southampton or the individual blogs provided by Anthony Leonard, Claire Gibbons and Martin Hamilton.

I’m sure there will be other relevant blogs, provided either by teams or individuals, but their value to the community is diminished if the content is not easily accessible to the community. So if you want to strengthen the community, please make sure that it is included in the list.


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750 Posts and Counting

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 July 2010

Statistics for this Blog

The post on Further Reflections on IWMW 2010: Innovation and Sustainability was the 750th blog post published on this blog since it was launched on 1 November 2006. This provides a useful opportunity to reflect and to provide an update on the statistics I summarised following the 500th post.

According to timeanddate.com there have been 3 years, 8 months and 18 days since the blog was launched which is equivalent to 1356 days or 193 weeks (and less usefully 117,158,400 seconds,1,952,640 minutes and 32,544 hours) – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun! So this means there 3.88 posts published per week.

During that time there have been just over 264,000 views according to the WordPress administrator’s interface – though I have no idea what this means in terms of views when the content is syndicated to other places. This seems to indicate an average of 350 views per post. There have also been 3,474 comments – although this does include trackbacks and comments I may have made as well as the comments provided by visitors to the blog.

An MS Word copy of the content of the blog posts has been created. This document is over 800 pages long,  although the size of the document is affected by the embedded images which are displayed at a larger size than used on the blog itself and the images are mostly not aligned alongside the text as they are normally in the posts.  However this figure indicates an average of about 4 pages per week.

The blog is currently listed in the top 50 technology blogs in Wikio at number 48 in this list. The blog also has a Technorati authority of 502 and a ranking of 43,325 of the 1,190,726 it has indexed.

Reflections

The blog has provided me with an opportunity to “think out loud” about the implications of new Web developments and to reflect on the digital landscape and my work in helping to shape the ways in which networked technologies are being used. I have also found that the disciple of writing blog posts is beneficial for me in helping me to remember ideas and embed things I’ve learnt. The open I’ve tried to take on this blog has helped me through the feedback I have received and, I hope, allows others to benefit from my posts. The discipline of writing regularly has also helped me to improve my writing ands productivity which, I feel, is reflected in the improved quality of my peer reviewed papers which I’ve published over the past few years (14 peer-reviewed paper and three contributions to books since the blog was launched).

Reuse

Myself and my colleague Marieke Guy have had a paper on “Approaches To Archiving Professional Blogs Hosted In The Cloud” accepted at the iPres2010 conference. The paper describes ways in which the contents of blogs hosted in The Cloud, such as this blog and Marieke’s Rambling of a Remote Worker blog, can be managed so that content is not lost if the hosting agency is not sustainable or if the author changes jobs or is, err, not sustainable!  Such issues span both policy and technical issues.  The policy for this blog (and for Marieke’s) states that “A copy of the contents of the blog will be made available to UKOLN (my host organisation) if I leave UKOLN. Note that this may not include the full content if there are complications concerning their party content (e.g. guest blog posts, embedded objects, etc.),  technical difficulties in exporting data, etc.)“. In addition occasional copies of the contents of this blog have been exported  to a copy of this blog which is hosted on the UKOLN Intranet. As well as providing a backup, this copy can also be used for testing purposes. I have an interest in different user interface and search technologies can be used to enhance access to the large amount of information contained in the blog and the copy allows experimentation to be carried out without making unnecessary changes which may distract readers of the live blog.  In addition colleagues at UKOLN may have an interest in exploring large how Linked Data can enhance access to such data sources, so we may also explore Linked Data plugins for WordPress blogs such as Triplify and SIOC.

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

Revisiting Web Team Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 July 2010

Where are the University Web Team Blogs?

Last August I asked If Not Too Large, Are University Web Teams Poor Communicators?. The background to the question was a post on “Blogging web teams” published by Mike Nolan almost two years ago on the Edge Hill University Web team blog in a post on  in which he pointed out that  “Blogging web teams are rare. I suspect you could count them on one hand“.

Reasons Why Web Team Should Blog

Mike’s post identified a number of benefits to be gained by the provision of blogs by those involved in providing large-scale institutional Web services:

  • Communicating what you’re doing
  • Personal Development
  • Community Engagement
  • Practicing what you preach
  • Networking with peers

The reasons he gave a year ago are even more valid today, especially in light of the recent announcements of large-scale cuts across the public sector.   So I would build on Mike’s summary of reasons why Web teams should be blogging with the following additional reasons which are particularly relevant to the Web in turbulent times:

Effective communications within your institution:  If you are failing to communicate with the large numbers of people within your institution who have an interest in the running and ongoing development of your Web services will they be supportive of your department when it is time to decide where cuts should fall?

Practicing what you preach: With the ever-growing relevance of Web 2.0 and the Social Web in supporting learning and teaching and research activities it would not be unreasonable for institutions to expect that central support services should have practical experiences of the  tools, such as blogs, which will be  used across the institution.  The ways in which blogs can easily create RSS feeds of the content, which can be used in a variety of other applications (including mobile devices) also provide an example of  content reuse which should be central to a Web teams approaches to the provision of Web-based services.

Personal development:  At a time in which we might expect cuts, downsizing and even redundancies it will be important for members of Web teams to enhance their skills,

Networking with peers:  The Web management community has had a longstanding tradition of sharing and collaboration ever since the establishment of the web-support and website-info-mgt mailing lists.  But although the use of such mailing lists has shown significant decline over the past 5 years there does not seem to have been a take-up of blogs across the community which could prove valuable in the development of a knowledge base to inform discussions across the sector.

There was some discussion following Mike’s post on possible reasons for the failure of Web teams to exploit the potential of blogs. But now, two years on from the initial discussions, the lack of blogs describing the work of University Web teams is still very noticeable.

Web Team Blogs as a Shared National Resource

What could be gained if members of the Web management community were to engage in blogging activities?  At this year’s IWMW 2010 event there are over 170 participants gathered at the University of Sheffield.  If every individual agree to write one post per month there would be over 2,000 posts described their work by this time next year.  If you include members of institutional Web teams who aren’t attending IWMW 2010 it would not be unreasonable to expect 3-4 posts per month from team members, which may include HTML and CSS experts, designers, user interface experts, information architects, software developers, user support staff and managers and policy makers.  If all Web teams across the 166 UK HEI institutions were to write four posts per months we would then have over 7,500 blog posts!

This could potentially be a really valuable resource, not just for the individual institutions but for the entire community.

I have used the Google Custom Search Engine to provide a search across the handful of University Web teams blogs which I know about.

To illustrate the potential value of such a resource across the community imagine  you are involved in work in one of the following areas:

There has been a failure, I feel, in regarding the Web team blog as another chore with marginal benefits. But rather than viewing the blog in isolation I feel that contributing to a Web team blog should be regarded as contributing to a national shared resource for the community.  And if you write a post, you may well find that  your post attracts comments, suggestions and new insights (this happens to me a lot on this blog).

Conclusions

Isn’t it time the Web community acknowledges that following the steady demise of JISCMail lists as a valuable resource for the community that providing a team blog and ensuring that it is part of a national index can be valuable both to the team and the community? If US Universities can provide a listing of blogs from their sector the smaller and more focussed community we have in the UK should be able to do even better, I would argue.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments »

Evidence, Even If Flawed, For Blog Metrics

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 June 2010

I recently co-facilitated a one-day workshop on “Engagement, Impact, Value” which was organised jointly with Mimas.  The day explored ways in which JISC Services and projects could seek to engage with their users in order to maximise the impact of their services and demonstrate their value.

The Government’s announcements of cuts across the public sector, including the news about the forthcoming withdrawal of funding for Becta, provided a sombre tone to the day’s presentations and discussions, with a clear understanding that the issues addressed during the day will probably also of significance across the HE sector.

During the day we heard about the need to provide evidence of value. We also heard that, despite the many limitations related to metrics for networked services, we should be gathering such evidence in any case. And hearing today’s news that the Government [is] to scrap three quarters of its websites to save £100million I’m more convinced than ever of the need to be able to provide evidence to cost-cutters – even if the limitations are self-evident to techies.

What evidence, therefore, can be provided which demonstrates the value of a blog?  And, perhaps equally important, what evidence can be obtained with minimal effort?

The Technorati service has information on over one million blog (note that since 2009 Technorati has been analysing English language blogs only).  Technorati provides information for a blog’s  authority which is described as a “measures a site’s standing & influence in the blogosphere”. In addition Technorati also provides information on a blogs’ ‘Rank’ which is “a site’s rank among the Technorati Authority of all sites. 1 is the highest rank“.

A search for blogs with the keyword ‘jisc’ provides the results which are shown below.

Technorati ranking for the JISC keyword

The MASHe blog is to be commended with its high profile in this search :-)  And it would appear that the first two blogs are in the top 1% of all blogs Technorati has indexed with the next two blogs in the top 5%.

Back in November 2006 I described how I had registered this blog in Technorati.  I would suggest that other blog authors do this as it provides a simple way of getting statistics. I would advice claiming the blog shortly after it has been launched although if you have an existing blog it can be claimed although you will need to create a post containing a Technorati code in order to validate that you own the blog (the post can be deleted afterwards).

Yes, Technorati’s approach will be flawed but if the government moves on from Government Web sites and threatens the survival of Web sites across the educational sector I will have some evidence why this blog should be spared.  And I’d like other blogs in the sector to be able to make use of similar evidence themselves.

Posted in Blog | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Getting Into The Top Ten For Your Institutional Repository

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 June 2010

Statistics on Downloads for the University of Bath Institutional Repository

The University of Bath is currently testing the IR Stats package in Opus, the University’s institutional repository. Using the Web interface to the package I ran a search for the top ten downloads over the past year.   The results are shown below -and, as you can see, a paper on “Library 2.0: balancing the risks and benefits to maximise the dividends” by myself, Paul Bevan, Richard Akerman, Jo Alcock and Josie Fraser is in second place!  You’ll have to scroll on beneath the image to discover the secrets of how to ensure that your research paper gets into the top ten for your institutional repository :-)

Top ten downloads from Opus repository in past year

Seeking An Explanation

On 11 August 2009 I wrote a blog post in which I described how my Paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” [had been] Published in Program.

Now looking at the blog statistics for visits to the post I discover that there have been a total of 735 views (with 162 on the day of publication ).

Since the blog post linked directly to the details of the paper provided in the institutional repository I believe that many of the visits to the blog post resulted in downloads of the paper in the repository – and so it was a direct result of having a blog and writing a timely post about the paper which resulted in the paper being the second most downloaded paper last year.

Do I have any further evidence to back up this assertion? It would have been interesting to see it a tweet about the post had generated traffic to the article but, having looked at the archive of my tweets in BackUpMyTweets it seems I didn’t use Twitter on the day the post was published. It also seems that a bit.ly URL for the post hadn’t been minted previously, so unfortunately there are no bit.ly statistics to examine.

However looking at the download statistics over the past year for my other items in the repository this particular item stands out for its popularity – and so I will assert that the timely blog post linking to the repository item generated over thirty times the normal annual traffic to one of my papers.

Search engine traffic to my items in the Opus repositoryLooking at the search engine statistics for all of my items over the period I discover than 80% of the traffic is not delivered by a search engine (the red quadrant in the pie chart).

Referrers traffic to my items in the Opus repositoryUsing the display of referring traffic to my items confirms that search engines aren’t significant in providing traffic (20%) and the repository search itself only that only delivers 10% of the traffic. Rather it is external Web sites (i.e. my blog, I believe) which delivers 39% of the traffic with 31% of the traffic having no referred information (I have found this is often traffic from Twitter clients but in this case in may be traffic coming from RSS readers used to view the post).

Discussion

Of course the large number of downloads is no indication of the quality of the paper.  And it might be that the paper was downloaded by an automated agent (perhaps someone was retrieving papers on Library 2.0 and the harvester repeatedly downloaded this paper).  Or, alternatively, maybe the statistics package is producing incorrect results.

But, unless I come across alternative evidence, I will regard the popularity of this item as an indication that blog posts can have a significant impact on the traffic to items in an institutional repository.  Note that I am not saying that blogs are the only significant factor – my UKOLN colleague Alex Ball and Andy Ramsden, head of the e-learning team (both of whom work on the same corridor as me) also figure in the top ten downloads. In their case I think embedding links to their Opus items in external Web sites helps to drive traffic.

However, especially for those working in areas in which there are significant numbers of blog readers, having a blog and using it effectively may provide the researcher with an advantage in raising awareness of their research.

Would you agree?

Posted in Blog, Repositories | 16 Comments »

Reusing Individual or Groups of WordPress Posts

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 April 2010

Is it possible to take an individual post from this blog and reuse it another environment? You can take the most recent blog posts (which I’ve currently configured to be the 26 most recent posts) and reuse them in another environment using the blogs RSS feed.  The most recent posts can be viewed in a personal RSS reader, displayed in a public RSS viewer such as Netvibes, fed into a service such as Wordle to create a word cloud, etc. But what if you want to do something with a post which I created a while ago, such as the An Opportunities and Risks Framework For Standards post which was published in January 2010?. Can that post be reused in ways other than just linking to the page?

The answer to this question was provided by Tony Hirst in a post on Single Item RSS Feeds on WordPress blogs: RSS For the Content of This Page which he wrote in July 2009. Unlike many of Tony’s development activities which Tony describes on his OUseful WordPress blog, his solution does not involve writing code; rather it is based on a standard, but seemingly not widely-known feature of WordPress blogs – the ability to create an RSS feed for any page which is displayed.

If you have a WordPress blog you can simple add the following few lines of HTML in the sidebar for your blog:

<h2>Syndicate This Page</h2>
<p><a href=”?feed=rss2&amp;withoutcomments=1″>RSS Feed for this page</a></p>

The end user viewing one of your blog posts will be able to click on the link “RSS Feed for this page” and get an RSS view of the post. This RSS file can be used with a variety of RSS tools – what you have provided is a simple mechanisms for reusing A HTML resource (the Web view of the blog post) into a much more reusable format.

Tony pointed out that this trick can be used not only for an individual blog post – in can also be used for  various views for a blog post.  If you look at my posts for January 2008 or for the category Standards, for example, you will see the “RSS Feed for this page” link, and if you click on the link you’ll can an RSS feed of posts published in January 2008 or posts with the category Standards. One caveat I should mention, though, is that the total number of items in the RSS feed is limited to the number specified in the blog’s configuration file.  As mentioned above, the limit for my blog is 26 items. As I published 31 posts in July 2007, not all posts will be included in the RSS feed for the month.  Similarly the RSS feeds for the year and for popular categories will not necessarily contain the complete set of relevant posts (unless I set the number of RSS items to a very large number, which could result in causing problems elsewhere, such as users of RSS reader who might understandably expect to see only the most recent posts).

Recently Paul Milne left a comment on this blog wondering why the “RSS Feed for this Page” link was provided, as it appeared to replicate the functionality of the blog entries RSS link.  I have to admit that the purpose of the link is not obvious. I hope this post provides an explanation of the benefits which this contextual RSS feed can provide.  And I’d encourage other WordPress bloggers to make use of this little-known feature provided on the WordPress blogging platform.

Posted in Blog, rss | 2 Comments »

The Project Blog When The Project Is Over

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 March 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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