UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for Nov, 2008

Edupunk begets Eduprog at CETIS 2008 Conference

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 Nov 2008

I commented on the “Edupunk” meme a while ago. For some people this provides a useful metaphor for describes a ‘anyone can do it’ approach to e-learning developments; although others are very critical of the term (and thus provide further support for the edupunk meme, you could argue, articulating the anger which was felt in the late 1970s by Radio 2 presenters and others who felt challenged by radically new ideas!)

At the recent CETIS 2008 conference, the term “Eduprog” was coined. Lorna Campbell was the first to blog about The dawn of eduprog and, as she describes “Eduprog has spread over the twittosphere like a gold lurex cape and has already generated considerable sage discussion and chin stroking”. The term “reflects a domain that generates questionable “concept” specifications of baroque complexity (cf. FRBR, IEEE LOM) and application profiles and reports the equivalent of extend guitar solos“.

Twitter discussions on the term have included:

#eduprog much better reflects the true state of education technology- long-winded, self-indulgent, boring standards-making

“long winded and self-indulgent” or virtuoso boundary pushing redefining forms and developing new techniques?

Now some people don’t like the coining of new metaphors, but I find that the term has helped in providing an additional insight into some of the criticism we have seen recently regarding the development of overblown standards. The term itself might not catch on, but it has been useful. A point Tony Hirst made to me at the CETIS conference about the ‘edupunk’ term – and he should know, as he did create what was possibly the first edupunk video. Now is there a concept album to follow?

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Posted in General | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Ssh – Whisper It But Librarians Are Twittering!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Nov 2008

An email message sent on 8th October 2008 to the Scotslink JISCMail list announced that “The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) and CILIP in Scotland (CILIPS) have just introduced Twitter to their suite of Web 2.0 services“.

When I mentioned this recently a colleague made the comment “if you Twitter in a library, does someone Twitter Shhhh! back? ;-)” But librarian stereotypes apart, I think this illustrates how information professions are now beginning to make greater use of Web 2.0 services such as Twitter, in this case to enhance communications with CILIP members and library professionals in Scotland.

As I mentioned recently UKOLN has launched a series of IntroByte briefing documents which aim to provide an introduction to various topics of relevance to the cultural heritage sector.  We have started work on the production of a number of briefing paper which will covers the potential of micro-blogging services such as Twitter, as well as video micro-blogging services such as Seesmic for use in the library and the wider cultural heritage sectors.

We would welcome examples of organisations which are using such tools in the cultural heritage sector which we can include in the documents.  So if your library, museum or archive is an early adopter of such technologies please get in touch with me, either directly (email to B.Kelly@ukoln.ac.uk) or by leaving a comment to this post.

Posted in Twitter | Leave a Comment »

COPAC Developers Get Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Nov 2008

My colleague Paul Walk recently commented on developments to the COPAC services in a post entitled COPAC gets RESTful.  Paul linked to a blog post on the COPAC developer’s blog which described how the COPAC service now provides Persistent identifiers for Copac records.

I was impressed with the COPAC blog when I came across a post which asked the question To Google or not to Google. This post raised the issue of the tensions between the user benefits of providing links to Google Books from the COPAC service and the privacy concerns expressed by “a vociferous few who questioned why Copac would give Google ‘personal data’ about them as users“.

I feel that raising these issues in an open fashion is to be applauded. And it is far better that this is done on a blog, rather than being trapped in the confines of a COPAC mailing list, which would probably only be read by hardcore COPAC users.

And this is my response to the comment made on this blog recently in which a software developer argued that “the fact that I choose not to talk about work on the internet should have no bearing on my ability to create scalable, secure, and accessible services“.  I feel that the IT profession should be talking more openly with the user community and with other IT developers.

My thanks to the COPAC team for demonstrating how this should be done.  Let’s hope that other national services in the JISC community follow COPAC’s lead.

Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Lies, Dammed Lies, Blog Statistics and Unexpected Spikes

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Nov 2008

There was some discussion a while ago on standards for usage statistics for public sector Web sites. I have always been a bit suspicious of initiatives which encourage use of simplistic metrics. There’s a real danger that rather than using such data to provide evidence and to inform policies, achieving a top ranking is regarded as the main objective itself. And such temptations can lead to organisations exploring ways of maximising their figures, even if this fails to achieve any underlying benefits to the organisation or the user community.

This struck me recently when I notice a huge peak in the usage statistics for this blog on 6th October 2008. Initially I thought the blog may have been ‘Slashdotted’, with one of my posts being cited on a popular service. But this, it seems, wasn’t the cause of the spike. I had, in fact, used the Adobe Acrobat software to create a PDF file of the blog posts.  This every individual page to be accessed. And when I discovered that the PDF file was thousands of pages long rather than the 4-500 pages I had expected, I realised that individuals posts had been retrieved on multiple occasions, as they are also grouped by month and by categories.

I hadn’t expected such retrievals to be recorded, as WordPress’s statistics page states that “we don’t count your own visits to your blog“.  But for some reason the Adobe Acrobat’s downloads have resulted in my statistics being artificially skewed.

So if you want to impress people with a sudden growth in the numbers of accesses to you blog, run a tool such as Adobe Acrobat over your blog.  If, on the other hand, you feel this is unethical, then don’t do this with the aim of massaging your figures. And fopr the sake of completeness, on 6th October 2008 there were 1,206 visits recorded, but a more accurate figure, based on the numbers of visits the previous week, would be around 265.

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments »

You Talk At Conferences? That Must Be Scary!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Nov 2008

My recent talk on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference held in Singapore on 16-17th October (which was possibly the first Library 2.0 conference in Asia) brought back memories of the first time I spoke at a conference – the INET 94/JENC5 conference held in June 1994 in Prague in which I presented a paper entitled “Becoming an information provider on the WWW“.

I can recall how nervous I felt when I submitted my first paper to an international conference and wondered how I would cope with having to go onto a big stage (I later discovered that the auditorium held 1,000 people). While I was waiting to hear if the paper had been accepted I went on holiday to Victoria Falls. And wile I was there I decided to take a trip white-water rafting. After all, I convinced myself, if I can do this, I can do anything, including giving a paper at an international conference. So I did the trip – and even afterwards booked to go bunjee-jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge (I was told it was the world’s highest commercial bunjee jump). However the jump were cancelled on the day due to bad weather, so I had to console myself with the fact that I had been white-water rafting down the mighty Zambesi. I went on to present my paper at the conference, and have subsequently spoken at international conferences held in France, Portugal, Hungary, USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan and, most recently, Singapore. And all thanks to overcoming my nerves by going white-water rafting! (Although knowing bit about the Web probably helped too :-).

These thoughts came back to me after I’d given my talk at the Bridging Worlds conference. As I mentioned the talk was entitled “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and in order to demonstrate an approach I take in balancing risks and benefits I described how the slides for the talk were available online with a Creative Commons licence. I also explained that I was happy for my talk to be recorded or broadcast or for the talk to be blogged live – and described that I was using a Flip video camera to record my talk, and would subsequently make this available on Google Video. I explained the reasons I was doing this. I was aware of possible risks – I might make mistakes in my talk which would be preserved for other to see, for example. However I also explained the benefits of doing this – I was speaking at the conference as I had a message I wanted to communicate, and I wanted to maximise the impact of the message and the audience – and I felt that this could be helped by the ‘amplification’ of my talk using a variety of networked technologies.

And it seems that this explanation was appreciated, with Ivan Chew (ramblinglib on Twitter) and a fellow speaker at the conference commenting:

Brilliant: your explanation of how you weighed the risks Vs benefits of allowing others to vid/ blog/ record your talk

Ivan went on to further summarise my talk in a subseqent blog post.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that many speakers do take risks when they give presentations – and that this comes with the territory. And participating in amplified conferences can then be seen as a natural extension of the risk-taking and not being fashionable or being rude.

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

Differences Between the WAI Standards Developer and User Perspectives

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Nov 2008

Back in September I presented a paper on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future” at the ADDW08 conference in which I described my criticisms of the WAI approach to Web accessibility and argued the need to explore alternative approaches. Shadi Abou-Zhara, who works for W3C WAI was in the audience and after I gave my talk he said that he didn’t disagree with many of the points I had made in my talk, but didn’t see what relevance they had to the WAI approach to Web accessibility. Shadi had made a similar point after I presented a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” at the W4A 2007 conference.

But if Shadi has no fundamental disagreements with the holistic approach to Web accessibility that myself, David Sloan, Lawrie Phipps and other have been developing over the years how does this relate to the ongoing work of Shadi, his colleagues in W3C WAI and those involved in WAI working group activities over the years?

Reflecting on the comments Shadi made and the discussions I had at the ADDW 2008 conference with David MacDonald, an invited expert to the WCAG 2.0 group it seems to my that there is a mismatch between the work being carried out by WAI and the expectations of users of the WAI guidelines.

In response to a question about the relationships between usability and accessibility it seems that WAI’s interest is in usability only as far as it affects users with disabilities significantly more than most users. And I think this view which focusses purely on the needs of users with disabilities results in an approach which is blind to real world complexities and to the actual take-up and effectiveness of their solutions.

The developers of WAI accessibility guidelines seem to have a narrowly defined scope for their work. This seems to cover the development of technical guidelines which will enhance accessibility for users with various types of disabilities. In is not in scope for people at WAI to address the resource implications of conforming with their guidelines, the complexities of implementing the guidelines or to consider alternatives ways in which accessibility challenges can be addressed.

If these issues are out-of-scope for WAI, then there’s a need for the issues to be addressed by the user community.  And this will include addressing these difficult issues. It is the user community to decide when the WAI guidelines may be the best way of providing accessible services, when other solutions may be relevant and to ensure that cost-effective and sustainable solutions are provided.

The WAI guidelines have an important role to play in helping to enhance the accessibility of networked services – but the user organisations have to make the more challenging decisions of deciding when to make use of WAI guidelines and when other solutions may be relevant.

Posted in Accessibility | Leave a Comment »

Joining The iPod Touch Generation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 Nov 2008

I succumbed! Well, I partly succumbed, buying myself an iPod Touch, rather than an iPhone (which is illustrated, but the user interface for the two devices is similar).  But I have to admit that I am impressed.

Yes the user interface is cool – or if you don’t like the ‘c***’ word the interface is intuitive and easy-to-use. But what I really like are the applications which exploit the device’s WiFi capabilities.  It’s good to access applications such as Twitter and Facebook from a mobile device – even if I have to download the data while I’m connected to a WiFi network; unlike iPhone users I can’t access networked services over a mobile phone network – but then again I’m not paying £40/month to O2!

I’m particularly excited when I speculate about the digital environment we’ll be living in in a few years time. Imagine what it will be like when most people have a device like this as a replacement for the current generation of mobile phones. And combine the richness and ease-of-use of such devices with, it is to be hoped, a more pervasive and affordable networked environment.  We with then have the personal information access point (Google, probably!), communications tool (such as Twitter) and location-aware tool (such as BrightKite) together with links with a desktop environment (I’m using the Netnewswire application on both my iPod Touch and my desktop PC). The digital world will be very different, I feel.

Of course the device will have its critics. Unlike the Google Android the device, the iPod Touch/iPhone’s operating system is proprietary; Google have made the operating system for Android available as open source.

And applications can only be (legitimately) installed from Apple’s walled garden – the iTunes Store.

But I think the world has moved on from the time when we seemed to prioritize certain aspects of the development environment over satisfying the user – we’re no longer dogmatic about open source and open standards, I feel; rather we seek to exploit open source and open standards if doing so can provide a satisfactory user experience. I think it’s good that we have moved to a more pragmatic approach rather than the dogmatic views we had in the past.

Yes, I like my new personal learning environment, personal research environment and personal social environment. Everyone should have one, I feel.

Posted in Web2.0 | 11 Comments »

Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 Nov 2008

Following my blog post on Open Standards and the JISC IE which I wrote back in September Stephen Downes responded with some comments which I include below:

In retrospect many of the W3C standards which I had felt should form the basis of the JISC IE have clearly failed to have any significant impact in the market place – compare, for example, the success of Macromedia’s Flash (SWF) format with the niche role that W3C’s SMIL format has.” Just so. But these standards didn’t fail because they were open. They failed because, for various reasons, they didn’t do what people wanted. Open standards are still better – but the lesson here is that standards are not necessarily better just because they’re open.

Absolutely, the standards didn’t fail because they were open. The point I was making in my post was that the openness of a standard is no guarantee that it will be successful.  And it is important to remember this to avoid policy makers mandating open standards which in reality may fail to have any significant impact.

But why do open standards, such as SMIL and SVG, fail? Stephen suggests they failed “because, for various reasons, they didn’t do what people wanted“.  There may be something in this, but I feel there are other potential reasons why standards may fail, which I’ve listed below.

Failure to promote the standards: A standards body may fail to promote the benefits of its standards to the user community or to potential vendors.  I don’t think this is the case for SMIL and SVG as W3C is very good at promoting its technical developments.

Standards are not accessible:  In an environment in which the accessibility of digital resources is becoming important in the selection of formats by user organisations, especially in the public sector, there may be reluctance to make use of standards which are not felt to be accessible. This is definitely not the case for SMIL and SVG, which have been developed with the needs of users with disabilities being addressed right from the start.

Failure to get vendor buy-in: Potential software vendors, such as Microsoft, Macromedia, Adobe, etc. are W3C members and have been actively involved in the development of these standards.

Failure by vendors to promote: Tim Berners-Lee, in a post entitled “MS IE “slow in supporting SVG” pointed out that “If you look around at browsers, you’ll find that most of them support scalable vector graphics,” Berners-Lee said. “I’ll let you figure out which one has been slow in supporting SVG.”  The lack of SVG is all Microsoft’s fault, you may feel.  However an article on “SMIL Standards and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8” touches on some of the complexities of vendor support for rapidly developing standards. As described in this article other vendors have their doubts regarding the the effectiveness of W3C standards such as SMIL, with the Macromedia Product Manager stating that Macromedia “[doesn’t] feel that SMIL integrates well with HTML and the current evolution of the DOM, SMIL is a decent standard for synchronizing audio and video, but isn’t really a multimedia standard. And it does not enable an author to create a rich, interactive multimedia presentation with any kind of sophistication.”

Lack of interest by the users: And perhaps Stephen Downes is correct when he says that such standards don’t do what people want.  Do we have real evidence that there is sufficient interest in these standards for the market place to support the standards?

Insufficient motivation to change existing working practices: Even if there is evidence that there is a marketplace for SMIL and SVG are the benefits sufficient for users to be willing to change their existing approaches, purchase new tools, training staff, etc.

I think it is clear that W3C have failed to deliver a solution which is being widely deployed.  Now this may not be of concern to W3C – they may regard their role as simply developing standards and are happy to leave it to the marketplace to adopt or reject the standards. However as user organisations we can’t take this stance.  So we will need to ensure that we have learnt form the failures of well-promoted standards to have any significant impact. Or perhaps we should simply be prepared to wait for a longer period for new standards to gain impact.  Perhaps we may find greater take-up of SMIL and SVG, with the mobile market providing the arena for the standards to demonstrate their worth.

Or have I got this wrong and will I find a horde of happy SMIL and SVG users commenting on this post with examples of how they are successfully using the standards?

Posted in standards | Tagged: , | 29 Comments »

Twitter For Finding Out What They’re Saying About You

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 Nov 2008

The recent UKOLN workshop on “Introduction To Blogs And Social Networks For Heritage Organisations” was based on a half-day blog workshop which has been run for the library sector (on two occassions) and the museums sector at the Museums and the Web 2008 conference. The workshop has recently been updated to include a session on the potential of social networks, micro blogs and video blogs. 

I described the potential of Twitter – and, indeed, made use of Twitter during the workshop in order to “ask a friend” for suggestions on how to respond to a question I’d received at the workshop: “Do you have any evidence that blogs provide a ROI for museums e.g increased visitor nos.?“.  I’m pleased to say that I received a number of speedy responses on Twitter (with more in-depth responses from Mike Ellis on Skype).  Phil Bradley suggested that I “smile at them and just say ‘yes, I was asked the same thing about the internet itself 10 years ago” and Mike Ellis told me to “remember that one (actually, two, I believe) of the DCMS measures are virtual, i.e. not just physical that “counts“.

This example proved a useful way of demonstrating to the workshop participants how Skype can be used to support a community of peopkewith shared interests, and is less intrusive than email. I also mentioned how Twitter can be a useful tool for listening to what people may be saying about you and your organisation – and this use seemed to be of particular interest to the marketing managers at the workshop.  So I was particularly pleased when I noticed that my TweetDeck client’s search window for recent tweets containing “UKOLN” listed a tweet from Steve Ellwood which said:

admiring UKOLN briefing docs on Web2.0/blogging etc. http://is.gd/7kcY – as usual worth a look for explaining “What’s it all for?”

Case proven?

Posted in Twitter | 1 Comment »

What Should Be Out There, In The Cloud Perhaps ?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Nov 2008

One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago I observed a brief Twitter discussion between Paul Miller and Paul Walk which I found interesting. Paul Miller began by tweeted his thoughts:

Pondering… ‘semantic web’ as ‘data cloud’? Cf COMPUTING Cloud metaphor

Paul Walk responded:

@PaulMiller not sure…. cloud works for processing cos we want it to be invisible commodity… want data to be more visible?

Paul Miller replied:

@paulwalk – but shouldn’t data be commoditized too? Or at least AVAILABLE for ad hoc use

and Paul Walk concluded:

@PaulMiller not commoditized – we *care* about data, it’s provenance, accuracy. I don’t want to have to care much where my cycles come from

Paul Miller then expended on his views in a blog post on “Welcome to the Data Cloud ?” and the following day Paul Walk responded with his post on “Any any any old data“.

This discussion got me thinking what should be in the cloud or, more generally, what aspects of IT can be provided outside the organisation?  Some thoughts on the benefits of using a variety of outsourced services are given below:

CPU cycles: As Paul suggested, nobody cares whether the CPU cycles are provided by the computer in front of you, a server hosted within the organisation, a national service or a global service. And if those CPUs cycles are provided by an organisation which can minimise the heat losses to the environment and provide cost-effective and energy-effective delivery of the CPU cycles then this will ensure that the organisation exploiting the service is addressing its own green agenda.

Applications: It’s not just the CPU cycles which can be delivered across the network, application software need no longer by tied to the desktop PC or institutional server.  We are seeing examples of this ranging from bookmark management tools such as del.icio.us through to word processing and other office applications such as Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Adobe Buzzword, Zoho, etc.

Data hosting: As Paul Miller has suggested the Semantic Web can perhaps be regarded as a data cloud.  But if this is a vision for the future, remote storage of data is very much a part of today’s IT environment, ranging form the personal data management services provided by companies such as BT through to institutional use of services such as Amazon’s S3.

Software development: Moving on from the IT infrastructure itself, we can also outsource IT development work. We are familiar with this from JISC’s development activities in which software development is funded by project money to develop software which is intended for deployment across the community.

Data creation, input and management: I recently read a press release entitled “Amazon Mechanical Turk Launches New Web-Based Tools That Bring the Power of an On-Demand Workforce to Businesses Worldwide” which announced the launch of “a new set of web-based tools for Amazon Mechanical Turk that make it easy for businesses to use Mechanical Turk to outsource work to an on-demand, scalable workforce via a simple graphical interface – in just a few minutes and without writing any code“. So yes, data input, metadata creation and management, etc can now be more easily out-sourced.  There’s now need to have large teams of data preparation staff in your organisation – although, of course, this has been the case for some time now.

Policies: If institutional or sectoral policies are too onerous to comply with, you could choose to outsource your services which are more flexible. Consider, for example, the terms and conditions which cover registration for the UK Government communities forum which I blogged about recently. If you feel these terms and conditions are too stringent you can also make use of an alternative environment for hosting discussions.

Now there will be many issues which need to be addressed if organisations wish to make greater use of the out-sourcing options which are now available (sustainability, reliability, security, legal and ethical issues, etc.). But is the future, I wonder, a world in which organisations focus on their own strengths and the services which only they can provide, with the chore activities being provided by others? After all, as Andy Powell reported in his live blog summary of a talk by Sam Peters, Google, “does anyone get a competetive advantage by running their own email system?” (posted at 09.57). But if this future does appear to have much to offer we will need to develop a framework to support institutions in making such policy decisions.  Out-sourcing metadata management to an environment which is more flexible, responsive and provides benefits of scale sounds great – but not if the work is out-sourced to children working in IT sweatshops.  We will need, I feel, an equivalent of Fair Trade which ensures that the benefits are provided by more effective use of technologies and better management and not by exploitation.

Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Materials For Blogging and Web 2.0 Workshops For Heritage Organisations

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Nov 2008

Earlier today I ran a half-day workshop entitled “Introduction To Blogs And Social Networks For Heritage Organisations“. This workshop was commissioned by ASVA (Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions, following a seminar I gave on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” at the Museums and Heritage Show.

The workshop made use of a series of briefing documents which have been developed to support the cultural heritage sector. As well as the documents which have been published the workshop also provided an opportunity to receive feedback on a number of additional documents we have produced, including An Introduction to Twitter and An Introduction to Seesmic (the video micro-blogging tool).

A number of other briefing document were used in two day-long workshops which were commissioned by CyMAL to support staff working in museums, libraries and archives in Wales. These events, entitled Sharing Made Simple: A Practical Approach To Social Software, provided a broader overview of the potential of Web 2.0 in cultural heritage organisations, and also addressed barriers to the take-up of Web 2.0 and strategies for addressing such barriers.

The feedback we receive on the documents (and on the need for additional documents) is an important part of the quality assurance processes for the resources. It should also be noted that we are making these documents available under a Creative Commons licence and encourage their reuse.

This approach to use of Creative Commons for resources I’ve created over the past few years has been taken primarily in order to maximise the impact of the content of the resources. And I would encourage others to do likewise. However, as Scott Leslie has recently described in a blog post on “Planning to Share versus Just Sharing” there is a real danger of encountering “frustration with ineffective institutional collaborations“. The summary of Scott’s post exhorts readers to “grow your network by sharing, not planning to share or deciding who to share with“.

This approach reflects the views expressed by Mike Ellis and myself in a paper entitled “Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers” presented at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference. As I described in blog post back in July 2007 back then the cry was “Just do it!“. A year on, despite the economic problems we’re facing, the recent US election result seems to have resulted in a more positive approach to the world and a willingness to makes changes. So perhaps our cry should now be “Set up a blog? Use Creative Commons for our resources? Yes, we can!

Posted in Blog, openness | 3 Comments »

Let Blog Readers Respond

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Nov 2008

In my post on Openness in HE but not Elsewhere I suggested that requiring users to agree to complex terms and conditions in order to respond to (and, even worse, view) discussions on government policies was counter-productive. A post entitled It’s not a blog if…… on the JISC Access Management Team blog is in agreement with these sentiments.

Mark Williams describes another barrier to the use of blogs for effective dialogue. In his post he complains about his “wasted effort on writing replies on a couple of blogs this week only to find that after a suitable period for much needed moderation (after all IT forums are hardly the place to endorse male vitality products) the sites are clearly not putting any replies / comments up“.  Marks feels that “If a an opinion piece doesn’t have scope for comments then that’s what it is – a magazine style opinion piece not a blog“.

I would agree with that.  Yes, there may be a cost in deleting inappropriate comments, but this need not be onerous, and I think it is worth spending some effort in allowing users to give their thoughts and comments.

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

Twitter Analogy Tweets Missing

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Nov 2008

Published back in September, Martin Weller’s post on Twitter, microblogging and living in the stream included an embedded presentation from Slideshare which contained a number of analogies for Twitter including suggestions that Twitter is:

  • A digital watercooler
  • A stream you dip into
  • A cocktail party
  • A virtual office
  • What knowledgement always wanted to be
  • Networking for Agoraphobics

Some of these examples had been floating around the ‘Twitterverse’ for some time.  Indeed several months ago I coined a number of analogies for Twitter and when Martin (and others) recently asked for such examples I tried to find my tweets on the subject. I thought this would be easy – I’d just have to either browse through my old tweets or search for a tweet from me containing the string ‘analogy’.

However I found that my old tweets seemed not be be available. And using Google to search for ‘search old tweets‘ I found various discussions including this one on the lack of a search and browse interface for old tweets.

However with some further searching I discovered I discovered that I could use the search interface on my Friendfeed account to find a number of my missing tweets, as illustrated.

So I can now create links to the copy of my tweets which can be found in Friendfeed including Twitter is:

  • Spouting off to strangers about the state of the government, trains, repositories, … [link]
  • The family conversation [link]
  • The digital watercooler for teetotallers who don’t talk to strangers in pubs [link]
  • The bar where everyone knows your name; you’re greeted by the coffee drinkers’ footie fans share moments of joy [link]

What have I learnt from this?  I now realise that the tweets which summarise ideas I might wish to expand on or the tweets from others which I may want to follow up will not necessarily be easily found again, and not because of problems with the Twitter service itself but because it may not provide access to the data.

Does this mean I shouldn’t be using Twitter, because of these limitations? I would say no – in many cases I don’t care about the old tweets.  Indeed I regard Twitter, like an increasing number of Web services, not as a well-defined and reproducible IT service but as a blended service, which has more parallels with real life.  And as I don’t lose any sleep over the pearls of wisdom which I may have shared with others in the pub which I then find I can’t remember, so this is how I regard Twitter. And if I do want to keep a record of useful tweets I’ll do what I did for the list of tweets on useful Web 2.0 music sites and document the resources somewhere.

Posted in Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Guest Post: Web 2.0 At The National Library of Wales

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 7 Nov 2008

In the guest blog post published on 1th October 2008 Jo Alcock Hannah Hiles described how the library at the University of Wolverhampton is engaging with use of Web 2.0.  Details of this work were included in the paper on Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends which I recently presented at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference in Singapore.

This month’s guest blog post has been written by another co-author of the paper. Below Paul Bevan, National Library of Wales describes how a national library is engaging with the opportunities provided by Web 2.0. Paul has recently been appointed to the post of Senior Research Officer (Web 2.0) and, as he describes is “very keen to work with libraries and librarians to explore all areas of emerging Web approaches“.  If you have an interest in the issues described in this post, feel free to respond to Paul, either on this blog or directly with Paul.


The National Library of Wales is one of the great libraries of the world and has a remit to:

collect, preserve and give access to all kinds and forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the other Celtic countries, for the benefit of the public, including those engaged in research and learning

As a result our readers represent a extremely varied demographic, reflecting the diversity of our published material, archival and other collections.

The Web and the online delivery of resources has been integral to the Library’s service portfolio for many years, providing a access to its resources in a way which helps to overcome distance and availability issues. To this end, the Library has an extensive digitization programme which has provided virtual access to some of the greatest treasures in the collections through a ‘Digital Mirror‘ using innovative access methods to deliver an enhanced user experience for remote readers.

Looking to the Future: Web 2.0

We’re constantly building on this solid foundation by seeking new ways of providing access to our resources and ‘Web 2.0’ and the Social Web are key to realising the goal of enhancing our remote provision. The use of Web 2.0 approaches to achieve Library 2.0 delivery is ingrained in the new Library strategy ‘Shaping the Future’ [pdf] which outlines the Library’s desire to explore collaborative and diverse models using external resources. This will allow the Library to leverage Web platforms which are heavily focused on user engagement in order to deliver future services. Leading up to this shift in emphasis for Web developments the Library conducted a review of how a National Library might understand the concept of ‘Web 2.0’ and how we might best make use of our existing digital resources in a Web 2.0 environment.

Of course, the we’re not just looking at the way in which we can enhance our collections through new technologies and platforms – the current Web content represents a proportion of the information produced by the Library and there is a ‘hidden’ silo of professional, training and development information (some of which is exposed through the Digital Asset Management Development Wiki, as well as a range of “lost opportunities” (such as guest talks which could in the future be streamed via the Web). Beyond this there are clear examples from other organisations of best practice in using the Web to communicate internally and to share procedures and information through wikis and other technologies.

The Library has begun to increase the level of Web 2.0 services available by creating presences in online environments (including presences on Facebook and YouTube) as well as by beginning to allow reuse of its data – initially through a pilot Wikipedia project. The Library is also developing an XML feed of its events (including exhibitions and talks) through the Typo3-based content management system underlying the Library’s main website.

Third-party Web environments will be key to the future delivery of library services and we’re also actively looking to explore how the exposure of data in open formats can allow the use of leading edge user interfaces and Web front-ends. One concern for the Library is that the ‘spreading out’ of services onto commercial and external sites might conflict with existing policies around accessibility, sustainability, and the commitment to bilingual access.

The Library is also host to a Welsh Assembly Government funded project to provide an innovative and flexible service delivery platform for all types of libraries in Wales. The library.wales.org Web site employs Web 2.0 technologies including social bookmarking and RSS to provide an alternative environment engaging with the public. This project explicitly includes the development of new services and the support of those services, allowing libraries to explore Web 2.0 technologies in a ‘safe’ environment where best practice can be easily shared.

The Library is also home to the not-for-profit company Culturent Cymru, which has taken great steps in bringing new levels of interaction to objects from cultural repositories from all accross Wales. Culturenet Cymru projects include Community Archives Wales – where users can upload their images via Flickr – and Gathering the Jewels– which has recently launched an enhanced GIS interface.

What Next for the National Library of Wales?

The Web’s ever-changing nature provides an exciting and challenging environment for any library service and the National Library of Wales has sought to directly engage with the opportunities that Web 2.0 will offer. In order to best do this the library has recently committed to a six-month review of the possibilities of Web 2.0 and emerging Web Technologies.

In my role as Senior Research Officer (Web 2.0) I will be exploring best practice from knowledge organisations around the world as well as possible technological approaches and content partnerships. The resulting Web 2.0 Strategy will provide the Library with a chance to build upon and mainstream the work detailed above and to explore new ways of working with Library users in a networked environment. I’m very keen to work with libraries and librarians to explore all areas of emerging Web approaches, so feel free to get in touch with me at paul.bevan@llgc.org.uk.

Posted in Guest-post, Web2.0 | 13 Comments »

Openness In HE, But Not Elsewhere

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 Nov 2008

Approaches To Openness in UK Higher Education

I commented recently on Andy Powell’s decision to live blog at the conferences he attends, so that his thoughts, opinions and comments can be shared with a wider community and his views discussed openly. This approach to openness reflects a culture which we can see increasingly in the high education sector, which is now will to make its research publications available though open access repositories, its data available under Science Commons licences and documentation and other resources available under Creative Commons licences.

Such approaches to openness in general aren’t being taken on ideological stances, but rather a belief that the benefits of education and research are best served by providing open access to the resources for use by others.

Approaches To Openness in the Wider Public Sector

It seems, though, that such approaches are not necessarily being taken in other public sector organisations, This struck be recently following one of posts on “Government Web Sites MUST Be WCAG AA Compliant!“.  In response to my concerns Adam Bailin of the Central Office of Information suggested that I give my comments on the Digital People – Accessibility forum.

In order to contribute to this forum it seems you need to fill in a cumbersome registration form, with a string of attached conditions. And, much worse, you even need to register in order to read the discussions on the forum. It’s therefore hardly surprising that there is hardly any discussion taking place on the forum.

Now the terms and conditions are much worse than I realised when I signed up. As can be seen to read the terms and conditions you need to scroll horizontally and vertically, although no scroll bars are displayed (so much for accessibility!). Of course when I registered I never read the terms and conditions, but I though it would be interesting to see the terms and conditions which the UK Government requires people to agree to in order to discuss UK government policies.  So the full details follow – but please mote they are very long.

Feel free to give your thoughts on these terms and conditions. One particular condition which struck me was:

You acknowledge that http://www.communities.idea.gov.uk reserves the right to charge for the Community of Practice and to change its fees from time to time in its discretion.

Now why do I feel that such terms and conditions provided on services such as Facebook would be used to condemn the service, but the Government seems to be able to get away with it?

Note that as the terms and conditions are so long, I have included a More tag in this blog post, so that you will have to follow the link in order to view the full list of terms and conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in openness | 5 Comments »

A Shared Digital Water Cooler Moment

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 Nov 2008

Twitter on the night of the US electionThey say that in a era of multiple media channels we no longer have the shared water cooler moment’ the time after a momentous event when we get together with our friends and colleagues and discuss the event.

It does, of course, still happen – the momentous sports result (which has to be national in order to get group buy-in – perhaps England’s Johny Wilkinson moment in the Rugby World Cup final is the most recent one for English fans); John Archer’s death in the Archers (for the liberal Guardian readers) or the first series of Big Brother (admit it – you remember Nasty Nick). And, of course, the general election result in 1997.

But unless we are in a pub with friends, we normally have to wait until the next day in order to share the memories of the occasion with our colleagues.

But less than an hour ago I had one of the jubilant water cooler moments as I watched the US election result being declared. And although I was at home I could share the joy with many of my Twitter followers.

Maybe that’s the reason to get into Twitter – to be able to say, as I didI was up for Obama” – and to get an immediate response from someone who gets the reference to Labour’s victory in 1997, and the delight we shared that night.

But let’s hope that in the long run it turns about better for Obama than it did for New Labour.

Posted in Web2.0 | 3 Comments »

Clogging Chris Gets Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Nov 2008

Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, recently announced the first anniversary of her From a Distance blog which she uses to “share her work life with you“.

As Chris described her blog “started as a way of keeping people in the department in touch with what I was doing, and as an experiment to see if I could keep it up, and whether it was useful“. After a year (and 232 blog posts) Chris concluded that “I haven’t found it a bore to write, I can usually think of something to say ( well, about 4 times a week I can), and I know from google analytics that people are reading it“.

Chris initial posts covered her participation at the Educause 2007 conference and last week Chris wrote about the Educause 2008 conference. Her post on Google Apps and Spiderman I found particularly interesting as it provided a case study of the University of South California’s experience in deploying Google Apps for Education – and in response to the questions “was it quick?”, “was it easy?” and “was in free?” the answer seems to have been no. 

Now when people ask me whether staff in IT Service departments should be writing blogs I would point them in the direction of Chris Sexton’s blog as a great example of a senior manager’s blog which is useful and informative, and ensures that the insights she gains through her participation at important international events such as Educause are shared with the wider community (and not just trapped within a closed Computing Services director’s mailing list).

Chris manages to provide a Twitter feed as well as her wortk blog, although as her Twitter id cloggingchris may indicate, this tends to cover her social interests (clog dancing, sword dancing, folk festivals and drinking real ale). And whene we where first introduced at the UCISA Management Conference in 2004 Chris and I discovered we knew each other from the rapper dancing world – but didn’t recognise each other out of costume!

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

Blessed Are The Pithy

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Nov 2008

On the final evening of my holiday in Thailand I found myself catching up with developments in the world by skimming the rolling headlines on the BBC World news. So, in tweetspeak I found that “Things look good for Obama; Spurs 4, Rednapp happy and economic crisis continues“.

We seem, I feel, to have an ever-increasing need to be able to summarise information quickly in snippets. Yet information professionals are expected, it seems, to write long, well-researched theses for their library and information studies courses.  And this continues in the profession – I can recall when I moved offices a few years ago coming across long reports (which would have been costly to commission) on technologies which failed to have any significant impact. Is this the best way of doing things – commissioning long reports which may be filed without being read?

Where are the information professions who are skilled at being concise? Perhaps they are to be found writing pithy comments in Twitterland.

And infobunny seems to be the type of information professional I feel we need more of. She twitters (where she entertains me with her stories of life with her Lancastrian boyfriend and her gripes of travelling on the train to work), she blogs about life as a legal librarian and she regularly keeps her twitter followers updated with news about new Twitter applications.

With 14,434 Twitter updates infobunny (who is also known as the Lo-Fi-Librarian) is clearly passionate about Twitter and the 856 Twitter followers she has shows that large numbers of users are interested in what she has to say. And as infobunny herself also follows 762 other Twitter users she’s not only a writer, but also reads what others are saying.

Infobunny as this year’s Information Professional of the Year? Why not?

Posted in Twitter | 2 Comments »