UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for December, 2009

2009 – The Year Of Twitter?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 December 2009

To describe 2009 as the year Twitter came of age would be rather unremarkable and perhaps cliched – after all a month ago a headline in the Guardian announced “‘Twitter’ declared top word of 2009“.

But if 2009 was the year of Twitter what was 2009 not? That might provide a more interesting way of looking at what failed to happen.

I would suggest that 2009:

  • Was not the year for open source alternatives to Twitter. After all, does anyone use, which describes itself as “an Open Network Service” and goes on to add that “all the software used for is Free Software” and “the software also implements the OpenMicroBlogging protocol, meaning that you can have friends on other microblogging services that can receive your notices“? I should add that I have an account which I don’t use.
  • Was not the year for a decentralised alternative to Twitter. Has anyone even heard of
  • Was not the year in which FriendFeed successfully challenged Twitter. I know that this service has some popularity on the science community (for example a #solo09 channel was used for the Science Online 2009 conference). I have an account with FriendFeed which I use to automatically pull in content from Twitter, newly published blog posts and a number of other RSS feeds. But since FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook in August 2009 there seems to have been few developments to the services and the change in ownership appears to have given rise to concerns amongst parts of the FriendFeed community.
  • Was not the year Google deployed a successful competitor to Twitter. The Jaiku service was purchased by Google in October 2007 and “on January 14, 2009 it was announced that Google would be open-sourcing the product … leaving development to a “passionate volunteer team of Googlers“. I have an account with Jaiku but again I don’t use the service.
  • Was not the year for the more richly functional alternatives to Twitter such as Pownce which was closed down on December 15, 2008.

Who’d have thought that the big hit of 2009 would be a centralised service whose ‘fail whale’ failures have become such a cult hit – especially when there have been alternatives which are either supported by large and successful companies or are based on open source and open standards solutions? I wonder whether 2010 will provide any similar services whose successes challenge our expectations?

Posted in Twitter | 6 Comments »

Extending Your Community – Through Machine Translation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 December 2009

Out Of Sight, Out of Mind?

It was over ten years ago, when I was the project manager for the EU-funded Exploit Interactive ejournal that I first started to explore the potential of machine translation. Could we, I wondered, make use of Web-base language translation services to translate articles published in English into other languages?

“Nonsense!” was a response I encountered. “Computer translations won’t work” and I was told the story of how a computer translated the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” to one language and when it was translated back into English it came out as “invisible idiot”.

Now although I can appreciate the difficulties of translating idioms, my interest was not in the translation of full-text articles but automated translation of the summary of the articles. However European colleagues were sceptical of such automated translations and so, after some experiments with the BabelFish translation service, we did not pursue this.

What Are They Saying About Me In Catalonia?

Since my involvement as project manager for Exploit Interactive and its successor Cultivate Interactive, I have given little thought to language issues. And I keep up-to-date with developments by reading English-language resources, these days typically UK, US, Canadian and Australian blog posts and tweets, with the occasional English-language peer-reviewed article.

From time to time, however, I notice links to my blog from non-English posts. And just before Christmas I noticed an incoming link from a blog post entitled “Tots som tweets (a la universitat)“.

That will be a post citing one of my articles about Twitter, I thought, and visited the post to see what it said:

Un article clau, que no deixa indiferent, és el de Brian Kelly al seu blog UK Web Focus: “I Want To Use Twitter For My Conference” on exposa bones pràctiques en l’ús de twitter per organitzar un congrès o conferència. Les entrades de Kelly són molt rellevants i es tracta d’un blog que trobo de seguiment obligat, igual que Mashable, Community Roundtable o Social Media Today. Kelly té una entrada rellevant que hauria de seguir: 14 UK Information Professionals to Follow on Twitter?

What language was it in, I wondered? It seemed almost but not quite French, Spanish or Italian – but submitting the URL to the BabelFish translation service with each of these option provided no joy, although the Spanish to English translation did translate a couple of phrases.

But if BabelFish wasn’t of much help, how should I find out what the blog post was saying? The answer, of course, is to send a tweet to one’s followers. And so I asked:

Can someone tell me what language is in. And also is there a tool for guessing the language of a page.

And in a few minutes I was told that the post was written in Catalan: @virtualleader recognised the language as she has friends in Barcelona and @ijclark relied on his wife for the answer. I received about a dozen other responses, but most importantly one from @miquelduran, the author of the blog post who follows me on Twitter.

Google Translate Does The Job

As well as asking what language the post was in I also asked for suggestions on tools which can identify the language of Web pages. The responses were in agreement, Google Translate will not only translate pages from one language to another, if you don’t know what language the original page is written in, it will attempt to identify it.

And so using Google Translate I find that the blog post begins:

If I must be frank, I was somewhat surprised the evolution of Twitter as a tool for communication and social networking. In fact, Facebook has the same features have been changing to twitter. From my professional point of view, twitter can do three things now: to present an idea, concept or something (a conference, an event calendar … in short) (unidirectional), retrasmetre an event in which different people use same hashtag (semibidireccional), and generate conversation (usually public, but can also be closed) (bidirectional).

OK, I can understand that. Miquel Duran (a professor at the Universitat de Girona) was initially sceptical about the benefits of Twitter, but now recognises three areas in which it is useful. In his post Miquel goes on to cite a number of posts which illustrate Twitter’s benefits, including a number of my posts.

But it was Miquel’s concluding remarks which I found most interesting:

I must say, however, that there is something that concerns me. The Internet has the grace that is distributed. The email is not centralized, but Google via Gmail, so intense. There are blogs everywhere, and service blogs can install it on any server. However, no server own twitter. We are putting in the hands of a single vendor? (same, not just for Facebook.) So I saved all my information locally. I just desbobrir TweetTake, which saves the tweets, direct messages, and fans followed in a spreadsheet. We must be cautious and be wise.

A European Perspective On The Risks

These issues were at the heart of my paper on presented just before Christmas at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 conference. And as I suggested in my post on “The Risks and Opportunities Framework” the US has taken a lead in making use of such third party services with organisations in the UK now making much greater use of such third party services without apparently being too concerned about “putting [the content] in the hands of a single vendor“.

So we are revisiting the issues concerning trust, ownership, sustainability and preservation – and I’ve learnt about a new tool, Tweetake, for backing up Twitter posts.

I’ve also found some further anecdotal evidence to back up the feeling I gained from the Cultural Heritage Online Conference that institutions in mainland Europe are more reluctant to make use of services in the Cloud than similar organisations in the US and UK.

For example the view that “Twitter, like blogging, needs an edge, a voice, a riskiness” expressed by Mike Ellis in his post “The person is the point” or Paul Walk’s post i which he points out that “Anything you quote from Twitter is always out of context” perhaps challenge Miquel’s conclusions that we need to be cautious in making use of services such as Twitter. Might not being cautious result in the benefits of Twitter’s spontaneity and informality being lost?

Extending My Community To Europe

So as a result of spotting a blog which linked to one of my posts and then using Google Translate to see what was being said I’ve started to extend my community beyond the English speaking world. And I’ve found that Google Translate can provide an comprehensible translation – and this was true of a number of other of Miquel’s posts which refer to my work.

In November 3009 Google announced “A new look for Google Translate” – it seems the service now “offers 51 languages, representing over 98% of Internet users today“.  And as the translation service is available from the Google Toolbar perhaps I should install this on my Web browser(s) and get into the habit of making use of it.

Hmm, I also wonder if I can get an RSS feed from Google Translate of Miquel’s posts which I can add to my RSS reader – so the posts of interest are delivered to me in a language I can understand rather than me having to find the posts and then involve a translate function.

Perhaps machine translation now does have a role to play. Invisible idiot? I think not!

Posted in Social Networking | 5 Comments »

Unlucky in Lucca? I Think Not!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 December 2009

About This Post

In this rather long post I describe some personal stories of benefits I have gained from my social networking communities. And rather than the focus on the professional benefits of such services which I have described in previous posts in my final post before Christmas I suggest that the main benefits of the Social Web can be gained from its use in a personal context.

A Mini-Adventure In Lucca

After travelling to Florence to present a paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web” at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 conference I felt this provided an ideal opportunity for a well-deserved and belated holiday.

So I’m spending a week travelling around the well-known tourist highlights of Tuscancy including Lucca, Siena and Pisa.

My holiday began, however, with a visit to Danny Ayers, who lives in the Tuscan Hills, about an hour from Lucca I met Danny at the WWW 2007 conference in Banff, although I’d come across his name prior to that and was aware of his interests in the Semantic Web. After getting to know Danny better over a few drinks in Banff, and knowing from his Twitter profile that he lived near Lucca I tweeted Danny asking if he fancied meeting up. In response Danny invited me so stay over at his, an invitation I was happy to accept.

Unfortunately I hadn’t realised that Danny lived with two large (but friendly) dogs and two cats. And as I have been free from asthma attacks for a few years I had failed to bring along my inhaler. So although I enjoyed my visit to Garfagnana and eating and drinking in Danny’s local bar, as I felt slightly short of breath, I left the next day, to travel to Lucca.

The trip to my B&B in Lucca as uneventful – apart from the difficulty I had crossing the town walls – the path down was covered in ice and despite holding on to the rail I slipped trying to walk down and again trying to stand up (and I was carrying a rucksack and bag containing my netbook at the time). I eventually found some ice-free steps and made it to my accommodation or the next two days.

That first night, however, was difficult. My breathing had unexpectedly got worse – I had thought that the mild asthma attack I had when the dogs were licking me would be as bad as it would get. This was not the case. And when I found that I had ifficulty walking downstairs the next morning and was breathless speakeing to the receptionist I knew I needed to see a doctor.

Within 15 minutes the paramedics arrived and shortly after that an ambulance arrived which took me to the local hospital. Over the next few hours blood samples were taken, my chest was xrayed and I was discharged with a prescription (for the Ventolin I should have taken with me). I was also given a CD containing a copy of my Xray (is that normal practice thse days?)

After getting back to my B&B I sent a tweet containing a brief summary of my adventures:

Ambulance took me to Lucca Hospital, after suffering from asthma attack. Still haven’t seen much of town :-(

And in response I received a number of supportive tweets, some from people I know and others from people I’ve never met. And this made me reflect on the benefits of the personal online network.

My Personal Online Network

I had given some thoughts to the possible benefits of a personal online network over a year ago, during a holiday in Malaysia and Thailand. I used Twitter to provide an update of my travels, as a high-tech version of the postcard. But the interactive aspect provided benefits not possible with the postcard – and Frank Norman’s suggestion of a temple to visit when I announced my arrival in Penang took me to an impressive temple which I might have missed otherwise (this story only slightly spoilt by Frank responding to my Facebook status update rather than my tweet!)

But it was when I arrived in Bangkok when I started to think about the possible benefits which Twitter can provide to one’s personal safety. This was another reason for my tweets – to provide a public audit trail of my travels, so if anything untoward happened there would be public awareness of my whereabouts. Incidentally I also kept a record of places I stayed at and had booked on Tripit and gave read access to the account to some trusted friends for similar reasons.

But it was on my penultimate day of my holiday that I became aware of possible personal risks. I vaguely wondered why the traffic down a previously busy main road had disappeared and hen I took the opportunity to cross the road I was told to stop walking and remain still, Moments later a motorcade passed by with police outriders and a large limousine – but none of the locals would respond when I asked who the dignitary was. The following day, while waiting for a taxi to the airport the same thing happened. This time I was prepared, and had my camera ready to take a surreptitious photograph – and noticed the concerned reaction from those nearby. Yes a week befoe “Thai Protesters Force Airport Closure, Bomb Injures 4” I was possibly taking a photograph of the Thai prime minister.

Yes I know I was probably being foolish (I’ve read the story of the British train spotters who were imprisoned for pursuing their hobby in countries with harsh regimes). But I was also somewhat foolish in not taking my inhaler with me to Italy. So what I feel I need is a support network I can call on in case of difficulties -but which is also valuable at other times.

Real World Networks

Of course the value of networks is nothing new. But rather than an old school network or networks identified by protocols such as knowing which way to pass the port around the table or a secret handshake I’m interested in open and democratic networks. And I’m also interested in social networks which exploit the potential of online technologies.

Open and Online Social Networks

I don’t have a name for such networks. I’ve heard people use the term Personal Learning Network, Personal Learning Environment and Personal Research Environment. And although this may describe my professional use of tools such as Twitter I think such terms will be misleading for those who don’t work in the educational sector.

I also think such networks should be technologically neutral – alhough Twitter works for me, many or my non-professional contacts don’t use Twitter and are happy to make use of Facebook.

I should also add that I don;t think such networks need be trusted networks. As the networks are open, newcomers can join – and I need to make my own risk assessment in judging how I respond to their comments. After all I’m familiar with this in the context of email when friendly souls are willing to share millions of pounds they have unexpectedly been beneficiaries of :-)

There are also dangers in misunderstandings arising in such open social networks – as Paul Boag’s story of how his “Help” tweet was misinterpretted a year ago.

But although there can be risks in using such social networks, perhaps the risks of not having a thriving and sustainable social network may be greater. And perhaps traveling abroad without having such a network to provide support in case of problems will be regarded in the same light as travelling without insurance – although you could do this, it wouldn’t be regarded as a sensible decision.

Finally I’d like to wish everyone in my social network a happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

Posted in General, Social Networking | 1 Comment »

The Risks and Opportunities Framework

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 December 2009

I’m currently in Florence, having spoken at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 conference. In his conclusions Bernard Smith identified two main strands at the conference: the large-scale institutional developments, typically led by national libraries or museums or funding by the EU and the exploitation of Web 2.0 approaches and services. Between these two approaches were the risks and opportunities. I smiled when I heard this as the title of my talk was “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“. In his summing up of the talks he attended Bernard described how I had argued for a more rigourous approach to the documentation of risks in making use of third party services, assessing the likelihood of the risks, their significance and approaches to minimising such risks or theii importance.

This is an approach I first took for the IWMW 2006 event, as described on the page on Risk Assessment For The IWMW 2006 Web Site. The background to this were concerns I heard that “we can’t rely on Google as a search service for the Web site – what if Goole goes out of business? We must ave an open source solution so we can fix it if the service goes wrong.

It seems strange now hearing those concerns about the sustainability of Google. A perhaps more appropriate concern which could have been raised would have been “We can’t use Google. Their successes in search might lead to the company being a major force in other areas, such as applications, mobile devices, social services, etc. And although we may benefit from their services, we, as a society, may lose our soul!“. My apologies for the religious tone – but I am in Italy and a recent visit to the cathedral brought back memories of when I was an altar boy!

It did strike me, thought, that the talks which mentioned Social Web services where given by invited speakers from the US, such as Laura Campbell from the Library of Congress. The talks I heard were not new and the ways in which use of services such as Flickr, YouTube and Twitter can held to engage with new audiences will be familiar to readers of this blog (I provided examples from the National Library of Wales and Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in my talk). It was noticeable, though, that such approaches weren’t being discussed by speakers from mainland Europe. This reminded by of the time Dame Lynne Brindley, head of the British Library, described the significant differences between the ways in which the British Library are exploiting Web 2.0 services and the scepticism of her equivalent in the French National Library, which, if I recall correctly, Lynne described as a reflection of French statist approach, unlike the UK perspective where (like it of not) the mixed economy is now mainstream – as an been seen from Chris Sexton’s post on “Cloud computing – Hope or Hype?” (and as Chris says, in today’s economic climate, we d need to be looking at ways in which we can be saving money).

Such considerations bring me back to my talk. The slides are available on Slideshare and are also embedded below. But although the accompanying paper (which is not yet available) builds on previous work, with a contribution from Professor Charles Oppenheim on a risk assessment and management approach to copyright risks, following various discussions at the conference I now appreciate that the risks framework should perhaps consider the dangers to society of ever-increasing use of services from a dominant provider. But how would institutions go about addressing such issues when funding is likely to be the main motivating factor for the near future?

Posted in Events, Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

A Twitter Feed For This Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 December 2009

A Twitter Account For This Blog

A few days ago I created the @ukwebfocus Twitter account which will provide an automated feed of posts from this blog. But isn’t the point of Twitter the conversation and the community? So why have I created a new Twitter account which seemingly contradicts the reasons for Twitter’s success?

The Background

The answer to that question can be found in a discussion between myself, Stephen Downes and Kerry Johnson.  A few days ago Stephen Downes, a well-known Canadian elearning guru,  responded to my blog post on “Can Your Blog Survive Without Twitter?“. Stephen argued that as he uses a variety of channels (blogs. email, Web resources, etc.) for him “there’s no one thing that is ‘my blog’“. He went on to add that “People who focus on size of audience, impact via Tweetmeme, or similarly mass-based metrics, are working with an old-media paradigm, which is about broadcast rather that network“, arguing that the important thing is the act of “participation“.

I responded by saying that “although I would agree that in many cases blogs are about facilitating a conversation across one’s network, without visitors one can’t have the conversation“. Kerry Johnson pointed out that “I know for some people, Twitter has replaced RSS” and went on to suggest that “One option might be to set up a Twitter stream specifically for auto-posting, saving your already established Twitter account for personal/professional discussions. That way, people would have a choice and know what they’re getting and you wouldn’t feel compromised“.

And this is what Stephen did, creating the @oldaily Twitter account which won’t overlap with Stephen’s @downes Twitter identity – @oldaily will be used for to alert people to new OLDaily posts.  And I’ve done likewise, with the ukwebfocus Twitter account. I have used the service so that new posts on this blog are automatically announced via the Twitter account. In addition to providing notification of new blog posts I have also added an RSS feed of my forthcoming events. As can be seen the service uses the title of the feed and the description, but truncates this content to allow a short URL to be included in the 140 characters:

Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web: Brian Kel..

Twitter – For Conversations and Broadcasting

Are Stephen and I subverting the conversational aspects of Twitter which have led to its success and its effectiveness in supporting conversations and, for me and many in my Twitter community,  informal discussions and professional activities?

I would argue that rather than subverting this use case for Twitter, we are making use of another use case, for simple dissemination, which can complement its conversational role.

And I myself  have found such one-way broadcasting using Twitter useful – I subscribed to the Premier League football scores when that was first made available on Twitter (although, due to licensing reasons, that services was withdrawn).

If you are considering making use of Twitter in your organisation or as an individual I feel you will need to clarify how you will use it. Will it be you as an individual, you as a dissemination channel for your work or a team using Twitter again possibly as a conversational medium or as a dissemination channel.

Or, as I have now appreciated, you may wish to use Twitter for both conversations and for broadcasting. Anyone else doing likewise?

Posted in Twitter | 4 Comments »

Last Night I Trended On Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 December 2009

Trending on Twitter

Yes it’s true, last night I was a trending topic on Twitter.  I was notified of this by Andy McGregor who, in his tweet: “ – Brian Kelly is a trending topic on twitter“, helpfully provided evidence of my 15 minutes of fame.

I then received several other comments from a number of my Twitter followers including @joypalmer and @iand and, this morning from @daveyp and @karenblakeman. What was the reason for my moment of fame? Was it my recent insightful blog posts? Or perhaps discussions about the paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web” which I’ll be presenting at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 Conference next week?

Unfortunately not. As indicated by the tweets shown inthe screen shot, the story is actually about Notre Dame’s new coach, Brian Kelly.  A simple case of a name clash. But also an interesting example of the potential dangers of mistaken identity and the need for new media literacy.

What Can We Learn?

Over the past couple of months I have received a number of misdirected tweets which, from the context, I realised were aimed at an American Football coach who shares the same name.  Further investigation revealed that his Twitter username was @CoachBrianKelly – and his biography on his Twitter acount helpfully gives an indication of what he does: “Thrilled to be the coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Committed to stirring People with PASSION and PURPOSE“.

In order to minimise the amount of Twitter traffic coming to my account (as an early adopter of Twitter I was able to claim the @BrianKelly username) I distanced myself from my namesake in my comment: “No longer interested in coaching. Intend to leave Notre Dame/ Bye all :-)”. And in case this was misinterpretted I followed this up with “My new interests: digital identity and new media literacy :-)“.

Pat Fitzgerald has also been mistaken on Twitter with another US sporting staff as he pointed out in his tweet“@mattganser @briankelly your tweet mistake reminded this Coach Fitz article done by one of your USA sports writers“.

So how do we go about minimising the chances of such confusions? In this case none of my followers were likely to mistake me for a US American Football coach (my football interests are in the 11-a-side version). I would recommend that you check the brief biographical details provided on a Twitter account’s profile page before following or citing an individual.  And if still uncertain you should follow the link that may be provided, and perhaps look at the followers to see if there are people you know. And if you want to minimise the chances that you aren’t mistaken for someone else you should provide biographical details and a link which can help to identify who you are.

Having said that I have to admit that last year I did make a mistake. For a time I followed Dave Patten (@davepatten) who is Head of New Media at the Science Museum, London. I had mistaken him for Dave Pattern (@daveyp), systems librarian at the University of Huddersfield – partly because the first Dave was following people I knew and I knew the second Dave knew.

But what happens if people change their Twitter name? Or even pass there name on to others?  I wonder if @CoachBrianKelly would be interested in purchasing the @BrianKelly account?  But as he already has almost 7,000 followers he probably doesn’t need the extra followers, although the extra five characters this would allow his fans to use may allow for more in-depth discussions of Notre Dame’s chances of success this season:-)

Posted in Twitter | Leave a Comment »

Can Your Blog Survive Without Twitter?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 December 2009


It was on Tony Hirst’s OUseful blog that I first noticed the Tweetmeme icon. This service provides an indication of the number of tweets (and retweets) to your blog (or Web site).

Tweetmeme iconAs can be seen in the accompanying image from the sidebar on this blog, this week there appear to have been 69 tweets which include a link to the blog. Clicking on the image takes me to the Tweetmeme Web site which provides more detailed statistics on Twitter posts which contain links to the UK Web focus blog.

Looking at the statistics over the past week I find that there have been 31 tweets containing links to the post on Lessons From Twitter Spam and 30 tweets to the post on “I Want To Use Twitter For My Conference”.

Summary of tweets linking to this blog Clicking on the image allows me to view additional information gathered by the service. As can be seen information is provided on the content of the tweets which contain links to the post.

Additional information provided includes a histogram of the number of recent tweets – however as this only covers the last 24 hours, in the example shown there have been no tweets included.

The Relationship Between Twitter and Your Blog

After I launched this blog I encouraged readers with an interest in the content of the blog to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed, as this can be an effective way of keeping up to date with blog posts. I did appreciate that not everyone would be likely to make use of an RSS reader – and, indeed, I also provided details on how to subscribe to this blog via an email subscription. And just as I was surprised by the popularity of the email subscription to the blog (and, coincidentally, last week I met someone on the train who told me they received regular email messages containing the content of my blog post) so I think we are finding that Twitter is an important provider of traffic to blog posts – something I hadn’t expected.

My question, therefore, is for a blog which has an important dissemination role, can the blog survive without Twitter? Or if the word ‘survive’ is felt to be too strong, perhaps I should ask ‘Can your blog thrive without considering how Twitter can help to enhance the traffic to your content?’

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Twitter | Tagged: | 14 Comments »

The Dos and Don’t of Corporate Use of Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 December 2009


Google To Provide Realtime Search

Stating obvious. google+real time search = critical for organizations to be on twitter/facebook” summed it up nicely. This tweet from @Aarontay referred to the recent news story that “Google Launches Real-Time Search” – a story which has also been picked up by the BBC.

Institutional Need To Provide Realtime Content

So, if you agree with the premise that a failure to have a presence on Twitter you are likely to miss out on marketing and outreach opportunities as Google brings Twitter to the masses, how should organisations go about making effective use of Twitter?

Policies On Corporate Use of Twitter

A recent thread on the MCG (Museums Computer Group) JISCMail list has been addressing this question, with a lively discussion responding to the query.

How do you enable a number of staff to collectively twitter for your organisation? Do you allow them all to twitter from the main account (a bit impersonal for me)? Or do they have individual accounts and you use the Twitter groups aggregate them? The latter would mean you emphasise Twitter group address in comms.

Now although I would agree with the comments made on this list that the most effective use of Twitter results from an authentic and individual voice, I appreciate that this is not always possible. I suspect, for example that we won’t see on the DowningStreet Twitter account (“The official twitter channel for the Prime Minister’s Office based at 10 Downing Street“) an authentic and heartfelt admission from Gordon Brown”Grilled by @davidcameron at question time. I hate that Eton toff” .

So let’s be honest, we do need policies and guidelines covering corporate use of Twitter. And although criticised for being too long when it was released I feel that the “Template Twitter strategy for Government Departments” provides a useful starting point for those tasked with developing institutional guidelines.

A Case Study of When Twitter Goes Wrong

But rather than discuss the best practices of corporate Twittering in this post I’d like to highlight an example of how things could go wrong.

My colleague Paul Walk alerted me to a problem on the uk_ngs Twitter account this morning: dozens, if not hundreds of Twitter posts had been published overnight, and these were repetitions of previously published tweets.

It would appear that a script designed to retweeet posts had gone wrong. And what we were seeing was the equivalent of the badly written email vacation script, causing a recursive loop to be generated :-(

Now I can only speculate on the reasons for the scripted approach to use of Twitter (which, as can be seen from the accompanying screen image, appears to have been produced by thePerl Net::Twitter library). But it does strike me that it appears to be an example of over-complexity, with a scripting approach taken to a service which has been successful due to the simplicity of the end user content creation tools.

Now I’m not arguing that scripted use of Twitter is necessarily a bad thing – but clearly a broken script is! But there are also dangers that innovative approaches to Twitter may result in the service actually deteriorating for its established community. And as a long standing Twitter users (a ‘Twitter resident’ rather than ‘visitor’) I do not want to see Twitter evolving into Usenet News.

Two Simple Dos and Don’t

In order to avoid accusations of making institutional use of Twitter appear to complex I’ll avoid repeating the advice given in the 20-page “Template Twitter strategy for Government Departments” document. Instead I’ll provide just two bullet points:

  • Do engage with the individuals who Twitter personally before developing an institutional strategy on corporate use of Twitter.
  • Don’t allow a corporate strategy to be developed by your comms or IT department unless experienced individual Twitterers have provided input into the policy to ensure that it doesn’t miss out on th factor which make Twitter successful.

Or to summarise in a more Twitter-friendly fashion “Let Twitter natives develop your Twitter policy, not Twitter visitors“.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Twitter | 2 Comments »

A Tale of Three Conferences

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 December 2009

Three Related Conference in One City

Last week, as I mentioned previously, I attended the Online Information 2009 conference, held in Olympia London on 1-3 December. But this wasn’t the only conference of interest to me which took place in London last week – the 5th International Digital Curation Conference was organised by colleagues of mine at UKOLN and the UK Museums and the Web conference is an event I have spoken at in previous years.

But as well as the content of these conferences being of interest to me, these conference also made extensive use of Twitter, which enabled engagement with the conference discussions to include people who weren’t physically present and allowed the conference outputs and discussions to be read and analysed afterwards. In this post I provide a summary based on statistics of the use of Twitter at these events and suggest that we will need to explore ways in which misuse of event hashtags (by Twitter spammers) can be tackled.

The Online Information Conference

As might be expected for an international conference aimed at information professionals the event had a conference hashtag (#online009) and, despite problems with the WiFi network, according to Twapperkeeper archive for the #online09 tag, there were 2,351 tweets published between 22 November and 5 December 2009.

Additional statistics are provided by the WTHashtag service. The accompanying image was created by this service.

I should also add that I used the Tweetwally service to create a ‘Tweetwall’ of the event’s tweets – but it seems that this only displays tweets posted in the past few days.

The IDCC Conference

The 5th International Digital Curation Conference (organised by DCC – the Digital Curation centre – which included colleagues of mine at UKOLN) was held on 3-4 December 2009. As described on the Digital Curation blog this was an amplified event, with an event hashtag (#idcc09), a live blogger (the @idcclive Twitter account) and a live video stream. According to the Twapperkeeper archive for the #idcc09 tag, there were 782 tweets published between 2 and 5 December 2009.

Additional statistics are provided by the WTHashtag service. The accompanying image was created by this service.

The UK Museums and the Web conference

Finally the one-day UK Museums and the Web conference was held on 3 December. On this occasion According to the Twapperkeeper archive for the #ukmw09 tag 706 tweets were posted between 27 November and 5 December 2009.

Additional statistics are provided by the WTHashtag service and the accompanying image was created by this service.

Exploring The Twitter Communities

Detecting Spammers

We have some statistics which seems to indicate that Twitter has played a significant role in supporting these three events.But might these raw statistics be skewed by Twitter misuse, such as Twitter posts from spam followers? In order to seeks an answer to this question I have made use of Tony Hirst’s software to analyse Twitter communities centred around an event hashtag.

As the software is based around a combination of a Twitter user as well as the event hashtag I had to chose a Twitter user likely to have a wide following in order to explore the community tweets. I used myself (@briankelly) for the #online09 conference and Mike Ellis (@m1ke_ellis) for the #ukmw09 conference. I had intended to use Chris Rusbridge (@cardcc) for the #idcc09 conference but no results were provided for this twitter ID so I used the official event live blogger account (@idcclive) instead.

You can view the findings for the #online09 conference; #idcc09 conference and #ukmw09 conference.

Tony’s software does correctly identify spammers on the event hashtags. Some, such as @ProvidenciaAmar have already had their account suspended whilst others,such as the helpfully labelled @MommyIsSoSexy ID is still available, and can be easily identified as a spam account. But have other Twitter accounts been incorrectly labelled as spam accounts, I wonder?


Some of the early adopters of Twitter felt that Twitter was very much about the individual and was ;of the moment’, with no need for archiving tweets for reuse or analysis. I think this is no longer true – or, rather, this is no longer the only use case for Twitter. In the case of use of Twitter to support events we are definitely seeing people wishing to view the tweets afterwards. In addition the popularity of Twitter at events has its downside – and we are seeing an increase of Twitter spam, with inappropriate content and links being labelled with popular event hashtags.

Tony Hirst’s software has made some initial steps in exploring ways of automatically identifying Twitter spammers. I suspect that such techniques will soon be embedded in Twitter tool. But since Tony’s approach is based on Twitter users which have been connected with a trusted user, this approach will not necessarily work for events with a more distributed network, with no well-established Twitter ‘hubs’. I wonder if an official event Twitter account might provide such a hub, allowing users to follow the account in advance of the conference. At the IWMW 2009 event we used two official Twitter accounts: iwmw and iwmwlive and the live-blogging Twitter account was also used at the IDCC conference (indeed the idcclive Twitter account was managed by the same person, Kirsty McGill).

What do you think: a sensible development or unwanted complexity liable to stifle Twitter’s flexibility and informality?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Events, Twitter | 5 Comments »

Highlights of Online Information 2009: Semantic Web and Social Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 December 2009

Online Information 2009

I summarised my thoughts of the Online Information 2009 conference in a tweet:

Back home after gr8t #online09 Thoughts: #semanticweb was the highlight & relevant for early mainstream; #socialweb now embedded.

This resonated with Andrew Spong who responded:

Best review u’ll c: RT @briankelly: #online09 Thoughts: #semanticweb was highlight & relevant for early mainstream; #socialweb now embedded.

On reflection, however, if I hadn’t been so tired when writing that tweet last night my summary would have been:

Thoughts: #semanticweb was the highlight & relevant for early mainstream; #socialweb now accepted.

Semantic Web: Time for the Early Mainstream Adopters to Engage

The buzz at the conference clearly focussed on the Semantic Web. The conference’s opening keynote was delivered by Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, both highly regarded researchers at the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton whose long standing and influential involvement which dates back to the early days of the Web continues to the present, as can be seen from the recent meeting of Professor Nigel Shadbolt  and Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Gordon Brown, in which “Mr Berners-Lee and Mr Shadbolt presented an update to Cabinet on their work advising the Government on how to make data more accessible to the public“.

The opening plenary provided a high level context to the relevance of the Semantic Web to information professionals. Over the 3 days of the conference the main auditorium featured a series of further talks  focussed on a variety of aspects of the Semantic Web, including thoughts on how the potential of the Semantic Web may be realised, its use in Government, case studies of uses of Semantic Web applications in commerce and the public sector and discussions of standards and metadata.

I’ll not attempt to summarise any of the talks but if you do want to find out more details of the talks and people’s thoughts on the talks I suggest you visit the Online Information 2009 Conference Web site or search for the event’s hashtag: #online09 (note the tweets have also been archived on Twapperkeeper). I’d also welcome links to relevant blog posts to be added as a comment to this post.

Social Web: Now Accepted by the Mainstream

I gave a talk on “Building on Use of Personal Web 2.0 Technologies” at the conference and also chaired the session on “Evaluating, recommending and justifying 2.0 tools“. As I said when I introduced the session, the fact that the Social Web sessions are not being held in the main auditorium is indicative that the Social Web is no longer the exciting new concept which it was a few years ago. But it has also turned out not be be the ‘fad’ which the sceptics predicted; rather it is now widely (but not universally) accepted by many public sector and commercial organisations. The “Social Web: Transforming The Workplace” sessions which, as with the “Semantic Web Coming of Age” sessions ran throughout the conference provided additional advocacy work illustrating how Social Web tools , such as blogs and Twitter, are being incorporated into mainstream working practices and are being shown to provide tangible benefits. The maturity of the discussions about the Social Web could be seen by the willingness to acknowledge limitations (Twitter, for example, may avoid the information overload which email causes, but can bring new problems and concerns). In my talk I mentioned potential risks associated with use of the Social Web, this time focusing on the use of personal tools to support institutional activities – a subject I’ll revisit in another post.

Information Professionals Delivering and Demonstrating Value

The third conference theme was “Information Professionals Delivering and Demonstrating Value“. The title of Mary Ellen Bates’ talk provides a blunter summary of an additional undercurrent to the conference: “Living Large in Lean Times: Adding Value While Cutting Costs“. The question of “how do we engage in such innovation when public sector funding is likely to decline” underpinned the thinking of many delegates form public sector organisations, I suspect, whilst the views of those from the commercial sector was probably summarised by the tweet I spotted which said “How do we monetise the Semantic Web?


I found this year’s conference really useful, with lots of value discussions and chats taking place. As well as gaining an awareness of the importance of how the three conference themes are being perceived by the information professions internationally an additional personal highlight for me was seeing Dr Hazel Hall’s look of astonishment and delight when it was announced that she was the Information Professional of the Year. I met Hazel, the director of the Centre for Social Informatics, Edinburgh Napier University and the executive secretary, Library and Information Science Coalition, on the train from London to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago, after I tweeted that I was on the train and received a response saying “Me too, shall we meet”. We then had a great chat and the four hour journey to Edinburgh passed very quickly.  A great conference all around, I feel.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Events, Linked Data | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Lessons From Twitter Spam

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 December 2009


On Saturday morning I received a number of Twitter messages informing me that my Twitter account had been hacked, with a number of spam messages being sent from my account. The message (which I deleted as soon as I spotted it) read:

see if your iq is higher than mine. take the iq quiz here: {URL removed}

As can be seen from a Google search this spam message is to be found on many Twitter accounts.

Blog posts entitled “WARNING: New Twitter DM Spam Attack” and “IQ Quiz Mobile Scam Hits Twitter” provide further details about this spam attack. I have followed the advice provided in these posts and have changed my Twitter password. This advice was also suggested in tweets from @karenblakeman and @joecar who notified me of the problem as soon as they spotted it. But as I have previously suggested that it can be more effective to learn from problems rather than successes I feel I should explore the possible causes of the spam emanating from my Twitter account.

Using Third Party Twitter Services

The obvious suspect will be subscribing to a third party service using my Twitter username and password. “You shouldn’t divulge your Twitter username and password to other services” might be the obvious lesson to be learnt. And yet part of Twitter’s success is due to the way it has provided APIs which enable a thriving ecosystem to develop applications which enrich the core Twitter experience. Accessible Twitter, for example, provides an accessible Twitter client which is designed for use with assistive technologies. And to use the service you need to divulge your Twitter username and password to the service.


Ideally such services would support OAuth which, as described in Wikipedia “is an open protocol that allows users to share their private resources (e.g. photos, videos, contact lists) stored on one site with another site without having to hand out their username and password“. I’ve noticed a number of tweets over the last couple of days which have been generated by the Tweetcloud service, which provides an example of a service which you authenticate to using OAuth.But what do you do if OAuth isn’t supported? Over time, as more services start to use OAuth, this probably won’t be an issue. Until then, however, I think there is a need to acknowledge that people will use their Twitter credentials with other services and, as is likely to be the case with Accessible Twitter, users will benefit from their use of the service and the service will manage the third party’s username and password as it would its own. But when accessing such services there will be a need to consider the risks – your account could, potentially, be compromised and you could find yourself apparently spamming your followers.

It Was Phishing!

Chris Sexton was another victim of the Twitter spam. And as she described in a post entitled “Gone Phishing” the problems was actually due to “a very straightforward phishing scam“. It seems that we may have followed a link which took us to a spoof Twitter login page and this was how our password were stolen. Further details are given in a post on “How to prevent your Twitter account from being hacked!“.


As Chris described: “I use tabs in my browser and have lots open at once, and sometime in the next few minutes went to one which looked like a Twitter log in screen – so I typed in my user name and password. Duh.” Indeed. And like Chris I have multiple tabs open and use multiple devices. We’ve both learnt a lesson of the dangers of too much multi-tasking!

But Let’s Not Forget Other Risks

This episode may have proved helpful in providing a reminder of the dangers of phishing sites – and I hope this post proves helpful to other Twitter users. But there are additional risks to be aware of. For example your Twitter account could be compromised if you lose you mobile phone, or leave it unattended. And, as we have seen with email spam, potentially posts could be spoofed so they appear to have been sent from your account. So there’s also a need for one’s followers to be aware that Twitter posts may not have been sent by the owner of the account.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Twitter | 3 Comments »