UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for October, 2007

The Power Of Information

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 October 2007

I attended a meeting recently at which a civil servant introduced a report which he was summarising as ‘exciting’. I had to stifle a yawn, thinking that what might be exciting for a civil servant would probably be very dull and boring. But I was wrong – the report on “The Power Of Information” is of much interest to those of us (and I include many readers of this blog) with an interest in promoting open access to information.

The report (which is available as a PDF document – 280 KB, 57 pages) was commissioned by the government and published in June 2007, as described on the Cabinet Office Web site.

The background to the report is an awareness of the popularity of Web 2.0, especially those which provide user generated content and how such technologies, coupled by a more open agenda, can enable information provided by government bodies to be reused in various interesting ways (Paul Walk recently commented on the phrase “The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else“).

The government’s response to the review (which is available as a PDF document – 610 KB, 20 pages) was very encouraging, broadly agreeing with all of the recommendations.

Although this report is aimed at information produced by central government bodies (i.e. information covered by Crown Copyright) my view is that the publication of the report and its acceptance should be welcomed by those in the educational and cultural heritage sectors. The report can help to move the debate within these sectors on the reuse of data and encourage experimentation and sharing, rather than the conservatism we have seen in the past, with worries about loss of IPR and potential (though perhaps seldom realised) income-generation possibilities.

A report worth reading, I feel.

Posted in openness | 3 Comments »

The UK’s Newest University

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 October 2007

What is the UK’s newest university? I thought that it was probably Edge Hill University. But I recently discovered that the University of Central England is now BCU – Birmingham City University. I’m assuming this is the UK’s newest university.

What are the implications of changing the domain name for a well-established Web site ( to something new ( Do you lose your ‘Google juice‘ and have to start all over again in regaining your Google ranking? Or are there techniques you can use which will ensure that links to your old site will be transferred, not only to provide a seamless transition for users but also ensure that automated tools, such as indexing software, will migrate your site’s ranking data, and not treat this as an attempt to masquerade a porn site as a legitimate site.

Anthony Colebourne has described his experiences in a post to the web-support JISCMail list, which summarised what happened when the Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST changed their domain names from and to and The University of Manchester was formed. However as this JISCMail list seems to require a JISCMail username and password I will include his comments here:

We begin with a new site running in parallel with the old sites. The old sites informed visitors of the change and provided a hyper link to the new site. Very quickly our new site rose up the results listings (without any special effort on our part) to a point where we were competing with ourselves.

Some of our sub domains had setup Aliases of old domains to new ones. However many search engines saw the 2 domains as separate sites. So again these site were competing with themselves for position in search listings and also confusing our users too.

1) The longer domain achieved higher ranking in most cases, possibly this was due to the more relevant keyword in the domain ‘manchester’ as opposed to ‘man’ plus the new site was ‘better’!

2) Our local GSA also indexed everything twice, using up paid for page limits.

3) Our marketing people preferred that the domain in the users address bar to change (i.e. Apache Redirect preferred over Alias).

We configured old addresses to issue Redirect Permanent (301). Firstly for individual sections as we were able, then for everything (/).

We formally merged in Oct 2004, we took down our old sites home pages and redirected them in June 2005. We currently still receive around 500K hits a month to the old domains that get redirected to our new site. We are monitoring usage of the old domains and are not consider removing the redirects until usage drops significantly.

Completely closing down our old domains is a huge task, when you begin to consider non web uses of DNS (email, desktop / server host names etc) and the dependences. It will be many years before our old domains are completely decommissioned. However to the outside world we are now

These comments are, I feel, very valuable. But what is missing is the implications of a domain name change in a Web 2.0 environment. What will it mean if third party services are used to annotated page on your Web site? What will happen if you have embedded third party content in your Web site, and authenticated based on the URI of the page embedding the content is used? Similarly what will happen to data kept by Web statistics counters?

Answers to these questions will be of interest to many readers, I think. It strikes me that the BCU change may provide a valuable opportunity for research on the implications of changes to a domain name and advice on best practices. An interesting student project, perhaps?

Posted in General | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Another One Bites The Dust

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 October 2007

I recently suggested that the English secretly prefer being failures, as we enjoy complaining about our failures and belittling the vulgarities of those who are successful, and that, while this is particularly true in the sporting field, in IT and Web development we find it easier to criticise successful services rather than to exploit their successes.

And on a day in which England have once again failed to build on their previous success, having been beaten by South Africa in the Rugby Union World Cup final, I think it is timely to revisit successful Web services – and to draw some parallels with world champion sporting teams – and one loser.

Apache is an obvious example of a successful Web application. Apache must therefore be the Brazil of Web software: it’s the people’s champion and the favourite of the neutrals.


Microsoft, in contrast, has to be (from an English perspective, at least) Germany: dull, methodical, lacking in flair, but you just know that you mustn’t write them off, as they often do well.


As for Facebook, well this has been a real surprise over the past few years. Nobody expected it to do so well, but, in its own way, it has its admirers. But is its current success likely to be sustainable? Or, just like England‘s rugby union team, will it fade away when we thought success was guaranteed?

Please note that if this post is appropriate, please read the post on We Are The Champions! And if you have received this post in a blog aggregator or via email delivery and you find the master copy does not exist, that is because it has been deleted.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

We Are The Champions

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 October 2007

I recently suggested that the English secretly prefer being failures, as we enjoy complaining about our failures and belittling the vulgarities of those who are successful, and that, while this is particularly true in the sporting field, in IT and Web development we find it easier to criticise successful services rather than to exploit their successes.

But on a day in which England have, against all the odds, succeeded in beating South Africa to become the Rugby Union World Cup champions, I think it is timely to revisit the successful Web services – and to draw some parallels with world champion sporting teams.

Apache is an obvious example. And Apache must be the Brazil of Web software: it’s the people’s champion and the favourite of the neutrals.

Microsoft, in contrast, has to be (from an English perspective, at least) Germany: dull, methodical, lacking in flair, but you just know that you mustn’t write them off, as they often do well.

As for Facebook, well this has been a real surprise over the past few years. Nobody expected it to do so well, but, in its own way, it has its admirers. Just like England’s rugby union team, I would suggest. And it is appropriate the England should be the holders of the Webb Ellis trophy :-)

Please note that if this post is appropriate, please read the post on Another One Bites The Dust! And if you have received this post in a blog aggregator or via email delivery and you find the master copy does not exist, that is because it has been deleted.

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

Should Open Content Be Open For Commercial Exploitation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 October 2007

I suspect many of my peers who make their content available under a Creative Commons licence have, like me, chosen an Attribution, Non-commercial ShareAlike licence,  which permits the content to be reused for non-commercial purposes provided acknowledgements are given and the same rights are applied to the derived materials.

But should I be taking a more liberal approach, I wonder? Should I permit commercial exploitation of the content? This, after all, has been the approach taken in the open source world, which provides an environment for commercially-viable software vendors to thrive.  From a macro-economic perspective, this approach should stimulate the economy and from a political perspective this would reflect the current political climes, in which the public and private sector aim to work together for the benefit of all (no cynical comments, please).

Is it time to move to an Attribution ShareA Like licence?  I’m beginning to think that this is desirable – I have suggested previously that allowing government-funded data (such as OS mapping data) to be made available for commercial exploitation by others would be beneficial to society; it strikes me that I’m being hypocritical if I fail to allow my resources to be reused in a similar fashion.

 What do you think?

Posted in General | 9 Comments »

My Facebook Friends Do My Work For Me

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 October 2007

Last week I wrote about my preparation for a talk on What Can Mashups Offer?  I was preparing for the JISC RSC 3.0 annual conference and invited readers to provide examples. I was pleased to receive a response from James Clay about the use of Yahoo Pipes at the ALT-C conference and, via the JISC Emerge manifestation of the blog post, further comments from Paul Mayes.

My Facebook StatusOn Sunday I was finalising my slides, and updated my Facebook status, inviting my Facebook friends to provide examples which I could use.

I received several examples later that evening, and by Monday lunchtime I had included examples in my slides from Jane Stevenson (showing how the Archives Hub uses Google Maps to show the locations of contributors to the Archives Hub service), Paul Hollins, CETIS (on mashups in Second Life), Mike McConnell (on outreach services to potential students at Aberdeen University) and several examples from Tony Hirst, Open University. In addition Mark Van Harmelin suggested Scott Wilson’s XCRI mashup examples, but I didn’t have a URI to hand when I finished producing my slides. And, for the sake of completeness, I should add that Sebastian Rahtz, University of Oxford, also provided – via email – a number of examples of the prize-winning mashups he developed for the IWMW 2007 innovation competition.

The various examples I used in the talk are bookmarked in del.icio.usand, thanks to another tool provided by Tony Hirst, a slideshow of these mashups is also available (as Tony described, a mashup of the mashups).

So thanks to my Facebook friends for providing these examples.  And for me, I’ve realised what a potentially valuable tool  the Facebook status can be – a simple request can result in useful feedback, without the intrusive aspect often suffered by those who complain of email overload. And unlike more open communications tools, I’m inviting feedback from a selected group of my friends, colleagues and contacts on Facebook.  Perhaps, in some cases, the most effective social network isn’t the open network but the trusted network?

And, as promised in my previous post about my mashups talk, my slides are available, with a Creative Commons licence.

Posted in Facebook, mashups | 5 Comments »

Using Facebook To Promote Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 October 2007

UKOLN organises many workshops, conferences and other types of events. We also speak at and support events organised by others, including our funders (JISC and MLA) and fellow services, such as CETIS, MIMAS, EDINA and OSS Watch.

How should we most effectively promote our events, so that we maximise the audiences at the events and attract new audiences, whilst minimising the aggravation caused by event spamming. Organisers acknowledge this problem and try to defuse criticisms with the prefix “Apologies for multiple postings” – but there is still a need to ensure that people don’t complain that they never knew an event of interest to them was being held.

I seemed to have erred on the over-cautious side by failing to announce the one-day workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” as widely as I should have done, with at least one speaker informing me that he hadn’t seen the event announced anywhere. I’ve tried to remedy this by some further announcements to email lists, and have kept a record on the event’s news page.

But what can be done beyond email announcements, in a Web 2.0 world? In this case, I have created an event in Facebook which provides details about the workshop (as illustrated below). I have sent an invitation to a small group of my Facebook contacts (avoiding the temptation to spam my Facebook friends who will have no interest in the event). The intention being that my Facebook contacts who I’ve not notified will see that I’ve created this event and, if it’s of interest to them or their colleagues, will then register.

Viral marketing, without the intrusiveness of email, I hope. Anyway, that’s the purpose of this experiment – and your comments are welcome.

Event description in Facebook

And for those of you who have read this far, the one-day workshop will be held at Austin Court, Birmingham on 26th October 2007. The workshop will provide a number of case studies which will describe a variety of ways in which institutions are providing blogs and making use of social networking services, including use of WebCT, Elgg and Facebook. The vent will also provide an insight into the student’s perspective of such tools and then review the challenges institutions will face in providing such services.

Further details, including access to the online booking form is available at

The cost of this 1-day workshop is £85 which includes lunch, coffee, workshop materials and access to the WiFi network.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

We’re The Young Generation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 October 2007

On Wednesday 10th October 2007 I attended the “Inspiring the iGeneration Web 2.0, teenagers and libraries” event which was held at the Wolverhampton Science Park.

My Opening Talk

I gave the opening talk entitled ” We’re The Young Generation, And We’ve Got Something To Say” which provided an overview of Web 2.0 and outlined why social networking software, such as Facebook, are providing so popular, and the challenges which such popularity is posing. (The title of the talk referring, of course, to the popular hit by The Monkeys in the 1960s, which aims to provide an alternative cultural reference to social networks to “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” which was picked up by Wikipedia).

It was pleasing to receive an email after the conference saying:

I very much enjoyed the conference yesterday. The first session from Brian Kelly was exceptionally good. It was thought provoking. A much better start to the day than cornflakes!!.

although of course the subtext could have been “better than cornflakes – but not as good as a full English breakfast” :-)

Other Talks

The other talks at the events described a variety of approaches which are being taken by public libraries and related organisations in making use of Web 2.0 services to engage with young people. Interestingly, a Web 2.0 service which was mentioned by a number of the speakers was WetPaint – a wiki service I’ve been using for a year of so (including using it to support the Masterclass on ‘Using Blogs Effectively Within Your Library’ at ILI 2007).

A common problem which was raised throughout the day was how to manage inappropriate content for young people. This ranged from obvious problematic content (pornography, Viagra spam, happy slappy videos, etc.) to more contentious areas, such as mainstream advertisements. There were clear differences in opinions expressed, from those who argue that happy-slapping is a problem that society needs to address, and it is a mistake to overprotect children to those who feel that public sector Web sites must ensure that they provide appropriate materials. This debate will continue …

The final comment I would make about the event is to applaud Paul Mayes, Teesside University for being willing to experiment with innovative Web 2.0 services at the event. Paul could not attend the event, so he videoed his talk ahead of the meeting. After this was shown, Paul and I made use of the TokBox video chat service (which I’ve commented on recently). Although there were some technical glitches, I felt the event benefits from Paul’s willingness to experiment, which was clearly appropriate for this particular event, with its focus on the willingness to experiment which many young people will have.

And thanks to Dave Pattern for the photographs he took of the event, including one which shows me (on stage) having a video chat with Paul using ToxBox. Now what is the metadata for this photo? Which is the real me and which is just fantasy?

Use of TokBox at the event

And if only I had produced a video of my talk at the ILI 2007 conference I would have avoided passing on my cold to Dave Pattern, Kara Jones and others – which Dave not only blogged about but also informed the world via his Facebook status:

Dsve Pattern's status on Facebook.

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

All UK Government Web Sites Must Be WCAG AA Compliant

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 October 2007

The UK Government has published a Public consultation on Delivering Inclusive Websites document (TG102). This document (available in MS Word and PDF formats) states that all government Web sites must comply with the WCAG AA guidelines by December 2008. And failure to comply will result in the withdrawal of the domain.

Great, you may think. At last the Government is doing something positive for people with disabilities.

I would disagree – I think this is a flawed approach for several reasons:

  • The WCAG 1.0 guidelines are widely acknowledged to be out-of-date and inappropriate for the technical environment and ways in which the Web is used today. And this is not just what I think. Michael Cooper, who works for WAI (who produce the WCAG guidelines) admitted this is a paper he presented at the W4A 2007 conference. As I described in my report on the conference Michael write:

However, we recognize that standards are slow, and technology evolves quickly in the commercial marketplace. Innovation brings new customers and solidifies relationships with existing customers; Web 2.0 innovations also bring new types of professionals to the field, ones who care about the new dynamic medium. As technologies prove themselves, standardizing brings in the universality of the benefit, but necessarily follows this innovation. Therefore, this paper acknowledges and respects Web 2.0, discussing the issues and real world solutions.

  • The WCAG 1.0 guidelines are flawed and ambiguous, as described in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World“. For example a strict interpretation of the priority 2 guideline which states “… use the latest versions [of W3C technologies] when supported” would mean that a WCAG AA conformant HTML 4 Web site would be degraded to WCAG A conformance overnight when XHTML 1.0 was officially released! There are similar flaws when one considers use of GIF (a widely used, but proprietary graphical format) and PNG (an open and rich, but comparatively rarely-used W3C graphical format). Use of a closed graphical format such as GIF would appear to break the WCAG priority 2 guideline which requires Web developers to “Use W3C technologies when they are available and appropriate for a task“. But is there any evidence that use of GIF rather than PNG is a significant accessibility barrier?
  • It is unclear whether proprietary file formats such as MS Word and PowerPoint and Adobe PDF can be hosted on a government Web site. The document implies they can, provided the file formats are used in an accessible way. But doesn’t this conflict with the WCAG guideline given above? And if Word, PowerPoint and PDF formats can be used, what other proprietary formats can be used? Would a Flash-only Web site be permitted, provided accessible Flash was used?
  • Although the document supports use of both automated testing tools and manual testing, I fear that time pressures will result in priority being given to automated testing, perhaps based on the EU-funded automated accessibility checking tool, the limitations of which I wrote about recently.
  • The conservatism often found in the public sector will stifle initiative and innovation, even when this could provide more accessible services to people with disabilities.
  • The difficulties of ensuring that user-generated content complies with WCAG AA guidelines (e.g. ensuring the abbreviations and acronyms are marked up when first used in a page) will discourage government bodies from providing services which seek to actively engage UK citizens.
  • The requirement seems to ignore the benefits that can be provided within a particular context. A Web site featuring an anti-drugs campaign aimed at youths in the inner city may be more effective if it uses language likely to be understood by the target audience. But the danger is that such an approach would not be allowed, as the language would not be universally accessible.
  • The failure to address change control in the policy. When, for example, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are released which, based on the current draft, are more tolerant of proprietary formats, JavaScript and invalid HTML pages, how are Web site owners supposed to respond?

I fear the underlying rationale to this approach is based on the checklist approach which the government seems over-enamoured with. Sadly the requirements to comply with benchmark targets seems inevitably to lead to a fixation with addressing the targets themselves, and a failure to address the underlying issues. As I write the broadsheets are arguing that failures in hygiene standards are due to the NHS’s requirements to satisfy (and monitor) benchmark figures rather tackling the hygiene issues.

After a series of useful government services are withdrawn because of the concerns that they may break dated guidelines, I predict a government minister will face the wrath of Jeremy Paxman – and Jeremy will be able to make use of an anti-EU argument, as the consultation document does admit that “In 2002, the European Parliament set the minimum level of accessibility for all public sector websites at Level Double-A“. A good question for Jeremy will be “Do you have any evidence that compliance with these dated guidelines brings any benefits to people with disabilities?

It seems that political expediency (a Brown government seeking to make a statement, perhaps) has failed to acknowledge the limitations of the checklist approach. And this despite participation from the COI at the “Accessibility Summit II: A User-Focussed Approach to Web Accessibility” in November 2007. As described in a report on the event Kevin Carey, Vice-Chair of the Royal National Institute of the Blind and director of digital inclusion charity HumanITy argued that “At the moment the government is following highly specific [WCAG] points. Some work, some don’t“.

Sadly it seems that the recommendations of this group have been ignored. At least we’re not the only ones concerned about this new. In a comment on a post on New UK government web accessibility consultation on the Blether blog, Karls states that:

I’ve been reading this document today and I agree with Jack – it needs to lose the checklist mentality, extend the deadline (I understand that the author probably had to put some date there) and get every website tested by our friends at RNIB / AbilityNet / Shaw Trust / Nomensa using some kind of joined-up (consistent) testing scheme. I might have missed a few other big players out there but the point I really want to make is I don’t want to see sites get sucked in by snake-oil salesmen.

Your thoughts?

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

On Thunderbird

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 October 2007

“Thunderbirds aren’t go” was the initial ungrammatical idea for the title of this post, based on an article in Thursday’s Online Guardian which asked “What future has the Thunderbird email program got?” in light of the departure of the two paid programmers who were working on the project (and discussed on the Guardian technology blog).

I installed Thunderbird a couple of year’s ago with high hopes, as it comes from the same stable as Firefox. I quickly became disillusioned, though, partly because I didn’t like the interface and partly because of various bugs or limitations I encountered, but primarily because of its lack of support for a calendering tool. I soon went back to Outlook, which I use to synch with my PDA and mobile phone.

I had been told that a calendering tool which would complement Thunderbird was on its way – but the Guardian article also mentioned that this product (Sunbird) has been discontinued. This feature has, sadly, been shown to be vapourware.

Has Thunderbird shown itself to be a fad, without even being fashionable (in mainstream circles)? I think this would be an inappropriate response. As Ross Gardler pointed out recently, it can be counter productive to dismiss applications using phrases such as ‘it’s merely fashionable’ or ‘it’s just a passing fad’. Rather, some deeper thinking is needed – and maybe software which fails to become fashionable but works for particular groups in niche areas can have a role to play.

Or perhaps, as Ryan Paul suggests, Thunderbird still has potential to fly despite developers leaving the nest. And interestingly the article suggested that Thunderbird’s focus simple on email might be a barrier and pointed out that the developers “had the team for developing … a stand-alone desktop e-mail application. But we didn’t have the complete set of people to address both that and the larger issues. Without some new impetus, Thunderbird would continue in a status quo pattern.” Thunderbird with a means of integrating with Facebook – now that would be an application I’d like to try out – and could leave Outlook in the dust.

Speculation, open to discussion, I feel. What is less open to dispute is that the success of the FireFox browser has not been replicated in the email environment. And we do need to have decision making and selection criteria which recognises that success in one area does not necessarily guarantee success in another.  Time to update the QA Focus document on “Top Tips For Selecting Open Source Software“.

Posted in General | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

The Techshare 2007 Conference (2)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 October 2007

I mentioned previously my talk on “Beyond Compliance – A Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” which I gave at the Techshare 2007 conference.

My talk was in complete contrast to the preceding talk on “EuraCERT“. This talk described the development of a European certification scheme for Web accessibility, which is based on the development of automated software which checks the compliance of a Web site with WCAG 1.0 guidelines.

This approach seems to be based on the “Unified Web Evaluation Methodology”. This is available in HTML and as a PDF document (152 pages). The document contains hundreds of descriptions of tests of HTML pages; passing such tests, it would seem, will ensure the Web site can be certified as complying with the accessibility guidelines. An example is: Test 12.3_HTML_15

This test is targeted to check whether the table rows need grouping.


  • Applicability criteria: Select the following combination of elements/attributes:

table[not(thead) or not(tfoot) or not(tbody)]

  • Test procedure: Do the table rows need grouping?
  • Confidence level: Medium.
  • User testing procedures: Not Available.

The speaker described the WCAG 1.0 guidelines as “the bible”. During the questions I said that if this is the case, I must be a heretic :-) It seems that a European certificate is being developed based on a set of guidelines which are known to be flawed and are being replaced. And this is to say nothing of the issue of the purpose of the Web site which I described previously.

I have to say that I feel that accessibility is primarily about people, and that the emphasis being placed by techies on just the resource is counter-productive.

What do others things?

Posted in Accessibility, Events | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The Techshare 2007 Conference (1)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 October 2007

Last week I attended the first day of the Techshare 2007 conference.

I gave a talk on Beyond Compliance – A Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility, which reviewed the work on Web accessibility policies which has been published at the W4A 2005, W4A 2006 and W4A 2007 conferences. This work has described the limitations of the WAI approach to Web accessibility, with the flaws in the WCAG 1.0 guidelines becoming increasingly apparent over the years. In addition we (my co-authors have included Professors Helen Petrie and Stephen Brown, Lawrie Phipps, David Sloan, Patrick Lauke and Simon Ball) have argued that there’s a need to address the context of use – and that the approaches taken to ensure accessibility of informational resources are not necessarily relevant in cases in which the Web is used to deliver learning, provide access to a cultural experience, enable a user to assert their identity or simply, to have fun. Examples I’ve used to illustrate this include include surrealist paintings (how do you make a Salvador Dali painting understandable, for example) and my favourite sports headline “Super Cali Go Ballistic, Celtic were Atrocious’ – which brings a smile to many people’s faces, but not if Mary Poppins hasn’t been part of your cultural upbringing – in short, it’s not universally accessible.

At the conference I described such ‘edge cases’ and explained why these needed to be considered (to avoid, as I’ve heard has happened, resources being removed from Web sites as they can’t be made accessible to everyone). I described the approaches we’ve developed, based on a holistic approach to accessibility, a stakeholder model and a tangram metaphor for describing the approaches.

I was pleased at the response I received to the talk: despite it being the final talk of the day, several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for the talk and described how useful they felt this user-focussed (as opposed to a checklist) approach was. I was especially pleased that a couple of people from the RNIB felt that this approach echoes their thinking.

Posted in Accessibility, Events | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Results of the Evaluation of the UK Web Focus blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 October 2007

On 23 August 2007 I announced the launch of an evaluation of the UK Web Focus blog. The results of the evaluation, which was open for a period of four weeks, are now available.  The evaluation, which made use of the SurveyMonkey software, have two main purposes: 1)  to gain a better understanding of the tools used to read the blog (the platform and applications and 2)  to gain feedback on the content of the blog, the publishing frequency and the length of postings. And in order to maximise the numbers of responses a follow-up request for feedback was posted on 11 September, in case readers may have missed the initial post, which was sent during the holiday season.

Of the 30 completed responses, I was pleased to read that 38.% used a UK Web Focus › Create New Post — WordPress Web-based RSS reader and 20.5% using a desktop RSS reader, with a similar percentage (20.5%) visiting the main blog Web site and 10.5% reading the blog posts via an aggregator, such as the JISC Emerge Elgg community Web site or JISC OSS Watch’s Planet aggregation service.

The most popular operating system environment was, unsurprisingly, MS Windows (64.1%), followed by Apple Macintosh (25.6%) and Unix (10.3%).  Nobody admitted to reading the blog using a mobile device (whether wearing pyjamas or not :-) )

Just over half (53.8%) of the respondents have given comments on the blog – it was pleasing that those who hadn’t were willing to give reasons why (“Worried about looking like I’m stating the obvious, I always feel I should have something new and original to offer“, “As of writing this, I’m not part of the blogosphere myself yet. Anonymous or dummy commenting doesn’t feel right” and “I haven’t commented (yet) because I haven’t felt I had anything sufficiently new/original to contribute“). Interestingly one person felt that blogs are not an appropriate medium for discussion: “I try not to make comments in blogs that require a response. For me blogs are for dissemination, they do not work well for discussion. I comment if I feel I can add something to the observation being made. If I want a discussion I will bring it up on a more appropriate location.“.

The comments on the content of the blog were very pleasing for me:

  • Invariably relevant and thought provoking. Informed opinion that is not opinionated.
  • Entries and variety very interesting.
  • Excellent, I can’t remember reading anything that I thought was a waste of my time.
  • Informative and thought-provoking — it’s good to read a blog about ‘web 2.0′ that manages to raise interesting questions rather than being dogmatic about the ‘right’ way to do things.
  • marvellous – timely, detailed, open, and invitingly humble!

Many thanks for those comments (he says, humbly :-)

The question on the frequency of publication of the posts, again,  seemed to indicate that readers were happy:

  • beats expectations – at least daily, sometimes twice – always somehow useful
  • As I understand Brian’s workload and the diverse calls on his time, I am amazed he has time to produce as much as he does. I am happy with frequency at present, much more would be too much.
  • Amazing: don’t know how you do it. Short ones are easy, but a considered article I find a lot of work to make relevant and to avoid complete pratfalls (small pratfalls are acceptable in blogging, I think!)
  • Ideal. Frequent enough to keep interested but not so frequent that it becomes a chore to keep up

although there were some divergences of opinion:

  • I wish postings were somewhat more frequent. Perhaps it should be a more central feature of Web Focus dissemination?
  • I think there are too many postings-I often ignore them because I simply don’t have time to read through such lengthy and frequent posts.
  • Sometimes difficult to keep up with all articles! But I would prefer too many rather than not enough.

The comments on the length of the posts also seemed to show that the current approach is working:

  • Almost perfect. It is quite easy to get the gist of a post and decide whether to read in full.
  • Good – enough detail usually to make it worthwhile. The writing style is good – waffle free.
  • as long as they need to be in order to give appropriate detail – so just right – and effort made to embed examples very helpful
  • Works well for your blog – other blogs work better with shorter news snippets but yours requires longer discussion to get point across
  • I find the postings quite detailed – longer than several of the blogs I read, but the use of diagrams and screenshots etc breaks this up and prevents it from being an arduous read
  • Shorter would be less useful (I think.)

I also invited readers to give other comments and suggestions.  These included:

  • This blog is well written and presents ideas and technologies in a very clear way. It makes good use of links for finding our more. But it does not overwhelm either. A nice balancing act!
  • keep up the great service – perhaps even take on a network of distributed apprentices to propagate subtleties of ethos which may otherwise be overlooked as a legitimate set of “higher” skills – professional or otherwise
  • In general, I appreciate the blog and find it useful when I have time to read it! Thank you also for taking the time to survey your readers.
  • Currently, your blog is one of the Top 5 that I follow regularly ) Two of them are in English – the other one is Lorcan Dempsey’s
  • I think it’s great to have the range of info you have and to report back on events you have attended.

This feedback has been very useful to me, so thanks to eveyone who responded.

The main issues and suggestions which a number of respondents raised which I should respond were the technical level and intended audence for the posts and problems in reading some of the posts, due, for example, to problems in rendering images.  It seems that some readers welcome the advice given to those new to blogging and Web 2.0, but other, more experienced readers, would prefer more technically-focussed posts.  I am wondering, in light of the feedback we are receiving from our funders and our discussions with the museums, libraries and archives community, whether to set up a blog, perhaps focussing on blogging and mainstream use of Web 2.0 services, aimed at mainstream members of that community, who may be making the first steps with Web 2.0.  I will float this idea at the Blogging Masterclass and with others in the Library sector I’ll be seeing on Monday and Tuesday at the ILI 2007 conference.

But I’d most particularly welcome feedback on this from readers of this blog.

Posted in Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Fashions In Internet Technologies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 October 2007

The Apache server software saw steady growth in its use from its launch. But I never heard anyone criticise Web server administrators for being fashionable, or doom merchants predicting that the growth would come to an end and, therefore, there is little point in using the software.

And yet such arguments are being made when other software, such as Facebook, becomes popular. Why is this, I wonder? In part, I think this is because services such as Facebook don’t fit in with the ideology of the ‘chattering classes’ – it’s not, open source, for example. And, unlike Apache, there is a lot of money associated with Facebook, with large companies (such as Microsoft and Google) looking to invest in the company. Such rampant capitalism again doesn’t fit in with certain ideological perspectives. In contrast, plucky underdogs, like Twitter and Jaiku are to be admired, even thought (or perhaps because) they  seem not to have gone beyond the boundaries of the geeks and early adopters.

I also feel that some people like to distance themselves from the vulgarities of profit and success. We’re British, after all; let’s leave the Americans and the Australians to boast about their successes, while we pride ourselves on heroic (or less than heroic) failures!

My view is that, whilst we may wish to reflect our national characteristics in the sporting arena (and I’m writing this in advance of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup games) as professionals we should base our judgments on evidence, rather than beliefs and, if the evidence shows that our beliefs aren’t working, then we may need to modify our beliefs, rather than ignore the evidence.

On the other hand, maybe Apache is starting to become unfashionable; after all as a recent Netcraft survey reportedits market share [is] declining closer to the 50% mark, as Microsoft … gained over 3 million hostnames“.

Posted in Web2.0 | 11 Comments »

Using Your WiFi Network Whilst In Your Pyjamas

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 October 2007

You have a WiFi network at home. You also have a mobile device which supports WIFi – perhaps a PDA or a mobile phone? How can you exploit these two technologies before you’ve set off to work?

I have started to get into the habit of, after getting up, switching on my mobile phone and refreshing the RSS feeds I’ve subscribed to. As I don’t intend to use my mobile for serious blog reading activities, I have subscribed to the RSS feeds for the comments for this blog. This enables me to spot if there any comments I need to respond to while I’m on this bus into work.

Am I unusual in using my network while I’m still in my pyjamas?

Posted in Gadgets | 15 Comments »

What Can Mashups Offer?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 October 2007

I have been invited to give a talk on mashups at the annual conference for JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs).  To support my talk I have written a briefing document giving An Introduction To Mashups.  I would welcome feedback on this document (the master copy of which is an A5 printed document, which provides a mechanism for keeping the content brief and to the point).  Also note that a Creative Commons licence is available for this document, so feel free to reuse the content (and I hope anyone who may wish to use this document will be motivated to provide feedback).

In addition to the document I am also interested in examples of mashups, primarily in educational contexts to help RSCs  to succeed in their mission: to stimulate and support innovation in learning. 

I will, of course, make the materials I produce available under a Creative Commons licence.

Posted in mashups | 4 Comments »

The Blogging Librarian: Pragmatic, Connected and Visible

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 October 2007

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

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

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

I look forward to reading blog coverage of their presentations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Stephens

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 3 Comments »