UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for April, 2010

The Components of Twitter to be Archived

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 April 2010

In a recent post on “Developments to Twapper Keeper” I described JISC-funded developments to the Twapper Keeper Twitter archiving service. I mentioned how the Twapper Keeper blog was being used initial to gather user requirements for developments n User Enhancements to Twapper Keeper and API Developments to Twapper Keeper. I’m pleased that we have received a number of suggestions – one of which, a request to allow tweets to be deleted from the archive and users to opt-out of Twapper Keeper archiving, has been identified as an important feature, particularly for UK users in light of the uncertainties regarding Twitter and copyright in light of the recent passing of the Digital Economy Act.

It has recently occurred to me, though, that we haven’t properly defined what it is that will be archived to allow subsequent reuse (e.g. by tools such as Martin Hawksey’s Twitter capturing service) or analysis (e.g. the sentiment analysis which failed to identify the irony of the tweets posted with the #NickCleggsFault tag).

We will be able to archive the contents of a tweet contained within the 40 character limit which will include the textual content, hypertext links to Web resources and Twitter pictures and videos, the Twitter ID of the recipient of public messages (or the subject of a message) as defined by the @ command and the hashtag(s) used in a tweet. Are there any other structural elements of a tweet, I wonder?

As well as the content of a tweet which is created by the author, there will be a number of metadata attributes which will also be available. This will include the Twitter ID of the poster, the data and time and name of the Twitter client used and, optionally, geo-location information (which I suspect will grow in importance). Again I wonder if there are additional metadata fields I may have missed.

In addition to this Twitter information there is also information related to the Twitter user’s community – the numbers of people they follow and who follow them. The ability to gather this (volatile) information could be useful for observing trends, identifying causes of viral Twitter posts, applying heuristics for spotting Twitter spammers (as Tony Hirst has described), etc.

The systematic archiving of information related to a Twitterer’s community is probably out-of-scope for the current Twapper Keeper development work. But will, I wonder, such information be harvested as part of the Library of Congress’s Twitter archiving work?

Posted in Twitter | 1 Comment »

Winner of John M Slatin Award at W4A 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 April 2010

I’m pleased to report that our paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” which was presented at the W4A 2010 conference on Monday received the John M Slatin award for Best Communications Paper. My co-authors for this paper were Sarah Lewthwaite and David Sloan.

This is the latest in a series of papers which have been presented at the W4A conferences in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 (the theme of the W4A 2009 conference was “Web Accessibility for Older Users” and we thought it would be difficult to relate this theme to our area of work).

In a post entitled “It Started With A Tweet” I described how I first got to know the second co-author, Sarah Lewthwaite, whom I have not yet met. Sarah provided the holistic approach to Web accessibility (which David Sloan, myself and other accessibility researchers and practitioners have developed over the past 6 years) with a grounding in disability research theories, in particular aversive disablism.

Our paper is not yet available online. The paper is now available on the University of Bath institutional repository. Once it has been uploaded (and we have permission to make available version of the paper on the UKOLN Web site) I will provide a summary of the ideas described in the paper and invite feedback. But for now I need to track down David Sloan and get to see the “engraved plinth and silver plate”.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Linked Data and Lessons From the Past

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 April 2010

The Buzz at WWW 2010

I’m current in Raleigh, North Carolina attending the WWW 2010 conference. And the buzz at the conference so far seems to focus on Linked Data (although I should add that I am writing this during the two days of pre-conference events and I have been out socialising with Linked Web developers, so perhaps these conclusions are quite subjective and premature!).

This excitement reminds me of previous WWW conferences – and makes me reflect on the extent to which the passion felt be many developers and researchers at these conferences actually results in significant changes in the Web landscape in the short term or whether the enthusiasms simply result in a failure to engage the mainstream community and a failure to address a bigger picture. So here’s my reflections of the excitement I felt after the WWW 2003 conference.

Reflections on WWW 2003

I remember returning from the WWW 2003 feeling inspired. In part this was after seeing how a communications infrastructure (WiFi and IRC) could be used to support a conference – this was my very first ‘amplified conference’ (although Lorcan Dempsey hadn’t coined that term at the time). The interest in this approach was described in an article by Paul Shabajee entitled “‘Hot’ or Not? Welcome to real-time peer review” published in The Time Higher educational Supplement. So inspired was I by the potential I felt that use of WiFi technologies to allow event participants to engage more actively in discussions that I wrote a paper entitled “Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences” together with Paul and my colleague Emma Tonkin.

But despite my interest in this area, the topic that really inspired me at the conference in Budapest was the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web was not new to me – but instead having to listen to talks about low level protocol issues for the first time people were talking about – and, more importantly, demonstrating Semantic Web applications. The buzz at the conference, especially amongst a group of people I knew from about Bath and Bristol, focussed on FOAF – the Friend of a Friend vocabulary and associated applications developed initially by Dan Brickley and Libby Miller who then worked at ILRT at the University of Bristol.

So inspired was I by this lightweight approach to what subsequently became commonly referred to as social networking software that shortly afterwards I created my own FOAF file. And a few months after the WWW 2003 conference Dave Beckett (a Semantic Web researcher based, at the time, at the University of Kent) and myself gave a plenary talk on “Semantic Web Technologies for UK HE and FE Institutions” at UKOLN’s IWMW 2003 event – raising awareness of the potential of the Semantic Web to members of institutional Web teams in UK universities.

The following year myself and Leigh Dodds (a Semantic Web developer who then worked at Ingenta in Bath) explored ways in which we could seek to engage a wider community in this early example of a Semantic Web application. In a paper on “Using FOAF To Support Community Building” we described lightweight FOAF authoring tools which could be used to create FOAF files and viewers which could provide tangible evidence of the benefits. These tools were promoted to participants via a resource on Use of FOAF which was promoted at the IWMW 2004 event which summarised the potential of FOAF and described tools for creating and viewing FOAF (e.g. FOAFnaut, FOAF Explorer and Plink) and possible concerns people may have with this technology.

What Happened?

What happened after the identification of the new big idea at WWW 2003 was followed up by talks to the Web management community by a respected Semantic Web developer and the provision of simple authoring and viewing tools and a context for use provided? The answer was ‘not much’. A few people created their own FOAF files, but most seemed to have no interest, and this lack of interest continued despite the Use of FOAF being encouraged the following year at IWMW 2005, But it was quite clear that FOAF had failed to take off within this community. And in November 2005 I gave a talk on “Lessons Learnt From FOAF: A Bottom-Up Approach To Social Networks” which “describe[d] some of FOAF’s apparent failings to live up to its initial potential and discuss possible reasons for this“.


In 2005 I was speculating on FOAF’s ‘apparent’ failure to fulfil the excitement I felt in 2003. The reasons I gave included people’s concerns regarding privacy, concerns regarding the term ‘friend’ and the perception that maybe the marketplace to legitimise the area.

But if we move on a few years we find that many people are now ready to share information on Facebook and ‘befriend’ people, even those they may have not met.

For me this example illustrates that back in the early to mid ‘noughties’ there was too much of a focus on the underlying technologies (how the Semantic Web would be build) and a failure to understand whether user’s real needs and requirements were being addressed.

What Next?

Despite the efforts of some researchers who are currently attempting to put a damper on my enthusiasms for Linked Data (:-) the failures of the Semantic Web to deliver on its initial promises shouldn’t be regarded as a reason to be sceptical regarding the promise of Linked Data today.

Rather we need to welcome Critical Friends who are willing to provide constructive criticisms on questionable claims of Linked Data and to help identify appropriate areas for deploying Linked Data approaches; the deployment models; the skills and other resources which are needed and the associated risks.

As well as the critical appraisal, which is particularly important at a time in which investment in the public sector is decreasing, we will also, however, need to continue the advocacy in order to ensure that the benefits of Linked Data are not being ignored. I will be publishing posts on the relevance of Linked Data for individuals and institutions shortly.

Posted in Linked Data | 2 Comments »

Workshop on Engagement, Impact, Value

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 April 2010

The JISC-funded UKOLN and Mimas services will be jointly running a “Engagement, Impact, Value” workshop which will be held at the University of Manchester on 24 May.

The event will provide an opportunity to share and discuss ways in which service providers can engage with their user communities in order to enhance the impact of the work and maximise the value.

The event is aimed primarily at those involved in JISC-funded work. The event will be of interest to those with responsibility for demonstrating impact, promoting take-up of services, obtaining feedback from users and responding to such feedback.

Further details, together with access to the online booking form is available from the UKOLN Web site.

Posted in Events | 2 Comments »

A New Twitter Account For WWW 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 April 2010

This week I’m in Raleigh, North Carolina for the WWW 2010 conference. This involves a week of events, including tutorials on Monday, workshops on Tuesday and the FutureWeb conference (which runs in parallel with the more research-focussed WWW 2010 conference) on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

I visited the conference venue on Sunday and tested the WiFi network – everything was fine, but whether that will be the case when the conference starts remains to be seen.

My preparation for the conference has been to set up a new Twitter account, @briank_live, which I intend to use for live conference blogging.

I now use a number of Twitter accounts: @briankelly is my main one (which I use for both work and social purposes), @ukwebfocus (which provides automated updates of new blog posts and other RSS feeds and now @briank_live.

I wonder if we are seeing greater use of multiple Twitter accounts or is this still a minority use case? I also wonder what names people who have multiple accounts are using to relate their multiple Twitter ‘personalities’? I used the _live suffix based on Mike Nolan’s @mikenolanlive approach, which he describes in his Twitter bio: “I’m usually @MikeNolan – Web Manager at Edge Hill University. This account is for live tweeting events“. What approaches are you taking? And do you think multiple Twitter accounts for different uses is helpful, or does it fragment the content?

Posted in Events, Twitter | 5 Comments »

Video of Dorothea Salo’s Seminar at UKOLN

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 April 2010

I recently mentioned that Dorothea Salo (better known in some circles as The Repository Rat – which is also her Twitter ID) was visiting UKOLN to give a seminar entitled “Grab a bucket – it’s raining data!“. Dorothea gave a fascinating talk on the importance of the management of scientific data, but tempered with a description of the complexities of this work and the challenges to be faced by whoever (librarians?) should take responsibility for such work.

Dorothea Salo's seminarStaff at UKOLN and visitors from elsewhere at the University of Bath and elsewhere very much enjoyed Dorothea’s talk and the subsequent discussions.  For those who weren’t there we have, with Dorothea’s kind permission, recorded a video of her talk which is available on the Vimeo service (in two parts: part 1 and part 2).

Posted in Repositories | Leave a Comment »

JISCMail’s Facelist and Enhanced Support for RSS

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 April 2010

The JISCMail Facelift

As announced yesterday on the JISCMail Owners list the JISCMail home page has been updated – and I’m pleased to see that it now provides a personalised interface, with the list of subscribed groups displayed once you have logged on.  It is also interesting to observe the high profile the service gives to Facebook, Twitter and RSS as can be seen from the rotating advertisement illustrated in the screen image below.

JISCMail Home page

JISCMail's social sharing servicesIt seems that when you view an individual message you can share the post on a large range of social bookmarking and sharing services such as Facebook, Twitter, Slashdot, Diigo, Bebo, etc. as illustrated.

Whether such a large number of services is useful to the end user may be uncertain. It will also be interesting to see how this works for closed groups. But perhaps this facility demonstrates a move towards allowing great sharing and public reuse of the contents of the JISCMail mail archives – an approach which I would warmly endorse. A few months ago I attended a meeting which discussed future developments for the JISCMail service and there was broad agreement on the benefits which could be gained by allowing the archives of messages to be more easily reused outside of the JISCMail environment.  Allowing messages to be bookmarked  and reused in other Social Web sites is a useful first step.

This development follows on from an announcement in the March 2010 issue of the JISCMail newsletter of a facelift to the individual mailing list archive pages. Again I am pleased to see the developments.

The home page for individual lists is much cleaner than it was previously.  It provides separate areas for recent messages and message archives,with the right hand sidebar being used for tools related to the list and the left hand sidebar providing links to a number of other JISC services (although I have to say that I suspect that such links won’t be of interest to most users – since the home page for lists may be where users typically arrive rather than the JISCMail home page I feel the list of subscribed lists would have provided a more relevant use for this area of the page).

Enhanced Support for RSS

The development which is of most interest to me, however, is the RSS Feeds and Sharing links which provide access to RSS 1.0 and 2.0 and Atom feeds for posts to the list. This is illustrated for the JISC-Repositories list below (see menu of right hand side of screen).

The JISCMail Web interface for the JISC-Repositories list

I have subscribed to the RSS feeds for a couple of the JISCMail lists I subscribe to. However I found that only that the RSS Reader on my iPod Touch contains only  the first few lines of each item. Reading the JISCMail newsletter article about the upgrade to the LSoft software which is used by the JISCMail service I find that:

LISTSERV automatically creates RSS abstract from the text part of the message. By default, LISTSERV uses a maximum of 500 and a minimum of 250 words for an implicit RSS abstract.

You may wonder why I would wish to have JISCMail messages delivered to my RSS Reader. The answer is that I normally subscribe to JISCMail daily digests and although the format of the digests is fine for viewing on my PC, I can’t access the content on my iPod Touch (or on my Macintosh where I receive the error message “Mail was unable to open the URL “cid:1925@JISCMAIL.AC.UK“).

But perhaps I should accept such limitations which make reading JISCMail message slightly irritating, but not an insurmountable barrier. Of greater concern is the limitation the limit places on reuse of RSS by other applications besides RSS readers. It could be useful, for example to be able to use a list archive’s RSS feed as a generic structured output format to allow the contents of a list to be visualised by a service such as Wordle.

An example of a Wordle cloud for the JISC-Repositories list is shown, which uses the JISC-Repositories RSS 1.0 feed as the data input: possibly an interesting visualisation of the topics being discussed on the list, but its usefulness is undermined by the arbitrary truncation of the content of the individual messages. (Note that you can view the latest Wordle cloud for this list).

Wordle file for JISC-Repositories JISCMail listThis example provides a visual illustration of how RSS feeds for mailing lists could be used to provide functionality which is not provided by the mailing list service itself.  Other examples could be provided by RSS processing tools such as Yahoo! Pipes.  It might be possible, for example, to take an RSS feed from a list (or a number of lists), filter them using Yahoo Pipes filtering capabilities and feed the output into other applications which process RSS. Tony Hirst’s OUseful blog, for example, is full of examples showing various ways in which RSS can be used to provide new insights into content.

It would also be useful if the JISCMail service allowed RSS feeds to be provided for multiple views of the mailing list archives.  I recently described how WordPress provides RSS feeds for the various views  of the page the user may be looking at (the standard reverse chronological order, normal chronological order, monthly views, category views, etc.)

To be fair, though, the JISCMail service isn’t alone in providing a limited use of RSS.  I had hoped that the University of Bath’s Opus repository service, which is based on the ePrints software, would support a variety of full RSS feeds but the RSS feeds for my papers and UKOLN papers are both limited to 10 entries.

So I feel that JISCMail is on par with the version of EPrints which I have used – it’s good to see both providing RSS feeds but I hope that future releases of the software with provide greater support.

Posted in rss | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Developments to Twapper Keeper

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 April 2010

Many of my posts have mentioned a variety of Web services which are available in the Cloud. The importance of such services is now widely acknowledged but the issues about sustainability and engagement with the service providers are still as important as ever – though they are not the insurmountable barriers which they may have appeared to be in the past.

This is the context to JISC-funded development work to the Twapper Keeper Twitter archiving service which UKOLN is project-managing.  The Twapper Keeper service is reasonably well-known in the JISC development and e-learning communities: the service has been used, for example, to archive tweets from a number of high profile events including the ALT-C 2009 conference (see the archive of over 4,700 #altc2009 tweets), UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (see the archive of over 1,600 #iwmw2009 tweets) and, most recently, the JISC’s 21010 conference (see the archive of over 1,900 #jisc10 tweets).

But how might the service be improved?  What enhancements could be made to the Web interface for users wishing to  archive groups of tweets or who wish to access existing archives of tweets?

As well as the user interface there are also questions about developments to the Twapper Keeper APIs so that developers can access the service and the data in order to reuse the data and avoid the data being trapped into a single application.

In addition to such development activities there will also be enhancements to the service environment to ensure that the service provides a reliable and resilient service.

It is also intended to provide an open source licence for the software components and provide documentation and additional supporting materials under an open content licence.

The development activities will be documented on the Twapper Keeper blog. An introduction to this development work was posted last week. Two subsequent posts have just been published which invite suggestions and comments on User Enhancements toTwapper Keeper and API Developments to Twapper Keeper. John O’Brien, Twapper Keeper developer and myself will use the blog to provide updates on developments.

Posted in Twitter | Tagged: | 12 Comments »

Now That Ning Has Gone …

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 April 2010

Demise of the Free Ning Service

I first heard the news that “Ning’s Bubble Bursts: No More Free Networks, Cuts 40% Of Staff” via my Twitter network on the day of the announcement.  And as described in the Ning Update press release “we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning [licensed] product to capture this big opportunity” before going on to announce that “We will phase out our free service“. I have recently described use of the Ning network to support the JISC10 conference. The news for JISc and other users of the free Ning service is that “Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning“.

Should We Look For In-House Alternatives?

What lessons can be learnt from the closure of this free service? Some may argue that it demonstrates that you should never use remotely-hosted services, as potentially  are may change their licensing conditions or remove the services with little or no notice. An alternative for those making this argument is that open source solutions should be installed and deployed in-house. This may be an option for the support of undergraduate teaching,  but is unlike to be a realistic option for researchers and staff who, like myself,may wish to have significant contact with people outside the host institution.  I find this is particularly true of Twitter-like services – although I have an account on the University of Bath’s Yammer network I very seldom make use of it.

What Exactly Do We Want?

But rather than looking for a single replacement for Ning, perhaps we should start by looking at the different ways in which Ning has been used. This might held to identify a number of different requirements which may be provided by a variety of solutions.

In my recent post on use of Ning to support the JISC10 conference, for example, I pointed out that Ning was only being used to any significant extent for people to state that they were attending the event (or participating remotely) and, in many cases, to provide a p[photograph of themselves. Ning was effectively providing a multimedia delegate list. The communications aspect on Ning and sharing of resources seems to have been provided with a combination of Twitter and Flickr.

So maybe for events rather than use of a dedicated social networking service we will see a lightweight centrally-provided service, complemented by services which participants will already be using.

But what of other scenarios? A TechCrunch article on “Ning: Failures, Lessons and Six Alternatives” suggests (which claims to having “a cleaner interface” and “more features” than Ning); Spruz (which claims to provide a migration path for Ning users); SocialGo (another network-building tool that offers a free option); BuddyPress (an extension for WordPress environment); Lovd By Less (an open-source solution written in Ruby on Rails) and Elgg.

Do We Need A National Service?

Solutions such as Elgg (which is used at a number of UK HEIs including Brighton and Leeds) could potentially be used to provide a national service. But if a global service such as Ning has failed to find a sustainable business model,there will be risks in seeking to set up a national equivalent when we are expected significant cuts to the public sector after the election.

We should also ask ourselves whether the HE sector should be looking to set up such a service when there are commercial alternatives (and of course one alternative would be to subscribe to the commercial Ning service, which seems to start from about $10 per month). After all, as I described recently, in the opening plenary talk at the JISC 10 conference Martin Bean did suggest that the UK was behind the US and Australia in taking advantage of privatised providers of HE services.

I have to admit that I argued for the provision of a national social networking/communications environment when I was on the JISCMail advisory group, shortly after the service was established.  However the voting systems and chat rooms they set up to support their mailing lists seem to have failed to gain much usage (it would be interesting to see the usage statistics), partly because, I suspect, they have been bolted on to the mailing list archives and fail to have the seamless and well-integrated interfaces which users will nowadays expect. In retrospect I’m pleased that JISCMail haven’t succeeded in establishing any significant services in this environment as I now agree with the sentiments expressed last year at a meeting on JISCMail futures that JISCMail should stick to their core business of providing a large scale email service and their priority should be in making their Web archive of mail messages better integrated with the Web architecture.

I also wonder what the access policies would be to social networking environments hosted within the sector for people who aren’t staff or students.  And what would happen if they leave the sector?

Finally I should point out Jack Schofield’s closing sentence in his post on “Ning social network site is going from freemium to paid-for“: “Alternatives to Ning include SocialGo, elgg, and Igloo. Other suggestions are welcome, but most people will probably just use Facebook….“.  He has identified a number of solutions which TechCrunch also mentioned – and has also included Facebook.  Hmm, that won’t be popular with some, I’m sure.  But maybe it will have more of a role to play in the future.   After all, as I mentioned recently, Facebook is being used to support the WWW 2010 conference.  And looking at the WWW 2010 Facebook page it has attracted over 1,00 members.

Posted in Social Networking | 4 Comments »

Technological Fixes – The Wrong Approach to Social Networks

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 April 2010

On the Panic Button: CEOP do an amazing job but digital literacy needs to be central driver in supporting young peoples online engagementtweeted Josie Fraser recently.  Josie was referring to the pressure CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) are putting on Facebook to add a CEOP Panic button on Facebook pages.

I have read that “The chief of the national anti-paedophile agency has launched another scathing attack on Facebook, branding its refusal to publish an official “panic button” on users’ profiles as “arrogant”.” The Guardian, I feel, has published a more measured commentary on this debate describing how “Facebook has responded to calls for increased online safety by announcing a range of new measures including a 24-hour police hotline, a £5m education and awareness campaign and a redesigned abuse reporting system” although it has still “declined to add a logo linking to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre“.

It would have been easy for Facebook to announce that it would be providing a CEOP panic button on its Web site – but would this have been the best approach. I fear that this would have been a one-off policy and technological fix.  The fix that has been proposes places CEOP in a central position to address its remit for “eradicating the sexual abuse of children” . But there are problems with the single centralised solution to problems.  CEOP’s remit is related to sexual abuse of children – which would seem to exclude issues such as bullying.  And since CEOP is a UK-based organisation its remit will no doubt be restricted to sexual abuse in a UK context and subject to not only UK laws but also political and social pressures, such as the campaigns we have already seen in non-technical contexts orchestrated by the tabloids.

I can already see headlines after the General Election “My Government has introduced legislation which requires social networking service to provide a panic button which allows cases of abuse of children to be reported to appropriate UK agencies” – whilst at the same time cutbacks in public sector funding  results in schools and libraries having to scale back on the work they are engaged in in supporting digital literacy for young children.

Having read Facebook’s recent press release on “Facebook and its Safety Advisory Board Launch Robust New Safety Center” I’m pleased to read that “Facebook also used the European Union’s Safer Social Networking Principles, a set of recommended best practices adopted by the social networking industry in consultation with the European Commission, to inform the new design“.  I’m also pleased to hear the comment that “There’s no single answer to making the Internet or Facebook safer“.

I suspect we won’t read comments such as “We’re encouraged to see Facebook taking a thoughtful, proactive approach to safety on the web” which was made by Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. That organisation does, of course, have vested interests as Stephen “Education is one of the four pillars of what we do at FOSI“. But for me an essential aspect of the debate centred around use of social networks by young people  is education around digital literacy – focussing the debate around a panic button solution is misguided, in my opinion. WHich is not to say that a reporting mechanism isn’t needed – but it shouldn’t hijack the debate.

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking | 1 Comment »

UKOLN Seminar: “Grab a Bucket – It’s Raining Data!”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 April 2010

Across the international repository community Dorothea Salo established a reputation for her Caveat Lector blog which ran from 2002–2009.  On her current  The Book of Trogool blog Dorothea now describes herself as “an academic librarian exploring the practices, processes, and praxis of e-research“.

As mentioned in a recent post on her blog entitled “Hello from Scotland!” Dorothea, who works at the University of Wisconsin, is currently in the UK. At the start of the week Dorothea spoke at the UKSG conference in Edinburgh where she gave a plenary talk on “Who Owns Our Data?“.

On Monday morning (19 April 2010) Dorothea will be speaking at a UKOLN seminar which will be held at the University of Bath.  The title of the seminar is “Grab a bucket – it’s raining data!” and the abstract is given below:

From a distance, the coming-together of libraries and research data looks like a match made in heaven. Libraries need the attention and support of scientists, and libraries offer digital services and portals that should accommodate the preservation and dissemination needs of data.

When we look a little closer, however, we find a lot of impedance mismatches between what data need and what libraries have on offer. This talk will explore those mismatches and suggest ways forward.

The seminar will take place from 09.30-12.00 in the Library seminar room 3E 3.8 on the University of Bath campus.  If you would like to attend please sign up on the Eventbrite booking form.

Posted in Events, Repositories | 1 Comment »

Privatisation and Centralisation Themes at JISC 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 April 2010

The JISC 10 Conference

I had an enjoyable couple of days on Monday and Tuesday at the JISC 10 conference, held at the QEII Conference Centre in London. The main event took place on Tuesday 12 April, with an opening and closing plenary session with a whole host of parallel sessions, surgeries, demos and networking opportunities during the day. Those who arrived on the Monday had the opportunity to attend a pre-conference debate. The conference programme is available on the JISC Web site, which also provides access to video recordings of the plenary talks and other sessions. In this post I’ll give some comments on the online networking infrastructure which played an important role during the event and summarise my thoughts on the main themes discussed by the plenary speakers.

The Communications and Networking Infrastructure

Use of Ning

I have already provided some thoughts on the JISC10 social network – as I suspected people were willing to sign up to this Ning environment (there are now 248 registered users – out of about 750 delegates who physically attended the conference) and, in many cases, upload a portrait but, as I suspected, little discussion on the site: here was only one forum discussion posted with one response, little participation in the Ning groups and only two blog posts, both by one of the event organisers, despite the fact that any registered user could publish a post. An exception to this is, perhaps the photo area. We starting to see a small number of participants uploading their photos to the social network – but even though only a handful of people have uploaded their photos so far, there are still more photos to be found on the Ning environment than jisc10-tagged photos on Flickr (although one person has used the jisc2010 tag on Flickr).

Use of Twitter

Instead of using the centrally-provided environment for discussions what we found at the event was intensive use of Twitter by conference attendees and the remote audience. According to the statistics provided on the Twapperkeeper archive of the #jisc10 tweets there have been over 1,900 tweets since 31 March – with the tag trending globally at one point on Tuesday. And at 12.45 @LisaHarris (who, according to her Twitter biography “teaches online marketing at the University of Southampton”) pointed out that#JISC10 is trending above #conservativemanifesto :-)“. That tweet itself was widely retweeted, thereby providing a positive feedback loop which helped the trending of the hashtag!

Histogram of numbers of tweets with #jisc10 tagThe WTHashtag service provides somewhat different statistics. From this service I have embedded a histogram showing that the tweets started in significant numbers on the first day,as participants were either travelling to London for the event or attending the pre-conference debate.

The WTHashtag also provides a summary of the top 10 contributors. These are @dajbconf (97 tweets), @llordllama (95), @diarmaid (87), @damyantipatel (69), @beckacurrant (62), @digitalfprint (58), @paullowe (56), @m_hopwood (55),  @mariekeguy (51) and  @simonhodson99 (41). I must admit to being surprised at the small spread across these top 10 contributors.  Since the service reports over 2,800 tweets from 479 contributors it would appear that there were large numbers of people tweeting at (or about) JISC10 conference and not just the small numbers of early adopters we saw in previous years (when the twitterers were dismissed as ‘twits’ in the welcome address!).

My thoughts on the communications and social networking environments at the JISC10 conference: participants are willing to signup and provide brief details about themselves. Those with an awareness of the importance of making contact with others may be consciously providing a photograph of themselves, while those  who are aware of the importance of dissemination of their areas of work will be summarising their work activities and (if they want to enhance their ‘Google juice’) will also be providing links to the relevant Web sites and perhaps also to live RSS feeds (an approach I took on my Ning page).

However the evidence seems to suggest that the participants appear to want make use of their ‘own’ communications infrastructure and to communicate with their own networks – and Twitter is the technology they use to do this. So we might observe that there is an organisationally-provided social network, which contains JISC branding although provided by a third party service rather than say, making use of a service provided by JISCMail or the Cloudworks service developed by the Open University. However the communications and personal networking infrastructure is more closely associated with the individual participants, with the only organisational involvement is, perhaps, only concerned with the naming of the hashtag.  This is, perhaps, an over-simplification, and I’m not addressing various other networked technologies which may have been used, such as those related to the streaming video and communications across the event organisers (many of whom could be seen clutching their mobile phones during the conference!) However I feel such observations may be useful for those involved in planning the JISC 2011 conference.

The “Debate” on Day 1

Dicky Otlet, JISC Communications Manager, introduced the pre-conference debate on “A perfect vision – technology priorities for higher education“. The abstract for the session informed us that “This question time style debate considers this blueprint in the context of higher education and looking beyond 2012, asking what can we expect the future of education with technology to look like and how can we ensure JISC continues to be relevant to the needs of the Higher Education (HE) sector for the next decade?

Before the debate started Dicky told the audience that, following comments I had made about the limited use of networked technologies at last year’s JISC conference to support user engagement, they had decided to make use of electronic voting devices during the debate. I was pleased to that the JISC Communications team were willing to experiment in this way at their high profile conference. However I think there was a general feeling that the questions the audience were asked to vote on were flawed – how could the audience, for example, fail to vote yes for a question along the lines “Should JISC consider providing Cloud Services for data storage of research data?“. Another leading question was along the lines of “Should the community be providing cost-effective cloud service to avoid unnecessary duplication of resources at a time when funding is under threat?” My colleague Paul Walk pointed out that this was a very leading question and suggested that if an alternative question was posed along the lines “Should the community be providing user-focussed services which are developed in response to local needs and requirements?” we would expect a different response.

Perhaps next year the debate should encourage more polarised opinions, in order to avoid what some twitterers felt were stage-managed opinions from the panelists. I feel that last year’s ALT-C 2009 conference panel session on “The VLE is Dead” was more successful in being both entertaining and allowing the panelists to express and argue from diverse perspectives.

Privatisation (of the Networking Infrastructure)

Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor at The Open University gave a captivating opening plenary talk on “The learning journey: From informal to formal” (slides available in PDF format). This talk went along very similar lines to the talk he gave at the ALT-C 2009 conference, shortly before he started in his new position at the Open University.  Martin successfully used his nationality (Australian) and his previous post working for Microsoft in the US to inform us that he was prepared to receive criticisms of his vision for future directions for higher education, as his background is not one that is normally favoured by a British educational technological audience (the reference to working for Microsoft is obvious, and last summer he used his nationality with respect to the Ashes series).

Martin’s views on the importance of the Social Web were well-received by many of the educational technologists at ALT-C 2009 and JISC10. He used that statistics on the large numbers of downloads from the Open University presence on YouTube and iTunes to demonstrate the importance of these delivery channels to the  Open University – and also pointed out the marketing benefits that this can provide, with potential students who listen to such podcasts being likely to subsequently register for an Open University course.

Privatisation slide used by Martin BeanBut although such views are now fairly mainstream amongst many of the eLearning 2.0 crowd who I know and whose blogs I read, I found it interesting that, after his initial (justifiable) praise for various successes in the JISC community Martin explicitly spoke about not only globalisation (Google, perhaps) and massification (increase in student numbers and life-long learners) but also privatisation.

The ‘privatisation’ word has been a red flag to many in the UK HE community, since the days of Thatcherism.  It was therefore interesting to hear him explicitly raise this topic, and to hear him say that this was an area in which the UK was lagging behind the US and Australia.

At the WWW 2006 conference which was held in Edinburgh I can recall raising concerns which have been raised consistently in the UK regarding dependencies on commercial companies for the provision of services to the public sector – and getting blank looks from techies working outside the UK. The following year, at WWW 2007, I had an interesting discussion on this issue with researchers working in Canada.  We had similar political opinions, but it seems that ownership of IT technologies is not regarded widely as a political issue in public sector organisations in North America.  So perhaps Martin is correct – the UK is lagging behind other countries in our views on the role of the private sector in the provision of various aspects on the networked infrastructure for use in teaching, learning and research.  Maybe those of us on the left should be arguing for public sector ownership of the transport infrastructure, but we more willing to embrace commercial provision of applications and infrastructure?

Centralisation (of the Networking Infrastructure)

Bill St. Arnaud gave the closing plenary talk on “The critical role that JISC can play in helping society reduce its carbon footprint” (slides available in PDF format). This was another stimulating if rather gloomy talk, this time on the inevitable dangers to the planet due to global warming. Bill argued, providing lots of evidence and links to background reading, that the priority should be for reductions in carbon emissions, rather than for energy efficiencies (as the latter approach can result in greater use and therefore carbon emissions).  His suggestion for universities was to ensure that the large amounts of energy consumed by data centres comes from zero carbon emission energy sources.  So rather than locating data centres in cities they should be close to wind farms and hydro-electric courses of energy.  We heard examples of approaches which are being taken in Canadian Universities.  And we also heard that Google are also taking this approach.

The Debates for JISC11

My “Delete a petabyte; save a polar bear” post was intended as tongue-in-cheek. But as I suggested above that there’s a need for more polarising and controversial topics to engage an audience in debate at next year’s JISC conference I wonder if topics inspired by the two plenary talks might help in avoiding the middle ground? What are your thoughts on “Help students – privatise the networks“; “Outsource to Google and save the planet“;  “Relocate the IT infrastructure team to the windy parts of the country“.  Is this a future for higher education?

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

Reusing Individual or Groups of WordPress Posts

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 April 2010

Is it possible to take an individual post from this blog and reuse it another environment? You can take the most recent blog posts (which I’ve currently configured to be the 26 most recent posts) and reuse them in another environment using the blogs RSS feed.  The most recent posts can be viewed in a personal RSS reader, displayed in a public RSS viewer such as Netvibes, fed into a service such as Wordle to create a word cloud, etc. But what if you want to do something with a post which I created a while ago, such as the An Opportunities and Risks Framework For Standards post which was published in January 2010?. Can that post be reused in ways other than just linking to the page?

The answer to this question was provided by Tony Hirst in a post on Single Item RSS Feeds on WordPress blogs: RSS For the Content of This Page which he wrote in July 2009. Unlike many of Tony’s development activities which Tony describes on his OUseful WordPress blog, his solution does not involve writing code; rather it is based on a standard, but seemingly not widely-known feature of WordPress blogs – the ability to create an RSS feed for any page which is displayed.

If you have a WordPress blog you can simple add the following few lines of HTML in the sidebar for your blog:

<h2>Syndicate This Page</h2>
<p><a href=”?feed=rss2&amp;withoutcomments=1″>RSS Feed for this page</a></p>

The end user viewing one of your blog posts will be able to click on the link “RSS Feed for this page” and get an RSS view of the post. This RSS file can be used with a variety of RSS tools – what you have provided is a simple mechanisms for reusing A HTML resource (the Web view of the blog post) into a much more reusable format.

Tony pointed out that this trick can be used not only for an individual blog post – in can also be used for  various views for a blog post.  If you look at my posts for January 2008 or for the category Standards, for example, you will see the “RSS Feed for this page” link, and if you click on the link you’ll can an RSS feed of posts published in January 2008 or posts with the category Standards. One caveat I should mention, though, is that the total number of items in the RSS feed is limited to the number specified in the blog’s configuration file.  As mentioned above, the limit for my blog is 26 items. As I published 31 posts in July 2007, not all posts will be included in the RSS feed for the month.  Similarly the RSS feeds for the year and for popular categories will not necessarily contain the complete set of relevant posts (unless I set the number of RSS items to a very large number, which could result in causing problems elsewhere, such as users of RSS reader who might understandably expect to see only the most recent posts).

Recently Paul Milne left a comment on this blog wondering why the “RSS Feed for this Page” link was provided, as it appeared to replicate the functionality of the blog entries RSS link.  I have to admit that the purpose of the link is not obvious. I hope this post provides an explanation of the benefits which this contextual RSS feed can provide.  And I’d encourage other WordPress bloggers to make use of this little-known feature provided on the WordPress blogging platform.

Posted in Blog, rss | 2 Comments »

Use of Social Networks at Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 April 2010

The JISC10 Social Network

A recent press release from the JISC announced Networking opportunities at JISC10 virtual conference. There was an invitation to “Join the JISC10 social network to meet other delegates before the event, join discussion groups around the sessions or start up your own group – regardless of whether you’ll be following the event online or in person on 12-13 April 2010“.

The JISC10 social network is now available. The service, which is provided by the Ning social networking environment, is illustrated below.

JISC10 Conference Social Network

I have joined the JISC10 social network and added some content to my page, including an RSS feed for this blog. I’ve also befriended people I know who have also joined the network.

Why Provide a Social Network at Events?

Is the provision of a social networking environment essential for events, such as the JISC10 conference, which have a technical focus or is it jumping on the social media bandwagon? And what are the best practices which should be implemented in order to ensure that the environment is successful, and what are the possible limitations which might be improved on in future years?

UKOLN also made use of Ning to provide a social network for its IWMW 2008 event. However although 84 (of around 180 participants at the event) joined the IWMW 2008 Ning environment there wasn’t a great deal of activity. Nine discussion topics were created before, during and after the event, but the most active, the For Those Arriving On Monday 21 July group only attracted 7 posts. Ning groups were created prior to the event for each of the eighteen workshop sessions, but with the exception of the session
B2: Web CMS and University Web Teams Part II – the Never Ending Story? again there was little active participation.

A small amount of content was added after the event – the Ning environment provided speakers and workshop facilitators a space for sharing links and other resources. However we felt that this experiment (the social network had been set up as an experiment) failed to provide evidence of the benefits in providing a social networking environment for an event. For the IWMW 2009 event we decided to set up the IWMW 2009 WordPress blog. We felt that this was more successful, with 68 posts published and 97 comments made.

Best Practices For Use of Social Network At Events?

It may be that 2008 was too soon to provide a social network at an event, with participants at that stage perhaps being concerned with organisational use of what may have been perceived as a ‘social’ environment. And although we felt that the IWMW 2009 blog was a success, it was not as open as the Ning social network as, unlike the blog, any registered user could create a topic in Ning.

The approaches taken to user registration will need to be considered by those setting up such environments. In order to minimise the effort needed to subscribe to the IWMW 2008 social network and to enable users to contribute as soon as they had joined, there was no moderation provided for user registrations.This was fine before and during the event. However, as I described in a post entitled “Wanna chat with me on cam?“, almost a year after the event was over there were a number of spam posts sent to all members. As I described in that post “The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however, in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually“.

What of the JISC10 Social Network?

As of 11 April 2010 there are 210 members of the JISC10 social network. Will we see the JISC10 Social Network providing to be a great success, with large numbers joined and many of them taking part in the discussions? Or will the discussion be centred around the #jisc10 hashtag on Twitter?

I think we need to monitor such usage levels and share the experiences within the community. But in a way I don’t think it really matters if we don’t see a significant amount of discussion on the site. Since well over hundred people have joined the group and many have added a photograph and summarised their interests this enables participants to see who is attending and put a face to a name – something that we don’t get from a simple list of participants.

It was also interesting to note how I had to upload my photo and recreate my personal details and then re-establish links with my contacts. Many of these contacts are people I am already connected with on other social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and, indeed, other Ning networks (such as the Bathcamp, Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2008, Mashed Library, Libraries of the Future and IWMW 2008 Ning networks. A few years ago there was a view that social networks should be based on open standards which enable one’s social network to be migrated to other environments. I wonder whether interest in this has diminished due to a realisation that it will be hard to do, or perhaps we feel that there are benefits in having differing profiles and networks in different social networks?

Posted in Social Networking | 10 Comments »

Rapper Sword and the Social Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 April 2010

Rapper Sword and DERT 2010

Newcastle Kingsmen dancing at DERT 2010 I spent the weekend in Derby competing in the annual DERT 2010 rapper sword dancing competition.  I first start dancing rapper in 1978 while I was at Newcastle University and since 1979 have  been a comic character (the ‘Betty’) for the team, the Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers, on a regular basis ever since. During my 30 years of dancing the dance I’ve seen rapper sword grow in popularity, a rise in the number of female teams, increasing numbers of overseas teams and, over the past few years,  I have noticed that the quality of the dancing has improved tremendously, with the embarrassment of the local collapsing becoming unusual. I’m also starting to see technologies being used across the rapper community and thought it would be worth summarising such developments and the potential for further use of networked technologies.

Information About Rapper Sword

If you haven’t come across rapper sword dancing before how would you find out about it? Information about the dance is available from the Rapper Online Web site. However Wikipedia is likely to be a place which people will use to find information about the dance. This was a reason I created the entry on Rapper Sword back in 2004. But as well as helping people to find out about the dance, I also created the page in order to learn about Wikipedia. This also allowed me to gain acceptance as a trusted Wikipedia contributor.

Another place where people might expect to find information out the dance is Facebook. There is a Rapper Sword Dance Facebook group – but that has failed to develop a community and little information is provided there.

Many rapper teams will, of course, have their own Web side. The Rapper Online provides a list of rapper teams in the UK and elsewhere (teams exist in the US, Canada, Norway, Belgium, New Zealand and Australia).

Photos and Videos

The Rapper Online Web site provides a gallery of photos (and links to galleries provided by rapper teams). It also has links to videos of rapper sword dances.

However, as might be expected with the growing numbers of people who own some form of video camera (perhaps on a mobile phone) a greater range of video footage can be found using a YouTube search for “rapper sword”.


Google Map of Kingsmen dancing crawl of Chester-le-StreetAlthough sharing videos is now fairly commonplace, I don’t think there is much use yet of GPS in the rapper community, apart, perhaps, from using a SatNav in a car when travelling to folk festivals.

On a recent trip up to Newcastle  the Kingsmen had organised a Saturday dancing crawl which started off in Chester-le-Streeet and made its way to Gateshead.   This provided an opportunity for to to try out the GPS capabilities of my Android phone.  I used the MyTrack application to record the start of the crawl, which I subsequently uploaded to Google Maps.

Unfortunately as I was concerned that use of GPs would drain the phone’s battery I didn’t keep of a record of the full crawl (which began at about 1 pm and finished after midnight). I would like to use this application again the next time I’m on a dancing crawl.

On Saturday, rather than having the GPS on as we went from pub to pub around Derby for the competition spots I tried out a social location-sharing application – Gowalla. I signed up for this service recently and used it to geo-locate the various pubs we went to. This provides a Google Map of the places we visited. But unlike MyTracks, Gowalla can display other people who have checked in to the same location. You can also see the checked in location for your friends. So when people disappear off during the lunch spot, either for a sandwich or to visit another pub, if the dancers, many of whom who will own a smart phone, it would be possible for the team’s squire to know where the dancers are, without having to resort to sending text messages as is the case now when there are last minutes changes to arrangements.

What’s Missing?

What the rapper community hasn’t yet done, I feel, is to establish a tagging strategy to make it easier to find photos and videos. Perhaps we should promote “rappersword” for tagging photos and videos and ‘DERT2010′ for the weekends event (note that the community doesn’t seem to be using Twitter, so there’s no need, I feel, to recommend the shorter ‘DERT10′).

Revisiting DERT 2010

I mentioned previously that DERT (Dancing England Rapper Tournament) the annual DERT 2010 is the annual competition for rapper sword dancing. The scoring system has evolved over the years, with marks being awarded for Stepping, Sword Handling, Dance Technique and Teamwork, Buzz Factor, Presentation, Music and Characters. But who won? The answer is that my team, the Newcastle Kingsmen won the Premier class and the Steve Marris trophy. In addition the Kingsmen Tommy and Betty (including myself as the Betty) won the comic character prize and we also won a prize for the best calling-on song. A fun weekend :-)

NOTE: The first image in the post was replaced on 12 April by a photograph taken in the final competition dance at DERT 2010.

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

“We Have the Highest Proportion of Students!”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 April 2010

Back in September 2001 I gave a talk at the JANET User Support Workshop, which was held at Loughborough University. I remember a Pro Vice Chancellor giving the welcome talk during which he mentioned that “Loughborough has the highest proportion of students of any place in the UK” (or words to that effect). I remember him saying that as I worked at Loughborough University from 1984-90 and I was interested in seeing how the increases in the numbers of students was changing the town centre – there were a number of superpubs which weren’t there when I lived in the town.

Last November I spent a few days at Aberystwyth University. While I was there, on my way to a CAMRA pub, I noticed large numbers of students (dressed as doctors and nurses) on a pub crawl around the town. This made me wonder if a small place like Aberystwyth might have overtaken Loughborough as the town or city in the UK with the largest proportion of students.

That was the background to my recent “Challenge To Linked Data Developers” in which I asked “Which town or city in the UK has the largest proportion of students?“. In order to simplify the challenge and avoid the need for SPARQL developers to have to track down official relevant data sources I asked that the challenge be addressed using data held in DBpedia, the RDF datastore of structured information provided in Wikipedia. An additional aim was to gain an understanding of the quality of the data (and the data structures) held in DBpedia, which is frequently mentioned as having a central role to play in the Linked Data world.

A week after issuing my challenge I published the “Response To My Linked Data Challenge“. However the answers obtained from querying DBpedia were clearly incorrect – Cambridge, for example, doesn’t have a population of 12!

On the DCC blog Chris Rusbridge has revisited my challenge in a post entitled “Linked Data and Reality“. Chris suggested that “If we care about our queries, we should care about our sources; we should use curated resources that we can trust. Resources from, say… the UK government?“. That may be true, but I wasn’t primarily after the correct answer when I formulated my challenge – I was more interested in whether DBpedia could provide a reasonable answer, how long it might take to write a SPARQL query and how complex such a query might be. This motivation was acknowledged by bitwacker in his comment that “I think Brian’s challenge should be seen as only a benchmark, a sampling of the effectiveness of linked data practices today.” That’s right – and I’m pleased to have noticed recently that the DBpedia community have recently issued an “Invitation to contribute to DBpedia by improving the infobox mappings“. In addition Kingsley Idehen alerted me to Yago, Opencyc, Umbel, and Sumo ontologies, all of which have binding to DBpedia. (I should also add that Kingsley has written a blog post on “DBpedia receives shot #1 of CLASSiness vaccine” which illustrates how new ontologies can be integrated with DBpedia).

Perhaps DBpedia could have a role to play in answering the type of query I posed – after all, if you want to compare the proportions of students in towns and cities across several countries, mightn’t DBpedia be an easier place to seeks an initial answer, rather than having to find and query statistics from each of the individual countries (especially as the UK Government seems to be taking a leading role in expressing a commitment to Linked Data).

In addition to suggesting that the query should use official Government sources of data (which Chris Wallace has used to provide an answer to my query) Chris also raised the issue about the need to seek clarity in the queries we pose. Using the Guardian Platform Chris Wallace found that the place with the highest proportion of students is Milton Keynes. Chris Rusbridge suggested this in an initial discussion on a LinkedIn Linked Data discussion. And yes, the home of the Open University, is likely to have a large number of registered students. But I don’t think the place will be full of students at the start of the academic year since the Open University is a distance learning institution. The (implied) context of my query was the place for which a significant proportion of students would be likely to affect the local environment, with large numbers of students in town during freshers pub crawls and, perhaps, little happening during vacations. So we should rule out the Open University. But what about other universities with a large number of students on distance learning courses? According to a tweet from lordllamaAbout 41% of 23,000 students at Leicester University are on distance learning courses“.

There is also the question of how we should treat institutions such as the University of Brighton in Hastings which “offers University of Brighton degrees“.  As Margaret Wallis pointed out in response to my initial blog post this institution has  “grown in six years from 40 students to 600+“. But should those students be included in the totals for the Univeristy of Brighton or for Hastings? The general question is how we should treat institutions which have multiple campuses, split across different towns or, as may be case in this example, institutions which award degrees on befalf of other institutions.

You may also notice that my question about places with a large proportion of students is now talking about universities and university students. But what about students at FE colleges? And school children?

Chris Rusbridge highlighted such complexities: “The point is, these things are hard. Understanding your data structures and their semantics, understanding the actual data and their provenance, understanding your questions, expressing them really clearly: these are hard things.” Chris concluded “I’m beginning to worry that Linked Data may be slightly dangerous except for very well-designed systems and very smart people…” Chris probably had his tongue in his cheek with his ‘smart people‘ remark but he may be right with his warning that Linked Data might be dangerous. If a simply query such as “Which town or city in the UK has the largest proportion of students?” is open to a number of different interpretations, what are the implications for more complex queries.

In my “Response To My Linked Data Challenge” I described how Tim Berners-Lee introduced the Semantic Web by described how it aimed to provide an answer to a query such as “Is there a green car for sale for around $15000 in Queensland?“. Tim described how, unlike the search engines of the day, a Semantic Web query would be able to find a result which was described as “Affordable maroon saloon for sale in Brisbane”. But this query is seeking to find additional results which would not be found by a traditional keyword search. The “Which town or city in the UK has the largest proportion of students?“, however, is seeking to find a single answer. Might there be types of queries for which Linked Data might work and others for which if may be difficult or expensive to model the data? Or to rephrase the question what, specifically, is Linked Data for?

Posted in Linked Data | 3 Comments »

Twitter and the Digital Economy Bill

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 April 2010

Twitter Is Important

A blog post on has described how “How Twitter added to the #askthechancellors TV debate“. The post describes how “Channel 4 estimated that the debate generated 20,000 tweets over a two-period, becoming the number one trending topic in the UK and London on Twitter, and number three worldwide“. The post went on to mention that “The director of Polis at the LSE, Charlie Beckett, described it as a small triumph for democracy” and how the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones suggested that “Twitter, rather than television, could be the place where the issues are really dissected“. I agree – indeed as I suggested in a recent postPerhaps use of Twitter is starting to become an important part of the political debate, with tweets becoming the twenty-first century’s equivalent to the heckles at election meetings – sometimes rude or irrelevant – but an important part of the democratic process“.

Can We Reuse Tweets?

But are we permitted to reuse tweets as opposed to passively read them in a Twitter client? Can we, as Martin Hawksey did, use Twitter to provide access to Gordon Brown’s Building Britain’s Digital Future announcement with twitter subtitles? Can Twitter archiving services provide public archives of hashtagged events such as the recent Rewired State: Rewired Culture event or the forthcoming JISC 2010 conference or, indeed, the archive of Gordon Brown’s Digital Future announcement which was used by Martin Hawksey to provide his Twitter captioning service?

What’s the problem?” you may ask “Tweets aren’t subject to copyright. Anyway so  many people and organisations are now reusing tweets that a precedent has been established.  We know we can rip the CDs we own to put on our iPods despite this technically being, in the UK, an infringement of copyright legislation“.

Copyright of Tweets

There are two problems, I feel. The first is that tweets (the product of a creative intellectual activity) are subject to copyright. And the Twitter Terms of Service makes it quite clear that, unlike Facebook, Twitter do not claim ownership:

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

The Digital Economy Bill

The other problem, in the UK at least, is the Digital Economy Bill.  In the past week or so I have read about protests against this proposed legislation ranging from the “Open Rights Group demonstrates against the Digital Economy Bill, as parliament confirms date for second reading through to Chris Sexton’s post on “Democracy and the Digital Economy Bill #debill“.

Chris, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, has written to her MP in protest against the bill. She feel the bill is bad enough but the main focus of her letter is “the process of ‘wash-up’ – when bills are not debated properly but rushed through as parliament is dissolved by a series of trade offs between the parties“.

The Nightmare Scenario

I agree with Chris’s concerns. But in her letter to her MP Chris, who is also chair of UCISA, pointed out that “UCISA recognises the need to tackle online copyright infringement; as mentioned above our model regulations specifically highlight breach of copyright as a forbidden activity“.  Hmm – so University regulations treat copyright infringement as a forbidden activity.  And although you might get away with citing individual tweets as ‘fair use’ I suspect you couldn’t use this argument if you reuse of large numbers of tweets without the permission of the individual twitterers :-(  So is Martin Hawksey’s Twitter captioning tool infringing copyright? Should his host institution enforce UCISA model regulations and stop this ‘forbidden activity’?  And if the institution fails to act, might the institution have access to the Internet disconnected under the terms of the Digital Economy Bill?


But am I correct when I argue that tweets are copyrighted resources?  This issue was raised last year on Mark Cuban’s Blog Maverick blog.  Of particular interest are the comments by Guile, Scott Allan and Brock which illustrate the spectrum of opinion. Guille starts his response by saying:

Is a tweet copyrightable?

Most likely. Under the Copyright Act, 17 USC § 102,
(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Scott Allan reinforces this view: “Technically, it’s copyrighted, whether it’s on Twitter, a blog comment, a discussion forum, USENET, whatever“. Scott, however, points out that “That said, it’s totally a ‘fair use’” issue” and goes on to speculate on what ‘fair use’ might mean in the context of a tweet (although he doesn’t address the issue of ‘fair use’ for a collection of tweets).

In contrast Brock begins his response with the assertion:”There is no copyright protection for a tweet“. Brick goes on to argue that “In copyright law, [a tweet] lacks the ’substance’ of a literary work” and suggests that “Copyright protection does not extend to such minimal expressions that are typical in our society“. I should add, however, that Brock concludes his comments with the notice: “THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE OR COUNSEL; IT IS MERELY INFORMATION“.

Personally I suspect that if you seek legal advice you will be warned that “Case law hasn’t been established; we advise you be be cautious” before concluded “it would be best to seek permission before reusing tweets“. I heard similar suggestions ten years ago on the need to seek permission before linked to a resource. And looking at the Web2Rights toolkit on IPR (PDF format) it seems that you should seek permission.

There are dangers in seeking legal advice, I feel. But what to do? Perhaps we should seek a test case. I wonder if Martin Hawksey would be willing to act as a martyr in the cause of establishing that tweets can be reused without fear of our Web services being shut down?

Posted in openness, Twitter | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Saturday’s Unconference: Thoughts On The Rewired State: Rewired Culture Event

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 April 2010

Report on the Rewired State: Rewired Culture Event

On Saturday (!) I attended the Rewired State: Rewired Culture event which was held in the Guardian offices in London. I went to this meeting on behalf of UKOLN’s DevCSI work which “is about helping developers in HE to realise their full potential, by creating the conditions for them to be able to learn, to network effectively, to share ideas and to collaborate, creating a ‘community’ of HE developers which is greater than the sum of its parts“. UKOLN has always had a role to play in engaging with the wider public sector community. When I started work at UKOLN in 1996 the focus was on the library sector, including the British Library and public libraries (back then we had a post dedicated to supporting public libraries). Over the years that remit grew to include museums, libraries and archives. Though our involvement with the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) we have also strengthened our links with public sector and related organisations including BECTa, the BBC and central government departments.

The Rewired State: Rewired Culture event therefore provided an opportunity for the DevCSI team to strengthen its links with developers who have an interest in development work which can enhance access to cultural heritage resources. Unfortunately my colleague Paul Walk, who had initially booked to attend the event, was unable to make it. I attended instead and, as I am not a developer, took part in the event’s Unconference rather than the Hackfest. I have summarised my thoughts on the day on the DevCSI blog and a Twapperkeeper archive of the #rsrc tweets is available,so I’ll not repeat those observations here.

Hackfests, Mashup Days, Hackfests, Unconferences, …

Although I found the event useful and enjoyable, I sometimes wonder about the growth over the past few years of Barcamps, Unconferences and similar events.

I attended my first Barcamp, Bathcamp, which was held in Bath on the weekend of 12-13 September 2008 (and I should add that I cheated, returning home on the Saturday night and not camping as most of the geeks did). Since then I’ve attended a number of the Bathcamp evening events which Mike Ellis and colleagues have organised. I’m particularly looking forward to the Bathcamp being held next Wednesday, 7 April, which is being ‘curated’ by Matt Jukes. The evening’s theme is ‘Data Driven‘ and will provide an opportunity to here from a number of gurus who are engaging in Linked Data development activities.

Such events provide valuable networking and development opportunities, which I welcome. I also try and contribute to the events, having spoken on “Web 2.0: Time To Stop Doing And Start Thinking” at Bathcamp 2008 and another on “This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away last July.

But why do those involved in (certain aspects of) IT spend their leisure hours learning more which helps their day job? And is this healthy?

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