UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for June, 2008

The Mashed Museum Event

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 June 2008

I recently attended the Mashed Museum event, organised by Mike Ellis (Eduserv) which was held on the day prior to the UK Museums and the Web 2008 conference. Further information on the event is available on the MashedMuseum wiki. Frankie Roberto has already written a blog post on his use of Freebase (for providing structured access to collections data from the Science Museum) and the Simile timeline service for visualising the data. However the most comprehensive summary of the day I’ve found is available on the blog which gives an excellent overview of several of the developments, together with a more in depth summary of a development which made use of Twitter, Google Maps, Google earth.

My effort was much simpler – it involved use of the PicLens tool to produce a 3D visualisation of museum objects along similar lines to the 3D visualisation of the history of the University of Bath home page. However rather than focussing on technical development (not a strength of mine) my main interest was in ways in which development activities which take place at mashup events can be shared with a wider community and become embedded within the organisation. And so my visualisation included details of why such a service would be valuable to an organisation (a 3D visualisation may be more engaging than a static 2D Web page and could help to engage new audiences), business models to help to ensure the sustainability of such services (you could have occasional advertisements including in the 3D gallery) and concluded by summarising possible barriers (e.g. accessibility issues) and how those barriers may be addressed. In addition brief technical details were provided for those who might want to know how to implement this type of interface for their own service.

I did wonder, though, whether such supporting materials would be needed – aren’t software developers typically self-reliant and capable of working out for themselves how to make use of the lightweight development environments which were used during the event? I was therefore reassured when Michael Twidale raised the issue of the difficulties which can be encountered when using tools such as Yahoo Pipes, which aren’t well-documented and fail to provide much assistance if the software fails to work. And several other people at the event agreed with Michael’s thoughts, which I recorded as a video clip.

Shouldn’t we encourage software developers to record screencasts of their development work, I wonder, explaining why they make decisions which may not be obvious to others, and perhaps even swearing when things go wrong – after all, learning from the mistakes made by other can be a particular valuable way of avoiding making similar mistakes ourselves.

And haven written the above post, I’ve just received an email from Mike Ellis announcing a 12 minute video clip which summarises the day’s event including snippets from many of the developers at the event. Not only has he edited the various clips he took during the day, he’s also added music which he’d composed – very impressive stuff!

Posted in mashups | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Come Into My Twitterverse

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 June 2008

Some time ago I published a post entitled “Come Into My World” in which I described a Facebook application which could be used to visualise the links between your Facebook contacts. Recently, via a post on the Twitter Apps blog, I discovered a similar application, TweetWheel, which can be used to visualise the relationships between one’s Twitter followers – on, indeed, any Twitter user.

As can be seen in the accompanying image (or by viewing the live data) Matt Jukes is connected to many others of my Twitter followers, whereas the JISC Twitter ID is linked to only one of my followers and the Dulwichonline and RareEdge IDs are not being followed by any of my contacts.

Unlike Facebook, relationships in Twitter are, by default, open for everyone to view meaning anyone can make use of this tool, even if they don’t have a Twitter ID. I think that this is another tool which can be useful in helping to provide users with a visualisation of how they, or others, are using Twitter.

Posted in Twitter | 2 Comments »

When W3C Web Pages Break

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 June 2008

I was looking at a page on the W3C Web site recently to update my knowledge of the SVG specification and SVG tools.  I noticed a link at the bottom of the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) page to an RSS feed for the page, and, as a fan of RSS syndication, thought it might be worth adding this feed to my RSS viewer. However when I clicked on the link, rather than seeing the RSS feed and having the option to add this to my preferred RSS reader, an error message was displayed:

W3C RSS Feed which isn't being displayed

Now validating this RSS feed with the RSS validator on the W3C Web site informs me of an error with the feed:


This feed does not validate.

    • line 227, column 87: Undefined named entity: reg (5 occurrences)
      ... ability as well as the Internet Explorer® Plugin and the Windows® ...

This feed does not validate.

It seems that either W3C’s workflow process has failed to removed the registered trademark character for the term “Internet Explorer®” or the RSS schema has failed to included a declaration for this character entity.

No big deal, you may think – and, as the page isdisplayed in the FireFox browser, this is surely another failure of Internet Explorer to follow Web standards.

But if you view the page in Opera you get an XML parser error message:

W3C RSS feed error displayed in Opera browser

And here, I think, both Internet Explorer and Opera seem to be obeying the requirement that user agents aren’t expected to render non-compliant pages.

And this hard line approach has been promoted as a vision of the future of the Web by the W3C.  It has been argued that mandating rigourous compliance with specs would help to maximise interoperabilty.

This may be true – but at  what cost.  As someone who studied engineering at University I am aware of the benefits of a fail-safe approach to design, so that if one small component fails it doesn’t mean that the building will collapse. But in this case one small component (the trademark character entity) which hasn’t been properly defined, has led to a total failure for the page to be rendered in two browsers.

Don’t we need Web resources to be designed so they’ll fail gracefully and will be tolerant if humans make mistakes or, as it seems is the case here, there are failures in the workflow?

Posted in standards | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Government Web Sites MUST Be WCAG AA Compliant!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 June 2008

I commented previously on the Public consultation on Delivering Inclusive Websites (TG102) which proposed that “all government websites must meet Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines by December 2009“. It seems that this proposal has now been implemented. Some may feel that this is to be welcomed, but as I have argued previously, mandating use of a dated set of Web accessibility guidelines which have been shown to be flawed will, I believe, be counter-productive. And judging by an article by Julie Howell (formerly of the RNIB and currently Director of Accessibility at Fortune Cookie and chair of the British Standards Institution’s committee on web accessibility) entitled Web Accessibility. Life In the Post-Guideline Age I don’t think I’m alone in my views.

The Delivering inclusive websites document (issued on 12 June 2008) states that:

    1. The minimum level of accessibility for all Government websites is Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines. All new websites must conform to these guidelines from the point of publication.
    2. Websites owned by central government departments must be Double-A conformant by December 2009. This includes websites due to converge on Directgov or BusinessLink, unless convergence is scheduled before this date.

That’s right – if Government Web sites don’t achieve WCAG AA compliance by December 2009, their domain name may be withdrawn. That’s bound to enhance the accessibility of the service, isn’t it?

I wondered about the accessibility of the 10 Downing Street Web site. Putting this through a HTML validator I find mutiple validation errors. And as HTML compliance is mandatory (in WCAG 1.0), this means that the Web site fails to pass the Government minimum standards for accessibility. And if this is still the case in December, the No 10 Downing Street Web site will be forced to shut down – with processes for shutting down Government Web sites have already been documented (in MS Word and PDF formats).

SiteMorse Ranking of top 11 UK Government Web Sites, June 2008Coincidentally (or perhaps not) the accessibility auditing company SiteMorse have just published a Website Survey June 2008 – UK Central Government report. This survey (based on SiteMorse’s automated accessibility checking tool) reports that only 11.3% of the government Web sites surveyed pass the WCAG AA tests which their automated software can detect! A table showing the rankings of Government Web sites for a range of criteria including accessibility is available on the SiteMorse Web site and the Top 11 Web sites, which comply with WCAG AA according to the automated test are shown (there is one other Web site, labelled as ‘London Councils’ which passes the automated accessibility compliance test).

Will we see a drastic pruning of the Central Government Web sites which aren’t included in the table at the start of the 2009? Or will we see vast amounts of tax-payer’s money being spend on ensuring that the Web sites manage to pass the automated tests? Or perhaps we’ll simply see a withdrawal of the services.

What we can’t say is that the Web sites which fail the automated tests are necessarily inaccessible to people with disabilities. And we also can’t say that the Web sites which pass the automated tests are necessarily accessible to people with disabilities. This approach is all about passing artificial benchmarks, not addressing the needs of citizens with disabilities.

An unfortunate aspect of this new policy is that when the JISC TechDis Service together with UKOLN organised the Accessibility Summit II event on A User-Focussed Approach to Web Accessibility we ensured that as well as inviting accessibility researchers and representatives form the disability community (including Kevin Carey founder of HumanITy and Robin Christoperson, head of Accessibility Services, AbilityNet) we also invited a representative form the central Government. The participants at the meeting agreed on the need “to call on the public sector to rethink policy and guidelines on accessibility of the web to people with a disability“. As David Sloan, Research Assistant at the School of Computing at the University of Dundee and co-founder of the summit reported in a article published in the E-Government Bulletin “the meeting unanimously agreed the WCAG were inadequate“.

What is to be done? The cynic, disillusioned by the current Government, might relish the embarrassment Gordon Brown and his Cabinet colleagues may face when the implications of this decision become more widely known. And we can expect opposition Shadow Cabinet Ministers and papers such as the Daily Mail using this as an opportunity to undermine the Government, with initial questions of “Will the minister explain why almost 90% of Government Web sites can’t be accessed by people with disabilities?” to be followed by “Will the minister give the costs of changing Government Web sites to comply with WCAG accessibility standards which are now obsolete?” or “Will the minister explain why the Government has caved in to European demands to implement a set of politically-correct guidelines which researchers have shown to be flawed?”“. And if the Government does carry out its promise to shut down non-compliance Web sites: “Why has the Government shut down its Web sites? This is political correctness gone mad“.

But to take satisfaction in such embarrassment is to miss the point. Implementation of this policy is likely to result in a deterioration of the quality of Government services to all:-)

Posted in Accessibility | 9 Comments »

What If We’re Right?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 June 2008

Back in April I gave an online presentation to the JISC-Emerge community entitled What If We’re Wrong? in which I described some of the concerns which have been expressed related to use of Web 2.0 services (e.g. sustainability of the service, privacy issues, etc.) and suggested some approaches for dealing with concerns (e.g. risk assessment and risk management strategies.

Following some Twitter discussions Martin Weller wrote a post entitled Web 2.0 – even if we’re wrong, we’re right in which he argued that even if some services aren’t sustainable, we won’t go back to the way things were and we can’t unlearn our experiences and expectations.

As I described in my response “Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right” Martin’s post gave me a fresh insight into these issues. But what, I wonder, are the implications if we’re right? Perhaps it’s now timely to ask ourselves:

  • What if externally-hosted services do turn out to be sustainable?
  • What if technologies such as AJAX, coupled with ARIA support, provide usable and accessible services and define the type of user experiences which our users will expect in the services they use?
  • What if an’edupunk‘ approach succeeds in implementing change, leaving behind the more formal approaches to IT development?

Now many of the pragmatic Web 2.0 users and developers are addressing the potential problems they could face with their risk strategies. But are the Web 2.0 sceptics assessing the risks hat they may be wrong? What about the risks that students will abandon institutional services (as, it seems, they are starting to do with email)? What about:

  • The risks that graduates will find it difficult to get jobs if they have little experience of popular Web 2.0 technologies, having spent 3 years using elearning tools which aren’t known outside the HE/FE environment?
  • The institutions which fail to attract new students, researchers or staff as they aren’t making use of popular social networking services?
  • The researchers who continue to work just small groups, using email and accessing papers on institutional repositories but don’t follow discussions which their peers are having in the blogosphere?
  • And finally what about the risks that IT development programmes ignore the benefits of lightweight solutions, preferring to develop more sophisticated services which aim to solve every possible contingency – and then nobody uses the service as it’s too complex for most?

The question needs to be asked: what if we’re right?

Posted in Web2.0 | 7 Comments »

RSS Training For Remote Workers (And Remote Users)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 June 2008

We have a number of remote workers at UKOLN, with staff based in the south west, south east and north of England and Scotland. We are making increasing use of networked technologies to support the remote workers – with a workshop session on “Embracing Web 2.0 Technologies to Grease the Wheels of Team Cohesion” being given by my colleague Marieke Guy together with Andy Ramsden, head of the e-learning unit at the University of Bath at this year’s IWMW 2008 event.

When preparing for a recent training course on “An Introduction To RSS Readers: Google Reader and Netvibes” I thought this would provide a useful opportunity to explore the potential of screencasting, which is described in Wikipedia as “digital recording of computer screen output“. In my case I used the Camtasia software to record the screen display together with my accompanying audio description of what I was doing. I had also created an accompanying PowerPoint presentation which acted as my script. I had intended to also sync the sound with the PowerPoint slides to create a Slidecast on the Slideshare service, but didn’t get round to doing this, this time.

Initially I had intended to make this available just for colleagues at UKOLN (the remote workers and office-based workers who couldn’t attend the session). But it strikes me that the screencast may be useful to others – and, indeed, a colleague of mine commented that “I found it useful to have the seminar available in this version (I was on holiday on the day of the seminar). As a remote worker, I would welcome similar initiatives for future seminars.” So although it isn’t as polished as a professionally made video I thought I would share it with readers of this blog.

A question I would have is should we encourage the production and sharing of such screencasts more widely? Would you be willing to do this for training sessions you may give? And, if you’ve watched it, how useful have you found this screencast?

Note: via Phil Bradley’s blog I came across a post on Common Craft and Google Reader which provides “a new short video just over a minute long demonstrating Google Reader“.  [This note added on 1 Sep 2008].

Posted in rss, Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

How Plenary Speakers Are Maximising Their Impact

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 June 2008

Last year I happened to notice that David De Roure’s has updated his Facebook status to say that he’d achieved a ‘deci-goble rating‘ on Slideshare. I managed to correctly interpret this to mean that one of David’s slides which he had uploaded to Slideshare was a tenth as popular as Professor Carole Goble’s. The particular presentation which had proved so popular for Carole was her keynote talk on The Seven Deadly Sins of Bioinformaticswhich she presented at the 15th Annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB 2007) in Vienna, July 2007.

Carole’s slides are publicly available on Slideshare and are embedded below. By 7 JulyJuly 2008 the slides had been viewed 8,617 times and downloaded over 500 times. David De Roure’s most popular slides, a keynote talk given at the IEEE e-Science Conference, Bangalore in December 2007, have been viewed 2,613 times with 140 downloads.

Carole Goble's Keynote Slides on Slideshare

Shouldn’t researchers be making greater use of Slideshare, I wonder, in order to maximise the impact of their research? And an additional benefit of doing this is that the materials will also be available for use by students as well as the researcher community. Indeed conferences such as the W4A 2008 Conference are now making speaker’s slides available on Slideshare, thus, as might be expected for a conference on accessibility, enhancing access to materials used at the conference.

The sceptics might argue that there is no guarantee that the Slideshare service will continue to be available over a long time span, or that there can be no guarantees of the reliability of the service. But these are somewhat disingenuous arguments, I feel. The 7,000+ downloads suggests a large numbers of readers who were sufficiently motivated to access and view the slides – and I think it is questionable as to whether there would be this number of accesses if the slides weren’t available on a popular service such as Slideshare. And if Slideshare were to disappear tomorrow (unlikely, I know), those users would have still gained benefits from the resource while it was available. The sustainability of the company question is one that we should be asking about our own services as well as the externally-hosted ones – will our resources disappear from view when a new CMS is installed, for example. And in the case of Slideshare, the recently announcement that “SlideShare Secures $3M for Embeddable Presentations” should be regarded as good news.

My own most popular slide available on Slideshare, Introduction To Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges For The Institution“, has been viewed over 4,800 times in 9 months – not as popular as Carole’s, but worth almost two De Roures in its impact :-)

There will be a variety of legitimate reasons why researchers may chose not to make their slides available in this way – and I acknowledge that for some, perhaps many, speakers, the slides may act as a visual cue rather than a resource which is useful in isolation. But as Lorcan Dempsey said on his blog a few days ago about a presentation on “Web 2.0 and repositories – have we got our repository architecture right?” given recently by Andy Powell: “I find Slideshare a good place to look for pointers when I am wondering about current issues. Presentations are often elliptical, but are also current”.: And in a post on the eFoundations blog in which Andy announced the availability of the slides on Slideshare Andy commented: “with around 1000 Slideshare views in the first couple of days (presumably thanks to a blog entry by Lorcan Dempseyand it being ‘featured’ by the Slideshare team) I guess that most people who want to see it will have done so already: “. (And note that numbers of views are now almost 2,000).

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Places Still Available on “Preservation of Web Resources” Workshop

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 June 2008

I’ve previously mentioned the JISC Preservation of Web Resources (JISC-PoWR) project which is being provided by UKOLN and ULCC. The project has established a blog and will be running its first workshop, entitled Preservation of Web Resources: Making a Start, on Friday 27th June 2008 at Senate House, London.

The workshop is aimed staff in the higher and further education sector with responsibilities for the preservation of institutional Web resources. The workshop will introduce the concept of Web preservation, and discuss the technological, institutional and legal challenges the preservation of Web resources presents. One aspect of Web site preservation might be keeping a history of changes to your institution’s home page. Do you have a digital record of the changes? And do you have a record of why significant changes were made and when? I have been working with colleagues in the University of Bath on ways in which we might address this particular issue. The following video clip, which is available on YouTube, illustrates some of the issues (although if the display is too small you might prefer to view the original resource):

There are still a number of places available on the workshop – which is free to attend for those in the higher and further education sector. But please sign up promptly if you are interested. The timetable is given below:

10:00 – 10:30 Registration and coffee

10:30 – 12:45 Morning Sessions:

  • Presentation: Preservation of Web Resources Part I
  • Breakout session: What are the Barriers to Web Resource Preservation?
  • Presentation: Challenges for Web Resource Preservation
  • Presentation: Legal issues

12:45 – 13:45 Lunch
13:45 – 16:00 Afternoon Sessions:

  • Presentation: Bath University Case Study
  • Breakout session: Preservation Scenarios
  • Presentation: Preservation of Web Resources Part II

16:00 End

Posted in preservation | Leave a Comment »

Revisiting UK University Pages On Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 June 2008

Back in November 2007 I wrote a post on UK Universities On Facebook, shortly after Facebook had announced that organisations could have a presence on their social networking service. I commented that a search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed a total of 76 hits which included, in alphabetical order, the following UK Universities: Aston, Cardiff, Kent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Now, over 6 months later, what is the position of UK University pages on Facebook? Well on 15th June 2008 there were over 500 hits for a search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ (the exact numbers aren’t provided). This will include details of University departments and student clubs and societies, so the exact numbers will probably be confusing. What is interesting to observe is the numbers of fans of each University, which is used to order the search results. The Open University Facebook page is the top of all University pages, with 7,539 fans (with the University of Michigan way behind in second place with 5,313 fans (up from a count of 2,874 a month ago). The other most popular UK Universities are Aston University (2,976 fans), Royal Holloway (1,765), Aberystwyth University (1,655 fans), University of Central Lancashire (1,475 fans), Keele University (1,420 fans), Cardiff University (1,357 fans) and the University of Surrey (1,166 fans).

There seems to be a fairly consistent pattern of usage being taken to these pages. As can be seen form the accompanying image, institutions seem to be providing a series of useful links to the main areas of the institutional Web site on the right hand menu. The main body of the content is typically addresses and contacts details, together with news feeds which are automatically embedded using an Facebook RSS reader application.

In addition to this information which is either very brief or is dynamically embedded from other sources, there are wall posts and other messages which may need to be monitored and responded to. So there are resource implications in having a presence in Facebook. But there are also benefits as well, and the Open University and Aston University, for example, seem to be doing well from the stake they have claimed.

In addition to possible concerns over the costs of managing the resources and dialogue, people have expressed concerns over data lock-in and the licence conditions associated with use of Facebook. I would argue that if you manage your data in an open environment which is external to Facebook (e.g. your own institutional RSS feed or use of Flickr or YouTube for access to photographs and videos) then the data lock-in issue should not be of concern. And, as I’ve suggested previously, surely we should be encouraging third parties to make use of our marketing materials. And if they can make money out of the materials, then this can help to ensure the viability of their service.

Northumbria University poster, seen in Taipei, TaiwanFinally we should remember that our institutions have a well-established tradition of making use of delivery channels which are not interoperable – the physical world of magazines, newsletters and bill-board advertisements.

Indeed when I was in Taiwan recently I came across a poster advertising Northumbria University. My reaction was to applaud Northumbria for getting its message across to where potential students were, rather than to criticise them for their use of a non-interoperable dead tree delivery mechanism. We need to remember that interoperability isn’t always everything. Ask the marketing people – I suspect they’ll confirm this.

And some news just in. On 12thJune 2008 the Techcrunch blog reported that Facebook [Is] No Longer The Second Largest Social Network– but rather than declining in popularity as some predicted (or perhaps hoped), Facebook has now overtaken MySpace in popularity, as the accompanying image shows.

Facebook vs MySpace Usage Statistics

Perhaps the popularity of the Open University page in Facebook isn’t so surprising considering the large numbers of Facebook users there are. Now that we have evidence of the large numbers of users and have seen patterns of usage from the early adopters, what reasons can there be for institutions not to engage with Facebook- whether this is simply creating a page containing RSS feeds and a set of links back to the institutional Web site or creating a Facebook application such as the Open University’s Course Profile app (initially described by Tony Hirst as a ‘skunkwork’ project, but now, it seems, becoming mainstream)? And remember the need to factor in not only the resource implications of doing this, but also the missed opportunity costs of not doing so.

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

The SearchMe Visual Service

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 June 2008

A recent Tweet from Tony Hirst alerted me to the Searchme Visual Search service. An example of use of this service searching for “UKWebFocus is illustrated below.

The Service

As the name suggests this service provides a visually-oriented approach to searching and, rather than attempting to describe this service I suggest you try it.

I suspect that an initial response from some information professionals would be to highlight the limitations of such an interface, pointing out the difficulties of more advanced searching. However I feel that this would be to overlook the potential of this type of interface to provide browsing functionality. And this, indeed, was the use case made by Tony Hirst:

@briankelly would like a wayback machine browser for home pages over time. would look neat? Any libraries for it?

I met Tony at the recent CRIG DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) Metadata Barcamp held at the University of Bath. Over lunch I mentioned UKOLN’s JISC-PoWR (Preservation of Web Resources) project and described my interest in ways of exploiting content held in the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. I suggested that a generic screen-scraping interface to the service would be useful – and when I returned to the Barcamp later that afternoon Tony demonstrated the first version of the software :-) And the following day Tony had started to explore ways of providing a richer user interface to such data. A browse interface such as that used by Search Me Visual could potentially provide a very engaging way of visualising the changes to an organisation’s home page, I would think. And wouldn’t it be great if this could be demonstrated at the JISC-PoWR’s opening workshop on 25 June 2008. Has anyone come across any tools which could do this?

Posted in preservation, Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

RSS For Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 June 2008

Over the past few years UKOLN has made use of RSS to support its annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series. Initially RSS was used to provide access to news about the event, allowing delegates to be alerted to updates about the event without needing to visit the Web site, thus allowing users the choice of avoiding the intrusiveness of email.

But as more applications and Web-based services became available which exploited RSS, we started to appreciate the wider ranges of potential uses for RSS. Since 2006 we have used RSS to syndicate structured data for the event, including, as can be seen for this year’s event, lists of the plenary talks, workshops sessions, speakers and workshop facilitators. This frees the data from the constraints of the event’s Web site allowing the data to be accessed by users in more varied ways including the user’s preferred RSS reader, PDAs, mobile phones and even, using an RSS iPod Reader, having this data conveniently available on a iPod.

Location of host instituion of speakers at IWMW eventsMore recently we have made use of geo-located RSS data to enable the locations of the IWMW events to be displayed on a map. This then led to a geo-located RSS feed of the host institution for plenary speakers at all twelve of the IWMW events (including this year’s event, to be held at the University of Aberdeen on 22-24 July 2008). This provides the event organisers with a management tool which can help to visualise the participation at the event on a geographical basis – have we, for example, provided opportunities for plenary speakers from throughout the UK? I’m pleased to say that we do seem to have a broad representation throughout the UK, will speakers from as far north as Aberdeen, as far south as Southampton, as far east as Norwich and as far west as Belfast. In addition, if you zoom out from the UK you will discover that there have been a number of speakers from overseas including the Republic of Ireland and Australia.

In a recent post on RSS For Your Project Web Site I cited Stephen Downdes’ comment that failing to provide RSS is unsocial. But a couple of people posted comments and argued that RSS only has a role to play in specific cases. I disagree, as I feel that providing RSS feeds for structured data can allow the data to be used in interesting, and perhaps unexpected ways. Let’s make much more use of RSS generally, I would say. But how else can it be used to enhance events, I wonder? And are there any developers reading this post who might be in a position to submit an entry to the IWMW 2008 Innovation Competition which makes use of this data?

Posted in rss | 3 Comments »

whois++ and IAFA templates

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 June 2008

SCA Home Nations Forum

I recently facilitated a series of breakout sessions on Standards at the SCA Home Nations Forums, held in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. The aim of the sessions was to discuss the approaches which are being taken to the use of standards by SCA partners in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The first event included a plenary talk on “The Standards Dilemma” given by Alastair Dunning, JISC, and I’ve embedded his slides in my blog post.

Alistair’s blog post about the first event, entitled “Digital Standards: Going beyond Stalin“, summarised some of the difficulties which have been experienced in seeking to deploy open standards in digital library development work.

eLib Standards Document

These concerns were reflected in the breakout sessions at the three events. And when I was preparing the breakout session I though it would be useful to review my involvement in standards work, which date back to my contribution to the eLib Standards document, published in February 1996.

In that document I was fascinated to discover some of the open standards which we thought would lead to interoperability for eLib projects. The document mentioned the Open Document Architecture (ODA) standard but went on to (correctly) predict that “It is unclear what future there is for the ODA standard” and stated that “It is not recommended for use in the eLib programme“.

Rather than using ODA, the standards document “anticipated that SGML will be a key standard for eLib“. The document “encouraged [projects] to work together to agree or, where necessary, develop document type definitions“. Although SGML was used by a number of projects (such as, I think, project which used the TEI DTD) SGML did not have a significant role to play for many of the eLib projects until a simplified version of SGML, XML, became available. The exception to that generalisation was HTML. My contribution to the eLib standards document was to write: “Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) is simply a DTD which prescribes formats for presentation and display. Hypertext documents in the World Wide Web are written in HTML. eLib projects will make heavy use of HTML and should use HTML 2 and HTML 3 when it is stable. Netscape and other vendor-specific extensions are deprecated.

It was in the area of standards identifiers, metadata and searching in which the recommendations are most interesting. The document (correctly) stated that “eLib projects should be able to supply a URL for public services” – although in retrospect we should have said “a static and stable URL”. But the above sentence then went on to say the “… and be prepared to adopt URNs when they are stabilised“. The URN (Uniform Resource Name) was envisaged as “a persistent object identifier, assigned by a ‘publisher’ or some authorising agent“. Now today, 12 years later, project Web sites still have a URL for their resources, with other approaches to identifiers (such as DOIs) only being used in specialised areas, such as providing identifiers for journal articles or, in projects such as E-Bank, molecules.

Regarding metadata standards, the document stated:

Relevant standards for resource description:US-MARC, IAFA, TEI headers

although it immediately added the caveat that “This is an area in which there is still much research and development and where it is premature to suggest one preferred approach“.

The document also suggested that the WHOIS++ cross-search protocol could have an important role to play for searching metadata held in the IAFA templates. Indeed the e-Lib-funded ROADS open source software, which underpinned several of the eLib Subject-Based Information Gateways (such as SOSIG and OMNI), was based on this approach.


I feel there is much which can be learnt by reviewing the experiences of digital library programmes such as eLib – indeed eLib projects were themselves expected to be open in reviewing their experiences, both positive and negative. Looking at the standards document with the benefit of 12 years of hindsight we can smile at its naivety. But we should also ask why certain standards, which failed to gain acceptance, were encouraged in the first place? An answer, perhaps, is to be found in the interests of the contributors to the standards document. Anne Mumford (a former colleague of my when I worked at Loughborough University) was actively involved in the development of the CGM (Computer Graphics Metafile) standard, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this standard was included in the standards document.

What have we learnt since 1996? Do we ensure that we have more disinterested processes for recommendations? A recent Tweet from Owen Stephens, related to a TechWatch report on “Metadata for digital libraries: state of the art and future directions” suggested that this is not the case: “[I] was surprised how pro-METS [the report] was until I noted “Richard Gartner is […] is a member of the editorial board for the METS“. Which current exciting new standard will turn out to be tomorrow’s whois++ I wonder?

Posted in standards | 3 Comments »

Anarchy In The UK

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 June 2008

I was never into punk when I was at University (I went to see Queen when I was at Leeds University) but I can appreciate how it changed the music scene. So I was interested to see the recent buzz on Twitter and in the blogosphere over the term ‘edupunk’. Mike Caulfield likes the term because “it captures the cultural revulsion many of us feel with the appropriation of the Learning 2.0 movement by corporations such as Blackboard“. And I feel that Tony Hirst encapsulates the edupunk approach which “favors technical accessibility over grand design” from his comments on the CRIG DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) Metadata Barcamp :

A couple of things to note: JISC apparently likes to fund SOAP powered webservices. Whilst these might conceivably make sense for complicated web service transcations, they’re probably overkill in our sector most of the time (a sigh went up from the developers whenever a SOAP interface was mentioned).

REST, it seems, is the punk response to the pompous stadium rock of SOAP and the Web Services stack. And in a post on Changing Expectations: Educational Publishing Tony published a video clip giving his contribution to the edupunk movement:

Now David Harrison recently commented in response to my post on From Disruptive To Innovative Technologies:

I think it was me that raised the question at the event in the context of “Can you imagine going to your Vice-Chancellor and saying … I want to introduce and support some disruptive technologies into our organisation”.

It’s clearly even less likely that institutional policy makers will find the term ‘edupunk’ appealing. But just as punk transformed the music scene, and the wider cultural environment perhaps edupunk will have a similar impact on the educational system.

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

A Quarter of a Million and Counting

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 June 2008

Akismet spam statisticsThis blog has now attracted over a quarter of a million spam comments. Fortunately the vast majority are stopped by the Akismet spam filter, which is provided on the blog service.

But it’s quite clear that without the spam filter it would be a very time-consuming task for me to manually delete spam comments. And if I didn’t do this the effectiveness of the blog as a forum for discussions would be severely reduced.

I could change the blog settings and require comments to require approval before they are published – but this would also be time-consuming for me.

Or comments could be restricted to registered users – but this would add a barrier to those who wished to comment, especially those who aren’t regular visits to the blog.

I could also disable comments on posts after a certain period of time, which should reduce the amount of spam comment – but just because a post was made some time ago doesn’t mean that comments would not be useful.

I’m happy with the policy  of allowing comments , complemented by use of Akismet to automatically capture spam (although, I should add, sometimes Akismet traps legitimate comments).  But if you’re setting up a blog and are thinking about your policy on comments you’ll need to bear in mind the need to manage spam comments. And remember that Akismet is licensed software – although Akismet state thatWe love non-profits. We have half-off and free pricing for registered non-profits, please see the link above.”.

Posted in Blog | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Revisiting iSoton

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 June 2008

In February 2008 I asked the question “Is Southampton Setting A New Standard For Institutional Web Sites?“. There was subsequently a lively discussion about the iSoton service, with Helen Aspell, Head of Digital Marketing at the University of Southampton and the person who led this collaborative project, describing the background to this work.

But in addition to the main iSoton page, which provides access to information about the University of Southampton held on Web 2.0 services including Youtube, Flickr and Wikipedia, it is also work noting the approach taken to the provision of a search interface for resources at the University of Southampton. The search page is illustrated below.

University of Southampton search page

It is interesting to observe the single search box used for searching (on the top row) publications, people and experts and (on the bottom row) the main University of Southampton Web site and all Web sites at the University of Southampton.

And although the Search publications option allows you to refine a search or start an advanced search, this isn’t the case with the other searches.

Does this, I wonder, reflect the evidence that very few users ever make use of the advanced search capabilities? Or is this a worrying trend, a dumbing down of search for what should be typically an intelligent group of users?

I have to say that I’m looking forward to hearing Helen give a talk about the iSoton service at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2008). Alison Widish, head of Web Services at the University of Bath recently commented on a presentation by Helen at the CASE 2008 conference: “I eagerly awaited Helen’s talk and I wasn’t disappointed“. Alison went on to say:

Overall I was really impressed with Southampton not just with the website (which I find visually appealing and easy to use) but with the way the University LIVE their brand. It’s incredibly important to know who you are as an Institution and to provide an experience which reflects that… and it’s great to see this being carried across to the web.

Lots of food for thought!

And as this year’s theme for IWMW 2008 is “The Great Debate” I’m sure Helen’s talk on the first day of the event will help to contribute to the discussions on future directions for both the institutional Web site and institutional approaches to search. But if you can’t make it to Aberdeen, feel free to engage in the debate here.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Preservation of Web Resources: Making a Start

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 June 2008

My colleague Marieke Guy together with the JISC-PoWR project partners at ULCC have announced details of a workshop on “Preservation of Web Resources: Making a Start” – this one-day workshop will take place on Friday 27th June 2008 at the Senate House Library, University of London.

The JISC-PoWR project runs until the end of September 2008 and will run three workshops which will aim to identify best practices for preserving Web sites. The key deliverable of the project will be a handbook which will document the challenges to be addressed in Web site preservation in a number of areas which will include key institutional Web services (e.g. the prospectus), project Web sites (which have clear termination dates) and, a particular challenge for the project, the preservation issues associated with use of Web 2.0 services.

The first workshop will be free to attend (although there will be a penalty for non-shows), with the second workshop being held as part of the IWMW 2008 event at the University of Aberdeen on 23rd July.

Please sign up now if you would like to attend. And I’d you can’t make it but have an interest in the preservation of Web resource, why not subscribe to the JISC-PoWR blog – and, rather than being a passive reader, join in the discussions.  Topics we’d be interested in hearing about include (a) how institutions are currently addressing the preservation of key institutional Web-based services (such as the prospectus); (b) the approaches you may be taken to short-term project Web sites (whether JISC-funded or institutionally-funded and (c) your views on the preservation of data and services provided by externally-hosted Web 2.0 services.

Posted in Events, preservation | Leave a Comment »

Innovation Competition at IWMW 2008

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 June 2008

The Innovation Competition was introduced at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2007, held at the University of York. This provided an opportunity for developers (and, it should be added, non-developers) to submit examples of lightweight examples of innovation which provided valuable services to a user community and/or were, in some way, ‘cool’, provoking a reaction of “Wow, we should be doing that” to IWMW 2007 participants.

The competition, which was sponsored by Amazon, was a great success, with four prize-winners receiving Amazon vouchers:

This year we will be repeating the Innovation Competition. This time, rather than relying on a commercial sponsor, the Universities of Aberdeen and Bath and Edge Hill University are the sponsors. These three institutions have recognised the potential benefits of opening up their data and APIs to the community, and invite members of the community to demonstrate what can be done with their RSS and Atom feeds, their XCRI data, their microformats, their OpenSearch APIs and other data on their Web site.

And although we welcome submissions based on data from the sponsoring institutions, we also invite other submissions as well (perhaps use of multimedia or Second Life). One change we have made from last year’s competition, however, is that we would not expect submissions to be based on mainstream institutional development work. You may choose, however, to submit a proposal which brings together content from a number of institutions, perhaps on a regional basis or using data provided by organisations outside the HE/FE sector.

Further details are provided on the IWMW 2008 Web site. There will be prizes for the winning submissions and, depending on the numbers of submissions, we may even, as we did last year, also provide prizes to runner’s-up or for special categories (the funniest submissions and perhaps even submissions created during the event).

We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Posted in iwmw2008 | 6 Comments »

Can You Be Sued For Not Upgrading Your Browsers?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 June 2008

A blog post on the Justin Thorp’s Oatmeal blog informs me that “all the major browsers are now doing something to support [WAI-ARIA]“. And I quickly find that the Paciello Group confirms IE 8’s support for ARIA: their blog posts describes the Microsoft’s announcement that “Internet Explorer 8 uses ARIA role, state, and property information to communicate with assistive technologies” as “amazing news in terms of WAI ARIA implementation!“.

And, as might be expected, the Firefox browser also supports ARIA (Accessibility Rich Internet Applications) – W3C WAI’s guideline for ensuring that richly interactive Web services which make use of technologies such as JavaScript to enhance their accessibility, usability and functionality can be used by a variety of client devices, including assistive technologies.

The support for ARIA by mainstream browsers is clearly good news and, with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines now available as a Candidate Recommendation, it is now timely for institutions to begin planning how they will respond to these pleasing developments – especially for those in the educational sector who should be in the process of planning upgrades to their technlcal environment and corresponding policies, training, etc. during the summer vacation.

The simple response would be to suggest that institutions should migrate to the latest version of Firefox during the summer vacation (and note that the Firefox 3 Candidate Release was announced a few days ago). However when I suggested last year that Firefox was the researchers’ favourite application both Mark Sammons and Phil Wilson pointed out the difficulties of managing Firefox across the enterprise. And Mark has recently posted that the situation does not appear to have progressed significantly since then – indeed Mark, creator of the Firefox ADM enterprise administration tool in a post on The Firefox Enterprise Issue Hits the Media has argued that “the real problem with Firefox in the enterprise: Mozilla“.

But if Mark is correct and organisations are likely to find it difficult to manage the deployment and maintenance of Firefox across the enterprise at least IE 8 (and, also, I should add, Opera) are available which have support for the ARIA guidelines.

We also know that institutions have regarded support for WAI WCAG guidelines as important with many institutions making policy statements regarding their support for the guidelines. But as WAI have also regarded the WCAG guidelines as just one of a set of guidelines which need to be implemented in order to ensure that resources are widely accessible, surely it is clear that institutions should also be supporting the UAAG guidelines and ensure that the browsers deployed across the organisation support these guidelines. And surely that means upgrading to the latest version of IE, Firefox or, possibly, Opera.

Or to put it another way, if you fail to do this is your institution likely to be in breach of accessibility legislation which requires organisations to take reasonable measures to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t discriminated against unfairly?

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 5 Comments »