UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for May, 2008

From Disruptive To Innovative Technologies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 May 2008

In a report on the recent eFoundations Symposium Ale Fernandez has given his thoughts on the discussions which took place on the symposium back channel in which there seemed to be agreement that the term ‘disruptive technologies’ was increasingly counter-productive and proposed use of the term ‘innovative technologies': “it surfaced that I wasn’t the only one who thought a more positive terminology (like “Emerging Technologies”) would be more conducive to positive adoption on campus or even just to an understanding of the real strengths and limitations of these tools“.

This sounds sensible to me as we are now finding that the disruptive aspects of Web 2.0 are now becoming better understood and institutions are now developing ways of makes use of the technologies and cultural changes in their planning. The disruptive aspects of Web 2.0 are I feel, the Social Web and the ‘network as the platform‘, with technologies such as AJAX being accepted as simply an welcome development which can provide more usable services and application areas such as blogs and wikis are now being deployed to support the teaching, learning and research functions within the institution.

In his talk at the Symposium Chris Adie outlined the need to take a risk management approach – and went on to point our the risks of doing nothing. Guidelines on the risks of using externally-hosted services are being written, and I’m aware of the Guidelines for Using External Services produced by the University of Edinburgh and the Checklist for assessing third-party IT services, produced by the University of Oxford. These documents are to be welcomed – and it is particularly pleasing that the documents are publicly available and not hidden on the institutional Intranet.

And despite grumbles from some quarters about the ‘noise’ on the back channel, useful additional resources were shared by people who may not have been physically present at the event. Ale Fernandez reminded us of the BBC guidelines on Personal use of Social Networking and other third party websites. And via Twitter (another very useful channel which brings to my attention resources relevant to my interests) David Harrison alerted me (and his other Twitter followers) of Roo Reynolds’ post on Policing vs Guidelines which described the approaches to use of social networks taken at IBM. In response to the question “How do you police use of social software in the workplace?” Roo responded:

The answer, which might surprise you, is that you don’t, You can’t. You physically can’t monitor, review and approve everything all your employees are doing. Instead, you need to use trust.

Our sector can learn from the approaches which are being taken by the BBC and IBM. And, as we have a well-established tradition of sharing, I feel we are well-placed to collaborate on the development of such guidelines and shares experiences in the deployment of such guidelines. Would anyone like to start? Has any institutions published similar guidelines? Or does anyone have any suggestions on what the guidelines should cover?

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

IWMW and Innovation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 May 2008

UKOLN is now one of JISC’s Innovations Centres. But how does UKOLN participate in innovation? An approach we have taken during my time at UKOLN has been to make use of our annual Institutional Web Management Workshops (the IWMW series of events which have been running since 1997) to deploy a variety of innovative approaches. Doing this at a popular annual event (which is often fully-subscribed, attracting from 150-200 participants from throughout the HE sector) can help to maximise awareness of and, potentially, the impact of such innovation.

A number of examples of innovations were made available for the IWMW 2005 event, held at the University of Manchester:

The use of RSS for news alerts has become embedded at subsequent IWMW events, as has pro-active use of the venue’s WiFi network. At IWMW 2006 we introduced use of wikis to support note-taking and sharing at the discussion group sessions – again an approach which has become standard at IWMW events. IWMW 2006 was also the year in which tagging (using the IWMW2006) tag became popular, allowing bookmarks and photographs to be easily pulled together. And our initial experiments with the use of social networking services to support an event began that year, with the establishment of a Frappr community.

As might be expected innovation does not always necessarily lead to the deployment of a sustainable service. At IWMW 2006 we also tested use of a chatbot and provided access to a remote audience for a number of the plenary talks using the Access Grid. And as well as the ACcess Grid we also had a live Web stream of the plenary talks, with Michael Webb’s talk on Developing a Web 2.0 Strategy subsequently being made available on Google Video. We also experimented with another approach to use of a chat facility at the event – this year using the Gabbly service, instead of an IRC service we had used at IWMW 2005.

At last year’s event, IWMW 2007, we continued to provide an RSS feed (not only of news, but also syndication of the key content areas of the Web site – details of the sessions and the speakers) and a wiki service. And in addition we launched IWMW’s first innovation competition– which provided the participants with an opportunity to demonstrate to their peers examples of their approaches to innovation. Again the plenary talks were streamed on the Web and this time all of the talks were subsequently made available on Google Video.

We have evaluated the innovations – and we’re pleased to see that other services, such as JISC with its use of Crowdvine at this year’s JISC 2008 conference on Enabling Innovation, are now beginning to implement similar ideas.

But what do you feel we should do next? Should we seek to consolidate on these experiments? Or, alternatively, are there other areas in which the community would encourage UKOLN to continue innovation – so that if we encounter problems, institutions will benefit from knowing what not to do :-)

Posted in iwmw2008, Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »

George Bush IS President And Microsoft’s Office Open XML Format IS An ISO Standard

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 May 2008

On 2nd April 2008 the IT Week magazine described how “Microsoft’s Office Open XML document format standard has been approved as an ISO standard” in an article entitled “OOXML gets the nod as an ISO standard“.

Everyone who has been critical of Microsoft for continuing to promote its proprietary Office format should be pleased with this news, one might think. And indeed an editorial comment in the same issue of IT Week a piece entitled “Microsoft wins format standards” suggested that the “ISO vote endorsing OOXML ends vicious committee wrangling“. But the article admitted that the “decision means that there are now two ISO document standards“. And further “Supporters of the rival Open Document Format claimed OOXML is not truly open because it was not designed by an open process“. In addition they also suspect “Microsoft will find ways to retain control“.

Rowan WIlson on the JISC OSS Watch blog elaborated on these concerns: “the perception that OOXML is in itself an inadequate standard which has triumphed through Microsoft’s expertise at lobbying ISO member bodies for their votes“; “the standard is itself is incredibly long and complex – over six thousand pages” and “Microsoft’s patent non-enforcement promise that accompanies [the standard]“. Similar concerns are described in a Wikipedia entry on OOXML.

But do such criticisms mean that we should not make use of OOXML? I would say not. If you believe in open standards, then you should be prepared to accept standards which have been ratified by a formal standards body. Just as when George W Bush first became president, despite the concerns regarding the voting process and allegations of corruption in certain states, the Democratic party was prepared at accept this decision.

The criticism that “there are now two ISO document standards” misses the point that duplicated standards are not unusual, as the joke “the great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose” illustrates. Indeed, readers of this blog will probably be familiar with the RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0 – not two versions of the same standard, but two different standards – RDF Site Summary and Really Simple Syndication Standard (to say nothing of its original name Rich Site Summary). The battles which have taken place over this popular syndication format seem to be typical of the standardisation process in the IT sector. So we should not be surprised to read of dissent in the document format area.

I suspect that a lot of criticism of the standard is really aimed at seeking to persuade organisations that they shouldn’t be using Microsoft Office products. But that, I feel, is a different argument. Rather I’ll leave the final comment to Richard Boulderstone, the chief technology officer at the British Library who has welcomed OOXML’s approval as an ISO standard, as the establishment of an open well-defined OOXML standards will ensure documents can be viewed through future applications: “We think hundreds of years in the future, by which point this standard won’t be supported anymore. But we’ll be able to create an application to views these documents as they’re based on an open format. Under the closed proprietary format previously used by Microsoft we couldn’t do that.“. Amen to that.

Posted in standards | 14 Comments »

RSS For Your Project Web Site

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 May 2008

Stephen Downes has recently suggestedthat use of RSS and blogs “should be basic and fundamental information, and in my view, projects without this sort of informational support are just being anti-social.” I think Stephen’s right – although, as a Brit, I’d probably be more circumspect (perhaps along the lines of a Sir Humphrey ApplebyIs really it wise not to have a RSS feed“). Stephen’s direct North American approach is to be applauded, I feel.

And Stephen linked to a blog post on RSS injects edu with accuracy, freshness, and cool stuffwhich gives an example of how RSS can be used.

My own use of RSS to enhance access to project deliverables was for the JISC-funbded QA Focus project. In this case RSS filesprovided for the project’s key deliverables including briefing documents, case studies, papers and presentations. In addition OPML fileswere also created which enabled the RSS files to be integrated in a variety of ways.

Stephen’s right – if you’re not doing this you are “just being anti-social“.

Posted in rss | 6 Comments »

Preserving The Past Can Help The Future

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 May 2008

Many of the posts featured in this blog describe innovative tools and applications which aim to provide a more effective work or study environment for users. However there can be a danger that an emphasis on new and innovative services can mean a failure to manage legacy services which can result in a loss of our experiences, history and culture.

This can be particularly true in the Web environment. I first became aware of the scale of the problem when I monitored the Web sites which had been set up for projects funded by the EU’s Telematics For Libraries programme. As I described in an article on WebWatching Telematics For Libraries Project Web Sites published in the Exploit Interactive e-journal in October 2000 of the 65 projects which had Web sites, a total of 23 of the Web sites has disappeared when I carried out the survey. And a recent check shows that at least 39 of the Web sites have gone. Our digital history, the associated learning and the investment (from EU taxpayers) is being lost!

Or is it? Is this assertion just being alarmist? Might not the information have been migrated to a more manageable environment? And perhaps some of the projects are now available, possibly under new names, as sustainable services?

There’s a clear need for these issues to be addressed and for advice to be provided – both to organisation as responsible for managing their own Web services and to funding bodies which commission development work which will involve the development of Web sites.

JISC have recognised the need to provide such advice. They issued a recent call for an ITT on “The Preservation of Web Resources Workshops and Handbook” and I’m pleased to report that a joint bid by UKOLN and ULCC was successful. The project, which had its launch meeting on 1 May 2008, will run three workshops which will aim to gain a better understanding of the challenges to be faced in Web site preservation, identify examples of best practices and provide a set of recommendations to policy makers, content providers and developers. This will be documented in a handbook which should be available after September 2008.

Although the project is only funded for 5 months it will seek to provide advice not only on conventional institutional Web sites, but also on use of third party Web 2.0 services – the potential benefits of such services are well-understood, but there needs to be a better understanding of the risks associated with their use and how institutions should assess such risks and use such assessments to inform policy.

JISC PoWR BlogThe project team members themselves are using a variety of Web 2.0 tools to support their work. As well as communications technologies (beyond email) to support the work of the distributed team members a blog is also being used to disseminate information about the project and to solicit feedback and encourage discussion and debate. The JISC-PoWR (Preservation of Web Resources) blog (illustrated) is hosted on the JISC Involve blog service.

The team would like to welcome those with an interest in Web site preservation to join the blog and contribute to the discussions.

Posted in preservation | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Data Portability Battles Go Beyond The Individual And The Large Corporations

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 May 2008

Josie Fraser has given her views on the recent squabbles over data portability standards for social networks. She has observed that the language of ‘the data wars’ and ‘guns blazing’ can be characterised as “boys clubs and bun fights”. As Josie describes:

The last couple of weeks has seen MySpace, Facebook and Google make announcements about their variously not-that-portable data portability initiatives. MySpace announced the Data Availability Project, Facebook announced Facebook Connect, Google announced FriendConnect, and Facebook then announced FriendConnectwouldn’t be welcome in the Facebook valley.

I would agree with Josie’s comments on the “general agreement that the new initiatives have more to do with Empire building than with empowering users“. Josie goes on to suggest that, rather than the current focus on applications and widgets to facilitate sharing “users should be the ones controlling and determining their data“.

While I would be in broad agreement with that sentiment, I think the individual’s perspective is only a part (albeit an important part) of the role that social networking software (SNS) can provide. Many of us make use of social networking tools to support our professional activities.  This gives rise to interesting issues over ownership (I try to make use of a Creative Commons licence when I use SNS to ensure that others – including my organisation – can reuse my content). But what happens to the content which I may have hosted on a social networking services if I’m knocked down by a bus, leave my organisation or fall out with by boss? Do I have the right to ‘control’ and ‘determine’ what happens to this data?

An approach I have taken when I make use of SNS to provide access to my data is to keep a master copy in a managed environment (the UKOLN Web site) – with Slideshare, for example, the title slide and the metadata give a link back to the managed copy of the slides. But in other cases (such as my use of I’ve not done this.

One answer to such concerns would be to avoid use of social networking services, and make use of managed services hosted within the organisation. But this, I feel, has many disadvantages and is not an approach I would recommend. But what approaches, then, should the professional academic or researcher take to manage data or behalf not only of the individual but also the organisation?

In 2006 UKOLN made use of a range of externally hosted services to support its IWMW 2006 event. The use of a variety of third party services was complemented with a risk assessment statement which summarised the services which were being used, justified their use and outlined potential risks and how such risks would be addressed.

I feel that it is now timely to build on this approach to risk assessement and to begin to address the risks associated with use of social networking tools in a work capacity.  As I suggested in a recent JISC Emerge online conference, perhaps we should start by providing a personal audit of the social networking tools we use at work and document the risks that our organisations and our colleagues could face if we chose to exercise our individual rights to delete such data!  And once we’ve got a better picture of the risks we can start to address the risk management issues.

What do you think?



Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Sites Which ‘Rip Off’ Marketing Videos

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 May 2008

A few months ago there was an email message sent to a national list from a member of a UK University institutional Web management team who complained that “We’ve come across an outfit calling themselves Unitour who have ripped one of our marketing videos“. The message went on to add that the institution had requested that the video was removed from the site – and it seems that this has been done. The Web site in question is Unitour and they do indeed have a video tour guide of UK Universities – from which it does seem possible to opt out of.

But how should an institution go about ensuring that its marketing videos aren’t ripped off’? Well my suggestion may be regarded as rather radical in some circles – I’d suggest that you provide a Creative Commons licence for such videos and encourage people to reuse it. After all, we are talking about marketing materials. And if you are concerned that organisations may be ‘ripping off’ your bandwidth, why not make the video available from YouTube or Google Video – so that your institution doesn’t even have to provide additional bandwidth when potential students view the video.

Is this really a radical proposal, I wonder? Shouldn’t this be an approach which all universities use as part of their institutional marketing?

Posted in Web2.0 | 11 Comments »

IWMW 2008 Now Open For Bookings

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 May 2008

This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2008 ) will be held at the University of Aberdeen on 22-24th July. The theme of this year’s event is “The Great Debate” and during the 3 days participants will have the opportunity to listen to a number of plenary talks which describe various examples of innovation and best practices which are taking place across the community. But more importantly the participants will be encouraged to contribute to a debate on the future of the institutional Web services – active participation in the parallel workshop sessions, discussion groups and during the social activities will be encouraged!

The event opens with a session on A Vision For The Future which features a talk by Cameron Neylon on “Science in the You Tube Age: How Web Based Tools are Enabling Open Research Practice” followed by one on “Web 2.0 and Brand: Theory and Practice” by Helen Aspell. And this year, for the first time, as well as opening with two high profile talks, the event will conclude with a talk on “Unleashing the Tribe” by Ewan McIntosh, a speaker of international renown who will be known to many through his edu.blogs blog.

The timetable for the event is available, together with details of the plenary talk and the 16 parallel sessions. The Web site is now open for bookings – and we encourage early bookings as the places on the parallel sessions will be allocated on a first come first served basis. Regular updates on the event will be provided on an RSS feed. This information will also be available on the IWMW 2008 news page.

Posted in iwmw2008 | Leave a Comment »

How Rude! Use Of WiFi Networks At Conferences

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 May 2008

The Debate

A blog post on “Making Connections 2.0” by Martin Weller alerted me to the discussions which have been taken place following a recent conference at the annual internal Open University conference. As Martin describes on his Ed Techie blog one of his colleagues, Doug Clow, who was live-blogging the conference “was told by three different people in separate sessions to stop as his typing was offputting“. The pros and cons of use of a WiFi network during a conference have been further discussed by Doug Clow himself and by Niall Sclater.

A Framework For Use Of Networked Technologies

I have to say that I don’t find such debates surprising – indeed I wrote about this in a paper on “Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences” (I wish I had Lorcan Dempsey’s skills in coining snappy names – nowadays we would refer to ‘amplified events’) which I gave at the EUNIS 2005 conference way back in June 2005. The paper described some early experiments in exploitation of WiFi networks, including my first experiment at a one-day joint UKOLN/UCISA event on “Beyond Email – Strategies For Collaborative Working In The 21st Century” in November 2004. But as the paper describes, rather than just providing access to the WiFi network and leaving the delegates to make use of it as they see fit, an Acceptable Use Policy was produced which was based on the general principle that “Use of mobile device and networked technologies to support the aims of the workshop with be encouraged” but which alerted the participants to their responsibilities: “The use of mobile device and networked technologies should not be disruptive to other delegates, infringe rights of privacy or breach copyright or cause degradation to the network which would aversely affect others“.

The paper went on to suggest that, rather than imposing a single-minded approach to policies regarding use of WiFi networks at events, there was a need for a framework for the development of an Acceptable Use Policy which would reflect the expectations of the users and take into account the potential diversity of views. The paper suggested the need for such a framework to address policy, technical, legal, social and organisational issues.

Implementing This Approach

This approach was implemented the following year at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005(IWMW 2005) held at the University of Manchester on 6-8thJuly 2005. An AUP was produced, together with details of networked applications which users might find useful during the event and an optional talk was held shortly before the opening of the event which provided details of how to connect to the WiFi network and use the applications.

But perhaps the most important approach taken was the evaluation of the technologies by the event participants. The evaluation form asked three questions: “I found use of the networked applications enriched the event“, “I found use of the networked applications distracting or disruptive to the event” and “I would encourage use of networked applications at future events“. A summary of the responses is given below.

Q1: I found use of the networked applications enriched the event

Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
6 14 11 3 1

Q2: I found use of the networked applications distracting or disruptive to the event

Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
2 8 16 5 4

Q3: I would encourage use of networked applications at future events

Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
10 16 5 2 1

In addition the following comments were made:

Use of the technologies:

  • People need to follow the guidelines and TURN OFF laptop sounds
  • Need to be more inclusive – can you find a sponsor next year who will give us/lend us a wireless PDA or laptop?
  • Firewalls made it difficult
  • Tables for laptops and be better equipped rooms with more powerpoints
  • It seemed a little ‘gimmicky’ and I am not sure their use added
    real value/benefit to the workshop. Also the noise of people tapping
    their keyboard can be irritating!

General issues:

  • Please give bigger headlines about this in joining instructions
  • There’s a risk of it becoming too distracting
  • Some people may have been distracted by the availability of WiFi, but it’s up to each person to discipline themselves
  • IRC fun & thought provoking – allowing comment without disruption – could even reduce whispering!
  • I was sitting in ‘geek’ corner so it was disruptive, the clicking & beeping was a but much at times – but a very useful evil .. .and I could have moved so it can’t have been that bad!
  • Made it too easy to ignore presentations but makes it even more important for presenters to be interesting!
  • Non-users may feel under-privileged
  • Useful for sharing info but can be used negatively for ‘bitching’ about speakers
  • Very distracting in seminars
  • A negative effect if people abuse it e.g. surf the Web. Beneficial if people take notes.
  • Lots of people spent the session surfing the Web or checking their email – I found this distractive. Facilitators did not often refer to the Wiki.


It is interesting to note that although some of the problems and potential problems of use of networked technologies had been commented on by the participants, a majority (of 26 to 3) felt that use of networked technologies should be encouraged at future events. This indicates, I feel, that there is an awareness that potential problems can be addressed.

Subsequent IWMW events have made further use of networked technologies, and the numbers of participants with laptops has been growing steadily, will, I think, now over 50% of the audience bringing along and using their laptops.

We’ve explored (and will continue to explore) various ways of addressing the dangers. When I run workshop sessions, for example, I make it clear that laptops should only be used for purposes relevant to the session (e.g. keeping notes, discussions with others, checking relevant resources, etc.) and I try and joke about other uses (“I must be boring if your email is more interesting than this session“).

I’d also like to explore ways of making use of space at events – perhaps the geeks could go to other side of the lecture theatre (when the power sockets are to be found) leaving the other side to those who prefer pen and paper.

Simply suggesting that it’s rude to make use of laptops at conferences – with the implied suggestion that such use should be banned – is, I feel, inappropriate. Why, after all, are WiFi networks being installed in lecture theatres? But to raise concerns is appropriate – and we do need to explore ways in which we can seek to satisfy both the twitterers, live bloggers and Web surfers and those who don’t partake. In part this is being helped by the posts from Martin Weller, Doug Clow and others who are explaining why they do this and the benefits this can provide. But in addition event organisers, event chairs, facilitators, etc. need to explore ways of developing best practices for maximising the benefits of the technologies nut just for the early adopters and enthusiasts but for, if not all, then for many.

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | 14 Comments »

Twitter Saves Lives! The Backlash Must be Due

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 May 2008

The front page of yesterday’s Technology Guardian (which I still normally refer to as the Online Guardian) had a very positive article on Making The Most Of Twitter which opened with:

An American student is arrested in Egypt, and manages to send a brief text with a single word – “ARRESTED” – which is picked up around the world, and leads quickly to his release, helped by a lawyer hired by his university back in the US. In Britain, the prime minister’s office decides people should be able to find out what their premier is doing; as of today, more than 2,000 people do. …People fleeing from fires in California say where they are’ that proves more useful and timely than official government information.

The common factor? Twitter, the free (at present) service which lets you send a 140-character message, or “tweet”, to a site where anyone can read it

Such views reflect those of Martin Weller who, in a post on Turning to Twitter in a crisis related a story on Jim Groom’s blog which described:

how a group of people at a presentation at the University of Richmond were suddenly told to turn off the lights and be quiet as a suspicious character with a gun had been spotted on campus. After the initial moment of fright, he relates how a number of them turned to Twitter, and how this turned out to be both soothing and useful

And I’ve remembered that last week a tweet from Josie Fraser pointed to a CNN article which was featured in the opening sentence of the Guardian article (where Josie leads, the Guardian follows!).

A great time for those early adopters of Twitter, with our commitment to initially puzzled colleagues now being vindicated in the mass media one might thing. It’s perhaps reminiscent of the excitement we felt in May 1997, perhaps the last time we felt the people were, at last, being empowered. But why do I feel that the dreaded Boris moment is lurking around the corner?

But what can we expect in the backlash. I suspect journalist have already been asked to dig for a story on the negative side of Twitter. I think we can expect the CEO of a large company (other head of the CBI would be even better) to provide figures on the amount of productivty lost due to Twitter. And, on a personal level, expect the tabloids to cover stories of the teenager who tweeted that their parents were away, and found a large horde descending on the place and vandalising the home (and I know that story was first used with MySpace as the guilty service – but we should expect such stories to be endlessly recycled).

Has anyone spotted the backlash in the press yet? And what other stories can we expect?

Posted in Twitter | 6 Comments »

“Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 May 2008

It can be a real thrill when you see someone give a fresh insight into your thinking, and that happened to me recently. The background was a talk on “What If We’re Wrong? Developing A Sustainable Approach to the Use of Web 2.0” which I gave at an online JISC Emerge event recently. I tweeted that I was giving the talk and Martin Weller,  Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University, responded expressing an interest in my talk. As it wasn’t possible for Martin to attend that online event, a few days later I pointed Martin in the direction of a Slidecast of a talk on “Exploiting The Social Aspects Of Web 2.0 In HE Institutions” which I gave the following day, and subsequently synched the slides with the audio of the talk.

The gist of my talk was the need for fans of Web 2.0 approaches to listen to concerns which may be raised and to seek ways of addressing such concerns. And in the talk I explored some of the legitimate concerns and suggested some possible solutions. But when Martin sent me a Twitter message saying that “even if we’re wrong we’ll still be better placed to understand what comes next than non-engagers” I felt he’d got the wrong end of the stick.

However in a post on Web 2.0 – even if we’re wrong, we’re right Martin explained his thinking:

Which brings me on to my even if we’re wrong, we’re right argument. Sure things won’t be the utopian vision of free services, open education and democratisation that some talk of, but whatever comes after the current trends will build on top of them. Just as web 2.0 built on what had happened in the first wave of web development. And the people who got it, the founders and the visionaries weren’t people who had dismissed the web and insisted it would go away. They were people who engaged with it, and could see how to take it forward. So, whatever comes after web 2.0 (don’t say web 3.0), the people best placed to understand it and adapt to it will be those who have immersed themselves in the current technological climate, and not those who have sat waiting for it to fail so they can say ‘told you so.’

These views were reiterated on the Scott O’Raw blog in a post entitled Will It Never End? who made the point that:

It doesn’t really matter that individual technologies will live, die, evolve, or be stunning success stories. I wholly expect that the version of WordPress I am using to write this post (or even WordPress itself) will be considered an anathema in the years to come. The key is to embrace not only the technology itself but the process of changing technology with a view to how it can help us all learn more and share in that learning.

My approach had been to seek to minimise risks and perhaps to be rather cautious. Martin and Scott are suggesting that we are now in a position to acknowledge that although there may be risks, in many cases we have already gained positive benefits over those who aren’t willing to engage. And I think there is a lot of truth in this. If, for example, Twitter were to fold (and I can’t see how it has a sustainable business model) or the recent performance problems which have affected Slideshare were to make the service unusable, I would still feel that I have gained tangible benefits during the time I’ve been used the services.  After all, that IBM mainframe technology wasn’t sustainable in the long term, and neither was MS Windows 3.0 – but we did use them when they were around, and in using them we gained a better understanding of how IT could be used in our organisations.  Does anyone seriously think that if one or two current Web 2.0 services fail that we will go back to a world of CMSs systems managing static information content for reading by a passive user community? Now who’s not being realistic?

Posted in Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

How Blogs Can Help Museums To Engage With Their Users

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 May 2008

In a recent blog post on the Cultural Interpretation & Creative Education blog Bridget McKenzie summarised the MLA and HLF views on 21st C Curation which were presented at a seminar given at UCL on 30th April 2008.

Carole Souter, CEO of the HLF informed the audience that “‘We’re getting tough with people” and went on to say that “If you tell us that 200,000 more people are going to look at your website because of it, well, so what? How do you know they have really been engaged?“. The importance of user engagement was echoed by Roy Clare, CEO of MLA. In a comment on a project funded by the NOF-digitise programme he asked: “How they [the users] would engage with it?“.

I am really pleased that such views are being expressed so clearly by senior managers of public sector bodies. In the past I’ve been concerned an an emphasis on blunt usage statistics. But now the emphasis in the museums sector is on the quality of the user experience and user engagement. And, as Bridget observed, Carole Souter’s “suggestion was that if you are going to include digitisation into an HLF bid, it would have to involve people in specific thematic projects of local interest“.

If funding will only be available for digitisation projects which enable users to actively engage with the digitised content, then this, to me, seems to be sending strong signals that a Web 2.0 approach should be taken.

And one approach to enable users to be able to engage with the content is through the provision of blogs as, in a UK context, Ingrid Beazley demonstrated at the Museums and the Web 2008 conference with a session entitled “Reach new audiences, increase numbers of visitors, and become a major part of the local community by using online social networking sites and blogs“. As described in her abstract Dulwich Picture Gallery has “experienced marked successes with our user driven, dialogue friendly Facebook and Flickr sites” and “there is considerable buzz around our plans for 2008, including the launch of our online magazine blog with which we are building a Gallery associated community“.

But how should museums go about establishing and sustaining their blogs – and also exploiting the potential of social networking services? Well I’m pleased to say that this is a topic I will be talking about at the Museum Heritage 2008 show at London Olympia on Wednesday 7th May 2008. If any readers of this blog from the museum’s sector are planning to attend this event, I’d love to chat with you. But if you can’t attend, then my slides are available on Slideshare – and are also embedded in this blog post.

Your feedback is welcome.

Posted in Blog, Events | 3 Comments »

A Wonderful Discovery

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 May 2008

I’ve come across a great idea for improving the efficiency of businesses. The idea is based on the notion of what in the UK has been called ‘tea breaks’ – and it seems that businesses in the US are using a similar idea but call it a ‘coffee break’.

The idea is that the workplace pays people to have informal chats. ‘That’s crazy’ I hear the sceptics say. ‘There’s no sustainable business model’. But the research suggests that during the ‘tea breaks’ employees not only discuss the television programmes they watched the previous night and their plans for the weekend, but also work-related topics. And the informal nature of tea breaks allows people from different parts of the workplace to engage in the discussions. This provides the justification to managers who wish to ensure that any new ideas provide a return on investment. And the latest research (which is still being evaluated) suggests that staff who are particularly active keen in tea breaks have also started to participate in social activities outside office hours. Typically a social networking environment is used, which are sometimes referred to as ‘pubs’, although ‘wine bars’ are sometimes used in metropolitan areas. And managers will be pleased to learn that the discussions which take place in these social environments sometimes relates to work activities – in these cases the organisation gains benefits for zero investment! What a brilliant idea!!

OK, so we don’t quite see tea breaks and out-of-hours meetings quite in these terms. But people do ask what benefits social networks tools such as Twitter can provide. In my case, Twitter provides a similar function to the coffee break – but rather than providing a forum for a mixture of informal and work-related chats with work colleagues, it enables me to have such discussions with a wider group. This typically starts off with people I work closely with, but then extends to people I’ve met at conferences and sometimes people I may not have met but have some connection with.

A good example of this is Bryan Kennedy. I met Brian at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference a year ago. We discovered a shared interest in Twitter and have been following each other since then. This has enabled me to have a low-key insight into what Brian was doing at the Science Museum of Minnesota. And when Brian started twittering about this year’s Museums and the Web conference our informal connections through Twitter enabled us to reestablish contact at the conference more easily than people I’d met a year ago and hadn’t had the opportunity to follow what they were doing,

What’s the business case for Twitter? Look at your organisation’s business case for tea breaks, and that may help you to understand. Now I wonder if, in ther future, staff will have a legal entitlement to a social network break?

Posted in Twitter | 3 Comments »

Is Accessibility 2.0 Becoming Mainstream?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 May 2008

In May 2007 I presented a paper entitled “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” at the W4A 2007 conference. This paper reflected discussions which took place at a professional forum on “Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility” which took place at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference.

Yesterday Frankie Roberto, a Web developer at the Science Museum, emailed me with details of a recent conference entitled “Accessibility 2.0: a million flowers bloom“.  Now the use of the 2.0 meme to refer to a renewed and user-focussed approach is nothing new, so we shouldn’t be surprised at seeing the ‘Accessibility 2.0′ term being coined by independent bodies. But what was pleased was to see that the ideas and approaches which Lawrie Phipps and myself first described in a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” back in 2004 being reflected by those more directly involved in accessibility support and advocacy.

The Accessibility 2.0 conference was described as “the first ever conference focussing on web accessibility in a Web 2.0 world. By Web 2.0 we mean rich web applications which allow users to create content by writing blogs, uploading videos or commenting on other user’ content and creating networks.“.  The conference Web site went on to say that “The title of the conference was inspired by T.V. Raman, a Google Research Scientist, to describe the current wave of creativity and innovation brought about by the development of web applications“.

The introduction to the conference was given by Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet. I’ve met Robin on a number of occasions and Robin participated at the Accessibility Summit II hosted by the JISC TechDis service for which I was one of the event co-facilitators and speakers. A report on the meeting was published in the E-Government Bulletin. The participants at the meeting “call[ed] for change in the way web accessibility is advocated particularly in local and central government, education and the museum and cultural sectors.” Although we have not managed to organise a follow-up meeting, I feel the “Accessibility 2.0: a million flowers bloom” conference has reflected the views and approaches expressed at the summit and brought those ideas out to a wider community.

The blog post about the conference which Frankie referred me to was entitled “Open Data“. In the blog post, written by , a Web developer living and working in Brighton, England, Jeremy expands on the talk he gave at the conference.  Jeremy drew parallels with approaches which can address long term access to resources. He commented “Open formats are better than closed formats” whilst acknowledging that the “terms “open” and “closed” are fairly nebulous“. Jeremy went even further by admitting that “Standardization doesn’t necessarily lead to qualitatively better formats. Quite the opposite in fact. The standardization process, by its very nature, involves compromise“. He goes on to support the simplicity of HTML, but, in response to the diversity provided by a Web 2.0 environment “instead of battling against the anarchic nature of the Web, go with it” and “embrace flexibility in your attitude towards accessibility“.

Jeremy argues that in today’s Web 2.0 world, users are now making use of publishing services (he himself mentions Flickr, Twitter, Pownce and Magnolia). In a world in which users may read and write in equal measures “accessibility guidelines that deal with Web content just don’t cut it any more“.

I very much welcome this contribution to the debate and, indeed, the image of Accessibility 2.0 reflecting a renewed approach to accessibility in which we encourage ‘a million flowers to bloom’.  And it’s great to see this approach being advocated by those actively involved in the accessibility arena, such as organisations like Abilitynet, which hosted the conference. But how, I wonder, should we address the conservatism we’re likely to face within the institutions which have adopted an approach to Web accessibility which is based on simple conformance with checklists which simply cover the Web content? And what about the Web developers and content creators who, possibly for a period of almost 10 years, have prided themselves on implementing such guidelines? How should we change this culture?

Posted in Accessibility, Web2.0 | 1 Comment »