UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Influence a National Service – In 140 Characters

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 Nov 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?

10 Responses to “Influence a National Service – In 140 Characters”

  1. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner said

    I find it really interesting that twitter gets this response; because there’s no good technical reason why this should be so.

    In principle, some intermediate technology,like email, would serve just as well for communication. But we probably all accept that BK has a point: we don’t really expect emails to get a response. [A general observation, nothing to do with Copac.]

    The point seems to be, the keenness to pay attention to a fellow Twitter user?

    I suppose you could all agree it’s fashionable to write messages on your arses with magic marker, and moon out the window at each other.

    If an elite agreed to give priority attention to SMBP*, a case could be made for saying it’s a great way to communicate.

    Possibly Stephen Fry would have fewer followers, though.

    [*Short Message Buttock Protocol]

  2. Yes I agree that “no good technical reason why this should be so”. Indeed there are good reasons why twitter shouldn’t be successful as a tool for making suggestions for technical developments – messages are short; tweets may be ignored; Twitter may be regarded as a personal space; etc.

    For me the general point is the need to observe patterns of use and to be prepared to consider making use of successful patterns. So if SMBP proves more popular then SMTP, then go for it – perhaps even if SMBP isn’t standardised or interoperable :-)

  3. Tony Hirst said

    The conversation continued:

    [ostephens] @joypalmer @psychemedia (raising himself from his sickbed) wouldn’t opensearch be a more obvious way to go for copac results in RSS?

    [joypalmer] @ostephens good point. need to speak to ashley a bit more on this one.

    [psychemedia] @ostephens @joypalmer if i can: a) hack the uri in a meaningful way, b) get rss (and maybe json) out, am i bovvered? ;-) but yes, probably

  4. Tony Hirst said

    “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?”

    On of the reasons I’ve been advocating RSS is selfishness – if content is available as RSS, it’s easier for me to play with/look for ways of getting additional value out of it.

    As with OER publication vs use, I think there is a real issue with the ‘so what’?

    I think it’s also important to remember that there doesn’t have to be a huge uptake in feed subscriptions to a feed for it to be useful.

    Eg in a Library setting, if a new books feed is set up, and then someone realises it can push that listing to the library homepage, or the catalogue homepage, and they embed that result, that’s a success, right? That feed may now be getting thousands of views..

    Which is to say, a single feed subscription can have a big effect…

    It might also enable a developer in one part of an organisation to gain access to info that they want to republish from another part of the organisation that would ordinarily (if a formal job request was made) require an app to be built around hard to get sorted database read access.

  5. Tony Hirst said

    “I find it really interesting that twitter gets this response; because there’s no good technical reason why this should be so.”

    What does “technical” mean in this context? The conversation, being in public, resulted in a public commitment (albeit a weak, informal one) being made, and as such other parties not associated with the discussion can now also legitimately ask COPAC maintainers how progress on opening up RSS access is going?

    The wider world can also chip in with ideas about the best way of providing feed access (see, for example, Owen Stephens’ contribution to the thread that I quoted in a comment above).

    The thread also potentially raised public awareness hat: a) copac offered search results feeds; b) they are not full results feeds, they are currently fed through a latest books filter, c) there is a system migration at the moment, and seemingly a newcod release next year (so for other folk with low hanging fruit requests about COPAC functionality, now might be a good time to ask) etc etc

    …and it generated a mini-case study, blog post and anecdote for Brian to use when he talks about this new fangled web stuff…

  6. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner said

    @Tony Hirst

    I said (1)
    “I find it really interesting that twitter gets this response; because there’s no good technical reason why this should be so.”

    Tony Hirst said (5)
    What does “technical” mean in this context?

    Attributes of communications systems like speed, reliability, interoperability. The reasons why people generally use telephones and email rather than carrier pigeon, for example.

    If a clique find some way of communicating that they obsess over, and start to assign priority according to the method of communication rather than the content of the message, then those sorts of attributes don’t really matter.

    • i think the public nature of the messages is actually the key point here. If you send me an e-mail or phone me, I can safely ignore it knowing that only you know I haven’t replied. If I don’t reply to a request made to me on twitter, lots of people note my non-response – so it is a reputation thing. Twitter is just like mailing lists that you don’t have to join and don’t have to read a lot to jump in – that’s why it works for me.

  7. Tony Hirst said

    Brian – here’s another example of a Twitter encounter having a practical payoff – the origins of WriteToReply:

  8. […] use: The specific details of the intended uses of a standard should be provided. A recent example of the limited use of RSS (for alerting and not wider syndication) provides a good example of the need to be open about how […]

  9. […] Opportunities and… on George Bush IS President And M…An Opportunities and… on Influence a National Service …An Opportunities and… on Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail…An Opportunities and… […]

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