Igeneric Thoughts Archives: September 2004

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WiFi VoIP phones and convergence

September 30, 2004

I heard an interesting edition of Radio 4's In Business programme tonight - "Connections: Joining the internet with phones and home computers produces a new wired-up world. Wireless, on the other hand, removes the wires. Peter Day investigates." The programme starts in the British Library, hearing about the WiFi network that has recently been installed. Using the link above, you can 'listen again' to the programme.

Posted by David Dawson at 23:47 | Make or Read Comments(0)

eLearning attracts the usual suspects

September 30, 2004

Highlighted on the BBC website , a new SSRC press release reports "Despite Government efforts to promote 'lifelong learning' and a more equitable and inclusive 'learning society' there is little special or new about adult learning in the digital age, according to research at Cardiff University.

The Adult Learning@Home project, which was funded by ESRC, concluded that ICT has not increased participation and achievement rates in adult education. Instead, e-learning tends to be associated with the same factors that determine school-leaving age, such as sex and socio-economic background. "It would seem that patterns of participation in adult education are not being changed for the better by changes in education policy," says Dr Neil Selwyn."

However, the report appears to highlight the use of ICT to support informal learning.

Posted by David Dawson at 23:34 | Make or Read Comments(0)

More on public access to the Internet

September 28, 2004

An eGov Monitor piece syndicated to Digital Media Europe reports on recent research commissioned by the UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

According to this research, which surveyed 6,000 individuals and 2,200 businesses, just over half of respondents had access to the Internet. Of these, 50% had looked online for government information in the previous 12 months.

52% of those living in urban areas without their own access to the Internet were aware of a public access point, a figure which falls to 44% in rural areas. Only around 10% of those aware of a public access point had used it.

Awareness of key online services (such as NHS Direct) was also lower than it might be, with around 20% of respondents in rural areas totally unaware of the service, and 37% with only a vague idea of what it might offer them.

A more detailed report is due next month.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 17:22 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (4)

Syndication for the Masses ?

September 28, 2004

Sites such as this one make use of RSS (RDF Site Summary, Really Simple Syndication, whatever) as a way to push content (like this article) out to people who may never visit the site itself. This is known as syndication, and the streams of articles from a particular site are called feeds. This site, for example, offers two feeds.

Instead of remembering to visit an RSS-capable web site to see if anything has been added, readers may view it using a tool on their computer such as NetNewsWire or via a web-based aggregator such as Bloglines. The (slightly) more technical can use tools such as RSS-xpress Lite from UKOLN to embed these articles into web pages on their own sites. In both cases, any changes to the site are delivered to the user's selected tool automatically.

Both of these approaches are actually pretty straightforward, but they still require a reader with the confidence and desire to go out and download NetNewsWire or sign up for Bloglines.

In that context, the announcement of a new beta of MyYahoo! is actually pretty important. This beta brings the power of syndication to any user of Yahoo!'s services, allowing them to sign up to feeds from their favourite football teams, pop groups, libraries (?!) or whatever, all in an interface with which they are comfortable and that they use regularly. When MyMSN and the other comparable portal sites follow suit, the sort of access to timely and focussed snippets of news that the NetNewsWire/ Bloglines/ et al aficionados have benefited from for some time will be available to anyone who goes online from home, and who has never bothered to change their web browser's home page from the MyYahoo!/ MyMSN/ MyWhatever installed as the default by their Internet Service Provider.

News from Yahoo!'s SearchBlog, and being discussed here and lots of other places.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 16:19 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Public access to the Internet outside libraries

September 28, 2004

In preparing for a Scottish Executive retreat later this week, I have been reading a number of preparatory documents.

One that caught my eye was an evaluation of something called the Public Internet Access Point Initiative by Hall Aitken.

This initiative, begun in 2002, has created more than 780 public internet access points (some 1,750 computers, plus associated peripherals, furniture and training) in pubs, shops, leisure centres, businesses, etc where users can get online free or affordably.

Supplementing the People's Network roll-out of Internet-enabled computers to 557 public libraries across Scotland (and libraries elsewhere in the UK, of course), the Executive is now in the enviable position of being able to state that 95% of urban Scots are within one mile of public internet access, and 93% of those in rural areas are within five miles. There's also a useful (although not very usable, given the audience!) tool to help you find nearby access points.

The report goes into quite a lot of detail, exploring where the access points are located, how easy they are to use, and what the experience of using them is like.

I found it worrying, for example, that a series of 'mystery shopper' visits by the evaluation team found that less than 70% of access points sited in commercial or community premises were easy to find, just over 50% of access points in those locations were rated as visible to new visitors, and almost half of all the access points surveyed were not considered accessible to those in wheelchairs or with prams or pushchairs. I wonder if the imminent enactment of statutes from the Disability Discrimination Act (from 1st October?) will change things here?

As with wireless hotspots in coffee shops and the like, it appears that access points are denoted by rather unobtrusive window stickers, rather than something more visible to the casual passer-by. Most of the users appear to be repeat visitors, but I wonder how many people are half-heartedly thinking about getting online, but never manage it because they fail to find the computers?

The report also highlighted concerns with the level of support given to new users of the Internet, something with which public libraries seem to be coping better, on the whole. The report doesn't mention this, but I wonder if these access points refer beginners to their local library for more support?

Awareness and use of the access points within six sample areas was interesting, with 16% - 36% of those surveyed (average 28%) having heard of their local access point, and 1.5% - 7.5% (average 3.97%) having used it. 56% of access point users in urban areas were aware that their local library also provided access, whilst this figure dropped below 50% in rural areas.

Many users of the access points have other means of access to Internet, including access to computers in their home. Despite this, it would appear that the initiative has been successful in reaching those without access of their own and those who might not feel comfortable in some of the other public spaces, such as libraries. For example, 14% of users were unemployed, a figure that is more than three times the unemployment rate in Scotland.

78% of those surveyed claimed that their Internet skills had improved since they started benefitting from the access point, and over 45% said that they had tried new activities online rather than simply continuing to do the same things.

All in all, pretty good. The Scottish Executive are currently considering the report, before deciding how to move forward with the scheme.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:51 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Latest internet stats from the Office of National Statistics

September 28, 2004

According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, 12.8 million UK households are online; that's 52% of UK homes wired up in one way or another.

Also in the release, 58% of adults in the mainland UK had used the Internet in the three months prior to being asked (in July). 82% of those went online at home, and 42% connected from their place of work.

37% of adults asked (in July) had never been online, of which 48% didn't want to or didn't see the need to.

54% of these non-users (21% of all adults) chose to agree with the statement

“I have not really considered using the Internet before and I am not likely to in the future.”

We therefore would appear to have a healthy - and improving - level of repeat use in the home and elsewhere, but a significant body of people with whom we need to engage if we are to have any hope of building an inclusive Knowledge Society.

Item publicised via ONS' RSS feed.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:57 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

How usable are museum web sites?

September 23, 2004

Lost in gallery space: a conceptual framework for analyzing the usability flaws of museum Web sites appears in this month's First Monday, and looks at the results of analysing 36 museum web sites.

The article highlights some of the most common problems with these sites (they can be over-fussy, and they are designed around structures and classifications alien to their users), and provides some pointers for ways to improve.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:05 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Culture as a catalyst in building and maintaining communities

September 23, 2004

The Department for Culture Media & Sport today released a new booklet, Bringing Communities Together through Sport and Culture. It discusses the ways in which cultural, artistic and sporting activities can create a sense of local community, and improve quality of life.

DCMS will now be working with its agencies and with related departments such as the Home Office and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to build upon current foundations.

Release from Wired-GOV.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:52 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Guardian on blogging in academia

September 23, 2004

Jim McClellan has a piece in today's Online, looking at some of the uses to which blogs are being put in academia.

It still seems to be driven by interested individuals, and I wonder if the time is right for some more official engagement with what's being done and what might be possible?

Notification from Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:42 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Quality of wi-fi service in hotels matters to travellers

September 23, 2004

Digital Media Europe reports on a recent survey in the United States, commissioned from Jupiter Research by BT.

According to the survey, most travellers would not return to a hotel where the wireless network provided for guests had been unsatisfactory. Further, this dissatisfaction would be directed to the hotel chain concerned and not just to the individual hotel.

A significant number of travellers would also report their negative experience to colleagues, friends and family.

Story from DM Europe's Internet Access feed.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 09:51 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (6)

Brainstorming e-Government

September 22, 2004

Kable are sponsoring a four-week brainstorming blog on the desirable shape of e-enabled public services. The idea, apparently, is to present a synthesis of the outcomes to Ian Watmore, the new head of the e-Government Unit.

Have a read, have a think, and have a say. And the links in the sidebar are useful, too!

Story from The Guardian's Onlineblog.

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

Quality and Websites

September 21, 2004

I have just seen the Qualmark mark for tourism destinations in New Zealand. This doesn't appear to cover websites, but the '10 Quality Principles' of the Minerva Project could be an interesting starting point as we being to think about how we establish trust and confidence online.

Posted by David Dawson at 23:10 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Wi-Fi on trains a hit

September 21, 2004

Despite my bad personal experience in the last post, silicon.com reports that GNER's ongoing effort to roll Wi-Fi out across their fleet of trains has been a real hit with travellers.

Six trains are fitted with the technology at the moment, and the company is seeing evidence of passengers upgrading to First Class in order to benefit from free access, rather than paying for access from the Standard Class carriages (£4.96 for an hour, for example).

According to the article, usage of the service is growing by 77% per week. 67% of those using the service would definitely use it again, and 88% would recommend it to friends.

Clearly I'm in the minority. I could give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume there was a technical fault. Maybe GNER would like to give me some free connection time, to see if I fare better next time?

Ironically, I received notification of this news item via silicon.com's RSS feed... whilst connected over GNER's wireless network. However, silicon is one of those annoying sites which sends out content-light RSS, and the network connection was too flaky to manage a successful download of the full story from silicon's web site, so I didn't get to read it until I reached home.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:36 | Make or Read Comments(1) | TrackBack (1)

Piece on Creative Commons and BBC Creative Archive in Media Guardian

September 21, 2004

Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing draws my attention to a piece in the Media Guardian [free registration required] in which Becky Hogge takes a look at the BBC's exciting Creative Archive project and talks to Stanford's Lawrence Lessig about the Creative Commons licence that is part of what makes it so paradigm-changing.

Thousands of hours of BBC footage, rights cleared so that you can view it it, share it, and reuse it yourself in a range of non-commercial ways. The first tranche of content should be available to view in the Autumn.

Article posted - eventually! - from a train whizzing up the East Coast mainline, courtesy of GNER's disappointingly flaky on-train Wi-fi network. Nice idea, but I'm not paying for it again until it works.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 18:32 | Make or Read Comments(1) | TrackBack (1)

How ubiquity shifts the goal posts

September 19, 2004

In an earlier post, I wondered about how ubiquity of access to computers in schools might change the way in which learners engage with technology and the resources that it places at their disposal.

In a similar vein, David Davies' Educational Technology blog mentions that the University of Warwick will be offering every student their own blog from the start of this session.

Can it change the learning experience? Can it enrich the lives of contributors and readers? Or will initial interest die down, ending up with the University running something for a hardcore few who are enthusiastic enough that they would have found Livejournal or TypePad all by themselves?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:36 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Finding Wi-Fi with your mobile phone

September 19, 2004

If, like me, you often find yourself in an unfamiliar city, with work to do and time to kill before a meeting or train, you might find this story useful. The BBC reports on a new service from TotalHotspots.com which allows you to send an SMS message and receive a list of nearby hotspots - and their addresses - by return.

Simple, useful, and you really have to wonder why no one thought of it before. At £1 a go for the SMS, and a lot more to connect to whatever hotspot you find, though, I'll probably only be using it when I really need to send or receive some mail.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:18 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

British Library to offer huge wireless network

September 17, 2004

According to e-Government Bulletin, the British Library will have the biggest wireless network in any public building in Europe when it turns one on next week. The switch-on coincides with a speech on e-enabling of our public spaces by e-Commerce Minister Stephen Timms.

Update on 29 September. The BL has a page here that describes the service. You do need to pay, but it's cheaper than the Starbucks across the road.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 12:02 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Broadband continues to grow in the UK

September 17, 2004

The latest figures (PDF file) from the UK's Office for National Statistics show a continued growth in broadband.

According to their latest survey of Internet Service Providers in the UK, the total number of connections to the Internet grew by 6.7% in the 12 months to July. Of those, 30.9% were broadband connections. This figure is almost double that (17%) of the year before.

Information from a Wired-GOV release.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:45 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Brewster Kahle's Bookmobile

September 16, 2004

Yesterday, I was in the Hague.

I was there to present a "Reality Check" on current efforts to digitise cultural content, as part of Strategies for a European Area of Digital Cultural Resources, organised under the Netherlands' Presidency of the European Union.

Other reality checks were from David Bearman and Brewster Kahle, and both had challenging and fascinating viewpoints to expound.

David, for example, was arguing that excessive standardisation or regulation of our online activities will only act to stifle creativity. He pointed to lessons from previous technologies, where it often took more than a decade for a real understanding of potential uses to emerge. He also pointed to evidence from real users of the Internet, and their apparent embracing of it as a facilitator of networking, of communication. They blog, they chat, they mail, and they share. How do we fit with that, rather than imposing our world view upon them and their interactions with our content?

Brewster talked about the ongoing efforts of the Internet Archive to preserve snapshots of the Internet, and to offer it up for search via the Wayback Machine.

He also discussed work that the Archive has been doing with their Bookmobile. This is the public face of an ongoing effort to digitise out-of-copyright books, and to make them available to people cheaply and conveniently. Brewster reckoned that it costs around $10 to digitise one of these books. Visitors to a Bookmobile (touring in the USA, India and Egypt at present) select the book they want, have it downloaded via satellite to the Bookmobile and printed out - there and then - in a process that Brewster reckons costs around $1 per book. The quality is remarkable, as is the convenience.

Imagine the potential. Every public domain book, available to anyone, readable online or downloadable in order to print and bind their very own copy.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 17:00 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

City Heritage guides now available

September 16, 2004

The 24 Hour Museum this week unveiled its City Heritage Guides.

Produced with funding from DCMS' Culture Online, the site offers in-depth access to information on ten English cities, as well as providing mechanisms for local groups and individuals to contribute their views.

News from a Wired-GOV release

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:01 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (4)

Amazon's Search Engine launches

September 16, 2004

A9, the search engine from Amazon, has left Beta and been formally launched.

Basic search functionality comes from Google, but the site offers you a range of added benefits... ...especially if you're prepared to log in.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:46 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

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