UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for November, 2009

“I Want To Use Twitter For My Conference”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 November 2009

I’ve received a number of emails recently from people who wish to make use of Twitter to support an event. Rather than sending an individual reply I thought I’d publish my suggestions here and then send a link to this post. This open approach will allow others to give additional thoughts or comment on my suggestions.

My suggestions:

Agree an event hashtag and publicise it:
As described in a blog post entitled Twitter Event Hashtagging Strategies you should first agree on a tag (known in Twitter as a hashtag as the tag is prefixed with a ‘#’) for the event. This should ideally be short (Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters) and memorable. For an annual event the year (either 2009 or 09) is often appended to a short code for the event (such as readeast09 or iwmw2009). Note that it is advisable to avoid non-alpha-numeric characters if hashtags.

Note that you should agree on the hashtag well in advance of the event and promote it widely. This will ensure that alternative hashtags aren’t used and will allow the hashtag to be used in Twitter posts in advance of the event (e.g. when event organisers announce a call for papers or when attendees share with others their intention to attend the event).

Have an event Twitter account:
Although not essential, event organisers may wish to create a Twitter account to support the event. UKOLN’s IWMW (Institutional Web Management Workshop) event has made use of the ‘iwmw’ Twitter account for the past two years. We use this as an official channel for information about the event: announcements of calls for talks, opening of bookings, etc. It can also be used to provide announcement of changes or unexpected events (for example, last year we used Twitter to report that a set of keys had been found). Use of Twitter provides benefits over email, as users can choose to opt-in to Twitter and Twitter is more easily integrated with mobile phones. Note that it might also be helpful to provide a brief summary of the intended use of Twitter, such as the guidelines and policy developed for the IWMW event.

Have an event liveblog account:
Again although not essential you may chose to have a Twitter account dedicated to summarising the talks. This may be particularly useful if you are providing a live video stream of talks at the event, as it will ensure there is an official channel for supporting the video stream. The iwmwlive Twitter account was used for this purpose at the IWMW 2009 event (the live suffix is gaining some popularity for use in live blogging at events).

Archive the event tweets:
You may find it useful to keep a record of the Twitter posts (tweets) associated with an event. A blog post entitled I Wonder What They Thought About My Session? describes how this can help to provide feedback on the speaker’s talks or a more general analysis of the Twitter stream for an event might provide valuable feedback. Example of tools which can be used to keep an archive of an event’s Twitter stream is described in a summary of the IWMW 2009 event.

Consider use of a Twitter wall:
You may wish to consider use of a “Twitter wall”: a live public display of Twitter posts for an event. A blog post entitled “(TwitterFall) You’re My Wonder Wall” summarises use of the TwitterFall software at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference and a post on “The Back Channels for the Science Online 2009 Conference” provides statistical evidence on use of a conference back channel. However Danah Boyd’s experience at the Web 2.0 expo illustrates potential dangers in a public display of twitter posts at a conference. In my experience a Twitter wall has been useful at the start and end of events, as it can provide a means for participants to introduce themselves and share their thoughts on the event in a public forum. However I would be inclined to avoid forcing a public display of tweets without getting the agreement of the speakers and without considering the implications of how it might be misused.

As an example of how the forthcoming DCC (Digital Curation Centre) conference is advertising its event amplification you can read the blog post on “DCC 2009 Amplified!“. Do others, with experiences of use af Twitter at events, have any comments on my suggestions or any additional suggestions to make?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Twitter | 21 Comments »

Earlier Today I Gave A Talk In Australia

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 November 2009

This morning, as normal, I switched on my iPod Touch just after getting out of bed and downloaded tweets posted overnight. And via a tweet from Jonathan O’Donnell I discovered that during the night I had given the opening keynote talk of the day at the OzeWAI at OZCHI 2009 conference. Yes, I had given a talk at a conference held in Australia before breakfast!

As I pointed out after spotting this: “A few hours ago I gave a keynote talk at the OzeWAI conf in Australia. I was asleep at the time! #a11y“. Of course this provided the opportunity for the responseso were the audience! :-)

Later on in the day, after returning from a meeting in Birmingham I came across a tweet from Joss Winn: “42% of US data centres expect to run out of electricity by 2012. 39% will exceed cooling capacity within that period” which highlighted a comment from a newly-published report on “Low carbon computing: a view to 2050 and beyond” by Paul Anderson, Gaynor Backhouse, Daniel Curtis, Simon Redding, David Wallom which is available from the JISC Web site.

At the recent CETIS 2009 conference Joss told me of his interests in environmental issues and his heartfelt concerns of the needs to reduce energy usage. On his blog Joss recently asked “What will Higher Education look like in a 2050 -80% +2c 450ppm world?“.

I wonder if sometime in the near future travelling to another country to deliver a talk at a conference will be regarded in the same way that lighting a cigarette in the lecture theatre would be – something that is just not done.

And as well as recycling paper will we recycle our talks? The talk which was used at today’s OzeWAI conference was a slidecast (PowerPoint slides with audio hosted on Slideshare) of a rehearsal of a talk entitled “From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability” which I presented recently at the RNIB’s Techshare conference (and is embedded below).

Is this approach likely to become more prevalent, I wonder? And if so, what are the best practices which should be adopted – and what are the mistakes to be avoided?

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

Time To Experiment With Dbpedia?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 November 2009

A the recent CETIS 2009 conference I attended a session on “Universities and Colleges in the Giant Global Graph” facilitated by Adam Cooper. There was a feeling that the initial discussions had perhaps focussed too much on detailed technical aspects about Linked Data, and had failed to address the interests of the senior managers present, who were more interested in what Linked Data could do, rather than whether, for example, RDF should be a mandatory requirement of a Linked Data service.

After the coffee break there was a discussion of ways in which Linked Data could be used in an educational context. One suggestion I made was that as DBpedia (an RDF representation of the content of Wikipedia) provides access to a large amount of Linked Data we should be exploring ways in which we can make use of DBpedia to provide examples of what Linked Data can provide. After all if the data is available shouldn’t we be using it to support advocacy work rather than trying to seek funding to create Linked Data resources?

Wikipedia entry for Bath UniversityI was told that DBpedia provides access to structured text boxes in Wikipedia entries, such as the factual entries for Universities (as illustrated).

Could, I wonder, this information be used to demonstrate how such Web pages can be processed as entries in a database rather than just text to be displayed for reading?

So I started experimenting with the DBpedia Faceted Browser.

In the search box I typed “University” and found there were 9,490 entries. After selecting this search option I was then presented with a number of pre-programmed searches such as Country (193 entries for the UK) and City (60 entries for London), I could also search for universities which were established in a particular year (or range).

Searching for universities founded in 1966 I found there were 107 results, including the University of Bath, as shown below.

Can we do more, I wonder, with the RDF data which is already available in DBpedia?

  • Can we use this example to demonstrate the importance of data as opposed to a HTML representation of data designed for viewing?
  • Can we develop of queries which people may find useful?
  • Can we think of data about institutions which could be stored in Wikipedia to allow further queries to be answered?

I also wonder whether it would be possible to go beyond running queries based on the content of the University entries in Wikipedia and explore related pages.

An opportunity for experimentation, perhaps?DBpedia search for Universities established in 1966

Posted in Linked Data | 4 Comments »

UCISA CISG Talk on “What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 November 2009

About My Talk at the UCISA CISG Conference

On Friday 20 November I’m giving a talk on “What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?” at the UCISA CISG 2009 Conference.

I’ve written my slides and uploaded them to Slideshare (and embedded them at the bottom of this post.  But slides on their own don’t really convey the message and if I want the talk to be truly open providing a Creative Commons licence for the slides and giving permission for my talk to be recorded or videoed isn’t enough – I should summarise my talk and allow (indeed encourage) comments to be made.  This I will do in this blog post (which, incidentally, should also provide a more accessible alternative version to the talk and the slides).

The Talk


I have spoken at previous UCISA Management conferences:

UCISA 2004 Management Conference: where I gave a plenary talk on “What Can Internet Technologies Offer?”. In this talk I introduced a set of technologies now known as Web 2.0.

UCISA 2006 Management Conference: where I gave a plenary talk on “IT Services: Help or Hindrance?”. In this talk I argued that IT Services needed to engage with Web 2.0 otherwise they might find themselves marginalised.

UCISA 2008 Management Conference: where I gave a pre-recorded video contribution to talk on “Digital Natives Run by Digital Immigrants: IT Services are Dead, Long Live IT Services 2.0!”. In this talk I argued that IT Services need to reinvent themselves.

My views have developed over time:

  • IT Services need to understand Web 2.0 and not dismiss it as a ‘trendy marketing term’ [2004]
  • IT Services need to engage with Web 2.0 services  (IT Services as visitors) [2006]
  • IT Services need to embrace Web 2.0 services (IT Services as residents) [2008]

I now feel that institutions will need to embrace Web 2.0 & rethink their roles (HEIs as residents).

Political Drivers for Change

The political drivers to such changes have been articulated in “The Edgeless University” report and the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report. In addition the higher educational sector also needs to be able to respond to the recent Mandelson report as well as the current economic climate which underpins all of these reports.

Against this background of radical changes across the sector we have Web 2.0 and the Social Web which appear to promise many potential benefits to teaching and learning and research. But there are also many challenges.

The MIS Sector

How might MIS managers react to these changes? If we were to ask the user community for phrases which might characterise the sector we might find words such as “control”, “security” and “policies” appearing. We might expect “Prince2″ but not “Agile development” and “risk averse” but not “risk taking”.

But such characteristics are to be valued for those involved in providing many of the back-end services in our institutions – please, let’s not have an ‘always beta’ approach to salary systems or our pension schemes!

Such characteristics were identified at the UCISA CISG 2008 conference in which Alison Wildish and John Howell and “Can web services and CIS work together in harmony when it comes to the web?“. But rather than revisit that talk, which argued for greater collaboration across groups such as MIS and Marketing departments within the institution I want to explore how such departments need to change in its engagement with a Web 2.0 environment (such as ‘the network as the platform’) and a Social Web environment (in which members of the institution are openly sharing their resources and interests with others).

The Social Web

Some may feel that Social Networking services are only used by students and young people and have no relevance to those involved in this provision of services across the institution.  But we do find that senior managers and UCISA stalwarts, such as Chris Sexton and David Harrison are prolific users of Social Web tools such as blogs and Twitter. Chris Sexton’s Twitter id @cloggingchris reveals her hobby (clog dancing and related folk activities) – and it was via our shared interests in rapper word dancing that Chris and myself got to know each better both personally and professionally, through our discussions on our blogs and via Twitter.

Dress codeSo yes, the social dimension is important to enhance our professional activities – after all there is a conference dinner at the UCISA CISG 2009 conference which fulfills this role. Perhaps the main difference between the online and physical social activities are the lack of formality in the former (unlike the UCISA conference, a black tie or kilt are not expected in the Twitterverse!).

“Web 2.0 Changes Everything”

In May 2009 Andy Powell on the eFoundations blog argued thatif Web 2.0 changes everything, I see no reason why that doesn’t apply as much to professional bodies and universities as it does to high street bookshops“. David Harrison was in broad agreement:

There is a little doubt in my mind that Web 2.0 will eventually change everything in respect of university education …  what makes the current situation different is the emergence of communication & collaboration tools that easily & transparently transcend the organisation. The Web 2.0 university will be one therefore that consumes, collaborates and communicates – some are better placed to build such a model, others not.

What might be the drivers of such change, I asked recently. Some may feel that a combination of the economic crisis and global warming may force institutions to radically reappraise the well-established approaches to events across the sector, but that’s a topic for another post and another talk.

In this post and in my talk I will consider three aspects of the changing networked environment which I feel are significant drivers for change within the sector: Cloud Services, the Social Web and Openness.

Cloud Services

When I gave a talk on “IT Services: Help or Hindrance?” at the UCISA 2006 conference I used the potential of Web-based email services (such as Hotmail and GMail) as a threat to IT Service departments, arguing that IT Service departments needed to be more flexible and agile, otherwise the user community would abandon the centrally-provided services. But Michael Nowlan, who was Director of the Information Systems Services at Trinity College Dublin,  interpretted my talk differently – why don’t institutions simply buy into such services.  And that is what Trinity College Dublin did, followed by an increasing number of UK institutions, most notably Sheffield University.

On her blog, Chris Sexton has regularly kept colleagues and the wider community informed of her thoughts on institutional use of Google as an email provider. In April 2009 she  summarised institutional use of “Google for students” and earlier this month she suggested that it is “Now to sort out staff mail….“.

Chris also recently reported on a session at the Educause conference on “Cloud computing – Hope or Hype?“. Chris concluded:

I went in firmly on the “hope ” side but tried to listen objectively, and I must say my mind wasn’t changed! The “hype” arguments came over as defensive and ill informed. She made a big thing of it just being a cost cutting exercise, but in the current financial climate I couldn’t see what was wrong with that!“.

I’d go along with that. Institutional engagement with Cloud Services is, for me, simply the latest approach to service provision which the sector is engaging with. I would hope that there is a community-wide involvement in negotiations, but this is no longer the radical solution it seemed back in 2004.

Services For The Individual

Like myself, Chris Sexton is using a blog service which is in The Cloud. Chris’s blog is hosted on Blogspot whereas mine is on WordPress. But rather than the hosting issues (bother services are well-established and mature)  for me the more challenging issue is the individual autonomy to provide a professional service. Yes, there are issues about trust, quality and sustainability of the content. But for me, this is similar to the trust which my organisation places on me when I give talks – and similarly UCISA will have expectations that I will act in a professional manner when I give my talk.  Both my talks and my blog posts will have personal idiosyncrasies – but in our sector we tend to prefer such approaches to the corporate droids!

As use of such externally hosted services continues to grow we will need to develop policies and share best practices, but, again, this is nothing new.

‘Core’ and ‘Chore’ Services

Whilst I have been exploring ways in which the Social Web can be exploited by professional in the sector, David Harrison and Joe Nichols at Cardiff University  have been developing an institutional model for understanding the relationships between in-house and externally-hosted services.  David has distinguished between chore and core services. This approach was presented at UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event in a talk entitled “Servicing ‘Core’ and ‘Chore': A framework for understanding a Modern IT Working Environment” and summarised in a blog post on the IWMW 2009 blog.

The Need for Openness

Moving on from the provision of the services we need to address the openness of the content. The initiatives within the sector to provide open access to research publications are well-known and we are now seeing initiatives to provide open access to research data and open educational resources (OER). But what about our institutional data? Is this still being held in institutional silos, making reuse difficult and costly and thus inhibiting development, innovation?

The JISC-funded MOSAIC competition provided an opportunity for developers to demonstrate innovative approaches to making use of library circulation data provided by the University of Huddersfield. And yes, privacy is something that needs to be considered – and in this case the data was anonymised before being made available and the APIs published.

This is surely an area in which our sector should be actively engaging with – perhaps regarding data as something that should be made open unless there are valid reasons not to do so, unlike the current position in which institutions keep data closed unless required to.

A move towards greater openness may result from the government responding to public pressure for greater openness. We have seen public pressure to provide transparency for MP’s expenses. And Tony Hirst, a lecturer at the Open University has provided a wide range of examples of how such data, once published, can be reused. Should not the higher education sector, as publicly-funded organisations with expectations of liberal values and transparency  as well as a well-established tradition of innovation in IT, be seen to be leading this drive towards greater openness.  And shouldn’t UCISA and groups such as UCISA CISG, be taking the initiative in their role as the custodians of such institutional data?

A Risks and Opportunities Framework

Yes, there are risks. But there will be no opportunities for innovation and change without an element of risk-taking.  JISC infoNet has developed a Risk Management infoKit and, as described in papers on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and “Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Services” UKOLN is developing a risks and opportunities framework to support decision-making processes in the selection and use of Social Web services.


My talk is entitled “What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?”.  And yet, reflecting on my slides, I feel I’m simply suggesting a more open approach to use of IT within the sector – with a risk-management approach being taken to use of third party services and a willingness to make institutional data open for reuse by others.  I hope this is not felt to be threatening – rather I feel it is a reaffirmation of the IT Services  long-standing tradition of embracing IT developments and the higher education sector’s even-longer standing tradition of embracing social change.

What do you think?

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | 2 Comments »

Signals from CETIS09

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 November 2009

Last week I attended another enjoyable CETIS conference. The event, which this year had the theme Brave New World?, provides a valuable opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, but faces to names Ive come across online and make new connections.

The conference theme alluded to not only the dystopian view of the future described in the Aldous Huxley novel but also the optimism expressed in Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

This was a very appropriate title for the event as the optimism surrounding a number of the technologies discussed at the conference (including linked data and APIs) was tempered by an awareness of gloomy economic predictions for the higher educational sector, global environmental concerns and expectations that we will face uncertainties after the next general election.

In light of such uncertainties over what the future may bring there was an awareness of the need to ensure that the development community engaged with the concerns of senior management and we made use of mechanisms to provide the flexibility needed in a time of uncertainties. Such approaches which were mentioned included scenario planning and monitoring of strong and weak signals.

What, then, were the signals I detected at the conference?

In the conference’s closing plenary talk will Bill Thompson was  optimistic about the future. In a review of technological developments Bill teased us with visions of electronic contact lenses, e-paper and other cool innovations.

I met Bill at the first WWW conference, held in CERN in 1994. Like Bill, I too was excited about the promise of the Web back then and still retain a similar sense of optimism and excitement.  And yet hearing similar views to mine being expressed I started to think about doubts and scepticisms. I have (fairly rapidly) gone through a period of excitement over my open source (Android) mobile phone (the camera application kept crashing on me a few days before the CETIS conference) and so felt Bill’s belief that the benefits of an open source environment would inevitably (within about 2 years, Bill suggested to me) deliver a better tool that the closed environment of today’s market leader, the iPhone.

Hearing Bill made me reflect on some of the other innovations  which I and other have felt would have significant impact over the years. About 10 years ago the exciting new technologies was VRML:  an open virtual reality environment which, it was promised, but build on the success of the Web, and even replace the 2D Web world with a much richer and more interactive distributed 3D environment.   And then, more recently, we had the excitement of Second Life: proprietary and centralised, but very exciting. Or at least exciting to some.  But not featured at the CETIS conference, unlike the more mundane but relevant learning competencies, eporfolios and learning objects (but this year they were open).  The lack of discussion about Second Life was not due to its ubiquity and universal embedding within institutions!

Yes, I think we can say that at this year’s CETIS conference the participants were aware of the need to ensure that the innovative aspects of elearning which were discussed could be embedded within an institutional context.   And it was pleasing that senior managers (from, for example the Universities of Oxford,  Stafford and Highlands and Islands) were present at the conference and engaged in the discussions.

In the two parallel sessions I attended (on University API and Universities and Colleges in the Giant Global Graph) we did have discussions on various barriers. In the former session I  gave a brief talk entitled “University API? WTF?” in which I warned of the dangers that we were simply peddling the latest technology fix, whilst the user community was still waiting for previous universal cures to materialise.  But, to be honest, I’m still searching for a mechanism for productively exploring such issues, which can avoid the predictable responses of “We need concrete user cases”, “We need to market the benefits more effectively”, “We need to get senior managers on user side”, …

And in the Universities and Colleges in the Giant Global Graph session the technical issues again were the main focus of the debate.   My colleague Paul Walk did help to decouple some of the topics we were discussing (open data, open linked data and the Semantic Web) and, most usefully, ensured that his thinking was not just trapped in the space and time of the session but published on his blog (with the benefit of subsequent discussions).

Did either of the sessions provide senior managers with an indication of not only tangible benefits of University APIs or Linked Data but confidence that making resources (staff time and money) would provide a satisfactory ROI? I think not.  But perhaps that may be because such approaches are not yet ready for large-scale service deployment. Which isn’t to say that testing of prototypes shouldn’t be encouraged. But in addition to such project funded or small-scale activities, there is a need to be able to convince the senior managers on the grounds of business efficiencies or new opportunities, and not just on the merits of the technologies themselves. And we need to remember the lessons of the past – after all, in the Universities and Colleges in the Giant Global Graph session we appeared to be reinventing X.500 directory services.

(Note: when initially published the final sentence of this blog post was corrupted. The final sentence has been rewritten.)

Posted in Events, General | 2 Comments »

Topsy – and Who is Tweeting About You

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 November 2009

It was via a referrer link on a post on the Open Culture blog that I came across the Topsy service (isn’t serendipity wonderful). This service describes itself as “A search engine powered by tweets“.

Here’s an illustration of the service, using a search for ‘JISC’.

Topsy search for jisc

Of course the first thing you are often tempted to do when you see a search box is to type in something of interest to yourself and, if the service seems of interest, you might also search for information about one’s peers. So here’s a summary of my findings.

Search Nos. of tweets in month Top Twitterer
JISC 563 tweets @jisc (14 links).
UKOLN 164 tweets @briankelly (17 links).
CETIS 242 tweets @markpower (11 links).
Eduserv 184 tweets @andypowe11 (18 links).
MIMAS 423 tweets @copac (9 links)
EDINA 140 tweets @freelistminn (27 links).

I believe the information is based on the search string, either as text or as part of a URL in a link (following expansion of a shortened link).  Note, by the way, that as the first set of results for ‘EDINA’ refer to a place in the US rather than the JISC-funded service, the findings for EDINA have been discounted.

This time using the MIMAS service as an example I have explored what additional information  the service can provide. A screen shot of information on tweets which provide a link to the MIMAS home page is illustrated.


It seems that the relaunched MIMAS Web site was mentioned on Twitter, not only by MIMAS staff but also by ‘influential’ Twitterers such as @branwenhide .

Posted in Twitter | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 November 2009

The W4A 2010 conference has announced its call for papers. The theme for next year’s event, which will be held in Raleigh, USA on 26-27 May, is “Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems?“.

The context to the conference is described by the organisers:

However, this expansion [the revolution in the information society]  faces unprecedented accessibility challenges. Even the word “accessibility” needs a new definition for people in the developing regions. How can someone who is illiterate or barely literate access the Web? In some cases, a language may not even have a written form. The affordability of the technology is also a challenge, while access is constrained by low computational power, limited bandwidth, compact keyboards, tiny screens, and even by the lack of electric power. All of these constraints compound the problems of access and inclusion.

How will the research community respond to the theme: Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems? My fear is that we will see papers which describe either a failure of WCAG guidelines to be implemented to any significant approach (with a call for greater advocacy) or research-based solutions which are unlikely to have any significant impact. I’m basing these speculations on my involvement in previous W4A conferences – indeed I can recall asking one presenter who described  an assistive technology solution which had been developed for the FireFox browser whether he felt the tool was likely to be used to any significant extent.   Afterwards I was approached by two participants who worked for public sector organisation in New Zealand who felt that I raised a very pertinent question – especially as access to their service (I think it was the tax office) by FireFox users was close to zero.

Now it may be felt that deployment issues aren’t relevant for a research conference. But if the topic is “Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems?” then surely it is imperative that achievable solutions to the (possibly) common problems are addressed.

I would also hope that the WAI model is not unquestionably accepted as a solution to what problems are being identified.  As I’ve described in several papers (and discussed in several blog posts)  although the WAI approach based on guidelines for Web Content. Authoring Tools and User Agents may provide a useful managerial tool for organising WAI work activities, this approach does not necessarily provide a suitable solution for the deployment of richly accessible services in many use cases.  Previously myself and my co-authors have described approaches for enhancing accessibility in areas such as accessing to e-learning and cultural resources and addressing accessibility when limited budgets are available (the WAI guidelines seem to provide no advice on how to approach this challenge which is likely to affect many organisations – with the default approach being taken in public sector organisations being one should not provide a Web-based service if it can’t be made accessible to everyone).

What new challenges will be faced  by people in developing countries, I wonder? As well as the expected resourcing issues I suspect there will be differing priorities given as well as differing definitions of disabilities.   Will the Web adaptability framework we described in our most recent paper provide the flexible needed to encompass the needs of developing countries? I don’t know – but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has an interest in this area who might be willing to contribute to a paper for W4A 2010.


Posted in Accessibility | Leave a Comment »

“Web 2.0 Will Change Everything!” But How?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 November 2009

Back in May I wrote a blog post entitled “Not Your Father’s IT Innovation!“. My post referred to Andy Powell’s thoughts on “The role of universities in a Web 2.0 world?” in which he suggested that “if Web 2.0 changes everything, I see no reason why that doesn’t apply as much to professional bodies and universities as it does to high street bookshops“. These posts were written a few days after the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” Report [was] Published“.

I had intended to write a follow-up post to Andy’s closing comment in his post asking “If Web 2.0 will change everything, then how?” but got diverted. Six months later (and doesn’t six months go quickly as you get older!)  I want to revisit the question – my motivation for doing this is that I have been invited to speak at the UCISA CISG conference later this month and the title of my talk is “What if Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?“.

But how might Web 2.0 change everything – as opposed to being another IT innovation which, over the years, the sector will successfully embrace as has happened in the past  (e.g. the move away from mainframe computers to minis, workstations, standalone PCs and networked PCs; the move from IT to support research activities to supporting all aspects of  University businesses; etc.)?

And before seeking to predict how such changes might affect University businesses there is a need to explore which aspects of Web 2.0 might act as the key drivers to radical changes with the sector. Some thoughts on aspects of Web 2.0 which could “change everything” :

  • Network as the platform: The importance of services in ‘the Cloud’ may be felt to be of great significance to some.  But does the location and governance of a service really matter to the institution (as opposed to existing service providers within the institution)?  Perhaps if  networked services which provide mission-critical functions were to fail this could result in significant negative changes for the sector. But isn’t that  an issue of monitoring the viability of one’s service providers and ensuring migration strategies are in place  – after all we are familiar with take-overs and companies failing.
  • Social networks: Perhaps the importance social networking will be the key driver for  Web 2.0 changing everything. This is an area which is, in some respects,  new to the sector and encompasses ‘network as the platform’.  Some may feel that a negative aspect of social networks could be the time wasted in developing and maintaining social networks and relationships. But others, including myself, feel that such social networking activities can help to strengthen professional links and engage in activities not previously felt possible.
  • Out-sourced digital identity: A topic frequently discussed on the JISC Access Management Team blog is digital identity management. The institution has traditionally managed the digital identity and access rights for staff and students (and guests) within the institution. But now students are arriving at the institution with their own email accounts and accounts on social networking services, perhaps with well-established communities. And staff, especially at a time in which long-term contracts can no longer be expected, may wish to avoid making use of an institutional digital identity which will disappear if they leave the institution. But does ownership of my digital identity, whether by my institution or a third party service (or, perhaps, by the Government), really change everything from an institutional perspective?
  • New modes of learning: Might we find that the Social Web provides new and more effective ways of learning? This, to me, could be significant as if the evidence suggests that this is the case there would be pressures on the institution to change its approaches to leaning and teaching. But in this area I am speculating. Are people suggesting that this may be the case? Is there evidence to suggest that a Web 2.0 approach to learning could result in a radical transformation in approaches to learning and teaching?
  • New modes of research: The use of Web 2.0 approaches, such as the Social Web, to support research, perhaps to facilitate inter-disciplinary work and enhance professional relationships is an area in which  I feel Web 2.0 can provide significant benefits.  A recent post by Frak Norman entitled “Social networks – are they useful or pointless?” cited a  blog post on the Scholarly Kitchen blog that points up the failure of social networking websites to gain many converts in the scientific community. Although, in response to the blog post, Frank admitted to be a ‘true believer’ we do need to ask whether significant takeup of social networks by the research community would really ‘change everything’. Hasn’t the research community often been willing to explore the potential of new technologies (often causing tensions with IT service department who may nowadays prioritise delivering stable mature services to mass audiences).
  • Reluctance to travel: We are all very aware of the need to address environmental issues. Institutions will be exploring ways of reducing their carbon footprint and the JISC’s Greening ICT programme aims to support work in this area.   One approach to supporting such initiatives might be to make use of the collaborative and communications features of Web 2.0 services in order to minimise the amount of  travel needed across the sector.  We are already seeing increasing numbers of ‘amplified events’ being provided within the sector, which can both help maximise the impact of and benefits of engaging with such events and reducing the carbon footprint for those who participate remotely.  The delivery of online-only events provides another example of how Web 2.0 technologies can potentially deliver environmental benefits. If in ten years time the amount of travel taken by members of the community were to drop significantly, to be replaced by online activities, this might be regarded as ‘changing everything’.
  • Lack of  funding: In light of expected cutbacks in government funding perhaps there will be a cutback in investment in development work in the sector and a greater take-up of externally-hosted Web 2.0 services. Is this case the driver is the lack of funding and use of Web 2.0 may provide a response.
  • Always beta:  Could the ongoing development of services typified by the ‘always beta’ slogan have a significant   role to play in significant changes? I don’t think so – after all  early adopters in the sector have often helped to drive changes, as was seen in the early 1990s when the Web started to appear in many of our institutions  through the initiatives of the early adopters, perhaps circumventing institutional policies on Campus Wide Information Systems.
  • Culture of openness: Might the Web 2.0’s culture of openness be responsible or significant changes? Moves to open access and open data have been encouraged by the ease of access to resources provided by the Web and we are now seeing initiatives to provide access of Open Educational Resources (OER).  A possibility, although whether people will make use of OER resources to any significant extent is still unproven.
  • Generational changes or other binary divides: Marc Prensky’s view of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants has been questioned with Dave White suggesting the need to consider “Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’”.  Could, I wonder, the  expectations that Web 2.0 will change everything be hindered by differing perspectives  and priorities being placed by those who have expectations of working and learning in a social networked environment and those who regard this environment as a tool to be used in clearly defined circumstances?   And might the environment be affected not by Web 2.0 per se but by Web 2.0 as a battleground? After all if we are talking about radical changes across the sector we should expect to encounter resistance and disagreements.
  • Blogs, wikis, social sharing, …: Might the core Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis and social bookmarking and other social sharing services) be instrumental in radical changes? I think not – I think we now understand how such technologies can be used within the sector.
  • Syndication technologies: I also think the ways in which content can be syndicated and reused across differing environments and devices is now understood and will simply be more widely deployed as existing technologies are upgraded to provide further support for such syndication technologies.
  • Mobile access and always connected: Perhaps the expectation is that much greater use of mobile technologies, so that users can always be connected, will be responsible for the higher education sector being transformed in the way that Amazon is felt to have transformed the book selling market place.

I suspect that the radical changes, which have been acknowledged in the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” and “The Edgeless University” reports will be a result of a complex interplay between these (and other) factors. (Of course we haven’t  identified whether the radical changes which these  reports suggested the sector needs to respond to will be for the better or worse – Tara Brabazon, for example, has argued that “The Revolution Will Not Be Downloaded: Dissent in the digital age“).

But returning to the question I have raised – if we feel that  “Web 2.0 will change everything” how will such radical changes take place? And was the comment made at one of the meetings organised by the authors of the  “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World”  report that “This seminar feels a bit like sitting with a group of record industry executives in 1999” valid?

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Influence a National Service – In 140 Characters

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 November 2009

How long might it take to influence a national service? And what approaches would you take if you wished to do this?  Well let me give an example of how Twitter can be used.

On Thursday 5 November 2009 Tony Hirst (@psychemedia) asked Joy Palmer a question about the RSS feeds provided by the COPAC service:

@joypalmer while you’re there ;-), any idea why copac rss results list only a fraction of the html results?

Joy, manager of the JISC-funded COPAC service, responded:

@psychemedia had to check on that one! rss only displays new items for that search (2 weeks).

to which Tony asked for the reasons for the policy:

@joypalmer What is reason for that policy? is there a way of getting all books in the feed, other than by scraping?

Joy asked for examples of what was needed:

@psychemedia curious to know why wld you want all of them? i.e. what use case are you thinking? tis something we cld address if strong case

I spotted this discussion and contributed with an example of why I feel that RSS should be used for much more than just news alerts:

@joypalmer For me RSS is useful as a generic syndication format & not just for alerting. e.g. see


@psychemedia @briankelly Sold. we’re moving to new hardware right now. Will add to the to-do list for Jan.

A nice example providing evidence of  how Twitter can provide benefits in the workplace.  But as well as ensuring that a richer set of feeds will be developed for reuse by third party developers I thought this example was also interesting in showing that despite the advocacy for service to provide RSS, there’s still not a widespread understanding of the reasons why a comprehensive set of RSS feeds are needed.  Is this, I wonder, due to the fans of RSS simply pushing for deployment of RSS but failing to make the case for how RSS should be used?

Posted in Twitter | 10 Comments »

An Opportunity to Open Up Institutional Data?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 November 2009

It was while I was waiting for the bus home last night and skimming though the afternoon’s tweets that I noticed here had been a lot of activity around Lord Mandelson’s announcement of a major modernisation of England’s degree system. Alan Cann’s tweet, in particular, caught my eye:

RT @1994group Not all unis are the same – UK cannot sustain 140 unis & expect them all to succeed at the same level in the same tasks.

What? Was this an official announcement that  140 Universities aren’t sustainable?  Will mine be one to go?  Following links through to the 1994 Group statement which “welcomes Government’s Higher Education Framework” I discovered that this wasn’t a sensationalist headline or a result of a truncated Twitter summary. No, as  the statement said:

Not all universities are the same – the UK cannot sustain 140 full service universities and expect them all to succeed at the same level in the same tasks. Diversity and differentiation of task and mission underpins the excellence of the UK HE system.

Conditioned as I am to reading gloomy predictions of the future in the public sector  I misinterpreted the clause “the UK cannot sustain 140 full service universities“. The statement would probably have been less open to misinterpretation if it had simply said “the UK cannot expect all 140 universities to succeed at the same level in the same tasks. Diversity and differentiation of task and mission underpins the excellence of the UK HE system.”  I would endorse this view.

But if universities aren’t expected to carry out the same range of tasks, what commonalities should there be? After all, if the institutions have little in common, what is the point of sectoral agencies such as HEFCE and JISC? Clearly there are many areas in which the sector benefits from sector-wide funding and policies, many of which are outside the scope of this blog. But I was particularly stuck by the comment that

The 1994 Group has consistently called for more transparent and accurate information around the student experience to be provided. There is a need across the sector for a wider availability of data and information to better inform the decisions of applicants at all levels, and to help HEIs identify problem areas and work to enhance aspects of the student experience“.

Ah! Is this open data we are talking about? Is this about allowing others to access, reuse and interpret our data?  This is an area in the research community, with passionate advocates such as Professor Murray-Rust, have been arguing for opening up our research data. We have also recently seen the benefits to be gained by providing access to library circulation data, encouraged by JISC funding of the MOSAIC project (Making our shared activity information count). And of course we will all be aware of the significant work being carried out across the JISC community in the areas of open access and open educational resources.

And yet, despite such high profile activities in exploiting the benefits of openness we still see arguments being made which appear to stifle further initiatives in this area. Back in 2004 I encouraged IT Services to set a leading role in embracing openness: “Let’s Free IT Support Materials!” – but in revisiting that suggestion recently I see responses such as there is “no culture in UK HE of sharing material like this” and “concern[s] over … ownership“.

But if IT support staff seem reluctant to engage in sharing support materials (and I should add that I am also unaware of similar initiatives in the Library sector) perhaps the drive should come from those working in MIS departments.  After all they will manage the large databases  which could be opened up. And the MOSAIC project has experiences in how data can be anonymised to avoid the understandable concerns regarding privacy and data protection.

Are any institutions opening up access to such data? Although I appreciate that the 1994 Group’s statement that “There is a need across the sector for a wider availability of data and information to better inform the decisions of applicants at all levels” could just be a call for more funding or for better access to data from government agencies (OS maps, perhaps?).  But if you work at one of the 1994 Group institutions (University of Bath, Birkbeck University of London, Durham University, University of East Anglia, University of Essex, University of Exeter, Goldsmiths University of London, Institute of Education University of London, Royal Holloway University of London, Lancaster University, University of Leicester, Loughborough University, Queen Mary University of London, University of Reading, University of St Andrews, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of Surrey, University of Sussex or the University of York) mightn’t this provide an opportunity to initiate discussions about opening up institutional data?


Posted in openness | 1 Comment »

Talk at Edspace Event, University of Southampton

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 November 2009

I have been invited by the JISC-funded Edspace project, based at the University of Southampton to give a talk at an event on “Traditional educational repositories v. Web 2.0 resource sharing” to be held on Wednesday 4 November 2009. I have been asked speak on “the future for educational resources and services on the Web” – a rather grandiose topic, I think! I’ve entitled the talk “The Future for Educational Resource Repositories and Services in a Web 2.0 World” as its the Web 2.0 aspect I feel is important (and reflects my area of expertise – I don’t claim to have anything particularly significant to say on the repository side of things).

I’ll be saying that many of the technical aspects of Web 2.0 are now mainstream – and indeed the Edspace’s Edshare service provides RSS feeds, tag clouds, embed functionality and ‘cool URIs’.

But the term Web 2.0 also  covers the network as the platform and a culture of openness. The issue of openness of educational resources is being addressed in, for example, the JISC OER programme and although I personally seek to ensure that my content (such as blog posts, slides and papers) are available under a Creative Commons licence I know that there are added complexities in the area of educational resources – so I’ll not focus on the openness issue.

Instead I’ll raise the question of the network as the platform in the context of the futures for educational resource repositories.  I’ll suggest that as experts predict further cuts in the public sector, including higher education, wouldn’t it be appropriate for our repository services to be hosted in the cloud?  And the concerns which tend to be raised (sustainability, reliability, legal issues, etc.) are implementation details which do need to be addressed – but these aren’t the important policy issues.

The slides I’ll be using are available on Slideshare (in the Cloud(!) although a master copy is also held locally) and is embedded below.

Posted in Events, Repositories | Leave a Comment »

Policies on Drugs, Open Standards and Web Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 November 2009

Over the weekend we’ve been hearing about the squabbles between the Government and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council, argued that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and that it was upgraded by the Government to Class B against the council’s advice – for political reasons. In response, as described on the BCC News, the Home Secretary “Johnson defends drugs row sacking”  saying that Professor David Nutt went against a long established principle by straying into politics.

An example of a political expediency taking precedence over evidence, surely? After all, we can predict the headlines in papers such as the Daily Mail if the Advisory Council’s recommendations had been accepted by the government. 

But if we feel that evidence and the need to acknowledge the accompanying complexities should outweigh an approach based on simple slogans would such an approach also be used in the context of IT development work? 

This thought came to me earlier today after reading a tweet from Wilbert Kraan which stated

RT @PeterMcAllister: EU wants to get rid of open standards: (via @brenno) Leaked draft: #EUopenS

The accompanying blog post , headlined “EC wil af van open standaarden” begins

De Europese Commissie schrapt in stilte open standaarden voor interoperabiliteit. Het draait nog slechts om ‘open specificaties’, waarbij patenten en betaalde licenties geen taboe meer zijn.”

Friends on Twitter have responded to my request for a translation and suggest that the post on”The European Commission silently scraps interoperability standards” begins with the view that:

The EU has quietly changed its view on open standards and no longer sees patents and paid licensing as taboos”

The EU has changed its mind on open standards?  That sound intriguing! So I’ve skimmed though the “European Interoperability Framework for European Public Services (version 2.0)”  document (PDF file) – which, I should add, is clearly labelled as a work in progress.

This report is of interest to me as I recently gave a talk at the ILI 2009 conference entitled “Standards Are Like Sausages: Exploiting the Potential of Open Standards“.  In the talk I described how my early work in promoting open standards (which date back to my contributions to the eLib Standards document back in 1995) can, in retrospect, be seen to be naive. Over the years I have found myself recommending open standards, especially those developed by the W3C, which have failed to gain significant acceptance in the market place. And, just as, the Daily Mail knows it is safe to promote a zero tolerance approach to drugs to its core audience, I was also aware that promoting open standards is a safe thing to do in a public sector IT development context.  But over the years I have begun to realise that such recommendations need to be informed by evidence – and if the evidence is lacking there may be a need for a more refined approach, rather than a continuation of the “One final push” approach. 

These views also apply in the context of Web accessibility. I have argued for several years that an approach based solely on technical conformance with a set of accessibility standards, which fails to acknowledge the diversity of use cases, definitions of accessibility, limitations of relevant tools available in the market place and the resource implications of conforming with such flawed approaches, is the wrong approach to take.

In light of this I was very interested in what the EU’s draft document on the European Interoperability Framework for European Public Services had to say.

What did I find in this document about the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) which aims to promote and support the delivery:

1.5.1 The Political and Historical Context of Interoperability in the EU:: I welcome the section which acknowledges that political and historical issues have a significant role to play in enhancing the delivery of interoperable services.  

2.2 Underlying Principle 1: Subsidiarity and Proportionality. This section goes on to add that “The subsidiarity principle implies that EU decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen. In other words, the Union does not take action unless EU action is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level“. It the context of IT services, I see this as endorsing a user-focussed approach to development work, rather than the centralised imposition of solutions. Section 2.3 Underlying Principle 2: User Centricity reinforces this approach.

2.4 Underlying Principle 3: Inclusion and Accessibility. This section goes on to add that “Inclusion aims to take full advantage of opportunities offered by new technologies to overcome social and economic disadvantages and exclusion. Accessibility aims at ensuring people with disabilities and the elderly access to public services so they can experience the same service levels as all other citizens.

We then read that “Inclusion and accessibility usually encompass multichannel delivery. Traditional service delivery channels may need to co-exist with new channels established using technology, giving citizens a choice of access.” Hurray – we’re moving away from the WAI perspective that suggests that all Web resources must be universally accessible to all, to an inclusive approach which endorses a diversity of delivery channels!

2.10 Underlying Principle 9: Openness. This section goes on to add that “openness is the willingness of persons, organisations or other members of a community of interest to share knowledge and to stimulate debate within that community of interest, having as ultimate goal the advancement of knowledge and the use thereof to solve relevant problems. In that sense, openness leads to considerable gains in efficiency.” I’m pleased to see this emphasis on the benefits of openness of content and engagement endorsed in the document.

This section than states that:

Interoperability involves the sharing of information and knowledge between organisations, hence implies a certain degree of openness. There are varying degrees of openness.

Specifications, software and software development methods that promote collaboration and the results of which can freely be accessed, reused and shared are considered open and lie at one end of the spectrum while non-documented, proprietary specifications, proprietary software and the reluctance or resistance to reuse solutions, i.e. the “not invented here” syndrome, lie at the other end.

The spectrum of approaches that lies between these two extremes can be called the openness continuum.

We are seeing an appreciation of complexities and a “spectrum of approaches [to openness]” rather than a binary division which is promoted by hardliners.

2.12 Underlying Principle 11: Technological Neutrality and Adaptability. This principle leads to “Recommendation 7. Public administration should not impose any specific technological solution on citizens, businesses and other administrations wh n establishing European Public Services.” Having acknowledged the needs to be user-centric and to encourage openness, whilst recognised that there may be a spectrum of approaches which need to be taken, the document spells out the implications that specific technical solutions should not be imposed.

Interoperability levelsChapter 4 of the document introduces four Interoperability Levels, as illustrated.

Although not depicted in the diagram for me this indicates the team for the technical discussions and decisions about interoperability need to be formed within the context of political, legal, organisation, and semantic considerations. Surely self-evident when stated like this, but not when we hear mantras such as “interoperability through open standards” being promoted at a policy level which can lead to discussions taking place in which other considerations can become marginalised.

Has the  “EU quietly changed its view on open standards and no longer sees patents and paid licensing as taboos“. Or might we suggest that the “The EU is now taking a pragmatic approach to the relevance of standards in ICT development. It now feels that the technical considerations need to be placed in a wider context“?

Posted in standards | 4 Comments »

The Third Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 November 2009

The UK Web Focus blog was launched on 1st November 2006.  A year ago I summarised how the blog had developed in its first two years. In this anniversary post I will document some statistics (so I have a record of the current status) and  briefly reflect on the content of the blog and how the way I use the blog has developed over time.

Since the blog was launched I have published 630 posts, an average of  210 per year (4  per week). There have been 2,814 comments published (and a very large number of spam comments blocked by Akismet – currently reported as 146,475 spam comments but as I reported in June 2008 that there were  A Quarter of a Million [spam comments] and Counting these figures are misleading (for some reason Akismet reset the count to zero at some point).

As I did last year, I have created a PDF file of the posts in order to provide an indication of the total number of pages I’ve written.  To date it seems I’ve written 620 pages (although note that this includes images which are displayed at full size in the PDF – with the images displayed at the correct size the PDF file comes to 450 pages)  and over 328,000 words. A typical blog post is therefore about 2/3rd of a page long or about  500 words.  Note that access to the PDF resource is available on Slideshare and is embedded at the bottom of this post.

When I  set up the blog I did wonder whether it would be sustainable, how I would find the time to write and what I would write about. I also thought about the issues of publishing without any the support of any editorial processes to advise on both the quality and writing style and the appropriateness of the content.

I discovered that I have writing blog posts enjoyable, useful and need not take too much time to write.  How useful the posts are for readers is something I’ll not address in this post!

Over the three years I have found that I am using this blog as my open notebook, as a means of writing down ideas and thoughts which otherwise I may forget about. These ideas may be incorporated in my other work activities such as my presentations, publications and papers.

Over the past year of so I have also contributed to a number of additional blogs which provide more focussed  dissemination channels including the JISC PoWR blog, the IWMW 2009 blog and UKOLN’s Cultural Heritage blog.

I am now finding that, with over 600 posts published on the UK Web Focus blog, I can’t recall all of the things I have written about! As the built-in search engine for the blog isn’t great  I am wondering whether I should be making use of some additional tool in order to find content on my blog.  I guess my problem isn’t ‘discovery to delivery’ but discovery of content which is already available at a known location.  Any suggestions?

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »