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August 31, 2007

3DVisA Bulletin

A brief article about our Second Life projects appears in issue 3 of the 3DVisA Bulletin (September 2007).

August 30, 2007

Eduserv at ALT-C

Several Eduserv-folk will be at ALT-C: Beyond Control next week.  We're on stand 8 in the exhibition space if you are interested.

Our stand will focus on the four Second Life related projects that we agreed to fund earlier this year, though we'll have information about Athens, OpenAthens, Chest and so on as well.  I'd be particularly interested to talk to people about their thoughts on the role of OpenID in relation to e-learning.

Please drop by to say hello and find out more.  Our plan is to have a laptop running Second Life available so that people can try it out if they haven't already.

Facebook campaign helps force bank u-turn

Interesting story from the BBC today about a student campaign to force HSBC to change its plans to withdraw interest-free overdraft facilities for students.  Protesters used a Facebook group to generate support for their cause, ultimately forcing HSBC to backtrack.

August 29, 2007

Conference Proper, Day One (DC-2007 Third Installment)

I'd intended to have a go at "live blogging" the first day proper of the DC-2007 conference yesterday, but the combination of my inability to produce rapid notes remotely worthy of exposing to a wider readership and a somewhat intermittent wireless connection (ah, yes, the old chestnut of blaming the technology) means that I ended up writing this at the end of the day instead.

The opening keynote was by Johannes Keizer of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Johannes presented a historical account of how metadata, and particularly metadata based on Dublin Core, had enabled the FAO to "collect, analyse, interpret and make available information" in support of its goal of combatting world hunger. He traced a path in which the FAO had moved from a focus primarily on describing "document-like objects" (through the AGRIS DC application profile) through the development of the AGROVOC subject thesaurus, towards a more formal ontology-based approach involving a range of resource types and their relationships. He argued that the semantic web should/would be driven by such requirements to integrate existing data-oriented applications, and that, in the FAO case, while it remained difficult to quantify, he felt that the ability to produce smarter applications based on the richer data now available was offering a significant return on the investment in the development of metadata schemas and ontologies.

The first paper session featured two papers, the first, by Akira Miyazawa (NII, Japan and member of the DCMI Usage Board) arguing persuasively that the widespread use of parallel writing systems, particularly in Asian cultures, made a case for considering objects such as "titles" not as simple character strings (literals) but as "abstractions" each of which may be associated with multiple different character strings. (Akira's argument provides an interesting perspective on the current proposal to assign a range of literal to the DCMI property dcterms:title.)

The second presentation, by Fredrik Ennokson (Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden), gave a summary of work done by Frdrik and his colleagues within the LUISA project on the development of "Annotation Profiles" as a mechanism for supporting the configuration of editing tools for RDF data. By combining a specification of patterns in the RDF graph on the one hand and a specification of the user interface (a form template) on the other, forms-based tools can be easily reconfigured to offer different interfaces - including the option of providing different interfaces to the same data reflecting the different roles/access permissions of different individuals maintaining parts of that data.

In the opening session of the afternoon, Mikael Nilsson (Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden) introduced his work on the specification for a Description Set Profile as "a way of describing structural constraints on a description set. It constrains the resources that may be described by descriptions in the description set, the properties that may be used, and the ways a value surrogate may be given."

A DSP is composed of a hierarchically organised set of "templates", mirroring the structure of the DC description set defined by the description model of the DCMI Abstract Model. So a DSP consists of a number of "Description Templates", made up in turn of "Statement Templates", which themselves contain a set of constraints either on a "Literal Value Surrogate" or on a "Non-Literal Value Surrogate". Mikael gave what I thought was a very helpful graphical presentation of the "templating" approach, starting from the full set of constructs supported by the DCAM description model, and removing or constraining the use of individual components as required by the application context. He also - a live demo! Brave man! ;-) - illustrated how a DSP could be used to dynamically configure a metadata authoring tool.

Mikael emphasised that the DSP is a formalisation of, rather than a replacement for, the "traditional" notion of what DCMI has called a DC application profile, as described, for example by the Dublin Core Application Profile Guidelines developed by CEN MMI-DC. Or perhaps more accurately the DSP reflects one core part of what constitutes a DCAP: Mikael also set the notion of the DSP within the context of the broader framework which I referred to in my previous post, where the DSP is just one component within a larger package of inter-dependent components.

Fredrik followed on from Mikael with a description of a text syntax for representing a DSP, for which he has developed a MoinMoin extension, with the result that the syntax can be used in a MoinMoin Wiki, and the Wiki can generate both a tabular HTML view and an XML representation of the data. Finally, I gave a very quick summary of work done by Julie Allinson (formerly of UKOLN, now of the University of York - who unfortunately wasn't able to attend the conference) in applying the DSP model and the DSP Wiki syntax to the case of the ePrints DCAP. I tried to emphasise that the DSP model was a mechanism for making explicit information that was already provided in the "traditional" DC application profile - as long as such a profile is firmly based on the DCMI Abstract Model. My slides are available from Slideshare.

August 28, 2007

UK Federation reaches 100

The UK Access Management Federation for Education and Research has reached 100 signed-up members.  Good stuff.

It'd be interesting to see a graph of how the rate of signing up has changed since the Federation was announced but I assume that it is showing a healthy upwards curve.

As Nicole Harris at JISC and others have noted recently, signing up now makes sense whether or not institutions have immediate plans to Shibbolise and irrespective of whether they intend to support Shibboleth in-house or outsource to a shared-service provider like Eduserv.

August 27, 2007

Sunday night in Singapore (DC-2007 Second Installment)

I'm writing this late on Sunday night in Singapore (though it may be Monday morning before I have network access to post it - Internet access from my hotel room is pretty expensive so I'm trying to schedule my "windows" of use for maximum effectiveness, and there are a couple of other things I need network access to do tomorrow!)

I arrived in Singapore on Friday evening after a long but problem-free flight from Heathrow and got through immigration quickly, and I made the half-hour or so trip from the airport to the city centre using the Singapore MRT underground system (which seems to be fantastically efficient and cheap - certainly in comparison with the systems we are used to in the UK!).

Although I've been here 48 hours or so now, I still haven't seen much of the city yet, as I've spent the last two days sitting in as a guest on the meeting of the DCMI Usage Board, the committee which manages the DCMI metadata vocabularies (and from which Andy recently stepped down as a member). These meetings tend to be quite "intense" sessions with very concentrated discussions of issues related to the DCMI terms and their use, and occasionally heated arguments, but they also provide a great opportunity to get a feel for current thinking within DCMI.

As a guest of the UB, I'm not in a position to disclose details of any decisions made: the UB is still in the process of dotting the I's and crossing the T's on the record of the meting, and I understand that the formal process is that those decisions must be first ratified by the Directorate, but the main areas for discussion over the last couple of says were:

  • a review of comments made on the proposal for changes to DCMI term descriptions circulated for public comment in July, and deciding how to proceed with changes based on that proposal
  • a review of comments made on the proposal for domains and ranges to DCMI terms also circulated for public comment in July, and deciding how to proceed with changes based on that proposal
  • a discussion of the work by Mikael Nilsson on the draft specification for a Description Set Profile model (Mikael and his colleague Fredrik Enoksson were also present as guests for most of the meeting, having demonstrated dedication beyond the call of duty in dashing straight from the airport to get to the meeting on Saturday lunchtime - I'm not sure I could have managed a coherent sentence in similar circumstances on Friday night...), and more specifically the impact of this work on the UB's approach to reviewing DC Application Profiles

Dcapmodel_2 During last week, Tom Baker, DCMI's Director of Specifications and Documentation and Chair of the UB, circulated what I think is a very helpful diagram which I include here: I think this diagram serves both to illustrate the relationships of the DSP model to other specifications, and also to highlight that what DCMI has traditionally called a DC Application Profile is in fact a "composite construct" made up of several inter-dependent components. From the perspective of the UB, this model helps in the formulation of the questions to be considered during the process of reviewing a DC Application Profile, and in particular, I think, the central importance - both to the developer of the profile and to the reviewer - of a clear specification of what functions the profile is designed to support. Without such a specification, it is difficult to make an informed assessment of the value of the sort of "structural" constraints described by a Description Set Profile.

I think Tom will also be using this model as the cornerstone of his presentation to the plenary session on Tuesday, and it may re-surface in various sessions throughout the conference, particularly those which are focused on the development of DC Application Profiles.

More updates to follow during the conference proper!

August 23, 2007

Singapore

I'm setting off for Singapore this afternoon for the DC-2007 conference on the theme of “Application Profiles: Theory and Practice”, which is being hosted by the National Library Board of Singapore in cooperation with the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information of Nanyang Technological University.

I think this will be the first DCMI conference that I've attended where I haven't been responsible for chairing a working group meeting or presenting a paper (or both). I'm traveling today so that I can arrive in time to sit in as a guest on the meeting of the DCMI Usage Board over the weekend. Then I'm going to make a small contribution as part of the session on the Application Profile Model led by Tom Baker and Mikael Nilsson on Tuesday. As I've mentioned before, I think Mikael's work on the specification of a model for a Description Set Profile is one of the most exciting developments within DCMI recently, and I look forward to seeing how it is received at the conference.

I'm also hoping to talk briefly about "dctagging" in the meeting of the DCMI Social Tagging Community.

But generally it's looking like a (welcome!) change from past DCMI conferences where I've sometimes found myself running from giving one presentation to arrive USB-stick in hand just in time to do the next one. Having said that, I'll no doubt be joining in the sparring debates in meetings of various communities and task groups (and in the bars afterwards). Anyway, I hope I'll have time to submit a few posts here over the course of the week.

Edit: Looking back to Andy's equivalent pre-travel post last year, I realised I missed the opportunity to title this one "Road to Singapore" and to conjure suitably pithy captions for images like this or this. I leave that instead as an exercise for the interested reader.

August 22, 2007

QotD

To say [...] that REST is important is like saying the fan in my laptop is “important”. There’s really nothing to discuss about it. RESTful services are fundamentally critical to the continued evolution of the Web. It just is. You just need to do things in a RESTful way. Period.

(From James Snell, "Fantasy IT", snellspace.com)

August 21, 2007

Feeding, Facebook and privacy

Both here and, err, down the boozer, Andy and I have been critical of Facebook's failure to provide feeds "out" from Facebook, so that content created within Facebook can be "piped in to" other applications. Paul Walk, tipped off by Brian, points to a post by Dave Winer highlighting that Fb is indeed starting to provide some RSS feeds of Fb content. This seems to be happening quite quietly - at least I haven't seen any formal announcements about it from Fb, though I could quite easily have missed something. (Edit: Hmm, yes, I did!)

So, for example, you can obtain Fb feeds of:

  • your notifications
  • your friends' status updates
  • your friends' posted items

The existence of these feeds isn't as visible as it might be (Dave Winer provides some helpful screenshots): AFAICT Fb isn't currently providing support for feed "auto-discovery" via the HTML link element, so, e.g., my browser doesn't signal the existence of the feed with an icon in the address bar, which is the indicator of feed availability that I usually look out for while browsing. But the feeds are there, and this has to be seen as a Good Thing in terms of Fb "opening up" and supporting the aggregation of its content as well as taking advantage of the capacity to aggregate external content.

However, Paul goes on to highlight that the availability of these feeds creates a potential challenge for the Fb privacy model:

The default privacy setting for most of the content a user can add to Facebook appears to be “All my networks and all my friends“. This is the most ‘open’ of the settings possible - there is no ‘public’ or ‘absolutely everyone’ setting. So when when one of my friends changes their status message for example they might, if they care at all, be under the impression that this can only be viewed by their friends (including me) and people in their network(s). If I then go and publish the feed URL to the world, this information is now available without restriction.

Have I betrayed the trust of my ‘friends’ by making such an RSS feed available? Is this model broken?

Within Fb, I tend to control reasonably tightly who gets to read my content on the Fb Web site i.e. in the HTML pages generated by Fb, and I typically limit access to the people with whom I am "friends" (though in my case, TBH, that content doesn't amount to much more than irregular flippant status updates and trivial posts on my friends' "walls"!)

Access to the Fb RSS feeds, however, seems to be controlled by the presence of a "key" which is embedded in the feed URI: as soon as you disclose a URI including that "key", then (I think?) anyone can read your feed. A quick search of the Bloglines aggregator (try a search for the word "Facebook" in "Search for Feeds") reveals that a substantial number of these feeds have been registered with the Bloglines aggregator (because, quite naturally, people want to read their Fb feeds via their usual RSS reader) and that they are now accessible to anyone. From a quick skim of some of the content, I suspect that the owners may not be aware of the consequences of their action!

It seems to me it's Fb's choice of "authentication" which may be the problem here (perhaps coupled with the lack of a warning to users of the consequences of making the feed URI available?). Would it not be better for Fb to implement HTTP authentication for the feeds? I think many RSS readers now have some level of support for HTTP authentication. But, yes, that still relies on users not publishing their credentials to the world in the form of URIs like http://[myusername]:[mypassword]@[domain]/[path] (and on other services like Bloglines not disclosing them either, obviously). For discussions of the more general issue of feed privacy/authentication, see e.g. the posts by Jon Udell here and Niall Kennedy here.

August 18, 2007

Sxipper

Lorcan Dempsey mentioned Sxipper a while back.  Sxipper is:

a free Firefox add-on that lets you login to any website with a single click. Sxipper saves you time by keeping track of an unlimited number of usernames and passwords as well as the personal data you share every day over the web. Sxipper improves your security by creating strong passwords when registering, and stores them and your personal data securely in an encrypted store on your computer.

Having installed it and used it for a while I have mixed feelings about its usefulness.  It's a great idea in theory, popping up as it does every time there's a registration or sign-in Web form to be negotiated.  The way it automagically deals with new registration forms is particularly nice.

But somehow it often seems more confusing to have it popping up than simply letting Firefox remember my usernames and passwords for me?

I dunno.  I persevering for the time being hoping that I'll get used to it or that a new version will make it slightly more usable (for me) than it is currently.

IDkee - Elsevier does OpenID

I stumbled upon IDkee the other day, Elsevier's Verisgn-powered OpenID provider. It seems to me that this is a pretty interesting development for the academic sector and I'm wondering what directions this activity is likely to take them in.

Will the last avatar to leave please turn out the lights?

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey R Young questions the likely reach of SL educational activities and asks:

Are any college officials working in Second Life starting to have second thoughts?

Clearly, asking this kind of question doesn't make you many friends in SL circles! But it strikes me that it is absolutely critical that we keep asking ourselves these kinds of questions as we spend more time, effort and money building up educational spaces and activities in SL.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we shouldn't experiment with SL in education. Just that we need to be sure that whatever we do there has some useful impact on learning.  And that we need to manage expectations rather better than has been done in some other areas of SL activity.

We (the Eduserv Foundation) are currently in discussion with John Kirriemuir about him following up on his snapshot of SL use in UK HE and FE.  John has already said that he wants to focus more on 'impact' rather than simply 'use' in any future version of the snapshot and I'm very supportive of this - though of course there are questions to be asked about what 'impact' actually means in practice. I'd also like him to begin to ask, "who has tried SL and decided not to continue with it?", and, if so, "why?".

I was wondering earlier on today about whether I could draw an analogy between SL and cycle racks, in the sense that the number of people on campus that make use of them is pretty small, but a university would look pretty stupid not to provide them. But, on reflection, I don't think it works too well :-).

Over on Facebook, Brian Kelly has asked a similar question, "is it time for universities to engage with Facebook or should they leave it alone?".  In answering I said, somewhat incoherently, that at this stage

I suspect that the best form of institutional engagement is 'not getting in the way'.

Perhaps this is all we need from institutions around SL at this stage?  Give the educational innovators with ideas about how SL can make the world a better place a chance to experiment, sit back and see what happens.  Above all, don't throw the baby avatar out with the virtual bathwater just because SL doesn't come up to the hype that has been allowed to grow around it.

August 16, 2007

Joint CETIS/Eduserv meeting on Second Life in education

Cetiseduservmeeting JISC CETIS and Eduserv invite you to a joint one day event to explore the use of Second Life in education to be held at the London Knowledge Lab, 23-29 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QS, on Thursday 20 September 2007.

This one day event will feature presentations from each of the SL projects that we have funded recently, as well as presentations from Andy Powell (Eduserv) and Lawrie Phipps (JISC). Paul Hollins (JISC CETIS) will lead a discussion session in the afternoon.

The aims of the day are to:

  •     showcase the projects to the JISC CETIS community
  • explore potential issues with using Second Life in Education such as interoperability and sustainability
  •     discuss ways in which funding bodies can best support the community’s activities with virtual worlds.

The meeting is free to attend and lunch and refreshments will be provided. More information including a link to the online booking system is available.

Please note that places for this event are limited, so if you are interested in coming along, please book early.

A poster presentation about the projects which is available from Slideshare and in Second Life.


August 15, 2007

QotD

In woodworking it's important to work with the grain of the wood. The Web, too, has a grain, and a RESTful web service is one that works with it.

(From Leonard Richardson & Sam Ruby, RESTful Web Services)

Tweet, tweet

Last night I heard my momma singing this song
Ooh wee chirpy chirpy cheep cheep
...

What's do you call someone that uses Twitter?  (No, it's not a joke!).  A 'twitterer'?  A 'twit'?  Dunno! Whatever... I am now one of them.

I noted this morning that as well as getting tweets from the other people in my Twitter network (I currently follow about 40 people) I also get London Underground service updates, technology and educational news from the BBC and the Guardian and news of Californian earthquakes as they happen.

This is both useless and wonderful at the same time!

My strong suspicion is that Twitter gets better the more people you have in your network (within reason)... if you know me, and you use Twitter, and you're not currently in my network, let me know - I'd love to follow and be followed!

August 13, 2007

How open is The European Library?

I note that the terms of use of The European Library state:

Copying of individual articles is governed by international copyright law. Users may print off or make single copies of web pages for personal use. Users may also save web pages other than individual articles electronically for personal use. Electronic dissemination or mailing of articles is not permitted, without prior permission from the Conference of European of National Librarians and/or the National Library concerned.

Seems a shame.  Surely some the material found through the TEL portal could be made available on a more open basis?

As someone that would like to build experimental virtual exhibitions of European cultural heritage materials in Second Life, I'm scuppered at the first hurdle - I can't easily work out what is available for re-use.  Worse in fact - it looks like nothing is available for re-use!

As I've noted before, the US seems way ahead of us in terms of making digitised cultural heritage material openly available.

 

Group membership and OpenID

Martin Atkins has posted a note about the Group Membership Protocol to the OpenID mailing list.

[the] Group Membership Protocol is a very simple means by which a group of URIs (which are probably OpenID identifiers, but don't necessarily need to be) can be enumerated and queried.

This looks very interesting.  A simple idea but one that appears to have lots of applications - many of which will lie outside the identity management area, possibly including those that currently fall under the 'collection description' umbrella.  It'll be interesting how it develops.

I'm adding it to my wish list for Second Life, Facebook and Twitter.  Mind you... all of those services also need to support OpenID!

August 11, 2007

A cautionary tale...

A quick word of warning to my daughter, who both works at Argos and spends lot of time on Facebook.  Quoted on page 2 of today's UK Guardian, Tom Beech says:

I'm stunned they've fired me for this.  I had a really bad day and was feeling overworked and underpaid.

What was his "gross misconduct"?  Creating a Facebook group called "I Work At Argos And Can't Wait To Leave Because It's Shit".  Lol.  Perhaps there is a point to Fb groups after all?

PURL's single point of failure?

It strikes me that PURLs are now a pretty critical part of the Web infrastructure.  Of course, that statement won't ring true for everyone - I suspect quite a few of you are thinking, "Huh... I've never created a PURL in my life?".  But certainly in the semantic Web arena, PURLs are widely used as identifiers for metadata terms - DCMI started doing this ages ago, and many other metadata initiatives have followed suit.

As Pete and Thom noted a while back, OCLC have now funded an activity to renew the architecture of the PURL system and Pete notes some reasons why this is important.

But the PURL system is not without problems.  Several years ago I tried to highlight the fact that the PURL system represents a single point of failure in the Web infrastructure - in persistence terms, the ongoing provision of the PURL service relies on the goodwill of OCLC.  Not something that I doubt particularly - but not an ideal situation either.

My initial thoughts on solving this problem were around mirroring - to which end I briefly created http://purl.ue.org/ (though I note that it no longer exists).  But I quickly realised that mirroring was a useless solution.  Why?  Because it results in multiple URIs for the same resource, something that the Web Architecture tells us to avoid if at all possible.

A better solution lies in DNS hiding.  Running multiple instances of the PURL software around the planet but hiding them all behind http://purl.org/ - using the DNS to share the load between the different servers  Who would run such a networked set of services?  Like any infrastructural, and largely invisible, service, the business models for running this aren't clear.  But one could imagine, for example, national libraries having an interest in running, or funding, an instance of the PURL software for the benefit of their own, and other, communities.

Of course, one could only hide multiple PURL servers behind a single DNS domain if mechanisms for rapidly replicating the data between systems are put into place.  Perhaps now is a good time to think about adding that functionality into the PURL system?

August 08, 2007

Knock, knock, who's there?

Leigh Dodd's presentation to the Society for Scholarly Publishing in San Francisco back in June provides a nice sketch overview of the federated access management problem space, ending with a brief, two-slide, summary of Shibboleth vs. OpenID as possible solutions.  It would be nice to have seen more discussion around these final two slides, particularly touching on the 'trust' issues... but that would have probably made for a different, and rather more detailed, presentation!

Definitely worth a look.

PS. Leigh's DRM: a Skeptic's View is also worth seeing.

August 06, 2007

Open, online journals != PDF ?

I note that Volume 2, Number 1 of the International Journal of Digital Curation (IJDC) has been announced with a healthy looking list of peer-reviewed articles.  Good stuff.

I mention this partly because I helped set up the technical infrastructure for the journal using the Open Journal System, an open source journal management and publishing system developed by the Public Knowledge Project, while I was still at UKOLN - so I have a certain fondness for it.

Odd though, for a journal that is only ever (as far as I know) intended to be published online, to offer the articles using PDF rather than HTML.  Doing so prevents any use of lightweight 'semantic' markup within the articles, such as microformats, and tends to make re-use of the content less easy.

In short, choosing to use PDF rather than HTML tends to make the content less open than it otherwise could be.  That feels wrong to me, especially for an open access journal!  One could just about justify this approach for a journal destined to be published both on paper and online (though even in that case I think it would be wrong) but surely not for an online-only 'open' publication?

August 03, 2007

What's the point of a Facebook group?

I couldn't help noticing one or two of my Facebook 'friends' joining the Scalable Semantic Web Architectures Fb group.  How ironic is that - locking away semantic Web discussions in an almost entirely non-semantic, non-open forum like Fb?  Good grief.

I've yet to see a Fb group that did anything other than fragment discussion away from other, better forums - though in most cases even that doesn't happen, since in most of the groups I've joined there isn't much discussion full-stop.

Don't get me wrong - I like Fb... I just don't understand what useful purpose groups serve in anything other than a purely trivial context, which is after all what Fb is best at.

So what are Fb groups good for?

  • They make a point, either in the creating of them or the joining of them.  They say something about who you are, what your interests are and what you believe in.
  • They offer a reasonably useful place to share photos of people in the group, particularly for smaller groups of real friends.  The photo-tagging feature is quite nice, provided one is willing to ignore the 'locked-in content' type issues.
  • In some cases they might put you in touch with other people that share your interests and that you don't know already - but I'd be interested to know whether this ever happens much.  My suspicion is that it doesn't.
  • Group names can sometimes be quite humorous (in the short-term).

I've yet to see any other benefits.  What am I missing?  How could this situation be improved?

Use of open content licences by cultural heritage organisations

The survey part of the study into the use of CC and other open content licences by UK cultural heritage organisations is now available.

If you have responsibility in this area, please consider filling in the survey.  Cultural heritage organisations include museums, galleries, libraries, and archives, as well as radio and television broadcasters, and film and video organisations. Even if you do not fall into one of these groups, but conduct cultural heritage activities, you are invited to take the survey.

We anticipate that completing it will take less than 10 minutes.  By completing the survey you will have a chance to win one of three iPod Shuffles, pre-filled with Creative Commons licensed material.

August 02, 2007

Friendship?

In his first blog entry for Terranova, Social networking for whales, Roo Reynolds discusses the nature of inter-personal relationships in online social networks and virtual worlds - in short, what is a 'friend' in these kinds of spaces?

Two thoughts occur to me (hey, it must be a good day!)...

Firstly, whether 'have I ever bought this person a drink, or am I ever likely to?' is a good metric for accepting or rejecting offers of friendship in tools like Facebook?

Secondly, that my own experience indicates that Facebook and its ilk tend to bring together networks of people that already know each other in other ways, i.e. they act as re-enforcers of existing social networks by and large.  On the other hand virtual worlds like Second Life have a tendency to forge new (and real) relationships between people that haven't met in RL (and which might subsequently go on to become the basis of 'friendships' in other social tools).

Twitter, I think, has the ability to function more like the latter.  I'm not totally sure why but  I suspect that the highly synchronous nature of the social interaction in virtual worlds and Twitter has something to do with it.

Clearly, these thoughts are based on a sample of one - YMMV.

A spot of late night Sloodling

The night before last night I sat in on a meeting of the Sloodle developers group held at the Second Life campus of San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science. Sloodle is working on integration between the Moodle VLE and Second Life.

It was a late night start (for me, at least - 11pm UK time), as the group has active participants in the US, Europe, the Far East and Australia, and inevitably it's difficult to find a time slot which is ideal for everyone. This was the first meeting of this group that I'd attended, prompted partly by a general interest in interactions between Second Life and Web applications like Moodle (and I think at least some of the functions are common to other applications in other domains) and partly by the fact that the Foundation has awarded a research grant to Dan Livingstone at the University of Paisley for work on Sloodle. (It occurred to me later that I should probably have made it clearer that I certainly wasn't there in any sort of "checking up on how you're spending our money" sort of capacity!)

The meeting was facilitated by Dan and Jeremy Kemp (SJSU SLIS) and there were probably about 15 avatars present. They included several who were quite new to Second Life, so I think Dan and Jeremy probably spent a bit more time than they had intended on bringing people up to speed on what work had been done and what Sloodle had to offer than on the practical planning for future activity. Nevertheless, it was quite useful for me to get that potted history as I myself haven't followed Sloodle in as much detail as I'd have liked. (For newcomers to Sloodle, scanning some of their YouTube videos may be the best introduction.)

A few selected highlights from the discussion:

  • Jeremy summarised some of the recent/current dissemination activities, which have generated interest from many quarters, including from Linden Lab. Some effort is needed now to ensure that tools are fully documented and delivered in usable forms.
  • Work is in progress on developing two new Web sites to complement/supplement the existing sloodle.com site and the Sloodle wiki
  • There was a brief exchange on the relative priorities of advancing "technical"/tool development on the one hand and exploring/promoting changes in pedagogical approaches on the other. I got the sense (though I may be wrong!) that to date Sloodle has focused mainly on the software development end of things, though several participants last night emphasised that it was important that the former be informed by the latter.
  • I was interested in Jeremy's (brief) summary of authentication issues. Most if not all of the work in this area has, I think, been done by Edmund Edgar, who wasn't present at the meeting. At various points over the last few months, Andy has mused about the potential role for OpenId in this area, and my own extremely naive intuition is that having a URI which can be used as the basis for interaction, as well as identification, must bring something significant to the table - but I really need to have a much better grasp of the information flows within SL and between SL and the Web before I can make any sort of useful contribution to this discussion!
  • One of the key objectives in the short term is to package, document, release and support a stable version of Sloodle, and work is in progress to establish a schedule for a development phase, a trial and a review over the next 12 months

The intention is to continue to have these developers meetings regularly, probably on Tuesdays at that time (3pm SLT/PDT) and that SL location, and I'll be trying to attend when I can. There may be some variation to accommodate participants from different time zones, so it would be a good idea to check on the Sloodle site for up-to-date details, and indeed that there is going to be a meeting - especially if you're planning on staying up late or getting up early in order to join in! ;-)

August 01, 2007

Paper-based blogging anyone?

I have just been reading Roo Reynold's writeup of Interesting 2007 (not exactly up to the minute breaking news I know, but for some reason I missed it at the time).  Looks like it was a fascinating event. The slowscanningsketchbloggingsysteme caught my eye.  What a neat idea.  Who needs wifi anyway? :-)

Question... does the collection of paper-based sketches cum notes form a better record of the event than the set of live blog entries that would have resulted had wifi been available?  Depends how one defines 'better' I suppose?  But it certainly strikes me as more aesthetically pleasing and, err, interesting.  Perhaps more of our meetings in the education sector should encourage similar kinds of low-tech alternative approaches to recording the event?

More models in Second Life

The eightbar weblog (jointly authored by a "a group of techie/creative people working in and around IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the UK", including Roo Reynolds, who contributed to the Eduserv Foundation Symposium back in May) has a pointer to a short but quite fascinating video on YouTube, which demonstrates how a model of various layers of system architecture can be (automatically) represented in Second Life.

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