UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for November, 2007

The Long And Winding Road

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 November 2007

I was recently an invited speaker at Intute’s first Staff Conference, which was described in a blog post on Intute’s newly launched blog service. The title of my talk was “What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?. Before exploring the challenges which the range of externally hosted Web 2.0 service would pose to a JISC-funded service such as Intute I took the opportunity to revisit the early days of Intute, when, in the days of the eLib programe the services were known as Subject Based Information Gateways (SBIGs), before becoming known as the RDN (Resource Discovery Network) prior to their current name.

What, I asked, was the key to Intute’s success? Was it, I wondered:

  • ROADS: the open source software which formed the basis of services such as SOSIG in the early days?
  • The lightweight whois++ distributed searching protocol supported by ROADS, which would allow users to cross-search across the various SBIG services?
  • The MySQL database, which formed the core data management tool for ssome of the services?
  • The PostGres database, another open source relational database management system, which provided richer functionality than MySQL?
  • The distributed approach to development and hosting, which enabled a diversity of technical approaches to take place?

From today’s perspective, we can see that the only technical component of the Intute service from the list given above which is still critical is the MySQL database. ROADS is now festering on SourceForge and the whois++ protocol seems to have dropped off the radar screen, having been superceded by the SRU/SRW cross-searching protocols which were designed for a Web environment. And the distributed development and hosting approach has been replaced by a centralised service, hosted at MIMAS.

At the conference I argued that the success of Intute wasn’t due to the initial technical choices. Rather it was due to the effectiveness of their outreach activities, with staff from SOSIG, EEVL, OMNI and the other hubs regularly appearing at conferences, giving seminars, running training sessions and writing articles for many publications.

There was, however, one piece of technical innovation which has shown itself to be sustainable, which was described in a short paper on “RDN-Include: Re-branding Remote Resources” by myself, Pete Cliff and Andy Powell published in May 2001 in the WWW 10 Conference Poster Proceedings. RDN-include allowed the RDN service to be embedded in third party Web pages. The initial development made use of a CGI script which needed to be installed on the institution’s server. However we realised that there was always likely to be a SysAdmin barrier (“no third party script to be allowed on my server”) so a lightweight JavaScript alternative was also developed, RDNi-lite. And, as described in a post on Integrate Intute content on the Intute blog, this service is still being provided, although under a new name and using, I believe, rewritten software.

A focus on users? A lightweight approach to embedding content? This sounds pretty much like Web 2.0 to me. As I said in my talk, I think the success of Intute was due to the Web 2.0-style approach they took, before the term was coined.

But in the light of what we now know, how might Intute have developed? We can see that the distributed approach taken initially wasn’t sustainable, and the emphasis on cross-searching would have been misplaced in a more centralised model. Looking at The History of Yahoo! it strikes me that, in an alternative universe Intute could have been the Yahoo! of the planet.

We thought we were at the start of a long and straight Roman road in the days of eLib. Looking back, we can see that it was a long and winding road, and occasionally we’ll realise that we’ve been heading in the wrong direction and retrace our tracks. If we were starting all over again, which way would we go?

Posted in jisc | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Transliteracy And Amplified Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 November 2007

In Matt Matchel’s report on the Eclectic Dreams blog entitled “Liveblogging : Exploiting the Potential of Blogs and Social Networks” he described the event as providing:

A day of talks on the use of blogging in education, with live Second Life feed, web-cam and blog chatter… How very trans-literate!

Very transliterate!” What does Matt mean?

Wikipedia cites the PART research group in its definition of transliteracy as

The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

At the event the plenary speakers were happy for their talks to be streamed live on the Internet and for the talks to also be made available in Second Life; several of the participants used the event wiki to keep notes during the session; a number of people took photographs and video clips during the event, which were uploaded to various photographic sharing services and there were a number of live bloggers at the event, some of whom also updated their Facebook status to inform their Facebook contacts that they were blogging.

And as well as being comfortable in making use of the digital technologies, the participants took part in the discussions and socialising.

It’s good to see that the ‘transliterates’ can include the digital migrants :-)

Posted in Events | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 November 2007

The Event

The UKOLN workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks” took place yesterday at Austin Court, Birmingham.

This event was initially meant to be held in March 2007, with the title “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs“. However as we discovered a clash with the UCISA annual conference, we decided to postpone the event until November. And by the time we got around to selecting the talks it had become clear that it was the area of social networks which was exciting (and terrifying) many people. Providing a wider focus for the event proved popular with the event being fully-subscribed with 100 participants, rather than the 60-70 we had originally planned for.

The Talks

The talks at the event provided a narrative which outlined the variety of approaches which institutions are taking in provision of and/or use of blogs and social network services. After my initial introduction to the workshop Stephen Clarke (University of Birmingham) gave the opening plenary talk on Blogging In A Managed Environment in which he described the benefits which can be gained by supporting student learning though use of a managed application environment (which, at the University of Birmingham, is Web CT). Melissa Highton (University of Leeds) focussed on supporting the teachers in her talk on Leedsfeed: a Blogging Service based on the Open Source Elgg Application, again through use of an in-house application.

In contrast Alison Wildish (Edge Hill University) suggested that institutions need to Put Yourself Out There– and at her institution this means recognising that students (and potential students) will use services such as Facebook, and so the institution needs to respond to this by making its information available in such places.

Facebook FlyersIt was appropriate that Alison’s talk was followed by Tom Milburn, Vice-President, Education at the University of Bath Students Union. In his talk on The Student Perspective. Tom gave a valuable insight into ways in which students at the University of Bath are setting up Facebook groups which can “provide students with the support of their cohort in a structured environment, … provide constant support that is not bound by office hours and … ease pressure on staff with older students helping to ‘teach’ younger students.” Tom also described the pro-active approach being taken by the students Union in advising students of the potential dangers which may be posed by social networks. In particular he described the Facebook flyers (adverts displayed in Facebook) which were made available to students in the University of Bath Facebook network. Interestingly Tom concluded that effective use of social networks “will depend on how much effort staff put in and the culture of students on various courses“. At the University of Bath it would seem that students may welcome staff supporting their use of Facebook.

After lunch there were two talks given the institutional IT Services perspective. Stuart Lee (University of Oxford) described The Hidden Dangers of Social Networks: You can log-on but you cannot hide. Interestingly the slides (which I had uploaded to Slideshare prior to the event) had been commented upon by Grainne Conole and AJCann, with the suggestion that IT services were scared of these dangers – although Stuart’s intentions (which he described in his responses to these comments) was to discharge the responsibility of a service department “to point out hidden pitfalls in some systems that users need to be aware of“.

In the final talk David Harrison (University of Cardiff) described how the University of Cardiff is seeking to respond to Disruptive Technology and its Implications for University Information Services. David described how his work in this area began as “a response to a presentation from Brian Kelly and John Heaps at an earlier UKOLN Workshop” (Initiatives & Innovation: Managing Disruptive Technologies, a joint UKOLN/CETIS/UCISA workshop held in February 2006). An initial draft of a briefing paper was written in early 2007 for comment within UCISA Executive, and part 1 of the briefing paper is now available. David’s concluding remarks included:

  • Users need protecting against their own foolishness – thus EDUCATION is the most important thing
  • Institutions should begin to trust their staff and students more but be also prepared to use existing disciplinary codes where the trust is betrayed
  • Must embrace and engage – to do otherwise would be counter-productive and make us look foolish – consider the concept of enablement
  • Should consider a partnership rather than service provider role and be customer-centric

The Participants’ Perspectives

As with many of UKOLN’s recent events we encouraged participants to make use of the WiFi network to enhance their learning at the event, to make use of a wiki for keeping notes of the discussion groups and to share their blog posts, photographs, etc. related to the event.

Chris Sexton, who kindly helped out in in the final summing up session, was very productive during the day, with posts of the morning session (part 1) , morning session (part 2) and afternoon session. Matt Machell, on his Eclectic Dreams Blog also provided useful summaries of the morning and afternoon sessions. If there are any further blog posts about the event which I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll include details here (note I came across reports on the Digital Narratives blog, the DMU PatherFinder blog and Helen Newham’s blog after publishing this report).

I should also add that a Wetpaint wiki site was used to support the event. The notes from the discussion groups may be of particular interest, both to the workshop participants and to those who could attend.

The Remote Participants

UKOLN has been evaluating a variety of tools recently which can be use to ‘amplify’ the discussions and outputs of the events we run. Plenary talks at the IWMW 2007 event were streamed. At this event we went one step further, providing not only a video stream but also streaming the video into Second Life. I would like to thank Andy Powell, Eduserv Foundation for managing these video streams, and Veodia for making their streaming service available for us to evaluate during the event. We did have some hiccups with the service – due, we think, to the limited bandwidth for streaming out of the venue. However this was a valuable experiment, I feel. Andy has also provided some slides which review his experiences (and, after this post was initially published, gave his Reflections on a DIY streaming experience).

What Next?

In a recent post on When Two Tribes Go To War I described the tensions between two communities of developers: those who believe that The VLE/LMS is dead and those who are engaged in providing a secure managed VLE environment. At this event we came across two communities in a slightly different guise: the IT service providers who feel that their institution should be managing its IT provision and those who feel that institutions cannot compete with the popularity of many commercially provided solutions. The good news, is there was very much a willingness to discuss the pros and cons of both positions, and an awareness that each side has its own weaknesses. There’s still a lot of mileage in this debate, I feel.

Posted in Blog, Events, Social Networking | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

When Two Tribes Go To War

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 November 2007

Hostilities Commence

Niall Sclater, Director of the OU VLE Programme at the Open University recently pointed out that the Slideshare service was down, using this as an “attempt to inject some reality into the VLEs v Small Pieces debate“. His colleague at the Open University, Tony Hirst responded with a post entitled “An error has occurred whilst accessing this site” in which Tony, with “beautifully sweet irony“, alerted Niall to the fact that the OU’s Intranet was also down.

Similar differences of opinion are taking place at the University of Leeds. My former colleague Nigel Bruce send me a wall-to-wall post on Facebook some time ago in which he expressed the view that “Personally I don’t see the point in ISS (the IT Services department) running blogging servers unless we want to automatically create and populate groups based on modules. Why not just encourage people to sign up for an account with WordPress? It’s better than anything we could offer. Much better than Elgg. This area is moving so fast no Uni computing services can hope to compete or keep up.

But Melissa Highton, a colleague of Nigel’s will give a talk on Monday at UKOLN’s “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” workshop on Leedsfeeds: a Blogging Service based on the Open Source Elgg Application in which she will describe the benefits of running a local open source blogging service (Elgg) to support the aims of the institution and members of the institution.

Two tribes with, it would appear, fundamentally differing perspectives – but not, I hope, about to go to war.

Two Tribes Meet At The CETIS Conference

Myself and my colleague Paul Walk had been invited by CETIS to facilitate a half-day session on Responding to Change and Institutional Challenges at the conference on Beyond Standards – Holistic Approaches to Educational Technology and Interoperability. In our planning for the session it struck me that the tensions between the views held by Tony Hirst and those of Niall Sclater would provide a useful way of exploring the institutional challenges of the Web 2.0 characteristics such as ‘the network as the platform and commercial providers of services.

I must admit, though, that I hadn’t expected both Tony and Niall to attend the session! This was an opportunity not to be missed, and so the session provided an opportunity to explore the tensions openly articulated by two of the participants.

Peace In Our Time?

Niall Sclater has already written about the session in a post entitled VLEs v Web 2.0: is consensus breaking out? As Niall summarises in his post:

Tony and Niall 'Fighting'I suspect Brian Kelly took great pleasure in attempting to pitch Tony Hirst against me in a session at the JISC CETIS Conference yesterday (photo: Mark Power). Brian had spotted that I had been promoting the benefits of institutional VLEs while Tony is pushing the boundaries in the use of Web 2.0 software for learning… After the session I caught up with Tony over a pint and we looked at whether there is any common ground in our thinking and, not surprisingly, there’s plenty (though Tony may now deny it!).

It was pleasing to see such mutual understanding being reaching – and Paul and myself can congratulate ourselves on the counselling work we carried out :-)

More seriously, though, participants at the session did actively engage in exploring the ‘gaps’ between the commercial and institutional provision of services (which I wrote about recently). And I have to admit that my previous thoughts that the gap needed to me addressing my policies, risk assessment, managing expectations, etc. have been modified as a result of the discussions at the session, and I now wonder whether it might be better to sometimes leave such gaps unfilled. For as ‘Webdunc’ recently commentedTo oversimplify; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a policy for what to do when you pass a peer/colleague/superior/lecturer/student in the street – why do we need one for online social behaviour?“.

Conclusions From The Session

Facilitators of the workshop session had been asked to summarise the conclusions in a single sentence. I must admit that I’m not convinced how useful this is – although I would acknowledge that it can provide a useful exercise for the participants in seeking consensus.

However when articulating the sentence it tends to appear bland. I feel this is the case with ours: “We need to think beyond the institution, beyond the sector, beyond the UK and beyond the short period spent in the institution – but we need to think carefully, widely and deeply.

But although the conclusions may appear bland, I think they reflect the sentiments expressed by Oleg Liber, Director of JISC CETIS, and Sarah Porter, Head of Development, JISC, in the opening presentations at the conference.

And, finally it is possible, I feel, to enhance the impact of this sentence.

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

The Gaps Between The Owned And The Externally-Hosted Services

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 November 2007

Scott Wilson (JISC CETIS) and Andy Powell (Eduserv Foundation) has recently published a couple of interesting posts on their blogs. which reflects my areas of interest.

Scott’s post on PLEs and the institution contains an image which depicts his thoughts on “the set of connections between what an institution offers and what individuals manage“.
Diagram from Scott Wilson's blog

I tend to agree with this vision which acknowledges that MySpace, Facebook, Slideshare, etc. will have a role to play in the services which are used to support institutional activities, but there will be a for the institution to “provide a coordination space“.

It’s the gaps in Scott’s diagram which particularly interest me. As well as the technical aspects of the coordination space (which could include automated dumps of data held elsewhere, bulk uploads of metadata, etc.) there are also the implied questions associated with this space: Do we trust the services? Can we compete with them? Do we compete on all fronts or select the appropriate areas? What are our institutional liabilities if things go wrong? What are the risks to the individuals and what responsibilities do we have to safeguard the interests of the individuals in our institutions?

Some of these issues were touched on by Andy Powell in his recent report on Eduserv’s OpenID event entitled OpenID – every student should have one. Andy argued that

the management of our online identities is increasingly a user-centric and lifelong activity – it doesn’t start and stop at the system-induced transition points of our lives (going to school – leaving school, going to uni – leaving uni, getting a job – leaving a job, etc.). In consequence, there is a danger of us offering a poor fit to our user’s requirements if the approaches to identity management that we adopt are too rooted within particular sectors or phases of sectors.

Andy identifies that there is a time dimension to the issue of the services institutions should be providing. Those of us who have been working in IT support or development within educational institution for some time with have been brought up with the view that it is an institutional responsibility to provide a quality, safe managed IT environment for members of the institution. But now we are starting to find that individuals will have their own digital identities when arriving at the institution, together with their own preferred applications (email, photo repositories, social networks, etc.) And this will not only apply to students arriving at our institutions, but also visitors, part time staff, staff on short term contracts, etc.

The spaces in Scott’s diagram is starting to look very interesting, I think.

Posted in Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Thoughts On Animoto

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 November 2007

The Tool – Animoto

Andy Powell introduced me to Animoto, after he produced a video clip for UKOLN’s “Exploiting the Potential of Blogs and Social Networks” workshop. Shortly afterwards he wrote a blog post about the Web-based tool for easily creating multimedia video clips by simply uploading photographs and letting the software do the donkey work.

Andy had previously commented (in the context of providing a live video streaming for the workshop) that his aim was “to demonstrate the possibilities for video-streaming live meetings using cheap or free equipment and services.

The Experiment

Andy’s interest reflects mine which, in brief, are to explore:

  • Free or low-costs solutions for organisations with limited budgets or technical expertise (this is particularly relevant to many public libraries, museums and archives, which are an important part of the communities UKOLN serves).
  • The appeal of successful Web 2.0 services.
  • How the successes of such services can be applied to in-house development work.
  • Whether such services can be used in a service environment.

Animoto, “a web application that automatically generates professionally produced videos using patent-pending Cinematic Artificial Intelligence technology and high-end motion design“, was therefore worthy of investigation, as 30-second video clips can be created for free and just $30 per year for an “All access unlimited pass”.

Animotro video clip for IWMW 2007My initial experiment was to produce a video clip entitled “Memories Of IWMW 2007“, making use of photographs of UKOLN’s IWMW 2007 event (on Flickr with the ‘iwmw2007′ tag) held at the University of York in July 2007. Upload the photographs, select the backing music and publish. Simple!

My next experiment, based on Andy’s idea for the video preview of the Blogs workshop, was to make use of images contained in the speakers slides. Slightly more time-consuming, but nothing too difficult.

The third experiment was to create a video clip using some of the key slides prepared by the plenary speakers. The JPEG images were created by saving the slides as images from within PowerPoint.

And my final experiment was to take the key slides from my Introduction talk, and turn them into a 30 sector video clip.

As one might expect, the Animoto video clips can be embedded in Web pages, as illustrated.
Embedded Animoto video clips

What’s The Point?

The more cynical reader – or perhaps the reader who has actually viewed the video clips and listened to the cheesy background music – might be asking what the fuss is about! After all, ever since Microsoft released PowerPoint 1.0 it has been possible to easily create visual presentations, and the accompanying clip arts, clip music and wizards have often led to cliched presentations.

This is very true and, if Animoto takes off, I would expect such cheesy presentations to me the norm in the early days. However good presentations can be created using tools such as PowerPoint, Open Presents, etc, if you have the appropriate expertise and knowledge. And this takes experimentation.

So I’d encourage experimentation and the sharing of failures and successes. Two ideas which spring to mind:

  • Video clips summarising the highlights of an event such as IWMW 2007, using photos from Flickr, the presentations and perhaps music created by the participants.
  • Using the 30 second video clip to reduce a presentation to its bare essentials, for the ‘elevator pitch’. After all Michael Nolan on the Edge Hill University blog recently mentioned Pecha Kucha: “20 slides; 20 seconds per slide. You don’t have time to bore the audience.” Rather than wasting 6 minutes 40 seconds of your life, why not save over 6 minutes?

If such experimentation reveals that there’s nothing to be gained from such approaches, at least we’ve saved time being wasted in software development. Although it may be that limitations we encounter may be addressed in the commercial version of the service (perhaps $30 per year might be worth the investment) or in new services which may be released in the future (the interface implies that a number of new features are due to be released).

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

The History Of The Web Backwards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 November 2007

The “History of the World Backwards” comedy was launched on BBC 4 on 30 October 2007. The joke is based on time being reversed: “Today’s opener sees Nelson Mandela enter prison as a sweet-natured Spice Girls fan, but emerge from a long incarceration as a terrorist bent on the armed overthrow of the state.

How might this apply to the history of the World Wide Web, from its global success in 2007, through to its sad demise in the early 1990s? And what are the longer term implications for its demise? Here are my thoughts. What are your views? And if anyone fancies writing their own blog post in this style, I’d suggest using the tag “history-of-web-backwards” (or, indeed, history-of-foo-backwards, if your main passion is in ‘foo’).

The global pervasiveness of the World Wide Web in 2007 appeared to guarantee its long term success. Sadly the sceptics who argued that the Web was just a mere fad proved to be correct, with a steady demise over a period of ten years, leading to its complete disappearance by 1990.The WCAG 2.0 guidelines, which were due to be released in 2008, were expected to bring about the much-promised dream of universal success to Web resources, exploiting the potential of much richer (and usable and accessible) user interfaces based on Ajax, Flash and related technologies, whose popularity had been successfully demonstrated in a series of global experiments provided though the benevolence of companies such as Google and Yahoo!

Sadly political changes in the UK led to the release of a government mandate which banned such technologies, in an effort by a socialist government to prevent the decline in use of public services. The lead taken by the UK government was followed throughout the rest of Europe with European legislation being enacted which suppressed any technological innovations which had not been approved by the sinister-sounding WAI organisation. The EU also funded the development of an automated robot which would report on deviations from approved practices (the naming and shaming robot).

Although these moves were initiated by the government, the side effects destabilised the commercial sector. Facebook, an incredibly successful social networking service in 2007, lost users from this peak and, despite the mass demonstration, coordinated on the THEY ARE TRYING TO SHUT DOWN FACEBOOK – PETITION TO KEEP IT! INVITE ALL! group (which had over 1.6 million users in November 2007) the uncertainty ultimately led to Facebook’s demise. The writing was on the wall when Microsoft’s withdrew its investment in the company in 2007. Facebook’s response was to return to its roots in the US, but failed to sustain its momentum across US universities, eventually choosing to provide a niche service at Harvard University. Even this proved not to be sustainable and, in despair, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founders, chose to go to university in order to try and find an alternative career.

What nobody had expected, though, was the growth of the anti-globalist movement supported by left and right wing militant organisations. Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft were found to be funded (using a possibly illegal manoeuvre known as ‘tax breaks’ ) by the US government, and where suspected of passing on secret data on an organisation known as Al Quaida (a terrorist organisation in the twenty first century who, to the astonishment of many, eventually received significant investment from the US government to help expand the US’s plans to open up a marketplace in Afghanistan). In contrast the right wing groups campaigned that social networks were leading to a breakdown of the family as a social unit.

Despite Rupert Murdoch’s investment in MySpace (which proved to be a financial disaster) these combined pressures led to the demise of all of the social networking services. A mass campaign of disobedience by young people (who called themselves the ‘Hoodies’) resulted, with the protesters taking to the streets. This failed, however, and, in a remarkable consumer revolt, household throughout the country cancelled their broadband subscriptions. The demise of the broadband industry had predicted side-effects, bringing to an end plans to invest in high definition TV and digital TV. On a personal level, although critical of his invention many felt that the UK government was being rather unfair in ceremonially stripping Tim Berners-Lee of his knighthood.

By 2000 the majority of users had abandoned their interest not only in social networks but other networked services. The Web eventually retreated to the walled ivory towers of academia. There was a renewed spirit of camaraderie within this group, who felt they were keeping alive the original vision of the Web, based on notions of user generated content and trusting the user. However the conservatives were in the ascendancy, and institutions responded by investing large sums of money in Content Management Systems (a phrase which caused so much consternation that the term ‘CMS’ had to be used as a euphemism). Organisations then mandated use of CMSs – which so disillusioned those involved who were working on the Web (“they’re forcing every page to look the same; it’s a Stalinist nightmare world we’re now living in“) that, by 1995 only a handful of stalwarts were still employed in the profession.

By 1994 the writing was on the wall, and everyone knew the the Web would soon cease to exist. The W3C was formally wound up as a company and had vacated its US offices at MIT. The decision to delete all W3C documents did take many by surprise – although AltaVista did make a valiant attempt to index the few documents which remained on the Web.

Not all was gloom, though. CERN made a decision in 1994 to host the final international WWW conference – an event so significant that it became known as the ‘Woodstock of the 1990s’.

By 1990 there was little interest in the Web. A small group did try to revive some aspects of the Web by developing Gopher. But this was simply a strictly hierarchical distributed menu system and – without even having any social networking capabilities – its short life span was inevitable.

Life in the 1980s is certainly much simpler. But is this a better life? Or would people in the 1980s wish to return to the more vibrant and connected environment which was the norm in 2007? Possibly – but someone called Douglas Adams has just released a trilogy of five books (although the last two are no longer in print) which is shortly to be made into a radio series. And Douglas argues for a return to the simplicity of our live as apes – and is wondering whether the move from the ocean, 20 million years ago was, in retrospect, a mistake :-)

Please note that this parody of the BBC programme is meant to provide mild amusement. I do not wish to imply that the current UK government is socialist. The WWW conference in 2004 was, however, described as the Woodstock of the 1990s. I will leave it to the readers to determine for themselves examples based on fact and those provided for comic effect.

Posted in General | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

Don’t Look Back In Anger

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 November 2007

In a post on Putting an official stamp on things Grainne Conole, professor of e-learning at the Open University responses to my post on UK Universities On Facebook, and reminisces about the problems she’d encountered in the early days of the Web:

The powers that be in the institution began to get wind of this ‘Internet’ thing; suddenly it began to appear on senior management’s agenda. One of the deans apparently was particularly concerned that ‘some academics even had pictures of their cats on their web sites!’ – guess who?

And once the powers that be had set up their working groups and established institutional policies, their decisions didn’t meet with Grainne’s approval:

what followed was a period of stagnation and the creation of over centralized, bureaucratic, institutional web presences, with policies and procedures and dos and don’ts as long as your arm.

But rather than getting despondent that we’ll be sharing a ‘groundhog day’ moment, I feel that we can learn from the past.

My thoughts on this:

  • The institutional Web team should have a remit which covers the institution’s presence ‘out there’ in the wild west of the Web, and not just manage its own Web service.
  • The policies should be focussed on the needs of the user communities, which will include the needs of the institution.
  • The policies should not be driven by technical issues.
  • It should be acknowledged that there may be risks in managing presences ‘out there’ – the service may not be sustainable, for example.
  • The risk assessment should include the risks of not doing anything and the risks of being left behind.
  • There will be times when a light-weight ‘just do it’ approach will be appropriate.

This would probably then lead to an institution initially claiming an organisational page on Facebook (possibly two, covering the ‘University of x’and ‘X University’ variants) but not necessarily publishing it immediately. This can then be followed by discussions over the purpose of the service. There should then be experimentation to identify Facebook applications which will enable content to be embedded from a managed source (note at present it seems only a small number of Facebook applications can be embedded on an organisational page). Finally mechanisms and responsibilities for monitoring user-generated content will need to be established.

Does this make sense? Or would this approach simply repeat the ‘over centralized, bureaucratic’ procedures which upset Grainne and others in the past? My approach has been to set up a Facebook page for the social group I am involved with (Northgate Rapper) in order to gain experience. The aims of this service (besides gained experiences for professional purposes)?

  • To provide a prescence on Facebook for people who may be interested in Northgate Rapper and rapper sword dancing.
  • To allow people who see us to have an easily found location up upload photos and videos (“go to Facebook and search for ‘Northgate Rapper’.  Then upload the video, and any comments you may have).
  • To keep a record of where we’ve danced.
  • To make it easy for other dancers to edit the page.

The template I’ve used for the page (Clubs) isn’t ideal, as it is aimed at clubs as a venue rather than a social group. But at least I’ve created a page with little effort:

Northgate Rapper on Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 1 Comment »

Open Development And Amplified Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 November 2007

Open Development

Ross Gardler, Manager of the JISC  OSS Watch service, visited UKOLN yesterday to give a seminar on open development. Although OSS Watch’s main interest is in the application of this methodology within open source software development, as Ross made clear open development can also be applied in other contexts, including the development of content and in learning contexts. Ross has recently commented on the application of an open development approach by the JISC-funed WepPA project.

I am very much in favour of the approaches which Ross described, and personally have been making much of the materials I have developed available with a Creative Commons licence for a couple of years.  I have also participated in Wikipedia, creating a number of entries and helping to improve the quality of content created by others. This very much fits in with Ross’s views on open development, I think.

Open Development and Amplified Events

UKOLN has been taking a similar approach to the exploitation of networked technologies at events over the past few years. Lorcan Dempsey coined the term “Amplified Conference” to describe events in which the content and the discussions aren’t restricted to the closed community of participants who are physically present at the event, but can be freely accessed by all. A paper on “Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences” presented at the EUNIS 2005 conference described our initial work in this area, which was subsequently followed up by a series of briefing papers which provide advice on best practices for doing this.

Open Development and UKOLN’s “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks” Workshop

The UKOLN workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks” will take place in Birmingham on Monday 26th November 2007. Although the workshop is fully subscribed, with about 100 participants, we intend to allow remote participants to access the workshop materials and, we hope, either view a live video stream of the plenary talks or event view the video stream within Second Life.

The live video stream and use of Second Life service will be provided by Andy Powell, Eduserv Foundation (sponsors of the workshop). Andy has described the plans for the technological infrastructure which will be used to make the talks available to a remote audience, so I won’t repeat this here. What is worth commenting upon from Andy’s post is the openness about the potential problems we may experience: “Sounds complex?  Probably.  Do-able?  I think/hope so.  It’ll be interesting to see how things work out.” But rather than having a low profile experiment with a closed group of friends, the approach Andy and myself are taking is to be open about this experiment (on both our blogs and on a number of mailing lists), which we hope will maximise the learning of the potential benefits of this approach, but perhaps also more useful, the problems we may encounter and the things we might do differently things next time.

As well as the technical challenges which Andy will be addressing, there are also various non-technical issues which I have been focussing on.  I have been in contact with all of the speakers informing them of our plans and getting their agreement to be streamed to a live audience (additional pressure on them, but I’m pleased to say that they are all willing). We have produced an Acceptable Use Policy document for the event, intended for participants who plan to make use of their laptop (or other networked device) during the workshop.  And Andy and myself and currently discussing the best ways of providing real time chat during the talks. This can be used to support the remote audience, for example to inform them of the slide which is being displayed. But should we have separate channels for the various media – would the video streaming audience be interested in the Second Life discussions “nice avatar“)?

And, of course, as well as the work which Andy and I (and my colleagues in UKOLN’s events team) are involved in, this open approach encourages input from potential participants and others who may have taken part in similar amplified events. Such open development also involves shared responsibilities (for example, we would expect remote participants to try out the various tools in advance of the event and to take responsibility for fixing any local configuration problems) and sharing the risks (being supportive if not everything works as planned).  But the open source development approach of ‘release early, release often’ in order to maximise the feedback can also be provide benefits in many other areas. 

We welcome your thoughts.

Posted in Events, openness | 2 Comments »

Managers Are Invading The Workers’ Social Spaces

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 November 2007

Which of the following reports is true:

A recent report has shown that workers at many organisations are concerned about being ‘befriended’ by their mangers – who then have access to their Facebook details. “I was sacked“, said one anonymous ex-worker at a large organisation “for arriving late at work. It was due to transport problems. But my manager spotted that I’d been out drinking the previous night, and had updated my Facebook status when I got back from the night club. He used this as the reason for sacking me. I had been out with my mates – what’s wrong with that? But I would have arrived at work on time if the bus wasn’t late.

The director of the CBI expressed concerns that workers had been ‘befriending’ their managers on the Facebook social network. “It would be churlish to refuse a request to be a friend of someone who works for me” said one manager. “But I hadn’t realised that he would see my status which said I had been out of the office playing golf one afternoon. He doesn’t seem to realise that business deals with our clients is often done on the golf course. This has undermined my credibility.

Facebook vampireTeacher attacks students in online satanic ritual” reports our education correspondent. “I introduced the children to Facebook as part of their Information Literacy course” Ms X. told us, close to tears. “We started off poking each other, and then moving on to tickling and hugging. Then someone installed the Vampire application and bit me. I, of course, responded in the same way. And now I’ve been suspended“. The head teacher informed us that, following complaints from the parents of one of the children affected by the incident, he had no alternative but to suspend the teacher (34), who cannot be named for legal reasons “We have zero-tolerance to cyber-bullying at this school.” (Note that we have published a photograph of Ms X’s vampire, but have removed the name of the victim).

Get out of MySpace screams a headline in the Guardian, an extreme liberal British newspaper (which had been the focus of vehement attacks during the last US election for its misguided attempts to undermine a democratically held election by a seditious media organisation based in a foreign country). The article goes on to say “a research exercise carried out by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), called the Learner Experience Project, has just revealed, amazingly, that students want to be left alone. Their message to the trendy academics is: ‘Get out of MySpace!’

The Get out of MySpace! post on the Kinda Learning Stuff blog cited the last example and commented that “there needs to be an increasing degree of contextual sensitivity by users and a subtlety in their development / use before they become really effective“.

Tony Hirst’s post on Helping Students Make More of Facebook Without Stealing Control describes the software development activities he has been involved in which attempts to exploit the benefits of Facebook, whilst avoiding ‘stealing control’.

As the Kinda Learning Stuff blog suggests, Tony’s approaches to software development needs to be complemented by addressing issues such as information literacy, user education, negotiations and discussions and the development of acceptable patterns of behaviour in our online social spaces. And we need to realise that the potential tensions between students and staff and not peculiar to the educational community, but will be reflected in any social grouping in which there are hierarchical and power relationships.

We need to have a much more sophisticated response to the cry to “Get out of MySpace” – whether this comes from the workers, the bosses, the students or, indeed, the academics – than abandoning these social spaces or setting up alternative social spaces without any guarantee that these will be successful.

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking | 5 Comments »

The Power Of Information Report Also Wants To Avoid Duplication Of Services

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 November 2007

A response on his blog by Matt Jukes (of JISC, but currently on secondment to HEFCE) reminded me that, in my post on The Power Of Information report, I should have mentioned that, as well as encouraging reuse of government data, the report also recommends:

  • Working with existing user-generated sites rather than creating anything new ones.
  • Researching what user-generated sites exist in the space and where there is duplication terminating or modifying the government versions.
  • Encourage civil servants to become active in these communities.

These recommendations, which have been endorsed by the government, would appear to reflect the conclusions of the OCLC report on Sharing, Privacy and Trust In Our Networked World, which I blogged about recently.

So one part of UK government doesn’t want to compete with existing social networking services and the OCLC report suggests that libraries should seek to engage with existing services, rather than developing their own. And a post by Matt Jukes blog entitled More eGov ramblings cites a report from Richard MacManus at the Read/WriteWeb blog which is “pretty damning of the ‘one-stop portal’ concept (i.e. Directgov!) and supportive of the idea of reusable information supporting ‘mash-ups’ and the like through the use of web services (very similar to the Power of Information report)“.

Is anyone listening, I wonder?

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Briefing Document on Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 November 2007

UKOLN is running a one-day workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” which will be held in Birmingham on 26th November 2007. The event is now fully subscribed. However we will be making the various materials for the event freely available to those who could not attend.

A series of briefing documents will be provided in the delegate pack. This will include a document on “Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges” (written, incidentally, before it was possible to create organisational pages in Facebook).

The contents of this document are included below. Comments are welcomed – but please note that the documented is formatted as an A5 briefing document and it is not possible to add any additional content unless stuff is removed.

I’d alway invite people who have already produced documents, course materials, etc. related to use of Facebook to share it. Note that a Slidecast (slides plus audio) I produced some time ago is available on Slideshare, and there is a Facebook group on Slideshare which provides access to other slides on this topic. Feel free to add URLs to comments to this post.

About This Document

This document was produced for the UKOLN workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” held in Birmingham on 26th November 2007.

The document summarises the opportunities which Facebook can provide, together with the challenges to be addressed in order for such opportunities to be realised.

Why The Interest In Facebook?

Facebook has generated much interest over recent months. Much of the interest has arisen since Facebook announced the Facebook Platform [1] which enabled third party developers to build applications which could be used within the Facebook environment.

Since Facebook was developed initially to support students it is not surprising that student usage has proved so popular. This interest has also spread to other sectors within institutions, with researchers and members of staff beginning to explore Facebook possibilities.

What Can Be Done Within Facebook?

Social networks can provide a range of benefits to members of an organisation:

Connections with Peers:
The main function of Facebook is to provide connections between people with similar interests. (The term ‘friends’ is used to describe such relationships, but it should be noted that this does not have to imply a relationship based on friendship – a more appropriate term might be ‘contacts’.) Friends can then send messages to each other (either closed messages or open for others to read).
Facebook users can set up discussion group areas, which can be used by people with interests in the topic of the group. Creation of details of events, which allows users to sign up to, is another popular use of Facebook.
Sharing Resources:
Many of the popular Facebook applications are used for sharing resources. Some of these replicate (or provide an interface to) popular social sharing services (such as Flickr and YouTube) while other applications provide services such as sharing interests in films, books, etc.
An environment for other applications:
The opening of the Facebook Platform has allowed developers to provide access to a range of applications. Newport University, for example, provide access to their MyNewport portal [2] from within Facebook.

Many reservations about use of Facebook within an institutional context have been expressed. These include:

  • Privacy: There are real concerns related to users’ privacy. This will include both short term issues (embarrassing photos being uploaded) and longer term issues (reuse of content in many years time).
  • Ownership: The Facebook terms and conditions allow Facebook to exploit content for commercial purposes.
  • Misuse of social space: Users may not wish to share their social space with other colleagues, especially when there may be hierarchical relationships.
  • Liability: Who will be liable if illegal content or copyrighted materials are uploaded to Facebook? Who is liable if the service is not accessible to users with disabilities?
  • Sustainability and Interoperability: How sustainable is the service? Can it provide mission-critical services? Can data be exported for reuse in other systems?

Institutional Responses To Such Challenges

How should institutions respond to the potential opportunities provided by Facebook and the challenges which its use may entail? The two extreme positions would be to either embrace Facebook, encouraging its use by members of the institution and porting services to the environment or to ban its use, possibly by blocking access by the institutions firewall. A middle group might be to develop policies based on:

Risk assessment and risk management:
analysing potential dangers and making plans for such contingencies. Note that the risk assessment should also include the risks of doing nothing.
User education:
developing information literacy / staff development plans to ensure users are aware of the implications of use of Facebook, and the techniques for managing the environment (e.g. privacy settings).
Data management:
Developing mechanisms for managing data associated with Facebook. This might include use of Facebook applications which provide alternative interfaces for data import/export, exploring harvesting tools or engaging in negotiations with the Facebook owners.


  1. Major Facebook Announcement Thursday: Facebook Platform, Mashable, 21 May 2007, <>
  2. MyLearning Essentials for Facebook, Michael Webb’s Blog, 11 July 2007,

Posted in Facebook | Leave a Comment »

UK Universities On Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 November 2007

Via a blog post on Michael Stephen’s Tame The Web blog I discovered that organisations can now have a presence in Facebook, which had previously been restricted to individuals.

So which have been the first UK Universities to stake their claim in Facebook? A Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed (on Friday 9 November 2007) a total of 76 hits which included, in alphabetical order, the following UK Universities: Aston, Cardiff, Kent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

This raises lost of interesting issues: who set up these pages?; was approval sought?; will there be battles over the ownership of the pages?; what trends will we see over how these pages look and the embedded applications they will provide?; how popular will they be?; will the look-and-feel and history of these pages be preserved?; etc.

It’s just like 1993 and 1994 all over again. Have we learnt from our experiences when we first set up our first organisational Web sites, or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes – and perhaps, as a indication of progress, discover new mistakes that we can make?

And this time, unlike the early 1990s, will it be the marketing people who are keen to establish a presence in this popular social networking service with the techies warning about the dangers of data lock-in and lack of interoperability?

In order to ensure that a record of what one of the first UK University pages in Facebook looked like shortly after this service was launched, here is a screen image of the most active of these pages: the University of Central Lancashire, on 9 November 2007.

UCan page in Facebook (on 9 Nov 2007).

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 35 Comments »

Hey, Hey, We’re … In The Charts Again!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 November 2007

The Background

I was asked recently to advise a colleague at the University of Bath on how to raise the Google ranking of some Web pages. “Should I go to an SEO company?” was the question I was asked. A similar question was asked recently on the JISCMail website-info mgt list: “Can anyone recommend a training provider for Search Engine Optimisation and / or Search Engine advertising training?

My response to such questions has always been that there is no silver bullet to getting into the first page of Google search results – if there were, the bad guys (the porn companies, for example, or the estate agents) would exploit such techniques. Rather, I suggested, you should follow well-established best practices for Web sites – have a static URI, ensure that it is persistent, that the page complies with HTML standards, that content is given as text and not in images and encourage people to link to it. These simple techniques can help to ensure that your pages are Google-friendly.

Getting Into The Top Google Hits

When I sent the email I remembered that I’d recently given a talk, and subsequently discovered that the title of the talk was near the the top of the Google search results. Revisiting the search query, I found that pages related to my talk at the Inspiring The iGeneration event on Web 2.0 for young people on “We’re The Young Generation And We’ve Got Something To Say” now occupy the top four places.

Google Search Results for We're The Young Generation

The title of this talk, incidentally, I used after Ian Watson reminded me in March that I’d used this song title as a metaphor for young people providing user-generated content at the AUKML conference last year.


So it is possible to get your pages into the top set of results in Google without paying a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) company a lot of money. But what relevance does this have to the organisation which wants to market its services: for example a university which wants to promote its courses (for a search of ‘top university Computer Science degree’) or facilities (‘conference facilities in beautiful city’) ahead of its rivals (the University of Bath provided an excellent location for the IWMW 2006 event, but the University of York, another beautiful city, did likewise for IWMW 2007. I’m sure Bath would like to be ahead of its rival in the search engines).

My findings were based on a series of words which would be in wide use on the Web (music sites, song lyrics, etc.) This then is similar to ‘conference facilities in beautiful city’ – which has 1,940,000 results, led by the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh.

The Web sites I used which were found in the top four results where the page on the UKOLN Web site (HTML page and PowerPoint presentation), a post on this blog (hosted on and the slides for the talk, which were hosted on The UKOLN Web site I can understand (it has been in existence since about 1993, I think, and has static and relatively stable URI. The prominence of the two Web 2.0 services I found very interesting. Although they haven’t been around as long, they both provide clean URIs and both services are popular and are likely to have many inbound links to them – which will enhance their Google ranking.

So what would my advice be to the conference office? Create some slides about the conference facilities you provide and upload them to Slideshare, making sure that you provide metadata containing the words you might expect people to search for and add a link back to your Web site. In addition set up a blog, perhaps providing updates about the events you are organising. And if you want to enhance the Google ranking, ensure that you use a popular blogging services (such as WordPress or Blogger) – as hosting it on your own site is unlikely to boost the Google ranking.

Of course, as well as this advice being relevant to the business sectors of our institutions, the approaches I’ve described can also be used to help project Web sites to be more easily found. It’s interesting, I feel, that the approaches to making your content more easy to find in a Google world rely on hosting your content on a variety of popular sites, rather than hosting the content centrally – especially on a Web site which is not widely linked to from other sites.

Ethical Issues

Is this a desirable approach, some may wonder? Is it ethical? Could the success with “We’re The Young Generation” be regarded as spam for people who are searching for information about the Monkees’ song? That’s for you to decide (in this case I would argue that we shouldn’t resort to using unambiguous factual titles for our content, as this would be boring).

And if I were evil I would suggest that it would be an interesting experiment to see if you could replace Edinburgh and Cambridge in the top Google places for a search for ‘conference facilities in beautiful city‘ ith your own city. But, as I know people in both of these prestigious institutions, I couldn’t possibly encourage people to take part in such an interesting experiment …

And if you are seriously concerned about such ethical issues, perhaps you should pay an SEO company to do the job for you – the money they get will help to ease the guilt they may feel.

Posted in General | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Facebook Fears – It’s Nothing New

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 November 2007

Alison Wildish has recently written a post on “Fear of Facebook?” in which she comments on a recent article in The Independent entitled “Networking sites: Professors – keep out“.  Alison says that

The article highlighted a number of perceived issues with University staff getting involved in social networks. However I tend to disagree with the majority of them!

I’ll not repeat her arguments, which I tend to agree with (and are supported in a post by Tony Keen). My take is that this is nothing new – IT developers have repeatedly had to respond to successful developments which have challenged their own development activities or beliefs in how successful software should be developed.  I’d suggest that in the UK HE sector this may go back to the 1960s, when the view of the development of a successful IT environment was based on a political policy of buying British – with UK Universities being required, if my understanding is correct, to purchase ICL mainframe systems (this was, of course, before ICL became a Japanese company, being bought out by Fujitsu).  In the late 1970s I studied at Newcastle University, where they were pleased at having procured an IBM mainframe which ran the MTS (Michigan Terminal System) operating system.

 In the Web environment, I can recall demonstrating the Web to a number of IT development groups in 1993 when I worked at Leeds University.  Rather than the look of excitement which I normally got at that time, on two occasions the response was more like fear – I subsequently discovered that the developers were, independently, working on distributed information systems, and realised that their software couldn’t hope to compete with the Web.

When I moved to Newcastle University in 1995 I came across another research group which was also involved in developing reliable secure distributed systems (Arjuna).  Dave Ingham, who presented a couple of papers at WWW conferences, told me back then that his research group would never have released the Web, as it was fundamentally flawed: links broke when objects were moved, the user interface was very chunky, there was, back then, no client-side scripting, etc.  However Dave and his colleagues also realised that, despite its limitations, the Web was a success and wouldn’t go away. They therefore adopted their research ideas to work in a Web context – and where so successful that the company they subsequently set up was eventually bought out by HP.

I think we’re revisiting a similar set of fears that popular Web 2.0 services (not just Facebook) are challenging IT development plans. However rather than simply asserting limitations and implying that these are the overriding factors (with the “Web links are easily broken” argument being updated with various concerns over privacy, rights and interoperability) I feel that we need to engage with successful widely used services. Perhaps we might find that just as the Web does suffer from broken links but users are prepared to accept this, users may be willing to accept certain limitations which may shock the purist developer.

Posted in Facebook | 3 Comments »

Why We Should All Use Externally-Hosted Web Services

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 November 2007

There may be an argument that in higher education we have no need to make use of externally hosted Web services, such as blogs, wikis, photographic sharing sites, etc. as institutions will typically have IT services departments with expertise in installing and supporting enterprise systems. And we also have a wide range of JISC services which can provide access to applications on a national basis, including services such as JISCMail which are used by all institutions, as well as more niche services aimed at the research community.

However. although this view was probably true ten years ago, I feel that it ignores a significant change to the IT landscape over the past few years: the use of networked services outside of a work context and use by large numbers of people who aren’t members of the HE community. I suspect a large number of users of in-house IT services will also be likely to make use of IT services for social purposes – such as storing personal photographs and sharing them with friends and family. In such cases it may not be possible to make use of an institutional service. So we, as individuals, will need to learn how to use such services and evaluate the risks of such services. It is not only institutions which will need to safeguard access to teaching and learning and research resources – individual members of the institutions, staff and students, will need to safeguard their precious digital assets.

I also feel that we can also expect to see lecturers who use such services for personal use to explore the potential of such services in teaching. Indeed shouldn’t institutions be pro-active in this, in order to ensure that students (and staff) are experienced in such risk management issues when they leave the institution?

Is this how institutions see things? Or do they focus on just providing a safe, managed, secure IT environment? And if the latter approach is taken, how can we expect staff and students to react when they leave the nest?  After all, we no longer expect to me in the same jobs for life.

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

OCLC report on ‘Sharing, Privacy and Trust In Our Networked World’

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 November 2007

OCLC Report - Front CoverI recently received a copy of the OCLC report on “Sharing, Privacy and Trust In Our Networked World“. This is a report which I would recommend to everyone with an interest in the Web 2.0 world, in particular those who welcome evidence of the views of users of social networking services and discussions of the implications of such views.

The report is available on the OCLC Web site (in PDF format). I should point out that the report is very large (about 250 pages, I think) with many colour graphics. I should also add that I received a hard copy of the report as I contributed to the report, being one of only two UK contributors (the other being Andy Powell from the Eduserv Foundation) who gave their views on issues related to sharing, privacy and trust.

The report is based on a survey of 6,545 participants carried out between 7th December 2006 and 7th February 2007. The participants were from the US (a total of 1,801), Canada (921), UK (970), France (821), Germany (846) and Japan (804). An additional survey of 4,000 US library directors was also carried out, with 382 replies from library directors from academic, public, community college, school and special libraries being received. Interviews with selected information professionals (including myself and Andy) were also carried out. All in all, an impressive survey which helped to shape a fascinating report.

I will not attempt to repeat all of the issues raised in the report, you’ll be pleased to hear. Some particular issues of note are worth commenting upon, however. There seems to be a discrepancy between the views of library directors concerning privacy issues and the general user community: librarians have real concerns about privacy, and are less likely to make use of social networks for relationship buildings and for fun. Ironically general users “do not rate most library services as very private” even though “the majority do not read library privacy policies.” Most users do, however, “feel commercial sites keep their personal information secure” but only “about half think library Web sites keep their personal information secure“. The nature of trust of commercial social network services is also increasing with use.

These findings do surprise me. I had expected libraries to be the trusted organisations, with users having concerns regarding potential misuse of data held by commercial services. It seems that my views may perhaps reflect my personal prejudices, and that, as someone who is an information professional and who has spent his working life in the public sector, my views do not reflect those of the general public. Are public libraries (especially in the US) regarded as being too closely aligned with the government, with concerns over government snooping reflecting on the attitudes users have to making their personal data available in a library context? And do the reservations over use of personal data by academic libraries reflect concerns by staff and students over the relationships between the organisation and the individual?

Such issues informed the conclusions of the report. The section on “Open The Doors” felt that “the library brand must go from institutional to personal“. The authors felt that the views they held a few years ago, which “conceived a social library as a library of traditional services enhanced by a set of social tools – wikis, blogs, mashups, and podcasts” were mistaken, and their views “after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to the experts .. is [now] quite different“.
It would be a mistake, the report concludes, “to create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a ‘top ten’ list of services to implement on the current library Web site“. They argued that “The social Web is not being build by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools.

They now feel that institutions should “Open the library doors, invite mass participation and relax the rules“. The dangers were acknowledged (“It will be messy“) but the rewards where felt to be worth it: “mass participation and a little chaos often create exciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building and transformation“.

The authors of the report invite feedback on the OCLC Web site. I too would welcome comments. In particular, how relevant is this vision within a UK context? And what are the implications for current plans for library development activities?

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

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

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 4 November 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Blog Post: The ILI 2007 Blog Masterclass

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 2 November 2007

The Month’s Guest Blog Post

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

About Me

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

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

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

The Guest Blog Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Year Of The UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 November 2007

A Look Back

The UK Web Focus blog was set up on 1st November 2006.  After its first year in operation I feel it would be appropriate to document some of the statistics, especially as I have previously promised to use this blog to document such quantitative data, for use by others. 


The blog’s Web site saw a steady growth in usage until March 2007, when usage stabilised at around 4,200 user visits per month, with a peak in July, due, I suspect, to visits from participants at the IWMW 2007 event.

UK Web Focus blog statistics, 1 Nov 2006 - 31 Oct 2007

I had previously noted a higher than expected takeup of the blog’s RSS feed. Unfortunately some time ago WordPress stopped providing access to the RSS feed statistics. This means that I am unable to provide any more detailed usage figures for the blog.

The blog is also aggregated in several locations, including the My Blog Log service, JISC OSS Watch’s Planet Aggregator and the JISC Emerge Web site.

The MyBlogLog service seems to be successful in providing access to, I suspect, a US audience, with 1,048 page views by 650 readers in the week of 23-28th October 2007.


There have been 264 posts during the year, with 1,045 comments. This average of about 4 comments per post seems to have been fairly consistent throughout the year (although, as Pete Johnston commented recently, this can be a slightly contentious metric for indicating engagement, potentially leading to accusations that typos are created deliberately in order to generate responses!).

A total of 32 tags have been used to categorise the posts. I have to admit that looking at the tags reminds me that the content covered in blog posts probably doesn’t reflect my original intentions, which I thought would provide more posts on technical digital library issues. However, in order to make the most effective use of the time I have spend on the blog, I have used the blog to reflect my other work activities. As this year has seen a focus on supporting the museums, libraries and archives community, I have given a priority to reflecting their main areas of interest.  And I’ve been pleased to see that the blog has been warmly appreciated within this sector, and has been successful in having an impact on the plans made by such organisations.

Looking To The Future

A user survey of the blog was carried out recently and a summary of the responses has been provided.  After a year of blogging and, on reflecting on the various feedback I’ve received, it seems to me that I’ll need to give some thought to perhaps creating a new blog, in order to address the diverse user community which UKOLN serves.  I will also need to give some thought to the implications of the implications of this blog being aggregated elsewhere: at one stage I removed the blog from the JISC Emerge Web site, but restored it after complaints from members of the JISC Emerge community. How should, for example, one reconcile the tensions between providing views which some members of a community may find useful and being part of a bearded group of middle-aged blog spammers:-)

The other area I plan on devoting more time to in the forthcoming year are ways of measuring the impact of Web 2.0 services such as blogs, moving beyond the usage statistics and user evaluation.

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