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September 29, 2007

Dig-lib looky-likies

Jameshook Herbertvandesompel Watching the rugby world-cup game between Wales and Fiji this afternoon (what a great game!) I was struck by the visual similarities between Welsh back James Hook and a certain well-known figure from the digital library world...  hey, I bet you've never seen them both in the same room at the same time! :-)

September 28, 2007

Are we digitising into silos?

I certainly hope not!  But reading, or possibly mis-reading, between the lines of the BBC report on the British Library's recent announcement that it is working with Microsoft to digitise 100,000 19th Century books leaves me a little worried. The phrasing of:

digitised publications will be accessible in two ways - initially through Microsoft's Live Search Books and then via the Library's website

makes it sound like these texts are not going to start popping up in Google search results any time soon.

I hope I'm wrong?  Please shout if you know better!

OAI ORE Experiment Video

I'm a bit slow off the mark here, but the August edition (Volume 3 Number 3) of Cyberinfrastructure Technology Quarterly was dedicated to the topic of "The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure". It features several interesting pieces, including an article by Herbert Van de Sompel and Carl Lagoze titled "Interoperability for the Discovery, Use, and Re-Use of Units of Scholarly Communication" which summarises the work of the OAI ORE project.

The article is broadly similar in its coverage to that of the "white paper" circulated by the OAI ORE project in May - but with an interesting addition/complement in the form of a video in which Herbert reprises the aims of the project and the approaches proposed, and also outlines an experiment conducted by staff from the Digital Library Research & Prototyping Team of the Los Alamos Laboratory Research Library using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to capture "Resource Maps" (based on using the Atom Syndication format to represent those Resource Maps), and tracing changes in those maps, and the structural relationships between the objects described by them, over time.

September 27, 2007

Open content licences survey - update

A quick reminder that we are still seeking responses to our survey about the use of open content licences in the UK cultural heritage sector.  We hope to close the survey at the end of this month (or soon after).

We've had about 70 responses so far, which is great, but if you haven't responded and you have something you'd like to share with us, please fill in the form asap.  Thanks.

September 26, 2007

dctagging revisited

In response to the short presentation on encoding DC metadata as "structured tags" or "triple tags" that I gave to the meeting of the DCMI Social Tagging community at the DC-2007 conference, Ganesh Yanamandra from the National Library Board of Singapore posted a comment to my post of a few months ago on the topic, and I thought it was worth replying more fully.

Ganesh points out that at least some of the metadata that can be expressed using DCMI-owned terms is already captured "natively" in the various flavours of feed XML format, either using "core" components of the format (e.g. using the RSS 2.0 <title>, <description>, <author>, etc. elements or the Atom <atom:title>, <atom:summary>, etc. elements) or using the extension features available (there are RSS 1.0 "modules" for "Dublin Core" and "Qualified Dublin Core" (I'll leave to one side the debate about what constitutes "Qualified Dublin Core"....)) Yes, this is indeed true, and I didn't mean to suggest that the "structured tagging" approach should replace that. I should have been clearer about that. Where metadata providers have control over the structure, the markup, of their feed, I agree that the most effective way to expose metadata is to do so explicitly using the "built-in" capabilities of the feed format.

What I was really suggesting with dctagging was that where, for whatever reason, the metadata provider is not in a position to vary the markup of the feed, but rather is limited to varying only the tags associated with an item - e.g. they are a user of del.icio.us or some other service that supports tagging - , then using a "structured tags" approach offered a mechanism for "tunneling" (not sure that's really the right word) that metadata in the form of the tag content, rather than as markup. I did admit in Singapore this was a bit of a "hack"... ;-)

On the subject of an algorithm for "extracting"/"expanding" structured tags, I was hoping I might be able to do this using the CONSTRUCT feature of the SPARQL RDF query language, but I can't see a way of using SPARQL to generate literals in the output graph which are "substrings" of those in the input graph (e.g. from an input literal "dctagged dc:creator=Berners-LeeTim" I'd like to generate an output literal "Berners-LeeTim" ).

So I've fallen back on my old favourite multi-purpose screwdriver-come-hammer, XSLT, to process an  XML serialisation. expanddctag.xsl is a (pretty rough and ready) XSLT 1.0 transform which takes as input an RSS feed that has been translated into valid RSS 1.0 RDF/XML using Dave Beckett's Triplr service, and outputs an RDF/XML document which represents an extended RDF graph which includes the additional triples represented by the "structured tags".

So for example:

A few points:

  • The transform generates triples only for the prefixes "dc" and "dcterms" because that was the scope I had in mind for this convention! (You could extend the table near the start of the stylesheet so that it maps other prefixes too, though if you wanted a completely open-ended set of prefixes/"root URIs", then I'm inclined to say it would be better to shift to a convention which associates prefixes and "root URIs" in the data itself, e.g. in the way Flickr machine tags do)
  • No attempt is made to check the content of the tags and whether they map to the URIs of existing DCMI-owned properties: e.g. if a tag contains dc:audience=xyz, then a triple will be generated with the predicate http:/purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/audience
  • As I note in my presentation, the convention is limited to generating what the DCMI Abstract Model calls literal value surrogates. i.e. in RDF terms, literal objects are generated. No attempt is made to check that the predicates generated are intended by DCMI for use with literal objects (and indeed at the time of writing DCMI has not yet made such information available in its "term descriptions").

And I make no promises about the longer term persistence of that incognitum.net URI for the transform! It'll dereference to that XSLT doc for, well, for a while. But if you want to do anything with that transform then I suggest that you take a copy of it and give it another URI.

At the risk of embarking on something of a digression, playing around with this reminded me that I noticed some time ago that del.icio.us' use of the dc:creator element in its RSS 1.0 feeds seems slightly odd. My del.icio.us feed contains XML fragments like:

<item rdf:about="http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI">

<title>Hypertext Style: Cool URIs don't change.</title>
<dc:subject>URI dc:creator=Berners-LeeTim dctagged identifiers web</dc:subject>
   <rdf:li resource="http://del.icio.us/tag/URI" />
   <rdf:li resource="http://del.icio.us/tag/identifiers" />
   <rdf:li resource="http://del.icio.us/tag/web" />
   <rdf:li resource="http://del.icio.us/tag/dctagged" />
   <rdf:li resource="http://del.icio.us/tag/dc:creator%3DBerners-LeeTim" />


This "says" that the RSS item denoted by the URI http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI was created by "PeteJ". Let's put to one side for the purposes of this discussion whether the literal "PeteJ" is capable of creating anything ;-) Further, if Andy has bookmarked the same resource in his del.icio.us collection, then del.icio.us generates a triple "saying" that the "Cool URIs" document was created by "andypowell". And so on for anyone else who bookmarks that resource.

Of course I'm not a creator of that "Cool URIs" document. Yes, I created my feed, the collection of resources, and I created the bookmark, the description of the document, if you like, but I didn't create the bookmarked document itself

The contradiction becomes perhaps even more apparent when I apply the transform to "expand" the structured tag in my feed: the output from the transform now has two dc:creator elements, each representing a triple with the predicate http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/creator, one with the object "PeteJ" and one with the object "Berners-LeeTim".

It seems to me that in the way it generates its RSS feeds, del.icio.us conflates two resources that are quite distinct: the bookmark/description and the bookmarked document are two quite separate resources, created by two different people at different points in time, and if we need to "say" things about both of those resources then we need to refer to them using two distinct URIs.



There was an amusing item on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning about the 1 in 3 adults in the UK who are nonline - i.e. who don't make any use of the Internet.

The reporter experimented with not using the Internet for 3 days.  He even tried briefly inflicting the experiment on his family by turning off the household wireless router - resulting in his kids telling him very rapidly that they were not happy being guinea pigs.

I sympathise.  Every so often we lose the broadband connection in our house and it's like a major disaster has occurred.  I mean, how can 14-17 year olds be expected to survive for more than a few hours without their Facebook and MSN fixes?  Mind you, I'm no better.  Like the reporter on the programme I now tend to turn my laptop on before making a cup of tea first thing in the morning :-(.

September 25, 2007

A couple of meetings about Second Life

Three meetings in three days at the end of last week meant that I didn't get a lot of time to blog about stuff.  I'm trying to catch up now...

On Wednesday I went to Oxford to speak to staff at ASKe (part of the Business School at OXford Brookes) about Second Life.  I gave them an updated version of my standard "Second Life in 3600 seconds" presentation which actually lasts about 90 minutes in practice, assuming that people are stopping me to ask questions as we go thru.  It sounds like a long talk but actually goes very quickly, from my point of view at least, and there are no shortage of things to talk about.  Recent updates to the presentation include discussing 'voice' as a communication medium, and something about some of the more recent findings published by JISC around student expectations of ICT at university and what they make of Second Life as an educational tool.

I probably ended up being more negative than I meant to be during this presentation.  In general, I am now conscious that there is a danger of being seen as an SL-evangelist (just because I regularly talk about SL, and because I openly acknowledge that I like it from a personal point of view).  However, I do not want my presentations to be seen in that way - I want to offer a balanced view of pros and cons.  It's possible that I  over compensate as a result.  Anyway, I think / hope that it was a useful session for staff there, and I'll be interested to see what conclusions they draw about making use of Second Life in their activities.

Audience On Thursday we held our joint JISC CETIS / Eduserv Second Life in Education event at the London Knowledge Lab.  This went very well I think, with interesting presentations from all four of the projects we have funded this year, an overview of some of the issues around using SL by yours truly, a summary of the JISC position on Second Life by Lawrie Phipps and a discussion session at the end led by Paul Hollands.

I gave my presentation thru the medium of SL t-shirts, a somewhat unusual approach and one that I originally wanted to do in-world - dragging new t-shirts onto myself as the talk progressed.  But I lost my bottle, using a canned Powerpoint presentation instead, not least because we didn't have access to Second Life in the venue until about 20 minutes before the start of the meeting.  (The irony of not having Second Life available at a Second Life meeting was not lost on us - and Martin Oliver in particular pulled out all the stops to get things working for us in time).

One thing that did strike me is the breadth of activity that we have funded - which is great.  Oddly, it wasn't really until I sat down and listened to all four presentations, one after the other, that it fully struck me how diverse the projects are.

We billed the day as offering a chance 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.

I think we definitely achieved the first and second of these.  I'm less clear about the third, though Lawrie's talk touched on the emerging JISC policy in this area.

All the talks (slides and audio) are available from the meeting wiki and slidecasts are promised soon (thanks to Sheila Macneill).

The "1 in 10" issue was raised again towards the end of the discussion - partly because I suggested that I'd missed an "I am the 1 in 10" (a la UB40's hit single of the early 80's) t-shirt from my presentation.  One in ten is the proportion of people who 'get' Second Life, as stated by Babbage Linden in our symposium follow-up meeting.  I suggested, as I've done before, that this kind of proportion (it doesn't matter what the exact figure is) means that we have to adopt a flexible pedagogic approach around Second Life, allowing some students to use SL and others to do something else.  Several lecturers in the room tended to disagree, arguing that "if it's part of the course, then students will just have to get on with it" and "how many students get traditional lectures anyway".

Actually I don't strongly disagree.  My personal preference is for a flexible pedagogic approach anyway - but I can understand that it isn't always going to be practical to do so for all sorts of reasons, not least time.  Anyway, I digress... and I've missed loads of other stuff from the presentations and the discussion, so well worth reading the other blog entries about the event - all of which are linked from the wiki.

Overall I think it was a very good day and several people have asked about the possibility of doing some kind of follow-up when the projects are further into their work.  Watch this space.

HTTP Client Error Codes in Cartoon Form

Via a post by Stefan Tilkov, a Flickr set of cartoon representations of the HTTP 4xx status codes by Adam Koford, now available in poster form via Jesse Friedman.


The poster is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

France Telecom announce support for OpenID

Seems to me this is pretty big news - France Telecom have announced that they will enable OpenID for all their customers (~40 million).  Pretty close to home as well...

Let's assume that the question is now "when" rather than "if" BT will do the same in the UK.  What does that do to the identity management space in the UK?  What does it mean for access and identity management approaches in UK education?


Via Josie Fraser I note that Digizen.org has just been launched.

The site is targeted at teachers, parents and carers who are interested in understanding and supporting children and young people's online social participation.

The site provides advice primarily targeted, as far as I can tell, at the parents / carers and teachers of secondary school children (11-16 year olds) - covering safe and effective use of social networking sites and issues around cyber-bullying - though I suspect it will also be valuable to parents and carers of younger children.

The site introduces the new term 'digizen' for "someone who uses their online presence to shape the world for the better - and inspires others to do the same".

Although the coverage of this site probably falls outside a strict definition of 'information literacy' it seems to me to be a critical part of what one might call 'digital literacy' and something we should encourage our schools and other children's services to cover, either formally or informally, in the curriculum.

September 24, 2007

NTU Open Day - VLE enters the mainstream language... almost

I took Daisy (my eldest daughter) up to Nottingham on Saturday for the Nottingham Trent University (NTU) open day.  The City Campus, where we looked at the Interior Architecture and Graphic Design courses, is very nice and the arts-related buildings offer a very attractive space in which to study.  It was an interesting day out.

My overall impression of the day was how commercialised the whole thing has become.  We, particularly the parents, were there very much as prospective customers - we were buying a product.  In turn, the university was trying to convince us that its courses were just what we needed.  Glossy paper and flashy booklets were available in abundance.  In some ways this seems perfectly reasonable I guess.  But somehow it also feels very odd and not really what education should be about - from my "old skool" point of view at least.

On a different note, I noticed that one of our student guides on the day mentioned the NTU "VLE".  Blimey, I thought... fancy mentioning that particular TLA to a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds and their parents.  Perhaps the term "VLE" is becoming mainstream enough to use in casual conversations?  Unfortunately the student then proceeded to explain the acronym as "Visual Learning Environment"!  Doh... back to the drawing board :-(

I spent the day wondering what the right ICT-related questions are to ask of a university that you are thinking about going to?  Pervasiveness of the wireless network on campus I guess?  Availability (or not) of public computers and how long the queues are for them?  Opening hours of public computer labs (e.g. in the library)?  Printing costs?  Whether the rooms in halls of residence have a wired or wireless network and what the bandwidth is like?  Whether applications like Skype are blocked or not?

I've put a question up on my Facebook profile along these lines.  Feel free to answer.  I'm interested to know what people think are the hot issues in this area.

PS.  I did manage to mention Second Life once during the day, much to Daisy's disgust! :-)

Petaflops for health

Most people are probably familiar with SETI@Home and similar initiatives that use spare CPU cycles on networked commodity PCs (both in the office and at home) to deliver what effectively amounts to a very large-scale parallel computing facility.

The Folding@home initiative - which uses the same technique to understand protein folding, misfolding, and related diseases - is going one step further, using the streaming processors now more common in consumer electronics such as games consoles.

This advance utilizes streaming processors now common in inexpensive consumer electronics, such as the Cell processor in Sony’s PlayStation 3  or personal computers with Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) from ATI, to achieve performance previously only possible on supercomputers. With this new technology, we are able to attain performance on the 100 gigaflop scale per computer, at a very modest cost (~$500).

Thus, armed with this new technology, we are setting out on a new initiative to take Folding@Home to even greater heights.  By combining merely ~25,000 computers (each with some sort of streaming processor), we could perform calculations on the Petaflop scale (1,000,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second) – a level of performance currently unmatched even by the fastest supercomputers. As Folding@Home currently consists of approximately 200,000 actively processing computers, we expect that as this hardware becomes more common, we would easily surpass the 10 Petaflop level.

OK, the PS3 isn't that popular as a games console right now.  But it's an interesting development in terms of where technology is going.

Social tagging video

Via Liddy Nevile on the Dublin Core Social Tagging Community mailing list I note that Commoncraft have a nice video about social bookmarking and tagging, targeted specifically at teachers but accessible to a wide audience I imagine.

The use of del.icio.us (or delicious.com) by teachers was exactly what I was trying to encourage when I developed the Newbridge Primary School Web site a while ago.  Unfortunately it hasn't really happened yet, largely because we haven't invested enough time in school, teaching the teachers how to do it :-(.  This video would definitely help to get the message across.

I also like the look and feel of the video - using bits of paper to demonstrate how a Web site works is a neat idea.

Smart codes

Efoundationssmartcode I've never been totally convinced by those that tell us that mobile phones and PDAs are going to have a massive impact on the way we deliver teaching and learning.  It seems to me that we're still waiting for that to happen to any great extent.  Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

In part, my problem is caused because I tend to have a model of mobile phone that is one generation behind the leading edge and it is therefore difficult to appreciate the possibilities properly.  Oh well :-(

Via Alan Levine I discovered Semapedia and smart codes - a kind of two-dimensional barcode, encoding of a URL or message that can be printed out and stuck on physical objects.  Install a decoder on your mobile phone or PDA, point the camera at the smart code and it will display the text or take you directly to the URL.  A neat way to link the physical world to the Web.

One can imagine adding smart codes to event posters, outside shops or other businesses, or at crucial places on university campuses.  What about a smart code outside every lecture theatre taking you direct to a simple Web page telling you what is on now and next for example.

The image above is the smart code for this blog.

September 19, 2007

A (Personal) Conference Wishlist

As Andy highlights in the discussion in the comments on his recent post about the ALT-C conference, I think we are all increasingly conscious of the resources that are expended in organising and delivering such events, and in participating in them - particularly, of course, those which involve long-distance travel.

I recognise that even in the age of ubiquitous network connectivity and a smorgasbord of social networking and video-conferencing software, face-to-face gatherings still have a valuable role to play, and I still attend a fair number of conferences, workshops and smaller meetings, both in the UK and elsewhere. However, I do try to weigh up whether I can really justify the costs - financial and otherwise - involved, particularly if international travel is required. Even so, I've made three intercontinental flights in 2007, which is probably a small number by some standards, but is more than I really want to be making, and quite enough to have my friends reminding me of the unenviable size of my carbon footprint. :-(

So a few things I'd like to see from a conference or similar event....

From a conference venue:

  • The use of a venue which has a demonstrable commitment to working practices which minimise waste and maximise the efficient use of energy and consumable resources (provision for recycling, the use of reusable rather than disposable materials (e.g. for food/drink utensils), a preference for locally-produced food, etc.) I'm really not sure that a hotel where the service staff come in to your bedroom to switch the lights on in the early evening when you're not even there makes the grade....
  • Ease of access by public transport. After arriving at the local transport hub (airport, mainline station), ideally, I'd really like to be able to complete my journey to the venue or accommodation by local train, bus, tram, or on foot, rather than having to get a taxi out to a site somewhere miles away on the edge of town.
  • Dependable wireless network access, free of charge in all areas of the conference venue, and network access also in the accommodation if that is part of the conference venue. Sure, providing network access itself consumes resources, but if I can be sure of having a connection at an event, I'm almost certainly less likely to print stuff off to carry with me. And of course such access enables participants to provide commentary and reflections on the event in real time via weblogs, Twitter, Facebook etc., which can bring in a remote audience indirectly - even in the absence of "direct" live streaming of the primary content by the event organisers. (Edit: I notice that Lorcan refers to this sort of practice as "amplifying" the conference.)
  • Vegetarian and other "special" diets catered for without an extra effort on the parts of participants, if their requirements have already been notified in advance. If it's a buffet, I'd like the dishes to be clearly labeled so that I don't have to prod and sniff to work out whether that's hummus or fish; if it's table service, I'd like to be served at the same time as the non-vegetarians.

Things I would like to be provided with when I register at a conference:

  • A paper copy of the conference programme which tells me clearly the timings and the locations of the sessions, the titles of the sessions/papers, the names of the presenters, in a format I can use without having to cross-reference one section of a document to another (typically in the middle of a busy corridor at the same time as everyone else is running from one session to another and grappling with the same problem!)
  • A paper copy of a map/plan of the session locations, preferably down to room level, especially if sessions are spread over several different locations.
  • No more paper, thanks. No, really.

Which brings me to things I'd really rather not be provided with at a conference ;-)

  • A conference T-shirt. As far as I can recall, the last time I wore an "event" T-shirt (well, outside of Second Life...) was - well, it was a very long time ago, and my post-adolescent enthusiasm for Marillion turned out to be short-lived. I'm an enthusiastic contributor to the work of DCMI, but, TBH, a shirt saying "Dublin Core used here" (eh? where? on the shirt? on my chest??) probably isn't going to get that many outings. I know, I know, some of you do like these things, and I'm sounding like a right old curmudgeon, but at the very least, I'd like to see organisers making them some sort of "opt in" item.
  • A conference bag. I've got my own laptop bag. I've just traveled half-way round the world/country/region/town carrying it. I rather like it. It's plain but it's functional without looking like something from an Army & Navy surplus store. So it's hard to get excited about a rather flimsy-looking plasticky bag covered in the sponsors' logos which will probably fall apart if I actually go as far as trying to carry my laptop in it.

    And while I don't think of myself as particularly fashion-conscious, a dayglo-coloured bag is enough to make even me come over a bit Trinny and Susannah.
  • A paper copy of the conference proceedings. Oof. There's a limit on my baggage allowance back here in the cheap seats, you know. ;-) If I have to make a choice between this and the novel I'm in the middle of or the rather nice book I picked up in the art gallery down in town, I know which one is going to get left behind on the hotel bedside table. And, more to the point, err, haven't you just given me a memory stick with all this stuff in digital formats on it?
  • A paper copy of handouts of presentation slides. I guess I've changed my mind about this over the last couple of years. But with a wireless network and the availability of services like Slideshare, there are few reasons why the slides can't be made available online for participants (and indeed for the remote members of that "amplified" audience) to access - even if the presenter does hand over the final version only minutes before the presentation (as I admit I am often in the habit of doing) it should be pretty easy to upload them.
  • (As already highlighted by Andy) paper copies of promotional materials from sponsors & vendors.

    To conference organisers: I don't want this stuff. It's junk mail. I come to events to engage in a conversation with my colleagues and peers, not to be bombarded by advertising. There's an exhibition area: if there has to be advertising, keep it there, and the people who are interested in brochures and leaflets about those services and products will find them there.

    To advertisers: in my case at least, the impact of distributing this material in this way is exactly counter to your goals. I treat it in the same way I treat the stuff that comes through my letter box at home. If I glance at it at all before it goes for recycling, it typically serves only to deter me from using those services or products. If you really want to persuade me of their value, then come and join in our dialogues, and talk to us about the issues we are discussing. Bring your piles of paper and make them available on your exhibition stand if you really must, then the people who are interested can choose to take them (though TBH I'd really encourage you to explore other ways of distributing the information).

So from now on, I'll be taking up A.J. Cann's suggestion in his comment on Andy's post: whenever I receive a bulging pack of advertising in a logo-covered bag, I'll be quickly extracting the two or three pieces of paper I can actually make some use of, and returning the rest to the person on the registration desk for reuse or recycling.

Bags and bumf? Just say no!

P.S. Of course, yesterday I watched a number of boxes being shipped off to London for our joint JISC CETIS/Eduserv Foundation meeting on the use of Second Life in Education tomorrow, so I'm conscious we are still in the process of learning to "eat our own dogfood"... ;-)

OpenID event fully subscribed

There has been a high level of interest in the event which the Foundation is running on OpenID, which Andy announced yesterday, and it is now fully subscribed. We already have a number of people on the waiting list, so registration is now closed.

Over the next few days, we'll be emailing everyone who registered to let them know if they have been successful in obtaining a place.

September 18, 2007

Student expectations of ICT at university

Via the Lisa Whistlecroft on the HIgher Education Academy technical mailing list, I discovered this interesting study from JISC looking at student expectations of ICT as they enter higher education in the UK.  It's dated July 2007, so appears to have been around for a while, although I haven't seen it before.

There's a lot of material here but in this post I just want to touch on some of the Second Life findings, partly because I have a couple of SL-related presentations to make over the next couple of days.

The results are based on a survey of 501 students aged 16 to 18 from across the UK (though the vast majority in England) with at least a low to medium knowledge of ICT.

When asked how often they used various technologies, 21% responded that they used Second Life often or occasionally.  This is actually much higher than I would have expected - I would have guessed 10%, perhaps even lower for that age group.  This compares with 44% who maintain their own blog or Web site (wow!), 39% who use on demand video and 37% who download podcasts.

The least popular technological pursuit from the online survey was taking part in an online community e.g. Second Life. The majority (76%) have never, or only rarely, done this, and three fifths (60%) of females have never done this.

Participants in the groups articulated the idea that a ‘community’ had a social implication which could not be replicated by this type of technology – it is a very niche market and offers different benefits from other social sites. Indeed, few had actually heard of Second Life.

    “That’s a bit weird, to be honest. You would be quite sad to do that”
    Male, infrequent users at school and home group

Some of the more qualitative commentary is also interesting, in particular:

Second Life appeared to be an idea for people older than themselves, for the generation above who were interested in technology for its “own sake”. This is perhaps why the idea amused our participants and why they felt it was “sad”. The implications here for HEIs are that they cannot assume that presenting new technologies automatically makes their institution more youth-friendly – this new generation like to see the concrete benefits of technologies.


When discussing Second Life, students felt that games and virtual worlds as part of learning could easily become “tragic” – technology being used for its own sake, and used rather childishly. They would need to understand the educational benefits of virtual worlds or games, it is not enough that they are simply ‘new’.

In a sense I don't think there are any surprises here - I have always argued that the majority of people found in SL are, err, of the older persuasion. As for the generally negative attitudes about virtual worlds, pro-SLers would probably argue that a similar study done at the start of the Web era might have found a similar state of affairs.  To be honest I don't know whether that is true or not - my memory isn't good enough to recall what student attitudes to the use of the Web in universities was like at that time.  But such an argument would seem at least potentially credible.   

Furthermore, I always somewhat sceptical about these kinds of surveys in terms of how questions are phrased and, therefore, what they are really telling us.  That said, the report is definitely interesting and worth a read.

OpenID - online identity for the social network generation of learners and researchers

British Library, St Pancras, London, UK

Thurs 8th Nov 2007


Web 2.0, Learning 2.0 and the moves towards PLEs and VREs are encouraging members of UK educational institutions to make increasing use of mainstream Web 2.0 services as part of their everyday teaching, learning and research activities.  In addition, the growing importance of virtual research teams, shared delivery of courses across institutions, a more mobile student base of 'digital natives', and the need to support more seamless transition between the different phases of lifelong learning means that we are beginning to see fundamental changes taking place in the educational service landscape.

The successful management of identity in this landscape will play a critical role in delivering a coherent experience for our learners and researchers. It is likely that we will see the identity management landscape moving from a national or institutional orientation to a more highly distributed and user-centric one.

This meeting will begin to ask questions like:  What are the fundamental changes taking place in our educational landscape?  How ready are institutions to deal with those changes?  What role do OpenID and related technologies have to play in our institutional and external services in the future?  What are the issues, challenges and potential pitfalls in their use?

You are cordially invited to hear about and debate these issues with David Recordon (Six Apart), Gavin Bell (Nature Publishing Group), Nicole Harris (JISC), Scott Wilson (JISC CETIS), Ben Werdmuller (Elgg /
Curverider) and others.

We hope this meeting will be of interest to technical staff within university computing services, systems librarians, learning technologists, elearning vendors and publishers selling into academia, and national bodies (such as JISC and Becta).

Attendance at the meeting is free, and the 50 available places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Serious games social network

Those of you with an interest in the use of serious games in education, health, business, or anywhere else for that matter, may like to note the Serious Games social network (hosted on Ning).

Roy Fielding on REST and relaxation

Found via a post by Stefan Tilkov, a pointer to a presentation by Roy Fielding, given at the JAZOON07 conference in Zurich in June but which I hadn't come across before, called "A little REST and Relaxation"

He explains the rationale for his use of the notion of "architectural styles" and the specification of REST as the architectural style for the Web. I particularly enjoyed the way he puts these developments (and others' reactions to them) into a historical context.

He also has a nice point on the Lego analogy for service-oriented architecture: the reason Lego works so well being precisely that the components offer a uniform interface!

P.S. Stefan also points to a forthcoming Fielding presentation in which it sounds as if he may extend the coverage of the points he discusses towards the end of the JAZOON07 presentation on the relaxation of constraints to introduce his work on a new network protocol.

September 17, 2007

Serious Virtual Worlds

Tshirt_3 I got sent to Coventry for two days last week.

No, I hadn't upset the other guys in the office!  I was attending the Serious Virtual Worlds '07 conference, organised by the Serious Games Institute at the University of Coventry.

I listened to talks about the latest in games and virtual world technology development.  I learned how such things are being used in areas as diverse as health, education, the military and business.  I heard how virtual worlds can be used as catalysts for global change in areas such as children's welfare and financial aid and I chatted openly with other delegates about what was being said by the speakers, while they were speaking.

I did all of this without ever leaving my office.


Well, I discovered, almost by accident, that all the sessions from the conference were being streamed live onto the new Coventry Island in Second Life.  This doesn't seem to have been well advertised in advance - I certainly hadn't heard about it - and, as a result, there were only a few other virtual delegates in-world with me.  This is a shame, since all the sessions were very interesting.

Was the virtual side of the conference a complete success?  No, of course not.  Was it useful as an alternative way of attending the conference.  Yes, definitely.

The main problem was that the organisers hadn't put anything in place to allow the virtual delegates to see the presentation slides being used by the speakers.  In a lot of cases, this drastically reduced the impact and usefulness of the talks.

Nor did we have a way of communicating with the real-life delegates. 

Rootalk To give a feel for what it was like to be a virtual delegate at the conference, I've put a video of Roo Reynolds' presentation from the second day up on blip.tv (I had to use blip.tv rather than YouTube because this video is about 30 minutes long and YouTube seems to reject anything over 10 minutes).

The talk provides a nice overview of where virtual worlds, and Web 2.0 social tools more generally, have got to and how they are being used for collaboration in business, particularly from the perspective of IBM.  It's a good summary.

To make it a more rounded presentation experience I've edited the slides back into the video - but if you watch it, remember that those of us that were there on the day didn't have the benefit of seeing the slides.

I've also added in the chat that went on between virtual delegates while the talk was being given.  The in-world discussion isn't earth-shattering (one delegate even went as far as criticising Roo's dress sense!) but it gives a flavour of what is possible by streaming conference sessions in-world. Imagine the possibilities offered by having a shared chat space available to both real and virtual delegates for example.

Of course, as we found at our own symposium back in May, to fully integrate real and virtual delegates at the same conference is quite difficult.  How, using Roo's words, do we make sure that virtual delegates are treated as "first class citizens"?  This is a non-trivial question, and one that we are still learning the answers to.  But at the very least we need to ensure that there is an open, two-way, dialogue between people in the real and virtual worlds.

The ALT-C conference organisers made an attempt at this for the keynotes during ALT-C 2007 this year, using the Elluminate software to allow virtual delegates to make comments and ask questions of the speakers.  However, they, perhaps rightly, got cold feet about allowing a completely open public forum and assigned a moderator to approve comments before they went up live on the screen in the auditorium.  Shame.  Surely an educational audience can be trusted to behave?

My suspicion is that the ALT-C experiment worked quite well in terms of delivering the keynote sessions out to virtual delegates.  But I suspect it failed in terms of making virtual delegates feel like they were part of something?  Asking questions thru a moderator in a relatively bland chat-room is hardly an engaging experience?

The Serious Virtual Worlds '07 experiment also failed, but for different reasons.  I felt very much part of an event thanks to the immersive nature of Second Life.  But it was an event shared with the other virtual delegates - it wasn't the same event as the real-world delegates attended.  Further, the delivery of the presentations to the virtual world was disappointing in its lack of slides to compliment the audio/video experience.

Note, this is not intended to be critical of either conference in any way.  This is an ongoing learning experience for all of us.  I share my thoughts here simply in the hope that they are useful in moving our understanding forwards.

September 16, 2007

How legal statements should be written

I was reading the blurb about the forthcoming autumn Life 2.0 Summit, produced by CMP Technology/Dr. Dobb's Journal, and happened to notice the short statement at the end about their privacy policy.  The language they use is nice and direct:

Dr. Dobb's Life 2.0 believes that spam is evil. So we promise not to bombard you with too much crap. But we'll be sending you notices of upcoming Life 2.0 events, and your information will be provided to Life 2.0 Summit sponsor(s), who have promised to comply with our 'minimal crap' email and corporate Privacy Policy.


September 14, 2007

Tags as virtual venues

I can't stress this enough... if you are holding an event, or thinking about holding an event, or even thinking you may want to think about holding an event, decide what tag you are going to use as soon as possible.

A large part of your event's impact will come from the collective writing, images and videos by the people who attended.  The only effective way of tying all this material together after the event is via the event tag.

It's easy to forget, but I'd go as far as saying that the tag is almost as important as the venue.  In fact, in a sense, the tag becomes the virtual venue for the event's digital legacy.

September 13, 2007

Opening of Coventry Island

Madeleineatkins Coventry University opened their Coventry Island in Second Life today at the close of day one of the two-day Serious Virtual Worlds '07 conference organised by the Serious Games Institute.  Presentations from the conference were streamed in-world during the day, though this doesn't appear to have been widely advertised in advance so the number of avatars turning up seemed quite low.

Maggie_2 The island opening itself was a nice mix of real and virtual, serious and fun.  Delegates both on the island and in the conference venue listened to short talks from Professor Madeleine Atkins, Vice Chancellor of Coventry University and  David Wortley and Professor Maggi Savin-Baden of the Serious Games Institute.  This was followed by a virtual tour of the island by Maggi (Second Wind), an impressive firework show and a small party.

Fireworks Virtual beer has always struck me as an odd idea, but I managed to both pour mine down my newly created "I've been sent to Coventry" t-shirt and drop my glass on the floor making a right mess.  Oh, well.

I think this is the first high-profile Second Life island opening by a UK university?  Time will tell whether it is the first of many or a flash in the pan.  My instinct tells me the former.Drinkproblem

September 12, 2007

GRDDL to W3C Recommendation

The W3C announced yesterday that the Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL) specification has been given the status of W3C Recommendation.

What GRDDL does is quite simple: it defines mechanisms for associating an XML document with an algorithm that can be used to extract RDF data from that document - typically an XSLT transformation which generates RDF/XML. And it allows such an association to be made not only for an individual document, but for a class of documents, based on the XML Namespace Name of the root XML element, or, for XHTML documents, on a metadata profile URI. Data created with microformats, for example, - as long as the source document uses a metadata profile, of course - becomes accessible to generic RDF processors without requiring them to have built-in knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the different markup conventions.

This capacity to define transformations for entire classes of documents, and to have those transformations associated with the individual instances without any additional effort on the part of the creators of those instances, is, I think, what makes GRDDL both very elegant and very powerful: sometimes the simple specs turn out to be the most useful ones!

And from closer to home, I'm pleased to see that a testimonial has been provided by Mikael Nilsson and Tom Baker on behalf of the DCMI Architecture Forum, emphasising the critical contribution GRDDL makes in the way Dublin Core metadata (and indeed other metadata) is implemented:

GRDDL is an essential tool in bridging the various expressions of Dublin Core metadata, and DCMI is creating GRDDL transforms that expose Dublin Core metadata expressed in XML and HTML to the Semantic Web.

By standardizing the transformation mechanisms, GRDDL allows for syntactic choices while enabling semantic interoperability -- both important needs in the metadata community -- and as such is fundamental to the future evolution of the Web.

September 11, 2007

A history of the Social Web

Found via Stephen Downes, an interesting presentation (Slideshare) by Trebor Scholz giving a potted history of what he calls the "Social Web" (Web 2.0).

It looks like this presentation forms part of the second module of a course on the topic, so I think more presentations will probably appear in due course as the lectures are delivered. The preceding presentation (Slideshare) gives an introduction to/overview of the course and is available as a QuickTime movie with an audio track, and the audio probably makes it clearer that he is offering a critical view of the "Web 2.0" phenomenon, particularly highlighting the growth of business models built on user-generated content and the concentration of ownership of several successful "Web 2.0" services:

Based on the rapid growth of participation in social life online and in mobile space-- from social news, referral, social search, media sharing, social bookmarking, tagging, virtual worlds and social networked games, social mapping, IM, social networking, blogging and dating, this class formulates a critical analysis of the international Social Web with regard to privacy, intellectual property, and the utilization of social creation of value through the lens of a small number of case studies in the areas of education, political activism, and art.

Scholz reflects and comments on some of the responses to that initial lecture here.

See also his presentation "Seven propositions for the future of the sociable web" (Slideshare)

I'm looking forward to the rest of the course presentations as they appear.

September 10, 2007

Repository specification updates

Phil Barker of CETIS has a nice blog entry summarising the current status of various repository-related standards activities including IMS LODE, OASIS Search Web Services, OAI-ORE and Deposit API / SWORD.

Read the entry if you want to find out more but note that it doesn't go into any technical detail.

Of these, the activity I'd like to know more about is SWORD, which has taken the approach of defining a deposit API for repositories by building a profile of Atom rather than by trying to invent something from scratch.  This seems very sensible to me and is something that I've been arguing the digital library community needs to do more of.  The wiki appears to indicate that the project is just coming to an end so it'll be interesting to see how this work gets taken forward.

Reflections on ALT-C 2007

Pete, Ed and I spent most of last week at ALT-C 2007 in Nottingham.  It was my first ALT-C and, if I'm honest, I went there primarily because Eduserv had a stand in the exhibition area and we'd taken a decision to use it to draw attention to the 4 Second Life projects that we've funded this year.

With this in mind I spent the run up to the conference preparing a 10 minute video to show on the stand - displayed using the, err, rather expensive flat-screen monitor that we chose to hire for the event.

This worked pretty well actually, and generated quite a lot of interest, meaning that we were able to give away a reasonable number of the tiny MOO cards that we'd created about each of the projects.

As a member of the conference programme committee I was also asked to chair a couple of sessions, which I was happy to do.  The first of these had 3 short papers covering the use of blogs to support reflective learning.  The second followed the same format but looked at the use of wikis.

Before the event I was slightly worried that trying to fit 3 short papers into an hour-long session was going to be overly tight.  In fact, all my speakers stuck exactly to their alloted period (for which I'm very grateful), allowing plenty of time for questions from the audience to each of them.

I also attended one other paper session, two short papers about the use of pod-casts in elearning.

The papers in these sessions reported on relatively small-scale cases studies around the use of new technologies in learning.  It struck me that we need far larger bodies of evidence if we want to draw anything other than anecdotal conclusions about the effectiveness and impact of these kinds of approaches.  Having said that, all the papers reported on the efforts of people to get on and do something practical - which is to be applauded.

Several themes seemed to emerge from these sessions:

  • the technology itself no longer presents a significant hurdle, in terms of installing and running the applications (as evidenced by the speed at which we were able to create a Hood 2.0 (see below) Facebook group and blog and almost get it indexed by Google within an hour)
  • however, pedagogic and cultural issues remain
  • student familiarity with Web 2.0 tools, particularly wikis, is often over-estimated
  • hence there is a need for induction to the tools in use and the netiqette (web2iquette?) that goes with them
  • the prominence of the 'VLE as sole delivery mechanism' seems to be diminishing somewhat - though several presenters still talked about the need to embed the external Web 2.0 tools they were using into their campus VLE
  • students do not always use the tools as intended - e.g. a group of students who were asked to collaborate using a wiki, but who chose to do the work in Facebook, only uploading the final result into the wiki - on questioning, it was not clear whether they chose to do this because of a preference for the Facebook style of working, or because they wanted to hide their work from the lecturer!

Last thing on the first day I attended a short briefing session about the JISC Emerge project which was interesting - I wasn't only there for the free wine, 'onest.

And first thing on the second day I attended a rather fun Web 2.0 Slam organised by Francis Bell, Josie Fraser and Helen Keegan.  I knew this was going to be a session in which the audience had to do something but being a rather thick techie, I kinda assumed that I'd just have to stand up and talk about my experiences of using Blastfeed, dctagged and Yahoo pipes to create mashups.  Who was I kidding?  Instead we were split into groups and expected to produce a 90 second skit on Web 2.0.  Suggested options included poetry, which to their credit one group actually managed to achieve quite successfully.

I have the performance art skills of a brick and a creative imagination to match, especially at 9.00 in the morning.  Fortunately, the rest of my group (James, Kathy and Agnes) came up with our offering - Hood 2.0 (a play on the locally relevant theme of Robin Hood (Web 2.0) stealing from the rich (the big corporations) to give to the poor (the individual)).  The resulting Hood 2.0 Facebook group already has 19 members - I have no idea why :-)

Altcemerge Finally, it's worth noting the very large and impressive JISC stand which featured, amongst other things, Second Life - a first I think.  The plan was to have a collaborative build of the new Emerge Island going on in Second Life during the conference.  I'm not sure that this worked out too well, though I and a few others spent some time on the island building stuff.  I'll describe the results more fully on the ArtsPlace SL blog in due course.

Overall the event was well organised and ran very smoothly.  Oh, and the food was great :-)

Summing up:  a fun event, well organised, good buzz, great for networking.

Final thought:  when are conference organisers going to stop filling delegate packs with reams of shite marketing blurb?  This stuff has got to be killing our planet in one way or another hasn't it?  Surely we can find a way to use technology to do this more effectively?

September 04, 2007

"Beyond control" at ALT-C 2007

As Andy noted a couple of posts back, all three of the Foundation team (Andy, Ed and myself) are attending the ALT-C 2007 conference at the East Midlands Conference Centre on the campus of the University of Nottingham this week.

Having just spent a week away from home, and having barely adjusted to being back on UK time again, I admit I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of another three nights away, but I eventually chose to travel to Nottingham late last night rather than take the option of the (ridiculously expensive) 6.15 red-eye from Bristol first thing this morning.

I attended the ALT-C 2006 conference last year, just a few months after I'd joined Eduserv, and, TBH, spent most of the time feeling something of a fish out of water amongst sessions which veered from the very technology-specific to the pedagogy-heavy (but I did manage a lovely meal out in Edinburgh with a friend from Bristol!). Twelve months on, I suppose I feel I've got a slightly better handle on some of the current issues in the e-learning domain, and also the Foundation as a unit has made more of a pro-active commitment to the event this year, with our efforts to highlight the Foundation-funded projects on learning and virtual worlds on our exhibition stand.

I've barely had time to analyse the conference programme but I anticipate I'll probably spend most of my time in the thread on "Learning Technology for the Social Network Generation" (even if I'm not sure whether that "generation" includes me or not ;-) ), and of course I'm looking forward to hearing the closing keynote from Peter Norvig of Google.

September 03, 2007

DCMI Architecture Forum at DC-2007

I spent the second half of Tuesday afternoon at DC-2007 in a meeting of the DCMI Architecture Forum, chaired by Mikael Nilsson (Mikael had a very busy day!).

The session started with some further discussion of the draft Description Set Profile model, which had been presented in the plenary session immediately preceding the meeting. Based on the experience of applying the model to the case of the ePrints DCAP, I presented a couple of issues related to the nature of constraints supported by the DSP model, pointing out that it may be the case that there are some constraints that are probably quite widely used within existing DC application profiles that it is not possible to express within the proposed model (see the last slide of my earlier presentation).

The second area of discussion was the question of support for a "modular" approach to the DSP, i.e. the notion that one DSP might be able to "import" or "include" either the whole or some part of one or more other DSPs. I recall that Andy, Mikael, Tom Baker and I pondered this when we met up in Barcelona back in March when we were just starting to think about this work, and I think it soon became clear then that such an approach introduced a considerable amount of complexity, e.g. questions of the relative priorities given to constraints in the two DSPs, whether one DSP could extend or override constraints in the other, and so on. While support for modularity would certainly increase the flexibility of the DSP approach, I think it may be that, in the short term at least, this operates only at the level of "copy and pasting" a defined set of description templates or statement templates into a new DSP.

There was also some discussion of whether DCMI should formulate something like a "Qualified Dublin Core" DSP, referencing the set of terms constituting the DCMI metadata vocabularies (or some subset of them). I must admit I have mixed feelings about this approach: I think one of the problems that DCMI has faced is a tendency for implementers to approach the development of a DCAP by taking the complete set of terms constituting the DCMI metadata vocabularies as their starting point, and adopting something of a checklist approach ("Yes, we'll use A; no, we won't use B; not sure about C"), based on the premise that the use of that set of terms constitutes some sort of "generic DSP", rather than starting from what specific requirements it is necessary to address in the contect of their application. As Mikael pointed out in the meeting, the full DCMI term set now includes some properties that are specific to the description of collections, and some to the description of bibliographic resources - so a DSP that referenced all of those within a single description template would, by definition, be dealing with the description of a peculiarly narrow set of resources. The model presented by Tom which I referred to a couple of posts back - a model which by the end of the conference was being referred to as the "Singapore Framework" - seeks to steer implementers away from this approach, and to root the development of a DCAP firmly in an analysis of the operations that the metadata instances are to support.

We moved on to discuss - briefly - the current proposals for an XML format for representing a DC description set, particularly from the perspective of the sort of structural constraints described by the DSP model. There are currently two working drafts - DC-XML-Full, DC-XML-Minunder discussion on the DC Architecture mailing list. I think the three-way relationships between the characteristics of the XML format, the DSP constraints and XML schema language are potentially quite complex: given format A, it may be relatively easy to capture DSP constraint X using schema language P, but difficult to capture the same constraint using schema language Q; and so on. I don't think any clear conclusions were reached during the meeting -  though there was a strong feeling expressed that we should avoid creating a format (or formats) which allow too much "flexibility" by offering many different alternative syntactic representations of a single construct within the description set abstract information structure (a criticism that has sometimes been levelled, for example, at the RDF/XML syntax for RDF).

At the time, I was slightly disappointed that we didn't get as far as focusing in on making some practical recommendations for how to proceed in some areas, though it was probably inevitable in the circumstances - and it was certainly useful to have the discussions which did take place. Later in the week, a small group of us managed to get together for a chat with Ivan Herman, the W3C Semantic Web Activity Lead, and Alistair Miles of STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who is the co-editor of the SKOS specifications, and we talked through some of the low level technical issues currently exercising the DCMI Architecture Forum - including those around GRDDL, RDFa and the updating of the DCMI recommendation for expressing DC metadata using X/HTML meta and link elements (again, an initial draft has been circulated). Thanks to Ivan and Alistair, I think we came away with a better picture of how to move things forward in the short term, which hopefully will be translated into some action on the DC Architecture mailing list in the near future.



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