Igeneric Thoughts Archives: June 2004

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Cultural institutions are relevant to you...

June 30, 2004

Not for the Likes of You looks at repositioning our cultural organisations in order to make them appear more relevant and engaging to the broadest of audiences.

The report was commissioned in 2003 by Arts Council England, MLA, the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage, and published in May of 2004.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:49 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Digital important in the future of the BBC

June 30, 2004

Building public value: renewing the BBC for a digital world is the BBC’s vision of where they would like to move, given a renewed Royal Charter. This document, and the BBC’s formal submission to the Government’s ongoing consultation on the Charter renewal see Digital as the important area in which the BBC should take a lead.

This Digital role for the BBC includes television (Freeview, Freesat, etc), but also radio and the corporation’s wider online presence. Building public value argues that the BBC, and the content and services it is building, will be important drivers for the takeup of digital services across all sectors of the population. They’re right, and the renewed emphasis on doing this in partnership with others, clearly shows that there are many potential benefits and synergies here...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:25 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

An easy way to get RSS feeds onto your website

June 25, 2004

Feedroll offers a free service that allows you to easily insert any RSS or ATOM feed straight into a bog-standard website, simply by cutting and pasting a little bit of Javascript.

The site even allows you a high degree of control over the look and feel of the feed. Very nice.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:55 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

Authenticating for e-Government with your credit card?

June 24, 2004

According to this piece from Digital Media Europe, the UK's e-Government Unit is working with Visa to explore the possibility of allowing citizens to authenticate for e-Government services using their existing credit card, rather than having to apply for a separate certificate as before.

Entirely selfishly, my immediate response is "Great". I have a credit card, and I haven't got a Government certificate. Therefore the new approach would be less of a hassle, and reduce barriers to adoption for many.

However, what about all those members of the population who - for whatever reason - don't have a credit card? And are credit cards unique? When two members of a family, say, are each given a card tied to the same bill, do they have different numbers?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:49 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

How might ubiquity of access change the picture?

June 23, 2004

Schools, as Ofsted states, are making great advances in the ways in which ICT is deployed as a tool to aid work across the whole curriculum.

However, the reality of current funding means that difficult choices usually need to be made between equipping a single ICT suite well or providing each classroom with anything more than a single machine (and, maybe, a digital whiteboard). Added to this - and an increasing problem - is the ongoing cost of replacing existing kit as it becomes obsolete.

If ICT is really to become bedded into the consciousness of pupils, and become a second-nature tool to which they turn when appropriate without a second thought, then it needs to become far more ubiquitous than it will ever be as the outcome of a whole-class timetabled trip to the ICT suite. Pupils and teachers need to be able to turn to ICT as a tool when the need/mood arises, exactly as they might cross the classroom to pick up a dictionary, encyclopedia, or box of counting bricks.

In most schools, we're a very long way from that. This means that ICT is not becoming as fully embedded as we might wish (and this isn't really anyone's fault; it's just frighteningly expensive). If the hardware isn't available, then the content isn't being discovered and utilised to its full potential, either.

A piece in August's (hardcopy) MacWorld, of all places, drew my attention to an article in the Edinburgh Evening News.

According to this, the four local authorities in and around the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, are looking to provide every child above Infant level with a laptop. Apparently, every child in a single year group should get a machine next year, with the programme extended to other year groups over the subsequent three years.


I hope there's going to be some serious evaluation of the impacts of this. As the article points out, evidence from the US State of Maine (where there's a similar programme) suggests significant increases in attainment.

It would also be interesting to specifically explore how the use of content changes. Take SCRAN, for example. An excellent resource, originally compiled with Millennium Fund money, and available to every school in Scotland thanks to funding from the Scottish Executive.

They're based in Edinburgh. Might a few nudges be enough to join things up?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:16 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

The National Archives wins prestigious award for digital preservation

June 23, 2004

The National Archives at Kew won the prestigious Pilgrim Trust Digital Preservation Award last night.

The award was presented by Lloyd Grossman, chair of the Digital Preservation Coalition, and saw TNA beating off stiff competition from the National Library of New Zealand/ Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa and others.

It's like a fridge, apparently, keeping "electronic documents fresh for future generations". Hmm. An organisation with a metaphor even more strained than my Digital Aquifer!

TNA press release from Wired.gov.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:40 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

Archiving the UK web

June 22, 2004

The BBC provides coverage of yesterday’s press release about efforts to archive UK web space.

Partners in the new UK Web Archiving Consortium include the JISC, our three National Libraries, The National Archives, and the Wellcome Trust.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:38 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Museum site for children wins big award

June 22, 2004

The 24 Hour Museum’s child-friendly site, Show Me, has just been named as best Arts, Culture, and Heritage Project at the 2004 Charity Awards.

Congratulations to all involved.

Story from the 24 Hour Museum...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:17 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Older people engage with online services...

June 21, 2004

...if those services are provided by their bank, anyway.

This report from DMeurope.com discusses results from a survey commissioned by NatWest.

According to the survey, 64% of 70 internet users log on once a week or more to interact with their bank.

10% do it daily!

How do these results compare with those for various e-Government services, and what effect is affluence/education having on the picture?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:30 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Public libraries must deliver "a service that local people want"

June 21, 2004

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 18:41 | Make or Read Comments(0)

A presumption in favour of secrecy... ?

June 21, 2004

Throughout the public sector, not-insignificant sums of money are spent every year on gaining intelligence about our audiences, our customers, our voters, our users, and their impressions of what we provide, what we should be providing, and how we should be delivering it to them.

Especially in these days of personalised service and customer choice (pick any speech by any Cabinet minister over the last six months or so, or look at Demos' work in this area), understanding of this sort is surely a good thing.

However, and it's a big however, in some recent work I've been doing, I can't help noticing an almost paranoid guarding of the results of this research. OK, so you get sound bites released to the media, but the actual research itself - and the often useful report on it prepared by the market research company - remains buried within whichever small part of an individual government department commissioned the work, guarded with ridiculous protectiveness, and not even shared with related activities within like-minded government agencies... or even with other units of the same department!

Every now and then (because I ask... a lot), I get to see one of these little gems... almost always with a covering note along the lines of "You haven't seen this", "For Your Eyes Only", etc. Which is a real shame, because there are often nuggets in there that would prove extremely powerful in aiding the arguments that I, and others, are trying to make.

I'm not (I don't think) stupid. I realise that there are sensitive questions, and sensitive answers. Some of these affect controversial policies. Some would be powerful weapons in the hands of critics. That being said, there is also a ridiculous amount of money being spent again and again, commissioning the same market research companies to ask the same basic questions (by and large) for different bits of the same Government. Surely we can identify the sensitive questions or answers, protect them as appropriate, and seek mechanisms to share the rest - at least with our partners! Is there a way to move FoI-wards, with a presumption in favour of access unless inappropriate, rather than the current presumption in favour of total secrecy?

I shall be doing what I can. Does anyone else want to come aboard?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:06 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Priorities for Government...?

June 17, 2004

"During the first half of 2003, the [Prime Minister's] Strategy Unit worked with departments to consider future priorities and strategic choices across departmental boundaries. The process included analysis of long-run trends and benchmarking the UK against other countries."

And here, in nearly 2Mb of pdf, is a summary of the work. Some of the graphs make for interesting viewing, especially the comparators to other countries.

Picked up from Hot Links.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 09:24 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Are public libraries accessible enough ?

June 16, 2004

The People's Network programme has been extremely successful in wiring up every public library in the country, funding the installation of kit, and providing training in ICT for front-line library staff.

All good stuff, and often seen as an important way to get e-Services, the Knowledge Web, etc to those sections of society that don't have access through other places (the home, etc). Peter Brophy's recent report, and other evidence, would also appear to support the notion that these machines are being well used.

However, a recent document from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation rings some warning bells, suggesting that the public library isn't as accessible or approachable to some parts of society as it is to others.

Is this true and, if so, where else could we put machines? Kiosks in Safeway or the Post Office might be one approach, but sitting in a library is surely more conducive to engagement than standing at a kiosk, probably in quite a busy public space.

Maybe we've got the location right, and the job is actually to make the library seem relevant, approachable, and useful to any parts of society who may currently think otherwise.

It's also true, of course, that no one solution will meet all the needs of all the people, all of the time...

A posting on David Brake's blog.org reminded me that I meant to say something about this report; thanks for the reminder, David...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:20 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Promotion of media literacy

June 9, 2004

Ofcom, the UK Government's Office of Communications (and regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services) has a new consultation out that's worth responding to.

The document, Ofcom's strategy and priorities for the promotion of media literacy, explores what needs to be done to turn those who receive broadcast media in the UK into informed decision makers as to the content, appropriateness, and subject of the material.

Perhaps understandably, there's an emphasis in the document upon media literacy as a protection tool; parents having the media literacy skills to decide that a programme is unsuitable for their children and prevent them from viewing it.

There's also a positive side, though, about media literacy as empowerment, as a driver for choice, as an incentiviser, which I'd have liked to see receive a higher profile.

One thing that the document suggests is likely to be important is consistent, reliable, and intelligible labelling of content, along the lines of BBFC classifications of films shown in cinemas, the violence ratings on computer games, etc. As the document highlights, a proliferation of these technology/medium/platform-specific labels is a huge potential problem given increasing convergence. Why should the game you play on your PC be rated differently to the e-Book you read on it, the music DVD you listen to on it, the Web site you visit on it, and the television programme you stream to it? Isn't it, to the user, just content? There is some joining up going on, at least within Government, and I'm hopeful that any resulting recommendation will make sense to things like Culture Online, Curriculum Online, and the BBC's online presence, rather than just to the radio and television programmes that are Ofcom's core area of responsibility. Here's hoping, anyway.

Igeneric gets a mention, too, on page 10. ;-)

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:54 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (3)

Open Source and more from Wired

June 7, 2004

Cory Doctorow draws my attention to this special supplement from Wired, which comprises a series of PDF diagrams and charts, each illustrating a different facet of the culture clash between those who wish to control, those who wish to set everything free, and the (surely correct?) compromisers in the middle.

Makes for fascinating viewing, and offers a different take on a current hot topic in which the battle lines are often very firmly delineated and stentoriously defended against all questioners.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:17 | Make or Read Comments(0)

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