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January 30, 2009

What would Google do?

Whilst reading Paul Miller's new(ish) blog this morning I browsed my way over to his profile page on Business Week and thence to an article entitled Detroit Should Get Cracking on its Googlemobile by Jeff Jarvis which contains a short video (8 minutes or so) interview with the author.  I haven't read the article or the book(!) but I quite liked the video despite the fact that it is not much more than an excuse to plug Jarvis' book, What would Google do?

It's a good question, and one that I tend to ask regularly in the context of things like institutional repositories.  Come to think of it, it's probably not a bad question to ask about universities more generally (as I think Jarvis does in the book).  I don't know if I would agree with Jarvis' answers but I think it is an interesting place to start a discussion.

In the video Jarvis characterises the Google approach as having four aspects:

  • Give up control to the people/your users.
  • Think like a platform and/or a network - let people build on top of what you do.
  • Scale has changed - "small is the new big".
  • Make mistakes well.

How would these characteristics apply when thinking about the way that universities operate?

Surveying with voiD

Michael Hausenblas yesterday announced the availability of version 1.0 of the voiD specification. void specifies an RDF-based approach to the description of RDF datasets that have been constructed following the principles of linked data.

Although the emphasis is very much on those characteristics specific to a void:Dataset - and particularly the nature of links between datasets - this sort of approach reminded me of that taken in the area of collection-level description, an area which Andy and I both contributed to in the past, leading to work within DCMI on the development of the Dublin Core Collections Application Profile. - though of course that profile is much more generally scoped than voiD.

Michael describes the problem addressed by voiD in his article in a recent issue of Nodalities:

Now, the main challenge is: how can I, as someone who wants to build an application on top of linked data, find and select appropriate linked datasets? Note that there are two basic issues here: first, finding an appropriate dataset (discovery) then selecting one - that is, you have a bunch of possible candidates, which one is the ‘best suited’.

This reminded me of the much quoted (not least by me back when I was running round doing presentations as part of UKOLN's Collection Description Focus!) metaphor used by Michael Heaney in his An Analytical Model of Collections and their Catalogues, with reference to an academic researcher approaching the "landscape" of research collections:

The scholar surveying this landscape is looking for the high points. A high point represents an area where the potential for gleaning desired information by visiting that spot (physically or by remote means) is greater than that of other areas. To continue the analogy, the scholar is concerned at the initial survey to identify areas rather than specific features – to identify rainforest rather than to retrieve an analysis of the canopy fauna of the Amazon basin.

Judging by the response on the W3C public-lod mailing list, there's a considerable interest in voiD in the linked data community, and I look forward to seeing what sort of new services emerge using it.

Maximising the effectiveness of virtual worlds in teaching and learning

A quick note to say that the materials, audio and presentation slides, from our virtual worlds meeting that took place at the University of Strathclyde exactly 2 weeks ago, organised jointly with CETIS, are available from the meeting Wiki.

I have to confess to having missed much of the content on the day being rather unsuccessfully tied up with technology, trying to stream audio and slides from the event to a virtual audience in Second Life. I can sum my part in the day up by saying that I learned three things:

  • Firstly, having access thru a firewall to run Second Life is not the same thing as having access thru a firewall to run Second Life voice-chat.
  • Secondly, having a 3G dongle is very handy in an emergency (thanks to Sheila MacNeill of CETIS for use of hers on the day).
  • Thirdly, taking two laptops to a meeting sometimes isn't enough (but I couldn't carry any more anyway).

From my point of view the day was very frustrating, with the combination of a broken laptop and network restrictions at Strathclyde meaning that the afternoon session couldn't be streamed. But, from what I heard on the day and have seen since, we had a great selection of talks and there's material on the Wiki that is well worth viewing if you haven't done so yet.

Final thought... I note a tweet from Ren Reynolds (one of the speakers on the day) saying that delegate badges needed to list Twitter accounts and Second Life names alongside people's real names. Yes, absolutely... this is something we, and others, need to get into the habit of doing.

Digital Britain - the future isn't open apparently

The Digital Britain Interim Report was released yesterday:

a plan to secure Britain’s place at the forefront of the global digital economy. The interim report contains more than 20 recommendations, including specific proposals on:

  • next generation networks
  • universal access to broadband
  • the creation of a second public service provider of scale
  • the modernisation of wireless radio spectrum holdings
  • a digital future for radio
  • a new deal for digital content rights
  • enhancing the digital delivery of public services

I haven't read the full report, much of which is about greater roll-out of broadband connectivity, but I have taken a look through section 3, entitled Digital Content [PDF], which is the part that interests me most.

Here's a Wordle of just that section:


And a few word counts:

  • open (1) (but not in the context of 'open content')
  • unlawful (12)
  • rights / rightsholders (37)
  • copyright (15)

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.... suffice to say, I would have preferred to see at least some discussion about the benefits that open digital content can bring to the economy.

January 27, 2009

Share creep

Nicholas Carr, Sharing is creepy, writing in response to Steven Levy's The Burden of Twitter, says:

Though he never names it, what Levy is really talking about here is shame. And the shame comes from something deeper than just self-exposure, though that's certainly part of it. There's an arrogance to sharing the details of one's life in public with strangers - it's the arrogance of power, the assumption that such details somehow deserve to be broadly aired. And as for the people, those strangers, on the receiving end of the disclosures, they suffer, through their desire to hear the details, to hungrily listen in, a kind of debasement. At the risk of going too far, I'd argue that there's a certain sadomasochistic quality to the exchange (it's a variation on the exchange that takes place between celebrity and fan). And I'm pretty sure that Levy's remorse comes from his realization, conscious or not, that he is, in a very subtle but nonetheless real way, displaying an undeserved and unappetizing arrogance while also contributing to the debasement of others.

I'm not sure that I buy the 'arrogance' argument. In a comment on Carr's blog post, Tom Slee reiterates the arrogance theme, comparing book writing to blog posting as follows:

With a book, you have to get a stamp of approval before inflicting your thoughts on readers (in the form of a publishing contract), so there is something un-egotistical about a book: "I'm not the one claiming that my scribblings are worth reading, someone else thinks they are too". But with a blog, or other intermediary-free publishing mechanism, there is something about the effort -- "Here Are My Thoughts, Listen To Them!" -- that is presumptuous, almost distasteful.

Here's a different take on it. If I write a book I'm saying, "Here are my thoughts, I (and at least one other person?) think they are worth paying for". If I write a blog post I'm saying, "Here are my thoughts, read them if you want to". Which is more arrogant?

I don't feel particularly arrogant about writing here for example - it's a take it or leave it thing for the reader as far as I'm concerned.  I sometimes feel bemused that people read it (you are reading it aren't you? :-)) but that's a different matter.  That's not to say that I don't feel some level of shame in exposing my digital identity so openly. I do. Actually, I'm not sure that shame is quite the right word here but it is used above and I'm willing to go with it for the sake of this post.  I've recently started, as a personal activity, blogging a photo every day over on Blipfoto and this does, I must admit, cause me to think about what I am doing with my digital identity much more acutely than I have before.

The problem, for me, lies in the increasingly fuzzy divide between professional and personal, a semi-controlled growth in the leakage of information between the two, and a partial transference of practice from my professional to my personal life. It is no accident that both Twitter and Facebook have a tendency to blur the interface between these two worlds quite significantly and, as a result, are often cited as a source of potential discomfort around digital identity.

For me, there are two aspects to that discomfort I think.  Firstly, a slight tendency on my part to write things online (of the thoughts and feelings variety) that I might struggle to express verbally to the people around me, an aspect of my character that some people (who I would consider to be close to me) find bemusing.  For the record, I find it slightly bemusing myself. Secondly, an understanding that I am contributing in various ways to the digital identity of my children (and others around me), coupled with an incomplete understanding of quite what impact I am having.  I know that, as parents, we all contribute to the identity of our children, not only genetically but also in our relationship to them and the mediation of their relationships to other people - but somehow the addition of a digital aspect to that equation seems to make the issues more up-front and permanent.  So, yes, shame might not be the right word for it, but there is some level of discomfort around my digital identity and it's impact on my real-life relationships.

The slight irony is that this blog post is probably now part of that discomfort!

January 22, 2009

Why can't I find a library book in my search engine?

There's a story in today's Guardian, Why you can't find a library book in your search engine, (seen online but I assume that it is also in the paper version) covering the ongoing situation around the licensing of OCLC WorldCat catalog records.  Rob Styles provides some of the background to this, OCLC, Record Usage, Copyright, Contracts and the Law, though, as he notes, he works for Talis which is one of the commercial organisations that stands to benefit from a change in OCLC's approach.

I don't want to comment in too much detail on this story since I freely admit to not having properly done my homework, but I will note that my default position on this kind of issue is that we (yes, all of us) are better off in those cases where data is able to be made available on an 'open' rather than 'proprietary' basis and I think this view of the world definitely applies in this case.

The Guardian story is somewhat simplistic, IMHO, not on the question of 'open' vs. 'closed' but on how easy it would be for such data, assuming that it was to be made openly available, to get into search engines (by which I assume the article really means Google?) in a meaningful way.  Flooding the Web with multiple copies of metadata about multiple copies of books is non-trivial to get right (just think of the issues around sensibly assigning 'http' URIs to this kind of stuff for example) such that link counting, ranking of books vs. other Web resources, and providing access to appropriate copies can be done sensibly.  There has to be some point of 'concentration' (to use Lorcan Dempsey's term) around which such things can happen - whether that is provided by Google, Amazon, Open Library, OCLC, Talis, the Library of Congress or someone else.  Too many points of concentration and you have a problem... or so it seems to me.

January 21, 2009

OpenIDs, researchers and delegation

Cameron Neylon has an interesting post, A specialist OpenID service to provide unique researcher IDs, which discusses the possibilities of using OpenIDs as identifiers for researchers as part of the scholarly communication process. As Cameron says:

Good citation practice lies at the core of good science. The value of research data is not so much in the data itself but its context, its connection with other data and ideas. How then is it that we have no way of citing a person? We need a single, unique way, of identifying researchers. This will help traditional publishers and the existing ecosystem of services by making it possible to uniquely identify authors and referees. It will make it easier for researchers to be clear about who they are and what they have done. And finally it is a critical step in making it possible to automatically track all the contributions that people make.

I touched on some of these issues a while back in Repositories and OpenID though, as Cameron notes, the real (and very significant) hurdle to be overcome here is convincing people to think about solving a problem they don't even know they have using a solution that they probably don't find very intuitive!

There's a good deal of discussion about the post in Cameron's FriendFeed. (It's slightly annoying that the discussion is somewhat divorced from the original blog post but I guess that is one of the, err..., features of using FriendFeed?)

One aspect of the OpenID specification that seems to be missing in people's examples (given as part of the discussion) is that of delegation.  If you sign up for, and publicise, an OpenID directly based on one of the major OpenID providers (http://claimid.com/ or http://myopenid.com/ for example) then you are at the mercy of those services for the persistence of your OpenID.  If they go under, so does your personal identifier.  This probably doesn't matter too much in the context of signing in to multiple blogging services but it certainly does in the context of scholarly communication.

Instead, use OpenID's delegation feature to use a domain under your direct control (or under the control of an organisation you trust) as the basis of your OpenID to better guarantee its persistence into the future.  For example, I have OpenIDs from both the providers above but I use and publicise http://andypowe11.net/ as my OpenID, delegating the technical bits to http://claimid.com/andypowell for the time being whilst retaining the ability to delegate somewhere else in the future if I so choose or if the need arises.

For a description of how to delegate your OpenID see this post (from December 2006) by Simon Willison.

Actually, the fact that I'm citing something from late 2006 might be seen as a useful reminder of how slowly OpenID is gaining any significant traction?

January 19, 2009

The strategic impact of the PLE in HE?

I was chatting to a colleague earlier on today about the state of learning management systems in UK higher education.  My sense of the current situation goes something like this:

  1. The traditional virtual learning environment (VLE) market is now quite mature and largely sewn up by Moodle and Blackboard.
  2. Neither of the systems in 1 is viewed particularly positively, either by learners (because of poor usability) or teaching staff (because of limited pedagogic possibilities/flexibility).
  3. As a consequence of 2, some thought leaders (i.e. those people who write about such things in blogs, etc.) are suggesting a move towards unbundling current VLE functionality across multiple services (some of which are inside the institution and some outside) in the form of the personal learning environment (PLE).
  4. Conversely, institutional investment in one or other of the systems in 1 is pretty high, so there is a significant level of policy/strategic inertia to overcome if institutions really are going to change as per 3.
  5. There is a growing lack of clarity in marketplace as we see cross-over between VLE-functionality and repositories (e.g. IntraLibrary), e-portfolio systems (e.g. PebblePad), collaborative tools (e.g. Huddle) and blogging tools (e.g. Wordpress).

Is that a reasonable summary?

As a result of the conversation, I asked on Twitter, "is the PLE approach (unbundling monolithic vle fundtionality) having any significant impact on real institutional strategic thinking yet?", to which I got 5 or 6 responses, one of which one suggested that it is (Ravensbourne) while the others were somewhat more hesitent.  Clearly, this provides nothing other than a snapshot that is both random and partial!  Heather Williamson of the JISC also suggested that their User-owned Technology Demonstrator projects might be able to help with the answer in the longer term.

It's an interesting question to ask because it seems to me that there is a high potential for disconnect between those on the ground (so to speak) who are dissatisfied with current provision and feel able to articulate a better solution vs. those who hold the purse strings and who may feel that they are too far down a particular strategic road to turn back?

January 15, 2009

Digital Identity Workshop

As you may know, the three projects that we funded last year are all investigating different aspects of digital identity. The projects came together last week to organise a Digital Identity Workshop at the British Library.  This seemed to me to be a great success and you can read other people's reactions to it here, here, here and here.

The day used a Pattern Language methodology, led primarily by Steven Warburton and Yishay Mor, which I found particularly interesting.

The methodology focuses on abstracting 'patterns' (as that term is used in architectural design) from similar pairs of case studies (or stories).  Prior to the day we had been asked to submit our case studies (in a lightly structured form) to the Pattern Language Network Wiki.  On the day itself, we were split into small groups and one of us was asked to recount our case study to the others.  Then a second member of the group was asked to recount a similar or related case study of their own.  The intention was to identity 'assets' (things about which there was agreement) and 'hazzards' (things about which there wasn't agreement) from the two case studies, ultimately leading to one or more 'patterns' (a recurring solution) being identified.

It was a lot to fit into a single day and my suspicion is that most people left the event feeling quite drained.  I certainly did.  But it was refreshing to be involved in something so active and participatory for a change - not just listening to presentations by other people.

We could have done with more time at the end to discuss our findings but my suspicion is that if we'd tried to do so, some of the groups probably wouldn't have got as far as they did with their patterns.

The resulting patterns and other outputs from the day are beginning to appear in the Wiki.

In my group, we started with my own Identity Aggregation case study, then talked about Harry Halpin's desire to aggregate address book and related 'contact' and 'presence' information, resulting in a simple pattern that we called 'Permissioned aggregation of personal information'.

Ian Truelove makes the point in his blog post that the process being used here was more important than the resulting outputs and in a sense I agree.  But I also hope that as this work moves forward, and a second meeting is already in the pipeline, there will be useful resources that result from this work.

January 14, 2009

Resource List Management on the Semantic Web

Via a post by Ivan Herman of the W3C, I came across a W3C case study titled A Linked Open Data Resource List Management Tool for Undergraduate Students, based on work done between Talis and the University of Plymouth.

Andy and I visited Talis, well, I was going to say a few months ago, but it was probably the middle of last year, and Rob Styles, Chris Clarke & other Talisians talked to us a little bit then about this work, but at that point I don't think they had a live system to show.

This looks pretty neat stuff. It's an RDF application, based on the Talis Platform. They make use of a number of existing ontologies (SIOC, BIBO) and have designed a simple ontology for the Reading Lists themselves and also one for the organisational structure of an academic institution, the AIISO ontology - which I imagine may be of interest to other projects working in this area.

Intelligent "bookmarking" tools for adding items to lists use a variety of techniques to extract metadata from Web pages (in a similar way to the Zotero citation manager tool); the metadata is exposed as RDFa in XHTML representations of the lists, which makes it available to systems like Yahoo's SearchMonkey; other RDF formats are available via content negotiation (following the Linked Data/Cool URIs for the Semantic Web principles); and a SPARQL endpoint for the dataset is available (though I'm not sure whether this is public). The system also allows students to provide annotations, which are also stored as RDF data, but in a separate data store from the "primary" reading list data, allowing different access controls.

If you're API and you know it clap your hands

There's a question doing the rounds in JISC circles at the moment, courtesy of the 'Good APIs’ project being led by UKOLN, which is essentially, "What makes a good API?":

The ‘Good APIs’ project aims to provide JISC and the sector with information and advice on best practice which should be adopted when developing and consuming APIs.

I have to confess that the question doesn't make a great deal of sense to me to be honest? Or at least, a good deal more contextual information is required before a sensible answer can be made - is HTTP considered to be an API in the context of this work for example?  If nothing else, the question tends to lean towards an SOA way of thinking IMHO.

A more fruitful line of inquiry might be, "What makes a good architectural approach?", in which case, it seems to me, REST might be a sensible answer.

Anyway... if you think you know what makes a good API, you can provide the answer on a postcard via the project's survey on SurveyMonkey.com.

January 13, 2009

Plagiarism in the classroom

A new 30 minute video by Teachers.tv, Secondary ICT - Plagiarism - A Cut and Paste Generation, looks at issues around plagiarism in school, college and university settings.

A look at how staff combat plagiarism in schools, colleges and universities, following the rise of the internet and the cut and paste generation.

A schools plagiarism workshop shows the difficulty in defining and responding to plagiarism in schools, and students at the University of Leeds attend a compulsory study skills module to help boost their understanding of plagiarism.

At Ripon Grammar School, North Yorkshire, staff help students develop independent research skills using the internet in unexpected subjects such as PE and biology.

Hemsworth Arts and Community College, Pontefract, teaches a Harvard style referencing system and uses a plagiarism policy to demonstrate the small steps that can provide pupils with the awareness they need in internet research.

It features a short extract showing one of the plagiarism workshops undertaken by Netskills as part of the information literacy projects that we funded a while ago.

Teachers.tv videos are primarily targeted at school teachers in the UK but this video will probably be of interest to anyone thinking about how to improve citation and general information literacy skills at any level of education.

January 12, 2009

Mapping Me

Last Thursday I attended the workshop on digital identity co-ordinated by members of the three new projects funded by Foundation research grants this year (Rhizome, This is Me, and Assisting the W3C in opening social networking data).

Ahead of the event, moved partly by thinking about the day (and by Andy's earlier post) and partly by a post by Botgirl Questi I happened across the other day, I thought it might be interesting to try to sketch out a "mind map" of the principal digital sources where I create (or created) content which contributes in some way to the representation of my "digital identity".

(To be honest, I did this mostly for my own purposes, just so that I could visualise what that landscape looked like, but as my posts here have been somewhat thin on the ground (mainly because I don't feel I've had much of interest to say of late, to be honest - I did half-draft a post on that topic, but it was getting too depressing!), I thought I'd share it here.)


I've included only those sources where I've identified myself by my birth name or a nickname/userid that I frequently associate with it (usually "PeteJ" or "PeteJo" or something similar) - my "work-related" identity, if you like - even if the content isn't always directly related to my work activity, it is associated with the identity under which I perform that activity. In at least some of those sources, I've actually posted very little content, so there may be little more than a minimal "profile" page, but I guess even the presence of that minimal page "says" something about work-me in that it indicates that at some point I had sufficient interest to register for a service. On some other services, my main input has been comments on, or ratings of, or maybe just subscriptions to, the contributions of others, rather than any new "primary content" of my own.

The resulting "map" probably looks fairly complex, but I was mildly surprised that it was relatively limited in extent. And kinda pleased too, because over recent months I have been making some efforts to "prune" back some of the content which I've put "out there" over the years which has left me slightly uncomfortable about just how much information about myself I have disclosed, and to "take firmer control" of other bits. I've deleted a few accounts (Orkut, LinkedIn) which I wasn't making any real use of but which nevertheless disclosed a fair amount of information, and I've restricted access to content on others (notably by switching to "protected" status on Twitter). (Though, yes, I know, caches like Google's probably have some of it.)

I keep thinking of things I've missed: I've got some accounts with other virtual worlds which I used only once or twice; I've certainly registered on dozens of other "Web 2.0" services, played around for 15 minutes, and forgotten about them by the following day....

January 05, 2009

The future of social networking?

I note that the position papers for the W3C Workshop on the Future of Social Networking are now available. There are 73 in all so there's a lot of new year reading to be done if you are interested.  In the meantime, here is a quick Wordle of the aggregated text (the creation of which wasn't helped by the lack of an RSS feed for the papers and the fact that most have been submitted as PDF... boo!).

Two of the papers have been written by people we are currently funding, one by Shirley Williams, Pat Parslow and Karsten Oster Lundqvist on behalf of the University of Reading and one by Harry Halpin entitled Ten theses on the Future of Social Networking.  Good stuff.




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