UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for September, 2012

What Can Web Accessibility Metrics Learn From Alt.Metrics?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 September 2012

Research Report on Web Accessibility Metrics

A W3C WAI Research Report on Web Accessibility Metrics, published on 30 August 2012, is currently open for review, with feedback requested by 30 September 2012.

The introduction to the report describes how:

Recently, a plethora of metrics has been released to complement the A, AA, and AAA Levels measurement used by the WAI guidelines. However, the validity and reliability of most of these metrics are unknown and those making use of them are taking the risk of using inappropriate metrics. In order to address these concerns, this note provides a framework that considers validity, reliability, sensitivity, adequacy and complexity as the main qualities that a metric should have.

The introduction concludes:

A symposium was organized to observe how current practices are addressing such qualities. We found that metrics addressing validity issues are scarce although some efforts can be perceived as far as inter-tool reliability is concerned. This is something that the research community should be aware of, as we might be making efforts by using metrics whose validity and reliability are unknown. The research realm is perhaps not mature enough or we do not have the right methods and tools. We therefore try to shed some light on the possible paths that could be taken so that we can reach a maturity point.

David Sloan and I contributed to an Website Accessibility Metrics symposium held last year with a paper Web accessibility metrics for a post digital world (available in PDFMS Word and HTML formats). The abstract for our paper stated:

This paper argues that, as we move towards a ‘post-digital’ world where use of the Web becomes normalised, there is a need to address Web accessibility measurement challenges within a wider real-world context. Strategy and policy that defines Web accessibility purely by the conformance of digital resources with technical guidelines can lead to a danger that ‘good enough’ solutions may fail to be deployed; they also fail to consider a wider measure of user experience in accessibility measurement. We propose that metrics should draw on aspects of user experience to provide a more meaningful, real-world measure of the impact (or not) of accessibility barriers and therefore priority in addressing them. Metrics should also consider context in terms of the quality of effort taken by organisations to provide an inclusive experience; one option for doing so is the framework provided by British Standard 8878 Code of Practice for Web Accessibility. In both cases, challenges exist in the complexity of defining and implementing such metrics.

Or, as we described in a follow-up paper entitled A challenge to web accessibility metrics and guidelines: putting people and processes first:

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

In the light of our involvement in last year’s research symposium we intend to respond to the W3C’s request for feedback on the Research Report on Web Accessibility Metrics. It should be noted that responses must be submitted by 30 September 2012 to the list which has a publicly visible mailing list archive. I am therefore posting some thoughts on this blog in advance of that date in order to get feedback before making the formal response.

What Can Web Accessibility Metrics Learn from Alt.Metrics?

Section 1.2 of the report is entitled The Benefits of Using Metrics. This section should, I feel, be followed by a section on The Risks of Using Metrics. It would be useful to base such a section on the experiences gained in other areas in which metrics are being developed. Areas in which useful comparisons could be made include metrics for online reputation (i.e. services such as Klout) and assessment of research impact (e.g. alt.metrics); in both of these areas the potential benefits of metrics have been identified, but their limitations are also acknowledged.

Last Friday (21 September 2012), a live chat on Twitter, peer review and altmetrics: the future of research impact assessment took place on the Guardian’s Higher Education Network. During the discussion DrGunn (Dr. William Gunn, the Head of Academic Outreach for Mendeley) pointed out the need to recognise the limitations of metrics for the assessment of research impact:

First, it’s important to note that the point of altmetrics isn’t to suggest that it may be possible to use any measures of impact or influence to fully judge the merit of individuals. Citations, tweets, bookmarks, etc are all indicators of influence, but influence isn’t merit.

and highlighted the need for evidence which demonstrates relationships between metrics and tangible real-world outcomes:

The second point is addressing Stevan’s comment about coupling metrics to real positive outcomes. Science Exchange, Mendeley, PLOS, and Figshare have joined together and launched the Reproducibility Initiative, which aims to provide a positive incentive for doing work that’s robust and reproducible.

Such approaches are needed in the development of metrics for Web accessibility. But we should be clear about what is being measured. Is the work in identifying areas of research aiming to develop ways of measuring conformance with Web accessibility guidelines, such as WCAG. Or is the aim to develop metrics which relate to real-world experiences of people with disabilities seeking to make use of Web products?

In the conclusions the report makes the point that:

Employing metrics whose validity and reliability is questionable is a very risky practice that should be avoided. We therefore claim that accessibility metrics should be used and designed responsibly.

The statement that “accessibility metrics should be used and designed responsibly” is meaningless as nobody would argue that “accessibility metrics should be used and designed irresponsibly“! The report needs to  be clear about the reasons why Web accessibility metrics are being developed and who the beneficiaries of such work would be. The development of an international standard for Web accessibility metrics might benefit large software vendors, which would have a global market for selling tools for measuring conformance with such standards. There might also be benefits for organisations which would like to be able to display a badge demonstrating conformance with such standards. But what are the benefits for the user community, especially users with disabilities?

In addition there is a need to consider the risks in developing Web accessibility metrics. Might the development of such metrics lead to organisations failing to provide Web services if they failed to conform fully with such metrics, even if such services may still be of value to people with disabilities?

I’d welcome your comments, but more importantly, I’d encourage people with an interest in this area to respond to the call for comments  by sending a message by 30 September 2012 to the (note this list has a publicly visible mailing list archive).

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

Google Search Results for Russell Group Universities Highlight Importance of Freebase

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 September 2012

About This Post

This post summarises the findings of a survey of the Google search engine results for Russell Group universities. The post provides access to the findings which were obtained recently, with live links which enable the current findings to be viewed. The post explains how additional content, beyond the standard search results snippet, is obtained and discusses ways in which Web managers can manage such information.

The following sections are included in this post:

The Importance of Google Search

An important part of my work in supporting those who manage institutional Web service is in evidence-gathering. The aim is to  help identify approaches which can inform practice for enhancing the effectiveness of institutional Web service.

This post summarises the findings for Google searches for institutional Web sites. Google plays an important role in helping users find content on institutional Web sites. But Google nowadays not only acts as a search engine, it also provides navigational aids to key parts of an institutional Web site and hosts content about the institution.

An example of a typical search for a university is shown below; in this case a search for London School of Economics. As can be seen, the results contain navigational elements (known as ‘sitelinks‘); a search box (which enables the user to search the institutional Web site directly); a Google map; a summary from Wikipedia and additional factual content, provided by Google.

Findings of a Survey of Search Results for Russell Group Universities

Are the search results similar across all institutions? And if there are significant differences, should institutions be taking action to ensure that additional information is being provided or even removed?

In order to provide answers to such questions a search for the 24 Russell Group universities was carried out on 17 September 2012. The findings are given in the table shown below. Note that the table is in alphabetic order.  Column 2 gives the name of the institution and the search term used; column 3 gives the sitelinks provided; column 4 states whether a search box was embedded in the results; column 5 states whether a Google Map for the institution was provided; column 6 lists the titles of the factual content provided; column 7 provides a link to the Wikipedia entry if this was provided and column 8 provides a link to the search findings, so that up-to-date findings can be viewed (which may differ from those collected when the survey was carried out).

Table 1: Google Search Findings for Russell Group Universities
Institution / Search term Main search results (on left of Google results page) Additional results
(on right of Google results)
View results
Sitelinks Search box? Google Map? Factual information categories
 from Google
Wikipedia Content
University of Birmingham

Course finder – Jobs

Postgraduate study at … – Contact us

Accommodation – Schools and Departments

No Yes At a glance; Transit; More reviews [Search]
University of Bristol

Undergraduate Prospectus – Faculties and Schools

Jobs – Study

Contacting people – International students

No Yes Motto; Address; Enrollment; Phone; Mascot; Hours [Link]  [Search]
University of Cambridge

Job Opportunities – Contact us

Undergraduate – Visitors

Hermes Webmail Service – Staff & Students/

Yes Yes Motto; Address; Color; Phone; Enrollment; Hours [Link]  [Search]
Cardiff University

For… Current Students – International students

Job Opportunities – For… Staff

Prospective Students – Contact Us

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Durham

Undergraduate – Visit us

Postgraduate Study – Student Gateway

Staff Gateway – Courses

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Colors; Enrollment; Founded [Link] [Search]
University of Edinburgh – Staff and students

Studying at Edinburgh – Research

Schools & departments – Summer courses

Yes Yes Address; Acceptance rate; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Exeter

Undergraduate study – Contact us

Postgraduate study – Visiting us

Working here – Studying

Yes Yes Address; Enrollment; Phone; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Glasgow

Undergraduate degree … – MyGlasgow for students

Postgraduate taught degree … – Information for current students

Jobs at Glasgow – Courses

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Acceptance rate; Enrollment; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
Imperial College

Postgraduate Prospectus – My Imperial

Courses – Employment

Faculties & Departments – Prospective Students

Yes Yes Motto; Address; Phone; Acceptance rate; Enrollment; Colors [Link] [Search]
King’s College London

Postgraduate Study – Job opportunities

Undergraduate Study – Florence Nightingale School of …

Department of Informatics – School of Medicine

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Mascot; Enrollment; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Leeds

Undergraduate – University jobs

Postgraduate – School of Mathematics

Portal – Coursefinder

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Liverpool

Students – Job vacancies

Postgraduate – Online degrees

Undergraduate – Departments and services

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Acceptance rate; Founded [Link] [Search]
London School of Economics

Impact of Social Sciences – Department of Economics

Undergraduate – Library

Graduate – LSE for You

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Mascot; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Manchester

Postgraduate – Courses

Undergraduate – Contact us

Job opportunities – John Rylands Library

 Yes Yes Enrollment; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
Newcastle University

Undergraduate Study – Postgraduate Study

Student Homepage – Contact Us

Vacancies – Examinations

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors: [Link] [Search]
University of Nottingham

Undergraduate Prospectus – Open days

Postgraduate Study at the … – Visiting us

Jobs – Academic Departments A to Z 

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors: [Link] [Search]
University of Oxford

Jobs and Vacancies – Online and distance courses

Undergraduate admissions – Colleges

Graduate Admissions – Maps and Directions

Yes No Acceptance rate; Color; Enrollment [Link] [Search]
Queen Mary, University of London
 No Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Colors [Link] [Search]
19 Queen’s University Belfast

Course Finder – Queen’s Online

Postgraduate Students – Job Opportunities at Queen’s

Schools & Departments – The Library

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded [Link] [Search]
University of Sheffield

MUSE – Postgraduates

Jobs – Courses and Prospectuses

Undergraduates – Departments

Yes No

Enrollment; Founded; Colors:

[Link] [Search]
University of Southampton

Undergraduate study – University contacts

Postgraduate study – International students

Faculties – Medicine

No Yes Address; Enrollment; Founded [Link] [Search]
22 University College London

Prospective Students – Research

Philosophy – About UCL

Economics – Teaching and Learning Portal

Yes No Enrollment; Founder; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of Warwick

University Intranet – Undergraduate Study

Postgraduate Study – Visiting the University

Current Vacancies – Open Days

Yes Yes Address; Phone; Enrollment; Acceptance rate; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]
University of York

Jobs – Postgraduate study

Undergraduate study – Staff home

Student home – Departments

 No Yes Address; Enrollment; Hours; Phone; Founded; Colors [Link] [Search]

Note: This information was collected on 17 September 2012 and checked on 18 September 2012. It should also be noted that since Google search results can be personalised based on a variety of factors (previous searches, client used to search , etc.) others carrying out the same search make get different results.


We can see that 21 Russell Group University Web sites have a Google Map; 19 have a search interface on Google. The following table summarises the areas of factual information provided. The table is listed in order of the numbers of entries for each category. Note that the American spellings for ‘enrollment‘ and ‘color‘ are used in the Google results.

Table 2: Summary of the Categories Found
Ref. No. Type      Number
 1  Enrollment 23
 2  Address 19
 3  Color(s) 19
 4  Phone 18
 5  Founded 16
 6  Acceptance rate   6
 7  Mascot   3
 8  Motto   3
 9  Hours   2
10  Founder   1

In addition the search results also included information on Ratings and Google reviews (15 Russell Group university Web sites have a Google rating and 17 have a Google review). The numbers of Google reviews ranged from 1 to 208. Note that this information may well be susceptible to the ‘Trip Advisor Syndrome’ in which people have vested interests in giving either very high or very low scores.



The navigational elements are referred to as ‘sitelinks’ by Google. As described on the Google Webmaster Tools Web site:

sitelinks, are meant to help users navigate your site. Our systems analyze the link structure of your site to find shortcuts that will save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they’re looking for

The creation of sitelinks is an automated process. However, as described on the Google Webmaster Tools Web site, if a sitelink URL is felt to be inappropriate or incorrect, a Webmaster who has authenticated ownership of the Web site with the Google Webmaster tools can demote up to 100 of such links.

It should also be noted that during the final checking of the findings, carried out on 21 September 2012, it was found that the sitelinks for the University of Exeter had changed over a period of 5 days. The initial set of six sitelinks, which are listed above, were: Undergraduate study – Contact usPostgraduate study – Visiting usWorking here – Studying. The more recent list is Undergraduate study – Working herePostgraduate study – Contact usInternational Summer School – Studying.

Google Content

Although I suspect the findings for location maps won’t be a significant issue for universities (unlike, say, for small businesses) it was the the factual content provided by Google which seems to be of most interest. The display of such factual information is a recent development. On 16 May, 2012 a post on the GigaOM blog announced Google shakes up search with new Wikipedia-like feature which described how “the search giant is carving out a chunk of the site for “Knowledge Graph”, a tool that offers an encyclopedia-like package in response to a user’s query“. I highlighted the importance of the announcement in a post entitled Google Launches Knowledge Graph and, as Martin Hawksey commented, “As Freebase uses Wikipedia as its main data source having information in there is important but it’s in Freebase that structure is added to individual entities to make the knowledge graph“.

This factual information appeared to be the most interesting aspect of the survey. A summary of the Freebase service is given below, together with a discussion of the implications for management of content hosted in Freebase.

Thoughts on Freebase

It was back in 2007 when I first became aware of Freebase. As I described in a report on the WWW2007 conference Freebase is “an open Web 2.0 database, which has been exciting many Web developers recently“, with a more detailed summary being provided in Denny Vrandecic’s blog posting. However since then I have tended to focus my attention on the importance of Wikipedia and haven’t been following developments with Freebase apart from the announcement in 2010 of the sale of Freebase to Google.

Looking at the Freebase entry for the University of Oxford it seems there are close links between Freebase and Wikipedia. As shown in the screen image, the textual description for the University of Oxford is taken from the Wikipedia entry. Just like Wikipedia it is possible to edit the content (see the orange Edit This Topic button in the accompanying screen shot) which allows anyone with a Freebase account to update the information.

As with Wikipedia, Freebase provides a history of edits to entries. Looking at the edits to the University of Oxford entry we can see many edits have been made. However most of these related to the assignment of the entry to particular categories e.g. Education (Education Commons). It was initially unclear to me how easy it would be to detect incorrect updates to the entry, whether made by mistake or maliciously.

In order to understand the processes for updating entries to Freebase with the permission of Rob Mitchell, the University of Exeter Web Manager, I updated the Enrollment figure for his institution which was 15,720 in 2006 to 18,542 in 2011. The updating process was simple to use and the new data was immediately made available for the University of Exeter Freebase entry. Rob will be monitoring the Google search results in order to see how long it takes before the update is available. We might reasonably expect (indeed hope) that there will be manual process for verifying the accuracy of updates made to Freebase articles.

It does seem to me that those involved in University marketing activities or those with responsibilities for managing a university’s online presence may wish to be taking responsibility for managing information provided on Freebase. Is the management of factual information about institutions hosted on Freebase something which institutions are currently doing? If so, does is this limited to annual updates of enrollment figures, etc. or is new information being provided?

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

Posted in Evidence, search | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Further Reflections on IWMW 2012

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 September 2012

Networking at Our Dynamic Earth at the IWMW 2012 event.

We are currently in the process of finalising a venue for UKOLN’s IWMW 2013 event. Next year’s event will be the 17th in the series of annual events which, as described in the newcomer’s session at IWMW 2012, aims to “keep web managers up-to-date with developments and best practices in order that institutions can exploit the Web to its full potential“.

But before becoming too immersed in the detailed planning it would be useful to look back at the IWMW 2012 event which took place in June at the University of Edinburgh. I have previously summarised the participants’ feedback from the event. When I received an email from the Scottish Web Folk mailing list about a regional meeting taking place which would review the IWMW 2012 event I realised that this would provide an opportunity for further feedback. After the meeting the following summary was sent to the list:

All agreed that it was a great conference.

  • All happy with the range of subjects covered. Many felt that the quality and relevance of talks were excellent. Trends around responsive websites and content as data and data as content appealed.
  • Some were pleasantly surprised that there was little on social media.
  • XCRI-CAP information very useful and all agreed that it would be important to monitor progress on this in England to prepare for impact on Scotland

Some ideas for next year’s conference:

More on content strategy, responsive design, multi-platform strategies.

We also agreed that it might be interesting to consider trying to get a big international name from the Web industry to provide a keynote and possibly controversial talk.

It was very pleasing to hear how well the event was received by Web managers across Scottish Universities. It was also good to see that the two main content areas – addressing the challenges of supporting mobile devices and understanding the opportunities provided by the growth in importance of data – were relevant to the sector.

In addition to the feedback provided from a meeting of Scottish Web Folk during the event itself we asked a small number of participants for their thoughts on the event. This feedback was provided as brief video interviews. There were a total of nine interviews, each of which lasted from 1.5 to 3 minutes. Four of the interviews, from Marieke Guy, David Sloan, John Kelly and Claire Gibbons, were given by workshop facilitators and typically summarised their sessions. The other five interviews were given by participants, three of whom were attending an IWMW event for the first time. These five interviews are available below.

Tracey Milnes
In this interview, lasting 2 minutes, Tracey Milnes, Website Officer at York St John University explains the reasons why she decided to attend an IWMW event for the first time. Tracey works for a small university with a small team Web team. Her main interest is content management and she was looking forward to meeting other people with similar interests – this was the most valuable aspect of the event. She has a particular interest in designing a responsive web site suitable for access to mobile devices. Tracey concluded by telling the interviewer that she’ll be looking forward to attending further IWMW events.
Jess Hobbs
In this interview, lasting 1 minute 55 seconds, Jess Hobbs, Content Manager at the Quality Assurance Agency, summarises her reasons for attending IWMW 2012 for the first time and describes how she learnt about the importance of data, the importance of openness and the importance of applying policies and processes to enhance web accessibility. Every talk and workshop has provided Jess with useful links and resources to investigate when she returns to work.
Sarah Williams
In this interview, lasting 1 minute 50 seconds, Sarah Williams, University of Exeter describes her reasons for attending IWMW 2012 for the first time. Her colleagues had attended previous IWMW event and had said how valuable the event was. She described it as “inspiring”, especially for learning from others and appreciated the willingness of her peers to share their approaches and solutions. She was particularly inspired by the session on Web accessibility and will be looking to apply the approaches used at the University of Southampton at her institution.
Kevin Mears
In this interview, lasting 1 minute 55 seconds, Kevin Mears, Web developer at the University of Glamorgan, describes his doodling activities at the IWMW 2012 event which he shared with other delegates. He highlighted Responsive Design and Data as the two key topics areas of interest and described his intentions to make use of Google Refine for data cleaning purposes.
Tom Knight-Markiegi
In this interview, lasting 1 minute 34 seconds, Tom Knight-Markiegi, Sheffield Hallam University, describes the importance of the networking opportunities provided by the IWMW 2012 event. He has a particular interest in the mobile sessions at the IWMW 2012 event. He has picked up lots of useful resources and tips at the event. He will be suggesting approaches to use of the mobile web to his colleagues and will be sharing details of resources he found, especially a number of relevant JISC resources.

What are the key messages from these interviews? It seems clear that networking opportunities provided at the event is particularly important as is the willingness of participants to share their experiences and share tips and resources. It was also interesting to note how the event can inspire participants. In recent years we have sought to invite inspirational speakers in order to provide such inspiration. Judging by the feedback received for IWMW 2010 and IWMW 2011, Paul Boag and Ranjit Sidhu successfully fulfilled this role in recent years. In light of the suggestion from the Scottish Web Folk that we should “consider trying to get a big international name from the Web industry to provide a keynote and possibly controversial talk” it seems that we should be looking to find an inspirational speaker for next year’s event. Whether the speaker should be encouraged to be controversial is an interesting question; Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski in his talk which asked “Going Online – Do Universities Really Understand the Internet?” was certainly controversial in his views of the limitations of the home page design for a number of prestigious UK Universities. The reaction to the talk was very mixed with feedback ranging from:

  • “I didn’t agree with everything he said but it was by far the most entertaining and lively talk we saw. Controversy is good“,
  • “He was excellent, even though most of what he said was complete rubbish! Very entertaining.
  • Very useful to get the executive perspective – really helped to understand why the execs don’t get it.

through to:

  • Really shouldn’t have been let in. Waste of a session. Ill informed at best. I can point to user research that contradicts some of his ‘facts’.
  • Abysmal, and to think the day was 30mins longer because of this…

Beyond the style of presenting to the content itself, it seemed that the decision to address the mobile environment and data in a number of sessions was appropriate. It was also pleasing that two of the video interviews highlighted the value of the plenary talk and workshop session on Web accessibility. These sessions, which highlighted the BS 8878 Code of Practice and its relevance in higher education, reflected work I have been involved with over the years with the two speakers, EA Draffan and David Sloan. It does seem that the sector is interested in hearing more about approaches to Web accessibility which go beyond advocacy for WCAG guidelines.

Finally it was interesting to note the value which was given in a number of the video interviews to sharing resources. We have encouraged workshop facilitators to make their slides available on Slideshare using the IWMW12 tag so that the slides can be more easily found by others and the IWMW 2012 Slideshare Presentation Pack currently contains 20 slideshows, including those given in plenary talks and workshop sessions. But beyond the slides we should look at additional approaches we can take to facilitate such sharing of resources. Since one of the interviews mentioned the value of JISC resources to support institutional Web development activities it will, I think, be useful to explore ways in which the range of resources developed through JISC funding can be highlighted across this community. The Scottish Web Folk report also pointed out that the “XCRI-CAP information very useful“. Since the session on “The Xcri-cap Files” given by Claire Gibbons and Rob Englebright was based on the JISC Coursedata programme it would appear desirable to ensure that relevant JISC-funded projects make use of engagement and dissemination opportunities at future IWMW events.

In brief, therefore, these reflections have led me to conclude:

  • IWMW attendees place great importance on the networking and sharing opportunities provided at the event. We should therefore ensure that presentation time (e.g. the plenary talks) does not intrude on networking events. In addition since live video streaming of plenary talks does not encourage such networking opportunities, we should not be concerned that live streaming will significantly reduce the numbers of attendees at the event.
  • We should ensure that relevant JISC programmes and projects are made aware of the opportunities for engagement and dissemination which IWMW events can provide.
  • We should explore additional ways in which resources can be shared.

I’d welcome comments on these reflections.

Acknowledgement: Photograph of Networking at Our Dynamic Earth at the IWMW 2012 event taken by Sharon Steeples and available on Flickr under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

“John hit the ball”: Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 September 2012

W3C WAI “Easy to Read” (e2r) Work

The W3C/WAI Research and Development Working Group (RDWG) is planning an online symposium on “Easy to Read” (e2r) language in Web Pages/Applications (e2r Web). The closing date for submissions (which can be up t0 1,000 words) is 24 September 12 October 2012. The symposium itself will take place on 3 December 2012.

The Easy to Read activity page provides an introduction to this work:

Providing information in a way that can be understood by the majority of users is an essential aspect of accessibility for people with disabilities. This includes rules, guidelines, and recommendations for authoring text, structuring information, enriching content with images and multimedia and designing layout to meet these requirements.

and goes on to describe how:

Easy to Read today is first of all driven by day to day practice of translating information (on demand). More research is needed to better understand the needs of the users, to analyze and compare the different approaches, to come to a common definition, and to propose a way forward in providing more comprehensive access to language on the Web.

It provides a list of potentially useful tools and methods for measuring readability:

  • Flesch Reading Ease
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
  • Gunning Fog Index
  • Wiener Sachtextformel
  • Simple Measure Of Gobbledygook (SMOG)
  • Gunning fog index (FOG)

The aim of this work is to address the needs of people with disabilities:

  • People with cognitive disabilities related to functionalities such as
    • Memory
    • Problem solving (conceptualizing, planning, sequencing, reasoning and judging thoughts and actions)
    • Attention (e.g. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD) and awareness
    • Reading, linguistic, and verbal comprehension (e.g. Dyslexia)
    • Visual Comprehension
    • Mental health disabilities
  • People with low language skills including people who are not fluent in a language
  • Hearing Impaired and Deaf People

Early Work in this Area

When I saw this announcement it reminded me of early W3A WAI work in this area. Back in March 2004 an early draft of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines for Web accessibility provided the following guideline:

Guideline 3.1 Ensure that the meaning of content can be determined.

and went on to describe level 3 success criteria which could demonstrate that this guideline had been achieved:

  • Syntax
    • Using the simplest sentence forms consistent with the purpose of the content
      • For example, the simplest sentence-form for English consists of Subject-Verb-Object, as in John hit the ball or The Web site conforms to WCAG 2.0.
    • Using bulleted or numbered lists instead of paragraphs that contain long series of words or phrases separated by commas.
  • Nouns, noun-phrases, and pronouns
    • Using single nouns or short noun-phrases.
    • Making clear pronoun references and references to earlier points in the document

Yes, if that version of the WCAG guidelines had been implemented if you wished your Web site to conform with WCAG Level 3 you would have had to ensure that you avoided complex sentences!

Conformance with Level 3 guidelines were intended to Web resources “accessible to more people with all or particular types of disability“. The guidelines explained how “A conformance claim of “WCAG 2.0 AAA” can be made if all level 1, level 2, and all level 3 success criteria for all guidelines have been met.

Such guidelines would be helpful for people with cognitive disabilities: those with Asperger’s syndrome, for example, find it difficult to understand metaphors such as “It’s raining cats and dogs“. The guidelines seem to have been developed by those who wished to implement the vision of “universal accessibility“. But I think we can see that seeking to address accessibility in this fashion is flawed.

Dangers of Such Work

I have to admit that I would be worried if the Easy to Read research activities were to lead to enhancements to the WCAG guidelines. Under the current WAI model, full conformance to WCAG, together with ATAG and UAAG guidelines is supposed to lead to universal accessibility. There is also an assumption that universal accessibility is a desired goal.

But is this really the case? The early drafts of WCAG 2.0 guidelines suggested that “John hit the ball” conformed with the goal of ensuring that the meaning of the content can be determined. Would WCAG 2.0 checking tools flag “the ball was hit by John” as an accessibility error, meaning that the Web page could not achieve the highest accessibility rating? And what about my favourite sports headline: “Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious” – a headline which brings a smile if Mary Poppins was part of your cultural background and you recognise Celtic as a football team, but which is clearly not universally accessible.

I would welcome research into ways in which styles of writing can enhance the accessibility of the content to people with disabilities. My concern would be if such research were to be incorporated into future versions of WCAG guidelines – especially if WCAG conformance is mandated in legislation, as is the case in some countries. But rather than failing to carry out such research, I feel the main challenge for WAI is to re-evaluate its underlining model based on the triumvirate of standards and its commitment to ensuring that Web resources are universally accessible – this might be a great soundbite, but in reality may be an unachievable – and even undesirable – goal. After all ‘universal accessibility’ doesn’t appear to  allow for any contextualisation and an important aspect of accessibility must surely be the context of use. What do you think?

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] – [SocialMention] – [WhosTalkin]

Posted in Accessibility, W3C | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

The Importance of a Data-driven Infrastructure

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 September 2012

The Importance of Data

This year has been a great year for sport, especially in London. But as well as the success of the London Olympics and the Paralympics we have also seen a growth in interest in data, which has gone beyond ‘data scientists’ and is now of mainstream interest.

We saw early examples of general interest in data when the MPs’ expenses scandal surfaced in the Daily Telegraph back in 2009. However the availability of the expenses data on the Guardian platform generated new life for this story and saw a widening of interest particularly amongst developers with an interest in politics. We saw an example of this in Tony Hirst’s series of posts in which, as summarised in a post on My Guardian OpenPlatform API’n’Data Hacks’n’Mashups Roundup, he provided a number of visualisations of expenses claims.

The MPs’ expenses story raised interest in data journalism – and it is interesting to note that the Data driven journalism entry in Wikipedia was created as recently as 4 October 2010 . However this year’s summer of sport seems to have generated interest in data from the general public, beyond those who read the broadsheets.

According to a post on the Twitter published on 10 August 2012 there were “more than 150 million Tweets about the Olympics over the past 16 days“. The popularity of Twitter during the Olympics Games provided much content which could be analysed (there were over 80,000 tweets per minute when Usain Bolt won the 100m). But beyond Twitter there was also interest in analysis of data associated with the athletes’ performance and their achievements, as recorded by the medals they won.

In the higher education sector there has been an awareness of the importance of analysis of data for some time. Back in December 2011 in a post on “My Predictions for 2012” highlighted the following as an area of increasing relevance for the sector:

Learning and Knowledge Analytics ….

The ubiquity of mobile devices coupled with greater use of social applications as part of a developing cultural of open practices will lead to an awareness of the importance of learning and knowledge analytics. Just as in the sporting arena we have seen huge developments in using analytic tools to understand and maximise sporting performances, we will see similar approaches being taken to understand and maximise intellectual performance, in both teaching and learning and research areas.

We have seen a number of examples of development work in the area of learning analytics taking place this year. As can be seen for this list, staff at CETIS have been active in sharing their thoughts on developments in the area of learning analytics. Of particular interest were Sheila MacNeill’s post in which she asked Learning Analytics, where do you stand? (which generated a lively discussion); Making Sense of “Analytics” (which linked to a document on “Making Sense of Analytics: a framework for thinking about analytics“); Sheila’s 5 things from LAK12 (in which she highlighted five areas that resonate with me over the 4 days of the LAK12 conference) and herself-explanatory list of Some useful resources around learning analytics .

The Importance of a Data-driven Infrastructure

But beyond the uses which can be made of data, there will also be a need for institutions to address the issue of how they manage such data. The approaches needed in Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure have been summarised in a JISC Observatory TechWatch report of the same name.

The background to the report is the need for institutions to manage their data more effectively and provide greater transparency for institutional business processes, ranging from institutional data such as that being provided in Key Information Sets (KIS), the detailed reporting required for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) through to Learning Analytics as described above.

The report highlights approaches which institutions can take in responding to these strategic drivers, including the needs for greater transparency in business processes, in order to adopt a more data-centric approach. The report includes a description of data-centric architectures; an overview of tools and technologies including APIs, Linked Data and NoSQL together with a review of architectural approaches which institutions will need to consider.

The report, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence, was commissioned by the JISC Observatory team and written by Max Hammond, a consultant who has worked widely across the higher education and research sectors.

We welcome feedback on the report which can be provided on the JISC Observatory Web site.

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] – [SocialMention] – [WhosTalkin]

Posted in Data, jiscobs | 1 Comment »

Which University? The One With Good News or the One Which is Open and Transparent?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 September 2012

I came across the news first on Twitter from the @timeshighered account:

Which? launches university comparison website, featuring details of 30,000 courses and 262 HEIs: 

This announcement caused some slight concerns on Twitter, perhaps with a feeling that higher education shouldn’t be treated as a consumer good.

But shortly after the announcement on Twitter Alison Kerwin, head of Web Services at the University of Bath, reminded me that she had predicted that we would see such consumer guides to selecting higher education course when she gave a plenary talk on Let the Students do the Talking… at UKOLN’s IWMW 20o7 event:

I don’t want to say I told you so but… Which Guide to Universities? … #iwmw2007

As can be seen from Alison’s slide (which are available on Slideshare) which have her vision of the future, Alison predicted that we would see commercial services such as This service exists and which is not too dissimilar in its aims from the newly launched site.

As one does, the first University to explore on such services is your host institution. As can be seen for the entry for the University of Bath, we see not only the picturesque display of the University campus but also some pleasing words about the University:

Bath University is consistently one of the highest ranked for student satisfaction in the UK. The University has an ideal blend of academia and a thriving campus with many activities to get involved in. With a reputation for exceptionally strong sports we’re national champions in netball, football and women’s tennis – we also have a brand new arts complex on the way.

However the positive view of the university is not surprising when you notice that it has been provided by the Student’s Union.

Another view of the university is given by comments from students with one example of the downside being:

Faith support. We have a chaplaincy where I work part time but it is not advertised as a resource and is kept hidden by its location on campus so most students are unaware of the support offered by it.

Although it was good to read the positive comments:

Library facilities, teaching quality is generally high, communication is excellent.

Really good sports clubs due to the enthusiasm of the students involved.

But for me the most interesting aspect of the Which University Web site was the inclusion of the latest tweet from the institutional Twitter account. In this case this said:

RT @TeamBath The reception is over & the bus prepares to return to the @uniofbath . Thank you Bath.

and highlighted yesterday’s open top bus parade of Olympians and Paralympians in Bath including University of Bath Sports Performance student Michael Jamieson, who won swimming silver at the London Olympics and Paralympic swimmer Stephanie Millward, who won an impressive haul of five meals in the pool at the Games.

Clearly a relevant story for the University. But what if there’s less good news to report? What if the announcement is “Severe delays in getting Bath University today due to Open Day. Car park is full!“. Or, as happened a few year’s ago “University closed due to snow. No traffic allowed up Bathwick Hill” – although that can clearly be described as a good news story :-)

But what we are seeing is that a university’s official Twitter channel will have multiple purposes including keeping current staff and students up-to-date with relevant news as well as providing a marketing channel for potential students. It strikes me that the providers of the official channel may find tensions between the informational and marketing aspects of such work.

It would be interesting to hear if any Universities have published policies on the purpose, content and scope of their official Twitter channel, and how they might use Twitter to communicate important information which could have negative connotations.

But perhaps technology could provide a means of detecting feeds which only publish good news. We are seeing Twitter analytics tools which provide sentiment analysis. Perhaps such tools could be tuned to analyse University feeds too. And if potential students find that 100% of weather-related tweets, especially from a northern university, describe sunny weather they might detect a lack of openness! After all, as we know that many only reviews are fake, digital literacy courses provided for students may give advice on how to spot fake reviews. Let’s ensure that our channels are based on values of openness and transparency and not just the good news. Which is, of course, the point Alison made back in 2007 when she said Let the Students do the Talking….

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] – [SocialMenton] – [WhosTalkin]

Posted in openness, Twitter | 4 Comments »

Posters, Infographics and Thoughts on JISC and C21st Scholarship

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 September 2012

In a recent post on Wikipedia in universities and colleges? published on the JISC blog Amber Thomas mentioned her contribution to the Eduwiki 2012 conference which took place in Leicester last week.

Amber’s post included a poster entitled JISC on C21st Scholarship and the role of Wikipedia which I’ve embedded in this post.

Amber described the image as an “infographic” which generated some debate on Twitter regarded the difference between an infographic and a post. Thus led to recollection of a passionate discussion at the IWMW 2012 event on the difference between infographics and data visualisation.

It seems that data visualisation provides a view on an entire data set, whereas an infographic is a lossy process which focusses on a particular aspect of the data which the creator of the infographic wishes to focus on. A poster might be described as an infographic without the data.

The accompanying image does, in the depiction of the education level of Wikipedia users, a certain amount of ‘infographical’ information, but the remainder is a poster. I think we can conclude that there are fuzzy boundaries between posters and infographics.

This is probably, however, less fuzziness between those who find infographics useful and those who dismiss them as marketing mechanisms for presenting a particular viewpoint, but hiding the underlying complexities. This, at least, lay behind the passionate discussion that took place late one evening at IWMW 2012!

Such discussions frequently take place in the context of scientific communications. There are those who value the importance of communicating the implications of scientific research to the general public and feel that going into the details will tend to alienate the public. However such approaches can be dismissed by others who feel that such approaches results in a dumbing-down of the complexities.

I came across these issues earlier this year when I spoke at a day’s event on “Dealing With the Media” organised by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council. The event was aimed at recipients of AHRC grants and outlines the experiences of those who had been successful if maximising the visibility of their research through engagement with mass media. Other speakers described strategies for ‘selling’ your story to those who would commission articles for the BBC or publications such as the Guardian and the Times Higher Education. The importance of giving a brief and simple message was made by a number of the speakers.

I am in favour of use of infographics to help put across complex arguments. I was particularly impressed with Amber’s approach, as she not only produced the infographics which I have illustrated but also integrated the points given in the infographic in the slides she used in her presentation. In addition Amber has provided a document giving the source of the materials she used in her presentation.

Amber seems to be suggesting approaches which could benefit others who might wish to enhance the impact of their work. This is, of course, of importance across the sector as can be seen from the EPSRC’s recent announcement of their Impact Toolkit. This addresses areas such as What is impact?Why make an impact?What the ESRC expectsHow to maximise impactDeveloping a strategyImpact toolsTaking research to WestminsterContact government organisationsGetting social science research into the evidence base in governmentKnowledge exchangePublic engagementImpact resources and ESRC Pathways to Impact for Je-S applications.

It strikes me that as well as learning from such resources, it may also be helpful to share the tools and the approaches taken in producing infographics and posters. It may be that such work will be provided by a graphics unit who have expertise in this area. But this may only be a realistic solution for high profile outputs. Perhaps we should all seek to develop expertise in this area? The tool Amber used in the production of her poster,, might provide a useful starting point. We can find examples of other tools for creating infographics which are available. But perhaps more importantly besides Amber’s example has anyone examples of good posters and infographics related to development work which we can learn from?

NOTE: Tony Hirst has provided Delicious bookmarks of services for creating infographics which include Piktochart- Infographic & Presentation and

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Evidence, General | 1 Comment »

The Blog as a Narrative or the Post as a Self-Contained Item

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 September 2012

Do Blog Provide Self-Contained Posts or a Narrative Thread?

Does a blog used to support professional activities act as a diary in which in order to fully appreciate the content readers will need to have an understanding of the context provided by other posts? Or, alternatively, are blog posts self-containe, so they make sense if viewed in isolation?

Tony Hirst’s recent post on For My One Thousandth Blogpost: The Un-Academic caused me to reflect on this question. Tony had commented that whereas “Formal academic publications are a matter of record, and as such need to be self-standing, as well as embedded in a particular tradition blog posts are deliberately conversational: the grounding often coming from the current conversational context – recent previous posts, linked to sources, comments – as well as discussions ongoing in the community that the blog author inhabits and is known to contribute to“.

But although the writing style of blogs is often conversational in tone, I don’t agree that blog posts cannot also be self-standing. I realised this recently after a conversation with Amber Thomas who was preparing a talk on use of Wikipedia in a higher education context, which she gave last week at the Eduwiki conference. In the discussion I gave Amber some examples of use of Wikipedia in a research context, based on posts I’d written on How Can We Assess the Impact and ROI of Contributions to Wikipedia? (published on 27 September 2010) and How Well-Read Are Technical Wikipedia Articles? (published in 8 July 2010). Since I realised that I might have a need to be able to find such articles again in the future, I created a page on this blog on the Importance of Wikipedia which contained links to posts on this subject. I subsequently created a number of other pages providing links to posts which should be self-standing, in areas including Web Accessibility, standards and blog practices.

I then realised that my style is always to try to make post self-standing, with the relationships with related posts being made explicit by links to such posts.

It strikes me that writing self-contained blog posts is more relevant than it used to be when blogs took off as a way of keeping one’s peers informed. Back then readers of blogs would typically keep up-to-date through their RSS reader. But now it seems (and the Web analytics provided in a blog’s dashboard will confirm this) visitors will arrive at a post by following a link from Twitter or a service such as

Since there seems to be a decrease in the numbers of people who regularly follow individual blogs (and I know that although I still use an RSS reader I do not always read all posts, even from the blogs I am most interested in) it will be more important to provide the context for visitors who arrive at a particular post. This may cause regular readers to encounter repetition if they are following a stream of posts, but I think this needs to be accepted in light of the changing patterns of blog reading.

Tony Hirst’s follow-up post on How OUseful.Info Posts Link to Each Other… provides a graphic which depicts how posts published on Tony’s blog (which now number over 1,000) link to each other. This made me wonder whether Tony’s blog could also be described as self-contained, with the links providing the context.


As a postscript I should add that over the past 3 or 4 years I have provided links to blog posts from slides when I give presentations in order to be able to provide easy access to supplementary materials related to the contents of a particular slide.

An example of this approach is illustrated. For a forthcoming talk on “Open Practices for the Connected Researcher” to be given during Open Access Week if, during the talk, I am asked for the context or the evidence I can click on the blue arrow to go to the relevant post. Initially I used this approach when I embedded an image so that I could easily find the original source. I later realised that this approach has become more useful following developments to Slideshare which meant the that HTML5 replacement for the Flash interface enable the links to be followed from Slideshare. I don’t think the blog post should be regarded primarily as an item in a narrative for a regular audience. Rather I feel that there will be a significant proportion of the audience who will view posts in isolation.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Blog | 7 Comments »

“If a Tree Falls in a Forest”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 September 2012

If a paper is deposited in an institutional repository and nobody notices, can the associated work be seen to have any relevance? I wondered about this recently after looking at the download statistics for my papers hosted in Opus, the University of Bath repository. Normally I’m interested in the reasons for popular downloads (such as the evidence that this might suggest that the large numbers of downloads are due to the ‘Google juice’ provided by links from popular Web site). However as part of the preparation for a talk on “Open Practices for the Connected Researcher” I’m giving at the University of Exeter during Open Access Week I was interested in lessons to be learnt from papers which hardly anyone downloads.

In my case the papers nobody cares about are an article published in LA Record in 1997, a paper on Collection Level Description also published in 1999 which I had forgotten about until I rediscovered it a few years ago and uploaded to the repository, the final report for the QA Focus project and a peer-reviewed paper on Using Context to Support Effective Application of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

It was the peer-reviewed paper I was most interested in. This paper, written by myself, David Sloan, Helen Petrie, Fraser Hamilton and Lawrie Phipps and published in the Journal of Web Engineering (JWE), has only been downloaded twice. Clearly nobody is being deafened by the impact of this paper challenging the status quo!

Given that a total of 13,104 papers of mine have been downloaded from the repository what are the reasons for the lack of interest in this paper?

The obvious starting point would be the content. But this paper was a follow-up from previous papers on Web accessibility which have been well-read and widely-cited and the interest in our papers in this area has continued.

Looking at the email folder about this paper it seems that the first version of the paper was submitted to the publishers in July 2005. I seem to recall that we were invited to submit a paper based on an updated version of a paper on Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World by the same authors which had been presented at the W4A 2005 conference.

We received positive comments from the reviewers in August 2005 and responded with appropriate updates to the paper. But then everything went quiet. It wasn’t until August 2006 when we received the final proofs of the paper and September 2006 when we received confirmation that the paper had been accepted and the paper had published in the Journal of Web Engineering, Vol. 5 No. 4 in December 2006. This was 17 months after we had submitted the first version of the paper!

By this time myself and my co-authors had forgotten about the paper, and the ideas we described had been superceded by a paper on Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines presented at the W4A 2006 conference in May 2006.

Looking at the download statistics for my papers it seems that I began depositing items in the Opus repository in October 2008. My first set of papers were deposited by repository staff based on the links available from the UKOLN Web site. However it would appear that the JWE paper had not uploaded, probably because I had failed to include it in my list of publications due to its long gestation period. A few months ago I noticed that the paper had not been uploaded to the repository so on 17 May 2012 I uploaded the paper.

The reason for the lack of downloads is now clear: the paper wasn’t available until recently! And by the time the paper was available the ideas were no longer current.

What are the lessons which can be learnt which I can share in my talk on “Open Practices for the Connected Researcher“? I would suggest:

Repository items need to be made publicly available when the ideas are current. Depositing old papers may be useful for preserving the content and for record-keeping purposes, but not if the aim is to maximise the impact of the ideas.

Of course there is a bigger question about the value of peer-reviewed papers. In his 1,000th blog post Tony Hirst gave his reflections on The Un-academic. Tony pointed out that “Formal academic publications are a matter of record, and as such need to be self-standing, as well as embedded in a particular tradition” and contrasted this with blog posts which are “deliberately conversational: the grounding often coming from the current conversational context – recent previous posts, linked to sources, comments – as well as discussions ongoing in the community that the blog author inhabits and is known to contribute to“.

Tony argued the value of blogs in the support of the research process by point out blog posts can provide:

“a contribution to a daily ongoing communication with a community that often mediates its interests through the sharing of links (that is, references); in part it’s a contribution of ideas at a finer resolution than a formal academic reference, and in completely different style to them, to the free flow of ideas that can be found through the searchable and sharable world wide web.

Since 2005 myself and my colleagues have had peer-reviewed papers published at the W4A conferences in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012. This is part of the “annual ongoing communication with a community that often mediates its interests through the sharing of links (that is, references)”. However sometimes this process goes wrong, as has been described in this post. Although the problems associated with the long time frames it can take for research work to be published this doesn’t mean that the process of research publications is fundamentally flawed. However I think this example does illustrate the need for researchers to make “contribution to a daily ongoing communication with a community that often mediates its interests through the sharing of links“.

Tony’s blog post concludes by referencing a number of recent posts by Alan Levine (@CogDog) in which he has shared his thinking on blogging: The question should be: why are you NOT blogging?Every box you type in can be a doorway to creativity, and in a roundabout way, Gotta know when to walk. Alan’s first post provides his reflections on his blogging activities since he started 0n 19 April 2003. This long post is worth reading, but can be summarised very succinctly:

So here is why I blog. It is foolish and informationally selfish, not to.

Perhaps that should be the key message I give in my talk in Exeter during Open Access Week. Oh, having reflected on the paper which nobody reads I have decided that if a peer-reviewed paper is not read, this is a failure. My time and the time spent by my co-authors in writing the paper could have been more productively spent on other work. And no, unlike blog posts in which writing ideas may be a useful process in itself, peer-reviewed papers aren’t intend to assist in self-reflective.

Twitter conversation from Topsy:  [View]

Posted in openness, Repositories | 1 Comment »

Thoughts on Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 September 2012

Recent News: Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook

Tony Hirst alerted me to the recent post on Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. Facebook is, of course, one of those services which generates strong opinions, rather as Microsoft used to do. In the case of Microsoft the criticisms have been centred around its proprietary file formats and its misuse of its dominance in the desktop computer environment. For Facebook, the criticisms have focussed on Facebook being a “walled garden” and its misuse of personal data.

Facebook Was a Walled Garden

It was back in 1993 when Novell claimed that Microsoft was blocking its competitors out of the market through anti-competitive practices. However as described in Wikipedia the European Union Microsoft competition case resulted in the EU ordering Microsoft to divulge certain information about its server products and release a version of Microsoft Windows without Windows Media Player, in addition to paying a fine of £381 million. Microsoft also eventually migrated its proprietary file format to XML and the Open Office XML format which became an ISO standard in December 2006.

Might we see similar changes happening with Facebook? Back in December 2008 I asked Just What Is A “Walled Garden”? – a post which generated interesting discussion on the pros and cons of walled gardens, with Ben Toth commenting:

I don’t like the phrase at all. Firstly it’s one of those phrases which gives the impression of being meaningful but in practice doesn’t bear too much analysis. Secondly, walled gardens were a pretty clever Victorian technology for creating micro-climates in order to boost food production (, so it seems a shame to use the term in a negative way. Finally, all gardens have walls of one sort or another – an un-walled garden wouldn’t be a garden. So the phrase is a tautology.

Max Norton concluded the discussion by observing that:

to leap to judgement just because something can be described as a walled garden is hasty. While my instinct is towards openness I try to be pragmatic about these things and where I feel there are gains to be had in using “walled garden” solutions I’ll use them.

A willingness to accept the benefits that can be provided by walled gardens can clearly be seen by fans of Apple products, with, as described by the Wikipedia entry for Walled Garden (technology) Apple’s iOS devices are “restricted to running pre-approved applications from a digital distribution service“.

In October 2010 I pointed out that Planet Facebook Becomes Less of a Walled Garden following the announcement that “Facebook lets users download data, create groups“; news that was welcomed as “A step in the right direction, by the vice-chair of the DataPortability Project“.

Back in September 2011 ZDNet published an article which provided an update on Facebook’s export options and argued that Facebook finally makes your exported data useful. Since there are also tools such as SafeGuard which enable you to export data from Facebook and other social networking services it seems that we can say that not only can a walled garden provide a safe managed environment, but that it would be wrong to describe Facebook as a walled environment.

Accessing Facebook Activity Data

There are now a number of ways of migrating one’s personal data from Facebook. Facebook provide advice on how to do this, and this approach has been described in an article published in C|net. Meanwhile applications such as Social Safe provide alternative ways of accessing one’s Facebook data – and I learnt that I updated my Facebook profile picture on 13 December 2007.

But it was Tony Hirst’s tweet which interested me that most, since the Wolfram|Alpha service goes beyond the simple exporting of one’s content (status updates and images and videos which have been uploaded) and provides information and visualisations of one’s activity data.

Figure 1: Facebook activities, by time and day of week

Once you have given permission to the Wolfram|Alpha app to access your Facebook data visualisations of how you use Facebook are provided, such as the day of the week and time of posting status updates, posting links or uploading images. As shown in Figure 1 it seems that I tend to use Facebook mostly between 6pm and 9pm, which is not unexpected as I use it primarily for social purposes.

Figure 2: Facebook apps used

Figure 2 shows the Facebook apps which I use. It seems that the one I use most is the app which provides an automated status update when I publish a new post on this blog.

This information simply gives me a better understanding of my use of Facebook. This personal understanding of one’s Twitter use was the angle taken in a post on the Mashable tech blog which described how This App Knows More About Your Facebook Account Than You Do.

Figure 3: Visualisation of my Facebook community

However of greater interest to me is the way in which the Wolfram|Alpha app provides a visualisation of my Facebook community and the connections between the members of the community.

In Figure 3 you can see the various communities, which includes my sword dancing and folk communities and my profession contacts. I can also see the various outliers, of people who have few connections with others, which includes the landlady of a pub I often visit.

Such visualisation of one’s connections will be familiar to anyone who keeps an eye on Tony Hirst’s work in this area. In the past Tony has made use of Twitter APIs in order to visualise the growth and development of Twitter connections, including connections based around an event hashtag.

Facebook and Twitter Social Graphs

Assuming that you are willing to trust Wolfram|Alpha, their Facebook app may be of interest to anyone who would like to gain a better understanding of their own use of Facebook – as well as understanding what Facebook may know about you. Apart from the automated updates when I publish a new blog post, I update my Facebook status in the evening, often when I’m listening to live music in a local pub. Being able to process such information in an automated and global way will be of interest to the service providers who are looking to optimise targetted advertising.

Beyond the individual’s interest in such tools, clearly of greater interest will be developments around the global social graphs provided by Facebook, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Google+

Tony Hirst has addressed this issue recently when he asked Is Twitter Starting to Make a Grab for the Interest Graph? As Tony pointed out:

If targeted advertising is Twitter’s money play, then it’s obviously in their interest to keep hold of the data juice that lets them define audiences by interest. Which is to say, they need to keep the structure of the graph as closed as possible.

Will Twitter’s increased control over their APIs mean that there will be less opportunity for developers such as Tony Hirst (and Martin Hawksey with his developments based on processing the Twitter data stream) to continue their work which helps to provide a better understanding of how social networks are being used to enhance teaching and learning and research activities? And will, ironically, we find that Facebook provides a more open environment for such work?

NOTE: Following publication of this post Tony Hirst informed me of his posts on Getting Started With The Gephi Network Visualisation App – My Facebook Network, Part I and Social Interest Positioning – Visualising Facebook Friends’ Likes With Data Grabbed Using Google Refine which described his experiments in analysing and visualising Facebook data.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Facebook, openness | 2 Comments »

Findings of a Survey on Tweetchats

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 September 2012

Survey on Tweetchats

On 21 August 2012 I published a post entitled #uklibchat, #ECRchat, #PhDchat, #Socialchat and Other Tweetchats which provided an introduction to “Tweetchats” and illustrated how researchers and information professionals are using the open realtime discussion environment provided by a simple combination of Twitter and a hashtag to share ideas and discuss topics of comment interest with their peers.

The post included a survey on how people used Tweetchats. In the three weeks since the post was published there have been 18 responses. Since there is a #uklibchat taking place tonight, it seems appropriate to take this opportunity to summarise the responses.

The respondents mentioned eight Tweetchats, with the most popular ones being #uklibchat (9 mentions), #chartership (4), #phdchat (4), #ECRchat (2) and #acwi (2). Seven respondents contributed to Tweetchats regularly and eight occasionally. In addition 2 responses were received from people who have never participated in a Tweetchat. Twelve respondents said they would recommend participation in Tweetchats to others.

I will list the responses received below.

What benefits do you feel Tweetchats have provided, if any?

  • They’ve given me a community and a shared space to explore ideas. They let me know my concerns and problems aren’t just mine – other people experience them too. I get to offer my experience and advice, and to take advantage of other people’s. I expand my horizons about what academia looks like. I meet people I wouldn’t meet any other way.
  • Tips, advice and support from other chartership candidates, and greater understanding of topics and other perspectives for more general discussions.
  • Expanded network, i.e. increase in Twitter followers and more blog hits/comments
  • I don’t feel isolated. Its a good source for informal sharing of support as well as ideas, strategies, resources. Links to articles I would not have come across otherwise. Was a launching pad to conferences I have since attended.
  • A regular opportunity to network with a wide range of people I would not otherwise meet, and to have very interesting and thought-provoking discussions/debates about topics I would not otherwise think about in depth.
  • Convenient & cheap (free), can network with ppl all over the world, get lots of varied info and ideas, exciting!
  • Connects me with fellow LIS professionals who have similar issues in their workplaces.
  • I see it as a form of networking with others in your profession that you may not meet otherwise. I also find it a good way to debate topical issues in the sector and also see things from other people’s point of view as well as learning about things I did not know about before, for example resources or events or even things going on in academic/ public sector libraries etc.
  • Live discussion of issues with other professionals, from various locations, to keep up to date and to exchange views.
  • Get to speak to like-minded people who you’re unlikely to meet any other way; instant responses / ideas / suggestions.
  • Opportunity for me, as a mentor, to find out what is of concern to chartership candidates, to provide encouragement and maybe even pick up useful CPD ideas I can use myself.
  • Being able to enjoy conferences vicariously. Breaking down usual communication barriers, and any hierarchy within academia (the student has the same voice as the professor). Drawing upon numerous different fields of previously inaccessible thought.
  • Contacts.
  • Making contacts on Twitter – means more likely to get a response if you post a query later. Evidence for chartership – engaging in professional issues. Sharing idea’s, building trust among fellow professionals. Creating local contacts – I’ve joined a local chartership group that meets in person as a result of chartership chats on Twitter. Much more motivating to meet up in person with others, but wouldn’t have happened without Twitter

Why have you not participated in a Tweetchat?

  • From July – September I’m usually at the Proms every night, so a “bad” time. Other times? I would if I saw a special topic that interested me. Otherwise, I don’t bring my work home with me.
  • I’d like to learn more, but it’s difficult to get your head around it. There are different platforms and different format. Too many questions! I’d love to get some advice.
  • If I haven’t, it’s been either the time of day (early evening sometimes doing something else) or the subject has not been of interest.
  • Often I am busy at the time they are scheduled for, a great shame, but I am still able to read back through the chat via the hashtag.
  • I am not always able to be available at the right time

Other relevant comment

  • I think using Twitter for synchronous discussions is a really valuable use and something which I think will continue to increase.
  • While the chat is a synchronised one once a week on a surveyed topic. It is also an ongoing chat on any topic during the week as well.
  • I regularly took part in #uklibchat for almost a year, and have now joined the organising team (so I may be biased!)
  • I join #UKLibchat when the topic is something I’m interested in / feel I can contribute to – so not necessarily every fortnight.


It appears that the majority of the respondents valued their participation in Tweetchats and are happy to recommend participation to others. But although some appear to value the opportunity Tweetchat can provide for professional development outside normal working hours others may not welcome this intrusion outside normal working hours.

I feel that it is appropriate to leave the final word with @joeayanne, who is clearly a fan of Tweetchats for supporting professional development in a Library context:

I organise #chartership chat which usually happens once a fortnight – see for blog post about the first chat (which trended in UK!) and for dates, archives and summaries.

I also set up #llrg (Library Leadership Reading Group) tweetchats – see for FAQs and for a summary of the discussion.

For those who may now feel motivated to try out a Tweetchat, tonight’s UKLibchat is on the topic of digitisation and takes place from 18:30 – 20:30.

If, on the other hand, you are a researcher, you may wish to participate in the #ECRchat which, as it has an international audience, takes place on Thursday 6th September at 11:00-12:00 in the UK.

This chat will be hosted by Hazel Ferguson, a postdoc researching the cultural politics of alternative food systems in the Northern Rivers of NSW, Australia. Interested participants can vote for the topic to be discussed, which includes Developing an independent research profile; the fixed-term contract trap; Learning and developing leadership skills and Changing track.

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Case Study: Managing the Closure of a Project Web Site

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 September 2012

The Importance of Managing the Closure of Project Web Sites

The project has been successfully completed. It is therefore time to move on to new areas of work. However just as there is likely to be a need for the project paperwork to be completed after the project deliverables have been submitted, there will also be a need to manage the closure of the project web site. This can be tiresome, especially when there are interesting new projects which will need to be started. However a failure to manage the closure of a project web site can be counter-productive – remember that the project’s web site may be looked at when evaluators are marking bids for new projects and if the project web site fails to work or contains inaccurate or misleading content, the evaluators could potentially be influenced by such negative experiences.

Best Practices

Many of the best practices for closing a project blog will appear obvious – but that does not necessarily mean they are implemented! This post therefore summarises best practices and provides an example of a project web site which was closed 8 years ago in order to investigate some of the practices which may only become apparent over a period of time.

Best practices relevant to visitors

The following examples of best practices are intended to ensure that visitors accessing the project web site are aware of the status of the project and do not encounter misleading information. Implementation of these best practices should be regarded as essential.

Provide a summary of the status of the project and links to key resources: The visitor who arrives at the project web site via Google may well be unaware of the status of the project. You should project easily found information about the status of the project. Initially this may state when the project was completed although at a later date you may wish to add links to related follow-up work. You should also provide easily found links to the key resources related to the project which may include the final report and articles and papers related to the project’s activities.

Manage the content of the web site: As well as providing information about the work of the project, you should ensure that dated information or information which may become dated or misleading is edited or removed. This might include statements such as “Our workshop will be held next April” and “We will do xxx” – although such statements may legitimately continue to be provided in initial project planning documents. Dates should include years: for example the statement “Our workshop was held last April” may cause visitors to try to find workshop outputs if they are felt to be recent, but not if they are 10 years old!

Best practices relevant to technical staff

The following practices are intended to ensure that visitors accessing the project web site are aware of the status of the project and do not find misleading information. Implementation of these practices should be regarded as useful, especially if the project web site makes extensive use of server-side technologies or the site is likely to be reused elsewhere.

Audit the technologies used: Provide information which summarises the technologies used to deliver the project web site. For a simple web site, this might simply state that the web site is based on an Apache server which hosts HTML and CSS files, together with MS Word, MS PowerPoint and PDF files. A more complicated web site might be based on a CMS, such as Drupal, a blog platform such as WordPress, a database server such as MySQL, a search engine or a scripting environment, such as PHP.

Manage the technologies used on the web site: Once you have audited the technologies used on the project web site you may wish to switch off technologies which may require ongoing maintenance and support. You may wish to create a static web site of content managed by server-side technologies in order to simplify the technical infrastructure and minimise ongoing technical support requirements.

Audit third-party services used: Provide information which summarises third-party services used to deliver content or services. This might include Flickr badges, Twitter feeds, etc.

Manage the external services used to support the project web site: You may wish to switch off third-party services which are no longer needed, such as a dynamic Twitter feed. You should also ensure that the account details (username, password and email address used to authenticate changes) are also managed and aren’t owned solely by an individual (who may leave the organisation).

Verify the long-term persistency of the project Web site’s domain: If the project Web site is not hosted on the institution’s main Web site there will be a need to ensure that the project’s domain name persists and the service continues to be operational. If a domain name has been purchased it may be sensible to ensure that the domain is registered for an appropriate period of time. As described in a post entitled Link Checking For Old Web Sites it may be useful to set up an automated alert so that you receive notification if the Web site becomes unavailable.

Case Study: The QA Focus Web site

The JISC-funded QA Focus project ran from January 2002 to July 2004. The aim of the project was stated on the project home page:

QA Focus’s remit was to help ensure that project deliverables were interoperable and widely accessible. We sought to ensure that projects deployed appropriate standards and best practices. We did this by providing support materials which explained the recommended standards and best practices and carrying out a number of surveys which helped to share evolving practices across the projects.

We stopped developing the QA Focus project web site in 2004 and implemented some of the best practices given above. The project home page contained links to the project’s Final Report and the Impact Analysis statement, descriptions of the QA methodology developed by the project and accompanying briefing papers, case studies, papers and articles as well as names of the staff involved in the project delivery.

In some respects the freezing of the project web site was simple, as the project took place prior to the availability of many Web 2.0 services. However the project web site did make use of a database hosted on a Windows NT server which had to be discontinued. In addition as well as myself and my colleague Marieke Guy, the project was supported initially by staff at TASI (now JISC Digital Media) but for most of the life of the project by staff at the AHDS, an organisation which no longer exists, so it will not be easy to recollect memories of the technical decisions which may have been made.

In revisiting the QA Focus web site it was noticed that two third-party services had been used: the AvantGo service had been used to provide access to the web site on a PDA and SiteMeter had been used to provide usage statistics. According to Wikipedia the Avantgo service was discontinued in 2009. However the AvantGo page still provided a link to the service which could potentially be embarrassing. This link was removed. The embedded SiteMeter service had been removed previously.

The project web site contains a number of RSS feeds which provide access to the main project deliverables. Since this are simple static files and the content will not change, these files have been kept. However it was noticed that a link to an email service which informed subscribers of newly published documents was still available. Since no new documents will be published, and the status of the RSS to email service is unknown, this link was removed.

Although the links to the database server had been removed it was realised that the web site search engine appeared to provide the one remaining example of a server-side technology used to support the project web site. The search link on the web site’s navigation bar provides access to two search facilities: the UKOLN web site’s SWISH-E service and a Google search of the project web site. It is felt that this will provide a useful service and the duplication will minimise problems if either of the search facilities stops working.

Audits of the technical robustness of the project web site, covering link checking and HTML conformance, had been carried out in 2004, while the project was still live. These audits were repeated recently in order to ensure that no errors had been introduced over the previous 8 years. Following this work a page (which is illustrated) providing information on the technical architecture and links to the automated surveys, together with a summary of the main content areas and file types was provided in order that a public record is available. Links to the page have been added to the project home page. In addition an “Archived site” watermark was added to key pages on the project web site.

The Xenu link checker also provided a report on the file formats found on the web site. This provided a useful way of complementing the knowledge I have about the web site. It should be noted, however, that the video/unknown files listed in the table actually refer to WMF (Windows Metafile format) images which were produced in conversion of Microsoft PowerPoint files to HTML format. The table, which has been included on the QA Focus web site, is reproduced below.

MIME type count % count Σ size Σ size (KB) % size min size max size Ø size Ø size (KB) Ø time
text/html 662 URLs 48.71% 7277902 Bytes (7107 KB) 11.38% 543 Bytes 684983 Bytes 10993 Bytes (10 KB) 0.026
text/xml 6 URLs 0.44% 7600 Bytes (7 KB) 0.01% 503 Bytes 2731 Bytes 1266 Bytes (1 KB)
application/xml 94 URLs 6.92% 535671 Bytes (523 KB) 0.84% 1682 Bytes 53907 Bytes 5698 Bytes (5 KB)
text/css 13 URLs 0.96% 32101 Bytes (31 KB) 0.05% 180 Bytes 12144 Bytes 2469 Bytes (2 KB)
image/gif 81 URLs 5.96% 1811489 Bytes (1769 KB) 2.83% 50 Bytes 120552 Bytes 22364 Bytes (21 KB)
image/png 148 URLs 10.89% 12472014 Bytes (12179 KB) 19.50% 2998 Bytes 379755 Bytes 84270 Bytes (82 KB)
application/msword 263 URLs 19.35% 29181952 Bytes (28498 KB) 45.64% 34304 Bytes 1861120 Bytes 110957 Bytes (108 KB)
application/pdf 4 URLs 0.29% 931936 Bytes (910 KB) 1.46% 131571 Bytes 318749 Bytes 232984 Bytes (227 KB)
image/jpeg 6 URLs 0.44% 103860 Bytes (101 KB) 0.16% 3284 Bytes 34689 Bytes 17310 Bytes (16 KB)
application/ 38 URLs 2.80% 10736640 Bytes (10485 KB) 16.79% 61952 Bytes 1052160 Bytes 282543 Bytes (275 KB)
text/plain 8 URLs 0.59% 98528 Bytes (96 KB) 0.15% 308 Bytes 57382 Bytes 12316 Bytes (12 KB)
video/unknown 35 URLs 2.58% 733306 Bytes (716 KB) 1.15% 9486 Bytes 21400 Bytes 20951 Bytes (20 KB)
application/ 1 URLs 0.07% 22016 Bytes (21 KB) 0.03% 22016 Bytes 22016 Bytes 22016 Bytes (21 KB)
Total 1359 URLs 100.00% 63945015 Bytes (62446 KB) 100.00%

Following the audit and appropriate updates to the content of the project Web site the Web site was submitted to the British Library’s UK Web Archive service.


This case study intentionally aims to provide a simple example of a project web site hosted on the main institutional web site with limited use of server-side or client-side technologies and little use of third-party services. However even in this case study it was felt useful to document the technical architecture of the site and summarise the main content areas, especially since this work only took a couple of hours (which included writing this post).

Would it be reasonable to expect projects to provide a similar summary to the one provided for the QA Focus web site as part of the official closing of a project? I’d welcome your thoughts.

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