UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for February, 2007

Instant Messaging Interface To Applications

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 February 2007

MSN IM interface to applicationsBack in the days when WAP was exciting (hmm, did I really write that? Let me start again).

Back in the days when some people thought that WAP would provide widespread access to mobile phone users I can remember thinking that what was needed (especially for non-native text messaging users like myself – who make use of semi-colons in messages) was a simple menu interface in order to access informational resources.

Although a number of such services were developed (I can remember reading about Cricket information services along these lines) this never took off as a general interface to informational resources.

So I was intrigued to read a posting on Posting Using IMified by Nitesh Gautam. Nitresh writes that:

Imified is an instant messenger buddy that works across all major IM networks and offers access to a growing number of web applications, as well as productivity tools like notes, reminders, and todo’s (sic). Imified helps you get things done faster.

On a PC the IMified interface looks very dated (Gopher, anyone?) But on a mobile device, might it provided a much needed interface? And could this type of interface provide the killer application for the mobile phone user generation for informational resources which can be syndicated using RSS? After all, as we’ve discussed previously, RSS does appear to need a killer app. (And also note that IMified can act as a blog authoring tool).

Posted in Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

Web 2.0: What Can It Offer the Research Community?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 February 2007

Web 2.0: What Can It Offer the Research Community? is the title of a talk I’m giving at on Wednesday 7th March 2007.

Normally I might make an announcement about the availability of a presentation after the event. However I’m increasingly realising the advantages of getting others involved in the early stages of prepearing talks. In this case I have made my slides available on Slideshare prior to the event – and have been pleased to discover that the slides have been marked as a favourite by two Slideshare users (digicmb and jensjepper). This has been useful as, as one might expect, these two users both have slideshows on related themes which are of interest to me.

But what do you think Web 2.0 can offer the research community? Since the Web was developed for the particle physics research community and, as Tim Berners-Lee has pointed out, Web 2.0 is simply a marketing term for his original vision of a collaborative and highly interactive environment, surely the particle physics research community will welcome the potential provided by Web 2.0?

On the other hand, perhaps, as PPARC is a government-funded organisation, the organisational culture may be conservative, with the emphasis of PPARC’s Web site having an attractive and usable interface to quality content will corresponding quality assurance and workflow processes which ensure that organisational and government guidelines are strictly adhered to. In which case, Web 2.0 might be regarded as primarily a trivial social networking environment which might have to be tolerated in universities, but has nothing to offer the research community.

What is your view on what Web 2.0 can offer the research community?  And do you have any examples which I can use?

Posted in Events | 17 Comments »

Green IT: Meeting the Environmental Challenge

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 February 2007

UCISA have just announced that bookings are now open for the Managers Forum on “Green IT: Meeting the environmental challenge“.  This event will be held at Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel on 1st May 2007.

The details of the event are given below:

With the prospect of climate change, environmental issues have moved to the top of the agenda for both the commercial and public sectors. Politicians have been making statements about offsetting emissions and companies from all sectors are now talking about their social responsibility. Higher and further education institutions have been impacted by higher fuel costs and the introduction of legislation on waste disposal. Institutions have sought to demonstrate that they are becoming ‘greener’ through introducing new policies and procedures.


The green agenda impacts IT service departments in many ways as owners of large volumes of recyclable equipment and as providers of support to staff and students. This forum will discuss the issues involved in meeting the environmental challenge and look at the way some institutions have tackled them.

But what does the environmental challenge mean for the IT and Web development communities?  One thing I would suggest that we can do is to provide and encourage use of ‘just-in-case’ communication technologies.  An example of this took place in November when I was a co-facilitator for an Accessibility Summit held at the HE Academy in York.  One participant (Jane Seale) rang to say that she’d had problems will the trains and wouldn’t be able to make it from Southampton in time for the meeting.  I discovered that Jane was a Skype user – and we had a very successful meeting with Jane participating remotely.  A good example of just-in-time accessibility for a meeting about accessibility issues.


I have also  been making use of collaborative technologies  at conferences,  with the Access Grid being used  at the IWMW 2006  event (as well as a small-scale experiment in web-casting some of the plenary talks).


And when planning events I have also encouraged institutions to provide richer information about the facilities they provide – it would be useful, for example, to have 3D visualisations of lecture rooms and breakout rooms when planning an event, and if that could be done without having to physically visit the facilities, that can be an environmental benefit.


These have been experiments, exploring the potential of the technologies, whilst being mindful of possible limitations (are they distracting for other participants; will speakers feel more inhibited and less open as they become conscious of a remote audience; how robust are the technologies; etc.)


But will an increasing awareness of the importance of environmental issues overcome such reservations?  And what other approaches can Web users and developers be taking to rise to the environmental challenge?

Posted in Events | Leave a Comment »

A Blog Plugins Used Page Would Be Useful

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 February 2007

Plugins used page on the Net 2.0 blog I recently came across the Net 2.0 blog (through the recently launched Explode social networking tool).

This WordPress blog contains a page giving details of the plugins used on the blog.

This approach has parallels with my blog experiments; my approach has been to provide a description of the reasons for the experiments and the pros and cons of the solutions, whereas this gives a factual descriptions of the solutions deployed.

I think a combination of both approaches can be useful. In particular, it can be useful in providing documentation on the tools which are being used: for example, in planning migration of the functionality of a blog to a different platform or in looking to preserve the functionality of a blog. This is something I’ll look at providing in the future.

Posted in Blog | 3 Comments »

UK Universities On MySpace

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 February 2007

Andy Powell alerted me to Warwick University’s presence on MySpace.

Warwick University presence on MySPace

Is this a first for Warwick University or are other universities also doing this?

Is this a sensible way of reaching out to potential students?

Should universities be pro-active in doing this?

Doesn’t it break all sorts of established guidelines such as Web accessibility, design principles, use of corporate logos and visual identity guidelines, etc.?

Isn’t Facebook a better alternative?

Should universities observe what happens and back the winner?

What are the resource implications of doing this?

What are the implications of not doing this?

Personally I have to confess that I don’t like MySpace’s user interface – even for friends such as Adrian Stevenson and the Witches of Elswick, and performers such as Atilla the Stockbroker. But if the service is successful, does this matter? After all, I’m not part of MySpace prime demographic audience.

What do you think? And, perhaps more importantly, does anyone know what the users think?

Technorati Tags:

Posted in Web2.0 | 19 Comments »

Outlook 2007 – A User-Friendly Interface To RSS?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 February 2007

Outlook 2007 interface to RSSI recently suggested that services, such as R-info, which provide an email delivery service for RSS feeds could be a useful way of maximising access for users who are not comfortable using a dedicated RSS reader.

However having noticed Michael Webb’s posting on Outlook 2007 – the killer RSS application? perhaps the much-needed simple interface will become more widely available as MS Office 2007 becomes more widely deployed.

As can be seen from the accompanying screen image (taken from Michael’s blog) Outlook 2007 seems to provide an interface which will be familiar to users who make use of folders to organise their blog postings.

Posted in rss | 14 Comments »

Tweaks to Blog Sidebar Widgets

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 February 2007

I have previously described use of the Meebo sidebar widget. Although I reported on how useful it can be, in practice I tend not to login to the Meebo service on a regular basis. As I’m away from my office for a few days I have removed the widget. In future I will reinstall it only on occasions when I intend to make active use of it.

Removing the Meebo widget also provided an opportunity to make other minor changes to the sidebar. The widgets on the left are primarily related to the contents of the blog, whilst those on the right are primarily concerned with content elsewhere.

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

Growing Popularity of this WordPress Theme

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 February 2007

Karen Blakeman has just described how she has successfully moved her blog from Blogger to WordPress.  I was good of Karen to share her experiences with others.

I also noticed that Karen has selected the same Andreas09 theme as I use on my blog (although with a different colour scheme).  I myself chose this scheme over Christmas after noticing that ajcann uses it on his MicrobiologyBites blog.

I find this theme useful as it provides two separate sidebar areas  with a central area for the blog content. I tend to use the left hand sidebar for widgets related to the blog contents (recent posts, recent comments,  access by date or tag, etc) and the right hand sidebar for access to information beyond the blog.

But when is this useful theme going to look cliched, I wonder?

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments »

Email Subscription Service For This Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 February 2007

R-Mail subscription

Roddy MacLeod recently pointed out the difficulties end users may have in understanding how to add RSS feeds to RSS viewers. I think Roddy is right – and we do need to make interfaces much easier to use, especially for users who make use of email and Web browsers, but don’t understand RSS readers.

In response to this I recently subscribed to three services which deliver RSS feeds using email. The services were R-Mail, RSSfwd and Feedblitz.

At the delivery end, the services seem similar: with all of them I received a HTML-formatted email, with embedded images.

The Feedblitz subscription service seems to be the most sophisticated, allowing the delivery to be suspended (perhaps when going away on holiday) together with a host of other options which can be accessed from the dashboard, as illustrated.

Feedblitz Dashboard

However as the aim of this service is to provide an interface which is very easy to use, especially for the inexperienced user, I have chosen the R-Mail service, and provided an interface to this at at the top of the right-hand sidebar widget.

Posted in Blog, rss | 8 Comments »

Viral Marketing: From Store Wars To Web 2.0

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 February 2007

The Store Wars Video

I was told about the Store Wars video clip some time ago. If you’ve not seen it, do so – this spoof of Star Wars is very funny and very witty. Unsurprisingly it is also very popular, with YouTube reporting 112,688 views, 162 comments and 1,139 YouTube users listed it in their favourites.

And, on reflection, I’ve been exposed to clever propaganda: the video was produced for the Organic Trade Association in order to promote their views on the importance of organic food. And here am I, distributing their views to possibly new audiences. The Organic Trade Association has been very astute: the video is available from the StoreWars Web site – but who would find that? Instead they provide a Creative Commons licence which allows the video to be redistributed and uploaded to popular Web sites such as YouTube or embedded within Web pages.

The “Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us” Video

Having recently received a couple of emails about the “Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us” video clip (and noticed it getting a mention on the Research Information Network blog) it struck me that the IT development community can learn a lot from viral marketing. Although some developers may feel that you can’t put across the complexities of the Web in a 5 minute video clip (with no accompanying commentary!) I think it is clear that the video demonstrates that this can be done. And don’t take my word for it, look at the statistics: a 4 star rating from over 9,000 viewers and over 1,000,000 views with over 12,000 viewers including it in their list of favourites. It has also received over 3,000 comments.

There are other videos available from YouTube about Web 2.0, such as the U Tech Tips Web 2.0 video, which take a more traditional approach – but for me “Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us” is the real winner (and I love the word play). And I’m not the only one who thinks this, judging by the statistics for the U Tech Tips video.


What are the implications of the popularity of the “Store Wars” and “Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us” video clips? What can the IT development community learn from this?

Some thoughts for those thinking of exploiting viral marketing approaches to promote your project, service or idea:

  • If you’ve a great idea, a great product, a great service, give it away! Let your customers or your users promote the idea for you. A Creative Commons licence can be your friend.
  • Beware committee thinking: do you want your idea to be promoted using a worthy but dull approach?
  • Be subtle in your use of logos and corporate branding – users may well spot a corporate video for the first frame and not go any further. Why not be subtle – and leave the logo to the final frame (as happens with the Store Wars video)? Or perhaps even have your logo playing a minor cameo role leaving viewers to admire your subtlety (similar to spottting the Alfred Hitchcock in one of his films).
  • Encourage discussion: the comments feature on services such as YouTube and Slideshare can help generate a buzz.
  • Voting can be useful: people are attracted to what others seem to like.
  • You can subvert the “think globally, act locally” mantra: perhaps you should think locally (“my audience is librarians in the UK”) but act globally (“but I’ll put my video on YouTube, as it may well be of interest to a wider audience”).
  • A commentary in English is likely to restrict your audience to English speakers. Using music can help to provide exposure to a much wider audience (the “Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us” provides a good example of this).
  • Be flexible: copyright and other legal issues, for example, need not necessarily be insurmountable barriers.

Obvious? Why not view the Ray Of Light video: a great example of a promotional video which shows how popular the St. Joseph Public Library is and how hard-working the staff are. Could you produce something like this in your organisation – or will conservatism inevitably scare you off? Or, on the other hand, as the Going down the YouTubes? posting reports, will copyright owners require such copyrighted materials to be removed? And, if so, would this result in the investment needed to produce such mashups to be written off?

What do you think?

Posted in Web2.0 | 11 Comments »

Slideshare – It’s Working For Me

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 February 2007

One of the first posts to this blogs, back in November 2006, describes my initial experiments with the Slideshare repository for presentations.

Slideshare Repository I described how I had uploaded several of my presentations, suggesting that this would provide greater exposure to the slides (and hence the ideas) than if they were only available on UKOLN’s Web site.

A few days ago I received an email alert which informed me that a number of the presentations had been added as a Favourite by a Slideshare user.

From his profile I discover that srains has a blog, Rolling Rains, which explores ‘the adoption of Universal Design (Design-for-All; Human-Centered Design) by the tourism industry’.

From the other slide show he has added to his list of favourites, I have found presentations which are of interest to me (including one on Two Trainers Trade Twenty Technology Training Tips and one on standards used on Oxfam Australia’s Web site).

Revisiting my uploaded slides I discover that the most popular of my presentations is Web 2.0: What Is It, How Can I Use It, How Can I Deploy It? with 666 views in two months, with 6 users including it in their list of favourite slideshows (jensjeppe,, noticiasmias2002, gerarddummer, erywin and MCL).

I can then follow their list of other favourites and the slides which they may have uploaded. And guess what: people who are interested in my slides on Web 2.0 are also interested in other slides on the same subject. So this ‘social network’ provides a form of resource discovery for me :-)

Three months after my initial posting about Slideshare what can I conclude:

  • It allows my slides (and therefore my ideas) to be accessed by people who would probably not find the resources otherwise.
  • It provides some form of measuring the impact/quality of the slides by observing the numbers of users who have added it to their list of favourites.
  • It help me (and others) to find related resources

Is there a downside? I need to remember that:

  • I don’t know how sustainable the service is – it could, for example, go out of business or change its licensing conditions (perhaps charging for access to the slides)
  • It is an example of ‘fake sharing’ – I can view the resources but not (easily) reuse the materials. In my case, however, I provide access to the original source files by including the URL of the master copy on the title slide and in the metadata.

I feel that these experiences provide some useful indications of features which could be adopted by the digital library development community: the importance of ease of use and lightweight approach to IPR issues for content providers; the advantages of getting content out ‘where the users are’ and the benefits of social networks for resource discovery.

Technorati Tags:

Posted in Repositories, Web2.0 | 14 Comments »

RSS And The Hero Portal

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 February 2007

I recently received a copy of “Hero Headlines” which contains news from Hero Ltd, “the company behind the UK’s official online gateway to higher education and research opportunities“.

RSS Feeds On The Hero Portal Web Site

The newsletter included an article about the new-look HERO Web site, which was relaunched in November 2006.

The article mentioned that the Web site now makes use of RSS. Looking at the What is RSS? page I was pleased to find that RSS is being used not only for news, but also for syndication of feature articles and press releases. In addition the Web site explains what RSS is and provides helpful advice on using RSS readers.

Well done, Hero. I think a national portal to UK Universities, such as Hero, helps to maximise awareness of and access to information about the sector. (I should disclose, BTW, that I was a member of a Hero Technical Advisory Group, several years ago).
But what else could a national portal such as Hero provide? How about:

  • An RSS feed for search results
  • Direct access to RSS feeds from individual institutions
  • Geographical metadata for pages about individual institutions
  • A Google Maps mashup providing additional information about the institutions
  • An OPML feed which aggregates the various RSS feeds

I’ll talk some more about these issues in future postings – but for now I’d be interested in what you might like to see from a national portal.

Technorati Tags:

Posted in rss | 17 Comments »

Finding Out About OpenID

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 February 2007

There has been a lot of discussion recently about OpenID. It’s clear that this is an area I should find out more about.

So what processes do I use to do my research. In the past I would probably have used Google to find the authoritative sources of information, gone to the definitive source of information and spend time reading, reflecting and discussions with colleagues.

But this isn’t necessarily what I do any more.

Nowadays I often realise that something is important when bloggers I recognise as knowledgeable start talking about something new. So recently I noticed that the eFoundations blog had commented on Microsoft’s interest in OpenID by referencing Scott Wilson’s posting on Microsoft back OpenID.

I’d also noticed the announcement on the WWW2007 conference home page that Dick Hardt, a ‘visionary in Web applications and open source software‘ whose company Sxip Identity is ‘the leader in Identity 2.0, creating simple, secure, and open solutions for the next generation of Internet identity‘ is an invited plenary speaker at WWW 2007.

I also noticed that the W3C’s QA blog permits use of OpenIDs for people who wish to give comments on blog postings (as can be seen on Oliver Théreaux’s posting about the FeedValidator).

Having noticed this interest from a variety of trusted sources, I wanted to find out more. The eFoundation’s posting on Microsoft and OpenID includes Technorati tags to link to other postings using the same tags. Following the OpenID tag link shows Technorati listing 1,164 blog postings. I was also intrigued by the videos tagged in the same way. This led me to the OpenID Show 5 minute video clip on YouTube which provided various use case scenarios.

A new technology – and I’m using various Web 2.0 services (blogs, Technorati, tagging and YouTube) and a Web 2.0 culture (trusting users and the wisdom of crowds) for the resource discovery process. A continuation of this process is to invite my blog readers to give their thoughts on the processes I’ve used and the resources I’ve mentioned (plus the Wikipedia entry on OpenID). Getting a variety of users actively involved in the process can, I feel, be more beneficial than a small group of experts beavering away before releasing the perfect solution.

Posted in Web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Blogs or Email for Discussions?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 February 2007

I recently sent an email about a bug in the Feed Validator software hosted at W3C. The bug was quickly identified. This was great, but made me think about the QA process for the software and the faith which is placed on validators – issues which I addressed in a recent posting.

A discussion continued on the QA list, with Olivier posted his thoughts on the W3C QA blog. Some concerns were raised, however, regarding the fragmentation of the discussion:

> Seeing as everyone is commenting on weblogs…

No, I don’t have one of those. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Three people have put comments on this topic on to their separate blogs.
And there is no linking between them (as far as I can see) except for this mailing list.

Subsequently I’ve found that Sam Ruby has posted a response on his blog and the Crossnet blog has a posting on RSS Validator in the Spotlight.

Is Barry right to be concerned about such fragmentation? I would argue that fragmentation can provide benefits: in this case the discussion is not locked within the minority world of the W3C WWW-QA list, but has been opened up to other communities who may have other perspectives (e.g. the Crossnet blog will be seen by members of the publishing community many of whom won’t be interested in discussion on the WWW-QA list). In addition this diversity also enables differing perspectives to be raised – the posting on the Crossnet blog, for example, has provided an opportunity to highlight the robustness of the core RSS spec and to address the issues concerning the importance of test cases to standards, such as PRISM, of particular interest to the publishers:

Good point, anyway about contributing test cases. I guess we should really submit a PRISM test case. And yes, the Validator is somewhat buggy as some recent testing confirms. On which more later.

I would argue that such diversity outweighs the dangers of fragmenting the discussion – and that it is possible to pull together related discussions by, as I’ve done here, linking to them.

Is possible splintering of discussions on email lists a legitimate reason to have a downer on blogs? What do other think?

Posted in Blog, standards | 2 Comments »

UK Library Bloggers and ILI 2007

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 February 2007

It has been very pleasing to see the flurry of interest in my posting on Where are the Blogging UK Librarians? It seems that there are growing numbers of bloggers within both academic and public libraries around the UK – and, as their blogs reveal, Karen Blakeman and Phil Bradley are running training course and providing advice targetted at the library and information community with interests in blogging.

I noticed recently that the Internet Librarian International 2007 call for speakers is now open, with blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies. This might be of interest to the blogging librarians in the community who might be interested in describing their work at the conference. But it also occurred to me that perhaps the UK blogging librarian community might be interested in working together in order to develop a community-developed resource on blog strategies and best practices – perhaps including ways of getting blogs into the library (and avoiding institutional or managerial conservatism); motivating colleagues to contribute; evaluating the effectiveness of the blogs; training and staff development in use of the tools and in writing styles; policies on allowing users to give comments (and handling potential misuse); etc.

In a recent comment to Karen Blakeman’s RSS, Blogs and Wikis posting, Sarah Washford said of this blog “I especially like [my] Blog experiments page”. Well I’m still carrying on with the experiments (especially the experiments which relate to the needs of the smaller libraries, museums and archives – such as my current experiment in email delivery of blog postings).
But I’d be even more keen to carry out a community experiment – perhaps with a small group who would be willing to contribute their experiences using a Wiki, could be presented at ILI 2007.

Anyone interested?

Technorai tags: ili2007

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

Validators Don’t Always Work

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 February 2007


A standard of much interest to us at UKOLN is RSS. We came across RSS in its very early days: I gave a workshop session on Automated News Feeds at the national Institutional Web Management Workshop back in June 2001 and Andy Powell, a former colleague, included RSS is the JISC Information Environment technical architecture.


I recently discovered that UKOLN RSS feed did not validate, according to the Feed validation service hosted at the W3C. The error appeared to be with the <taxo> modul, but a colleague was convinced that the feed was fine and the problem was with the RSS validator. I was sceptical (surely an open source validation service, hosted at W3C, can’t have a bug in such a fundamental area) and raised this issue on the web-support JISCMail list. Sebastian Rahtz pointed out errors in the examples given in the RSS specification, which made me wonder whether the specification itself was flawed. When I found out that our news feed was created by the RSS::XML module, I wondered if the error could possibly be in this module.


I raised this issue on the W3C’s QA list, asking whether the problem was with (a) our RSS feed; (b) the RSS specification; (c) the application used to generated the feed or (d) the RSS validator. I received a prompt response from Olivier Thereaux (first thing the following morning) which confirmed that our feed was fine; that there were errors in the RSS specification (in particular in an example included in the spec) but that the fundamental error was due to a bug in the validator. This was reported to Sam Ruby, the developer of the validator who, a few hours later, implemented a patch and released this on the main Feed Validator site.


I was very impressed with the speed with which this problem was addressed and a solution deployed. Many thanks to Olivier and Sam for this.

I was, though, also very shocked that a validator for such a widely deployed standard (RSS 1.0) had such bugs (I bet a colleague a pint, later raised to a gallon, that the validator was fine – luckily he didn’t take me up on this!). I had assumed that:

  • The development process would have spotted this bug (through use of test cases, code walk-throughs, schema validation, etc.)
  • The development community would have spotted bugs in an open source applications, through the ‘many eyes make all bugs shallow’ principle.
  • The W3C QA processes would have detected this problem prior to the installation of the service on the W3C Web site.

A colleague pointed out that software developers (which I am not) tend not to have so much faith in validators, and many important and widely deployed applications have bugs.

I am not the only person to have concerns over the lack or resources allocated to this important area: Bjoern Hoehrmann left the W3C QA in July 2006, sending a message to the public-qa-dev list giving his reasons for leaving the group.

Where, then, does this leave me? How can I advise others of the importance of validation and of systematic QA processes if such processes don’t seem to be in place with the W3C? Should I stop writing and giving talks on this (I suspect people’s eyes do glaze over when they hear me harping on about this issue).

But on the other hand, if digital library development programmes are being funded on the assumption that the data and formats are ‘clean’ aren’t services going to break, if this isn’t the case?

And perhaps I’m being over-dramatic over this one incident – the problem may have been an obscure one and at least the bug detected a false negative (it reported that a valid RSS file was invalid) rather than a false positive. And, as I said, the bug was fixed very speedily. So maybe I should continue to promote the importance of compliance with standards – but the wider development community should help to validate the validators. And for formats owned (or, as in the case of RSS 1.0, closely affiliated with) W3C, the W3C QA Interest Group has demonstrated that concerns don’t disappear down a black hole.

Technorati tags: validators validation

Posted in rss, standards | 8 Comments »

Email Delivery Of Blog Posts

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 February 2007

A while ago I published an Ariadne article on “Must Email Die?” in which I suggested that email was being used for purposes for which it was less than ideal. RssFwd Web site

I am, however, well aware of the simplicity of email, and the fact that information comes to you, rather than you having to go to the information.

So although I’ve suggested that an RSS reader is the best way of reading blogs, I know that many users would prefer to continue to make use of email. My latest blog experiment is therefore
testing various RSS to email services.

The first one I’ve started to test is RssFwd. To use this, just go to the RssFwd Web site and enter the URL of the feed you wish to receive (for this blog, this is and your email address. After you have verified your email address, you should receive email message containing new blog postings.

I should point out that this uses a third party service to deliver the email.  So there can be no guarantee that this service is sustainable  and I don’t know how reliable the service is (how long does it take to deliver messages, for example).  However I have subscribed to the service myself and will give a report at a later date.

Posted in Blog | 5 Comments »

Further Blog Musings

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 February 2007


Back in December 2006 I attended a quarterly meeting with the JISC and MLA (UKOLN’s core funders). At the meeting I reported on this blog (blogging, and related Web 2.0 services are important aspects of UKOLN’s work plans which our funders are looking for us to advise on). I was also able to report that my director, Liz Lyon, had sent an email to UKOLN’s staff list the previous day which gave details of a presentation (PDF format) by Herbert Van de Sompel and Carl Lagoze (leading lights in the US digital library development community in the US), which cited one of my early postings. It was obviously very pleasing to be able to update our funders with this evidence of the potential for blogs for maximizing the impact of UKOLN’s work.

Use of a Hosted Blogging Service

One aspect related to this blog which I haven’t covered to date is the use of a hosted blogging service rather than installing the blogging software locally. A deliberate decision was made to make use of the hosted service – the need to explore options which may be of particular relevance to the museums, libraries and archives community, who may not necessarily have the technical expertise and resources (nor indeed motivation) to install software within their organisation. At UKOLN we are very aware that the preferences and approaches taken within the development community in higher education may not e suited to the cultural heritage sector – so the blog experiment provides a valuable opportunity to explore best practices in using a third party service – and will be described in a paper on “Web 2.0: How to stop thinking and start doing: Addressing organisational barriers” by Mike Ellis (Science Museum) and myself which we will present at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference. (Note that although the emphasis has been on exploring options for the MLA sector, the use of third party blogging services is also relevant to the higher and further education sectors, as illustrated by JISC’s Digitisation Programme Blog).

Recent Postings

I’ve recently discussed ways of measuring the impact of blogs and suggested possible approaches to blog policies: issues which, although possibly alien in nature to some of the early pioneers in blogging, may need to be addressed in the wider public sector environment.

I also provided some suggestions on how lightweight policies might be useful in overcoming the institutional conservatism which might be found in public sector organisations such as local and central government, the civil service, etc. An implicit assumption was of self-compliance with such policies. However there is also a need to have in place contingency plans in case problems occur.

Managing Possible Problems

One potential problem area is what happens if a blog succumbs to a spam attack while the author is away (either planned absence, such as holiday on unplanned absence such as illness). In the case of this blog, although the Askimet spam filter has been very successful in blocking automated spam attach, I have to ask myself what would happen if a) spam managed to evade the spam filter; b) the blog received manually-submitted spam or c) offensive or illegal comments were submitted? I’ve discussed this issue with a colleague and suggested that we extend the approach taken with use of other third party services (including Google Analytics) by me giving him administrator access to various services I see in case of problems.

Trust Your Users

Further thought led me to reflect on the perspectives of the institution. I met recently with a colleague in the marketing department at the University of Bath who was very interested in the possibilities of various Web 2.0 technologies for communications with staff and students and to enable members of the institution to promote the institution themselves I suspect he may have an easier job that his peers at other institutions as Bath is such as beautiful city and the university does have a very good reputation for its teaching and learning and research. I therefore suggested the the University may benefit from adopting the Web 2.0 catchphrase of “trust your users”.

There’s a need, though, for some deeper thinking than just resorting to simplistic slogans. What happens if some users aren’t trustworthy? We could go back to the notion of moderated blogs (which might provide additional quality control mechanisms) but this would result in the notion of a blog as a publication rather than a blog as a conversation.

So I thought about my own personal perspective. What happens if I say something outrageous in my blog? A simple response to this would be to point out that on a public blog such as this, my professional integrity is at stake and that, as the blog encourages feedback and debate, anything outrageous would be picked up by the blog readers – and multiple feedback channels are available, ranging from the comments facility and the Meebo chat too through to email, telephone, face-to-face discussions or even a chat over a pint! And, of course, as an employee of the University of Bath I have to comply with University policies. which outlines employees’ rights (Freedom: Within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions) and responsibilities (Corresponding responsibility: To support the same freedoms for those of differing views.)

My suggestion to organisations who may have concerns over use of blogging services for engaging with their users would be to trust your users within the context of individuals having an awareness of their responsibilities, complemented by feedback mechanisms and backed up be contractual requirements in exceptional circumstances.

Of course when blogs become pervasive I suspect we’ll look back at such debates with amusement – why such a fuss over blogs but not email, for example!?

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Blog Experiments

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 February 2007

The policy for this blog describes how the blog will be used to carry out various experiments. Such experiments may relate to this blog itself but in many cases may address more general issues of interest to institutions considering providing blog services.

In order to maximise the benefits of such experiments, a Blog Experiments page has been set up which is available on the blog Web site. This contains details of the various experiments, including the purpose of the experiments, the experiences gained, feedback which has been received and any conclusions drawn.

Comments on the experiments can be added to the Blog Experiments page.

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A Meta-Policy For Institutional Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 February 2007

I recently published my Policies For This Blog. The comments I received from Phil Wilson and Paul Ayres and the response from Scott Wilson made me reflect on the nature of policies as institutions start to provide blog services for members of the institution.

Paul felt that “metrics, policies and guidelines seems to run against the whole free form of the blogging ethos, where expressing yourself via quick and easy web publishing is a key driver” and Phil’s view was that “other than being a useful set of guidelines to help yourself keep on-topic I don’t really see what the point is“.

These comments reminded me of my experiences when I helped set up (probably) the first institutional Web service at the University of Leeds in January 19993 and began to encourage take-up, within Leeds and also across the wider community. The first set of information providers were keen and enthusiastic, who perhaps felt they were talking part in an information revolution. Soon afterwards, however, problems started. On one occasion I discovered a set of links to pornographic materials from a departmental Web server. After discussions with the department’s User Rep the links (created by a postgraduate students who had HTML authoring expertise) were grudgingly removed and I received an email saying “I still believe the Web should be free.” On another occasion I became involved in a flame war between the Greek and Turkish societies at neighbouring Universities over the contents of a Web site which gave a disputed description over the ownership of Cyprus (“how do I shut down a Web site which is telling lies” was the question I was asked).

Those early problems settled down, as institutions developed Acceptable Use Policies and a more mature understanding of the role of the Web was gained (at once stage, Intranets were felt to run counter to the Web’s culture on free information!) – and the Web became less exciting and content management systems made it more difficult to create content (joke?).

I suspect we will encounter similar problems as applications, such as blogs and wikis, make it easier for users to create their own content.

I also think there’s a danger that institutions will take a very conservative approach to the provision of such services, in order to avoid (or, more likely, defer) a recurrence of such problems.

My take on this is that experienced bloggers (those who have internalised blogging policies, for example) should seek to share their experiences in order to provide a supportive environment for the provision of institutional blogs.

Paul is right, though, to warn of the dangers of too formal an approach. And I think that a top-down provision of blogging policies is likely to result in a conservative approach, which fails to recognise the diversity of uses for blogs and stifles individual (and group) creativity. I’ve been given one example in which a senior manager has argued that a blog could not be provided within a library as it would infringe data protection legislation.

On revisiting my blog policy I realise that there are a small number of elements to it:

  • The purpose of the blog
  • The scope of the blog
  • The target audience
  • The procedures which can help ensure the blog fulfils its goals

In addition I would probably add:

  • The ethics associated with the blog

So rather than a single, top-down policy covering institutional blogs, I wonder whether a better approach would be for an institutions to identify the key principles which need to be addressed, and devolve the responsibilities for policies which encompass such principles to an appropriate level within the institution: this would enable groups such as the University PR and marketing team to have their own set of policies which may be different to those developed by different departments and by research groups and for students.

Might this approach provide a balance between the concerns of the individualist approach of early generation of bloggers and the concerns of the institution? Or would the institutions and the bloggers be happier if everyone made use of an externally-hosted service? It’s then somebody else’s problem.

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