« Eduserv Symposium 2009 | Main | W3C launches Social Web Incubator Group »

March 20, 2009

Unlocking Audio

I spent the first couple of days this week at the British Library in London, attending the Unlocking Audio 2 conference.  I was there primarily to give an invited talk on the second day.

You might notice that I didn't have a great deal to say about audio, other than to note that what strikes me as interesting about the newer ways in which I listen to music online (specifically Blip.fm and Spotify) is that they are both highly social (almost playful) in their approach and that they are very much of the Web (as opposed to just being 'on' the Web).

What do I mean by that last phrase?  Essentially, it's about an attitude.  It's about seeing being mashed as a virtue.  It's about an expectation that your content, URLs and APIs will be picked up by other people and re-used in ways you could never have foreseen.  Or, as Charles Leadbeater put it on the first day of the conference, it's about "being an ingredient".

I went on to talk about the JISC Information Environment (which is surprisingly(?) not that far off its 10th birthday if you count from the initiation of the DNER), using it as an example of digital library thinking more generally and suggesting where I think we have parted company with the mainstream Web (in a generally "not good" way).  I noted that while digital library folks can discuss identifiers forever (if you let them!) we generally don't think a great deal about identity.  And even where we do think about it, the approach is primarily one of, "who are you and what are you allowed to access?", whereas on the social Web identity is at least as much about, "this is me, this is who I know, and this is what I have contributed". 

I think that is a very significant difference - it's a fundamentally different world-view - and it underpins one critical aspect of the difference between, say, Shibboleth and OpenID.  In digital libraries we haven't tended to focus on the social activity that needs to grow around our content and (as I've said in the past) our institutional approach to repositories is a classic example of how this causes 'social networking' issues with our solutions.

I stole a lot of the ideas for this talk, not least Lorcan Dempsey's use of concentration and diffusion.  As an aside... on the first day of the conference, Charles Leadbeater introduced a beach analogy for the 'media' industries, suggesting that in the past the beach was full of a small number of large boulders and that everything had to happen through those.  What the social Web has done is to make the beach into a place where we can all throw our pebbles.  I quite like this analogy.  My one concern is that many of us do our pebble throwing in the context of large, highly concentrated services like Flickr, YouTube, Google and so on.  There are still boulders - just different ones?  Anyway... I ended with Dave White's notions of visitors vs. residents, suggesting that in the cultural heritage sector we have traditionally focused on building services for visitors but that we need to focus more on residents from now on.  I admit that I don't quite know what this means in practice... but it certainly feels to me like the right direction of travel.

I concluded by offering my thoughts on how I would approach something like the JISC IE if I was asked to do so again now.  My gut feeling is that I would try to stay much more mainstream and focus firmly on the basics, by which I mean adopting the principles of linked data (about which there is now a TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee), cool URIs and REST and focusing much more firmly on the social aspects of the environment (OpenID, OAuth, and so on).

Prior to giving my talk I attended a session about iTunesU and how it is being implemented at the University of Oxford.  I confess a strong dislike of iTunes (and iTunesU by implication) and it worries me that so many UK universities are seeing it as an appropriate way forward.  Yes, it has a lot of concentration (and the benefits that come from that) but its diffusion capabilities are very limited (i.e. it's a very closed system), resulting in the need to build parallel Web interfaces to the same content.  That feels very messy to me.  That said, it was an interesting session with more potential for debate than time allowed.  If nothing else, the adoption of systems about which people can get religious serves to get people talking/arguing.

Overall then, I thought it was an interesting conference.  I suspect that my contribution wasn't liked by everyone there - but I hope it added usefully to the debate.  My live-blogging notes from the two days are here and here.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345203ba69e2011279752a2e28a4

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Unlocking Audio:

Comments

Thanks, Andy. This is very useful.

I do think we're stuck with PDF, though. :(

I suppose it makes sense to say concentration *and* diffusion?

Yes... sorry Lorcan. Dunno why I wrote "vs." rather than "and". I'm going to make a change to the text above to rectify that cos I think my current wording has a meaning that I didn't intend and that I didn't speak to in the presentation.

Could not agree more about the fact that we're more concerned w/ identifiers than identity at JISC. It's been one of the primary critiques of the personalisation work that's going on -- personalisation as an end unto itself as opposed to considering social contexts in which such tools are required.

I agree that identity is more important than identifier, which is of course just one part of identity. To your list of: "this is me, this is who I know, and this is what I have contributed" I would also add "and these are the organisations (plural important) I am currently affiliated too", as affiliation assigns rights to an identity that as user cannot self-assert. Getting institutions to the point where they can broker a user-controlled identity / identifier and enhance it with authorisation for affiliation AND successfully revocate that authorisation will be a long journey. I think the JISC personalisation studies go someway to looking at identity rather than identifier: http://misc.jisc.ac.uk/dpie1...but would agree there is a lot more work to do in this area.

Not sure why you're so concerned about ITunesU. Don't many materials like these have a number of outlets. It might be a bit messy but not unusual? As far as I'm aware most of the stuff is available from the University's own websites.

... and I'd like to know who's thinking about the identity of the identifiers? They have feelings too.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About

Search

Loading
eFoundations is powered by TypePad