UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Archive for May, 2012

Trends in Slideshare Views for IWMW Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 May 2012

“Why does everybody ask for slides during/after a presentation?”

Why does everybody ask for slides during/after a presentation? What do you do with them? I’m genuinely curious.asked @MattMay last night. I use Slideshare for a number of reasons:

  • To enable a remote audience to view slides for a presentation they may be watching on a live video stream, on an audio stream or even simply listening to the tweets (and a provide a slide number on the slides to make it easier for people tweeting to identify the slide being used.
  • To enable the slides to be viewed in conjunction with a video recording of the presentation.
  • To enable my slides to be embedded elsewhere, so that the content can be reused in a blog post or on a web page.
  • To enable the content of the slides to be reused, if it is felt to be useful to others. Note that I provide a Creative Commons licence for the text of my slide, try to provide links to screenshots and give the origin of images which I may have obtained from others.
  • To enable my slides to be viewed easily on a mobile device.
  • To provide a commentable facility for the slides.
  • To enable my slides to be related, via tags, to related slideshows.

It seems that I am not alone in wishing to share my slides in this way. Slideshare, the market leader in this area, was recently acquired by LinkedIn. As described in a TechCrunch article published on 3 May 2012: “LinkedIn has just acquired professional content sharing platform SlideShare for $119 million in cash and stock“.  The article went on to state that: “SlideShare users have uploaded more than nine million presentations, and according to comScore, in March SlideShare had nearly 29 million unique visitors”.

Slideshare is also widely used in higher education. But how is it being used, especially in the context of annual events for those involved in web management and web development activities?

Use of Slideshare at IWMW Events

A year ago today, on 31 May 2011, in a post entitled Evidence of Slideshare’s Impact I reported on the number of views on slides of talks which had been given at UKOLN’s IWMW event since 2006.  hosted on Slideshare. It is timely to update that survey.

The slideshows for each year are available in the following Slideshow event groups: IWMW-2006IWMW-2007IWMW2008IWMW2009 and IWMW2010 (note we changed the naming convention in 2008 once Twitter started to gain in popularity).  Note that since not all of the slideshows have been added to the event groups the analysis also made use of the Slideshare tags: IWMW2006,IWMW2007IWMW2008IWMW2009, IWMW10 and IWMW11. It should also be noted that on 20 May Slideshare discontinued event groups so we will not be able to use this approach for grouping slides used at IWMW 2012.

The numbers of views for each slide are available on Slideshare.  A Google Spreadsheet has been created which summarises the figures. The overall totals are given below.

Year Nos. of views
(May 2011)
Nos. of views
(May 2012)
Total nos.
of slides
Nos. of
plenary slides
Nos. of slides from
parallel sessions
2006 48,360  51,535 11 11  0 Slides added retrospectively.
In May 2012 most popular plenary: 12,216 views.
In May 2011 most popular plenary: 10,190 views.
2007 44,495  61,739 7 5  2 Slides from 2 w/shop sessions included.
In May 2012 most popular plenary: 27,814 views; w/shop: 12,267 views.
In May 2011 most popular plenary: 21,679 views; w/shop: 9,838 views
2008 94,629 109,055 17 8  9 W/shop facilitators encouraged to use Slideshare.
In May 2012 most popular plenary: 33,656 views; w/shop: 18,369 views.
In May 2011 most popular plenary: 26,005 views; w/shop: 22,525 views.
2009 38,877  46,238 29 10 19 In May 2012 most popular plenary: 2,489 views; barcamp: 2,839 views.
In May 2011 most popular plenary: 3,313 views; barcamp: 4,023 views.
2010 11,833 18,758 18 10  8 In May 2012 most popular plenary: 1,896 views; w/shop: 1,601 views.
In May 2011 most popular plenary: 2,816 views; w/shop: 2,599 views.
2011   6,393  11  5  6 In May 2012 most popular plenary: 1,119 views; w/shop: 944 views.
TOTAL 238,259 297,741  88  44  44 Growth: 2011 to 2012 = 25%

Note that these figures were mostly collected on 25 May 2012, but a small number of changes were made on 30 May. Also note that two different slideshows used in workshop session at IWMW 2012 had the largest numbers of views in May 21011 and 2012.


A paper on “Who are we talking about?: the validity of online metrics for commenting on science [v0]” presented at the Altmetrics11 Tracking scholarly impact on the social Web workshop described how:

… we are not searching in online bibliographic databases for evidence of publications but that we are isolating the existence of online activity on the social web including: blogs; micro-blogging (Twitter); activity on social platforms – LinkedIn, and Mendeley; and sharing of presentations through Slideshare. 

The potential importance of Slideshare metrics was also highlighted yesterday in an article entitled Scientists: your number is up published in  Nature:

Herbert Van de Sompel at the Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who is a long-standing proponent of author identifiers, hopes that the [ORCID] system might be used to generate alternative metrics by linking authors to their outputs in “less traditional venues of scholarly communication, such as tweets, blog posts, presentations on Slideshare and videos on SciTV”.

To illustrate the possible benefits of using Slideshare to host a slideshow consider Kristen Fisher Ratan’s slides on “Metrics: The New Black?“. From this I can view Kristen’s other slideshows and discover that she is the Product Director at PloS (Public Library of Science) and that her Twitter ID is @kristenratan. I can also find related slides hosted on Slideshare with the tags almsmetricspublishing and altmetrics.  This can be useful and I haven’t even looked at the slides yet! Slide 18 (illustrated) states that “Powerpoint download feature inadvertently tracked sub-article usage” which suggests that links to a PowerPoint presentation from a paper might provide usage information about the paper which might be difficult to find in other ways. I’m please that this slideshow has been uploaded to Slideshare!

But if Slideshare have a role to play in a portfolio of online metrics which may help to provide a better understanding of the impact of scientific research, what can be learnt from these metrics taken over a period of six years? Although the IWMW event is aimed at practitioners rather than researchers, it did occur to me that the experiences gained in collating these statistics might be of interest to those who are considering use of Slideshare statistics in an alt.metrics context.  Some thoughts that occurred to me:

  • Fragmented statistics: A number of speakers uploaded slides to their own Slideshare account. In cases where this was done after the slides had been uploaded to our main IWMW Slideshare account, we did not always know about the alternative location, which could result in difficulties in aggregating the usage statistics.
  • Reuse of slides at other events: On a couple of occasions, slides used for presentations at IWMW event were also subsequently used at another event.

However there are clearly more significant things to consider when looking at Slideshare metrics: namely, what is it that is being measured?  In this post I will not attempt to answer that question.  Instead I will simply conclude by providing a simple answer to Matt May’s question: “Why does everybody ask for slides during/after a presentation? What do you do with them? I’m genuinely curious.” by pointing out what the evidence tells us “They ask for them because they wish to view them. Why, therefore, would you not provide access to the slides?“. Even if the slides don’t provide significant textual content, they may be useful by letting others see how you have designed your slides and structured your ideas.

As I concluded in last year’s post:

Martin Weller made [the] point in his post on The Slideshare Lessons when he said: “by sharing good Slideshare presentations you are sharing ideas, and people will react to these. It can be in the form of comments on your blog post which features the presentation, on the Slideshare site itself, or through other social media such as twitter“.  Why, I wonder, are people still hosting their slides in the silo of an institutional Web site when the slides can easily be made available as a social object?

Or to put it another way, why would you not publish your slides on Slideshare?

Posted in Events, Evidence, Web2.0 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Link Strategies for UK Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 May 2012

The Commercial Sector is Using Link Optimisation Techniques

We are all aware of the importance of institutional Web sites. Over the past 15 years UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series have provided many opportunities to share experiences and best practices across a range of areas. But I’m not aware of sessions which have been held during that time which have explicitly addressed linking strategies. This occurred to me following a tweet from Martin Hawksey which provided a link to an:

eyeopening summary of Linklove Boston Wondering how many inst. using these techniques?

The resource described a series of LinkLove and SearchLove events which have been held in the UK and US. A summary of the Linklove London conference provided by Hannah Smith of, the company which organised the event, is available. She highlighted the key suggestions from the plenary speakers who covered the following topics:

  • Content Strategy vs Link Building
  • Making Outreach Effective
  • Social Media & Links… a Love Story
  • Link Building Like Michael Winner, or Getting Golden Links
  • Building Targets, Relationships and Links
  • Putting the Love Back into Links
  • Tips, Tricks & Secrets from the Trenches
  • The Critchlow Hierarchy of Needs

The list of attendees at the London event show that this was very much focussed at the commercial sector and it might be tempting to dismiss link building strategies as the unacceptable face of Web site development, especially when you come across some of the comments made by the speakers such as:

There’s a £60 fine for driving in a bus lane in the UK, however Michael Winner doesn’t see it as a fine – he sees it as an investment in getting where he wants to go quickly

But I feel that the higher and further education sector should be willing to learn from others about ways of maximising access to their online content, resources and services and the laudable desire to do this in an ethical way should not preclude institutions from developing ‘white hat’ rather than ‘black hat’ SEO strategies, to use terminology which is described in Wikipedia.

Linking Strategies for the Higher Education Sector

I have already addressed linking strategies in the context of research papers in a post in which I described . In brief I suggested that in light of the popularity of LinkedIn, for which there seem to be over 100,000 users affiliated with the 20 Russell Group universities, and the high Google ranking which this service provides, it would appear beneficial in raising the ranking of one’s institutional repository if those responsible for providing advice on research dissemination strategies were to encourage researchers to provide links to copies of their papers held in the institutional repository. Such approaches should not only help to raise the visibility of the repository itself to search engines, but will also benefit the individual researcher, who should therefore be motivated to provide the appropriate links. In addition providing access tom one’s research publications in a popular environment can also benefit the many users of the service. Such an approach can clearly be seen as a white hat link building strategy.

But what about enhancing the visibility of online resources in other areas? Beyond the interests of researchers, a post which provided an Analysis of Incoming Links to Russell Group University Home Pages showed that Wikipedia, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Microsoft and Google are the most highly-ranked Web sites with inbound links to Russell Group Universities.

Should Universities be seeking to maximise links from such popular sites, which may enhance their discoverability by Google users? But how might this be done, and what are the ethics associated of such strategies?  Perhaps this would be an interesting discussion to have at next month’s IWMW 2012 event. In the meantime,would anyone like to start the discussion on link strategies for Universities? Or do we simply leave such activities to the commercial sector?

Posted in search | Leave a Comment »

Why I Welcome the Government’s Business-Friendly Approach to Cookies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 May 2012


A year ago today I wrote a post entitled How Should UK Universities Respond to EU Cookie Legislation? The post was published a few hours before the cookie legislation was originally intended to come into force, but as I said in the post:

The good news is that the ICO has recognised the complexities in implementing this legislation. As described on the BBC Web site:

UK websites are being given one year to comply with EU cookie laws, the Information Commissioner’s Office has said.

The UK government also sought to reassure the industry that there would be “no overnight changes”.

A year later the legislation has now come into force – and, as reported in the Guardian a few hours’ ago “Cookies law changed at 11th hour to introduce ‘implied consent‘”. The article went on to describe how:

In an updated version of its advice for websites on how to use cookies – small text files that are stored on the user’s computer and can identify them – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said that websites can assume that users have consented to their use of them.

The advice was only updated on Thursday, 48 hours before the deadline for implementing the new rules, and published the next day.

I have to say that I am pleased with this news. In an article entitled The new cookie laws: how aware are you? published in the JISC Inform newsletter I suggested that the priorities for institutions should be to audit their use of cookies, analyse how the cookies are being used, provide clear and prominently information about the use of cookies and “devise an appropriate mechanism for obtaining informed consent from your web site users”. In April a post on How is the Higher Education Sector Responding to the Forthcoming Cookie Legislation? surveyed the approaches which had been taken by 30 universities – and the majority seemed to have taken the approach of documenting their use of cookies and explaining the purposes of the cookies.

In some quarters it was suggested that since the legislation required users to opt-in to use of cookies, web sites would need to provide a form at the top of every page requiring users to manually verify that they were willing to accept cookies. However as I highlighted in a post on The Half Term Report on Cookie Complianceon 13 December the ICO, announced a new set of Guidelines on the Rules on use of Cookies and Similar Technologies (available in PDF format) in a blog post entitled Half term report on cookies compliance. And it seems that they have taken a pragmatic approach which describes realistic and implementable solutions for Web site managers.” Some time ago I came across a discussion about the cookie legislation which suggested that Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, would be looking for a ‘business-friendly’ solution to privacy concerns. I will not be alone in thinking the a Conservative Minister talks about ‘business-friendly solutions’ this means large pay rises for senior managers along with loss of pension rights and job security for workers. However in this case, although the solution is friendly for those working in the commercial sector, it is also a desirable solution for those of us who work in the education and other public sector services. The ones who will lose out are probably those who paid attention to the scare-mongers are have implemented clunky opt-out interfaces on their web sites or have withdrawn services, such as Google Analytics, which provided useful information which can help improve the quality of the service to the user community.

Of course, the legitimate privacy concerns which led to the EU directive have not been solved. But the EU directive was a flawed approach to addressing both the complexities of online privacy and the technical challenges in implementing solutions. However standards-based solutions are currently being developed, in particular the Do Not Track standard. As described on the Web site:

Do Not Track is a technology and policy proposal that enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms.

As described in Wikipedia:

The do not track header is a proposed HTTP header field that would request a web application to disable their tracking of a user. The “Do Not Track” header was originally proposed in 2009 by researchers Christopher Soghoian, Sid Stamm, and Dan Kaminsky. It is currently being standardized by the W3C.

In December 2010, Microsoft announced support for the DNT mechanism in its Internet Explorer 9 web browser. Followed by Mozilla’s Firefox,Apple’s Safari and Opera all later added support. It is not currently supported by Google Chrome, but will be incorporated by the end of 2012.

This will provide a standards-based way for users to manage their online privacy. Support for this proposed standard was announced recently by Twitter: as reported in the Guardian:

Twitter announced that it will officially support “Do Not Track,” a standardised privacy initiative that has been heavily promoted by the US Federal Trade Commission, online privacy advocates and Mozilla, the non-profit developer of the Firefox web browser.

The question now will be whether institutions feel this is an approach which should be deployed and, if so, how it will be implemented. Institutional responses to online privacy issues aren’t over just because a privacy policy has been published on the institution’s web site!

Finally in case people feel that they should be following the letter of the law, I suggest you take a look at the privacy policy for Francis Maude’s web site which states:

When we provide services, we want to make them easy, useful and reliable. Where services are delivered on the internet, this sometimes involves placing small amounts of information on your device, for example, computer or mobile phone. These include small files known as cookies. They cannot be used to identify you personally.

and goes on to add:

If you’d like to learn how to remove cookies set on your device, visit:

The video clip on “How government websites use cookies” provided by and hosted on YouTube also makes it clear that the Government’s view is that cookies provide value to the online environment. I agree with this, and hope that the Government will be proactive in adopting the Do Not Track standard to address the still unresolved issue of online privacy. I’ll conclude with a sentence I didn’t expect to write: “congratulations to Francis Maude on the approaches taken by the Government in responding to the flaws in the EU Directive“!

Posted in Legal | 2 Comments »

Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 May 2012

Total nos. of Facebook Likes for Russell Group universities.

A recent post entitled  What Next, As Facebook Use in UK Universities Continues to Grow? summarised growth in institutional use of Facebook in the 20 Russell Group universities in the UK, based on the number of ‘likes’ for the official institutional Facebook page. As can be seen in the accompanying histogram, there has been significant growth since the surveys in January and September 2011.  However as Tom Wright, the Digital Engagement Manager at the University of Nottingham commentedto gauge how successful universities are with Facebook you really need to look at other metrics around engagement, reach, influence, etc.

This is certainly true, but such metrics are not always publicly available and so in order to be able to answer the question “Are universities successful in their use of Facebook?” it will clearly be advantageous to be able to see a greater range of metrics. But in addition, the metrics themselves need to relate to the intended purpose(s) of the services and institutions may be using Facebook for a range of different purposes.

In order to help gain a better understand of how Facebook is being used across the sector, Tom and I have set up a SurveyMonkey form on institutional use of Facebook which invites respondents to summarise the purposes of institutional Facebook pages and the metrics they use to monitor the effectiveness of Facebook to achieve these purposes.  As Tom describes:

Understanding the roles which social networks such as Facebook can have in supporting business requirements is important for universities such as Nottingham with campuses in China and Malaysia and students from around the world. Facebook, with its international audience, has huge potential for today’s higher education institutions with their increasingly global reach, in the areas of student recruitment, marketing, internal communications and alumni support.

The survey is intended primarily for those working in institutional Web management or marketing teams in UK universities or FE colleges.  However we appreciate that universities around the world will have similar interests in the role of Facebook, together with concerns regarding the sustainability of the service, privacy issues and its relevance in supporting educational needs.

Such issues have been described in a paper on “Social Networking and Education: Using Facebook As An Edusocial Space” published in the Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2011 (pp. 3330-3338). This paper is also available on Scribd. The abstract for the paper states that:

The acceptance of Facebook by school-aged users is evident, but the potential of using social networking sites for educational purposes is still being debated. This paper explores the use of Facebook within a high school science-mentoring program. Results indicate that the use of Facebook positively affected the relationships between mentors and mentees. In addition, students believed that they learned more by using Facebook and would like to use Facebook for other educational purposes.

and concludes:

Social networking is already one of the most common ways that communication occurs virtually. While the majority of users spend time communicating with those who they have already built relationships with in reality, it may also have the potential to build relationships virtually.

Participation of a mentor and mentee on the Facebook group page was seen to positively affect their relationship both online and offline. Students and mentors that interacted regularly, posting questions and receiving feedback through the page, were observed as having a stronger relationship than other mentor-mentee pairs.

Might this suggest that there is a role to play in the development of Facebook apps which can support such collaborative activities? Back in March 2010 in a post entitled OU Facebook Apps, Reprise Tony Hirst mentioned work at the Open University which was “looking at rebooting the OU’s Facebook strategy. With a bit of luck, this means that we’ll be doing another push on the OU Facebook apps that were developed several years ago now and which I still believe provide a sound basis for a range of community building and social learning support services“.

But although the Open University might be working in this area, what is happening in the wider sector?  The concluding section on “Recommendations for future research” in the paper mentioned above described how:

Additional research is needed to explore the most beneficial design for an edusocial space. Though Facebook has been used for some educational purposes, research could explore the specific kinds of activities that are most beneficial to learners. Using social networking sites, however, is still a controversial issue with most schools blocking the site from students and faculty. Thus, it must also be understood if students can view sites like Facebook as educational spaces and be able to engage in learning activities at appropriate times.

The survey on institutional use of Facebook aims to gather information on such development activities.  We intend to present the findings at UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2012, in Edinburgh on 18-20 June.  We hope that people within the sector will respond to this survey in order that we can gain a comprehensive picture of use of Facebook across the higher and further educational sectors.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 4 Comments »

What Next, As Facebook Use in UK Universities Continues to Grow?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 May 2012

Facebook IPO

On Tuesday a headline in the Guardian announced Facebook raises price range ahead of IPO with the article describing how “Facebook has increased the price range of its stock in what will be Silicon Valley’s biggest-ever initial public offering to raise more than $12bn (£7.4bn), giving the social network a valuation that could exceed $100bn“.

What will the reaction be after today’s IPO launch? I suspect that my Twitter network will be talking about a bubble which is about to burst (if the shares go up in price) or will gloat if the price goes down. I don’t expect people to say “the financial injection can support developments which will be beneficial to use of Facebook within higher education“!

But how widely used is Facebook within higher education? And are the trends suggesting that usage has peaked, with users becoming disillusioned with social networks such as Facebook or, perhaps, moving to other services, such as Twitter – as the recent announcement in the Guardian that “Twitter now has 10m users in UK” with the “UK [being] the fourth-largest country for Twitter users in the world, with 80% accessing it with mobile phones” may suggest?

Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities

In order to gather evidence to support discussions on the relevance of use of Facebook in the higher education sector a survey of Facebook usage, determined by links for institutional pages, has been carried out for the 20 Russell Group universities. This survey follows on from previous surveys carried in in January and September 2011 which will enable trends to be detected. Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of Likes
(Jan 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(Sep 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(May 2012)
% increase
since Jan 2011
% increase
since Sep 2011
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
8,558  14,182  18,611 117%    31%
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb nameUniversity-of-Bristol/108242009204639
2,186   7,913  11,480  425%    45%
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
58,392 105,645 153,000 162%    45%
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
20,035  25,945   30,648  53%    18%
 5 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
(Page URL changed since previous survey)
 12,053   24,507   103%
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
  1,860   27,149  1,346%
 7 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
5,490  10,257  16,444 200%    60%
 8 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
2,047   3,587   5,384 163%    50%
 9 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
   899   2,143    138%
10 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb nameUniversity-of-Liverpool/293602011521
2,811  3,742   4,410  57%    18%
11 InstitutionLSE
Fb nameLSE/6127898346
22,798  32,290 43,716  92%    35%
12 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb nameUniversity-Of-Manchester/365078871967
1,978   4,734   9,356  373%    98%
13 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    115      693  503%
14 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
3,588    9,991  14,692  309%   47%
15 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
137,395 293,010 541,000   294%   85%
16 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueens-University-Belfast/108518389172588
5,211   10,063   93%
17 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
6,646 12,412  19,308  199%   56%
18 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
3,328 6,387  18,062  443%  183%
19 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
977 4,346  33,853 3,365%  679%
20 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
8,535 12,112 14,472    70%   19%
TOTAL 287,767 566,691 998,991  241%    76%


  • The data for the surveys was collected on 11 January 201125 September  2011 (estimate) and 16 May 2012.
  • The Facebook page for the University of Edinburgh has changed since the last survey.


Figure 1: Growth in total nos. of Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group universities.

In brief in a period of eight months we have seen an increase in the number of ‘likes’ for the twenty UK Russell Group Universities of over 432,300 users with the largest increase, of almost 248,000 occurring at the University of Oxford. The largest percentage increase in that time has taken place at University of Glasgow, which has seen a growth of 1,346% from 1,860 to 27,149 and UCL which has seen a growth of 679% from 4,346 to 33,493.

The overall trends are illustrated in the accompanying histogram. As can be seen this shows a significant growth in the overall number of Facebook likes across the Russell Group universities.

It should also be noted that according to Russell Group University Web sitehalf a million students are enrolled at Russell Group universities – one in five of all higher education students in the UK“. Although the numbers of Facebook likes will include members of staff and other interested parties, the data does seem to suggest that a significant proportion of students are using Facebook.


I suspect that social media consultants who advise the higher education sector will find the evidence presented in this post useful in demonstrating the importance of Facebook. However some caveats need to be pointed out:

  • There may be significant growth when six formers are deciding which universities to apply to. The ‘liking’ of a university may provide a bookmark which is not an indication of engagement with the institution.
  • New students may like their new institution’s Facebook page when they arrive, but may not use the service during their time at the institution.
  • Students may not unlike their institution’s Facebook page when they graduate, meaning that the number of Facebook likes will include people who have left the institution and may no longer use the service or have an interest in the information provided.

In addition to the need to the interpretation of the data there will also be a need to make policy decisions which should be informed by such evidence, but may not need to be determined by the evidence. It may be that Facebook can be regarded in a similar way to mailing lists: people use them and gain some value from them but development work is likely to take place using other technologies. Alternatively the popularity of Facebook may mean that that it has a role to play as a platform for development of new services. As described in a post on Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More) publishers such as Spring are providing mechanisms for researchers to share peer-reviewed papers using Facebook and Twitter, so perhaps Facebook could have a role to play as a sharing tool which is embedded within institutional tools.

Alternatively might Facebook have a role to play in more significant development work. The initial popularity of the Guardian’s Facebook app suggested that Facebook could have a role to play in sharing one’s reading activities across one’s networks, although more recent evidence, as described in a post on “Facebook Social Readers Are All Collapsing” suggests that Facebook apps which provide ‘frictionless sharing’ are declining in popularity. A more recent post TechCrunch post which described how Decline Of Reader Apps Likely Due To News Feed Changes, Shows Facebook Controls The Traffic Faucet provided a more thoughtful analysis of the reasons for the decline in usage, but also highlighted the dependencies which organisations will have in reliance on commercial companies whose business decisions may adversely effect organisations which rely on their services.

Figure 2: Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group universities
(see Table for institution names)

The question “What next for Facebook use in UK Universities?” will be an interesting one. And with over half a million ‘likes’ will Oxford University be thinking about benefits which can be gained from such a large network? Alternatively will institutions such as Newcastle University with small Facebook networks shrug their metaphorical shoulders at such suggestions and argue that Facebook has no value to their teaching and learning and research activities? Or might the popularity of Facebook at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which, as can be seen from the histogram, has a significant effect on the overall totals for Russell Group universities, simply reflect the brand awareness for these two institutions?

What are your thoughts? And what evidence will you need to gather if you feel that alternatives to Facebook will have a significant role to play?

Footnote: A follow-up post about a Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook has been published. This contains information about a survey in which we invite those involved in using Facebook to support institutional activities to provide details of their work. We invite people to complete this survey in order to provide a better understanding of Facebook use within the sector.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 6 Comments »

“Big Data, Big Deal?” – It’s the Interpretation of the Evidence That’s Important

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 May 2012

On Thursday, 10 May I attended the Eduserv Symposium 2012 on “Big Data, Big Deal?“. The Symposium Web site introduced the topic by focussing on the excitement which currently surrounds the phase “Big Data”:

The hot IT buzzword of 2012, big data has become viable as cost-effective approaches have emerged to tame the volume, velocity and variability of massive data” – Edd Dumbill, O’Reilly Radar.

In the opening to the event, Andy Powell, the Eduserv Symposium chair, suggested that claiming 2012 as the year of Big Data probably means that the term will be over-hyped. Rather than revisiting suggestions as to what Big Data could do, Andy explained that the aim of the Symposium would be primarily to provide an opportunity to hear about what practitioners are actually doing.

This approach meant that many of the talks went into either technical details relation to software and systems (Hadoop, DB Couch, NoSQL, etc.) or of the application area (e.g. Genome sequencing). Due to my lack of expertise I will not attempt to summarise the details of the talks. If you do have an interest in the details of the presentations which were given you will be pleased to hear that recordings of the talks are available via the Eduserv Web site together with the speakers’ slides can also be accessed.

For those who are new to the area, my colleague Marieke Guy has summarised what is meant by Big Data:

Big data is considered to be data sets that have grown so large and complex that they present challenges to work with using traditional database management tools. The key factors are seen to be the “volume, velocity and variability” of the data.

Several of the talks addressed the relevance of Big Data in areas of scientific research. Although this is clearly of interest to the higher education sector, I felt that it was unfortunate that there were no talks on learning analytics. The popularity of the Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2012 conference, held in Vancouver on 29 April – 2 May 2012, indicates the importance of this area and as a number of people from JISC and JISC services attended the conference, I felt it would have been particularly useful if the symposium has addressed this topic – as I suggested at the event after hearing about how large retailers are gaining competitive advantages from analysis of purchasing patterns, although it may be interested to analyse electronics and cans of beans, analysis of data associated with student learning raises many interesting ethical issues which the sector needs to address.

The opening speaker who pointed out that the aggregation and analysis of large volumes of data would support evidence-based policy decisions. This is an approach I support, and over the past few years I have gathered small data in order to inform policy-making processes. For me the role of the data scientists and data journalists who can help to interpret, understand and communicate findings provided by data, big or small, will be important. For scientists the interpretation of the Big Data might inform the development of scientific understanding (as is the case in the Big Data being gathered by the Large Hadron Collider) whereas as we can be seen from the abstract for the talk on Making data a way of life for public servants given by Max Wind-Cowie Head, Progressive Conservatism Project Demos:

The data agenda has made great progress under this Government – particularly in the area of transparency. But public servants too often feel left out of the equation or, worse, see transparency as a threat. Too often the public sector looks at big data as a risk, a problem waiting to happen and a potential tool for undermining its work. If Britain is to truly reap the benefits of big data we need to make data – its collection and its use – a boon to public servants, not a burden.

The interest in Big Data in informing policy decisions by the Government clearly makes the subjectivity of the interpretation of the analysis of Big Data clearly an important issue!

My colleague Marieke Guy summarised some of the key themes in her report on the event, which included:

We don’t need to get hung up on the ‘big’ word. Many of the benefits of evidence-based policy decisions can be gained by analysis of data which may be regarded as Big based on the characteristics of ” volume, velocity and variability”.

The tools are now available. Marieke highlighted Hadoop, DB Couch, NoSQL which all allow people to work easily with data sets – and may address the issues of tools which can be used for managing Big Data in her session on “Big and Small Web Data” which will be held at the IWMW 2012 event. I should also mention that a post on “Analytics Reconnoitre: Notes on Open Solutions in Big Data from #esym12” by Martin Hawksey of JISC CETIS also highlights a range of tools and provides a useful set of links to further sources of information.

We don’t yet know what data to get rid of. The issue of preservation of Big Data was of particular interest to me in light of my involvement in Web preservation issues. Preservation experts often point out the importance of selection criteria to define resources which should be preserved. However, as we heard at the symposium, such selection criteria is based on an understanding of what should be regarded as important. For the preservation of scientific data the decisions will be based on an understanding of a particular model – but what if the model is found to be incorrect? Donald Rumsfeld famously suggested that:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

To paraphrase this:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know are of value and worth preserving.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know whether they are worth preserving.
But there are also incorrect unknowns – there are things we thought we knew we were mistaken.

Martin Hawksey concludes his report on the event by encouraging readers to:

watch some of the videos from the Data Scientist Summit 2011 (I’m still working my way through but there are some inspirational presentations).

I agree with Martin – there were some excellent talks at the event. I would also thank Andy Powell and his Eduserv colleagues for the live-streaming and for making the videos available shortly after the event was over. I was also pleased when I discovered that the videos have been made available on Eduserv’s YouTube channel, which means that I can now embed the Opening keynote – Big Data and implications for storage: Rob Anderson at Eduserv Symposium 2012 in this post:

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Why Would You Not Use #Lanyrd For Your Event?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 May 2012


Lanyrd: a Conference Directory Website

I’m a fan of Lanyrd, which is described in Wikipedia as “a conference directory website created by Simon Willison and Natalie Downe and launched in 2010“. The article goes on to add that “The site compiles blog posts, photos and other coverage from events and keeps it organised by session and speaker. Users on the site are identified through the Twitter API and events are shown to users based on their contacts on Twitter“.

Lanyrd was released in September 2010 and I started to make use of it shortly after its launch and have been a fan ever since.

The IWMW 2012 Lanyrd Entry

Speakers at IWMW 2012

We have set up a Lanyrd entry for UKOLN’s forthcoming IWMW 2012 event. This provides a calendar view of the programme (which can be exported in various calendar formats), But perhaps of most interest is the social dimension to the service. As can be seen you can view the speakers at the event. Since the speakers are identified by their Twitter ID, once you have signed in to the service you can quickly see the speakers who you follow on Twitter or, if you aren’t currently following them, you can choose to extend your professional network by following them.

The service isn’t just for speakers, facilitators and organisers at an event, however. If you are attending an event you can register as a participant. If you are merely interested in the event you can also register your interest in the event by tracking the event.

Lanyrd has developed since its launch, and there are now dedicated Lanyrd apps available for the iPhone/iPad and Android devices. In addition there is also a mobile interface to the web site available which can be used if you haven’t installed an app or an app is not available for your mobile device.

Reflecting on Previous Events

But in addition to Lanyrd’s potential for forthcoming events, it can also help to provide a better understanding of an event over the years, including the speakers, participants and the content.

A Lanyrd guide (a collection of related events) has been set up called IWMW which provides details of all 16 IWMW events since its launch in 1997. The entries for the early years (currently) provide details of the title of the event, the location and the dates. But in addition, the abstracts for plenary talks and workshop sessions together with speaker details for events held since 2006 are also available.

Speakers at IWMW 2006

As can be seen we have provided speaker details going back to IWMW 2006, which, as you will see if you view the list of sessions held on Lanyrd, was the start of interest in Web 2.0 across the UK higher and further education sector.

We also made use of Slideshare for many of the plenary talks given at the IWMW 206 event (although these may have been uploaded after the event was held). And since Lanyrd supports embedded objects includes slides and videos, we have been any to facilitate access to the slides (and, in one cases, accompanying videos) for the plenary talks.

What benefits might this provide? I would suggest that use of Lanyrd in this way can:

  • Provide a better understanding of the speakers and facilitators who have contributed to the event over the years.
  • Help to raise the profile of the speakers and facilitators.
  • Enhance participants’ memories of the events.
  • Decoupling the content from the host Web site (which provides primarily a HTML view of the content).
  • Avoiding the need for local development.

But what else might use of Lanyrd provide? A question on Lanyrd’s FAQ asks I want to play with your data. Will there be an API? and we find a positive response:

Yes, an API is in the pipeline. If you are interested in receiving announcements and updates about the API, you can join our API discussion mailing list.

As a conference organiser I’ve an interest in developing the APIs for Lanyrd guides. For the 16 IWMW events it would be useful to be able to display information on the numbers of speakers across all events, the numbers of times they have spoken. In light of the recent post which asked Are There Too Many Male Speakers at Events? it might also be useful to be able to provide statistics on gender balances, although I appreciate there are sensitivities with such questions.

But perhaps the most useful aspect of Lanyrd would be gained if participants at previous events used Lanyrd to list the events they have attended. This would help to give an understanding of the participation at events, beyond the speakers. Such information is clearly personal and would be covered by Data Protection Legislation. But if individuals were to provide such information for themselves that would overcome privacy concerns.

We tend to focus on using technologies to enhance forthcoming events. I wonder whether there may be value to be gained in data-mining the wide range of events held in the higher education sector over, say, the past ten years. Any thoughts?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Events | 6 Comments »

How Bottlenose Can Help Turn Twitter into a High Signal Channel

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 May 2012


Reviewing Bottlenose

On Saturday I discovered the Bottlenose service and quickly realised how it can enhance my Twitter, Facebook and other channels to enable me to quickly find content of interest to me. Within a few minutes of using the service I found myself agreeing with Mashable that “Bottlenose is a Game Changer for Social Media Consumption” and ReadWriteWeb that the service is “More intelligent than basic consumer dashboards like TweetDeck and HootSuite“.

I came across Bottlenose from a tweet posted by @suebecks. I found that I had previously registered for the service but hadn’t yet received an activation code. However since Bottleneck have stated that “if you happen to have a Klout score over 30, you can register and gain access straight away ” and my Klout rating is 48 I was able to use the service straight away.

A Web-Based Twitter Client

Figure 1: Display of Tweets

Once you have logged in and registered your Twitter account the display of tweets from your followers, incoming (@) message and direct messages is similar to the interface provided by other Web-based twitter tools such as Hootsuite. The accompanying screeenshot shows the tweets from my Twitter followers, together with my @ messages, including the tweet from @suebecks which alerted me to the service.

The Personalised Newspaper Feature

Selecting the Newspaper option, however, provides functionality which isn’t provided by Hootsuite. As illustrated in Figure 2 the display shows the content of links which have been shared by your Twitter followers.

In February 2011 in a post in which I suggested Who Needs Murdoch – I’ve Got Smartr, My Own Personalised Daily Newspaper! I described the first mobile app I had encountered which provided this functionality. A year later, in February 2012 a post entitled My Trusted Social Librarian explained how an app such as Smartr helps me find useful content from trusted people I follow on Twitter.

I still use Smartr on a regular basis, to download the content of links which have been tweeted which I read on the bus travelling to work. However the Smartr app can no longer be downloaded and the name now refers to an email contact manager app provided by Xobni. In addition since Smarts was only available as an app I was unable to make use of this useful functionality on my desktop PC. It now seems that Bottlenose is providing this functionality, and has integrated this with a Twitter client.

Figure 2: Display of the content of shared links.

The Sonar Feature

As described on the Marketaire blog:

The Bottlenose name was inspired by the dolphin, which is reflected in its primary feature known as Sonar – a visual representation of your online conversation. Bottlenose maps topics and tags throughout your social network, allowing you to see branches of information, also giving you the ability to dive into each one.

The Venturebeat blog agrees: “The tool’s most compelling feature is Sonar, a visual interface that distills stream updates into a clickable trending topic diagram“. The blog goes on to add “People can select the Sonar option to see which topics, hashtags and people are resonating across their networks, and click displayed words to view related content and re-center the diagram around each keyword“.

My use of the Sonar feature is illustrated in Figures 3 and 4. I can use the Sonar interface to view tweets in a variety of ways, including all tweets from my followers and my incoming messages. In addition I can chose a filter which provides an auto-classified display of incoming tweets. Figure 3 illustrates use of the “TechNews” filter and the associated keywords and hashtags associated with this topic. Clicking on the RSS option displays tweets containing this topic from my Twitter follows during the selected period.

The Sonar view can also be used with the service’s search interface. In Figure 4 I have searched for “JISC” and have the ability to select additional keywords. It should be noted that although many of the tweets are relevant for me, there is a name clash with use of the acronym in Japan where it stands for the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee. One enhancement to the service I would find useful would be the ability to filter out content which aren’t in English.

Figure 4: Sonar search for JISC with Tech News filter and RSS keyword

Figure 3: Sonar search for Tech News filter and RSS keyword

Some other features of the service which are work mentioning include:

  • Integration with Facebook and LinkedIn services.
  • Integration with Google Reader which can provide Sonar interface for blogs.

On 9 May 2012, the day version 3 of Bottlenose was launched, TechCrunch announced Social Media Dashboard Bottlenose Gets Smarter, Adds Support For Multiple Accounts, Facebook Pages.

The article pointed out that “in many ways, directly competes with Hootsuite and Tweetdeck … [but] puts a stronger emphasis on filtering your streams, both by implicitly learning about your interest and by giving you a sophisticated set of tools to create your own filters“.


A service which emphasises the importance of filtering capabilities to discover information of interest would appear to be relevant to the library community as well as the early adopters of social web services in the teaching and learning and research communities. I have previously described the value I have found in using Twitter to discover both content relevant to my professional interests and to develop my professional networks as I described in a post on You Have 5 Seconds to Make an Impression! the links which have been established in Twitter led to collaboration on an award-winning paper. My experiences have been echoed by Melissa Terras who documented her experiences in a post entitled Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict.

But if such as Bottlenose can provide useful resource discovery functionality, how should a provider of resources ensure that they can be easily discovered by such tools? As described in a paper on “Research Blogs and the Discussion of Scholarly Information” which analysed 135 science blogs “most of the bloggers in our sample had active Twitter accounts connected with their blogs, and at least 90% of these accounts connect to at least one other RB-related Twitter account“. This suggests that scientific bloggers appreciate that Twitter can complement blogging activities. Initially this is likely to have focussed on the conversational aspects of Twitter and for many, including myself, the value of Twitter was first appreciated from use of Twitter at conferences. Such conversational aspects are clearly important and some early adopters of Twitter feel uneasy when Twitter is used for purposes such as marketing and when others services, such as Twitter archiving and analysis tools, become popular. However my view is that Twitter is a tool and there is no single correct way in which it should be used.

So in addition to Twitter being an open conversational medium, I think we are also seeing Twitter being used successfully as an alerting mechanism. Back in 2009 Jeff Nolan asked Is Twitter Killing RSS? I suspect that I am not alone in using Twitter as the tool for reading new content, including blog posts, which my Twitter community has brought to my attention, rather than using my RSS reader as my main channel for keeping up-to-date with developments.

But rather than regarding Twitter as the RSS killer, I feel that we can regard Twitter as the new metadata format for delivering content, with the key metadata element being the link, with the remainder of the tweet being a free text apart from a small number of common conventions, including RTs and the @ and # symbols. So when the questions about the minimum number of metadata fields needed to support resource discovery were being discussed perhaps, in one context, the answer was a single URL field, with the remaining content being left to users to fill in. We now seem to be finding that social discovery, in which one’s professional network support resource discovery, is being complemented by data mining tools.

As I finish this post, on Sunday afternoon on the final day of the football season and shortly after the Formula 1 Grand Prix has finished, I can view my followers’ reactions by using the Sports news filter and a search for “Manchester” provides a wider perspective, as shown below. I think this illustrates how tools such as Bottlenose may be used in s sporting, social, cultural and political context – and it might be work trying it during the next broadcast of BBC’s Question Time. But what I would really like would be the development of a richer set of filter, ideally filters which can be created by the user or would learn from user behaviours, which would enhance social discovery to support professional activities. Although it has been suggested that “Twitter, like blogging, needs an edge, a voice, a riskiness” I suspect this is coming. And I for one will be happy to continue to use tools such as Twitter to support my professional activities, even if they evolve from their initial purpose.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Twitter | 6 Comments »

Introducing #BS8878 on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 May 2012


Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Today is the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). As described on the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Web site:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.

Today’s event therefore provides a valuable opportunity to highlight important work in the area of Web accessibility which has been developed in the UK and is relevant to a worldwide audience.

Revisiting WAI and WCAG

There will be little need to raise the profile of the work of WAI, the Web Accessibility Initiative and the guidelines they have developed to help enhance the accessibility of Web resources: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which describe how web content, including native W3C formats such as HTML as well as formats such as Flash and PDF which may be included on Web sites, should be defined in order to enhance access by people with disabilities who may be using standard Web browsers or assistive technologies which should support the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) Creators of Web content should be using authoring tools which are based on ATAG, the Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines, which will help to ensure that the content is WCAG-conformant.

Unfortunately experience has shown that this simple model is insufficient for developing Web products which reflect the diverse ways in which the Web is used today. As summarised in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” the reasons for this include limitations in the guidelines themselves, limitations of the three-part model, the inappropriateness of an approaches based on universal accessibility for services which may be targetted at specific groups of users or even an individual user and the lack of guidance in the WAI approach on ways of providing ‘good enough’ accessibility as opposed to WAI’s ‘just-in-case’ approach. To give an example of the need to be able to develop ‘good enough’ solutions, if an institution’s institutional repository contains many thousands of research papers in PDF format and the PDFs, which may be deposited by the author, do not conform with accessibility guidelines, should the repository service be discontinued?

It should also be noted that the limitations of WCAG aren’t restricted to limitations of WCAG 1.0. As described in a paper on “Guidelines are only half of the story: accessibility problems encountered by blind users on the web” recently published in the Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems:

This paper describes an empirical study of the problems encountered by 32 blind users on the Web. Task-based user evaluations were undertaken on 16 websites, yielding 1383 instances of user problems. The results showed that only 50.4% of the problems encountered by users were covered by Success Criteria in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). For user problems that were covered by WCAG 2.0, 16.7% of websites implemented techniques recommended in WCAG 2.0 but the techniques did not solve the problems. These results show that few developers are implementing the current version of WCAG, and even when the guidelines are implemented on websites there is little indication that people with disabilities will encounter fewer problems. The paper closes by discussing the implications of this study for future research and practice. In particular, it discusses the need to move away from a problem-based approach towards a design principle approach for web accessibility.

But if WCAG has failed to live up to its expectations, is it no longer relevant? We disagree with this view – rather there is a need for a higher level standard which provides a context for use of WCAG and other accessibility standards.

BS 8878: Web Accessibility Code of Practice

As described in a post entitled BS 8878: “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines” the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice has been developed in order to address limitations of WAI’s approaches. As described in a paper on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” BS 8878 “makes recommendations for accessibility being addressed across a 16 Step Model of the web product development and maintenance process“. The paper goes on to describe BS 8878 in more detail:

These steps span: initial conception and requirements analysis (steps 1 to 6); strategic choices based on that research (steps 7 to 11); the decision to procure or develop the web product either in-house or contracted out (step 11); production of the web product (steps 12 and 13); evaluation of the product (step14); the launch (step 15); and post-launch maintenance (step 16).

Step 1: define the purpose of the web product
Step 2: define the target audiences for the web product
Step 3: analyse the needs of the target audiences for the web product
Step 4: note any platform or technology preferences and restrictions of the web product’s target audiences
Step 5: define the relationship the product will have with its target audiences
Step 6: define the user goals and tasks the web product needs to provide
Step 7: consider the degree of user-experience the web product will aim to provide
Step 8: consider inclusive design and user-personalized approaches to accessibility
Step 9: choose the delivery platforms to support
Step 10: choose the target browsers, operating systems and assistive technologies to support
Step 11: choose whether to create or procure the web product in-house or contract out externally
Step 12: define the web technologies to be used in the web product
Step 13: use web guidelines to direct accessible web production
Step 14: assure the web product’s accessibility through production
Step 15: communicate the web product’s accessibility decisions at launch
Step 16: plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product
Figure 1: 16 Step Model of BS 8878

This model has been drawn up based on real-world experience in companies and organisations that have effectively addressed accessibility. BS 8878 addresses accessibility both at the organisational level and the individual product level. It needs to be adapted to any situation it is applied.

The official slides on BS 8878 from its launch, together with other free information including, case studies of organisations using BS 8878, detailed blogs on its use by SMEs, tools and training for applying the Standard, and news on its progress towards an International Standard, can be found at

BS 8878 was published by the British Standards Institute and has not been adopted by standards body outside the UK. However on Global Accessibility Awareness Day it would appear particularly appropriate to highlight the valuable work which has taken place in the UK. Perhaps Web accessibility practitioners, developers and policy-makers outside the UK should be asking “How can we learn from the approaches which have been taken in the UK?“; “Shouldn’t we be looking to implement a similar code of practice within our national standards body?” and even “Shouldn’t BS 8878 form the basis of an international standard?

About the Author and his Previous Work

Brian Kelly attended the launch meeting for WAI in April 1997 and has been active in promoting best practices for Web accessibility ever since. Initially the focus of his work was in promoting take-up of WCAG guidelines across the UK’s higher and further education sectors. However following feedback from those involved in developing of web-based elearning services, it became apparent that use of WCAG guidelines was not always appropriate in the context of e-learning development work. A paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology in 2004 introduced the idea of ‘holistic approaches’ to web accessibility.

The limitations of WAI’s approaches were described in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” which described how “the context of the Web resource in question and other factors surrounding its use are used to shape an approach to accessible design” was published in 2005.

A paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” was awarded a prize for Best Research Paper at the ALT-C 2005 conference.

The importance of context was described in a paper on “Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines” which was presented at the W4A 2006 conference.

The importance of development of policies and accompanying processes to support user-focussed approaches to Web accessibility were described in a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” presented at the W4A 2007 conference.

A review of work to date was given in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” presented at the ADDW08 conference.

The need to adopt alternative approaches to Web accessibility was described in papers on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” published in the Journal of Access Services and “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” published in the Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology journal, both published in 2009.

Insights from disability studies were included in a paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” presented at the W4A 2010 conference.

The limitation of accessibility metrics were addressed in a paper “Web Accessibility Metrics For A Post Digital World” presented at a W3C WAI online symposium in 2011.

These ideas were further developed in a post on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” presented at the W4A 2012 conference.

These, and other peer-reviewed papers on Web accessibility can be accessed from the UKOLN Web site.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Accessibility | 2 Comments »

Oh What A Lovely War!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 May 2012

“The UK’s Battle for Open Standards”

The UK Government’s current consultation document on policies for open standards has generated a fair amount of passion. In addition to articles published in the Computer Weekly by Mark Ballard, and Glynn Moody I also recently came across the following tweet from @swardley:

I haven’t posted on the radar for a long time, really happy they took my article on the open standards battle –

His post, entitled “The UK’s battle for open standards“, began:

Many of you are probably not aware, but there is an ongoing battle within the U.K. that will shape the future of the U.K. tech industry. It’s all about open standards.

and concluded:

The battle for open standards needs help, so get involved.

Earlier this year, the language used in title of Glyn Moody’s post on UK Government Betrayal of Open Standards Confirmed suggested that this was likely to be a vicious battle and his more recent article made it clear who the enemy was: How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards. Mark Ballard’s article on how Proprietary lobby triumphs in first open standards showdown reinforced the militarist angle:

In conclusion, I feel that this meeting and others like it, should not become vicarious battlegrounds for tech giants to slug out battles that they can’t or won’t conduct elsewhere – at the end of the day, it should be about delivering the best technology-enabled services possible at the best price point. 

In brief we are seeing a “battle for open standards” that will “shape the future of the UK tech industry” in which we are seeing “UK Government betrayal” which has led to a “proprietary lobby triumph” . The ugly secrets of “how Microsoft fought true open standards” have been revealed and now every man must do his duty and “get involved“! Who said standards were boring?

“Losses 60,000 Men. Ground Gained 0 Yards”

I recently watched a DVD of the film “Oh! What a Lovely War“, a film I saw when I was young which chronicles the various madnesses of the First World War. The scene depicting how the generals were happy to send soldiers to their destruction as they were convinced of the rightness of their cause came to mind when I read the blog posts which were suggested that success in the open standards battle would help the minor players (the open source community, which would be depicted by Belgium in an updated version of the film) against the evil empire (no prizes for guessing, but ignore the humanist comments of its former general).

But what of the foot soldiers? In the standards battle, these will be the users of IT services, but have little interest in the arcane decisions being made in Whitehall, in obscure European cities and by those plotting to overthrow the existing order. Will they (we) see peace in our time (to use a saying from a later war) or might winning the open standards battle fail to deliver enhanced services for users?

Addressing the Needs of the User

I’ve tried to make the point that the militaristic language which is being used by the blogging community is inappropriate in discussions about government policies on open standards. Rather than continuing with this metaphor, the issue I feel needs to be addressed is “What are the consequences of a new policy means for users of government IT services?” The current discussions are centred on the benefits of providing a level for developers, especially open source developers. But there is little discussions on what this will mean for end users, apart from an implied suggestion that open source solutions based on royalty-free open standards will inevitably provide a better environment for users of the services.

We have, for example, see how a well-intentioned government policy, such as the one which stated that All government Web sites must be WCAG compliant could lead to undesirable side-effects if it were to be implemented in a simplistic fashion. In this case, despite an Accessibility Summit meeting in which Web accessibility advocates, researchers and researchers agreed the need to avoid simplistic checkbox approaches, the government announced a policy which, if it had been implemented, could have resulted in government web sites which had trivial WCAG errors would be withdrawn from service.

In Web accessibility arena, alternative approaches led to the development of the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice. This provides a much more realistic approach to achieving the laudable goal of enhancing access to people with disabilities, which takes contextual issues into account and focuses on best practices for the various processes in developing accessible Web sites and avoids the risk that forcing Web sites to be WCAG compliant would lead to non-conformant Web sites being removed from services or potentially valuable Web sites not being deployed due to difficulties in achieving WCAG conformance.

The current debate on open standards faces similar risks. To take a couple of simple and tangible examples:

  • The MP3 format is based on patented compression algorithms. Would a government policy which mandated patent-free standards ban use of the MP3 format? If so, since poplar audio players such as iPods, support the MP3 format but not necessarily patent-free alternatives, how will podcasts be made available for popular consumers products such as the iPod and iPhone.
  • The RSS (Really Simple Syndication/RDF Site Summary format is not an open standard since it is not owned by a trusted neutral standards body. Will RSS no longer be usable on Government Web sites and, if so, what benefits does this provide?
  • The Microsoft Office format is now an ISO Standard. Does this mean that MS Office will be an acceptable format. If so, what are the current ‘battles’ about? If not, what principles are the battles about?

Although I’m not in favour of the discussions about policies on Government use of open standards being based on military metaphors, I do agree with the call to get involved. Your country does need you, if you have an interest in the role open standards can play in the development of IT services in the public sector. In particular if you have an interest in the implications on user communities on the deployment of policies on open standards I’d encourage you to participate in the consultation.

Posted in standards | 2 Comments »

Getting a Kik Messenger Account – and Assessing Risks and Benefits

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 May 2012


I recently heard about the Kik Messenger app, an instant messaging application for mobile devices which, according to Wikipedia “took only 15 days for Kik Messenger to reach one million user registrations“. Kik Messenger has been described as a BBM killer – and as someone who has never owned a Blackberry phone I was interested in evaluating a cross-platform application who appears to be a competitor to the Blackberry’s key selling point: instant messaging.

I have now installed the app on my Android phone and iPod Touch. I’m familiar with the benefits which messaging applications can provide over email through over five years of Twitter use and am interested in exploring the potential of an app which can be used with non-Twitter users.

However in order to use such communication tools, you need to have people to communicate with. At present I only know the Kik username of one person. My username is ukwebfocus and I’d be interested in seeing how this app might be used to support my professional activities. Perhaps a tool such as Kik Messenger could have a role to play at an event, such as UKOLN’s 3-day IWMW 2012 event, in which it might not be appropriate to use Twitter for, say, administrative queries.

When making use of such new services I use three guiding principles to assist the decision-making process which were described in a paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“:

  1. Understanding the reasons why a service will be used.
  2. Understanding possible risks in using the service.
  3. Identification of ways of minimising such risks.

A summary of how these principles have been applied in installing Kik Messenger are given below:

Reasons for using Kik Messenger
The reasons include:

    • A desire to evaluate instant messaging tools to complement use of Twitter.
    • A need to evaluate tools which can be used to support communication needs at an event.
    • A wish to be an early adopter in use of a social networking / communications tool in order to claim a meaningful identifier and to facilitate the development of a community.

Risks in using Kik Messenger

The risks in making use of the tool include:

    • The tool may fail to reach a critical mass.
    • The service may not be sustainable and the terms and conditions may change or the service itself, and the accompanying network and data may be lost.
    • Use of the tool may result in a failure to make use of richer alternatives.
    • The tool may not address a significant need.
    • The benefits provided by the tool may not be sufficient to motivate others to use it.

Approaches for minimising risks in using Kik Messenger

The approaches being taken to minimising the risks include:

    • Raising awareness of the tool across my network.
    • Acceptance of possible loss of content and community (as is the case with use of Twitter and text messaging on my mobile phone).
    • Evaluation of use of the toll in different contexts.
    • A willingness to use the tool in a small-scale context if it fails to gain significant market penetration.
    • A willingness to accept the time lost in downloading and learning use of the tool if the service itself is not sustainable.

On his blog Doug Belshaw has documented his “3 principles for a more Open approach” which appear to provide a similar goal in documenting principles to aim the selection of new services:

“I’ve come up three principles to guide me:

    1. I will use free and Open Source software wherever possible. (I’m after the sustainable part of OSS, not the ‘free’ part)
    2. If this is not possible then I will look for services which have a paid-for ‘full-fat’ offering.
    3. I will only use proprietary services and platforms without a paid-for option if not doing so would have a significant effect on my ability to connect with other people.”

It is interesting to note the differences between our two approaches. Doug, it seems, very much focusses on the service itself (it needs to be available as open source software) and a particular business model (a subscription service, rather than one which is funded through advertising, for example) although, like me, he provides an escape clause which acknowledges that there are risks in failing to use a service if doing so would mean he was unable to fulfil particular requirements. My approach, on the other hand, focusses on the outputs of the service and takes a disinterested view of the development approaches.

The principles which Doug mentions do, of course, have validity. However for me Open Source Software is simply software which should be evaluated alongside proprietary software, with an open source software licence being no guarantee of the value of the software or it sustainability. I agree with Doug on the value of services having a variety of business models for their sustainability. However although the availability of open source software so that users can install the software on their own server may help Doug, who runs his own domain, and others who have the technical expertise, time and motivation to be system administrators, for many people this will not be the case. It should also be added to the availability of open source software is also not necessarily a guarantee that one’s host institution, which has traditionally provided the IT infrastructure will install the software. Indeed, even if software, including social software, is installed within one’s host institution, there is no guarantee that the service, the data or the community will be available if one leaves the institution. As Sarah Lewthwaite in a post entitled University Email: A PhD Exit Strategy reminded research students who were about to finish their PhD:

Your email account has been an academically sanctioned identity for three or more years. And, unless you have a particularly benevolent institution that guarantees email for life, your account is about to end. Full stop. You may receive a letter asking you to ‘forward all important emails to an external account’ before your account is sedated (suspended) and put out of its misery (erased). If, like me, you have come to rely on your university email, you need an exit strategy, fast.

Sarah went on to reiterate this point:

“Now, two essential factors come into play. They’re so important; so you can quote me.

    1. Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university.
    2. Your university email address constitutes and validates your academic identity. This signifier is about to expire.”

If you (as is the case for me) you do not wish to become a system administrator, you should understand alternative sustainability options. Many people will be happy to make use of free services for which advertising and other uses of activity data help to fund the service whereas others, such as Doug, will be willing to pay a fee for such advertisements to be removed.

It will be interesting to see the approaches to sustainability which users will select. There will be personal factors which come into play – and as someone who is happy to pay my TV licence feed and accept that when I watch ITV for ‘free’ that “I’m the product, not the user” I have chosen not to subscribe to Sky because of my antipathy towards Murdoch (although I have watch football on Sky in pubs).

Revisiting my initial comments about the Kik Messenger service, I should probably add that there would also be costs and risks in using an open alternative (perhaps Jabber/XMPP). But what if a proprietary approach, though not platform-specific such as Blackberry’s BBM, is needed in order to establish that there is a real user need and establish appropriate technical requirements before the open alternatives are developed? Karl Marx suggested that there were a number of evolutionary stages in society’s development (the slave society, feudalism and capitalism) which had to be passed before a more equitable society was reached. The evidence of Twitter’s success and social networks such as Facebook hints at the difficulties of achieving the seemingly more equitable online environment which, as Doug describes in a post on Why we need open, distributed social networks supporters of and Diaspora claim these services will provide. But can we build Openness in one country or might Blackberry BBM users benefit from moving to a more open cross-platform solution which has an API, albeit a solution which is not open source and for which, according to the FAQ, it does not seem possible to pay for an account?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in openness, Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Aversive Disablism, Web Accessibility and the Web Developer

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 May 2012

Today is the seventh annual Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD). A described in a post on the Diary of a Goldfish blogThis is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made“. My contribution will be to explore the question: “are web developers and web authors who have embraced WCAG guidelines unknowingly creating barriers for people with disabilities?

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012Sarah Lewthwaite introduced me to the term “adversive disablism” a couple of years ago when we had a brief discussion on Twitter and I was motived to follow the link to her (old) blog. Following a subsequent discussion Sarah drew my attention to a post she had written on Web Development and Aversive Disablism.

I quickly realised that Sarah’s expertise in disability theory added a new dimension to the Web accessibility research papers which David Sloan and myself, together with several other disability researchers and practitioners had published since my first paper, on Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility, was published in 2004.

Sarah, David and myself subsequently wrote a paper on Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World which was accepted at the W4A 2010 conference. In the paper (which is available in PDF, MS Word and HTML formats) we describe how:

Blatant forms of discrimination and prejudice towards disabled people appear to be declining in the UK and elsewhere. As such, it is not always clear how or why inequality persists, particularly online where disability could become a matter of relevance, rather than definition.

To understand this phenomenon, it is useful to consider Mark Deal’s concept of Aversive Disablism: ‘Aversive disablists recognise disablism is bad but do not recognize that they themselves are prejudiced‘ [6]. Where aversive racists are not anti-black, but pro-white [7], aversive disablists may not be anti-disabled, but rather pro-non-disabled. This disablism, is often unintentional.

The paper goes on to add:

In terms of Web development, significant inroads are being made through legislation, education and advocacy, but aversive disablism can and does persist at many levels. Importantly, since Web 2.0 thrives upon user-generated content and social interactions which are propagated and remixed across media, there are a multitude of levels and opportunities for aversive disablism to become integrated within systems.

But what does this mean in the context of Web development, especially for those who feel their approaches do not discriminate against users with disabilities but may, in reality, inadvertently do so? Four examples come to mind in which decisions taken by Web developers, managers and policy makers may provide unintentional barriers to users with disabilities:

  1. I won’t use JavaScript on my Web site.
  2. I insist that Web pages must validate.
  3. We don’t make videos available unless they are fully-captioned.
  4. We will only use HTML as a document format on our web site.

These views have, I suspect, been held by people with long-standing involvement in Web accessibility and would appear to be based on agreed best practices. But consider some alternative views to each of these points:

  1. JavaScript can assist the usability of Web sites, including the usability by people with disabilities. And although some assistive technologies may not have supported JavaScript nowadays many tools will provide such support.
  2. The vast majority of Web pages do not validate with formal HTML standards, but this is not necessarily a barrier to accessibility, especially for trivial HTML errors such as unescaped & characters.
  3. Videos may be valuable for users with disabilities and to deprive such users of access to these videos due to a lack of resources to fund captioning may be a barrier to these users.
  4. Institutional repositories currently host primarily PDFs of peer-reviewed papers. Insisting that an accessible HTML equivalent of such resources must be published will be a severe barrier to the implementation of open access policies.

We might then conclude that such disablist approaches may have been taken by people who regard guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a set of inflexible rules which must be applied at all times or who may interpret legislation as mandating conformance with such guidelines and are unwilling to take a risk that such an interpretation is mistaken.

But in addition such disablist approaches may also be taken by those so immersed in the Web environment, that they fail to appreciate the benefits for people with disabilities of blended approaches, as illustrated in a post on Videoing Talks As A Means Of Providing Equivalent Experiences.

As we described in our most recent paper, the challenge for policy makers and developers involved in Web activities is to ensure that they put people and processes first. I would hope that such user-focussed approaches are the norm. However a post which asks Is PDF accessible in Australia? argues that “it is time the Australian Government Information Management Office and the Human Rights Commission fully embrace both the spirit and the recommendations of WCAG 2.0” which can only be met by use of the following technologies: XHTML1, HTML 4, HTML5. Implementation of such a policy would seem likely to result in significant new barriers to researchers including, ironically, barriers to researchers with disabilities.

To revisit the question I posed at the beginning of this post: “are web developers and web authors who have embraced WCAG guidelines unknowingly creating barriers for people with disabilities?” Might not those with understandable motives in developing a more elegant, robust and open Web environment hinder access to resources for people with disabilities who are living in today’s environment of flawed tools, complex business models and, perhaps, over-ambitious accessibility guidelines?

And if your response is that adopting WCAG has been better than doing nothing, that may have been the case when our understanding of web accessibility was limited. But now we have a better understanding of how WCAG can be applied in a pragmatic way – and in the UK we have BS 8878 which we can – should – be using as a standard.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »