UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for October, 2010

Release of MathML v3 as a W3C Standard

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 October 2010

On 21 October 2010 the W3C made an announcement about an “important standard for making mathematics on the Web more accessible and international, especially for early mathematics education“. The press release described how “MathML 3 is the third version of a standard supported in a wide variety of applications including Web pages, e-books, equation editors, publishing systems, screen readers (that read aloud the information on a page) and braille displays, ink input devices, e-learning and computational software.”

But what about support from browser vendors?  The press release went on to describe how “MathML 3 is part of W3C’s Open Web Platform, which includes HTML5, CSS, and SVG. Browser vendors will add MathML 3 support as they expand their support for HTML5. Firefox and Camino already support MathML 2 natively, and Safari/WebKit nightly builds continue to improve. Opera supports the MathML for CSS profile of MathML 3. Internet Explorer users can install a freely-available MathPlayer plug-in. In addition, JavaScript software such as MathJax enables MathML display in most browsers without native support.

Does it work? In order to investigate I installed the Firemath extension for FireFox and the MathPlayer plugin for Internet Explorer.  I then viewed the MathML Browser Test (Presentation Markup) page using FireFox (v 4.0), Chrome, Internet Explorer (v 8) and Opera (v 10.61). The results shown using Internet Explorer version 8 are shown below, with the first and second columns containing an image of how the markup has been rendered in TeXShop and FireFox with STIK Beta Fonts and the third column showing how the markup is rendered in the browser the user is using.

A quick glance at the display on all four browsers shows that the support seems pretty good [Note following a commented I received I have noticed that the page isn’t rendered in Chrome) – added 2 November 2010].  However it would take a  mathematician to ensure that the renderings of mathematical formula are acceptable.

It should also be noted that MathML 3 is part of HTML5. This means that embedding maths in Web documents should become easier, with direct import from HTML to mathematics software and vice versa.

In order to encourage takeup the W3C Math home page provides links to “A Gentle Introduction to MathML” and “MathML: Presenting and Capturing Mathematics for the Web” tutorials with “The MathML Handbook” available for purchase.

The W3C have provided a “MathML software list” together with a “MathML 3 Implementation Testing Results Summary” – which, it should be noted, has not not been updated since July 2010.

I think this announcement is of interest in the context of institutional planning for migration of document formats to richer and more open environments provided by HTML5 and associated standards such as MathML, CSS 3. etc.

Will we start to see documents containing MathML markup being uploaded to institutional repositories, I wonder? And should this format be preferred to PDFs for scientific papers containing mathematical markup?

Posted in jiscobs, standards, W3C | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Is There A Need For An Auto-Delete Service For Twitter?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 October 2010

Is Twitter “For The Moment”?

Last month’s post on opting-out of Twitter archives generated some discussion on Twitter from a handful of people who felt that tweets shouldn’t be archived at all.   In the discussion (which I won’t cite!) there was a suggestion that tweets should auto-delete after a short period of time. Such an approach fits in with a view that Twitter is “for the moment“.

An auto-deletion approach has been taken by the #NoLoC service. This has been set up by those who are concerned about the US Government (actually the Library of Congress) archiving of tweets. Users who register with the #NoLoC service give permission for this service to delete tweets which contain a specified hashtash after 23 weeks – one week before tweets are archived by the Library of Congress.

Although this service has been set up for one particular context it made me wonder if this approach could not be generalised. Could a service be developed be developed which allowed users to specify a period after which their tweets would automatically be deleted, together with hashtags which would identify tweets to be deleted after this period?

Someone who normally uses Twitter for professional purposes but also tweets about football might tag such tweets with #footie and requests that such tweets be deleted after a few days. Or if you are going to a party or music festival you might specify that tweets with #party or #festival are deleted the following day.

This suggestion is generalising the approach taken by the #NoLoc service and providing the flexibility to allow the user to have control over the time period and hashtag. And unlike the Twitwipe service (which deletes all tweets from a user’s account) provides users will control over how and when their tweets are deleted.

However although this approach (which would probably need to be provided by a trusted organisation as you are giving rights for your tweets to be deleted to another organisation) will ensure that tweets are deleted from Twitter (and also not archived by the Library of Congress if the deletion period is less than 24 weeks) it doesn’t delete tweets which have been archived by other services (including services such as Twapper Keeper and Google).

Thoughts On Approaches to Auto-Deletion of Tweets

If Twitter is an important part of the information landscape (which I feel it is) there will be a need to address issues such as privacy and content management at a more fundamental level – and the view that archiving isn’t important or shouldn’t be done ignores the fact that it is being done and judging by the Twapper Keeper usage statistics published in our recent paper:

As of 1 July 2010 the Twapper Keeper archive contains 1,243 user archives, 1,263 keyword archives and 7,683 hashtag archives. There are a total of 321,351,085 tweets stored. The average number of tweets ingested per second is from 50 to 3,000 per minute (around 180,000 per hour. or 4.32 million per day). Since Twitter itself processes about 65 million tweets per day the Twapper Keeper service is currently processing about 6-7% of the total public traffic.

But how might a distributed environment for respecting Twitter users rights to be able to delete their tweets from Twitter and from conforming Twitter archiving services?

Would it be possible for a Twitter API to enable tweets deleted by an authenticated user from a Twitter archive to also be deleted from Twitter? And could tweets which have been deleted in Twitter (perhaps from a remote request) to then be deleted from other archives?

Of course this would not stop people from capturing tweets in other ways, or for Twittering archiving tools to fail to respect such a protocol. But this is also the case with the robot exclusion protocol – robot software from search engines which respect the protocol will not index files which have been excluded in a robots.txt file in the root of a Web server. But such excluded files are still openly available and robots which don’t respect this protocol can still index the files. However in reality most users will use trusted search engines which have implemented such a widely accepted standard.

Is such an approach technically possible today? And, if not, would it be possible if Twitter provided appropriate APIs?

Or Maybe We Should Simply Accept Twitter’s Openness

Of course there might be an argument that such developments are pointless – tweets will be treated as public property and so there’s simply a need to accept this. Or perhaps an alternative to Twitter could be used by those who still have concerns. What would be needed would be a walled garden which made it difficult for content to be accessed by other applications with permissions which allowed various levels of access control, such as access by friends, friends of friends, etc.

Hmm, I wonder if Facebook could be the answer :-) More seriously, perhaps we will find that different services are used by people in different ways – and I know I have read how people may use Twitter for open discussions in a work context and Facebook for closed discussions with friends and families. Perhaps rather than overload Twitter with complex content management mechanisms we should simply accept that Twitter is an open environment, with the risks and benefits which openness provides.

Posted in Twitter | 7 Comments »

Apple Ditching Preinstalled Flash On Future Macs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 October 2010

A couple of days ago there was an announcement that “Apple [is] Ditching Preinstalled Flash On Future Macs“. On the surface this decision has been taken to minimise security problems associated with Flash software – as described on the CultOfMac blogBy making users download Flash themselves, Apple is disavowing the responsibility of keeping OS X’s most infamously buggy and resource heavy third-party plugin up to date on users’ machines“.

The Guardian reported the news in rather more aggressive terms: “Apple has escalated its war with Adobe’s Flash Player by stopping including the browser plugin on the Macintosh computers that it sells” and points out how this will inconvenience many users as “The surprising and unannounced move means that buyers will have to figure out how to download the player and plugin on any of the computers that they buy – a process which Apple has not simplified by including any “click to install” links“.

Since the Guardian article pointed out that “Jobs has criticised [Flash] as ‘proprietary’” and “praised HTML5 and the video codecs available on it” this story might be regarded as a success story for open standards.  But there is a need to be aware that Flash’s proprietary nature has been recognised as a concern to those seeking to make use of open standards in development work for some time.  The NOF-Digitise Technical Advisory Service provided an FAQ which pointed out in about 2002 that “Flash is a proprietary solution, which is owned by Macromedia.  As with any proprietary solutions there are dangers in adopting it as a solution: there is no guarantee that readers will remain free in the long term, readers (and authoring tools) may only be available on popular platforms, the future of the format would be uncertain if the company went out of business, was taken over, etc.“.

In retrospect the FAQ could also be have said that “As with any open standard there are dangers in adopting it as a solution: there is no guarantee that readers will be provided on popular platforms, readers (and authoring tools) may fail to be available on popular platforms, the future of the format would be uncertain if the open standard fails to be widely adopted, etc.

It is only now, about eight years after that advice was provided, that we are seeing Flash started to be deprecated by major players and open standards alternatives being provided by such vendors. And although the vendors will inevitably cite the benefits of open standards in their press releases, since such benefits have always been apparent, in reality decisions to support open standards are likely to have been made by vendors for commercial reasons – in this case competition between Apple and Adobe.

But what can be learnt from such history lesson?  Perhaps that the availability of an open standard is no guarantee that it will supersede proprietary alternatives and that commercial vendors can have a significant role to play in ensuring the take-up of open standards.  In which case it does seem that HTML5 will be an important standard and Flash is under threat.

But whilst that view seems to be increasingly being accepted it is worth noting concerns that have been raised within W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, with Philippe Le Hegaret pointing out thatThe problem we’re facing right now is there is already a lot of excitement for HTML5, but it’s a little too early to deploy it because we’re running into interoperability issues”.

Hmm, it seems as if the HTML5 maturity debate will continue to run.

Posted in HTML, standards | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Amplifying a Talk on “Event Amplification Using Social Media”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 October 2010

Live Access to Talks Using Authorstream and Bambuser

Last week I gave a talk on “Event Amplification Using Social Media” at a meeting in which JISC Services discussed ways in which they could enhance the effectiveness of their services using social media.

As one might expect for a talk on event amplification the two presentations given at the meeting were themselves amplified.  The meeting, which explored ways of  “Integrating social media with other on and offline media“, began with a talk on “Social Services” which was given by Steve Boneham of Netskills.

Following my suggestion that we should look to evaluate ways in which the presentation of speakers’ slides could be made accessible to a remote audience Steve made his slides available on Authorstream. Although this appears to be a clone of the  better known Slideshare service it provides richer functionality (e.g. supporting transitional effects) and, of particular relevance in the context of event amplification, allows specific slides to be displayed to a remote audience using the Present Live option.

I used this facility during Steve’s talk which meant that there was a context to accompanying the Twitter discussion.  However it was only later during my talk, when there was a larger audience which had been alerted to the amplified event on Twitter, that there were sufficient numbers for their to be an active discussion about the talk – and the strengths and weaknesses of use of a slide sharing service such as Authorstream.

An additional reason for the larger audience was that during my talk I was also streaming the video and audio using the Bambuser video streaming service. This was done by running Bambuser on a cheap Advent netbook PC and using the netbook’s built-in Webcam and microphone.

Video of Brian Kelly's talkAs well as being streamed live a copy of the video was kept and can be accessed on the Bambuser Web site in part 1 and part two. According to the statistics there were 22 views of the first part of the live video stream and 19 of the second part.

Note that if you view these videos you may be disappointed by the sound quality. However, as discussed below, this experiment was intended to demonstrate lightweight approaches to event amplification and identify simple ways to improve the experiences for a remote audience.  One way of enhancing the quality would be to use a better microphone – and a simple way of worsening the experience for the remote audience would be to not provide a live video stream of the talk!

Timeshifting Using Panopto

In addition to the experiments in use of Authorstream and Banmbuser to enrich the experience for a live audience the event also provided an opportunity to explore ways of enhancing access for those who were unable to participate in the live experience which happened between 10.00 and 11.15 on Wednesday 20 October.

A screencast of a rehearsal of the talk was captured using the Panopto lecture capture service. The rehearsal was made on Monday 4 October 2010.

As can be seen from the screen shot the software captures a video image and the relevant slide. In addition all the slides are bookmarked, allowing end users to move directly to any slide – in the image below I jumped forward to the slide on Amplifying In (2) which started 14 minutes 52 seconds into the presentation.


You shouldn’t really give a talk on amplified events without amplifying the talk itself, so this event provided an ideal opportunity to try out some new approaches.

In addition to the technologies described above I should also mention how these technologies were used and the people who were involved.  During my talk Steve Boneham was logged in to my Authorstream account and moved the slides on during my talk as well as participating in the discussions which took place in the Authorstream environment. We can regard Steve as acting as the local event amplifier, enriching the experience for the remote audience by providing a context (the individual slides) to the video stream and online discussions.

Meanwhile Kirsty Pitkin was watching the video stream remotely and was summarising my talk – as opposed to Steve who was engaged in discussions which arose from my talk. This experiment therefore provided a useful opportunity to make use of a local and remote event amplifier and to compare the different approaches which event amplifiers may take in engaging with a remote audience.

The discussions which took place in the Authorstream environment were separate from those which took place on the Twitter stream and could only be viewed by those who had logged on to Authorstream.  This meant there was a fragmentation of the discussions which can be regarded as unfortunate, or a useful feature, which ensures that an individual’s Twitter stream does not annoy others with large numbers of event-related tweets (this latter perspective may reflect the views of those who prefer use of a dedicated event live stream tools such as Coveritlive).

However it did not appear possible to easily  create an archive of the discussions in Authorstream.  We therefore copied the discussions and subsequently made them available on the UKOLN Web site.

As might be expected the initial discussions covered ways in which the live streaming in Authorstream worked. However there was also a discussion on the ways of enriching the experiences with Andy Powell commenting that “think there’s also a role for someone to simply ‘host’ the virtual side of the event – a virtual chair if you like eventamplifier“.

Andy also pointed out that “this is a good example of where the amplified discussion has become fractured across authorstream and twitter“. This is very true. Indeed if you look at the TwapperKeeper archive for the event’s hashtag and the Summarizr statistics (taken from the day before to the day after the event) you’ll see that there were 101 tweets from 16 people, compared to the five people who were using Authorstream (although it should be noted the latter channel was only available for about an hour).

What Next?

As the costs of face-to-face events become more  apparent I think there will be an increasing pressure for the sector to make use of online technologies to support or, in some cases, replace  face-to-face meetings. In light of this I feel it will be important to develop expertise in use of technologies (and best practices which are independent of the technologies used) which can be used to support the functions of meetings and events.

For high profile events this might entail use of dedicated event amplification technologies. However, as I have tried to illustrate in this post, sometimes simple solutions can be used, including use of free software running on cheap hardware or software which may be available within out institutions.

Recording rehearsals of talks might be a way of gaining expertise in such technologies, as well as providing a backup in case of illness or difficulties in attending an event.  And such recordings can also enhance the impact and reduce the marginal costs of presentations which have traditionally only been available to a live audience.  But although these benefits may be self-evident a bigger question will be the business model for providing such services. Who, if anyone, should pay?

Posted in Events | 7 Comments »

iTunes U: an Institutional Perspective

Posted by Jeremy Speller on 25 October 2010

Recent posts which provided surveys of institutional use of third party services for content delivery generated a fair amount of interest and discussion. As a follow-up to the post on “What are UK Universities doing with iTunes U?” Jeremy Speller, Director of Web Services at UCL, has been invited to provide a guest post which provides an institutional perspective on use of this service.

Brian Kelly recently asked What are UK Universities doing with iTunes U?As an early adopter Brian invited me try to answer that question and to pick up on some of the comments which his post generated.

Let’s be clear on one thing – no one is fooling themselves. Apple is a hardware vendor intent on sales and iTunes U is just one of many ways in which it drives custom to its devices. Some have a philosophical objection to engaging with “trade” in this way, but for me the post-CSR university world demands that we use of the best that the commercial sector can make available to us. Have I sold my soul for the Yankee dollar? Maybe – but I’d kind of like a job next year. Strangely those that argue otherwise seem to accept Microsoft, Google and the rest.

Having dispensed with that argument let me examine why I believe that Apple has a positive contribution to make to higher education. I can think of no other major hardware vendor which has had such a clear policy over many years of engagement with education. And I’m not talking discount here – I mean services and assistance.

During 2004, Duke University bravely decided to issue iPods to its intake and to populate the devices with course material, timetables etc. Since there was no easy way to update the content en masse, Duke approached Apple to see what could be done. “Project Indigo” was born and iTunes U was the result. What’s important here is that Apple reacted to the requirement of a university and worked with Duke to deliver something that met its need.

It’s worthy of note too that many of the iTunes U team have backgrounds in education rather than software engineering or sales. Indeed Jason Ediger, who has a typical corporate title but for the purpose of this article heads up iTunes U, is a former teacher and educational technologist in the public sector.

Anyway, here are some of my views on “popular” opinions.

iTunes U is a closed ecosystem

Yes it is but the arguments for not using it are thin. In a comment on Brian’s post Andy Powell worried that:

… the overarching emphasis of sites who have bought into iTunesU is that they have bought into iTunesU – the other routes to content are presented as secondary to that. To me, that implies that users and lecturers who choose to use that route are somehow second class citizens of the institution.

I can only speak for UCL, but I would worry about any institution which bought into iTunes U as the only or primary means of distribution. Apple positively discourage use in this way – their take is “we provide the tool as one channel of communication“. UCL’s engagement with iTunes U came out of our desire to develop podcasting and other means of multimedia distribution as part of our mission to increase reach as London’s Global University. We were developing in that direction before iTunes U came to Europe. As far as primary teaching materials are concerned the Moodle course page remains the focus – the podcasts (whether taken from iTunes U or via feeds) are a value-added service to students. This is important for a metropolitan institution where students spend time offline on trains and buses getting about.

It is expensive to run

It depends. If you buy in to iTunes U without a background in multimedia distribution it could be, but I would argue that if you have not worked out a content or media distribution strategy taking into account a range of channels you shouldn’t be looking at iTunes U anyway. I have a department of around 30 souls of which a part (0.25 – 0.5 fte) of one post is a direct result of iTunes U, and that came a year after we joined. We have a multimedia unit who have been producing video since before U-matic was the format of the future. Over time the unit has moved with technology and now concentrates on streamed output and download formats – the staff complement hasn’t varied, they just do things differently. And we’d be doing all that to support a variety of distribution channels anyway.

It is PR fluff

For some reason this view is quite prevalent among those who don’t use the system and in my opinion misses the point of iTunes U completely. Sure, there is publicity to be had and, in UCL’s case as a launch partner, was valuable. Of course general PR shorts can be provided. But the real assets should be educational and examples of your institution’s scholarship. How you choose to do this and what material you provide is down to you. We increasingly provide course materials via the internal authenticated part of iTunes U to complement other teaching materials – others would argue that the provision of OER of high quality is the best PR there is for a university.

What wider and innovative uses could be made of the system in future?

adviewsBrian asks what the future holds in terms of innovative use of the system. Some of the most interesting uses we heard about at the iTunes U Conference in Munich involved the provision of primary sources for research. Duke University Libraries showed AdViews, a collection of 16mm movie film which had been digitized and which included thousands of TV commercials from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s. At Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich over 10,000 PDFs are available as LMU has chosen to provide all dissertations stored in its library back to 2002 as downloads. I’ll admit that at UCL we have yet to fulfill one of our original goals which was to open the system up to students as a collaborative environment and to submit work for assessment but that’s a matter of resource priority internally rather than a limitation of the system. Julie Usher has posted some other thoughts on innovations discussed at the conference.

Will institutional users regret lack of flexibility if Apple move in a different direction?

The lack of future-proofing is to my mind another non-argument because of the way iTunes U is architected. Apple maintain the framework and the serving of links via the iTunes Store mechanism while the feeds and media files themselves are hosted at the institution. This used not to be the case but all new sites since mid-2008, including all UK institutions, are split-hosted. This means that even if Apple pull the plug tomorrow all of your feeds and content remain yours and intact, and deliverable via whatever other channels you have in place.

Those who don’t buy into the ecosystem are 2nd class citizens

Again, if you are only providing iTunes U content this could be seen as an issue but not if you’re adopting the multi-channel model. I accept that at UCL we do sometimes plug iTunes U over other channels and that it’s something we should address. The content is nonetheless available for pretty much any modern device.

The content has poor discoverability

Because the iTunes software is a proprietary browser it does not afford discoverability to search engines. Apple fully accept that this has been an issue and have recently been including iTunes U in their iTunes Preview service. This is a conventional Web-based service which lists and includes metadata for all content in the system. Although it is early days and usage has not pumped too much to the top of Google rankings yet, search for a specific item by title and Google will return a top result. Audio content can be played directly in the page though it is still necessary to link out to iTunes to play video at present. Try searching for “Why species are fuzzy for an example. We also provide links to the preview service for the most popular items from our iTunes U launch page.


… is there a cost-saving to adopting iTunes U as opposed to creating custom portals? Certainly the development grunt is removed and the system offers students who come to us with their own devices (another saving as I argued at the recent FOTE10 event) having bought into the ecosystem access to our content. For those of us committed to the distribution of media content whatever the channel the issue remains that the content has to be created and managed and therein lies the cost. I believe therefore that our efforts should lie in keeping the creation process efficient and demonstrating the value of the content to our users and paymasters. Content is, after all, still king – but as noted at the Munich Conference:

@thStamm: RT @jeremyspeller … content is king or there’s no point … I agree but we all want king arthur not king richard II #itunesuconf2010

Jeremy Speller has been involved with the UCL Web presence since 1995. Having headed UCL Web Servicesfor a number of years, Jeremy is now Director of Learning & Media Services which, along with the Web, covers AV, design, learning technology, multimedia and photography. Prior to full-time involvement with the Web, Jeremy’s background was in planning and statistics at UCL and previously at the University of Birmingham. Way back when he ran the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme at what was then CVCP.

Some of Jeremy’s presentations are on SlideShare. You can also follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremyspeller

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Evidence, Guest-post, Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

IT Blog Awards 2010: Individual IT Professional Male

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 October 2010

I’m pleased to say that this blog has been shortlisted for the Computer Weekly’s “IT Blog Awards 2010: Individual IT Professional Male“.

As described on the Computer Weekly Web site this category is “for blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT industry. Any male blogger working in IT below director level is eligible for this award“.

I feel that the UK Web Focus blog is ideally suited for this category – and not only because I’m male!  The blog does provide my perspectives on best practices and emerging technologies related to use of the Web in higher education and the wider public sector – with the blog having been quietly launched on 1 November 2006 as a slightly subversive act having been embarrassed at the ILI 2006 conference for talking about Web 2.0 but not having a blog.

The blog has grown in popularity since then and is currently listed in 60th place in the Wikio list of technology blogs.  But unlike many of the blogs in that list, this blog does not have a team of writers – rather it’s just me who has to take responsibility for the posts I publish. And, to be honest, providing a blog as an individual can be a risky business – not least because the lack of external QA processes can lead to sometimes embarrassing typos in the posts (did I really once write “pee-reviewed papers“?!).  More importantly, however, is the need to ensure that the posts I provide do support my professional activities and are beneficial to the sector.

The approach I have taken to ensure that the contents of my posts provide value to the readers is to embrace openness and invite comments and feedback (and to apologise when I get things wrong). I have published a policy for this blog which describes how:

  • The contents of the blog will primarily address issues related to the Web, including Web standards, innovative Web developments and best practices in providing Web services.
  • The blog will also provide a test bed for experiments and for testing new services and provide access to discussions about the experiment.
  • The blog will provide an opportunity for me to ‘think out loud“: i.e. describe speculative ideas, thoughts which may occur to me, etc. which may be of interest to others or for which I would welcome feedback.
  • The blog will seek to both disseminate information and encourage discussion and debate.
  • The blog will be used as an open notebook, so that ideas, thoughts and opinions can be shared with others.

The use of this blog as an open notebook is an important aspect – after launching the blog back in November 2007  (over 800 posts ago) I decided that rather than the blog simply having a dissemination role to support my day job I would use it to reflect on my professional activities and share such reflections with a wide audience. The blog also reflects the culture of openness I have sought to embrace, with all posts open to comments and all posts available with a Creative Commons licence.

Many of the posts have been written in my own time, sometimes at weekends and occasionally in the morning, before heading off to work.  The posts reflect a number of my areas of interest including Web standards, a variety of aspects related to Web 2.0 and Web accessibility.  I also often use the blog to provide reports on various events I have attended – and sometimes events I have ‘attended’ through my engagement on an event’s Twitter stream.

The blog does reflect my personal areas of interest, including rapper sword dancing (see the Wikipedia entry which I created if you are unfamiliar with this miner’s dance from the pit villages of Northumberland and Durham – just don’t call it Morris dancing!).  But I also try and relate these personal interests to my professional activities.  The blog is also informed by my political views, such as my thoughts on how the 40% cuts which are being applied across the higher education sector  with affect the provision of institutional IT services.

The shortlisting of this log for the category of “blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT industry” is particularly appropriate in light of the paper on “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web” which I will be presenting at the Online Information 2010 conference on 30 November.   In this paper I describe how the successful “must read” blogs which I follow (including the OUsefuleFoundationsThe Ed TechieLearning with ‘e’s and Ramblings of a Remote Worker blogs) are not only hosted in The Cloud but also have a personality behind them which are reflected in the posts.  These blogs, and, I hope, mine provide a valuable illustration of the ways in which IT professional who care about their work and wish to make changes for the better can to so without the need to be absorbed into a corporate infrastructure and bland institutional voice.

The following 17 blogs have been nominated in this category: Blending the mix – Insufficient Data – Brian Teeman – Eclipse on E – Great emancipator – Mainframe Update – Software Ruminations – Thom’s HeadSpace – Jason Slater Technology – Mark Wilson – Tech for Tesco – Jason Plant – Kris Hayes – Virtualised reality – I am Charlie Cowan – Steve Clayton – Geek in disguise and the UK Web Focus blog.

I think the UK Web Focus blog is the only shortlisted nomination from the higher education sector and possibly also the only blog from the public sector.  A vote for this blog would help me to raise the profile of the sector and, in particular, the principles of openness, engagement and innovation which I have written about in, of average, four posts per week for the past four years.  I welcome your support.

Posted in Blog | 7 Comments »

The Cuts: Implications For Our IT Environment

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 October 2010

The Future Is Bleak

At last, after a long time waiting, we’ve heard the news. The government’s Comprehensive Spending Review has been announced – and the future is bleak. Very bleak As described in page 52 of the Spending Review document (PDF):

overall resource savings of 25 per cent, comprising 40 per cent savings from reform of higher education and an average 16 per cent savings from the other areas of the BIS budget, with relative protection for science and key elements of adult skills funding.

And it’s worth noting that such reductions are dependent on the Browne recommendations are passed (p. 54 box 2.3 para 2.).

It’s not just the future which is being decimated – the children who are still at school and wondering what awaits them when they reach the age of 18, the students and researchers who are currently at university and the large numbers of staff across our institutions who are facing a time of uncertainty. We will also losing our past – the investment which has been made across the educational sector, the skills and experiences large numbers of teaching and research staff possess, the research centres, departments and, let’s not mince words, the institutions whose survival is under threat and, of relevance to this blog and readers of this blog, the digital services which have been developed and exploited to support teaching and learning and research.

What Might We Expect?

However rather than address the broader issues I’d like to give some thoughts on the implications for those involved in development  activities and the provision of online services. My predictions for the remainder of the Government’s term of office are:

Social Web Services: I’ve recently described the trends of services such as Facebook (Planet Facebook Becomes Less of a Walled Garden), iTunesU (What Are UK Universities Doing With iTunesU?) and YouTube (How is the UK HE Sector Using YouTube?). Facebook does now seem to be widely used (with Facebook Groups, reviewed recently in the Guardian, likely to increase its usage in new areas), even if this is not necessarily acknowledged, and iTunes Edu and YouTube Edu are being used by the early adopters.  I predict that these will all be mainstream services across the sector (indeed UCAS ran a day’s Social Media Marketing conference Monday which covered topics such as “Facebook: How to maximise the exposure of your institution“, “ Why Twitter should be a key part of your institution’s marketing strategy“, “YouTube Education/iTunes U” and “Social media ROI – what’s in it for me?“) and the doubts regarding commercialisation and technical considerations will be marginalised.

Google Apps:  The University of Sheffield uses Google to provide an email services for its students and has recently announced that the service will be expanded to members of staff.   Expect this trend to continue as universities look at the costs of providing such services in-house and question what benefits are gained.  Issues such as the Data Protection Act will cease to be regarded as an obstacle to use of third party email services.

Personal Learning Environments:  A growth in use of Social Web services, Google Apps and other Cloud Services will see an appreciation of the importance of Personal learning Environments (PLEs) with student using a variety of services to support their learning.

Importance of Mobile Devices:  With users looking to make use of the mobile devices they own and institutions concerned about the costs of providing PC clusters the importance of mobile devices would seem to be inevitable.

User is King: With students paying significantly more to attend University, the relationship between the institution and the student will change.  The institution will no longer be the provider of an IT infrastructure to grateful users; rather the institution will be expected to be much more responsive in supporting student needs.

The Demise of the Institution?:  At the CETIS 2007 conference Professor Oleg Lieber speculated on the demise of the institution. In the opening talk he quoted Illich:  “Society created institutions to serve society. But they have become counter productive to their original intent… they now exist to benefit themselves rather than the betterment of society“.    This speculation was based on IT developments rather than the funding crisis.  But if it would be wrong to suggest that higher educational  institutions will disappear the authority and power of HEIs will diminish.

Decoupling of Links Between Staff and the Institution:  As academics, researchers, developers and support staff will be uncertain about their careers we can expect increasing numbers to wish to make use of Cloud Services which will provide continuity of access if they move from their current institution.

Amplified Events: The trend towards amplified and online events will grow and concerns that “it’s rude” will disappear. Speakers will be expected to allow their presentations to be streamed, with the argument being made that since the tax-payer has paid for such talks transparency and openness requires them to be made widely accessible. Environmental factors will also support such arguments.

Tensions Over Openness: Although the government is encouraging greater openness and transparency which would appear to reflect the interests of many of those supporting open access to, for example, research publication, scientific data and educational resources, financial concerns may result in institutions seeking commercial exploitation of their resources and moving away from opening up access to their resources.

Deletion of Existing Services: Existing online services will be shut down.  There will be pressures to ensure that valuable data is not lost.

These are my initial thoughts on the implications of the cuts.  In some respects they describe trends which may be obvious  – for example Andy Powell has recently commented on the  “trend towards outsourcing and shared services, with the outsourcing of email and other apps to Google being the most obvious example“, “the whole issue of student expectations“, “the whole growth of mobile – the use of smart-phones, mobile handsets, iPhones, iPads and the rest of it”  and “the emerging personal learning environment (PLE) meme … where lecturers and students work around their institutional VLE by choosing to use a mix of external social web services (Flickr, Blogger, Twitter, etc.) again encourages the use of external services“.

I think the future will be very different from today – but, despite misgivings we may have, we will need to accept many changes in order to survive.

These are my thoughts. Do you agree?  What have I missed?  How should we respond?

Posted in Finances | 8 Comments »

Marketing Perpectives on Social Media

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 October 2010

Yesterday a tweet from Aline Hayes caught my attention. She was asking what the hashtag was for an event she was attending. The event was the UCAS Social Media conference and the event’s hashtag, I discovered was #ucassm.  The event seemed intersteing so I created a #ucassm column in TweetDeck so I could observe the discussions.  I also looked at the event’s programme and discovered several talks of interest, including  talks on “Social media market trends, statistics and conversion rates” and  “Using apps as a marketing tool” and workshop sessions on “Yougofurther social media website:  How to target students in a growing social media market” and “Facebook: How to maximise the exposure of your institution“, “Why Twitter should be a key part of your institution’s marketing strategy“, “YouTube Education/iTunes U (to be confirmed)” and “Social media ROI – what’s in it for me?“.

As I tweeted yesterday I suspect some of my Twitter followers would not agree with the areas being addressed in these talks – talks about the ROI of social media and, as one person tweeted, turning fans and followers into customers.  Isn’t Twitter, for example, supposed to be about the individual and have a radical edge, rather than being used as a mainstream marketing channel.

By view is that social media can provide both roles and if university marketing people are using social media to attract students then I would welcome this – after all such approaches can be more cost-effective than printing glossy prospectuses and launching TV ad campaigns. But note that I’m saying “can” – there’s a need to gather evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of such approaches. After all, when we hear the amount of the cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review tomorrow we will be even more conscious of the importance of using our fundings in an effective way.

But was this conference exploiting the expertise in social media which is available within the sector.  Looking at the programme it seems that many of the speakers were from the commercial sector. And although I’ve nothing against such links I would be concerned if funding provided to higher education left the sector and failed to tap into the expertise we possess.

This occurred to me last night when I received a couple of tweets from Tony Hirst (@psychemedia).  I had created a Twapper Keeper archive for the #ucassm tag (I was surprised that this hadn’t been done already) and, during the day (while I was on the train to London and observing the #ucassm discussions on my mobile phone) tweeted various statistics relevant to the discussions, including providing a link to the Summarizr statistics for the #ucassm tag (there have been 218 tweets from 48 Twitterers; the top Twitterers were ucassm (63 tweets),  EddieGouthwaite (20), andyheadworth (16) and  Aline_Hayes (14)).

Recent developments to the Twapper Keeper Twitter archiving service have been funded by the JISC and the Summarizr service was developed  by Andy Powell of Eduserv: the sector does have a strong interest and expertise in developing and using tools which can be used to gather and interpret evidence of usage of social media services.

Tony Hirst’s tweets provided further evidence. He provided graphical interpretations of the event’s hashtag community (he has previously described the tools and methodology used to do this)  and followed this up with an analysis of possible spam followers – clearly if you want to demonstrate ROI you’ll want to be able to remove spam followers and bots which are unlikely to decide to attend a University!

What is to be done in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort within the sector, minimise flaws in data analysis and ensure that the sector can exploit existing tools? As I was travelling to London yesterday I went to the Russell Hotel in order to make contact with the conference organisers – but they had all gone by the time I arrived. I’ll try and make contact by email. I’d also welcome comments on the content of the UCAS Social Media conference. Are there significant differences of opinions between the developer and marketing sectors – or are we moving towards a consensus on the importance of gathering evidence and use of the social media by institutions?

Note that I should add that the final few tweets of the day were very positiove about the conference: “Very glad to be home at end of long but enjoyable day. #ucassm conf was inspiring but also daunting: so much to do.“” and “Feeling inspired by today’s #ucassm (social media) conference. Looking to get our students involved in lots of Facebook & Twitter projects!” One talk in particular which went down well was the one on “Social Media ROI – What’s in it for me?”. I was pleased that a number of the talks have been uploaded to Slideshare including this one, which is embedded below.

Posted in Social Networking, Twitter | Leave a Comment »

How is the UK HE Sector Using YouTube?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 October 2010

Profiling UK HE Use of Popular Web 2.0 Services

Following on from recent posts on Planet Facebook Becomes Less of a Walled Garden and What Are UK Universities Doing With iTunesU? the next question should be How is the UK HE Sector Using YouTube? It can be useful for the higher education sector to be able to identify institutional adoption of new services at an early stage so that institutions across the sector are aware of trends and can develop plans to exploit new dissemination channels once the benefits have been demonstrated. I am aware, for example, of failures of institutions to sport the ‘weak signals’ of the importance of the Web in the early 1990s. I have recollections of institutions committing themselves to locally-developed Campus Wide Information Systems (as they were called) or moving to use of Gopher (an Internet technology which was felt to provide benefits of openness which were eventually materials, though with an alternative Internet standard!) but failing to respond to decisions of a small number of institutions who adopted Web technologies in around 1993. Adopting the wrong technologies will, in hindsight, be seen to have been a costly mistake, not just for the individual institutions but also, as we are now very aware of, the tax-payer who ultimately pays for the decisions institutions take.

This recent series of posts therefore aims to identify technologies which are starting to be adopted by institutions, so that we can have a snapshot of how such services are being used. Such an understanding of the trends within the sector can help to inform decision-making, sharing of best practices and also ways in which the return on investment use of new approaches can provide.  Such information will be of importance in demonstrating the value of the decisions the sector makes to politicians, policy makers and  the general public.

ALT’s YouTube Channel

The need to identity ways in which YouTube is being used within the sector occurred to me after received a tweet about a video of a talk on “When worlds collide – revisiting experiential learning” given by Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford presented at the ALT-C 2010 conference. From the page about this video I discovered the ALT’s Not-for-profit YouTube channel. This channel is “edited by Matt Lingard, web participation specialist on the ALT Publications Committee. Videos are uploaded and links made that serve to support ALT’s charitable objective, which is ‘to advance education through increasing, exploring and disseminating knowledge in the field of learning technology for the benefit of the general public’.

At the time of writing (7 October 2010) there are 10 video clips from the ALT-C 2010 conference hosted on this channel, the most popular being the ALT-C 2010 Sugata Mitra (457 views) followed by ALT-C 2010 Donald Clark (320 views).

The ALT YouTube channelIn addition to the ALT-C 2010 playlist the channel also has playlists for ALT-C 2009ALT – EPIGEUM Video Awards and ALT-C 2008.

YouTube provide various metrics for channels, including information on the numbers of views of the video clips and numbers of subscribers.

In addition, as can be seen in the accompanying image, ranking information is provided, and we can see that the ALT channel is the fourth most viewed non-profit channel in the UK of the week.

You can also view details of the traffic rankings for the various YouTube categories,  which indicates that theRSAorg, practicalaction and royalbritishlegion channels had the highest viewing figures for the week in which I captured the statistics.

UK University Use of YouTube

The lists of YouTube categories unfortunately doesn’t include Universities, instead having the following rather eclectic lists: Comedians, Directors, Gurus, Musicians, Non-Profit, Partners, Reporters and Sponsors. I therefore had to use YouTube’s search facility in order to identify how UK Universities are using YouTube.  Note, however, that I was subsequently informed that there is a directory of University accounts on YouTube Edu.  I have commented on this directory at the end of this post.

A search for “UK university” revealed the Bath University (my host institution) is in first place with a video in which “Jojo Mayer performs a Masterclass at the Rhythm Course at Bath University” – there have been 199,331 views of this video clip since it was uploaded 3 years ago.

There is a need, however, to be suspicious of searches which reveals that your particular interests are to be found near the top – I suspected that this result reflected my location or profile, although others based elsewhere had similar findings.

Another nearby university, Bristol University, is found in second place. This example, “Bristol University, UK – Study at Bristol – An introduction to one of the very best and most exclusive” has been provided by the official unibristol YouTube account and there have been  18,025 views.  This was the first official University page I found. I have looked through the search results looking for what appear to be official university accounts. I have excluded individual’s clips about universities and also channels such as TOEFL Destinations: University of Northampton which aren’t about a specific university, although I have included what appears to be departmental accounts if they appear to have an institutional user name. Note that the results given in the following table were found in the first five pages of results for a search for “UK University” – note that many of the results were for the University of Kentucky, which has the abbreviation ‘UK University’!

Institution Channel Views Total Nos. of
Upload Views
Subscribers Channel
Date Created
1 University of Bristol     915     18,171     27  1 16 December 2008
2 Coventry University (CovStudent) 82,375 1,036,671 1,139 42 26 November 2007
3 RHULLibrary     347       3,847     10  0 08 January 2009
4 Aston University 19,552     89,080    132  2 17 October 2007
5 UoL International Programmes 32,162     74,017   499 17 14 February 2008
6 University of Greenwich     971       9,254     19  1 16 July 2010
7 Northumbriauni     521       6,226     23  1 7 January 2010
8 Huddersfield University International study 1,220      24,195     22  0 15 May 2007
9 The University of Leicester 16,382    246,986    320  1 22 May 2008
10 University of Kent 7,725     26,996    102  7 12 May 2009
11 Canterbury Christ Church University 2,050     25,439     36  0 18 December 2006

Note that ‘Channel views’ is the number of users who have visited a channel page (which contains information about the channel) and the ‘Upload views’ is the total number of views for uploaded videos.

Although I have tried to provide a list based on an objective criterion, I feel it would also be useful if I included details for the University of Bath, my host institution and the Open University, which I know is a significant institutional user of a variety of Web 2.0 services (note that the Open University has three additional official institutional YouTube channels: OU Learn, OU Life and OU Research).

Institution Channel views Total Upload Views: Subscribers: Channel Comments Date Created
 1 University of Bath 5,011 252,850 93 3 9 August 2007
 2 Open University 257,497 391,625 2,936 56 5 July 2007

Official Directory of University Accounts on YouTube Edu

After writing the first draft of this post I realised that it would be useful to find ways of automatically obtaining statistics of institutional use of YouTube across UK Universities. I asked for suggestions on ways of doing this on the Quora question and answer service and received a response for YouTube which provided information on the directory of accounts on the YouTube Edu service. As this directory provides different information from that listed above (the University of Bath account, for example, isn’t included) I have left the details I collected in the above table.

The following 18 accounts are listed in the YouTube Edu directory of UK Universities (and as three are from the Open University this represents 16 institutions, one of which, Said Business School, is part of the University of Oxford):

Adam Smith College – Cambridge University – Coventry UniversityCranfield School of ManagementEdinburgh UniversityImperial College LondonLSBF (London School of Business and Finance)Leeds Metropolitan UniversityNottingham UniversityOpen University (together with Open University – LearnOpen University – LifeOpen University – Research) – Oxford Saïd Business SchoolSt. George’s, University of LondonUniversity College LondonUniversity of DerbyWarwick University

Let’s now summarize the usage statistics for this official list of UK University accounts on YouTube Edu. Note, however, that only a single Open University account is included in the following table.

Institution Channel views Total Nos. of
Upload Views
Subscribers: Channel
Date Created
1 Adam Smith College    4,076     25,606    39  ? April 25, 2009
2 Cambridge University 221,280 1,189,778 6,921  ? September 19, 2006
3 Coventry University   82,937 1,039,817 1,147 42 November 26, 2007
4 Cranfield School of Management    5,189     20,607    82  1 October 12, 2009
5 Edinburgh University   31,388   236,884 1,280  ? November 08, 2008
6 Imperial College   48,307   353,355    859  7 April 24, 2008
7 LSBF (London School of Business and Finance)    6,999     96,212    244  7 August 25, 2008
8 Leeds Metropolitan University   67,014   589,659    512 19 January 07, 2008
9 Nottingham University   35,643   284,820    596 10 February 11, 2009
10 The Open University 258,309   392,720 2,944 56 July 05, 2007
11 Said Business School, University of Oxford   56,066   660,541 1,808 60 December 17, 2007
12 St George’s, University of London   41,983   338,276    825 12 August 20, 2007
13 UCL   47,773   287,198    810 27 May 15, 2009
14 University of Derby    8,578   117,906    106  5 September 22, 2006
15 University of Warwick   17,362    90,608    276  6 March 30, 2009


The first institutional YouTube channels seem to have been created in September 2006 (Derby University) followed by Canterbury Christchurch (December 2006). The next set of institutional accounts were created in May 2007 (Huddersfield University), July 20087 (Open University), August 2007 (St Georges and Bath University), October 2007 (Aston University), November 2007 (Coventry) and December (Said Business School).

The institution with the largest number of upload views is Cambridge University with 1,189,778 views and Coventry University with 1,039,817 views. Note that such statistics will be skewed in institutions make use of a single institutional YouTube channel or use several (as the Open University does).

It should be noted that the Coventry University account, which has the second largest number of downloads, is provided by students.

What Next?

Having more comprehensive data on the provision and usage YouTube across the sector can be useful in informing decision-making on use of YouTube as a delivery channel and how use of YouTube may relate to the institutional provision of video streaming services in-house (such as the LUTube service provided by the University of Leeds).

There might also be the need to clarify ownership of an official YouTube Edu account – in some cases the account listed in the YouTube Edu directory is used as an e-learning delivery channel (such as the St. Georges Clinical Skills Online channel, in others as a channel to provide a students’ perspective on University life (e.g. the CovStudent channel) whereas others, such as the University of Edinburgh, provide a more traditional official University view with, as in this case, an official welcome from the University Principal.

There may also be the need to share examples of best practices and policies. For example the University of Edinburgh channel states that “Please note, the University does not monitor YouTube comments. Please direct any queries via our website“.  Is this a well-established approach and what are the benefits and possible risks of adopting this approach?

Anyone have any comments or observations on the initial set of data listed above or thoughts on how the HE sector might make use of YouTube Edu?

Posted in Evidence, Web2.0 | Tagged: | 14 Comments »

Thoughts on ILI 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 October 2010

Getting Real and Staying Relevant at ILI 2010

Back in January when Marydee Ojala, chair of the Internet Librarian International (ILI 2010) conference, asked the conference’s Advisory Board for suggestions for the conference I pointed out that:

People in the public sector aren’t feeling too optimistic in the UK – e.g. see this news relevant to UK HE: And after the election (expected in May) we’re expecting things to be bad throughout the public sector

Karen Blakeman, another of the UK representatives on the Advisory Board, echoed my warnings and the implications for those involved in organising conferences:

It’s not just the public sector but also the private sector that aren’t feeling optimistic. Aside from the costs it is difficult for people to get more than one day out at a conference and then there will be travel /hotel costs for some.

Marydee responded to the discussions when she proposed the theme for the conference: “Get real. Stay relevant“. And the talks at the conference very much reflected the need for librarians and information professionals to be responding to the current economic situations and the threats which are being faced by those working in this area. This was particularly true of the track C on Resource Management which I attended on the opening morning, with sessions on Relating Value to Price and Budget and Monitoring and Maximising Organisational Impact (in which myself and Joy Palmer of Mimas spoke). In the afternoon I chaired track A on Looking Ahead to Value which featured talks on Library Teams and Peer Collaboration, Evolution of Working Environments and Visionary Views.

Audience Engagement and Sharing

During the conference I noticed how the conference delegates could be said to be responding to the forthcoming cuts in the ways in which  collaborative approaches were used to sharing the conference presentations and accompanying discussions with a wider audience. Summarizr statistics for #ili2010 tagThis was particularly true of the conference tweeting. I’ve used the Summarizr Twitter analysis tool to provide information on #ili2010 tweets for the period  10-16 October 2010 (note that I’ve used a week’s period in order to be able to make meaningful comparisons with other events). For this period there were 1,939 tweets from 234 Twitterers. A total of 93 hashtags and 151 URLs were tweeted. Details of the top event Twitters are shown in the accompanying image. As can be seen @bethaner provided the highest level of support to both the local and remote audiences with 306 tweets.  Bethan was followed by @Mirromur (203 tweets), @Daveyp (88) and @LISResearch (81). Interestingly Hazel Hall (@HazelH) who also tweeted using the LISResearch account and Bethan Ruddock (@Bethanar) also featured as the top 10 Twitter users mentioned in tweets. As both Hazel and Bethan were speakers at the event this is indicative of an interest in their talks and/or their level of engagement with others. Note the following table provides a summary of the Twitter statistics over a seven day period for the I:LI 2009 and 20120 conferences.  It should also be noted that the venues WiFi network wasn’t very reliable at the conference and could not be accessed in a number of the venues used for parallel sessions. It is likely that a reliable WiFi network would have increased Twitter usage significantly.

ILI 2009 ILI 2010
Nos. of Conference Delegates ?? ~250
Nos. of Tweets 1,199 1,939
Nos. of Twitterers 163 234
Nos. of Hashtags 40 93
Nos. of Links 121 151
Nos. of geo-located tweets 0 15 (~0%)
Top hashtags used ili2009 (1175) – mimas (14) – internetlibrarian (4) – cupcakes (4) – cilipagm (4) ili2010 (1909) – ili2010a (124) – ili2010b (59) – ili2010c (27) – edcm (19)

The figures on the hashtags which were used shows a trend towards use of multiple hashtags to differentiate tweets from the three parallel sessions. In addition to the numbers of delegates using Twitter I was also pleased to see the blog post summaries of many of the sessions which were published on the Meanboyfriend blog by Owen Stephens shortly after the sessions had finished. It was also good to see how speakers who were making their slides available to others, with an initial list of bookmarks to such slides being provided by @Ali_Holder on As well as many delegates using Twitter to provide commentaries of the talks and speakers being willing to ensure that the slides could be accessed by people who didn’t or couldn’t attend the talks we have also started to see a bottom-up approach to the provision of video of a number of the talks. I noticed this when @HazelH tweeted:

An #ili2010 delegate recorded my pres’n using his iPhone & – assumng quality OK – he’ll put it online. Will tweet link when known.

I  had intended to do something similar. With the permission of the speaker (Tony Hirst) and the conference organisers (“Is this OK, or might you regard it as inappropriate bootleging?!“) I intended to provide a live video stream of Tony’s Hirst. Unfortunately due to problems with the WiFi network I wasn’t able to do this.

Although I was only able to participate at the first day of the conference once again I found it a very friendly, informative and enjoyable conference to attend and was pleased to make a number of new professional contacts. But as I said to the conference organisers as I departed, the question will be whether there are sufficient numbers of UK libraries and information professionals around to make the event sustainable next year.  But it was pleasing that such concerns were being addressed this time – and that so many participants were helping to share the discussions with those who could not attend the event.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

When the Martians Come (in the Guise of Coalition Forces)!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 October 2010

Back in November 2007 I gave talk on What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything? at a meeting for  Intute staff.  My contribution was summarised by Alun Edwards in a post on Motivations for participation. However for me the most memorable aspect of the event was the breakout session in which a facilitator invited Intute staff to imagine that “The Martians have landed and taken away the services you run“. She (I think it was  a female facilitator)  then invited the participants to “Decide what the key aspects of your service are which you should try and retrieve and what aspects you are happy for them to have”.

I can only remember one of the responses to this question. One group suggested that “The Martians can have the Intute Web site. The most important part of our service is our metadata and the community which creates and maintains the metadata” (I hope I have remembered the details correctly).

I felt this was a very perceptive suggestion coming, as it did, at a time before Cloud Computing became mainstream thinking.

Sadly for Intute the Martians have already arrived, as Angela Joyce, Linda Kerr, Tim Machin, Paul Meehan and Caroline Williams  recently described in an Ariadne article in their reflections of the history and achievements of Intute, which informed readers that “Intute [is] begin[ing] to wind down the service in its current form“.

And although the first set of Martians may have already captured Intute the main fleet is still to arrive with the battleship “Comprehensive Spending Review” due to arrive in London in about a few day’s time.

Early reports inform us that the Martians are equipped with ray guns which are capable of reducing budgets by up to 40%!  And although we have been producing our “Impact Statements” which are said to minimise the impact of the budget-reduction rays we know that, as another species has put it, “resistance is useless” since the Martians have formed a coalition with their former foes.

It is therefore timely to revisit the suggestions made at the Intute meeting in what now seems like another era. Which services should we let the Martians have and which are worth fighting for?  I have previously suggested that event Web sites might be the first to go.  I’d welcome other suggestions.

Posted in Finances | Leave a Comment »

Do Libraries Have A Future? Find Out At ILI 2010 On Thursday

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 October 2010

Do Libraries Have a Future?” That’s the question which Bethan Ruddock will be attempting to answer in the Visionaries Views session which concludes the opening day of the ILI (Internet Librarian International)  2010 Conference. Bethan, who works for the JISC-funded Mimas service,  will invite the audience to imagine a world without libraries a world of fragmentation and defragmentation, a world in which libraries may be facing dissolution. As the abstract for her talk states:

New professional Bethan Ruddock asks the hard questions about future libraries of all types. What can information professionals expect in academic, public, corporate and other types of libraries going forward? Given changes in technology, it’s more important than ever for librarians to talk with those outside the profession to garner support.

This seems to be a scary vision, but also, it seems, sadly a realistic one. But are there any reasons to be optimistic? Are there ways in which information professionals can be addressing these hard questions? I don’t know the answer – but I do know that as I’ll be chairing this session (which takes place on Thursday from 16.15-17.00 and will also include a talk from Tony Hirst) that it will be a fascinating session.

But why should this session be restricted to those who are able (and have the funds)  to attend the conference?  Assuming the WiFi works (which can’t always be guaranteed at hotel venues) we can expect to see lots of tweets with the #ili2010 event hashtag (and as there are three parallel sessions running there may be a need to use the session hashtag – #a105, to avoid confusions with, in particular, Owen Stephens session on Mashing Libraries to Build Communities, session #c105).

But event tweets can benefit from having a context. So Bethan has agreed to take part in an experiment. She has uploaded her slides to Authorstream in order that we can test the Present Live option. I, or someone else in the audience will display the same slide which Bethan is talking to and the remote audience, who are viewing the slides on Authorstream at a URI which will be announced on Twitter before the start of the talk, will see the same slide, thus providing a context for the talk.  The only slight inconvenience is that, having tested this service yeserday I discovered that you need to be logged in to Authorstream to view the live presentation. So if you would live to participate I suggest you register for an Authorstream account in advance.

As I mentioned this is an experiment in on-the-fly event amplification.  We don’t know, for example, how the technology will work or whether the chat facility provided on the Authorstream page will fragment the discussion which we would normally expect to take place on Twitter. I’ll also be interested in seeking views from the conference organisers on this experiment – will it be regarded as ‘bootlegging at a conference gig’ which should be stamped out or away of reaching out to audiences wo can';t attend, or might be unaware of the ILI conference series, who may be motivate to attend next year’s conference after this year’s teaser talk’?

Of course the remote audience is likely to gain even more from the talk if they can see and her the speaker.  And since I have installed a streaming video client on my Android phone I wonder if I’ll be able to try out that? Have a look at my UK Web Focus UStream channel to see if I managed to take any videos at the ILI 2010 conference.

Posted in Events | 4 Comments »

MashSpa: the Latest in the Mashed Library Series

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 October 2010

About Mash Spa

Mash Spa, the latest in the series of Mashed Library events, will be held in Bath on 29 October.  I’m looking forward to meeting a number of Librarians whom I’ve met on Twitter but not in real life.  I should add that there are still a small number of place left, so if you’re interested sign up quickly.

“Sixty Minutes To Save Libraries”

I have put my name down to run a session entitled ““Sixty Minutes To Save Libraries”: Gathering Evidence to Demonstrate Library Services’ Impact and Value“. In this session, which I’ll be running jointly with Nicola McNee, participants will have the opportunity to identify ways in which evidence can be gathered which can be used to demonstrate the value of Library services and the impact which such services have. The intention is to develop specifications which could be implemented by developers. And although the session is scheduled to last for only an hour I intend to cheat by inviting suggestions here, so if you have ideas on ways in which evidence can be gathered and analysed (or even better, if you’ve already implemented ideas which you can share) please leave a comment on this post.

I should add that Nicola has created a Diigo page with bookmarks of an initial set of resources which might provide Library data which can be analysed.

The Mashed Library Series of Events

Mash Spa is the sixth in the series of Mashed Library events. The original idea was made by Owen Stephens in a post  entitled Mashed Libraries? Would you be interested? which he wrote back in July 2008. Following the overwhelmingly positive responses the first Mashed :Library event, Mashed Libraries UK 2008 was held at Birkbeck College, London, on 27 November 2008. Dave Pattern, another driving force behind the events hosted Mash Oop North at the University of Huddersfield on 7 July 2009 which was followed by Middlemash held at Birmingham City University on 30 November 2009. There have been two events this year: Liver and Mash at Liverpool on 14 May and Chips and Mash which returned to the University of Huddersfield on 30 July.

The Mashed Library Web site supports networking and discussions. Of particular interest is the list of ideas for mashups and I would like to add to this list with a proposal for the provision of data about participants at Mashed Library events.  How many people have attended previous events?  How many from academic libraries, from public libraries? How many from commercial organisation?  In addition to such metrics it would be interesting to have details about the participants (such as Twitter IDs, links to blogs, etc.) and their host institution.

In a post on “Linked Data for Events: the IWMW Case Study”  I have described how such information can be used to have a better understanding of a community based around an event.  The IWMW SYNOPTIC application developed by my colleague Thom Bunting was focussed primarily on institutional information, with institutional data being harvested from DBpedia.  Might there be an interest in development of a similar application for Mashed Library participants?  If so, I wonder what might be the easiest way of getting participants to provide the structured information which would be needed? The Mash Spa Lanyrd site has been set up so that attendees at the forthcoming event can register their participation but this only provides Twitter information. Any thoughts on other approaches?

Posted in Events | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

What Are UK Universities Doing With iTunesU?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 October 2010

Early Adopters of iTunesU

Back in 2008 Jeremy Speller and Nicolas Watson ran a workshop session on “Podcasting and iTunes U: Institutional Approaches to Scaleable Service” at UKOLN’s IWMW 2008 event. In the session Jeremy, Head of Media Services at University College London and Nicholas from the Open University described how “The Open University and UCL have been pursuing projects to deliver on-demand audio and video podcasting recording and distribution services primarily via Apple’s iTunes U service. In this talk, Nicholas and Jeremy will discuss how the different approaches of two very different institutions impacted on the nature of the two projects, how challenges were addressed and how solutions were developed.

Two years later how has iTunesU developed across UK higher educational institutions?  Are the Open University and UCL feeling slightly embarrassed, like the institutions which decided in 2003 that the future lay with Gopher, or feeling pleased that their institutional commitment had identified an important technology, as was the case when Leeds University set up its institutional Web service in January 1993? There is much that can be learnt from the experiences of early adopters.

Who’s Using iTunesU Now?

Using the iTunes software you can see a display of Universities which have an iTunes U presence. These can be selected by country as shown below. From this we can see that there are currently 16 UK universities and colleges which provide multimedia resources which can be accessed via the iTunes software.

Using a Google search for “itunesU university uk” I looked in some more detail at the information provided by a number of these institutions. A summary is given in the table below.

1 The Open University on iTunes U “In 2008 The Open University joined iTunes U, making available a range of high quality audio-visual assets used in the courses. Featuring over 280 albums with content from over 136 courses, the OU on iTunes U reflects the diversity of the university’s curriculum and the strength of the academic brand. A fantastic learning experience on offer”
2 The University of Oxford on iTunes U “Oxford has had over 3 million downloads from its iTunes U site”
3 Warwick on iTunesU “This free service allows you to access interviews with academics, programmes about research at the University, lectures, teaching materials and content from our student community.”
4 UCL on iTunes U: FAQs “Is iTunes U free to use? Yes. All UCL audio, video and PDF content is free to download. The iTunes software is also free to download.”
5 Welcome to Cambridge University on iTunesU “In October 2008 the University launched its iTunesU site, from which you can download educational multimedia resources free of charge. There is a wide choice of both video and audio, which will grow on a month-by-month basis.”
6 iTunes U – The University of Nottingham “With The University of Nottingham on iTunes U, you have access to hundreds of free educational video and audio podcasts. Anytime. Anywhere!”
7 Coventry University on iTunes U “Coventry University was among the first universities in Europe to distribute multimedia content in conjunction with Apple’s iTunes U service for education resources. The Coventry University iTunes U site launched in June 2009. It now has more than 400 audio and video podcasts from around our campus for you to download for free.”
8 Experience the University of Hertfordshire on iTunes U “Download videos and podcasts of University lectures, public talks, conferences and tutorials for free. You can also download pdf documents and find out more about studying at the University of Hertfordshire. Content can be accessed on a PC or Mac and synced with your iPod, iPhone or iPad to be connected anytime, anywhere.”
9 Birmingham City University on iTunes U Where does Birmingham City University fit in?
Birmingham City University has collected a wealth of audio and video material from across the University that can now be accessed via iTunes U and through 
Does it replace internal sharing systems such as Moodle?

No, at present Birmingham City University’s iTunes U area is public-facing and accessible to people both inside and outside the University.”
10 Introduction: iTunes U, University of Edinburgh “We have our own iTunes U channel where we host video and audio files about the University and the city of Edinburgh.You can watch and listen to lectures with world-leading thinkers and subscribe to our podcasts to receive previous and future lectures, seminars and events.”

It is interesting to read how these institutions are described their use of iTunesU: a number of institutions are highlighting the amount of content which is being provided (“over 280 albums with content from over 136 courses“,”more than 400 audio and video podcasts“) or accessed (“over 3 million downloads“) whilst others point out that the content is available for free (“This free service allows you to access interviews with academics, programmes about research at the University, lectures, teaching materials“, “you can download educational multimedia resources free of charge“, “you have access to hundreds of free educational video and audio podcasts“, “Download videos and podcasts of University lectures, public talks, conferences and tutorials for free“) or combine the quantity with the free availability (“more than 400 audio and video podcasts from around our campus for you to download for free“).  Interestingly one institution points out that “You can also download pdf documents“. And whilst another answers “no” to the question “Does it replace internal sharing systems such as Moodle?” this is qualified with the words “at present“. Might iTunesU in the future have a broader remit than simply providing public access to podcasts and vodcasts, I wonder?

What Next for iTunesU?

A more important question will be the impact which iTunesU could have across the UK higher education sector in the future. The institutions which have been early adopters cover a range of institutions: we shouldn’t be surprised that a distance learning organisation such as the Open University being one of the first two institutions (who launched their presence on the same day as UCL) to make use of iTunesU. But we also see high profile and well-established institutions such as UCL, Nottingham and Edinburgh Universities in the list of early adopters alongside a number of newer universities and former polytechnics.

At the recent FOTE10 conference  I was involved in some discussions from institutions considering institutional use of the service. On the iTunes Web site I read about the financial benefits which the service can provide:

Apple provides your institution with a free iTunes U site, complete with templates you can customize with your own branding.

How the interface can be tailored:

Your institution creates its own iTunes U site that leverages the familiar interface of the iTunes Store, so it’s easy to build and even easier to use. Once your site is live, faculty members need little additional help from IT. They can start posting content right away — lectures, lab demonstrations, historical footage, and whatever else they choose to help bring their subjects to life.

and the levels of access control that can be applied

Your institution can decide whether to make its iTunes U content available only to members of your educational community (internal access) or to the world at large via the iTunes Store (public access). With an internal iTunes U site, user access is controlled through password protection. A public iTunes U site — such as those created by Yale, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, and broadcasters like PBS — distributes material for free on iTunes U. And there’s always the option of creating both an internal site and a public site for the best of both worlds.

Now I suspect that the reality of providing institutional use of iTunesU isn’t quite this simple. But neither will be use of an in-house service for providing access to audio and video recordings – especially on mobile devices. After all, which application are students (and staff) be more likely to be familiar with: iTunes, a home-grown synching application or a synching application provided by a CMS or VLE vendor?

Are the institutions listed above to be applauded for providing a user-friendly and cost-effective solution at a time when cost-efficiencies, in particular, are the order of the day? That seems to have been the feeling at Oxford University judging by the notes taken of an “iTunes U briefing on podcasting and mobile learning – a day at Apple” held last year: “Downloads have been enormous, iTunes U is global. Good ‘metrics of success’ 150 feeds of mostly 1h lectures“. Or will institutions which choose to make their content available by a commercial company eventually regret this decision, with perhaps a lack of flexibility in integrating multimedia content with other institutional services?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Evidence, Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 19 Comments »

Planet Facebook Becomes Less of a Walled Garden

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 October 2010

“Facebook Lets Users Download Data”

An article published in yesterday’s ZDNet announced that “Facebook lets users download data, create groups“. Soon Facebook users “will be able to go to their account settings and click a link to download all their data into a browsable zip file“.

On the DataPortability blog Steve Repetti felt that this news was “A step in the right direction, says vice-chair of the DataPortability Project“. His post began by pointing out that “Today’s announcement from Facebook represents the most important statement from them to-date regarding Data Portability. But to be clear, it is by no means the ultimate solution we all seek. Still, it represents major movement in the right direction.“and concluded “From a pure data portability perspective, there is still much more that Facebook can do, but I applaud their direction and effort. This is way more than PR, this is policy that has grown from within and is now escaping into the light. Today’s announcement is the beginning; the Sleeper is waking; and openness lives on with more on the way.

The DataPortability’s communications chair Alisa Leonard pointed out the good news: “they now allow more access to your data through the download feature” whilst reminding us that “the Facebook [terms of service have] not changed — meaning your data is still on their server and while you can download, you cannot remove your data entirely (if you wished to do so)“.

Whatever your views on this announcement it can’t be denied that we have seen significant growth in usage of Facebook since I pointed out that “Something IS Going On With Facebook!” in May 2007.

But in what ways has Facebook grown in popularity over the past three years and how have institutions been making use of Facebook over that period?

Facebook’s Growth

Back in July the front page of the Metro announced Planet Facebook, with an accompanying graphic informing readers that “Globally Facebook has 500 million users“, “26 million Britains use it (that’s more than a third of the population)“, “More than 3 billion pictures are uploaded every month … and there are more than 60 million a status updates a day” and “collectively users spend more than 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook“.  The headline accompanied the news that Facebook had passed 500 million users, almost 8% of the global population.

More recently an article in the Guardian recently pointed out that “Shareholder trading values Facebook at more than $33bn“. It seems that Facebook is worth nearly twice as much as Yahoo! Meanwhile another recent article in Hitwise tells us that “Facebook accounts for 1 in 6 UK page views, but is it reaching saturation point?“. This article informed us that Facebook is the second most visited website in the UK: in June it accounted for 7.14% of all UK Internet visits and over half (54.48%) of all visits to a social networking websites. In terms of total visits it continues to trail Google UK (9.59% market share in June) … However, using the measure of total page views rather than visits, Facebook is way ahead. … the social network accounted for 16.73% of UK page views during June. In other words: 1 in every 6 Internet pages viewed in the UK was a Facebook page.

Last month at a symposium on Web Science held the Royal Society Tim Berners-Lee “let slip an interesting observation. Many people, said the web’s inventor, no longer make a distinction between Facebook and the web“. This comment was made by John Naughton in a column published in The Observer on “A Flickr of interest…” who pointed out that “When it was announced a couple of weeks ago that Flickr, the photo-hosting site, had hosted its five billionth picture, someone pointed out smugly that Facebook already has over three times that number.” Meanwhile a Techcrunch article reveals that  “Facebook is Now the Second Largest Video Site in the U.S.”

The Observer article went on to point out that many photographs uploaded to Facebook tend to be very similar, and typically don’t have the impact of those provided on Flickr. I wouldn’t disagree with this. Facebook does have its limitations, It’s also true that Facebook isn’t universally liked, and there are many in, for example, the developer community who will point out concerns over Facebook’s cavalier approach to privacy and Facebook’s ‘walled garden’ which can suck content in but not allow content to be easily moved out of the environment – although that statement seems to have changed with the recent announcement that users will soon be able to download their data.

It is also worth pointing out that the Facebook statement on rights and responsibilities states that ‘You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook” whilst pointing out that (in order for Facebook to generate an income) Facebook users “specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook“.

Institutional Use of Facebook

Whilst criticisms of Facebook’s terms and conditions featured frequently across the  blogging community a couple of years ago there now seems to be a growing recognition that Facebook does have a role to play within our institutions. Facebook’s acceptance within the e-learning community struck me when I saw a tweet from Alan Cann about the Facebook pages for the ALT-C 2010 conference and the pages which have already been set up for ALT-C 2011.  Looking at the pages for ALT-C 2010 it seems to me that Facebook is being used as an aggregator of blog posts which are hosted in a more open environment. Such an approach can provide benefits for blog authors as it provides greater exposure to their content  and allows the virality of users ‘Liking’ the posts to reach out to people who are friends of those linking the content.

[NOTE Alan Cann has alerted me to the fact that ALT “have now decided not to have a separate page for each conference but to focus on to try to build a more enduring community“. Use this page if you’d like to participate rather than the two links I published initially].

And what of institutional use of Facebook?  In a report on CASE Europe’s recent annual conference Dan Martin summarised a talk by Alex Schultz, Internet Marketing Manager of Facebook by saying  “there is really no escaping the fact Facebook is the dominant force in Social right now, and that institutions can benefit from its reach and penetration“.

The way in which Facebook has taken off across the higher education sector can be seen gauged from various posts I’ve written over the past 3 years. Back in November 2007 I wrote a post on “UK Universities On Facebook“. Back then I reported that “A Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed (on Friday 9 November 2007) a total of 76 hits” – the total is no longer easily found but is over 500. The post included a screen image of the Facebook page for the University of Central Lancashire which showed that the University had a total of 8 fans – today almost 8,000 Facebook users ‘like’ the Facebook entry.

The following year, in June 2008 I wrote a post on Revisiting UK University Pages On Facebook. This post provided the following summary of the UK University entries will the largest number of fans:

The Open University Facebook page is the top of all University pages, with 7,539 fans (with the University of Michigan way behind in second place with 5,313 fans (up from a count of 2,874 a month ago). The other most popular UK Universities are Aston University (2,976 fans), Royal Holloway (1,765), Aberystwyth University (1,655 fans), University of Central Lancashire (1,475 fans), Keele University (1,420 fans), Cardiff University (1,357 fans) and the University of Surrey (1,166 fans).

The figures today are the Open University Facebook page (liked by 28,949 fans), Aston University (liked by 8,445), Royal Holloway (liked by 9,093), Aberystwyth University (liked by 7,326), University of Central Lancashire (liked by 7,982), Keele University (liked by 6,716), Cardiff University (liked by 18,698) and the University of Surrey (liked by 8,063).

From these figures we can see a 380% increase for the Open University, almost 700% for Surrey, over 470% for Keele, 540% for University of Central Lancashire, over 440% Aberystwyth and a massive 13,000% for Cardiff.

Clearly those predicted that Facebook would be a flash in the pan or would quickly be replaced by an open source competitor were mistaken.

But what is the story behind these figures? Has Cardiff University allocated significant levels of resources to encouraging use of Facebook? ;Have Facebook apps been developed which provide access to University services from within the Facebook environment? Or has the growth been led by the user community?

Looking to the Future

Whether we like it or not, we are now having to address the challenges of providing teaching and learning and research services under a Conservative/Lib Dem government. Similarly we will also need to be asking how we should go about exploiting the potential of Facebook within our institutions. We might need to ask, in these economically difficult times, whether institutional engagement with Facebook has delivered a return on the investment? Is there any evidence that use of Facebook as a marketing tool to attract overseas students has been successful? And if it might be relatively easy to put a value on the recruitment of overseas students, if Facebook is being used as a communications tool across campus, how would the effectiveness be measured?  And what about the question of the development of Facebook applications to support institutional interests? Have institutions (and their users) benefitted from the development of apps such as MyNewport (a submission to the IWMW 2008 innovation competition) or the Open University’s OU Course Profiles Facebook app (the launch of the service in November 2007 was described by Tony Hirst as “the first major push of our skunkworks Facebook app“)? Interestingly staff at the Open University wrote a document which summarised the initial experiences and the document, COURSE PROFILES – A Facebook Application for Open University Students and Alumni, although slightly dated is worth reading by those thinking about developing similar institutional Facebook apps.

As well as such questions which individual institutions may wish to find answers for, there may also benefits which can be gained from monitoring Facebook usage across the community. It may be misleading to extrapolate conclusions which may be made from the trends across these eight institutions.   Would it be possible, I wonder, for an automated tool to measure institutional uses of Facebook across the sector and for trends to be recorded?  Or rather than a technical solution, might a simpler approach for gathering evidence to inform discussions and decision making be to create a wiki? Or perhaps we could start with inviting readers to provide summaries as a comment to this post?  Anyone willing to do that?

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 8 Comments »

Is Stack Overflow Useful for Web Developers?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 October 2010

A couple of months ago I reported on The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community. Virginia Knight responded by commenting that “many email lists to have a natural life-cycle ending with dormancy” and it does seem that the web-support list is no longer having a significant role to play in providing advice and support on technical Web issues, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript queries, with posts now seeming to publicise job vacancies and events (in September 2010, for example, there were only 4 posts: one a advert for CILIP courses and the other three being a question, a request for a clarification followed by a clarification – but no answer provided!).

But where should Web developers go if they have such queries which need answering?  Might Stack Overflow provide an alternative?

Stack Overflow is a programming Q & A Web site which is collaboratively built and maintained b fellow programmers. The Stack Overflow About page goes on to add that “The only unusual thing we do is synthesize aspects of Wikis, Blogs, Forums, and Digg/Reddit in a way that we think is original“. The FAQ goes on to add that you should “avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!“.

As can be seen from the image the programing scope includes various areas of interest to Web developers including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, etc.

Stack Overflow goes beyond the simple responses that can be provided on a mailing list, allowing the person who asked a question to identify the answer which has been the most helpful.  Participants in the Stack Overflow community  can also rate the responses so that people who response with useful answers will gain reputation points – as Tony Hirst (pyschemedia on Stack Overflow, from the Open University, has shown recently with the first points he has been awarded after providing an answer to a question about Yahoo Pipes.  Once a certain level of reputation has been gained additional responsibilities are available including the ability to moderate contributions.

I can’t help but feel that although the web-support JISCMail list was useful in the early days of the Web  Web developers should be making use of richer environments for helping them in their development work.  Isn’t it time we acknowledged that the web-support list is now primarily an announcement list for jobs and events and a service like Stack Overflow can fulfill the service of finding answer to Web development queries? And since we have a lot of expertise across the sector, with people clearly willing to help and advise others, we could soon see UK Web developers with high reputation ratings on the service.

What do others think?

Posted in HTML | 8 Comments »

Guidelines for Professional Blogs Hosted In the Cloud

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 October 2010

Characteristics of My ‘Must Read’ Blogs

I recently highlighted five of my ‘must read’ blogs – and pointed out a characteristic they shared was that they were all hosted in The Cloud (on, and These blogs are all well-established and have continued to be active since they were launched, between two and five years ago.

The context of that post was a paper on “Approaches To Archiving Professional Blogs Hosted In The Cloud” which myself and Marieke Guy had written and Marieke presented at the iPres 2010 conference last week. In the paper we described the policy statement provided on both of our blogs which clarifies the scope of the blogs together with a statement of what would happen to the content if either of us were to leave our host institution. In my case the policy states that:

  • A copy of the contents of the blog will be made available to UKOLN (my host organisation) if I leave UKOLN. Note that this may not include the full content if there are complications concerning their party content (e.g. guest blog posts, embedded objects, etc.), technical difficulties in exporting data, etc.)
  • Since the blog reflects personal views I reserve the rights to continue providing the blog if I leave UKOLN. If this happens I will remove any UKOLN branding from the blog.

The other characteristics shared by the blogs are that they are written by academics, researchers or developers working in higher education. The higher education sector has traditionally provided flexibility for academics and researchers in the ways in which they go about their professional activities and this culture has been seen in the way in which a variety of Social Web technologies have been used.

Challenges Faced By Those Working In Service Departments

Those working in support departments (such as IT service departments, Libraries and University Administration) do not always have such flexibility and there may be internal pressures to make use of institutionally-provided services. Now it might be argued that the early adopters have, in many cases, been proved right and the institution should be looking to install services, such as blogs, in-house – and perhaps those who have been providing blogs in The Cloud should migrate thee blogs to the security of the institutional environment. After all, for example, have recently announced an offsite redirect service, which enables an blog author “to redirect (as well as all of your permalinks) to [a] new domain name” – which could be hosted within the institution.

I think should a move could be a mistake: the blogs I have mention are well-established, have developed an appropriate writing style and have well-established communities of readers and commenters.

I would also go further and suggest that such early adopters have not only demonstrated the benefits of, in this example, blogging (and I could also mention professional use of Twitter which is another shared characteristic of the above mentioned bloggers) but are also using a solution which minimises the support needed within the institution. The use of Cloud Services for hosting professional blogs can therefore be regarded as a desirable strategy for coping with cuts across the sector.

But what about the concerns of managers, especially those working in support departments for whom such loss of control would be a concern? And what of those working in other public sector organisations, such as those working in public libraries?

I feel the major concerns are now related to the content – is it appropriate and will the content be sustainable? Concerns regarding the sustainability of the companies hosting WordPress, Typepad and Blogspot are no longer regarded as critical concerns since it is the institutions themselves (Universities and public libraries) whose continued existence is now being threatened.

Examples of Guidelines

There are some examples of guidelines which aim to reassure those who may have concerns in letting members of staff publish without any formal editorial controls which others may find useful. Aline Hayes, Assistant Director of SLS/ Director of Information & Systems Technology at Sheffield Hallam University provides an example of a blogging policy for her blog (which is hosted in-house) based on this blog’s policy which addresses these points. This policy also addresses use of Twitter, making it clear that “The content of any Twitter feed relates to a mix of work and personal matters” and “I reserve the right to treat the Twitter id Aline_Hayes as mine and not the property of Sheffield Hallam University. In the event that I change role, or leave the University, I will change those specific aspects of my Twitter account that refer to either my role or the University (specifically, the Bio section) but will not remove historical posts from Twitter. I may choose to continue to use that specific Twitter account including for any future work purposes.“.

The JISC Involve blogging guidelines also provide useful advice on writing style.

  • You’re personally responsible When writing a work blog on the JISC Involve platform, readers will assume you are expressing the views of JISC. If you are writing a personal blog on a different platform (i.e. Blogger) and you are writing about work-related matters, it would be prudent to clearly state the following disclaimer in your blog post:

These are my personal views and not necessarily the views of JISC

  • Style Editorially, blog writing is more chatty and informal. Your blog post sets up a conversation, offering opinions and leaving loose threads open for comments and further discussion.

A Policy Framework

But I feel there is a need for a policy framework, which can be applied in a diverse range of situations. And I know I’m not alone in this – as I learnt from a post on Travel Bloggers Pledge – Towards a New Ethics in Travel Writing Amy Thibodeau is looking to start a movement  for travel bloggers. She pledges to:

  1. To disclose the source of any freebies or payments I receive in return for reviews.
  2. To express my honest opinion about all products, services and experiences on my website.
  3. To clearly label any advertorial content on my website so that it’s clear to my readers what is and is not advertising.
  4. To always aim to be transparent with my readers.
  5. To build my brand and online business without doing evil, underhanded things.

Would it be possible to develop a policy framework for those working in the public sector which would ensure that bloggers take a similar ethical approach to the content they publish whilst also addressing the concerns of their managers.

What might such a blogging framework cover? My suggestion for those providing professional blogs which are used to support work activities would be to ensure that the following areas are addressed:

  • Scope: The topics to be covered in the blog.
  • Style: The writing style – if the blog will be chatty, conversations and perhaps even controversial it would be advisable to be up-front about this.
  • Contributors: Is the blog provided by an individual or a team.
  • Sustainability: A statement on what will happen if the blog ceases to be used.
  • Ownership: Clarification of the ownership of the contents of the blog

These suggestions reflect the policies described in the two examples provided above and the policy for this blog.

Now although well-established bloggers may feel uncomfortable with the notion of a blogging policy I would hope that such an approach will be welcomed by those who would like to make use of blogs but who feel that the departmental culture is not conducive to such approaches.

Another question would be “who could develop a blogging policy framework which would be seen to be authoritative?” I recently came across the CILIP members blog landscape and wondered whether CILIP would be in a position to develop guidelines for use by their members? Could use of the ‘CILIP blogger’ logo provide an indication that the blogger has published a policy which respects the needs of both the blogger and the blogger’s institution?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Blog | 3 Comments »

Scenario Planning For Institutional Web Managers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 October 2010

It´s not too long before the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review takes place – and current speculation suggests that higher education is due for cuts between 20-40% over the next three years.  Whilst I’m sure that institutional Web management teams are currently developing plans for coping with the new spending regime (and the University of Southampton’s ECS Web team blog has recently announced how it intends to cope with voluntary severances for two members of staff) I thought I could help such activities by outlining some thoughts on possible scenarios for institutional Web teams over this period.

1. Gentle downsizing: Changes in staffing levels in institutional Web teams will be addressed by early retirements.  There’s no real need to be worried.

2. Outsourcing of Web teams: Web teams will be closed, with staff facing redundancies, to be replaced by outsourced provision of activities previously carried out by Web teams. Staff in the institution will be responsible for managing the contractual agreements with outsourced providers.

3. Greater use of outsourced Web technologies: Staff in institutional Web teams will move away from using internal CMSs and make greater use of externally-provided services.

4. Greater use of cheap labour!:  The University of Southampton’s ECS Web team blog has stated that it intends to address the redundancies which is taking place within the team: “Other tasks we may hire students for. There’s some great talent amongst our students and they work relatively cheaply, but gain experience and it looks good on the CV“.

5. Move towards centralisation: Web content providers and developers in departments will face redundancies, as greater emphasis is placed on provision of Web services from central Web teams.

6. Move towards devolution: The central Web team is down-sized and Web content provision is delegated to departments.

7. Time for growth and expansion: Policy makers within the institution agreed that the Web provides a cost-effective service. Greater responsibilities – and resources – and given to institutional Web teams.

Of course such scenarios are not mutually exclusive.  But I´d be interested in which scenario appear to be most likely – and how Web teams are preparing for the various scenarios.

For what it´s worth I think that scenario (1) is being too complacent; (2) I believe is already happening (see, for example Lucy Burrow’s talk on Partnering with third parties and vendor management at Kings College London which she gave at the UCISA CISG 2009 conference); (3) I think is not only inevitable but also, in many cases desirable, as discussed recently in the context of event Web sites; (4) whilst seeming threatening to Web professions can provide benefits to students who, we need to remember, will also be suffering from changes to students grants;  (5) seems to be happening in the case of IT Service departments in a number of institutions; (6) could happen if a smaller central Web team resulted in departments taking responsibilities for Web work which cannot be done by a shrunken central Web team and (7) whilst appearing unlikely reflects the ideas given by Ranjit Sidhu in his IWMW 2010 plenary talk in which he reminded the audience that the Web is a much more cost effective way of recruiting overseas students than traditional approaches.

I´ve given my thoughts on these scenarios. What are your thoughts?

Posted in Finances | 7 Comments »

First Footing at #FOTE10

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 October 2010

Yesterday I attended FOTE 2010, the Future of Education in Technology conference organised by ULCC. I discovered that FOTE is pronounced ‘footie; rather than,as I had thought, to rhyme with ‘vote’ – so as this was my first attendance at the FOTE conference which was launched in 2008 I guess I can describe my attendance as ‘first footing’.

The conference was fully subscribed with all of the (free) tickets going very shortly after being advertised.  The popularity of the event was probably a reflection of its high esteem and the continued interest in the topics addressed at the event, which included mobile applications; augmented reality; geolocation; iTunes U/Podcasting and iPad/e-Book Readers. The fact that the event was free will, of course, have boosted the numbers but for those of us who lived outside London the cost of travel and, possibly overnight accommodation, will have meant that there was a cost in attending – and as we are all looking closely at our budgets there can be no guarantee that even free events will attract participants these days.

The programme for the event was nicely balanced with several talks which highlighted the potential which technological innovation may provide for the educational sector being countered by other talks which challenged such assumptions. In the opening talk on “Future Vision” we listened to a very slick presentation being given by Ray Fleming of Microsoft with video clips to illustrate a Minority Report style view of the future. “In the future there appears to be more money, fewer people and soothing music” was how Ian Usher summarised this talk – a pithy summary which resonated with the six other Twitter users who retweeted this comment. The presentation, incidentally, didn’t make use of Prezi, as a number of people speculated on the #fote10 Twitter back channel; rather it used Microsoft’s pptPlex extension to PowerPoint – will this make PowerPoint suddenly appear cool, I wonder?

A similarly optimistic vision, although more grounded in what is achievable to day, was presented by  Hugh Griffiths of oMbiel who gave a talk on “campusM & Smartphone Adoption“.   The other talk in the opening session was given by Jeremy Speller who informed the audience that he was intending to challenge assumptions we may have about approaches to use of mobile technologies in his talk on “The Mobile University: last year’s model?” (note slides available on Slideshare).  Is this “Something vendors are keen to promote” or “something that (only) geeks want?” Jeremy asked. And yet as Jeremy later admittedOn reflection my #fote10 talk didn’t annoy anyone – can now think of 1,000 thinks to annoy educational technologists“.

In the question time after the opening session I queried the optimism of the opening session, pointing out that we are all now having to prepare ourselves for the implications of the cuts which will be announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October.  “Who will pay for such innovation?” I asked. “Are universities (perhaps cynically) looking to save money by promoting mobile technologies, so that they can sell off rooms currently housing PC clusters, with students – or their parents – paying themselves for the handheld equivalents?“Ray Fleming from Microsoft responded by arguing that the IT infrastructure is, in many cases,in place, but ineffective and costly business processes have not yet been replaced. In many respects I share this view, but it still seems fairly superficial, and I left for coffee, and the useful networking opportunities that provided, feeling slightly concerned that the FOTE10 conference was simply repeating the optimism in the benefits which technology can provide in education which I suspect happened at the first conference in 2008 and was failing to address the radically changed economic – and political – context.

Fortunately it seems that the conference organisers were aware of such dangers with the opening session being counter-balanced with the cynicism of Miles Metcalfe which was summarised in the quote: “Uncritical neophilia of the digerati“! Now although I disagreed with the simplicity of some of the criticisms Miles made and would agree with Nick Skelton’s point that “@mmetcalfe says he’s a binary thinker and education is full of naysayers & enthusiasts. I reckon we are more pragmatic than that” I felt his talk was needed and was nicely scheduled just before lunch, so that the discussions were informed by the opening optimistic visions of the future and the final more pessimistic and concerned thoughts on the loss of privacy which use of various Social Web services entails.

I’ll not attempt to summarise the other talks given at the conference – other than to say how stimulating Matt Lingard’s talk was and how much I welcomed the ways in which he ensured that a large audience could engage in discussions during his talk.

I’ll conclude by summarising the statistics for use of Twitter at the event. At the time of writing according to Summarizr there have been 3,360 tweets from 355 users with the #fote10 hashtag. The top twitterers were FOTiE (242 tweets), jamesclay (180), mmetcalfe (114), mattlingard (104) and olliebray (81). As I tweeted during the event “My Twitter stream’s talking about #FOTE10 & #bceaware Wasn’t Twitter supposed to be about trivia?” There were a great deal of interesting discussion about the various talks together with jokes and humour – FOTE 2010 provided a valuable opportunity for the twitter participants (both those at the event and those participating from afar) to develop their professional network.  Hmm, I wonder how many new people I followed at the event and how many followed me? Do we have a tool to provide such statistics?

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