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Reflections on the “Great Dropbox Space Race”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 December 2012

The Great Dropbox Space Race

Back on 15 October 2012 the Dropbox blog announced The Great Dropbox Space Race!. The post described how:

Space Race is a chance for you to support your school and compete against other schools for eternal glory (by eternal glory we mean up to 25 GB of free Dropbox space for two years).

Everyone who signed up with an institutional email address for a bona fide educational institution received a minimum of 3 Gb storage for 2 years. Additional storage up to 25 Gb for 2 years was available based on the numbers of people who have signed up from the institution.

The space race is now over. The leader table shows the top ten institutions which have gained the largest amount of free disk space in the Cloud for members of the institution.

No. Institution Number of
“Space Racers”
Points
1 University College London   4,020 10,977
2 University of Cambridge   4,129 10,810
3 University of Oxford   3,999   9,817
4 Imperial College London   3,566   9,284
5 University of Edinburgh   2,545   6,662
6 University of Southampton   2,515   6,429
7 University of Manchester   2,025   6,224
8 University of Nottingham   2,208   6,016
9 Open University   1,503   4,431
10 University of Warwick   1,684   4,325
TOTAL 28,194

There is also a table for the top 100 institutions, which goes down as far as Dartington College of Arts which has 134 “space racers” with a total of 428 points.

Note, incidentally, that the numbers of points aren’t directly related to the numbers of users as additional points can be scored in other ways, including reading the getting started manual!

Reflections

Tweet from PlymouthI have to admit that I am a fan of Dropbox. Its ease-of-use makes the shipping of files across my desktop computers and mobile devices trivial. I was therefore hopeful that there would be significant take-up of the service across the University of Bath, which would increase my storage capacity. However after the closure of the space race the University was only in 26th place. Perhaps we should have emulated the approach taken at the University of Portsmouth and been more pro-active in encouraging take-up of the offer.

The global league table appears surprising, with no UK institutions and only 21 US institution in the top ten. The top UK institution, UCL, is in 68th position in the global table.

No. Country Institution Number of
“Space Racers”
Points
1 Singapore National University of Singapore   20,406 42,354
2 Taiwan National Taiwan University   16,485 38,044
3 Italy Politecnico di Milano   14,359 32,017
4 Singapore Nanyang Technological University   14,875 31,355
5 Mexico Tecnológico de Monterrey   13,235 30,550
6 Netherlands Delft University of Technology   13,226 30,511
7 Brazil Universidade de São Paulo   13,469 28,307
8 USA University of California Berkeley   12,126 28,214
9 Ukraine Sumy State University     7,303 27,007
10 Germany Rheinisch Westfalische Technische Hochschule Aachen   10,038 25,777
TOTAL 135,522

What might the apparent low take-up of this offer tell us? It may be that other institutions around the world have been pro-active in encouraging take-up of the service. Alternatively it may simply be that institutions currently provide sufficient disk space for their staff and students. Alternatively it may be that institutions do not want their staff and students to make use of cloud-based storage services due to concerns regarding security, privacy and data protection.

These are legitimate issues, although when I hear people say “We can’t use Dropbox – it’s based in the US” I assume they are referring to data protection legislation. However there seems to be a lack of awareness of the Safe Harbor Agreement (a streamlined process for US companies to comply with the EU’s Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of personal data) and Dropbox’s announcement on 14 February 2012 that they had signed up to the Safe Harbor Agreement.

But what is being lost by not using such services? The 28,194 users of the top ten UK institutions are being provided with a minimum of 82.6 Terrabytes (according to this conversion table) or up to 688 Terrabytes if they each receive the maximum allowance of 25 Gb. According to a Wikipedia page which provide a List of Storage hierarchy media with costs the disk storage provided by a reliable cloud service with cost $140 per Terrabye per month. If each of the 28,194 users of the top ten UK institutions used the maximum of 25Gb allowable storage the commercial cost of this would appear to be $11,564 per month, or $277,536 over the two years for which the free deal is available.

Conclusions

I’ll be the first to admit that my back-of-envelop calculations are likely to be flawed. Pat Parslow suggested I take a look at Amazon’s calculator to provide a sanity check. I would therefore invite others to provide feedback on the estimates of the disk storage which Dropbox are offering and do the sums of the costs in providing similar disk storage over two years within the institution based on the many thousands of users listed in the top 100 UK institutions who have signed up to the Dropbox offer.

But in addition to the financial aspects, even if the service appears to be more popular outside the UK and US, the numbers of people who have subscribed to the service suggests that there will be a need to provide education on best practices for use of the service, including highlighting the risks of using the service.If you are a researcher I would suggest you do not allow sensitive research data to be hosted on services hosted in the US, even if the company hosted the data has signed up to the Safe Harbor Agreement.

But if a key aspect regarding use of Dropbox relates to digital literacy and risk assessment, might there be a need to ask whether the popularity of Dropbox in countries such as Taiwan and Singapore suggests that the company might be well-placed to carry out espionage on research activities in these countries? Might Dropbox be a cost-effective way of the US intelligence services to monitor activities in universities around the world? Or am I being paranoid?


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“It Was 20 Years Ago Today”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 December 2012

On 9 December 1992 I saw the Web for the first time. As I described in a handbook entitled Running A World-Wide Web Service published in 1995:

[I] first came across the World-Wide Web (WWW) at a workshop on Internet tools organised by the Information Exchange Special Interest Group, University of Leeds on 9th December 1992. In January 1993 the Computing Service installed the CERN httpd server on its central Unix system – this was probably the first WWW service provided by a central service in the UK academic community.

The workshop included demonstrations of a number of Internet applications. The aim of the workshop, was to raise awareness of the importance of the Internet to support institutional research, teaching and marketing activities.

At the time I was familiar with GopherVeronicaWAIS and Archie but the Web was new to me. The applications were probably demonstrated on Silicon Graphics or possibly Sun workstations. The Web browser I saw was the Viola which was publicly released in May 1992.

A screenshot of Viola running under X-Windows is illustrated. It should be noted, however, that this image shows a later release of the browser since, in December 1992, the Web was text-only with inline images only becoming available with the release of the NCSA Mosaic browser.

Despite its text-only origins the potential of the Web was apparent to me from the first time I saw it. The ability to have have links within a document, as opposed to Gopher which provided only links from menu items, was a clear strength of the application as was the integration with a range of existing Internet services, such as FTP and Gopher, as well as links with a variety of backend services, such as directory applications which were already starting to be integrated with the Web.

At that time I was the Information Officer in the University Computing Service and was looking for a tool which could be used to provide access to online information provided by the Computing Service as well as, I hoped, form the basis of a Campus Wide Information Service (CWIS).

A small number of Universities were at that time starting to explore the potential of Gopher to provide a CWIS and that was the technology I expected would be used at Leeds. But on 9 December 1992 I saw the Web for this first time and was convinced that I have seen a new vision of the future. It was twenty years ago today, but it’s another set of Beatles lyrics which are more appropriate:

Roll up for the mystery tour.
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away,
Waiting to take you away.

When were you taken away by the Web?


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Guest Post: “1 billion people, 17 million students, 500+ colleges and millions of eager learners”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 December 2012

Today’s guest post is written by  Gwen van der Velden, Director, Learning and Teaching Enhancement at the University of Bath. Following a chat last night along our shared corridor on level 5 of the Wessex House building Gwen kindly agreed to write a guest post about her recent trip to India.


I work a few offices away from Brian Kelly and Paul Walk and other colleagues in UKOLN. We chat often in the corridors and today I told Brian about last week’s trip to Delhi, India. Because of my enthusiasm about what we found in relation to e-learning, new technologies and connectivity for the public good, Brian asked me to blog and share some of the inspiration. For context, when I say ‘we’ I am not being royal, I am just also referring to Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou, our Head of e-Learning at Bath who has the kind of international reputation that got us invited to India in the first place.

The Indian government works with the HE sector on increasing access to HE for learners who cannot access HE at the moment. The HE system in India is highly regulated and it isn’t a market where entry is easily possible. Many UK universities are working to establish themselves there, but this is far from easy. Moreover, there isn’t enough Indian faculty to grow the existing universities or establish new ones and student places are very, very limited considering the interest in university study that there is. We heard that for one of the Institutes of Technology, there are over 40 students for each available place. So, a different approach is required. Against this background there is a bigger drive to educate India out of poverty. Experiencing New Delhi, you can see what is possible. But driving into old Delhi, we saw what still is to be achieved. It is a country of zest, opportunity, large numbers (1 Billion people) and great economic and social challenges…

The Ministry of Human Resources Development which oversees HE, is investing $1 billion into growing HE. Crucial to their plan is the National Mission on Education through ICT. Growth is going to come through reaching all corners of India with connectivity, and that is why there is an incredible project of taking glass fibre cable into the farthest ends of India. A huge development, and often combined with putting solar energy provision in place, where no electricity existed before. WiFi connections are going to become available through 40 rupees a year subscriptions. That’s about 50 pence. It shows some clear government financial commitment. And it’s all for learning, how inspiring is that?

Aakash tablet (image from WIkipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aakash_(tablet))

Aakash tablet (image from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aakash_(tablet))

The second step is to have the learning platforms that connect learners to the curriculum, teaching and assessment. This too is addressed in the most imaginative way. You may have heard of the Indian invention of a $30 tablet, the Aakash (illustrated). I understood that Aakash means ‘clouds’, or ‘sky’, and that shows again how India is reaching for the sky here. The Aakash 1 apparently didn’t get past the pilot, but I’ve held the Aakash 2, played with it (thanks Prof Kannan Moudgalya) and sat in amazement at what a smart little thing this is.  It’s less than half the size of an i-pad but large enough to work comfortably with. It has some good processing power and I saw some software on it that allows you to do programming –useful for Comp Sci students and e-developers. The current pilot means 100.000 learners are testing it out, and we understood from government officials that another 1.5 Million are to be piloted in early Spring next year.

With connectivity and the technology platform under way, the content needs to get out there, and this is where our discussions came in. At the moment universities are encouraged to make as much content available as possible. They all do it in different ways. In some cases it is curriculum, sometimes just content and in some cases there is a larger or smaller effort towards designing materials for learning. Designing content for learning is clearly a developing field and again, full of challenges in India, such as the need for various language versions, cultural context adjustment and then there are also issues about what text/ expression/ content may or may not be used for cultural, religious or property right sensitivities. (On that note, this entry is not a statement sanctioned or approved by the Indian government or any partners we have worked with. It’s just my own account!)

Interestingly, at the conference – courtesy of the British Council and Indira Gandhi National Open University – the Ministry’s Secretary told us that developments now in universities have to be about quality, not quantity. It isn’t good enough to just put content online, if ICT is not used effectively to actually improve learning. Excellent.

The three step approach is incredible considering the size of the country: 1 billion people, 17 million students, 500+ colleges and millions of eager learners wanting to get ahead. We were impressed by the university colleagues we met from all over India. They were genuinely driven by seeing universities as a public good: educating the country out of poverty and developing the technologies to do it. It explains where all these inspired e-ideas are coming from. Watch that space, I can’t help thinking there is more to come from the East.


gwenGwen van der Velden
Director
Learning and Teaching Enhancement
University of Bath.

Email: g.m.vandervelden@bath.ac.uk
Web page: http://www.bath.ac.uk/learningandteaching/about/staff/g.vandervelden.html
Twitter: @gwenvdv

Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou
Head of e-Learning
Learning and Teaching Enhancement
University of Bath.

Email: k.anagnostopoulou@bath.ac.uk
Web page: http://www.bath.ac.uk/learningandteaching/about/staff/k-anagnostopoulou.html


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Posters, Infographics and Thoughts on JISC and C21st Scholarship

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 September 2012

In a recent post on Wikipedia in universities and colleges? published on the JISC blog Amber Thomas mentioned her contribution to the Eduwiki 2012 conference which took place in Leicester last week.

Amber’s post included a poster entitled JISC on C21st Scholarship and the role of Wikipedia which I’ve embedded in this post.

Amber described the image as an “infographic” which generated some debate on Twitter regarded the difference between an infographic and a post. Thus led to recollection of a passionate discussion at the IWMW 2012 event on the difference between infographics and data visualisation.

It seems that data visualisation provides a view on an entire data set, whereas an infographic is a lossy process which focusses on a particular aspect of the data which the creator of the infographic wishes to focus on. A poster might be described as an infographic without the data.

The accompanying image does, in the depiction of the education level of Wikipedia users, a certain amount of ‘infographical’ information, but the remainder is a poster. I think we can conclude that there are fuzzy boundaries between posters and infographics.

This is probably, however, less fuzziness between those who find infographics useful and those who dismiss them as marketing mechanisms for presenting a particular viewpoint, but hiding the underlying complexities. This, at least, lay behind the passionate discussion that took place late one evening at IWMW 2012!

Such discussions frequently take place in the context of scientific communications. There are those who value the importance of communicating the implications of scientific research to the general public and feel that going into the details will tend to alienate the public. However such approaches can be dismissed by others who feel that such approaches results in a dumbing-down of the complexities.

I came across these issues earlier this year when I spoke at a day’s event on “Dealing With the Media” organised by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council. The event was aimed at recipients of AHRC grants and outlines the experiences of those who had been successful if maximising the visibility of their research through engagement with mass media. Other speakers described strategies for ‘selling’ your story to those who would commission articles for the BBC or publications such as the Guardian and the Times Higher Education. The importance of giving a brief and simple message was made by a number of the speakers.

I am in favour of use of infographics to help put across complex arguments. I was particularly impressed with Amber’s approach, as she not only produced the infographics which I have illustrated but also integrated the points given in the infographic in the slides she used in her presentation. In addition Amber has provided a document giving the source of the materials she used in her presentation.

Amber seems to be suggesting approaches which could benefit others who might wish to enhance the impact of their work. This is, of course, of importance across the sector as can be seen from the EPSRC’s recent announcement of their Impact Toolkit. This addresses areas such as What is impact?Why make an impact?What the ESRC expectsHow to maximise impactDeveloping a strategyImpact toolsTaking research to WestminsterContact government organisationsGetting social science research into the evidence base in governmentKnowledge exchangePublic engagementImpact resources and ESRC Pathways to Impact for Je-S applications.

It strikes me that as well as learning from such resources, it may also be helpful to share the tools and the approaches taken in producing infographics and posters. It may be that such work will be provided by a graphics unit who have expertise in this area. But this may only be a realistic solution for high profile outputs. Perhaps we should all seek to develop expertise in this area? The tool Amber used in the production of her poster, easel.ly, might provide a useful starting point. We can find examples of other tools for creating infographics which are available. But perhaps more importantly besides Amber’s example has anyone examples of good posters and infographics related to development work which we can learn from?

NOTE: Tony Hirst has provided Delicious bookmarks of services for creating infographics which include Piktochart- Infographic & Presentation ToolVenngageinfogr.am and easel.ly.


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The Importance of the Opening Paragraph and the Accompanying Image

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 August 2012

My colleague Talat Chaudhri recently published a blog post which asked “Why should universities care about identifiers?” I was aware of the post while Talat was in the process of writing it and was very pleased when I noticed that it had been published.

It was, however, when I spotted the post when it appeared in one of the personalised newspapers I used that I appreciated the skill of Talat’s opening paragraph and the image he used to accompany the post.

The opening paragraph began:

Imagine that you are a senior manager in an institution within the UK Higher Education sector with responsibilities for research: you have read some basic details about unique researcher identifiers and perhaps institutional identifiers. However, it may not be immediately apparent just how important these issues are, which may seem on the face of it to be a relatively superficial and/or trivial organisational matter.

This, I felt, encouraged the reader to read more, and click on the link to the full article. In addition, as can be seen from the accompanying image, an attractive image accompanied the post, which helped to differentiate it from the many other posts on the page.

Sometimes I hear people talk about the importance of attractive PDF designs which aim to encourage reading. A problem with that approach is that there is only one view of the report. As described in a previous post images in blog posts can enhance the user’s experience across a wide range of personalised newspaper services such as Pulse, Flipboard and Zite. This can provide a greater range of dissemination channels to reach the intended audiences, as well as providing the audiences with the flexibility to choose their preferred environment for reading such reports.

But as suggested in the title of this post, blog authors will need to give thought to the opening paragraph for a blog post, and images which can be used to complement the post. In addition, it will probably be useful to summarise a post or a report in a Twitter-friendly fashion. For this report you could use the opening line (which may happen if you use an auto-tweeting service):

Imagine you are a senior manager in an institution within the UK HE sector with responsibilities for research: bit.ly/OAg4VT

Although my preference is for a human-crafted summary, such as the one Talat used to announce the report:

Why should universities care about identifiers? Review on UKOLN’s Technical Foundations blog: bit.ly/OAg4VT

It seems blogs and Twitter are turning us into headline writers as well as picture editors. And if you don’t feel you have the expertise to make your make use of visual imagery the Hubspot Inbound Internet Marketing blog provides some suggestions on six creative ways to make your content more visual.


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Are You a Roundhead or a Cavalier in Your Views on Social Media?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 August 2012

Do We Value Talent or Effort?

The New Statesman (13 August 2012) featured an interesting article on “The Olympic Afterglow” by Ed Smith. As described in a summary of the current issue the article provides a left-of-centre perspective on the Olympic Games:

Team GB could not have won many of its medals without the support of the state. Only a few sports can nurture elite athletes (and their coaches, equipment and nutritionists) in a free market; most require handouts from the taxpayer.

But it was the issues of “talent” and “effort” which I found most interesting. The article explains how:

“Talent” has often been used as a dirty word, replaced by nouns with a clear moral dimension – guts, determination, sacrifice. The message is clear: medals should be earned by an effort of willpower, preferably a triumph over adversity.

The article went on to challenges such views:

Yet the natural human instinct – what viewers feel before they are told what to think – is to thrill to raw talent whenever we see it. Usain Bolt cheerfully admits that Yohan Blake trains much harder. “But I have a talent”, Bolt adds truthfully. And it is his talent that is so wonderful. he is one of the world’s most popular sportsmen because he has not been dulled by the platitudes of professionalism. At the Beijing Olympic in 200m, in the 100 metres final, he stopped trying at 70 metres. In London, he sprinted almost for the full 100 metres. But he never lost his boyish incredulity at his own brilliance. Nor have we.

I suspect it was the New Statesman’s copy deadlines which meant that they didn’t include any references to Usain Bolt’s late night celebration’s after winning the 100 metres, but before competing in the 200 metres and 4×100 metres relay races. This was described in The Telegraph under the headline: Usain Bolt celebrates 100m gold with Swedish women’s handball team with Bolt himself supplying the accompanying photograph.

Roundheads and Cavaliers

The article reminded me of a programme on BBC 4 entitled Roundhead or a Cavalier? Which Are You? which I had been alerted to recently. The BBC Web site provides the following summary of the programme:

In the middle of the 17th century, Britain was devastated by a civil war that divided the nation into two tribes – the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. In this programme, celebrities and historians reveal that modern Britain is still defined by the battle between the two tribes. The Cavaliers represent a Britain of panache, pleasure and individuality. They are confronted by the Roundheads, who stand for modesty, discipline, equality and state intervention.

Updating this to our current environment this could begin:

In the early part of the 21st century, the UK’s higher education sector is mildly agitated by disagreements that are dividing the sector into two tribes 

with those who take up the freedom and opportunities provided by blogs, Twitter and other social media services in encouraging individualistic approaches to their work continuing the Cavalier tradition, but encountering resistance from Roundheads who wish to see a continuation of the modest, disinterested and managed approaches to such activities and are willing to endorse institutional interventions in order to ensure such traditions continue.

This reminded me of my recent paper on “Can LinkedIn and Academia.edu Enhance Access to Open Repositories?“. In my one-minute summary of the paper, available on Vimeo, I described how I responded to our Pro Vice-Chancellor’s question on how I had managed to have the largest number of downloads in the University of Bath by saying “Simple, it’s about the incoming links from LinkedIn and Academic.edu and similar services“. But repository managers don’t appear to be proactive in encouraging researchers to link to papers in open access repositories, unlike commercial publishers who, we have found, do encourage researchers to link to papers hosted behind the publishers’ paywalls. “Why! tell me why?” I asked at the end of the summary.

I think I now understand the reason why. Some people don’t choose to make use of simple solutions to provide professional benefits because of their Roundhead tendencies and feel benefits should only be gained after hard work and discipline. On the other hand I’ll admit to being a Cavalier and am happy to use technologies which work for me, even – no, especially – if they don’t require any hard work. So for me using the social media service which works is the ideal. if you’re a Roundhead you’re more likely to prefer the hard work and disciplined approaches which installing open source software on you own server and the domain you manage.

I’ll also admit to admiring the Cavaliering approach taken by Usain Bolt who won 3 Gold medals in less than 2 minutes of competitive racing at the Olympics (with times for partying between races) to the Roundheads’ hero, Mo Farah, who spent almost an hour winning his 2 gold medals at the Olympics.

What approach do you prefer?  


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The Content is Dead Debate – in Cartoons

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 April 2012

The ‘Content is King’ / ‘Content is Dead’ Debate

Last month Steve Wheeler on his Learning With E’s blog published a couple of posts which explored the development of the “Content is King” meme and the variations on the “Content is Dead” ripostes.

Steve began by suggesting that “Content is a tyrant…” – a lengthy and well-written post which generated 79 tweets and 14 likes on Facebook.

The following day Steve published his own riposte: “…context is king” which he introduced by providing the context to his initial post:

In yesterday’s post I made the statement that the internet is better as a creative space than it is as a repository.

and went on to conclude that:

As I argued yesterday however, content is no longer the driving force of the web, and should not be viewed in isolation. The context within which the content is situated should also be focused upon as an important component of any analysis of web based learning activity.

I contributed to the discussion in a comment on the post:

I’ve previously suggested that “Communications is king” (if the network goes down people say “I can’t access my email” and not “I can’t access the VLE or the OPAC“.

I then realised that “Community is king” – communication channels are no use if you’ve no-one to chat with“.

Although some people are dismissive of use of such soundbites I find that it can be helpful to be able to crystallise a viewpoint in a few brief words, whilst acknowledging that the true picture will be more complex.

Communicating Succinctly

I was reflecting on ways in which one may communicate an “elevator pitch” if, for example, you are in the lift with a senior manager and have a brief opportunity to explain the value of one’s professional activities. As described in a post on How Twitter Expertise Helps Your Writing and Dissemination  Twitter is a valuable tool for developing the skills in being able to communicate succinctly.

As an aside I should also add how funny I find many of the @guardianstyle tweets, which demonstrate that if you have skills in writing headlines you can include an initial comment and a witty reply is 140 characters. As an example the following tweets were posted while I was writing this post:

RT @caffyrelf: RT @suzanne_moore: The past, present and future walked into a bar. It was tense. [source]

Having walked into a bar, the barman served a dangling participle. [source]

Into the bar, a man walked and bought a drink – what linguists call thematic ordering. #grammar #language [source]

So this zeugma came into a bar and some money … [source]

I have to admit that I didn’t know what zeugma meant (did you) but was sufficiently motivated to Google it and then understood that last tweet – and have expanded my vocabulary:-)

The Guardian is renowned for its headlines. As described in the Guardian style guide:

In the 1970s and 80s the Guardian suffered from a reputation for excruciating puns; today, we want to be known for clever, original and witty headlines.

In addition the Guardian is also famous for its cartoon’s especially those made by Steve Bell. An example of how a political point can be made in a single image is illustrated in this cartoon from the Steve Bell: Bell Époque – in pictures article published in the Guardian (25 May 2011). If you are a Guardian reader of a particular age this cartoon of Margaret Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Hesletine published in 1990 will still, 22 years on (!) still bring back strong memories of those Thatcherite times.

Communicating Visually

As I do not have any drawing skills I also felt that being able to communicate using cartoon was not foe me. However I was recently introduced to Pixton and decided to give this cartoon creation tool a try.

The aim of the cartoon was to explain succinctly and visually the origin of the term “Content is king” and how it was challenged by the notion that “Communications is king“; how communication channels are of little value unless there is a significant community of users and how such a community may leave an established and thriving service if alternatives are provided and adopted. In light of such complexities, rather than seeking to identify a single best environment, there is a need to acknowledge that that a variety of tools will be used to reflect different user preferences, functionality and, indeed trends and fashions. Or to put it briefly: “Context is king“.

Cartoon 1: [source] (35 words)

Cartoon 2: [source] (46 words)

Cartoon 3: [source] (37 words)

Cartoon 4: [source] (44 words)

This came to a total of 162 words. But what Steve Wheeler actually said, in 183 words, was:

In essence, Kozma and McLuhan both believed that context (i.e. the tools, the media), were at least as important as the content they delivered, whilst Clark agreed with Gates that the content was king. Increasingly, in today’s digital age, many of us are following Clark’s perspective, focusing on content, without paying much attention to the tools we use to make sense of it. In some ways, this is a natural progression, because tools and technologies are becoming more transparent and easy to use without too much thought. Yet in focusing on the content, as McLuhan warned, we may miss the entire message. Highly digitally literate individuals are able to communicate effectively across several platforms without loss of power or nuance. This is known as ‘transliteracy’, a sophisticated grasp of the affordances of the media and technologies that is becoming the passport to success for today’s digital learner and scholar. Transliteracy goes beyond content, and exploits the power and potential of many different tools and services, giving the user an edge over content, enabling them to connect, communicate, consume, create and collaborate more effectively.

Of course both approaches can be equally valid – after all, context is king.

The question I am now asking myself is whether I should continue to make use of Pixton? This post contains the first four cartoons I created. I am conscious of the stereotypes in the characters) bearded professor advising bright young (white) female student. I wonder how easy it is to edit the characters and the scenes in Pixton. Hmm, it seems it’s very easy:


Note: the cartoons as well as the text in this blog post is provided under a Creative Commons licence. The image from The Guardian has been used to illustrate the power of a cartoon. A link has been provided to the source material. It is not felt that use of this cartoon will deprive the Guardian or the cartoonist of funding or undermine their status. However the cartoon will be removed if the copyright holder requests this.

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Bosch’s Guide to the Internet (and Implications for #librarians)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 March 2012

Warnings of the Perils We Face

On Saturday, while having a few day’s holiday in Madrid, I came across a guide to the Internet The guide will be familiar to many, but I hadn’t realised that it was to be found in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The strange thing about the guide was that it was created between 1490 and 1510. The guide is shown below and in case you are unfamiliar with the name, as I was, it is known as The Garden of Earthly Delights by the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch.

Image from Wikipedia

When I saw the painting (a triptych) I was reminded of the poster entitled The Web Is Agreement by Paul Downey which I highlighted in post entitled Tower of WS-Babel in January 2008.

Image from thewebisagreement.com. Available under a Creative Commons licence.

Paul’s poster illustrated the Web as a place containing both good and evil, with the dark places representing both inappropriate content and inaccessible places which could not easily be visited due to a failure to abide by the Web’s commandments.

The Role of The Librarian

Bosch’s painting is described in Wikipedia as providing “a didactic warning on the perils of life’s temptations“. Whilst the title of Borsch’s painting focusses on earthly perils, we now know there are perils to be faced in the online environment. But what is the role of librarians in a world in which we need to acknowledge that there are perils to be faced online?

In the early days of the Web there was a feeling that the role of librarians was to identify the safe areas of the Web and to provide maps of such areas. Initially librarians who had HTML authoring expertise would provide such links and later services such as the RDN, which later was renamed Intute, provide links to trusted sources.

The role of the librarian was, it seems, to provide guides to the safe areas of the Web; areas in which, perhaps, unicorns would safely graze with no beasties to be found.

But today we know that such patronising approaches are no longer applicable, especially in a higher education context. Instead the role of the librarian continues to provide maps of the online environment, but in addition to provide advice if the visitor chooses to explore off the beaten path. The librarian is also well-positioned to warn of the dangers in unquestioning trust in maps provided by others – Karen Blakeman, for example,frequently highlights the risks in treating Google as an infallible guide, views which have been echoed by Phil Bradley. It should also be noted that the warnings depicted in The Web is Agreement poster also highlight terrain which it might be difficult to access, special browser technologies, such as Flash support, may be needed – but again the emphasis is on providing education on dangers rather than imposing barriers to travel.

What of the Marketing Department?

If the role of the librarian is a be a supportive guide, which is the role of the marketing department?

Traditionally we probably feel that our institution’s marketing department tends to provide a positive gloss on our institution: the sky is cloudless; the sun is shining and the students are attractive. The marketing department at Borsch’s institution would , no doubt, pick on the unicorns as a positive image, and highlight statistics on unicorn satisfaction levels and future employability.

A post by Karin Joly entitled Not your usual #highered Admissions Video: Beer, Blood and Applications? published on the CollegeWebEditor.com blog suggested an alternative way of making your institution appealing to potential students. This time, as can be seen on the YouTube video, rather than the cliché of a happy student environment, we had a unearthly guide who magical powers sadly came to an unfortunate end.

Hmm, I wonder if Bosch’s painting can inspire a new generation of marketing videos? After all there have been over 2 million views on YouTube, which may provide audience figures which marketing people would sell their soul give their right arm for!

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Revisiting the Management of Disruptive Technologies Six Years On

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 February 2012

Looking Back

Exactly six years ago today, on Friday 24th February 2006 myself and John Heap (from Leeds Metropolitan University and, at the time, a UCISA committee member) organised a joint workshop at Warwick University on “Initiatives & Innovation: Managing Disruptive Technologies“. The abstract for the event is described how:

Computing, IT and Learning Technology Services within HE institutions must maintain reliable, stable, high availability services whilst undertaking development work on new systems, applications and technologies. All this is done within a framework of new opportunities, and occasionally new constraints, provided by national and regional managed initiatives and development projects.

Additionally, as technology is increasingly used in the direct support of teaching and learning, new ideas and technologies arise not from the Computing Service itself, but from academic staff who, understandably, want maximum flexibility in their ability to introduce and exploit new technologies.

This workshop will explore the issues involved in managing these potentially disruptive technologies and will work towards a framework that can be used to balance the demands for innovation and constant development with the need for stability and security.

The following definitions of disruptive technologies were provided:

The Free Online Dictionary defines disruptive technology as: “A new technology that has a serious impact on the status quo and changes the way people have been dealing with something, perhaps for decades. Music CDs all but wiped out the phonograph industry within a few years, and digital cameras are destined to eliminate the film industry. The most disruptive technologies in history have been the telephone, the computer (and all of its offshoots) and the Internet.

Another definition from Christian Brothers University defines disruptive technology as: “Technologies that enable the breaking of long-held business rules that inhibit organizations from making radical business changes”.

It is interesting looking at the objectives for the event, which aimed to ensure that the workshop participants:

  • Gained an understanding of JISC’s E-Framework strategy and the role of SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) in JISC-funded development activities.
  • Had an opportunity to discuss the implications of the E-Framework for institutional IT Service departments.
  • Learnt about the potential to support teaching and learning and research of a variety of Internet technologies such as instant messaging, Blogs, Wikis, Skype, etc.
  • Discussed some of the potential difficulties in providing, maintaining and supporting such technologies.
  • Explored approaches to reconciling the tensions between the user community’s desires to make use of such technologies and the difficulties in satisfying such requests.

“IT Services: Help or Hindrance?”

It was around this time, which coincided with the height of Little Britain’s popularity, that I made use of the catchphrase “Computer Says No” to point out the popular stereotype of IT Service departments, which we also saw in the IT Crowd. Interestingly it seems that Little Britain also had a following in the US, with Michael Stephens noticing a presentation I gave and writing a blog post which featured the accompanying image.

At the UCISA Management Conference 2006 I posed the, somewhat provocative, question “IT Services: Help Or Hindrance?” in which I raised concerns which I had previously described in a paper on IT Services – Help Or Hindrance To National IT Development Programmes?. As described in the abstract for the paper:

There is a danger that development work, including development funded by national and international funding programmes, can be hindered by institutional IT services departments. However IT services may feel that developers fail to understand the security, performance and support issues which deployment of applications is likely to entail.

Around that time there were concerns over the provision of instant messaging clients, such as MSN Messenger, for student use. Such applications were, some IT staff suggested, only used for trivial purposes. The arguments for blocking access to Skype covered both performance issues (“Skype can turn PCs  into a ‘Supernode’ and consume bandwidth“), ideological (?) (“Skype uses a proprietary standard – we should only provide access to SIP-compliant Internet teleph0ny applications“) and policy (“Use of Skype contravenes the JANET AUP so we can’t use it“). The arguments concerns regarding provision of blogs and wikis tended to relate to concerns about inappropriate content being published and the associated difficulties in managing the content and the legal and reputational risks.

How Have Things Changed?

How have things changed over the past six years?

Some of the specific concerns I listed above are now, surely, no longer an issue. The value provided by Skype to the sector has, I feel, been accepted and although SIP-compliant VoIP services may be used as part of an institution’s telephony infrastructure on the desktop (and, indeed, on mobile phones) Skype probably is the safe mainstream option.

Similarly the desire to block access to instant messaging services probably became untenable once web-based client became popular, as well as many instant messaging facilities in a host of other applications: it seems strange when editing a collaborative document in Google Docs and having realtime chat with co-authors that at one time such activities were regarded as trivial.

As to whether IT Services should provide access to blogs, with the associated risks related to the lack of formal editorial control processes, the arguments for the need to control use of such applications became marginalised as academic, researchers and, indeed, IT Service staff themselves, started to make use of cloud-based solutions such as WordPress.com and Blogspot.com. On 17 October 2007, for example, Christine Sexton, IT Services Director at the University of Sheffield launched her blog on Blogspot published 62 posts in the remainder of the year and 208 in 2008, heralding the first generation of senior managers in IT Services who were willing to make use of blogs. And as well as use of third party blog platforms by those who wanted to exploit the potential of blogs to support their professional activities, we also saw institutions starting to install, and in some cases, develop blog platforms hosted within the institution. The lead in this area was taken by the University of Warwick Blogbuilder platform. Interestingly although people have been known to swear on their blog posts, the world hasn’t collapsed and there are now 8,311 blogs, 160,810 entries, 27,497 tags, 217,208 comments and 119925 images!

Have we then seen over the past six years “[Disruptive] Technologies that enable the breaking of long-held business rules that inhibit organizations from making radical business changes” which have transformed of the education business – the role of IT Service departments? I don’t really feel that this is the case. Rather we have seen IT Services (in higher education – this is not necessarily the case in schools or across other public sector organisations) IT Services becoming more flexible and more user-focussed in their approaches. In part this is due to the leadership shown by senior managers such as Chris Sexton (who, in 2010 when she was also UCISA chair managed to published 162 blog posts). But, ironically, to an extent we also have the financial crisis to thank for the culture change we are seeing, with a realisation that at a time of reductions in funding and opportunities provided by cloud services (especially those which are free to use) that the priority should be to support the needs of the user community. So I’m prepared to acknowledge the (unforeseen) benefits which the international banking sector helped to instigate :-)

But I’d be interested in your views on changes in the provision and support of IT across the sector over the past six years. Do you agree with my view that things have improved or would you prefer to go back to the way we were?

Posted in Events, General | 1 Comment »

The Growing Importance of Infographics

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 February 2012

Last week Liz Lyon, UKOLN Director gave a talk on “The informatics transform : re-engineering libraries for the Data Decade” at the VALA 2012 conference held in Melbourne, Australia. If you weren’t there and are interested in Liz’s thoughts of the implications of the growth of data for the research community in general and research librarians in particular you can view the video recording of Liz’s talk.

I was particularly interested in the infographic on the volume of tweets which are currently being produced, which, as shown below, Liz included in her slides.

The Twitter infographic was produced by Touchagency.com and the infographic is free for reuse. I think it succeeds in putting across the importance of Twitter in a very succinct way – although, of course, the volume of tweets should not be regarding as providing an indicator of its value and, beneath the surface, there will be a need to question the figures presented – for example, is 5pm the best time to get retweeted if you have an international following or will you need to take into account these numbers of international followers and their time zone?

But I feel that people will be aware that infographics will only provide a summary, and not the full picture. Or, as Wikipedia puts itInformation graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly“.

The need to be able to put across complex information quickly and clearly is becoming increasingly important in today’s environment in which, as Liz states in her slides “A single sequencer can now generate in a day what it took 10 years to collect for the Human Genome Project”  (see reference).

I’m therefore pleased to see that a recent JISC Call on Activity Data: Analytics and Metrics is inviting submissions for a report on Activity Data: Analytics and Metrics which will be one of a series of high profile reports JISC is commissioning to inform the UK FE/HE sector on key issues relating to digital infrastructure which states that:

It is intended that this Report will be made available in a web format, and that it will contain a lot of visuals, including “infographics” where appropriate. 

I’m aware, however, that some people feel that infographics ‘dumb down’ complex issues. But for me this is simply restating the aims of infographics in a negative way: what is the difference between “infographics present complex information quickly and clearly” and “infographics present complex information is a trivial and superficial way“? You may make the second point if you disagree with the arguments being presented in an infographic rather than responding to the points being made.

Which isn’t to say that there can’t be bad infographics as well as good infographics. For me it will be important that the sources of information used to provide an infographic are readily available, so that if you disagree with the arguments being presented in an infographic you are able to provide a different interpretations from the same source.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Has Machine Translation Come of Age?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 January 2012

Over two years ago in a post entitled Extending Your Community – Through Machine Translation I suggested that although in the past machine translation was felt to be of little use, developments with services such as Google Translate may mean that “machine translation now does have a role to play“.

A few weeks ago I came across a referrer link to a blog post from a post entitled “Google Scholar Citations y la emergencia de nuevos actores en la evaluación de la investigación“. My Chrome browser helpfully informed me that the page was in Spanish and provided a link to an automated translation of the page. The post began:

The launch of a few months ago Google Scholar Citations [1], the tool for measuring the impact of research publications in indexed by popular search engine, leads us to revise this and other bibliometric applications such efforts to measure the visibility of academic and researchers on the web. This impact is not limited to traditional media (citations received from other scientific works) but embraces new ways of scientific communication and their associated indicators, as the number of downloads of a job, people store it in your manager references or the time that a presentation is envisioned online. It discusses briefly the extent to affect the emergence of these new tools to the traditional databases for evaluation of science, Thomson Reuters, Web of Science [2], and Scopus, Elsevier [3].

I think this provides a comprehensible summary of what the post will cover. The post concluded:

Since the level of university policy and research evaluation, the question to be made ​​is whether any of the products mentioned both Microsoft and Google mainly but also alt-metrics initiatives can be serious competitors in the near future to the two large databases that provide information bibliometric, important cost, especially in an era marked by budget cuts. Traditional products are more creditworthy and stable than new ones by offering a wide range of possibilities and associated metrics, not just jobs but also to journals in which they are published. Besides its use is widespread and there are some metrics validated by professionals and bibliometrics by agencies with responsibility for research. However, it is legitimate debate about whether these databases are essential in research assessment processes. In our opinion, at present these databases (ISI Web of Science or Scopus, no need for two) are essential for the evaluation, however the new generation Science Information Systems (CRIS) [28] together seekers free scientists such as Google Scholar, and metrics based on the use of information may provide new solutions to the evaluation of science, perhaps the medium term by decreasing the need for costly citation indexes. Making prospective fiction might think how it would change the market for scientific information and assessment if Google decided to launch its own “impact index” from the indexed information, which does not seem unreasonable since its popular search management PageRank is based on a principle that already apply other bibliometric indicators. In any case, what is certain is that new products and tools available to researchers and evaluators to facilitate the dissemination and the retrieval of scientific information and open new possibilities for the exchange of scientific information and assessment.

The meaning is less clear, but it does seem that the authors, Alvaro Cabezas Clavijo and Daniel Torres-Salinas of the EC3 Evaluation Group Scientific and Scientific Communication at the Hospital Universitario Virgen de las Nieves in Granada, have been asking whether new tools and approaches for identifying the value of scientific research are challenging the well-established tools provided by ISI Web of Science and Scopus. They seem to feel that researchers will need to continue to make use of ISI Web of Science or Scopus but new approaches may increasingly be relevant, especially if Google make a business decision to further enhance their Google Citation service.

Although not mentioned in the conclusions, the article also reviews Microsoft Academic Search and suggests that “compared to Google Scholar Citations, the process of updating the cv is heavier“; a conclusion which reflects my experiences in the long delay in having updates accepted. The article also mentions the altmetrics initiative and provides links to a number of examples of such approaches including “Total Impact [19] where, in the same line, we can find metrics posted on Slideshare presentations [20], the times they shared a scientific article on Facebook [21], or the number of groups Mendeley which has collected a certain job”.

I found the article of interest and I’m pleased to have found it via the referrer link. Should searches of online foreign language resources now become a significant part of a research strategy I wonder? I also wonder what the term “prospective fiction“, mentioned in the conclusions, means? Can any Spanish speakers explain what a better translation for the following sentence could be:

Haciendo prospectiva-ficción cabría pensar cómo cambiaría el mercado de la información y evaluación científica si Google decidiera lanzar su propio “índice de impacto” a partir de la información que indiza, lo cual no parece descabellado ya que su popular sistema de ordenación de búsqueda PageRank se basa en un principio que ya aplican otros índices bibliométricos.

Note that “prospectiva-ficción” was italicised in the original article.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Learning Is Performance; Performance Can, And Will, Be Analysed

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 January 2012

Learning is Performance

Learning is performance” Steve Wheeler tells us in his opening sentence in his first blog post of the year. Steve goes on to describe how:

Some of our earliest performances, particularly in formal learning contexts (school, college, university), are under the scrutiny of subject experts who award grades, and ultimately, some form of accreditation. This kind of performance is commonly referred to as formal assessment. Sadly, it is often the case that the measure of performance is not fit for purpose, as we have all witnessed recently in the universal failure of standardised testing, or the exam paper fiascos that continually assail our senses via the media.

The implication may to be that since sometimes (is there evidence that the term ‘often’ should be used in this context?) a “measure of performance is not fit for purpose” we should avoid assessment. However as Steve goes on to point out:

[Assessment] is important for the community, because the community needs skilled and knowledgeable members, and some form of check is required to ensure that the skill or knowledge is up to date, safe to use, and is relevant for the needs of society. If we get assessment wrong, we fail the student, and ultimately we fail society.

The JISC CETIS service has had a long-standing involvement in exploring issues related to assessment. But Steve Wheeler’s comment that “Learning is performance” has reminded me that it may be beneficial to explore approaches to assessment beyond the tools, projects and resources which CETIS have documented on their web site.

Sporting Performance

One lunch time a few months ago I met Doctor Ken Bray, a Senior Visiting Fellow in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Bath.

Ken’s work has been featured in a couple of press releases published by the University of Bath. In January 2009 the focus was on work related to the physics of darts:

As the British Darts Organisation’s (BDO) Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships gets into full swing this week, new research from the University of Bath shows that the secret of true darts skills is all in the maths.

Visiting fellow Dr Ken Bray’s calculations for the Get On campaign shows how darts stars taking to the oche this week will have to master geometry, physics and algebra to win their place in the sport’s hall of fame.

However Ken’s main interest is in the science of football. Ken is author of How to Score: Science and the Beautiful Game which was published in 2006. His interests in this area have continued and were featured on the This Is Bath Web site in March 2011:

​They may not realise it, but the best footballers are actually skilled mathematicians, according to an expert from Bath.

University of Bath sports scientist Dr Ken Bray has analysed hours of football footage to conclude that as much as 30 per cent of a player’s technique is down to an intuitive understanding of maths and science.

A criticism of which could be made of a scientific study of sports is that “We all use mathematical principles – we’d fall over when walking if we didn’t!” And it would clearly be wrong to suggest that David Beckam’s success in taking free kicks is due to a conscious analysis of the variables (the distance, the weather conditions, the angles, …) and the implementation of the appropriate formula which will ensure that the ball succeeds in bending around the defensive wall and out of the reach of the goalkeeper to ensure that England reach the final stages of the World Cup, as Beckham famously did with his 30-yard free kick, three minutes into injury-time of the game against Greece in 2006.

However although footballers and other sports stars may have an “intuitive understanding of maths and science” those involved in coaching nowadays do have an understanding of the maths and physics associates with sports success and are developing measurement techniques which can provide ways of helping to ensure success.

Some approaches will be related to the individual sportsman, for example their diet and general fitness. However others will relate directly to their sporting performance and the performance of the opposition. This is now a major industry with companies such as Prozone analysing sporting performance and selling their methodologies, tools and data to interested parties, including sporting clubs, sportsmen and women, coaches, agents, newspapers and TV companies and sports fans.

As described on the Prozone web site the company provides:

Post match analysis: Analyse every aspect of team and player performance via a range of interactive platforms.

Opposition Analysis: Prozone can provide pre-match performance information on your forthcoming opponents. Commonly known as ‘technical scouting’ this allows you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of upcoming teams and individual players.

Through interactive coaching tools, users are able to gain a unique insight into the performance of upcoming opposition teams. These can help to supplement the knowledge of your scouts and enable you to better prepare for upcoming matches. Scouting analysis can be delivered using a range of video clips, in-depth data and multi-layered graphics and can be accessed online or sent direct to the training ground.

Live Performance Analysis: By offering ‘real time’ information about the game, our Live Analysis service gives management and coaching staff an immediate insight into the performance of players on the pitch.

Enhanced Player Trading: An advanced online solution allowing clubs to make objective and better informed decisions on player trading through the use of accurate performance data.

I wonder to what extend these approaches may have some relevance to the higher education sector? Back in October in a post on  Learning Analytics and New Scholarship: Now on the Technology Horizon I summarised Dave Pattern’s talk at the ILI 2011 conference which described how “The project looked at the final degree classification of over 33,000 undergraduates, in particular the honours degree result they achieved and the library usage of each student” and explored the hypothesis “There is a statistically significant correlation across a number of universities between library activity data and student attainment‘.  Hmm, does this have parallels with analyses of Arsenal’s defensive frailties and strategies for playing against them.  And should we be looking to provide services similar to Prozone’s:

Live Performance Analysis: By offering ‘real time’ information about students’ learning experiences, our Live Analysis service gives management and academic staff an immediate insight into the performance of students in their learning.

Steve Wheeler concluding his blog post by suggesting that:

Knowledge performance is at the centre of community as curriculum. From the sharing of knowledge comes the discourse that adds to everyone’s collective knowledge within the community of practice, and extends its boundaries. It is this sharing of experience, new ideas, contention and support that advances the community of practice exponentially. The tools are here to achieve it. Performance of knowledge through social media will be one of the vital components of education and training in the coming years.

I agree with that final sentence: “Performance of knowledge through social media will be one of the vital components of education and training in the coming years“. But this will not be restricted to learning and teaching. I would slightly modify this conclusion by saying: “Performance of knowledge through social media will be one of the vital components of research, education and training in the coming years“. And being able to analyse the performance will be a major growth area. Or at least that is what the  NMC Horizon Report > 2012 Higher Education Edition seems to be suggesting with the NMC Horizon’s 2012 Preview Report (PDF format) suggesting that Learning Analytics has a time-to-adoption horizon of 2-3 years.

The report defines Learning analytics as

the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of students in order to assess academic progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues. Data are collected from explicit student actions, such as completing assignments and taking exams, and from tacit actions, including online social interactions, extracurricular activities, posts on discussion forums, and other activities that are not directly assessed as part of the student’s educational progress.

Or if we, this time, apply this to a sporting context with the changes highlighted:

the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of footballers in order to assess football progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues. Data are collected from explicit sporting actions, such as completing passes and taking penalties, and from non-sporting actions, including online social interactions, extracurricular activities such as not been caught for drunken driving, posts on the footballer’s Twitter account, and other activities that are not directly assessed as part of the footballer’s sporting and non-sporting progress.

The major difference is that football is a game of two halves but an undergraduate course is a game of three years :-)

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

My Predictions for 2012

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 December 2011

Predictions for 2012

How will the technology environment develop during 2012? I’m willing to set myself up for a fall my outlining my predictions for 2012 :-)

Tablet Computers …

After a couple of years in which use of smart phones, whether based on Apple’s iOS or Goole’s Android operating system), became mainstream for many when away from the office, 2012 will see use of Tablets becoming mainstream, with the competition provided by vendors of Android continue to bring the prices for those reluctant to pay a premium for an iPad.

Once the new term starts we’ll see increased numbers of students who received a Tablet PC for Christmas making use of them, not only for watching videos and listening to music in their accommodation, but also in lectures. As well as note-taking the devices, together with smart phones, will be used for recording lectures. In some cases this will lead to concerns regarding ownership and privacy infringements but students will argue that they are paying for their education and they should be entitled to time-shift their lecturers. Since it will be difficult to prevent students from making such recordings lecturers will start to encourage such practices and will seek to develop an understanding of when comments made during lecturers and tutorials should be treated as ‘off-the-record’.

Open Practices …

Such lecturers will be providing one example of an ‘open practice’. Such encouragement of recording or broadcasting lecturers will become the norm in several research areas, with organisers of research conferences acknowledging that they will need to provide an event amplification infrastructure (including free WiFi for participants, an event hashtag, live streaming or recording of key talks) in order to satisfy the expectations of those who are active in participation in research events.

Such open practices will complement more well-established examples of openness including open access and open content, such as open educational resources. We’ll see much greater use of Creative Commons licences, especially licence which minimise barriers to reuse.

Social Applications …

Social applications will become ubiquitous, although the term may be rebranded in order to avoid the barrier to use faced by those who regard the term ‘social’ as meaning ‘personal’ or ‘trivial’. Just as Web 2.0 became rebranded as the Social Web and the Semantic Web as Linked Data, we shall see such applications being marked as collaborative or interactive services.

Social networking services will continue to grow in importance across the higher education sector. However the view that the popularity of such services will be dependent on conformance with a particular set of development (open source and distributed) or ownership criteria (must not be owned by a successful multi-national company) will be seen to be of little significance. Rather than a growth in services such as identi.ca or Diaspora, we will see Facebook continue to develop (with its use by organisations helped by mandatory legal requirements regarding conformance with EU privacy legislation described in a post on 45 Privacy Changes Facebook Will Make To Comply With Data Protection Law). In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ will continue to be of importance across the sector.

Learning and Knowledge Analytics ….

The ubiquity of mobile devices coupled with greater use of social applications as part of a developing cultural of open practices will lead to an awareness of the importance of learning and knowledge analytics. Just as in the sporting arena we have seen huge developments in using analytic tools to understand and maximise sporting performances, we will see similar approaches being taken to understand and maximise intellectual performance, in both teaching and learning and research areas.

Collective Intelligence

Just as the combination of developments will help us to have a better understanding of intellectual performance, so too will these development help to in the growth of Collective Intelligence, described in Wikipedia as the “shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks“. The driving forces behind Collective Intelligence will be the global players which have access to large volumes of data and the computational resources (processing power and storage) to analyse the data.

How Will I Know If I’m Right?

In a way it is easy to make predictions. A greater challenge is being able to demonstrate that such predictions have come true. How might we go about deciding, in December 2012, whether these predictions reflect reality?

Monitoring Trends

There will be statistics which can help support the predictions. For example a few days ago Glyn Moody tweeted that:

Google announces 3.7m #Android activations over the Christmas weekend – http://tnw.co/sjAZEd impressive

But there are a range of other indicators which can help to spot trends which may be applicable.

A Google Trend comparison of the terms ‘tablet computer’ and ‘smartphone’ currently show the greater popularity of the latter term although there was a peak in searches for ‘tablet computer’ after the news (labelled F in the screenshot) that “India launches $35 tablet computer“.

Using Wikipedia

Wikipedia articles may also have a role to play. For example we can compare the entries for tablet computer and collective intelligence between January and December 2011 which might help to provide a better understanding of how the Wikipedia community is describing these terms. Similarly looking for the usage statistics for these two entries shows 40,567 visits in January and 73,181 in November 2011 for the entry for tablet computer and 10,711 visits in January and 11,126 in November 2011 for the entry for collective intelligence.

In addition to the content coverage and usage statistics for Wikipedia articles, the creation of an article may also indicate that the term has become significant. It is interesting to note that there is currently no entry for ‘open practice’. Will this have changed by this time next year, I wonder?

Snapshots of Social Network Usage

I have previously provided snapshots of institutional use of Facebook from November 2007 up to January 2011, together with similar surveys of institutional use of services such as Twitter, YouTube and iTunes. It would be interesting to capture early examples of institutional uses of Google+, identi.ca and Diaspora. However I am currently unaware of such institutional uses. Until I discover some examples I will provide a personal summary of my uses of these services.

Service Nos. of posts Nos. of followers Nos. I follow
Google+ 12 170 476
Diaspora   1    5    5
identi.ca   5  10   9

This data was gathered on 29 December 2011. It will be interesting to see how this compares with the data for the end of 2012. Of course the above table only indicates the extent of my interest and engagement with the services. I have documented these figures so I will be able to benchmark any changes on my usage of these services over the year.

Institutional Trends

It will be interesting to see examples of institutional trends, perhaps by observing topics presented at conferences and also by reading about new developments. One useful source of new developments is Chris Sexton’s From a Distance blog. Chris, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, has recently published a post entitled Tablet News in which she describes how:

Today sees the publication of our newsletter, myCiCSnews, which can be downloaded as a pdf from here. There’s articles on learning technologies, research on the campus compute cloud, information security, and many more.
For the first time we’ve made it available in a tablet version, which works really well on iPads and other tablets, and includes embedded video etc.

The Flip Side

The flip side of the growth in use of new services and in discussions about the benefits of such services is the criticisms of such developments.

Criticism and scepticism can take several forms. We can probably remember when mobile phones were large and expensive and, together with the yuppies and businessmen who could afford such devices, were the butt of jokes on comedy sketches.

Mike Ellis has provided his take on the development of online reputation tools such as Klout in his Klunt parody which he announced on Twitter back in September.

We are unlikely to see this example in the Daily Mail but I think we can expect middle England to express outrage at some of the developments I’ve described in this post.

We have already come across examples of the way in which Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry phones have been used to organise illegal events or promote riots. I wonder if the Android tablet will be next in line to race the wrath of the Daily Mail?

Or perhaps the success will be indicated by the backlash. Might we find that the move towards open practices beyond the early adopters will be met by opposition from those who point out the legal risks of such practices, with examples of such risks becoming widely tweeted and retweeted?

Revisiting Predictions

On 29 December 2010 I asked Will #Quora Be Big In 2011? It is difficult to provide an answer to that question. Looking at the Wikipedia article for Quora I find that others also felt that the service would be significant:

Quora has been praised by several publications such as New York TimesUSA TodayTime Magazine and The Daily Telegraph.[28][29][30][31]

According to Robert Scoble, Quora succeeded in combining attributes of TwitterFacebookGoogle Wave and various websites that employ a system of users voting content up.[32] Scoble later criticized Quora, however, saying that it was a “horrid service for blogging,” and while it was a decent question and answer website, it was not substantially better than competing sites.[33] The Daily Telegraph of the United Kingdom has predicted that Quora will go on to become larger than Twitter in the future.[31][34] Quora, along with Airbnb and Dropbox, has been named among the next generation of multibillion dollar start-ups by the New York Times.[35]

Quora itself hosts a question which asks How fast is Quora growing on a weekly basis? What are the growth metrics? However the responses fail to give a clear answer to this question.

I intend to revisit this post in December 2012. I’d welcome suggestions on additional ways in which it will be possible to detect if predictions have become true. I’d also welcome comments on the predictions I’ve outlined in this post.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in General, jiscobs | 8 Comments »

The Need for an Evidence-based Approach to Demonstrating Value

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 December 2011

When I read the Editor’s View column in the current issue of IWR (Information World Review, Nov/Dec 2011) the words seemed familiar. The column began “Evaluating the shortlist for the IWR Information Professional of the Year Award, one of the judges noted that at a time when the library profession was suffering from the economic turmoil there was a need for an evidence-based approach to demonstrating the value for libraries“.

Checking my email it seems that these were the words I used when I voted for Ian Anstice as this year’s IWR Information Professional of the Year. As described in the announcement about the award published in IWR “The judges – all previous winners- gave Anstice, a branch manager of a public library in Cheshire, the honour for his work in documenting the changes taking place across the public library sector as a whole“. Ian Anstice was quoted as saying “In a time of cuts to library services and being aware that knowledge is power, I was surprised to see there was no publicly available site to show what was going in each authority. I started the blog [at www.publiclibrariesnews.com] in October 2010. This includes all news articles on public library cuts, doing a map of the cuts, and producing a tally of cuts and proposals by authority.

But what does “evidence-gathering” entail? There is a real danger that selective evidence-gathering is used in order to justify a particular position. This is an approach which has been discredited when governments in the UK and US sought evidence to demonstrate Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Quite clearly we expect a higher level of integrity from the library sector!

A great example of an honest and open approach to the current challenges facing the library sector can be seen in Aaron Tay’s recent post which asked “Is librarianship in crisis and should we be talking about it?” Aaron, a librarian at National University of Singapore, is a prolific blogger on his Musings About Librarianship blog. In his post Aaron described how:

Librarians are worriers, and one thing we like to worry a lot about is the future of libraries.

Veronica Arellano however thinks that we should stop writing about it. Why? She gives several reasons in “A Crisis of Our Own Making” but concludes with

“Writing about the ‘crisis’ in libraries tries to elicit change out of fear, rather than a desire to better serve our communities. By continuing to write our own obituaries, we are dissuading enthusiastic, forward-minded young scholars, technologists, and community leaders from entering the profession by painting ourselves as stuck in the past and obsolete.”

Really?  Should discussions of the implications of the perfect storm caused by the combination of the cuts being faced across many public sector organisations, the technical revolution caused initially by the first generation of the Web and subsequently by the popularity of Web 2.0 and the Social Web together with the changing expectations in the user community be ignored?

Aaron feels that “thinking that everything is fine, and business as usual, always choosing the options with the least risk (when there is no such option in fact) will suffice is equally perhaps a recipe for disaster” and this is a view which I would support.

Aaron’s post asks how one should advise potential newcomers to the profession:

Imagine a young potential librarian-to-be contacts you and asks you for advice on whether he should enter the profession. What picture of librarianship should you paint? I believe it would be irresponsible not to at least mention the challenges and potential stumbling blocks that libraries are facing in the future, so they will know what they will be up against.

and concludes by encouraging a response which is honest about the changing context to the library profession:

For the record, I don’t think libraries are definitely doomed to extinction, but there is much to be done and the library world needs passionate and energetic librarians to fight for the future of libraries and the last thing we need is for recruits to come in because they think libraries are a soft option or because the job outlook is stable.

We do need to continue to gather evidence of the value of services, and not just library services. But we need to understand that the evidence will not necessarily justify a continuation of established approaches to providing services. And if evidence is found which supports the view that libraries will be extinct by 2020 (PDF format) then the implications need to be openly and widely discussed. I’m pleased that Aaron is helping to encourage such a debate. And in light of Aaron’s post I’d like to slightly modify the reason why I supported Ian Anstice’s well-deserved award:

At a time when the library profession is suffering from the economic turmoil there is a need for an evidence-based approach to demonstrating the value for libraries and for open debate on the interpretation of such evidence and the implications of policy decisions based on such interpretations.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

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My Technological Highlight of 2011

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 December 2011

What has been the big new thing of 2011? Was this the year in which Facebook succumbed to personal concerns over privacy, ownership of content and legal threat with users moving in large numbers to the safe environment provided by Diaspora? I think not. Similarly although Google+ has had more or an impact than Diaspora, the early adopters still seem unconvinced that it can provide significant benefits over, say, Twitter.

Perhaps 2011 has been the year of the mobile, with a range of new devices and applications transforming our work and study environment? When I asked for a show of hands at the start of the IWMW 2011 event for people who had a mobile device with them, the sea of hands was unexpected. But I also found that significant numbers had brought along multiple mobile devices and, in response to a question as to whether people preferred use a handheld device to, say, a laptop whilst at home in front of the TV, I was pleased to discover that I am not alone in using my mobile phone rather than my laptop when I wish to look up the TV guide, the football scores or take part in a Twitter discussion. But to be honest I feel that the growth in the importance of mobile has been gradual, with no sudden large scale change being noticeable, not even after the subdued launch of the latest iPhone – although whether we will see the expected large numbers of Android Tablet PCs being bought this Christmas (and cheaper models in the January sales) making 2012 the year of mobile remains to be seen.

Or has 2011 saw the belated arrival of Linked Data? Again despite the feeling that more pragmatic approaches to linking data from disparate sources are becoming accepted, Linked Data doesn’t seem to have yet set the world alight.

I don’t think there has been a significant new major technical development during 2011. But for me 2011 has been the year in which amplified events have started to grow beyond their roots in technologically-focussed events to become more widely embedded.

But what evidence do I have to back up this assertion? It does seem that we are finding that delegates at conferences:

  • Expect events to have a WiFi network so that they can discuss talks with other attendees and share their thoughts with a remote audience.
  • Expect event organisers to provide an event hashtag to make the event back channel easy to find.

In addition to seem to be finding that speakers:

  • Are willing to be live streamed.
  • Are appreciated that delegates who are using their mobile devices during their talks are likely to be actively engaged in the topic and helping to engage others in discussing the ideas

There is also a growing expectation that large-scale events will provide dedicated effort to support such activities:

  • An event amplifier who will be responsible for expanding the audience, an enhancing the experience and spreading and sharing ideas.
  • Technical support to manage video-streaming and/or recording of talk.

I’m looking forward to participating in more amplified events in 2012. But what have your technological highlights of 2011 been?

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The (Technology) Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present and Christmas Yet To Come

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 December 2011

The Technology Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present

We are approaching not only the end of the year but also, if you start counting at ‘1’ rather than ‘0’, the end of the millennium’s first decade. It is therefore timely to consider not only the developments which may be influential for the next decade (for which I feel that large-scale collaborative and communications technologies will result in Collective Intelligence being significant for the sector, which will be helped by a continuing trend towards Openness) and the new technologies of a few years ago which were initially dismissed as irrelevant and unsustainable, but are now used by many mainstream users (in December 2009 I asked 2009 – The Year Of Twitter?; I now wonder when not having a Twitter account will be regarded as odd) but also technologies which have been widely used in the past but now seem to be in decline.

In this post I’ll avoid temptations to be speculative about emerging and emerged technologies and reflect on an aspect of IT which I first started using in, if I recall correctly, 1983 and have used on a variety of platforms, from Prime and VAX mini-computers, Multics and IBM mainframes, through to today’s PC and Apple Macintosh desktop computers and Android and Apple phones and tablet computers. I’ve also used the default mail application on various platforms as well as Pegasus, Eudora, Outlook, Thunderbird and K-9 email clients. We can truly day that email has proved itself to be popular, ubiquitous, platform and application independent and clearly long-living. Email, we can safely say, provides an example in which the IT profession should be pleased to have delivered such a well-liked and robust service.

But is this really the case? Are we starting to see weak signals which suggest that email may be in decline? Might we be in the early stages of a move away from use of email towards an environment in which other forms of collaboration, communication and dissemination tools may provide benefits which email may fail to provide?

“Email is Dying”

At the ILI 2005 conference in London in October 2005 I gave a talk entitled “Email Must Die!” in which I, rather provocatively, argued that if we information professionals, in particular, were well-placed to appreciate the implications of the suggestion that  “E-mail is where knowledge goes to die” and should be welling to take a lead in exploiting a variety of Web 2.0 tools which were starting to emerge at the time which could address the various well-known deficiencies of email: the spam; the duplication of information; office politics based on use of cc: and bcc: the lack of structure; the difficulties of content reuse; etc.

A subsequent Ariadne article with the rather more hesitant question “Must Email Die?” discussed these issues in more depth and outlined how technologies such as blog, wikis, instant messaging, RSS, Skype and other VOIP systems could all replace various uses for which email has traditionally been used.

Two years later, in May 2007, a post entitled “Email IS Dying” referenced an article on “Firms to embrace Web 2.0 tools” published in the Computing newsletter from an original article published in a Gartner report. This article reminded me of a UCISA Poll on Instant Messaging published in 2004 in which a correspondent from the University of Bath stated that “mail seen by younger people to be ‘boring’ ‘full of spam’, IM and SMS immediacy preferred“.

The Gartner report described how:

MySpace and FaceBook are the most successful community environments on the planet because they have pulled people away from email, which is the one thing that nothing else has managed to do so far’.

Facebook has clearly developed significantly in its user base and functionality since Gartner published the report in 2007 although, on the other hand, MySpace has declined significantly. Perhaps the uncertainty as to who would ‘win’ in the battle over the social networking environments – a battle which is irrelevant for email users for which application independence has always been a key feature – has been a barrier to takeup of alternatives to email?

Are Email Lists on Life-Support?

The talks and articles which were presented and published over five years ago where meant to highlight to both early adopters and policy makers that there may be significant changes in the offing, which advance planning will need to consider. At the time the suggestions of a growth in importance of instant messaging (in itself, not a new technology, but one which had previously had little significant role in mainstream university activities) was meant to highlight a possible need to change institutional acceptable use policies which may previously have banned instant messaging services as having no useful role in support teaching and learning or research activities.  I suspect that use of instant messaging technologies is now widely permitted across the sector, perhaps because of an acknowledgment of the value of instant messaging, but also possibly due to the difficulty in banning such technologies, which seems to be now provided within many networked environments.

But although there is a need for advocacy and highlighting potential changes there is also a need to monitor changes in order to see if predictions are coming true or not.

Graph of JISCMail usageIn June 2010 a post on The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community documented evidence on 10 years use of two JISCMail lists which clearly demonstrated the decline in usage since about 2004 (illustrated in accompanying image).

A follow-up survey which explored use of JISCMail by the Dublin Core community was described in a post on DCMI and JISCMail: Profiling Trends of Use of Mailing Lists. This showed that although the overall numbers of lists is still growing, the total volume of traffic has been in decline since 2005. That survey caused me to speculate that new lists which have been created are failing to stimulate discussion and debate but are merely used to replicate posting advertising events, job vacancies and similar broadcast announcements across a range of lists. Although the limited interface options to JISCMail lists meant that I was not able to validate this speculation, in a post entitled Are Mailing Lists Now Primarily A Broadcast Medium? I did discover some small-scale evidence which backs up this assertion for a number of lists to which I subscribe.

Email lists are clearly still being used but evidence is starting to question their value. But at least email lists work across platforms. Or do they?

Are Email Lists Really Interoperable?

Client Limitations

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek post by Scott Wilson describes a Revolutionary messaging technology will challenge FB, Twitter, IM which:

  • It works on all kinds of devices and across all networks
  • You can search, read and respond to messages even when you’re offline
  • Works with intelligent filtering services
  • You can send and receive messages with anyone on any network, not just the same service provider you use
  • The server code is open source so you can run your own
  • Completely distributed architecture with no central server or hub node
  • Uses open standards for pretty much everything
  • Clients for all platforms including mobile, even TV – and anyone can make their own client as the API isn’t proprietary

Of course Scott is describing email. Scott goes on to add; that:

However, not everyone is convinced yet and think that we should stick with proprietary messaging silos tied to one service provider such as Facebook and Twitter, despite the obvious risk of these services being discontinued, monetized, tracking your communications for nefarious purposes, and spamming you with advertising at any opportunity. 

But is email really as interoperable as has been suggested? I used to think that email was interoperable – until I started to use email clients on a variety of platforms.

I’ve experienced particular problems with reading digests of messages from JISCMail lists. This is my preferred way of using mailing lists, as it helps to minimise the numbers of messages arriving in my incoming mail folder. However despite being able to view messages successfully using the digest’s MIME interface in the past, since moving to new email clients I have found that either such messages can’t be viewed (on an Apple Macintosh or iPod Touch email client) or have to be viewed by Notepad (using Thunderbird on an MS Windows platform).

HTML and Email

A W3C Note on Conventions for use of HTML in emailwas published way back in January 1998. However it wasn’t until May 2007 that the W3C organised a W3C HTML Mail Workshop and the minutes failed to provide details of any actions which arose from the meeting. It does appear that, despite the paper on Web standards: a must for html email which was presented at the meeting, there is a lack of agreed standards for how HTML should be used in email, resulting in IT Service departments, such as Glasgow University’s “recommend[ing] sending ‘plain text’ email instead of HTML or rich text email, particularly if sending email to a large distribution list“. Despite suggestions that we should we moving towards use of more semantically rich content we do seem to often be discarding the simple structural elements provided in HTML when we make use of email.

Technical Challenges in Reusing Email Content

As well as the lack of visual clues which can be presented by HTML, I am also aware that software developers who wish to process content held in email archives can find it difficult to process the variety of ways in which messages and accompanying attachments can be stored.

Email has been described as the place “where knowledge goes to die“. A cynic might also regarded mailing lists as a DRM system which makes it harder for content to be reused!

Email is Happy in its Rest Home?

Two years ago Esther Steinfeld asking people to Stop Saying Email is Dying. It’s Not. But last week an article on the Financial Times Web site (free subscription needed to view article) reported on the story about how:

When Thierry Breton, chief executive of Atos, said the IT services company would ban use of internal email by 2014, it caused a sensation across the media, with commentators describing the idea as either “brave”, “stupid” or doomed to failure.

but went on to point out that:

a number of companies have been quietly moving away from using email as the primary way of communicating within the company.

The article described how companies such as Capgemini are making use of social networking tools such as Yammer to replace some of the functionality traditionally provided by email, with Capgemini stating that “it has reduced its internal email traffic by 40 per cent in the 18 months since staff began using Yammer“.  Capgemini, together with companies such as Klick and Atos continue to use email for communicating with people outside the companies and expect that email will continue to exist in some form for many years to come. However email management consultant Monica Seely suggested that “In three to five years we will see a more pluralistic landscape with messages being transferred to some kind of social media platform. But email will remain a bedrock of businesses for some time to come.

A post on the Social Media in Organisations blog entitled The “End” of Email: Reflections from a Digital Era Thinker also highlighted “the recent statement made by Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, about the “elimination” of email at the company [which] churned up quite a bit of controversy in cyberspace” and suggested that “It All Boils Down to Leadership“.

The (Technology) Ghosts of Christmas Yet To Come

This post was initially entitled “Reflections on the Slow Death of Email“. But since there have been 10 responses in May 200714 responses in June 20103 responses in December 2010 and 8 responses in May 2011 to previous posts on this topic, rather than revisiting the discussions on the flaws and merits of email we need to accept that there will be a divergence in views on the merits of email and on the merits of promoting changes or accepting user preferences.

It should also be clear that a move towards making greater use of richer alternatives to email isn’t to imply a matter of leadership, as was suggested above. In the commercial sector companies may find it easier to enforce policy decisions about technologies, as was seen when WH Smiths made the business decision to stop selling LPs. In the public sector, however, there is a need to support sectoral needs rather than being driven by purely commercial interests. And since it is clear that there is no clear support for a move away from email, the suggestion that it boils down to leadership does seem incorrect.

For me, therefore, a broader question which considerations of the slow decline in email raises is “What technologies do we have today which we might like to replace and how do we, if at all, address a reluctance to change?

An example of a technology which some people expected to experience a sharp decline was Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office applications. Back in the mid to late 1990s I can recall people arguing that due to factors including:

  • The cost of these products
  • The proprietary nature of the products
  • Legal moves within the EU and the US based on possible illegal selling practices
  • The growing maturity of open source alternatives such as Linux and Star Office and Open Office

we would see Microsoft decline in importance.

This clearly didn’t happen. Microsoft is still around but is now facing other threats including a renewed popularity of Apple Macintosh computers and a growth in mobile devices, including smart phones and tablet computers, with Apple and Android providing the main threats.

But writing off Microsoft can be easy (and tempting) to do. It will be more interesting to think about other areas of technology in which we might expect innovations to replace existing well-established products and services, but subsequently find that users are content with the existing working patterns, even if flawed, and remain unconvinced that it is worth making a change. I’d welcome your suggestions.

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The Failure of Citizendium

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 December 2011

Remembering Citizendium

A few days ago I read Steve Wheeler’s post on Content as Curriculum? having being alerted to it by Larry Sanger’s post on An example of educational anti-intellectualism to which Steve provided a riposte in which Steve argued the need to Play the ball, not the man.

From the blog posts I learnt that Larry Sanger is a co-founder of Wikipedia and, as described on his blog is the “‘Founding Editor-in-Chief’ of the Citizendium, the Citizens’ Compendium: a wiki encyclopedia project that is expert-guided, public participatory, and real-names-only”.

I have to admit that I had forgotten about Citizendium but the little spat caused me to revisit the Web site. While searching I came across a discussion entitled Why did Citizendium fail? and yes, it does seem that this “endeavor to achieve the highest standards of writing, reliability, and comprehensiveness through a unique collaboration between Authors and Editors” has failed. But although we often talk about success criteria, it can be more difficult to identify failures. How then, can we describe Citizendium as a failure?

Experiences With Citizendium

A few years ago I signed up for a Citizendium account. In order to register you need to provide your real name and include “a CV or resume … as well as some links to Web material that tends to support the claims made in the CV, such as conference proceedings, or a departmental home page. Both of these additional requirements may be fulfilled by a CV that is hosted on an official work Web page“.

I registered as I felt that if Citizendium became successful being an author could provide a valuable dissemination channel for those areas in which I have expertise. In particular I had an interest in helping to manage the Web accessibility entry in Citizendium. However I found that I did not have the time – or inclination – to edit this article. Looking at the article today it seems that the “page was last modified 09:25, 10 January 2008” and “has been accessed 221 times“. It is perhaps good news that the page has been viewed so little as it is not only very out-of-date but is also poorly written. It also seems that there have been no content added to the Talk, Related Articles, Bibliography or External Links pages or the also no entries

In comparison we can find that the Web Accessibility entry in Wikipedia has been edited 575 times by 277 users. There were also 10,911 views in November 2011.

Discussion

Perhaps there may be those who could argue that Citizendium isn’t a failure, but has a valuable role to play in a particular niche area which is not being addressed by Wikipedia. But how can this argument be made when Citizendium’s aim to “endeavor to achieve the highest standards of writing, reliability, and comprehensiveness through a unique collaboration between Authors and Editors” results in entries such as this one on Silverlight vs Flash:

With the rocket development of Internet, the techniques used for building web pages is improving all the time, which not only brings people more information but new experience of surfing on the Internet. Many techniques have been applied to enrich the web page these years, from totally the plaintext in early 90’s, first to web page with pictures and then that with embedded sounds. Later, Sun Microsystems proposed Java Applet, which was popular for not long time until being conquered by Adobe Flash.

Back in March 2008 the Citizendium FAQ asked the question:

How can you possibly succeed? Wikipedia is an enormous community. How can you go head-to-head with Wikipedia, now a veritable goliath?

The solid interest and growth of our project demonstrates that there are many people who love the vibrancy and basic concept of Wikipedia, but who believe it needs to be governed under more sensible rules, and with a special place for experts. We hope they will join the Citizendium effort. We obviously have a long way to go, but we just started. Give us a few years; Wikipedia has had a rather large head start.

Three and a half years later it seems clear that in the battle between the online encyclopedia “governed under more sensible rules, and with a special place for experts” has been unable to compete with the “vibrancy and basic concept of Wikipedia“.

I’m pleased that Steve Wheeler’s link to Larry Sanger’s blog post helped me to remember my initial curiosity regarding the more managed approach to gathering experts’ knowledge provided by Citizendium and demonstrated the failings in such an approach. Let’s continue making Wikipedia even better is my call for 2012.

Posted in General, Wikipedia, Wikis | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

The Web Management Community of Practice

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 July 2011

Maximising Institutional Webmaster Impact

UKOLN’s IWMW 2011 event takes place at the University of Reading next week.  We’ve always felt that this event should not be constrained to the physical space and time. The event amplification will be provided again this year, with dedicated support providing an official Twitter stream for the remote audience watch the live video stream. In addition we have encouraged speakers and workshop facilitators to summarise their sessions on the IWMW 2011 blog. I was particularly interested in George Munroe’s post on his session on Maximising Institutional Webmaster Impact.

As can be seen from the accompanying slides the focus of George’s session is “how institutional webmasters can be more effective at their work“. As described in the accompanying abstract:

This workshop session will explore how institutional web managers can be most effective at their work by considering a number of areas that influence a webmaster’s effectiveness, including (but not limited to):

  • Users—ensuring empathy with users, conflicting requests, ambitious or difficult users
  • Process—introducing and maintaining disciplines, embracing change methodically
  • Technology—adopting appropriate technology (HTML5, CSS3, RDFa, linked data…)
  • Skills—learning and sharing with others, being aware of what is possible
  • Metrics—for measuring the service, indicators of success
  • Authority—dealing with non technical superiors and making the case for resources

The goal of the session is to compile a maximising institutional webmaster impact (MIWI) checklist that will draw from the experiences and views of those attending. Part of this goal is to ensure that the checklist is informed by the views of practitioners from many institutions and could therefore serve as a commonly accepted cross-institutional guide to webmaster best practice.

The Web Management Community of Practice

I am also running a 90-minute workshop session at IWMW 2011. The title of my session is The Web Management Community: Beyond IWMW and JISCMail Lists and it appears that this session complements George’s nicely. Rather than looking at institutional approaches for maximising a webmaster’s effectiveness, my session will explore ways in which engagement with one’s peers outside the host institution can also maximise one’s effectiveness.

The session will explore the notion of the Web Management Community of Practice (CoP). But what is a Cop? According to Wikipedia a Community of Practice is:

a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and / or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.

CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunch room at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment.

This definition seems to reflect the approaches which have been taken by the Web management community over the past 15 years or so, with the IWMW series of events having been “created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field” and complemented by, for example, the web-support and website-info-mgt mailing lists which support “the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other“.

But as reported in a recent survey use of the JISCMail lists have dropped significantly over the past five years. Does this signify the decline in the community or has the community migrated to other online environments?

Twitter as a Tool for Supporting Communities of Practice

A post on TWITTER AS A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE FOR EDUCATORS published in 2008 pointed out that “communities of practice are not static but subject to evolution” and described how “Membership of a [CoP] is voluntary and a community often grows informally around a need“.  The second part of the post provided examples of ways in which “educators find meaning in their enterprise through twitter and this is linked to their identity in very interesting ways” and concluded “Twitter is the platform of choice for many lifelong learners and, as a community of practice, it presents us with learning opportunities and presents a welcoming way to enter a network“.

A more recent post asked IS TWITTER A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE? Daniel Hooker felt that:

And even though now that Twitter (and many communities of practice within it, including #hcsm/ca/eu) has matured and is being used effectively by so many people, I am growing concerned about its future and about the deep reliance that we have on it for much of our day to day practice. The paradox of social media is that we are currently slave to the tools at our disposal.

But concluded that:

… framing Twitter as a transforming Community of Practice may help to contextualize the position that we are all in as we build and invest our communications strategies on top of tools that are often less interested in freedom of information and communication than we may care to think. Because I believe in the collaborative power of social media, however, I look forward to seeing Twitter and the communities within it transform. And I also look forward to whatever it is that comes next.

Beyond Twitter

Although the potential benefits of Twitter have been discussed for a number of years, there may be other technologies which complement or, perhaps, replace technologies such as Twitter. As Daniel Hooker concluded in his post which was published in March 2011 “I also look forward to whatever it is that comes next“.  Might Google + be that tool?  I think it is too soon to answer that question, especially as, from a personal0 perspective, I am in the phase of adding people to my UKWebFocus Google+ account (for which I have also claimed the shortner http://gplus.to/ukwebfocus and http://gotoplus.me/ukwebfocus) and have yet to see how (and, indeed if)  it will be integrated into my daily working practices – as Twitter is.

It will be interesting to see how the 25 or so participants in this session feel that the Web Management community of practice may develop in the future.  But since the workshop will take place next week I’ve welcome suggestions on ways in which emerging new technologies may be used to support communities in other areas of work.

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Don’t Go To #ThatLondon in 2012!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 July 2011

Just over a week ago I had a meeting in London and, due to the early start, I went the day before, which had the benefits of getting a cheap train ticket and a night’s accommodation is cheaper than the full-priced return ticket from Bath. Normally that’s the case, but when I used Laterooms (which, as I’ve described previously, I’m a happy user of), I found that the cheapest room available cost about £300! Eventually I managed to find a room for about £80 but it made me wonder why there was a shortage of reasonable-priced hotel accommodation that night (with one colleague from CETIS having to book hotel accommodation well outside the city centre. It seems the reason was the meeting was taking place during the Wimbledon fortnight – which I would probably have realised if I was a tennis fan rather than a football supporter!

I then realised that we would be encountering these difficulties to a much greater extent if we have trips to London, next year, during the Olympics 2012. And although they take place outside of the normal time for meetings and conferences (27 July – 12 August) we’ll need to bear in mind the various associated events, such as the Cultural Olympiad which culminates in the “London 2012 Festival, bringing leading artists from all over the world together from 21 June 2012 in the UK’s biggest ever festival“, to say nothing of the Rapperlympics, during which “rapper teams from across the globe descend on London to cross swords at the prestigious DERT tournament” of the weekend on 30 March – 1 April (thinks: the Olympic Committee will use anyone misusing the symbol of five interlocking circle -are five interlocking swords permitted?).

It seems then that those of us working in the public sector would be advised to avoided organising meetings and events in London at a time when the city is likely to be even more crowded than normal and venues and accommodation will be expensive.

As I suggested to JISC, this might provide an opportunity to explore ways in which technological solutions may be used to provide alternatives to travel, which may not only be particularly more cost-effective next summer but also provide environmental benefits. Now is the time to be exploring ways in which online meetings and events can become more embedded as alternatives to face-to-face meeting or amplified / hybrid events used to provide interested participants with the flexibility of choosing whether or not to travel (Monday’s workshop on “Metrics and Social Web Services: Quantitative Evidence for their Use and Impact“, for example, has about 50 registered participants with another 20 remote participants who will be watching the live video stream).

My initial thoughts were clearly based on use of video-streaming and related technologies. But inevitably we will be travelling to London on business purposes next year. How might we be able to share our experiences of possible problems in a lightweight fashion across the sector? It seems to me that the answer lies in Twitter, if we can agree on a common relevant hashtag.

I was reminded of these ideas yesterday after asking my colleague Paul Walk about a recent trip he had to London. On his way he tweeted:

Off to that London. I don’t regret moving away from London but sometimes I wonder how successfully I did…

Paul has used the expression “that London” on a number of occasions, and I wondered where it came from. Paul and I think we remember it from ‘kitchen sink dramas’ of the late 50s/ early 60s (Saturday Night & Sunday Morning’, perhaps). Last night I tried to discover the origin of the expression. This proved more difficult that I had expected – but it was also provided an interesting exercise in the various approaches to resource discovery which I though would be worth sharing.

I had little joy with a search for “that London” using Google. Initially if discovered “that London is the capital of England“! Using search terms such as “Origin of expression ‘That London’” gave no further insights, so at around midnight I asked by networks on Twitter and Facebook for their suggestions. A couple of people discovered the Harry Enfield “The Scousers go To Londonsketch from YouTube. Might the expression have originated from this popular comedy programme?

Dave Pattern pointed me in the direction of John Popham’s post on the Our Society blog on “What goes on in “That London?” in which he reflected on the differences in approaches to social action between the north and the south and suggested that:

Maybe the old northern adage is true after all, “they do things differently in that London”, but what they do affects us all.

This usage reflects my interpretation of the term with, as discussed on Twitter earlier today “that London” having a somewhat derogatory connotation.

If we wish to agree on a tag so that we can complain about the difficulties of travelling to London next year, the costs of the accommodation and the difficulties of finding something to eat, could we use the #ThatLondon hashtag, so that we avoid having to mint and then popularise a new tag? But perhaps this tag will be used in too many other contexts (I should add that the tag was mentioned in a comment by Paul Webster on John Popham’s post and I have created a TwapperKeeper archive in order to gain a better understanding of its current and future usage). My suggestion:

The #ThatLondon12 hashtag can be used to share experiences of problems and difficulties related to travelling to or being in London during the Olympic 2012 year.

Any takers? Or should we just use #’ThatLondon?

Meanwhile can anyone with better searching skills than I have find evidence of use of the “that London” term which predates Harry Enfield?

Posted in General, Twitter | 3 Comments »

Reflections on UKOLN’s Activities at #UniofBath During #UniWeek

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 June 2011

Universities Week What's the Big Idea? 13-19 June 2011 This week is Universities Week – a national campaign demonstrating the benefits of universities in Britain. The theme for Friday is “Big Ideas for the Future“.  Today there will be a ’24-hour Twitter marathon’ in which universities from across the UK are taking part. The aim is to “tweet about the research, work or volunteering you are doing and how it impacts on people outside the University“.

The University of Bath is supporting this campaign and those of us who use Twitter have been encouraged to join using the hashtags #UniWeek and #UniofBath.

Since not everyone is aware that UKOLN is based at the University of Bath, it struck me that this campaign provides an opportunity to highlight UKOLN’s role in supporting innovation and research across the Higher Education sector.

There is of course an official summary about UKOLN but to explain briefly, UKOLN’s work is to advise on policy and practice in areas of Higher Education which support research, study and teaching, such as digital libraries, metadata and resource discovery, distributed library and information systems, research information management, Web preservation, etc. It provides network information services including the Ariadne magazine and also runs workshops and conferences.

UKOLN is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the Higher and Further Education Funding Councils, as well as by project funding from the JISC and the European Union. UKOLN also receives support from the University of Bath where it is based. More details on UKOLN activities can be found on the UKOLN Web site.  UKOLN aims to inform practice and influence policy in the areas of: digital libraries, metadata and resource discovery, distributed library and information systems, bibliographic management, and web technologies. It provides network information services, including the Ariadne magazine, and runs workshops and conferences.

UKOLN began life in 1977 when the British Library funded the University of Bath Programme of Catalogue Research. A celebration of UKOLN’s 30 years of work took place in the British Library in 2008 and a timeline of our activities was produced for the event which is illustrated below.

Looking at some of the activities mentioned in the timeline, we can see some examples of how UKOLN has helped to “inform practice and influence policy“:

  • The Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series was launched in 1997 and has been held annually ever since. This year’s event takes place at the University of Reading on 26-27 July.  The IWMW event helps to support the work and professional development of university Web managers and developers. Since 1995 the event has exploited event amplification technologies in order to maximise the impact of events such as conferences by providing video and other information and communication services over the Web to people who cannot be there in person.
  • UKOLN contributed a great deal to the development of better ways to make whole collections of resources more accessible to students and academics through its  Collection Description Focus work.
  • UKOLN is a major partner in the Digital Curation Centre which was established in March 2000. The DDC helps universities to realise and meet the challenge of managing academic data so that it remains accessible and understandable for many decades to come. The aim is not only to save information but also money for a long time into the future. UKOLN’s work as part of the DCC has included the production of the International Journal of Digital Curation and organisation of the International Digital Curation Conference: “an annual highlight in the digital curator’s calendar, providing an opportunity to get together with like-minded data practitioners to discuss policy and practice“. This year’s conference, incidentally, takes place in Bristol in December (and there’s still over a month before the closing date for submission of papers).

Some of many other achievements I might include:

  • The influential consultative report by Dr Liz Lyon, Director of UKOLN, Open Science at Web-Scale: Optimising Participation and Predictive Potential – Consultative Report which reviews the evidence and opinion surrounding data-intensive Open Science and considers the radical effect it will have on the way research is conducted.
  • UKOLN’s DevCSI work to support software developers and other HE professionals to help  “realise their full potential, by creating the conditions for them to be able to learn, network effectively, share ideas, collaborate and innovate creating a ‘community’ of developers in the learning provider sector which is greater than the sum of its parts“.
  • In another initiative to save digital information from disappearing – a very serious issue for all organisations – UKOLN led the JISC-funded  JISC PoWR (Preservation of Web Resources) project which provided universities and other institutions with guidelines on how best to preserve the resources they hold on the Web.
  • Our remote-working champion, Marieke Guy, has sought to develop best practice for UKOLN colleagues who work away from the University of Bath campus.  The open approach Marieke has taken for this work includes the use of her Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog which was instrumental in her winning the national Remote Worker Award.

One of the themes Universities Week is looking at is how “innovative research currently underway in university communities will bring great change within the next 20 years“. During its 30+ years – and during my 15 years since I moved to UKOLN – we have seen tremendous changes in the ways in which networked technologies have altered teaching and learning activities, the research community, and work in the wider sector. I feel that such innovation is likely to continue – current economic pressures will create even more demand for improvements in working practice across the Higher Education sector. My colleagues and I at UKOLN look forward to supporting such innovation further, both here at the University of Bath and across the wider Higher Education community.

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Education: Addressing the gaps between the fun and the anxieties

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 April 2011

Later today if my 3 minute talk is selected I’ll be giving my thoughts on education at the  #purposedpsi event in Sheffield.   Purpos/ed is “a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?”. I have made my contribution on a recent post entitled “Education Will Make Us Anxious“. My brief presentation builds on this idea (which was taken from a post by Dave White)  and mashes it up with Tom Barrett’s comment that “Education should be about cradling happiness”.  I feel that both ideas are true – and the challenge for those of us working in the education profession is in understanding and addressing the gap.

A 3 minute  slidecast of a rehearsal of my talk is available on Slideshare and is embedded below.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to give acknowledgements for use of the photograph entitled “Hippie Carnival Arambol (Goa)” used on slide two which was taken by ‘PeterQ‘ and is available on Flickr and the photograph used on slide three entitled “Anxious” which was taken by ‘Phoney Nickle‘ and is available on Flickr under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. I am grateful for permission to use these images.

Script

Note also that the script for the talk is given below.

My name is Brian Kelly. I’m based at UKOLN at the University of Bath and this is my contribution to the Purpos/ed campaign on the future of education.

In his blog post on the purpose of education Tom Barrett suggested that “Education should be about cradling happiness” .  Another way of putting this which we will be familiar with is that “learning should be fun”.  And the fun that we can have in learning new things – which can include social learning, such as the dancing illustrated in this photograph – as well as scholarly learning need  not be restricted to the learner.  It can also be fun teaching.

In contrast to Tom Barratt’s comment, Dave White felt that “Education should make us anxious”.  We will have all experienced feeling of anxiety whether it’s due, as in my case, to the  difficulties in memorising irregular French verbs, understanding molecular chemistry or, more recently, trying to lean a new rapper sword dance.

But just as the fun aspects of learning aren’t restricted to the learner, so the feelings of anxiety will be felt by others involved in learning: the teacher wondering whether the approaches they are taking are working and whether they’ve chosen the right resources for the learner.  Similarly those involved in use of technology to enhance learning may be worried whether the right technological approaches are being used.  Is the Social Web, for example, really an appropriate mechanism for supporting informal learning?  Was the open source VLE environment the right choice? And policy makers may secretly be anxious over changes in policies: “I’m suggesting that new approaches to learning will be more effective than those used 30 years ago – but I did OK from the old styles of learning – what if I’m wrong and the ‘back to basics’ campaigners are right?  After all, I’ve little evidence of the benefits of the new approaches.”

For me, then, education is about understanding and addressing the gaps between the feeling of fun and excitement in learning something new and the feelings of anxiety which we may sometimes forget about.  And let me point out that I’m not suggesting that the gap should be removed – I don’t think this is possible.  Let me quote in full Dave White’s comment on anxiety:

 “… education should make us anxious: anxious to discover new ways of understanding and influencing the world.  It should challenge our ways of seeing and force us to question our identities and our positions.

Learning professionals – and learning organisations – will continually strive to discover new ways of influencing learners and the learning processes. We will always be anxious. There will always be tensions. This is the challenge of the profession we have chosen.

Posted in Events, General | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Education Will Make Us Anxious

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 April 2011

#Purposed, #purposedpsi and #500words

On Saturday I am attending the #purposedpsi event in Sheffield.  Purpos/ed isa non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?” In the run-up to the event the campaign has encouraged people to contribute 500 words on their own blogs on the purpose of education.

This has been followed with the 3×5 Flickr mashups campaign which encourages people to read the blogs, identify an interesting quotation and post an annotated image illustrating the quotation to the Purpos/ed Flickr group.

I was a bit late finding out about the campaign but as I’ll be attending the afternoon meeting later this week I thought I would give my thoughts in 500 words on a post by Dave White, a member of the ALT 2010 learning Technologist Team of the Year, entitled Education should make us anxious.

“Education should make us anxious”

The comment which Dave White published on his blog as part of the #500 words campaign is worth reading in context:

My view is that education should make us anxious: anxious to discover new ways of understanding and influencing the world.  It should challenge our ways of seeing and force us to question our identities and our positions. Education should disrupt as much as it builds, ultimately teaching how to learn not what to learn.

I’m sure we have all had that feeling of anxiety, when one’s world view is being disrupted by new ideas we start to understand and influence how we behave and how we act.  These unsettling moments were also mentioned by Josie Fraser, who in her contribution to the debate suggested that:

Education should critically ensure children, young people and adults are equipped to be unsettled, to be confronted by difference, to be changed, and to effect change.

In my attempt to belatedly participate in the #purposed campaigns I looked for a Flickr image which could be used to illustrate the quotations from Dave White’s post.

Rather than using an image of an individual looking anxious I noticed this poster showing different types of sport anxieties. It’s easy to see how some of these idea could be applied to the anxieties felt by learners:

  • I’ll look stupid and be belittled by cleverer kids.
  • They’ll make fun of my mistakes.

The poster also suggests that teachers and learning technologists  as well as learners can be anxious:

  • I do my best as a teacher and all I get back is booed at.

If they were capable of feelings the learning technologies themselves might be anxious.  Perhaps Mr Blackboard might be saying “I get shot at and can’t escape“.  On the other hand it might be the institutions themselves which are being short at.

Learning institutions are anxious

Rather than exploring the issue of the anxieties which education can cause for the learner I’d like to conclude my 500 words by reflecting on the anxieties which educational institutions will be facing. But rather than commenting on the easy target of the cuts the educational sector is currently facing I’d like to suggest that tensions between learning organisations, and learners will always be present.   This was something I was unaware of when I was an Information Officer in an IT Services department at the University of Leeds.  Colleagues in the department had to identify the ‘best application in various areas with my role being to  provide documentation and training for the recommended applications.   We’d chosen the most appropriate office applications, data visualisation tools and statistical applications and around that time I left IT support I was hearing the ‘VLE’ term being used.  Which would be the best VLE, I wondered?   Blackboard and WebCT seemed popular, although the open source Moodle application  had its supporters.  It turned out that, at the time, a home-grown solution – the Bodington VLE, was to provide the VLE environment across the institution.

But now the PLE is the new VLE – and this disrupts the view that the central IT services, working closely with users, can identify the most appropriate solution for the institution and ensure that cost-effective support services are provided. This can also be disruptive for those who felt that the solution must inevitable be an open source solution.  If the learners are using their mobile phones to access learning on YouTube and a range other Google services, where does this leave a vision for an open e-learning environment?  The learning environment can be an anxious environment for us all.

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Are Mailing Lists Now Primarily A Broadcast Medium?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 April 2011

In a post entitled DCMI and JISCMail: Profiling Trends of Use of Mailing Lists I provided evidence of the decline in usage of mailing lists across a research community – those involved in development and use of Dublin Core metadata standard.

Nos. of message posted to web-support and websiyte-info-mgt JISCMail lists, 1999-2009This analysis followed a previous survey which was described in a post on The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community and is illustrated in the accompanying histogram.

Since it appears that  the various functions provided by mailing lists are being replaced by use of other channels (such as blogs, Twitter, etc.) over Christmas I decided to unsubscribe from quite a number of JISCMail lists.  Those that I remained on (primarily library-related lists) I receive via daily digests.

On Saturday I received four messages from JISCMail lists.  I noticed they contained following messages:

JISC-INNOVATION Digest – 24 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-7)
CFP: Digital Classicist Seminars 2011: Announcement of a call for papers.

JISC-REPOSITORIES Digest – 31 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-56)
Brief survey about initiatives to encourage deposit: Request to complete survey.
ISKO UK Biennial Conference 4th-5th July 2011 – Early Bird registration during April: Conference announcement.

LIS-WEB2 Digest – 29 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-35)
Event: Registration now open for Usability and User-Centred Design Day: Event announcement.

LIS-LINK Digest – 31 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-75)
Lis-Link: LCF 2011 Conference: Conference announcement.
Brief survey on work of the Coalition for LIS Research: Request to complete survey.
UKeiG Course – Don’t miss out: Mobile access to information resources: Event announcement.
Copyright Query: User query.
UKSG – win the new Kindle 3g Wifi – Credo Reference on Stand 55: Company advertisement.
Customer Services post at St George’s: Job announcement.
Fully funded PhD studentship: Loughborough University/ Amateur Swimming Association: Research vacancy announcement.
ALPSP Seminar: Making Sense of Social Media, 24 June – London UK: Event announcement.

Of these twelve message only one (the Copyright Query message) was looking to instigate a response on the mailing list: the other eleven were all looking for people to visit a Web resource.  It should also be noted that a number of the messages included “Apologies for cross-posting” comments indicating that the message were been published to multiple lists.

I can’t help but feel that although email is convenient to use with the information coming to the user, this isn’t necessarily the most efficient way of working in light of the many other tools which are now available. At a time in which there are accusations that there are efficiency savings to be made across the public  sector in general, with libraries in particular under close scrutiny, it does seem timely to revisit the question of whether continued usage of mailing lists as a default communications and alerting mechanism is the best way for the sector to proceed.  I also feel that the Library sector, with its expertise in information management, should be taking a leading role in exploring new working practices and ensuring that their user communities are made aware of the possibility of new approaches to working.

At the CILIP’s School Libraries Group Skills for the Future event held over the weekend I noticed from the tweets (archived on Twapper Keeper) that speakers at event addressed the need for school librarians to embrace such new technologies, with Phil Bradley arguing thatwe are ‘cybernomadic’ and need to be able to move all the time to where the conversation is“. I’d not heard the term “cybernomad” before; according to the Urban Dictionary it describes “someone who uses internet cafe’s a lot because they think going outside and using someone elses computer is better than using their own“. But I like Phil’s reinterpretation of the word.   I agree with Phil; there will be a need to move from the comfort of an existing online home and move to where others are – and this will be particularly true for a user-oriented service professions such as librarians, whether working on schools, pubic libraries or universities.

Revisiting the title of this post, “are mailing lists now primarily a broadcast medium?” it seems that for the one’s I’ve listed this may be the case.  But although this to be the case for my areas of interest, is it true more widely?  Indeed might Friday’s post have been an aberration,with the norm being discussions, debates and, possibly, arguments taking place on the lists?  To answer such questions – in order to inform personal decisions on use of mailing lists and polices on the establishment of new lists – it seems that there is a need to be able to easily monitor trends, including both personal usage patterns and wider developments. Unfortunately the Listserv software used on the JISCMail service does not seem to provide APIs to carry out such trend analysis. So perhaps the need is for list members to observe one’s personal uses and to be willing to question the effectiveness of continued use.  As for me, I would welcome the continuation of mailing lists as a discussion forum, and leave alerting to other tools.  Is that an unreasonable expectation?

Posted in General | 10 Comments »

ILI 2011 and the ‘New Normal’

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 March 2011

This year’s Internet Librarian International conference (ILI 2011) will be held in London on 27-28 October.  The call for speakers begins:

We are now in a time best characterised as the “New Normal”. The new normal isn’t just about austere budgets or the old chestnut of “doing more with less” – it’s also about new technologies. The new normal is having library patrons, users, customers and clients who know as much or more about technology than we do. It’s about partnerships and transparency, about new ways to develop and disseminate knowledge, about the increasing importance of communication skills, about opening up access to information, data, and knowledge.

What is meant by the term the ‘New Normal’ and how does it apply to in a library context?  I found an article on “The Politics Of The ‘New Normal’” which was published in The Atlantic in July 2009.  This states that “About a third of Americans, 32 percent, say they are spending less now and expect to make their present habits a “new normal” of their future budgetings“. The writer, Chris Good, goes on to add “One can’t help but wonder if the “new normal” has political ramifications“.

In a library (and educational) context in addition to the obvious economic and political changes there are also technological developments which are adding to the radical changes we are seeing across the sector.  But what might the implications of the ‘New Normal’ be in a Library context?  Let us assume that an accompanying discussion about such implications is based on an agreement that there are significant changes which will have an impact on working practices and will challenge orthodox thinking and working practices.   I should add that although the political and economic changes  are undoubtedly contentious there will be other changes which many will welcome.

Focussing on the technological developments we have seen in recent years it can  be argued that:

  • Many users now have the skills and access to technologies to find and access resources which previously were mediated by librarians.
  • We are seeing a decrease in the importance of finding via metadata and an increase in the importance of social discovery.
  • We are seeing a decrease in the importance of libraries providing access to trusted resources. Instead users now wish to access resources they find in the wild – but will need to be able to evaluate such resources.
  • We are seeing a  decrease in an unquestioning belief in the value of libraries and librarians and a need for the sector to be able to demonstrate value and pro-actively market themselves.

The Cabinet Office has recently published the Government ICT Strategy (PDF format).  The document provides many statements which, of the face of it, seem reasonable, especially for those who have been active  in IT development work.  For example:

  • projects tend to be too big, leading to greater risk and complexity, and limiting the range of suppliers who can compete“: Yes, there is value in agile development and rapid innovation projects which JISC, for example, has been funding.
  • Departments, agencies and public bodies too rarely reuse and adapt systems which are available ‘off the shelf’ or have already been commissioned by another part of government, leading to wasteful duplication“: The not-invented here syndrome we are familiar with.
  • systems are too rarely interoperable“: Again we are familiar with non-interoperable silos.

A number of solutions the government is proposing will we welcomed by many:

  • create a level playing field for open source software“: The JISC OSS Watch service has provided advice in this area  to the HE/FE sector.
  • impose compulsory open standards, starting with interoperability and security“: Many will see benefits in mandating use of open standards which can help public sector organisations from continuing to make use of proprietary formats.

Whilst there are aspects of the Government ICT Strategy which make for uncomfortable reading it does seem to me that there may be benefits in embracing new approaches which may build on experiences gained over recent years in working in a changing environment with changing user expectations and requirements.

I will be interested to see how speakers at the ILI 2011 conference will address the implications of the “New Normal”.  Note that the deadline for submissions is 8 April – so if you have an interest in sharing your experiences I’d encourage you to submit a proposal.  If you are not able to submit a proposal, I’d welcome suggestions on what the New Normal might mean to you – I’d especially welcome positive examples.

Posted in Events, General, library2.0 | 2 Comments »

Time to Move to GMail?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 March 2011

The University of Bath email service is still down. The problems were first announced 0n Twitter at 06.02 on 24 February:

The University email is currently running at risk of failure we are working towards a fix – sorry for any disruption caused.

Later that day we heard:

University email will be unavailable for the rest of the day -for alternative use University Instant Messenger Jabber: http://bit.ly/fAshWi

The problems continued the following day and so BUCS (the Bath University Computing Service) announced an interim email service: I can now send and receive email but can’t access any email messages which I received prior to 25 February.  I must adit that this provides a strange feeling of bliss (my email folder is almost empty!), but I  know that the actions which I’m now running behind on will come back to haunt me when the full email service is restored.

Of course communications have continued, particularly on Twitter. I’m pleased, incidentally, that BUCS have been using Twitter as a communications channel to keep their users informed of developments.  It has also occurred to me how I am still able to continue working using Twitter to support my professional activities: how, I wonder, are others at the University of Bath who don’t use Twitter coping?

During this outage, whilst away in London, I suggested that use of Google’s GMail service might be appropriate.  In response I received the ironical reply:

Gmail never breaks. Oh. Wait. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/38815/gmail-reset-deletes-correspondence-history :)

It seems that on the day Bath University email users were suffering as a consequence of hardware problems on its email servers Gmail was also having problems. As the PocketLint article rather dramatically announced:

Oh dear – looks like Google has dropped the bomb on hundreds of thousands of Gmail accounts, wiping out years of email and chat history.

You can’t trust GMail to provide a reliable email service seemed to be the sub-text of other Twitter followers who responded to my initial tweet.  But is that really the case? I have described the continuing problems with the BUCS email service (which are summaried in a BUCS FAQ). But what is the current status of GMail?

Whilst Computer Weekly has highlighted the problems of use of Web-based email services the CBC News has pointed out thatGmail messages [are] being restored after bug“.  The article described how  emails “are being restored to Gmail accounts temporarily emptied out two days ago”. This problem was either small-scale – “About 0.02 per cent of Gmail users had their accounts completely emptied“) or significant – “media outlets estimate there are roughly 190 million Gmail users, so about 38,000 were affected”. The problem, caused by a bug which has now been fixed, did not affect me whereas the BUCS email outage clearly has.  Which, I wonder, is the more significant problem?

I have to admit that I have been affected by outages in externally-hosted communications services previously. In September 2009  I wrote a post entitled “Skype, Two Years After Its Nightmare Weekend” which described how “Skype’s popular internet telephone service went down on August 16 [2007] and was unavailable for between two and three days“. This was also due to a software bug (related to MS Windows automated updates) which has been fixed – and I have continued to be a happy Skype user and agree with last year’s Guardian article which described “Why Skype has conquered the world”.

So yes there will be problems with externally-hosted systems, just as there will be problems with in-house systems (and ironically the day before the BUCS email system went down and two days before GMail suffered its problems my desktop PC died and I had to spend half a day setting up a new PC!). It may therefore be desirable to develop plans for coping with such problems – and note that a number of resources which provide advice on backing up GMail have been provided recently, including a Techspot article on “How to Backup your Gmail Account” and a Techland article on “How to backup GMail“.

But in addition to such technical problems there are also policy challenges which need to be considered. At the University of Bath email accounts are deleted when staff and students leave the institution (and for a colleague who retired recently the email account was deleted a day or so before she left). One’s GMail account, on the other hand, won’t be affected by changes in one’s place of study or employment.  In light of likely redundancies due to Government cutbacks isn’t it sensible to consider migration from an institutional email service?  And shouldn’t those who are working or studying for a short period avoid making use of an institutional email account which will have a limited life span?

Posted in General, preservation | 22 Comments »

DCMI and JISCMail: Profiling Trends of Use of Mailing Lists

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 December 2010

Earlier this year DCMI, the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, celebrated 15 years of Dublin Core. The UK higher education community has had a significant role to play in the development of Dublin Core, with colleagues and former colleagues at UKOLN having been involved since 1995.

Much of the discussions related to the development of Dublin Core standards and related activities has taken place on a series of JISCMail lists.  But how has use of these lists developed over time?  This is a question which relates to work I am involved in in exploring ways of analysing and interpreting data related to use of networked services.  I have previous described trends related to the growth in use of Facebook within UK universities and have captured evidence of early use of institutional use of iTunesU and YouTube Edu in order that future analyses will have benchmark figures to make comparisons with.

In order to understand the trends in use of JISCMail lists by those involved in standardisation, deployment and use of Dublin Core metadata I used the DCMI’s list of mailing lists as my starting point. I used the JISCMail search facility to obtain information on the numbers of posts on each list by carrying out a search for messages containing an ‘@’ in the sender’s email address sent between 1990 and 2010.  I have also included information on the date on which the mailing lists were established.

List Established Total Nos. of Posts
DCMI General Mailing List
General:
The broadest of mailing lists related to the international Dublin Core effort. Unlike other lists, which relate to the tasks of specific working groups or special interest areas, this list is for discussion of all issues relevant to the development, deployment, and use of Dublin Core metadata.
March 1996 5,659
DCMI Architecture Mailing List
Architecture:
This list, which supersedes dc-datamodel, dc-schema, and dc-implementors, is intended for discussion of a technical architecture for the Dublin Core.
October 2000 3,027
DCMI Communities Mailing Lists
Accessibility:
The DCMI Accessibility Community is a forum for individuals and organizations involved in implementing Dublin Core in a context of accessibility, with the objective to enhance interoperability of accessible resources through the use of Dublin Core metadata.
February 2002 589
Collection DescriptionThis list is intended for discussion of issues related to the use of the Dublin Core (DC) for describing collections of resources. February 2002 602
Education: Electronic discussion list to support the efforts of the international Dublin Core effort’s Educational metadata working group in exploring issues directly related to deployment of Dublin Core for the description of educational materials. August 1999 689
Environment: This list supports discussion of deploying Dublin Core metadata in environmental applications. February 2002 151
Government: This list is intended for discussion of the uses to which the Dublin Core Element Set might be put in describing government and public sector resources. December 1999 501
Identifiers: A Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) forum to discuss identifiers October 2007 32
Libraries: A mailing list for the DCMI Libraries group focussing on issues from the library sector. December 1999 433
Kernel: A list to support the work of the DCMI Kernel Group September 2003 60
Knowledge Management:A forum to support the work of the Dublin Core Knowledge Management Community December 2007 48
Localization and Internationalization: This list supports the efforts of the DCMI Localization and Internationalization group exploring issues directly related to deployment of Dublin Core metadata in multiple languages. January 1998 275
Preservation: The DCMI Preservation Community is a forum for individuals and organisations involved in implementing Dublin Core metadata in a context of long-term digital preservation, with the objective to promote the application of Dublin Core in that context. December 2003 191
Registry: The DCMI Registry Community is a forum for service providers and developers of both metadata schema registries and controlled vocabulary registries to exchange information and experience. December 1999 661
Science and Metadata: A forum for individuals and organisations to exchange information and knowledge about metadata describing scientific data February 2009 103
Social Tagging: Dublin Core social tagging discussion list October 2006 157
Standards: List to support discussion on issues related to standarization of DCMI specifications February 1999 107
Tools: This list supports discussion of building and using software tools related to the Dublin Core. April 2002 61
DCMI Task Groups Mailing Lists
Collection Description Application Profile Task Group: A list to support work on the Dublin Core Collection Description Application Profile January 2007 74
Kernel Application Profile Task Group: A list for developing the Dublin Core Kernel Application Profile November 2007 127
Metadata Provenance Task Group: The list will support the Dublin Core Task Group on Metadata Provenance June 2010 26
DCMI/NKOS Task Group: Dublin Core Metadata Initiative Task Group developing a Dublin Core Application Profile for KOS (Knowledge Organization System) Resources August 2010 3
DCMI/RDA Task Group: List to support discussion on Resource Description and Access (RDA) December 2005 532
TOTAL 26,692

Note that these statistics were collected on Friday 11 December 2010.

The Need For Trend Analysis

Such figures are pretty meaningless taken in isolation.  We might expect the general discussion lists to be more popular than more specialised lists, and well-established lists to have had more traffic than those which have only been set up recently.  Of more interest should be the trends showing usage of the lists.

As can be seen the number of posts to DCMI JISCMail lists peaked in 2002 and has dropped sharply since.  The number of lists has grown with sharp rises in 1999, 2002 and 2007. However the average number of posts to the lists has also seen a sharp decline.

The details for the individual lists are shown in the following chart.

I should also add that the data I collated in order to produce these charts is available as a Google Spreadsheet.

Discussion

Why the interest in metrics on usage of mailing lists?  In part such evidence can be used to identify whether technologies, in this case mailing lists, are still being actively used – as I described earlier this year in a post on The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community University Web managers seem to no longer be using mailing lists to the extent they did previously.

Mailing lists used to develop standards, as opposed to those used by practitioners to address routine queries, may be valuable for historical analyses, such as observing discussions on decisions taken.  The MarkMail service, for example, provides access to over 36,000 messages posted on the W3C’s www-html list.  But it seems that several lists, such as dc-identifiers and dc-knowledge-management, have failed to attract significant traffic, with only a total of 32 and 48 messages having been posted to these lists. Have the discussions taken place in other fora, I wonder?

It also seems to me that there is a need for popular services, such as JISCMail, to provide simple ways in which usage statistics along the lines I have illustrated in this post, can be produced.  I wonder whether this needs to be done by developments to the JISCMail Listserv software itself or could be layered on externally? Any thought?

Posted in General | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Gap Analysis: They Tweeted At #online10 But Not At #scl10

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 December 2010

Twitter Was Popular at #Online10

Last week I attended the Online Information 2010 conference, held at Olympia in London on 30 November – 2 December.  Unfortunately due to other commitments I could only attend on the first day.  But I was able to get a feel for the discussions on the next two days by watching the #online10 column in my Tweetdeck Twitter client – and I was able to do this during what would otherwise have been unproductive times such as standing on an overcrowded bus going to work.

At the time of writing Summarizr informs me that there have been 4,342 tweets from Twitter 1,022 users. This evidence suggests that Twitter had an important role to play at the conference, enabling those users to take part in discussions centred around the various talks presented at the conference as well as enabling conference delegates to cultivate and develop professional relationships. Without Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have met @Ankix and, over a meal and a few pints in the Warwick Arms with longstanding Twitter colleagues @karenblakeman@hazelh and @akenyg and @stephanbuettner, another new contact, shared experiences of the implications of the cuts across the library sector in the UK, Sweden and Germany.

Little Use of Twitter at #SCL2010

On the same day that I gave a talk at Online Information I was also presenting a pre-recorded video at the Scholarly Communication Landscape: Opportunities and challenges symposium which was held at Manchester Conference Centre, Manchester. For this one-day conference Summarizr informs us that there had been only 38 tweets from 6 Twitter users, but only my colleague Stephanie Taylor (who was supporting my video presentation) and Kevin Ashley, DCC Director  and speaker at the symposium) tweeted more than once. So whilst the far fewer numbers of tweets for this symposium will be due in part to it being a smaller event, running for a single day, the lack of any participation from the audience is, I feel, interesting.

The page about the event informs us that the symposium aims to “investigate the opportunities and challenges presented by the technological, financial and social developments that are transforming scholarly communication” with the programme going to add that “Online social networks are playing an increasingly important role in scholarly communication. These virtual communities are bringing together geographically dispersed researchers to create an entirely new way of doing research and creating scholarly work.

Quite.  But this one-day event, which was open to all staff and postgraduate research students at the University of Manchester, seems to have been unsuccessful in providing an opportunity for participants to try out for themselves Twitter,  an example of a popular online social network which is playing an increasingly important role in scholarly communication, as we saw from the evidence of its use at the Online Information 2010 conference. But rather than point out what the non-users of Twitter may have been missing (such as the active learning and the community engagement which I described above) it might be more interesting to reflect on the more general issues of how non-users of a service can be identified and how one might gain feedback from non-users of a service.

Gap Analysis

Getting feedback from users of a service can be easy – you know who they are and you will often have communications channel with them in which you can invite feedback. But getting feedback from non-users can be much more difficult – although such feedback can be immensely value in understanding reasons why a service isn’t being used and ensuring that enthusiast users don’t give a misleading impression of the benefits.

It might be useful to speculate why services aren’t being used.  Possible reasons for the  lack of Twitter use by the audience at the Scholarly Communication Landscape  symposium could be:

  • Technology problems: lack of or problems with a WiFi network could be responsible for a lack of event-related tweets.
  • Technology limitations: Potential Twitter users may feel that use of a Twitter client at an event is too complex.
  • It’s trivial: Twitter might be regarded as a trivial activity.
  • It’s rude: Use of Twitter at an event might be regarded as being rude and inconsiderate to other participants and to the speakers
  • Personal/profession balance: Twitter users may use it for personal rather than professional purposes.
  • Failure to see relevance: Participants may fail to see the benefits of use of Twitter at events.
  • Relevance not applicable: Participants may appreciate potential benefits of use of Twitter at events but feel such benefits are not applicable for them.
  • Style of working: Use of Twitter (or networked technologies) may not be relevant to personal styles of working.
  • Organisational culture: managers or others in the organisation may frown on such usage.

These are some of my thoughts on why Twitter might not have been used at the symposium, and you may be able to provide additional suggestions.  But how do we find out the real reasons as opposed to our speculations?  And how do we apply approaches for gap analysis to other areas besides use of Twitter? For example, in light of the subject areas which may have been covered at the event, how could we gauge views on the areas such as openness and institutional repositories? How can we gather evidence in order to inform policies on, say, deployment and use of new services or approaches?

Increasingly I’m beginning to think that these type of events should be much more than dissemination channels and provide feedback mechanisms to provide responses, enable aggregated views to be analysed, etc. For an event aimed at staff and postgraduate research students at an institution, such as the Scholarly Communication Landscape symposium which was open to all staff and postgraduate research students at the University of Manchester it would seem that there was an ideal opportunity to gain feedback on the opportunities and challenges in the areas of scholarly communications. And those opportunities and challenges will be shared by many others in the higher education sector.

My concluding thoughts:  events can provide a valuable opportunity for gathering feedback and comments on the areas addressed at the event. There is an opportunity to gather such feedback  using simple technologies which may be very costly to gather in other ways. Open sharing of such feedback can be beneficial to the wider community.  So let’s do it.

Or to provide a more tangible example.  One could ask an audience from one’s host institution if they would be interested in using an communications tool such as Twitter or Yammer to support work activities. Or perhaps whether staff would be willing to make their professional outputs available under a Creative Commons licence.  An example of how this might be approached is given below.

Posted in General, Twitter, Web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Understanding Disruptive Innovations: Your Input Needed

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 December 2010

In a recent blog post CETIS Director Adam Cooper  asks “Whither innovation in educational institutions in these times of dramatic cuts in public spending and radical change in the student fees and funding arrangements for teaching in universities?“. The post goes on to suggest that that innovation follows adversity and that “necessity is the mother of invention” and introduces the term “disruptive innovation” to describe the way well-run businesses can be disrupted by newcomers with good-enough offerings that focus on core customer needs (low end disruption).

In order to better understand the potentially disruptive innovations (or opportunities to weather the storm) posed by the combination on technological developments and the changing economic and political climate, UKOLN and CETIS (JISC Innovation Support Centres which help to support and further the work of the JISC Innovation group)  are  using an feedback tool to gather and allow ranking of such innovations. The tool asks the question:

Which ICT-based innovations are potentially disruptive to current models of higher education (forms of teaching, assessment, course structure, estate, research and research management, student management, etc…)?”

This feedback tool will be available until 10 December. We invite your participation – and feel free to disseminate the URL (http://tinyurl.com/disruption2010) to others.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

IWR Information Professional of the Year: Dave Pattern

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 November 2010

I’m delighted to report that Dave Pattern has been announced as the Information Professional of the Year in the annual Information World Review awards which took place at the Online Information 2010 conference.

As a former winner of the award I was on the judging panel. As I know (and like and admire) Dave I felt that when I took part in the judging process I should document the reasons why I felt Dave would be a worthy winner of this award.

I felt that the award should be given to someone who not only demonstrated their value within their hist institution (there are a great many librarians and ‘shambrarians’ for whom that would be true) but also could be shown to have had an impact across the wider community.

Dave has demonstrated his impact within the wider community in two areas.  Dave has been active in supporting the Mashed Libraries series of one day events  whoch have aimed to to “bring together interested people and doing interesting stuff with libraries and technology“. The original idea was conceived by Owen Stephens in a blog post on “Mashed Libraries? Would you be interested?” on 1 July 2008. The second response was from Dave, who showed his enthusiasm together with an example of his normal self-deprecating humour: “I’ve love to see a library unconference in the UK… I’m just too lazy to try and organise one myself! Count me in and, if nothing else, I can guarentee there’ll be two of use sitting in a room with our laptops!“.

Dave certainly wasn’t lazy in his support for the events as two of the six events have been held at Dave’s host institution, the University of Huddersfield: Mash Oop North on 7 July 2009 and Chips and Mash, on 30 July 2010.

Before Dave got involved with Mashed Libraries he was demonstrating the value which can be gained from mashing up library data. As you might expect from someone who is committed to sharing best practices across a wide community Dave has a blog (which was launched way back in May 2005) . On the blog you can read his posts on usage data, which includes a post entitled “2008 — The Year of Making Your Data Work Harder” in which Dave described his “code primarily designed for our new Student Portal — course specific new book list RSS feeds“. Dave was just giving talks about ways of exploiting data, he was writing code and implementing services which demonstrated the value of the approaches he was encouraging the library community to adopt.

The benefits of openness of library data are now much more widely accepted than when Dave began his work at the University of Huddersfield Library – and it was good to see the profile of his institutional work getting a higher profile through his work on JISC-funded projects.

It is clear that Dave has been a real asset to the University of Huddersfield.   It is pleasing that his value to the wider library community is now being appreciated through the award of the Information Professional of the year.

I’m sure that those who know Dave will join in with me in expressing congratulations on a richly deserved recognition on both the value of the work Dave has done for the sector and the warmth and esteem which many of us feel for Dave.

Posted in General | 6 Comments »

“We are a country in crisis. A country at war.”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 November 2010

Nick Poole didn’t mince his words in a blog post which summarised his keynote talk at yesterday’s UK Museums on the Web 2010 conference: “We are a country in crisis. A country at war.

The opening paragraph went on to give the political context to his views “We have a Coalition that does not fundamentally believe that culture should be funded by the taxpayer“.  This is not the type of comment you’d normally expect from the CEO of a public sector body, Collections Trust!

Having opened with this gloomy summary of the current environment Nick went to outline how the museum sector should resp0nd:

we have to use every tool in our armoury, and use them with the wisdom we have acquired in the past decade.

•    Fund imaginatively
•    Collaborate Creatively
•    Aggregate smartly
•    Build Openly

Imaginitive, creative, smart, open. These are the themes of our conference today. These are the qualities we must bring to designing this new future of ours.

Nick feels that technology is now embedded across the sector.  But this perceived maturity, rather than highlighting the importance  of IT innovation, is being used to marginalise  it and, it seems, focus simply on mainstream service delivery:

The place of technology is no longer at the margins of the museum. Our role as technologists is no longer to explore, to investigate, to discover. Our role, from today, from now is to deliver.

Is this a desirable approach? And are such views relevant for the higher education sector?

In many respects Nick is correct.  Following the initial use of the Web as a publishing medium the Web 2.0 revolution has provided a platform for much richer, interactive and user-focussed services, and the use of Social Web services makes it easier to deliver such services in a cost-effective ways.  I should add that UKOLN has been involved in support museums, libraries and archives in exploiting the potential of the Social Web through the series of workshops and presentations we have delivered across the cultural heritage sector for a number of years.

Job done? All that’s left is to persuade the risk averse local authorities to liberalise the policies regarding access to Social Web services (and the reductions to local authority funding will help that).

I think not.  Indeed as Nick said “We are a country in crisis. A country at war. We have a Coalition that does not fundamentally believe that culture should be funded by the taxpayer“. To which I might add “a Coalition that does not fundamentally believe that higher education should be funded by the taxpayer“.

Is this really a time when higher education (to position the discussion in our sector) when there is no longer a need “to explore, to investigate, to discover“?

Back is 1989 essay Francis Fukuyama published an essay “The End of History?” which was interpretted by some as an argument that a time of radical change is over and we had reached a plateau of political stability. Following 9/11 such views were widely debunked.

Are we at a time when we can predict “The End of IT’s History?“. The technology wars are over: Microsoft vs a whole range of software vendors over the years, the PC vs the Mac, the cathedral vs the bazaar, open source vs closed source, open vs closed. We now simply need to make use of commodity IT services in order to deliver our core mission, with the economic crisis providing the opportunity to recognise the need to accept this new reality?

In some areas this is true.  Running one’s own institutional email service is no longer regarded as something institutions need to do, as Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield has pointed out on her blog and at high profile talks on several occasions.

But the commodification of IT in some areas does not mean that this is true in all areas. Similarly the mainstreaming of a set of technologies today does not necessarily mean that significant  changes  won’t happen again in the future.

Adam Cooper touches on such issues in a post on “Whither Innovation?“.  Adam asks a similar question to Nick’s:

Whither innovation in educational institutions in these times of dramatic cuts in public spending and radical change in the student fees and funding arrangements for teaching in universities?

but reaches a different conclusion:

It seems to me that innovation always follows adversity, that “necessity is the mother of invention”.

Adam describes how the innovation theorist Clayton M Christensen coined the term “disruptive innovation” to describe ways “apparently well-run businesses could be disrupted by newcomers with cheaper but good-enough offerings that focus on core customer needs (low end disruption) or with initial offerings into new markets that expanded into existing markets.” Adam goes on to argue that “Disruptive innovation threatens incumbents with strategy process that fails to identify and adopt viable low-end or new-market innovation. In our current context of disruption by government policy, this challenge to institutional (university) strategy is acute.

We are at a stage in which a high profile CEO of a public sector body will use the emotional language of “We are a country in crisis. A country at war.” to stimulate discussion and debate – and I very much welcome the way in which Nick has stimulated this debate (you just have to look at the evidence of the way in which Nick’s blog post was discussed on twitter earlier today to see that his post and the imagery he used stuck a chord with many).

For me the higher education sector, too, needs to be “imaginitive, creative, smart and open“.  But, unlike Nick, I feel that there is a need for technologists (developers) with our institutions to explore, to investigate and to discover – approaches which were recognised in yesterday’s news that “Bristol University ChemLabS celebrated by JISC Times Higher Education Award“.  Sarah Porter, JISC’s head of innovation and one of the judges for the awards pointed out that “By focusing on innovative approaches to using technology to improve learning, the project has had measurable, demonstrable impact on the attainment of students of chemistry at the University of Bristol“.

If we lose the experiences possessed across the sector and the culture of experimentation and creativity which is fundamental to the higher education sector we will surely condemn ourselves to a sausage-factory mentality, processing students and researchers using the centralised learning and research environments.

But perhaps the differences between Nick’s comments and  my views are more to do with the different sectors in which we work rather than any significant divergences of opinions.  Replace ‘museums’ with ‘higher education’ in Nick’s  conclusion of the way forward and I’d be in agreement:

The reality is that if we are really going to deliver a Digital offer for museums that is globally competitive, we must pool our resources, collaborate creatively, aggregate smartly, build openly. Individually, we will not do what needs to be done. Together, we can achieve anything.

So let’s be “imaginitive, creative, smart and open” and identify the areas for commodification and recognise the battles which were fought and lost – and the areas in which diversity and innovation are needed.

Posted in Finances, General | 5 Comments »

Dazed and Confused After #CETIS10

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 November 2010

“Never Waste A Good Crisis”

On Monday and Tuesday I attended the #CETIS10 conference on “Never Waste a Good Crisis – Innovation & Technology in Institutions“. I’ve always enjoyed the CETIS conferences I’ve attended and found that they have provided a valuable way of keeping up with developments in the elearning environment as well as the equally important task of cultivating professional relationships and making new contacts.

But how might I summarise my feelings after two days at the National College for School Leadership, Nottingham, this year’s venue for the conference? If I where to look for a film title to describe how I felt on my journey home if would be “Dazed and Confused”. But not, I should hasten to add, due to any problems with the conference organisation (the venue – which was new to me, was great; the evening meal, this year, had no quirky servings and the organisation was up to its normal high standard).

Rather it was my recollections of the enthusiasm for change which I can recall from many participants and speakers at the first CETIS conferences I attended and the reality of the changes the sector is now facing – changes which were highlighted in three occurrences which took place during the conference – the opening keynote talk; a webinar on “When The Ax Man Cometh” which I heard about shortly before the conference started and the Daily Telegraph’s article on “Universities spending millions on websites which students rate as inadequate“ which was published on the second day of the conference.

“Will Universities Still Exist in 2030?”

I recall Oleg Lieber, the recently retired CETIS Director giving an opening talk at a CETIS conference in which he asked the audience to consider whether higher educational institutions as we know them will still exist by 2030. The audience, which consisted of those involved in innovative approaches to elearning, was encouraged to feel they were playing an important role in instigating significant changes within the sector, with an implicit assumption that such changes were for the good and that those who were at the leading edge who we well-positioned to exploit the new opportunities provided in a changed educational landscape.

It now seems that large-scale changes to higher education will arrive well in advance of 2030, but the changes will not be driven primarily by technological development becoming embedded across institutions; rather the changes will come about by changes in funding caused by reductions in funding and increases in student fees. These are the significant changes (which will be implemented in a short period of time), with the changes which technological innovation can provide now having to be contextualised within a radically changed funding environment and corresponding changes in user expectations, with students, for example, looking for the value provided for their fees they have mortgaged their future for.

“DIY University Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education”

My dazed and confused feelings began during the opening plenary talk given by Anya Kamanetz which was based on her recent book on “DIY University Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. As summarised by Christina Smart on the JISC E-Learning Focus blog :

Recent years have seen a drive towards higher participation rates in both the UK and US … but above 40% participation rates problems occur. Issues around massification, cost shifting (where governments push the costs onto students), and student loans are all at play. There is also the influence of Baumol’s disease, where disciplines like the performing arts, are unable to make efficiency savings by reducing teacher to student ratios.

Anya argued that the combination of cost, access and quality made a compelling “case for radical innovation” in higher education. Shifting towards open content, socialisation and accreditation could result in that radical innovation, and Anya expanded on the benefits of Open Educational Resources, Personal Learning Networks and open accreditation approaches. Citing developments like Mozilla drumbeat’s P2PU – School of Webcraft, Anya described how “professional networks can bypass the need for diplomas”. She concluded with the prediction that new business models for HE would emerge, as mp3 players and digital music had transformed the business model of the music industry.

But what is a “case for radical innovation”? How about:

  • We have too many students studying at higher education.
  • Self-motivated students can learn without the need of a formal educational infrastructure.
  • The benefits of technology in enhancing learning are unproven – with Baumol’s cost disease being used “to describe the lack of growth in productivity in public services such as public hospitals and state colleges“.

I met Anya before the start of the conference and, over dinner, Anya mentioned how she has been described as a socialist in the US. But these views are often used from a right-wing perspective – and this caused my initial feelings of discomfort and unease.  I should add that I’m not saying that I’m necessarily disagreeing with such views, which are worthy of further discussion and unpicking. I suspect that, in part, my unease may reflect personal experiences (first in the family, from the working class town of Bootle, to go to University, which provided me with new opportunities) ; political disagreements with the notion that what may be good for self-motivated students (such as those who have benefitted from attendance at fee-paying public schools) will be forced on those who will benefit from learning provided by traditional institutions (whether such learning is mediated by technology or not) and professional concerns regarding the questioning of the benefits of technology (again, I’m not saying that such questions shouldn’t be asked).

In the question time after Anya’s talk I tried to articulate my concerns, but found it difficult to do so. Perhaps I might summarise my feeling by saying “There may be some merits in the issues you have raised and there is a need to gain evidence, in particular to understand the particular circumstances in which such approaches may be beneficial and those in which it can be harmful. But let’s not not take the political decision to radically change higher education based on these types of arguments across the entire sector“. Anya wasn’t of course, suggesting this – but her talk came at a time in which higher education (an, indeed, the broader public sector, is being subjected to large-scale experimentation.

“When The Ax Man Cometh”

Coincidentally after having dinner with Anya and together early arrivals at the CETIS conference on the Sunday night I came across a tweet which informed my that Mark Greenfield, director of web services at University of Buffalo was about to give a live webinar on “When The Ax Man Cometh“. I came across Mark following my post on “When the Axe Man Cometh – The Future of Institutional Web Teams” which discussed the implications of outsourcing of institutional Web teams. Mark used the Ax(e) Man metaphor in his webinar and accompanying blog post – and I should give acknowledgements to Deborah Fearne who described how “The Axe Man Came” and took her job in Web development earlier this year.

The 40 minute video of the webinar is worth watching particularly by those working in institutional Web management teams and those who may have an interest in discussions around out-sourcing.

Some of the notes I write whilst listening to the video:

The topic being addressed: Where will higher ed be in a decade? Will our jobs and departments even exist? And if that axe is coming, how can we survive the cuts? [Note the interview itself starts 6 minutes in].

For-profits can adapt more quickly than HEIs [Is that true? Is that necessarily true? Isn’t the implication that HEIs need to be more adaptable rather than we need to our-source?]

The reality of HE today is that the axe man is coming, especially in IT sector.  There are systemic problems in high education (e.g. costs of tuition fees for students and related issues which Anya raised in her talk). The view that ‘It will be OK when economy recovers’ is wrong.

The axe-man has already started working with examples being given including academic programmes being cut by 30%; outsourcing (in Australia) entire IT departments to India; etc.

The cuts may also be manifested in large-scale increase in services using existing numbers of staff e.g. online learning in one US University is planned to grow by 10 fold, but without any new staff – the work will be outsourced to commercial sector.”

Many courses are the same as they were 100 years ago – but there are new models which can be used: e.g. courses which can be taken anywhere and are no longer constrained to an individual institution

Open learning environment provided by OER resources will help the development of the DIY-University [Hmm, so the JISC OER programme could be used by those with vested interests to undermine the mainstream approaches to the provision of higher education service.]

There’s a need to ask what the core mission of a University is. We can unbundle various University functions. HE is ripe for unbundling. [Note these ideas are taken from A University for the 21st Century by James Duderstadt, President Emeritus at the University of Michigan. In his blog post Mark summarised key points from the book:

    • Higher education is an industry ripe for the unbundling of activities. Universities will have to come to terms with what their true strengths are and how those strengths support their strategies – and then be willing to outsource needed capabilities in areas where they do not have a unique advantage.
    • Universities are under increasing pressure to spin off or sell or close down parts of their traditional operations in the face of new competition. They may well find it necessary to unbundle their many functions, ranging from admissions to counseling to instruction and certification.

Universities aren’t primarily in the IT / Web business- so these functions can be unbundled / out-sourced. You need to justify why it exists at all.

Mark suggested the need for Universities to get “back to basics” [Note this phrase has right-wing connotations in the UK].

Those involved in the provision on institutional Web service need to defend what you do: “You need to be able to justify your existence”.

You should quantify why what you do matters. Decisions may be made just on salary costs of $60,000 pa – average salary cost in US Web team at Buffalo University (but overheads adds to this). Be proactive and not reactive. – e.g. identify costs of bad Web user experiences. Articulate success stories and efficiency gains – e.g. it has been many years since we printed class schedules. Think about the ROI of Web projects. and identify the potential value of a Web project before Web project starts.

Recession has fulled rethinking – but has been bubbling away for 10 years or so. The tipping point will arrive in 4-5 years time: from 2013 college parents will be Generation X and start to question the ROI of sending children to University? Aren’t there better ways of learning cf use of open courseware.

There is a need to follow what’s going on and learn from changes in other sectors- e.g. newspapers which failed to spot the implications of Craiglist on income froclassified adverts.

But such changes can also provide new opportunities, if you accept and embrace change and look for those opportunities.

I feel the issues Mark raised in his webinar (and accompanying blog post). I have made similar points over the years – back in 2006 I gave a talk on “IT Services: Help Or Hindrance?” at the UCISA Management Conference in which I suggested that one possible future for IT Services departments would be “to surrender to the changing environment and leave departments to make use of Web services such as GMail and Yahoo to provide institutional email and groupware facilities“. But back then I was using this as an argument for IT Services department to be more agile and user-focussed rather than making a serious proposal for large-scale out-sourcing – and in any case subsequent arguments that institutions should be exploiting Social Web services have been based on the out-sourcing of the IT components, freeing staff to provide additional services to their users. Loss of an IT infrastructure would, I feel, leave institutions vulnerable, and unable to exploit opportunities which IT can provide to support local requirements. The danger is that today’s cool GMail service (which, admit it, many users prefer to institutional email offerings) will quickly become the slow-moving enterprise service which is frequently criticised today.

I would also add that Mark’s comment that “Those involved in the provision on institutional Web service need to defend what you do: ‘You need to be able to justify your existence’” relate directly to a workshop I ran in Glasgow last Friday on “Institutional Web Services: Evidence for Their Value“. So yes, this is a valid point, which the UK HE sector is addressing.

“Universities spending millions on websites which students rate as inadequate”

Whilst the video of Mark Greenfield’s webinar is worth watching and sis useful in stimulating debate, in contrast the Daily Telegraph’s article on “Universities spending millions on websites which students rate as inadequate“ was a poorly argued polemic based on flawed use of statistics. I spent 15 minutes over lunch at the CETIS conference pointing out that, yes it’s true “University Web Sites Cost Money!“. I added that the average annual spending on the maintenance of a University Web site is £60,375 (per annum) cited on the article seems very cheap then you consider the wide range of services provided across institutional Web sites “ranging from the important promotional and marketing aspects which are designed to attract new students and research income, disseminate information on the value of the work carried out within institutions to the public as well as support collaborative and communications activities within the institution and will partners across the UK and beyond“.

Other people have made similar comments, with Piero Tintori giving the following response to the Telegraph article:

No one University is spending millions on web development. The average investment is actually very low in comparison with other industries / sectors.

 

As the web is the number one way of recruiting students and research you could say that the investment is too low. What this article really highlights is that Universities aren’t investing enough on their web presence.

In a blog post Ranjit Sidhu described why he considers the Telegraph article on University website costs and value as unbalanced:

The article in the Telegraph takes one data set; expenditure on website development and places it as a cost on a single value proposition; student experience, without considering to monitise the other important purposes of the university website. We consider this to be unbalanced …

The post went on to provide an objective critique of the underlying methodology used in the Telegraph article.

Reflections

I don’t normally write such long posts. But I’ve realised that writing this post has helped me to have a better awareness of what I believe and my concerns. I should also add that I am very aware of the political aspects of my comments. I also feel there are differing perspectives between North American and UK views on ownership of IT infrastructure and political considerations. I suspect there will also be generational differences in the UK between those who remember Thatcherite cuts are those whop were too young. And as a number of us discussed in the pub when we were in Nottingham, unlike today’s Government, Margaret Thatcher was lower-middle class and initially had a cabinet of Tory wets.

I also tend not to write such political posts. But this is where I am concerned that the opportunities for new approaches to learning identified by Anya Kamanetz won’t be regarded as ways of providing richer and more diverse ways of supporting learning experiences – rather the ideas of the DIY University will be used as a means of further reducing funding for the sector and disadvantaging those from working class backgrounds. And the arguments surrounding out-sourcing made by Mark Greenfield will similarly be used as a blunt instrument, rather than in exploring optimal ways in which higher educational institutions can adapt to a changing environment, whilst retaining the expertise needed to exploit local opportunities an requirements.

And returning to the CETIS conference and the suggestion that you should “Never Waste a Good Crisis” – I also feel that you should also never waste an opportunity to discuss whether Universities are wasting millions on their Web sites, whether we should be outsourcing our Web and IT infrastructure and whether HEIs can be replaced by the DIY-U. But remember that for some, the answer to these questions will be “Yes” – and not even a “Yes, but no, but yer, but” :-(

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