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October 31, 2007

Images DC Application Profile Working Group

I spent Monday in London at a meeting of the working group of a JISC-funded project which is developing a Dublin Core application profile for the description of images. The project is led by Polly Christie and Mick Eadie, both from the Visual Arts Data Service, University College for the Creative Arts, and is one of a number of "sibling" projects funded by JISC to develop DC applicatiion profiles for various resource types.

Despite the best efforts of First Great Western to the contrary, I got there in time to give a short presentation on the concept of the DC application profile from the perspective of the DCMI Abstract Model, summarising the current work on the Description Set Profile model and introducing the "Singapore Framework".

My presentation was really just background for a presentation by Julie Allinson from the University of York, who described the experience of developing the ePrints/Scholarly Works DC Application Profile.

It turned out to be quite an enjoyable meeting - it felt to me like everyone in the group "engaged" quite enthusiastically with the discussions, which is always a good sign (and is spectacularly impressive for a Monday morning!)

I haven't really worked much with metadata for images, and I'm not that familiar with the models in use in that domain. Polly and Mick circulated a draft model based on the VRA Core, which made a primary distinction between the types/classes Work and Image. This prompted a good deal of discussion, both from the viewpoint of whether that model really addressed all the use cases at hand (e.g. Does it handle the "born-digital" case? And if a digital image in a scientific publication is generated from data, what is the (VRA Core) Work?), and also as to how well it "fitted with"/mapped to the FRBR model (on which the ePrints/SWAP profile was based)- the VRA Core concept of "Work" is not the same as the FRBR concept of the same name. This in turn raised the broader question of whether these various DC application profiles should be framed within some shared, over-arching model.

On re-reading the introduction to FRBR this morning, I note that the section on "Scope" does state:

The study endeavours to be comprehensive in terms of the variety of materials that are covered. The data included in the study pertain to textual, music, cartographic, audio-visual, graphic and three-dimensional materials

so at least some classes of image were considered as in scope by the developers of FRBR. I'd be interested to receive any pointers to/comments on any experiences of applying the FRBR model to graphical resources. I'll forward any comments received here to the project.

As I say, an interesting and enjoyable day - though I suspect for Polly and Mick it may have been one of those occasions where they left the meeting with the feeling that the task facing them was even broader and more complex than they had envisaged at the start of the day!

Edit: Lorna Campbell from JISC CETIS provides her impressions of the meeting.

Repository as platform

The recently announced Call for Plugins from the EPrints team is interesting for a couple of reasons.  Firstly because, although offering prizes for software ideas is not as new phenomenon, I'm not sure that I've seen it used in the repositories space until now...  it'll be interesting to see what ideas people come up with.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because it positions the repository as a platform rather than as a monolithic application.

I haven't looked in detail yet at the APIs being offered here but I'm hopeful that this notion of repository as platform is more than trivial word smithing.  Assuming that a resource-centric approach has been adopted (in line with the Web architecture) my gut feeling is that this is very much a step in the right direction.

October 28, 2007

DCMI Architecture Forum video conferences

The DCMI Architecture Forum is now holding regular teleconferences/videoconferences to complement the use of the existing Jiscmail mailing list. The plan is to hold the meetings about every three weeks, and they are open to all.

We are using Flashmeeting, which is a Flash-based service hosted by the Open University. The client runs from the browser, and it accommodates text chat as well as audio and video so you can participate even without a Webcam and microphone.

The first meeting took place last Friday and the recording is available for replay. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 14 November 2007 at 14.00 UTC (I think that's the right time - I may have got confused with the summer time switchover, so please do check the mailing list closer to the date to confirm!)

It feels like a very busy time for the Architecture Forum, with various pieces of the jigsaw around the DCMI Abstract Model now falling into place, and we're starting to move various documents towards their final versions, so if you do have an interest in this area of work, please do join in the discussions, either on the mailing list or via these conference calls.

October 24, 2007

Jon Udell interviews Stu Weibel

In the current installment of his "Interviews with Innovators" IT Conversations podcast series, Jon Udell of Microsoft interviews Stu Weibel of OCLC. (Some further reflections by Udell on the interview here.)

The conversation ranges from the emergence of OCLC as a collaborative library cataloguing initiative, through the development of the Dublin Core, to the role of metadata in an environment of powerful full-text Web search engines, "user-generated content" and "tagging" and informal resource description, and examines current OCLC projects such as WorldCat Identities in the context of that environment.

Information, Students & Digital Ethnography

A few months ago a video called The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch and his Digital Ethnography Group from Kansas State University attracted a lot of attention for its innovative and engaging presentation of some of the core features of "social software".

Another couple of videos from the same group have appeared recently: one (Information R/evolution) on shifts in approaches to information discovery, classification and distribution, and the second (A Vision of Students Today) on student perceptions of teaching and the use of technology in teaching.

The second video seems to have inspired differing interpretations in weblog commentaries and in the comments posted to YouTube.

Wesch responds to this reaction in a post in which he explains that these two videos were intended to form a sequence, the first two parts of a trilogy, moving from examining the current "information environment" in which students (and teachers) operate and some of the methods and technologies used in that environment (as described in the first video) through to the students' perceptions of the teaching environments and technologies typically provided and deployed by HE institutions (in the second). The aim of the third part will be to examine whether/how teachers are changing those environments and methods to bridge that "disconnect".

October 23, 2007

RDFa Syntax Working Draft published

The W3C announced at the weekend the availability of a new working draft titled RDFa in XHTML: Syntax and Processing. The document has been produced jointly by the Semantic Web Deployment Working Group and the XHTML 2 Working Group.

I've tracked RDFa kinda intermittently (I (mostly) lurk on the RDF in XHTML Taskforce mailing list), but I haven't managed to keep up with recent developments in the syntax so need to look at this document in more detail.

RDFa occupies a similar space to the GRDDL recommendation that I mentioned a few weeks ago, in that RDFa provides another means of making RDF data available on the Web. Like GRDDL, RDFa is a generic solution, neutral of any particular RDF vocabulary, and focuses on defining a set of processing rules that can be used with any RDF vocabulary. Where RDFa differs quite substantially from GRDDL is that it defines a (XML-attribute-based) syntax for representing RDF triples. This current draft deals with the specific case of deploying that attribute-based syntax in the XHTML format (and indeed makes use of some existing XHTML attributes; see section 2.1), but the intent is that the approach can be generalised to other XML languages/formats - "RDFa can be easily imported into other XML-based markup languages" (section 1) - and I imagine that future documents will address the general cases in more detail.

The current draft is a syntax specification, so is a fairly technical document, but a Primer is also available, and that provides a more "scenario-oriented" discussion of possible uses of RDFa (I think at the moment the Primer document is still a pre-publication "Editor's Draft", so still work in progress and liable to change).

The movement of RDFa towards a stable W3C specification raises the question of, given the availability of microformats (at least some of which are already GRDDL-enabled, I think), the capacity to define a new GRDDL-able markup convention, existing generalised GRDDL-enabled conventions such as Embedded RDF, and now RDFa, which is the most appropriate method for embedding structured data in XHTML? And I'm not even going to attempt to offer a categorical answer, other than to say "It depends". ;-) A while ago, Benjamin Nowack offered a "calculator" which is designed to allow you to assign varying priorities to different features and then tots up a score for each on the basis of your choices. I think (but I'm not 100% sure for the case of RDFa) the features of the various options have remained more or less the same since that tool was created, so it may offer some food for thought - though it should be used as a guide rather than a source of a categorical answer! And it's worth reading the discussion in the comments on that post too.

October 19, 2007

A FRBR-based model for Musical Recordings and Scores

Via a post by William Denton on the FRBR Blog a few weeks ago, I came across the Variations3 initiative at Indiana University. The project has developed a FRBR-based model for "digital musical audio recordings, bitmapped score images, and encoded score notation", described in a paper by Jenn Riley, Caitlin Hunter, Chris Colvard and Alex Berry. This extends and refines work in a predecessor project by rooting the model firmly in FRBR.

It's interesting to see an application of FRBR to classes of resource other than textual resources, and I admit this particular application piques my interest because one of the Sunday afternoon projects I set myself when I first embarked on this metadata business several years ago was to design a database to manage my CD collection. I've succeeded in keeping the content up to date, at least with stuff I've acquired since I set it up (down to recording where and when I bought each copy. Trainspotter, moi?). But I also quite soon identified various requirements which I didn't take into account in my original design and which the perfectionist in me wants to go back and address (err, one day...)

So, I'll be interested to look at Variations3 to see whether it enables me to model the (crucial, obviously) distinction between the Iggy mix of "Search and Destroy" and the Bowie mix of the same source recording, both available in multiple formats. And then how well it matches up to The Ultimate Challenge, that of keeping track of the relationships between versions in reggae and dancehall releases.

Second Friends update

I've been trying to do a bit of work on my Second Friends Facebook application over the last few days.

Firstly, I had to do some running repairs because of performance issues.  There's an important lesson here.  When you build a Facebook application, run it on a server that is pretty resilient and code it efficiently.  If your app is successful, then the back-end code is going to get hit fairly hard.  It's worth remembering that Facebook only waits around for about 5 seconds for your back-end application code to respond before giving out the standard "Facebook has hit a problem" kind of error message.  My initial attempts at coding the logic to work out who is friends with who were horribly inefficient - they worked when Second Friends only had 10 or so registered users.  But with well over 300 active users things were starting to creak at the seams and some of my scripts were taking well over 5 seconds to respond :-(

All fixed now I think.

Interestingly, the Facebook stats for Second Friends indicate that it has 814 users (to date), though only 322 of those have gone into Second Life to obtain their secret registration key from the Second Friends kiosk on Eduserv Island.  I don't quite understand why there is such a big difference in those two numbers! :-(  I have a nagging worry that there is some problem that is preventing people from signing up properly, though the fact that over 300 people have managed it successfully gives me some hope.

Sfstatusupdater Secondly, I wanted to improve the functionality.  I have several ideas for additions that I hope to come back to over the coming weeks.  My first attempt is to introduce a Second Friends 'status' - a place for your avatar to record their current state of mind or activity, as per the normal Facebook status.  I've made available a very simple Second Friends status updater, an object that tracks whether you are in-world or not and updates your Second Friends status accordingly.  It's not much, but it is functional.  You can get one from the box next to the Second Friends kiosk on Eduserv Island.

More importantly the API for your Second Friends status is open.  Look at the updater script to see how it works and feel free to build your own version.  Why not build a HUD or wrist-band that you can chat your Second Friends status to?  I plan to offer a wrist-band shortly, but if someone beats me to it I'd be very happy.  There is no documentation for the API, but it is very simple.  To update your status, simply make an HTTP GET request to:

http://artfossett.net/facebook/secondfriends/setstatus.php

setting the following attributes:

  • avname (e.g. avname=Art%20Fossett)
  • secretkey (e.g. secretkey=1234)
  • status(e.g. status=mooching%20around%20on%20Eduserv%20Island)

Remember that your status will be presented (on your Facebook profile) using the form "Art is ...".

Finally, it is also worth noting that there is a new kid on the block in this space - Second Life Link - a very similar Facebook application.  I guess others may also be on their way.  I suppose this is inevitable.  Alja Sulčič provides a nice overview of both applications in her blog.

October 18, 2007

Free video streaming

Prompted partly by a tweet from Alan Levine at NMC, I've been taking a quick look around at what is now possible for free in the area of live video streaming.  Until recently I don't think it has been possible to do this without paying someone to host your live feed.  But recently both Ustream.tv and Veodia (and probably others?) have begun to offer free live-streaming via your Web browser.

Now, I should say up front that this blog entry is not a review of these services - I haven't really used either in earnest.  But to summarise very briefly, both allow you to make a live-stream available at no charge (typically from your Web-cam, though you can use any suitable video source).  Both let you store a copy of the stream for later viewing.  Both are browser-based.

Want to offer your own TV channel live on the Internet?  Now you can!

Webcamstreaming Veodia looks particularly interesting because the stream is available in a format compatible with Second Life.  So here, for example, is an image of yours truly live-streaming my office Web-cam into the Virtual Congress Centre on Eduserv Island in Second Life.

What makes this exciting is that the costs are so low.  All you really need is a laptop, a Web-cam and an Internet connection and you can be broadcasting into Second Life very quickly and easily.  The possibilities for presentations and tutorials are obvious.

Combine Veodia with a cheap desktop video-mixing tool like WebcamMax (yes I know that Mac users can do all of this and more for free!) and you have the ability to do things like streaming a Powerpoint presentation, with a picture of the speaker in one corner.  Again, all very easily done at almost no cost.

I have one slight reservation, which is that the few experiments I've done with Veodia so far have resulted in my laptop freezing or crashing after a few minutes.  My guess is that this is down to my laptop, but it is possible that there are more fundamental problems.  My suspicion is that running the Second Life client and WebcamMax and Veodia at the same time requires a fairly substantial machine. 

Note that Veodia is currently in beta mode (so they have an excuse if the crashes are down to them) and that all new registrations are manually approved at the moment - though mine came back within a few hours.

Well worth a play for those of you interested in this kind of technology.  I'd be interested to know how you get on.

October 17, 2007

Facebook toolbar

I been playing with the Facebook Toolbar for Firefox.  (I don't know how long this has been available but I've only just found it so bear with me if this is old news for you.)  Looks interesting, mainly because it pops notifications up in front of you as they happen.  I suspect means that the Facebook status (and Facebook generally for that matter) will become a more immediate communication channel than it is currently, in rather the same way that Twitter is, without the need to be constantly revisiting the profile page.

October 15, 2007

SWORD unsheathed

A while ago I mentioned the work of the JISC-funded SWORD project on a profile of the Atom Publishing Protocol. At the time of writing, the profile was still work in progress, but I noticed that in a message to the CETIS Metadata Jiscmail list last Friday, Julie Allinson has announced that version 1.0 of the SWORD profile is now available.

Nice work, SWORDspersons.

October 13, 2007

Machinima and education

Diane Carr, who is currently working on the Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life project (one of the Second Life projects we are currently funding), has a nice introductory article about the use of machinima in education on the Futurelab Web site.

October 12, 2007

Andy is ...

... writing this blog entry (obviously).

The Facebook status line is a wonderful thing, allowing you to supply any statement that sums up your current state of mind provided it starts with your name followed by the word 'is'.  So, for example, you can't say "Andy needs to get some sleep".  Instead, you have to say something like, "Andy is tired and about to hit the sack".  It remains to be seen what effect this grammatical limitation has on the long term ability of our children to write expressively!

Anyway, I digress...  I want to talk about Twitter, which also gives you a mechanism for answering the question, "What is Andy doing right now?" - allowing you a maximum of 140 characters to supply the answer but without the limitation that it must start with "Andy is".  As a result, Twitter doesn't get used in the quite same way the Facebook status does - people use to it make any 140 character statement they like... asking questions, describing their lunch (yes, I've seen it!), expressing their mood, micro-blogging a conference (as I did recently) and a whole host of other things.

Facebook have recently given applications the ability to update people's status - for some reason best known to Facebook developers this could only be done manually thru the Facebook Web interface prior to that.  The Twitter Facebook application took advantage of this and allowed people to automatically update their Facebook status based on their most recent tweet - on the face of it a great idea that allows people to only update their status in one place.

I recently tried it out.  Unfortunately, I quickly realised that my typical tweeting didn't quite marry with the gramatical limitation of the Facebook status, resulting in nonesense like:

Andy is Sleepwalking quoted as example of museums using new distribution channels http://tinyurl.com/33nucq (sf moma again).

As a result I have now stopped Twitter from updating my Facebook status (it took me a while to work out how to do it) and carried on as I was before - using each mechanism slightly differently, to achieve largely useless, but subtly different, aims.

Oh bondage, up yours!

The announcement this week about the collaboration between Linden Lab and IBM to produce open, standards-based interoperability between virtual worlds has been widely heralded this week.  Quite right too.

IBM and Linden Lab plan to work together on issues concerning the integration of virtual worlds with the current Web; driving security-rich transactions of virtual goods and services; working with the industry to enable interoperability between various virtual worlds; and building more stability and high quality of service into virtual world platforms.

This is a potentially significant development and one that will help to move us away from the current situation of being bound to particular virtual worlds in terms of the investment we make in them.

I'm less sure that I share the general excitement around being able to move my avatar between different worlds seamlessly - I probably won't be exploring Eduserv Island with my World of Warcraft avatar any time soon, even if it was technically possible - but the increased flow of content and the opening up of micro-payment based commerce does strike me as being very beneficial, not just to virtual worlds but to the Web in general.

Confessions of a badge hoarder

In my greener-events-please plea of a few weeks ago, I skipped over the issue of conference badges, as I recognise they are useful and I don't really have a good idea for an alternative, so the best I can do is advocate reuse of the plastic holders.

I noticed yesterday that Roo Reynolds of IBM confesses that he is a hoarder of name badges and passes as mementos of his attendance, and resists organisers' requests to return his badge for reuse at the end of the day. Tsk tsk ;-)

He does, however, "repurpose" them via a Flickr image hyperlinked to his weblog posts on the events. (You'll have to click through to the Flickr page to see the links and notes).

Badges and Passes

October 10, 2007

Google analytics, bounce rates and search rankings

This probably says more about the nature of my working day than I should admit to publicly, but we are currently thinking more about what Web site analysis tools we should make use of here for the Eduserv Web sites.  This caused me to go and have a look at the Google Analytics pages for the Newbridge Primary School Web site (which I help to maintain in my spare time), which caused me to notice the school's bounce rate, which led me to this (slightly old)  research on the Google bounce factor, which ultimately got me thinking!

OK, so what's a bounce rate?  A site's bounce rate (as far as I can tell) is the proportion of people that visit your site (via a search engine, or from a bookmark, or via another Web site, or whatever) and immediately go back to where they came from.  The implication is that they didn't find what they were looking for.  The bounce rate on the school site is around 50%, which seems quite high to me.  (One explanation for this, though I don't know how plausible it is, is that people are looking for the school calendar, which is on the home page, and therefore as soon as they have seen it they go back to the search engine to go on somewhere else.)

What the research above says is that the more times people click on your link in Google search results, the better your ranking gets.  This is good.  But on the downside, the more times people immediately bounce back to Google, the worse your ranking gets.

I don't think this will come as much of a shock to most people.

What Google Analytics does though is to give Google information about how long people are staying on your site.  The implication is that Google also uses this information, in addition to simple bounce rates, to raise or lower a site's ranking.  If people stay on your site a long time, then your ranking will go up - if they don't, it will go down.

The bottom line, or at least a potential bottom line, is that if your bounce rate is high or your average length of visit is low (for whatever reason - and it seems to me that there might be very good reasons for both of these being true) then running Google Analytics may not be in your best interests in terms of search results rankings?

If anyone reading this knows more, please feel free to comment...

Tips for conference bloggers

(Via Stephen Downes) Bruno Giussani and Ethan Zuckerman have put together some useful tips for live-blogging at conferences - available only as PDF I'm sorry to say :-(

I take slight issue with their suggestion of using MS-Word to write the blog enrty - in my experience, using MS-Word as a first step in writing blog content (or any Web content for that matter) is a disaster.  It always results in me having to spend ages editing out all the stupid extended characters that Word insists on using behind my back.  My personal recommendation would be to write the text into something very basic like Notepad.

I would also have liked the tips to have covered micro-blogging - the kind of thing I was doing with Twitter at the museums' podcasting event the other day for example.  What impact does the 140 character limit of Twitter have on the kinds of things it is useful to write?  How does live-tweeting best relate to a full post-event blog entry?  Live-blogging and live-tweeting are fundamentally different it seems to me - their strengths and weaknesses differ, as do aims and objectives.  But having said that, I strongly suspect that much of the good practice in this area can be shared between the two.

Overall then, the tips are well worth a read - but I also think there is room here for more work and advice.

October 09, 2007

NMC Teachers' Buzz with Dancoyote Antonelli

Last Monday night I attended a meeting of the New Media Consortium's Teachers' Buzz Group in Second Life. This was the first meeting of the group I had attended, and the guest for the meeting was Dancoyote Antonelli (RL: DC Spensley), a digital artist working in SL. The meeting (report by CDB Barkley, transcript) took place at the site of Dancoyote's “Full Immersion Hyperformalism” exhibit, hosted on NMC's Arts & Letters sim. Dancoyote gave a guided tour of (a small part of!) the exhibit and then there was a short discussion.

I'd already visted the exhibit a few times - I think I first saw it mentioned in one of the "top 10" lists on New World Notes (and I scribbled a few thoughts about the experience over on Peregrinations). I'm not at all versed in art theory, I hasten to add, but it's difficult not to be impressed by the ambition and inventiveness of the exhibit. And it seems to me it also really does exploit SL as a "medium" in its own right.

What also struck me again the other night is the social element which virtual worlds like SL bring to these "digital exhibition" experiences, the capacity not only for multiple remote "viewers" to share their thoughts with each other, but also - as in this case - the opportunities for dialogue between artist (performer, producer etc) and viewer (audience, consumer). Certainly, there are issues of scalability - and the current SL infrastructure wouldn't have supported the participation of a large number of avatars (at least not without some sort of replication across multiple SL locations) - but it was quite a compelling example of some of the possibilities offered by virtual worlds.

Podcasting for museums

I spent yesterday at a podcasting event organised by the e-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives (part of the Museums Computer Group) and held at the Tate Britain.  (Podcasting clearly isn't forgotten in the UK museums sector).

Overall it was a pretty good day with a nice mixture of practical tips and tricks (primarily from Rachel Salaman of Audio for the Web), reports from the field (Jane Burton on Tate Shots, Martyn Green on The National Archives' work to podcast their lecture series, and Roger Ramrage on the podcasting collaboration between the Telegraph and  Brooklands Museum) and wider perspectives (Lena Maculan from University of Leicester and Alan Greenberg from Apple).  Having said that, the focus was largely on what I'd call the top end of podcasting - i.e. its use to promote a polished, cutting-edge, corporate brand.  For example, Rachel Salaman suggested that one could spend up to one hour of production time for each minute of podcast audio!  That certainly isn't my experience.

The report from Brooklands in particular seemed to concentrate almost exclusively on using podcasting as a (viral) marketing tool.  Hello, what about simply getting decent, re-usable content out there and letting the marketing angle worry about itself?

Personally, I'd have liked to have seen more focus during the day on user-generated content - surely the spiritual home of podcasting - and the use of open content licences and how these things can be employed to provide richer and more engaging experiences for museum visitors.  User-generated content was discussed a little in the final discussion session - but there seemed to be some confusion about the risks of hosting this kind of material on a museum's own Web site.  Well duh... user-generated content doesn't have to live on your Web site - that's the whole point of Web 2.0.  Give people a tag and let them put the content wherever they like.  As a nice example of this, Jane Burton talked about how the Tate got people to upload photographs to Flickr as part of the How we are: Photographing Britain exhibition.  "We didn't need to add the photos to our site because Flickr already existed".  Exactly!

Even the presentation about the work of The National Archives, which did focus primarily on providing useful, pragmatic, relatively low-end advice for making podcasts of lectures available, ended on a slightly low note (for me at least) by highlighting the irony of using royalty-free (and hence re-usable) music to start and end the audio track but continuing to make the resulting podcast available under an "all rights reserved" (and therefore non-re-usable) licence.  Shame!

There was some interesting discussion about how best to use the 'podcast' format.  What works best in terms of duration, for example?  Also about enhanced podcasts, i.e. adding audio tracks to slide presentations, and the use of relatively expensive tools like Camtasia (and Adobe, i.e. PDF, tools I think?) to create them - but no acknowledgment that Web 2.0 services like Slideshare now offer a simple to use slidecast facility for free.  I made the point that recent research about children learning best in 8 minute chunks and the pervasiveness of the 10 minute YouTube video indicates that we need to be focusing on that kind of duration as being natural and optimal(?) for this kind of material.  As an aside, I'm surprised at how little mainstream media is delivered in this way - when are we going to see 10 minute programming on the BBC (radio and TV) for example?

I'm trying hard not to mention iTunes because the day ended with a slightly out of place presentation about Apple's activities in this area which was a little too close to plain old marketing-speak for my liking.  But to be fair, Apple does deserve a mention, partly because of the widespread use of iTunes as a podcast discovery/delivery mechanism and partly because their desktop kit appears to make the production of podcast-type material so easy.

A wireless network was available (though not for free) so I twittered for much of the day. I'm still learning how to do this and would be interested to know if my tweets were received as anything more useful than unintelligible noise?  A couple of people fed back to me through twitter as the day progressed which was useful (to me), including Chris Hambly, who asked me to mention MediaCamp Bucks 07 if I got the chance.  Unfortunately I didn't - so I'm mentioning it here instead.  For those interested in the use of new media, this looks like an interesting unconference and I'm sorry that I can't be there because of other commitments.

Final thought... this was yet another meeting without a specified tag (YAMWAST?) which means that I can't tag this item in a way that guarantees it will be aggregated alongside other reports about the day.  Not a disaster, but then again, assigning a unique tag to every meeting is such an easy win that I feel duty bound to mention it whenever it doesn't happen.  I know, I'm a sad old meeting tag bore.

October 08, 2007

DCMI Scholarly Communications Community launched

Mentioning the Eprints DCAP reminds me that I should draw attention to the fact that DCMI has recently launched a "Scholarly Communications Community" as a focus for work in that area:

The DCMI Scholarly Communications Community is a forum for individuals and organisations to exchange information, knowledge and general discussion on issues relating to using Dublin Core for describing research papers, scholarly texts, data objects and other resources created and used within scholarly communications. This includes providing a forum for discussion around the Eprints Application Profile, also known as the Scholarly Works Application Profile (SWAP) and for other existing and future application profiles created to describe items of scholarly communication.

The group is co-ordinated by Julie Allinson from the University of York and Rosemary Russell from UKOLN, and as usual for DCMI communities, participation is open to anyone who wishes to subscribe to the mailing list and join in (or indeed start) discussions.

Usage Board membership

After six years of sterling service (and long weekends holed up in library meeting rooms arguing about the relationships of "creators" and "contributors", and which properties take literals as values), Andy stepped down as a member of the DCMI Usage Board after their meeting in Barcelona in March. And Stuart Sutton from the University of Washington has also stepped from the UB after their recent meeting at DC-2007 in Singapore. Andy and Stuart were both members of the Usage Board since its inception in 2001, and have made substantial contributions to its work over that period, and I'm sure their input will be sorely missed.

And without remotely wishing to suggest that I can fill such shoes, I'm pleased to report that I've been invited to become a member of the UB. I've attended a few UB meetings as a "guest" in the past (and probably interjected from the sidelines far more than it's polite for a "guest" to do!), so I have the advantage of having had some time to see how the processes - and people ;-) -  work. It's an interesting (and challenging, I think) time for DCMI and for the UB, as the focus shifts away from the notion of "Dublin Core as fifteen elements" towards the development of DC application profiles designed to meet a specified set of requirements, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work more closely with the other UB members.

Julie Allinson from the University of York, who along with Andy co-ordinated the work on the development of the Eprints/Scholarly Works DC Application Profile, has also joined the Usage Board.

October 05, 2007

Tags as metadata

I note that presentations from the Networked Knowledge Organization Systems and Services (NKOS) workshop held during ECDL 2007 are now available.  The paper by Emma Tonkin et al. entitled Kinds of Tags: a collaborative research study on tag usage and structure [PPT] (can I mention Slideshare at this point!?) caught my eye.

This paper does some analysis of real-world usage of tags by attempting to map them to the original 15 simple Dublin Core metadata properties.  In particular, it notes 4 gaps where people are trying to record information with tags in a way that is not possible with DC:

  • "Action Towards Resource" (e.g., to read, to print...),
  • "To Be Used In" (e.g. work, class),
  • "Rate" (e.g., very good, great idea) and
  • "Depth" (e.g. overview).

Facebook usage

Competefbsummary

There's an interesting visual summary on the Compete blog about what users spend their time doing on Facebook (14 million people interacted with Facebook Applications in August) - no, "pratting about" isn't one of the categories!

Surprise, surprise... reading discussion boards is a minority sport - though it is worth noting that they define this as "opening up a specific group’s discussion board, as opposed to reading the latest comments on a group’s home page" which perhaps accounts for the apparently low numbers of people doing it.

Shared wi-fi

The UK Guardian reports that BT is encouraging its customers to share their broadband (Share your wi-fi in return for free access abroad, BT tells customers).  I'm not totally convinced by how well this will work in practice - why would I want wi-fi access in a residential street somewhere in Europe? - though it is quite a neat idea if they can pull it off.

There are technical issues as well.  In my house for example, a fairly substantial bath stone terrace building constructed at the beginning of the last century, you have to be standing in my garden to get any chance of a signal.  Generally I can only work on wireless from inside the house.

I do wonder if slightly more informal cooperative approaches to shared broadband would work?  A street getting together and sharing 5 connections between 10 houses or some such - configuring routers to optimise traffic flow dynamically.  Clearly there would be some privacy and other issues to contend with.

Or on an even smaller scale, neighbors agreeing to offer a backup broadband service to each other in the event of one or other broadband connection going down.  I've been meaning to suggest this to my neighbor for some time - we can see each other's networks OK, presumably because our partition walls are thinner than the outside walls - but haven't got round to it yet.

At the other end of the spectrum, O'Reilly Radar reports: WiFi: Record Range Now 382 KM.  Not in my house it isn't!

NMC Survey on Educators' Use of Second Life

I've only had time to glance at this, but I notice that (hot on the heels of Andy's announcement yesterday of our most recent snapshot from John Kirriemuir of UK higher/further education activity in SL), the New Media Consortium have announced the publication of the results of a survey they conducted earlier in the year:

Sent out to members of the NMC, our in-world educational community, and the Second Life Educators Listserv (SLED) in May 2007, the survey represents the interests, activities, and demographics of more than 200 educators.

Overall, the results reflect the highly social interaction of Second Life and how educators have formed and contribute to a vibrant community in this virtual world space.

They publish a summary analysis and also include an appendix which lists the full content of the replies to the "open-ended questions". I suspect the documents will provide not only a useful source of empirical data, but also hours (well, OK, minutes, then) of amusement and/or winces of recognition. The comments on positive and negative experiences of SL seem to cover pretty much the whole spectrum.

I'll cite only one of my favourites here:

Q 26: Has using Second Life shuffled how you spend your free time? What activities, if any, has your time in Second Life replaced?

A: this is a depressing question

October 04, 2007

Updated snapshot of Second Life usage in UK HE and FE now available

An update to the July snapshot of UK HE and FE usage of Second Life is now available.  This new report, again carried out by John Kirriemuir, is the second in a series of reports that we have asked John to undertake over the next year or so.  It provides an update to the report first published in July, primarily to include a number of activities that were missing from the original.

The remaining reports in the series (due for publication in March 2008 and September 2008) are intended to examine the impact that use of Second Life is having on teaching and learning.  By commissioning a series of reports we hope to begin to build a picture of how Second Life is being adopted by the HE and FE community in the UK and whether that adoption is making a positive contribution to the delivery of learning.

October 03, 2007

Names

I spent last Thursday in London at a meeting of the (rather grandly named!) Expert Panel of the JISC-funded Names Project, the principal partners of which are MIMAS at the University of Manchester and The British Library. The project's aims are

to scope the requirements of UK institutional and subject repositories for a service that will reliably and uniquely identify names of individuals and institutions.

and

[...] to develop a prototype service which will test the various processes involved. This will include determining the data format, setting up an appropriate database, mapping data from different sources, populating the database with records and testing the use of the data.

The project is managed on behalf of MIMAS by Amanda Hill (from her new homestead in rural Ontario!), and Amanda led the meeting on Thursday. She concentrated on presenting three documents, which I think should all be available from the project Web site shortly: a project plan, a review of the "name authority files" landscape, and a small set of "usage scenarios" that the project might seek to support. There are certainly some issues to consider anyway.

The "landscape" document, by Amanda and Alan Danskin & Richard Moore of the BL, summarises some of the standards and specifications used for the representation of descriptions of persons and organisations, and some of the existing systems and services that hold and make available such data. The document concentrates exclusively on (what I think of) as fairly "formal" sources of data (like the Library of Congress/NACO Names Authority File and OCLC's WorldCat Identities), and excludes sources such as Wikipedia - though it may well be the case that Wikipedia's coverage of many of the persons and institutions of interest in this context is limited.

One of the issues that came up quite early in the meeting was that of the constraints imposed by the legal context within which the project is operating. Given the project's focus on supporting - not exclusively, but primarily - systems that deal largely with works created by living individuals, the storage and use of information about these persons is typically covered by legislation - in the UK, by the Data Protection Act and related legislation. Two of the core principles of the DPA are that:

  • Data may only be used for the specific purposes for which it was collected.
  • (Subject to some qualifications) data must not be disclosed to other parties without the consent of the individual whom it is about

Further, there are limitations on the jurisdictions within which the information can be transferred.

There are probably implications here for the Names project, both in terms of obtaining permission to use existing data sources, and in terms of addressing the DPA requirements for the data Names itself holds. Names is funded under the JISC Shared Infrastructure Services programme. Typically these services aren't primarily in the business of providing "user-facing" functions; rather they aggregate and make available data which other applications, developed by other agencies, then access and use to deliver such functions. Given this sort of context, I imagine it may be quite difficult for the Names project itself to specify fully the purposes for which data is being collected: in theory, those third-party services might perform functions on the data that the Names project itself can not predict.

As part of my pre-meeting truffling, I had a look at the (relatively) recent draft of the Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) specification. FRAD is another product of IFLA, and it is a sibling document to, or extension of, the (probably better known) Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) specification. More specifically it's the product of an IFLA group called the "Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records (FRANAR)", with the rather confusing (to the outsider) consequence that the acronym FRANAR is sometimes used to refer to this area of work too, but I think the intent is that the model is referred to as FRAD.

Like FRBR, FRAD describes an entity-relational model, with the focus of FRAD on the entities related to "authority data" rather than to the "bibliographic record" itself. IIRC, I had looked at an earlier draft of FRAD quite some time ago, but the current version seems to have come on a long way from that version, and - from a fairly cursory reading on my part - it looks as if it may be a very useful document, both for those (like the Names project) seeking to develop applications in this area, but also for the non-librarians (like me) who want to have a better understanding of librarians' conceptualisations of the world, e.g. the relationships between persons (or personas), names, and access points.

Bloglines and OpenID

Via a post by David Recordon, I notice that my favourite RSS reader has announced support for OpenID. At the moment it looks as if this means only that Bloglines acts as an OpenID provider, but in that post they do go on to say:

In the near future, Bloglines will also support consuming OpenIDs and OpenID 2.0 which was just released this week.

Flipping open access

Peter Suber has an interesting article in the current SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #114, in which he discusses an idea originally put forward by Mark Rowse (previously CEO of Ingenta) for how current toll access journals can become open access journals by 'flipping' their consortia subscriptions for readers to consortia subscriptions for authors.

Peter's analysis starts from some rather simplistic assumptions about the penetration of consortia subscription models in the US but quickly moves to firmer ground, assessing both the likely viability of 'flipped' business models and some of the potential benefits such an approach might bring to readers, authors, institutions, publishers and research in general.

I don't know how new these ideas will be to those of you steeped in the political discussions around open access, but I found it an interesting read - one made better by its acknowledgment that the sustainability of publisher services is an important consideration in the move towards OA.

Identity-related calls from JISC

Fyi... JISC have announced two invitations to tender for studies related to identity management:

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