Igeneric Thoughts Archives: Miscellaneous

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Keeping track of all the blogs

March 15, 2018

Dennis Haarsager over at Technology360 draws my attention to Attention.xml. This describes itself as

“...an open standard, built on open source (see XOXOSampleCode) that helps you keep track of what you've read, what you're spending time on, and what you should be paying attention to.
Problem Statement
- How many sources of information must you keep up with?
- Tired of clicking the same link from a dozen different blogs?
- RSS readers collect updates, but with so many unread items, how do you know which to read first?

Attention.XML is designed to to solve these problems and enable a whole new class of blog and feed related applications.”

Sounds like something that might be worth keeping an eye on.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:25 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Jupiter invites discussion via their Blogs

March 14, 2018

For some time now, JupiterResearch has been unusual in actively encouraging their analysts to blog, and the expertise of their staff is clearly evident - for free - to those who follow their posts.

Now, analyst David Schatsky discusses an attempt to take the dialogue a stage further, by inviting readers to critique their reports and share their thoughts in public.

I look forward to seeing how this experiment works. It's a brave move for a commercial organisation to take, but one that could pay dividends.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:09 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

JISC publishes an interview with Igeneric Director

March 10, 2018

So that's what we do!

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:02 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

The best of both worlds: building partnerships between the public sector and commercial organisations

March 3, 2018

I had an interesting conversation with Talis' Dave Errington today.

Amongst other topics, we talked about the complexity of aligning the innovative development work of a company such as Talis with public sector programmes like those of JISC.

The topic seems to come up a lot, as I can remember very similar conversations with people like Patrick Towell and Alan Blunt, amongst others.

In each case, they face commercial imperatives which mean that they need, ultimately, to make money. There is nothing wrong with that, but the fact that they are in a business geared to the selling of products or services means that the public sector often only appears able to engage with them in that mode; we can buy something from them, because we can draft an ITT and go through a tendering process to fulfil it. We are far less good at engaging with the brilliant minds in the commercial sector, in order to tackle shared problems and to advance understanding and capability for ourselves and for our commercial colleagues.

All too often, we stress the need to engage with commercial partners, and then hide behind easy excuses such as “commercial advantage”, “parity”, “they're only in it for the money”, or “they have different priorities”. The addressing of shared - and often difficult - problems shouldn't be thwarted by such lame excuses, but all too often it is.

Managing these relationships is difficult. It's not impossible, and we need to try an awful lot harder. Companies like Talis, Simulacra and SCRAN have an awful lot to offer, and we have much to offer them. If we do it right, everyone stands to win.

So let's work out what 'right' is, and get on with it.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 16:06 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

An RSS feed for books?

February 24, 2018

Brent Simmons, creator of the popular (and excellent) NetNewsWire program on the Mac, draws my attention to an interesting feature at ISBN.nu.

It appears that you can search (by title, author, subject or ISBN) their database of some 3,000,000 (mainly US) books, and generate an RSS feed of the search query. The query is then run at whatever interval you set (Brent suggests every 24 hours), and you get new results delivered to wherever you happen to read RSS feeds (NetNewsWire [of course!], Bloglines, Firefox, etc).

Quite a useful way of finding out about new books, although it's not totally clear how current the ISBN.nu database is...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:17 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Trust, Socrates and the Semantic Web

February 17, 2018

The Igeneric is very interested in notions of Trust at the moment, and it came across as important in the MORI study we published this month.

This event at the Oxford Internet Institute on 8 March therefore looks pretty interesting, but I won't be able to attend.

I'd like to hear from anyone who does manage to go...

“Socrates never wrote anything, and confined his philosophy to spoken debate. The important issues for Socrates were trust and control: he felt the radical decontextualisation that resulted from the portability and stasis of written forms would obscure the author's intentions, and allow the misuse of the written outside of the local context. Trust has once more become a central problem, both politically and epistemologically, but since Socrates' day, various technologies have undermined his distinction, making the relationship between trustworthiness and linguistic mode more complex. In the context of Socrates' arguments, this paper reviews recent developments in Semantic Web technologies, showing (a) how developers and authors attempt to establish trust in their websites, web services or e-commerce processes, and (b) how new work in dynamic content creation further blurs the spoken/written and global/local distinctions.”

The seminar is open to the public but you need to email events@oii.ox.ac.uk to register.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 16:13 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Keeping current with Government releases

February 17, 2018

Keeping current with the mass of information released by the various bits of the UK Government is challenging, to say the least.

I tend to use Wired-GOV, which allows me to select the departments and agencies that I'm interested in. I then receive an e-mail whenever announcements are put out by those departments. Annoyingly, though, it's an e-mail and not a nice feed (or set of feeds). Also, they often include a number of releases in a single message and I invariably forget to scroll down past the infuriating ad near the bottom of the message, meaning that I sometimes miss an extra press release that they've sneakily included after the advert.

Richard Allan today draws my attention to TheGovernmentSays, where Sam Smith has gone to the trouble of collecting up any RSS feeds that emanate from the more technologically switched on parts of Government, and creating feeds from other sources where one doesn't already exist. He's missed our feeds, though...

It will be interesting to see how comparable the two channels are for a random selection of departments that use both...

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

Do we need to protect the Public Domain ?

February 4, 2018
“Utilitarian justifications of property, such as Hardin's tragedy of the commons, have long espoused the efficiency of private ownership. Similarly, those in favour of the protection of the commons often rely on arguments relating to the efficiency of fewer public property rights. This event will consider the relevance of public domain content, both to competition and innovation, and as a public good of itself.

It will consider recent initiatives, such as Creative Commons, which aims to provide a more flexible range of freedoms and protections to creators; the role and requirements of creators; and, the relationship between public domain content, property rights and competition and innovation.”

This event is another from ippr's Manifesto for a Digital Britain, and will be held on 17 February in London.

It looks interesting, with speakers to include Cory Doctorow and Damian Tambini, amongst others.

I can't go, but would be interested in hearing back from anyone who does make it along.

Information from ippr's events page, contact Kay Withers to ask for a place.

Oh, and the answer is “Yes”.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:07 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Engaging interaction with the television

January 25, 2018

I'm not sure what digital television services are like elsewhere in the world, but in the UK the “red button” is fairly lame, on the whole. This button, on the remote control, is the way in which a viewer accesses assorted interactive text and video services.

Tonight, though, I'm sat watching a prime time programme in which it appears to be fulfilling a useful purpose.

The programme is Child of Our Time, in which Professor Robert Winston has been following a group of 25 babies born around the start of the new millennium. Given the age of children in this house, it's pretty relevant!

Tonight, the fifth anniversary programme includes an interactive element in which viewers are occasionally asked to select one of three possible answers to a child-management question. When we get the question right (of course), we're shown a short video clip to explain why we were right. Presumably you get something similar when you're wrong, to give you the right answer and explain why it's better.

Simple, but clever. And so much more useful than the more traditional red button offerings mid-programme.

Education, engagement and e-skilling by the back door?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:31 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (6)

Creative Commons information in the UK

January 14, 2018

Mike Linksvayer over at Creative Commons draws my attention to an event in London on 25 January; Creative Commons, Copyright, Contracts... and you!. It's being organised by Own It, and they've also produced a fact sheet (PDF download).

The event appears to be aimed mainly at TV/video/film, but there's a fine line between them and the sorts of creative content being placed online by cultural and educational institutions...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 08:16 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

Pew report considers the Future of the Internet

January 10, 2018

The Pew Internet & American Life Project have been busy again, yesterday releasing a wide-ranging exploration of the ways in which the Internet will pervade diverse areas of life in the near future.

The report (PDF download) synthesises the responses of over 1,200 technologists and social analysts who responded to a Pew survey towards the end of last year, and finds (unsurprisingly) that Internet applications will become increasingly embedded throughout all areas of life.

A number of those surveyed expressed concern and disappointment with the rate at which educational institutions were adapting to the potential of new technology.

Quoting from the Press Release

“...there was notable agreement among the 1,286 experts in this survey that in the next 10 years the internet will be more deeply integrated in our physical environments and high-speed connections will proliferate – with mixed results. They believe the dawning of the blog era will bring radical change to the news and publishing industry...”


“Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and lead author of the report [said] 'Institutions that resist change, like education and health care, come in for the sharpest criticism among these information revolutionaries.'”

News from the Pew's RSS feed.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 09:36 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Ingenta provides RSS feeds for their journals

January 4, 2018

Ben Toth at the NHS draws my attention to a posting by Leigh Dodds in which he announces that Ingenta are making more than 20,000 RSS feeds available to display the table of contents for any of their journals.

Sign up to the RSS feed for any journals you follow, and receive the table of contents by whatever means you read RSS (the way you are reading this post), whenever a new issue becomes available.


Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 16:34 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

None of us offer the place people stay

January 4, 2018

Incisive as ever, Lorcan Dempsey reminds us that the sites we offer up online need to fit within a user perception of information provision that is derived from their experiences on all of the sites that they use.

“They spend most of their time somewhere else on the web, and that forms their expectations” (my emphasis)

Sometimes it pays to state the apparently obvious again and again, until everyone remembers.

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

Transport Direct goes live

January 4, 2018

I've mentioned it before, but Transport Direct officially went live whilst everyone was on holiday.

Quoting from 10 Downing Street's release on the story,

“Transport Direct, the travel information and journey planning service for Great Britain, was officially launched today [31 December]. ...Transport Direct is a world first in providing detailed travel information for both public and private transport.

The award-winning service joins up existing sources of travel information, offering door-to-door journey planning as well as more traditional planning for either car, air, coach or train. Transport Direct's journey plans provide travellers with step-by-step instructions and detailed maps.

Transport Direct also contains 'live travel' information, including real-time information on the running of services to and from Britain's 2500 railway stations. Travellers can check the likelihood of delays on road and rail routes and see whether choosing a different route, departure time or transport mode might suit them better.”

I still really like the idea, but the execution leaves much to be desired as it is still recommending (wrongly) that any of my regular (real) journeys are best made by car, rather than the combination of car and train that I currently use.

Information from 10 Downing Street's RSS newsfeed.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:17 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (2)

New figures on use of Blogs from the Pew

January 4, 2018

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released new figures suggesting that the creating and reading of Web Logs (or Blogs) is increasing rapidly.

According to the figures, 7% of Internet-using American adults say they have created a Blog. 27% of Internet-using American adults say they read Blogs, a jump of 58% between February and November 2004.

However, only 38% of users are confident that they know what a Blog is, meaning that many more users are potentially reading sites such as this one without seeing it as anything other than a Web page.

Information from the Pew Internet & American Life Project RSS feed.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:53 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (6)

A refreshing dose of consultation

December 21, 2004

It's always welcome when those who preserve resources for the Nation bother to consult the Nation before embarking upon the (expensive) digitisation of said resources...

In this case, they're consulting and offering a trip to London.

If you go there less than me, that's presumably a bonus.

Information from the JISC web site.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 23:23 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (4)

Interview with new Director of Creative Commons' “Science Commons”

December 21, 2004

John Wilbanks, the new Director of the Creative Commons' Science Commons, is interviewed in Open Access now.

The abstract states

“Science Commons is a new project exploring legal and technical mechanisms to remove the barriers that inhibit the sharing of scientific information. John Wilbanks has just been appointed as the Executive Director of Science Commons. He talked to Open Access Now about his new job and his aspirations for Science Commons.”

Science Commons aims to provide easier access to a wide range of scholarly literature, much of which is hidden behind unnecessarily complex licensing arrangements.

There are some interesting synergies with activity in the UK, specifically the JISC-funded FAIR Programme and the recent report from a House of Commons Select Committee.

Information from the Creative Commons weblog.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 23:19 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

A bold vision for the BBC online presence

December 20, 2004

There's an interesting interview with Ashley Highfield, the BBC's “ebullient” Director of New Media, in today's Guardian.

Thanks to Louise over at City of Bits for bringing it to my attention.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:03 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (5)

Defending against the comment spammers

December 14, 2004

I agree with The Independent's Charles Arthur. In an article in the paper, and repeatedly on his blog, Charles complains about the flood of pointless drivel bombarding web log comment systems the world over.

I used to think e-mail spam was bad (until I got Mail on the Mac, and then the problem largely went away), but it's nothing compared to this shower. It's not the odd message. It's hundreds. When they come, I tend to get between 500 and 1,000 in an hour or two. Then all will be quiet for a few weeks, and then another batch rains down.

Why do they bother? I don't read their pointless postings. I don't let my readers read their pointless postings. I delete them. Quickly. By the hundred. Yet still they come, and every time one tries to get onto this blog (they never get through), I get an e-mail to tell me. That's an awful lot of e-mail, and there's always the possibility that my mass-deleting exercise will catch a genuine poster by mistake.

So, I've decided to take drastic action and lock down the comment area on this site.

From today, unfortunately, anyone who wants to post a comment will be required to sign in first. The procedure uses TypeKey, and is reasonably painless. But it's still a barrier between this site and those whom I really do want to be able to post to it. When you're asked to sign in, the 'info' link points to a new page, explaining why this has been done. No personal details are passed back to me or to the site, unless you explicitly opt to permit it.

For all of you, sorry. For all the comment spammers out there; go somewhere else, and leave us alone!

I'd welcome thoughts on this step, either in the comment area for this post (after you sign in, of course!), or by e-mail...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 20:19 | Make or Read Comments(1) | TrackBack (0)

Internet Archive's Brewster Kahle speaks on C-SPAN on Monday night

December 12, 2004

Brewster Kahle, director of the Internet Archive, will be speaking at the Library of Congress on Monday night. His talk, “Universal Access to Knowledge”, will be web-cast via C-SPAN and archived for subsequent viewing by those of us on this side of the Atlantic who don't fancy sitting in front of our computers for an hour from 23:30!

I've seen Brewster speak before, and can highly recommend this.

This talk is the latest in a series I've mentioned before...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:29 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

BBC provides information on how people use their site

December 12, 2004

The ever-interesting Martin Belam draws my attention to two new features on the BBC homepage.

The first is Popular and New, which shows the sorts of uses that are currently being made of content on the BBC site. The aggregation of topics presented (Latest News Headlines, Top Searches, Most listened to shows, etc) is a little odd, but still provides insights into use of the UK's largest website.

The other is a set of (currently) ten “guides”; pages which pull content on a theme from across the BBC web presence. Martin points to Christmas as one example, where the BBC has a large body of content, but no dedicated area on the site. I'd also pick out The Romans as an interesting example.

It's not clear whether this gathering process is automated, or undertaken by a human editor. If the latter it's interesting. If the former, fascinating!

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:43 | Make or Read Comments(1) | TrackBack (0)

Delivering content to the user...

December 3, 2004

...rather than making them come to you!

One of the changes for which the Igeneric and its partners continue to advocate is around diminishing the need for those interested in 'your' content to have to find you, visit your site, and then locate the items of interest to them.

This is clearly a complex area, and one beset by concepts of brand, maintenance of control and a perception that it runs counter to current metrics from funders, obsessed as so many of them are with measuring hits on websites as a demonstration of success.

Despite these obstacles, though, it would appear to be a vital part of any strategy to broaden access to resources, or to assist a member of the public in building a coherent picture of their topic of interest, based upon the holdings of various organisations.

A Common Information Environment member, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), is currently funding one project in this area. Contextual Resource Evaluation Environment (CREE) is a collaboration between the University of Hull, the Archaeology Data Service, EDINA, the University of Oxford, and Newark & Sherwood College. One of the areas it is addressing is around the production and dissemination of 'portlets'; small Web Services suitable for deploying in portals to deliver aspects of a service (such as the ADS Catalogue) to the user of the portal, in the portal. One of these portlets might conceivably respect a user's personalisation details from the host portal, feed results from one portlet to another, etc.

As a by-product of this richer work on CREE, the ADS has also produced a simple HTML code fragment, suitable for inserting onto any web site. The code permits a user to select the type of search they wish to perform, enter a query, and launch a search upon the ADS Catalogue itself. The user is directed to a page of the ADS' standard terms and conditions and, upon accepting them, receives the result of their query.

This is extremely simple, but also potentially powerful in allowing access to the catalogue from a huge number of new locations. The University of Glasgow's Archaeology Department, for example, includes this function on their own pages, and there's no reason for others not to do likewise.

Providing the capability to access all of a resource from other places has value. The real potential of an application such as this, however, is in tailoring access in order to more directly cater to the needs of the site upon which this interface is offered.

Most simply, the interface can be modified in order to provide access to a subset of the ADS Catalogue's holdings. This catalogue contains a large number of collections contributed by organisations across the UK, and beyond. Some of these organisations deposit their content with the ADS for archival purposes, whilst others provide material expressly so that it can be seen and used. For these organisations, especially, the ability to provide access to their own material from their own website has many advantages. Here, for example, the interface carries different branding, and the scope of the search has been redefined to only search records from the Defence of Britain project, held by the ADS.

Here, the same interface can be seen as it appears on their website. It might equally appear on the site of the organisation responsible for funding the project, or on the site of other relevant organisations such as the Imperial War Museum.

A similar model offers great potential in delivering content to organisations less directly linked with the topic matter. VisitScotland, for example, probably has little interest in offering access to the ADS catalogue. They might, though, see the value of allowing prospective visitors to Scotland to search for information on historic sites and monuments to be seen in the Scottish landscape. The English Regional Agencies, funded by another Igeneric member (MLA), also probably have little interest in providing access to the totality of the ADS catalogue. An easily installed search function on their home page, allowing visitors to their site to search for content from across all of the local authorities within each of their boundaries, though, becomes quite compelling. Both of these become easy to achieve using technology such as this. It simply requires a change in order to restrict the subset of the catalogue that is searched by geography (all of Scotland in the first example, or all of the local government units within a single MLA Regional Agency in the second) rather than by collection.

The same could be done by period (a search of Roman material held in the ADS catalogue, appearing on the web site of a BBC programme about the Romans for schoolchildren) and, presumably, along any other lines in which a set of criteria can be pre-defined which meaningfully restrict searches to some coherent subset of the whole.

The ADS is one of only a few organisations who have taken the step to actually provide this functionality (see this earlier post for another). I understand that doing so was relatively straightforward for them, and look forward to seeing other organisations step forward to similarly unlock 'their' content from the heavy chains of their own web site! The ADS tools are available for download and re-use here.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 12:35 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Reports explore notions of online credibility

November 18, 2004

Although positively ancient in Internet terms, two reports from Consumer WebWatch in the USA are worth a read in relation to our ongoing interest in building Trust in the online offerings of Igeneric partner organisations.

How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility (2002), prepared by Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab for Consumer WebWatch, reports on the impressions of more than 2,600 users when presented with a number of web sites. The Abstract describes the Key Findings:

“We found that when people assessed a real Web site's credibility they did not use rigorous criteria, a contrast to the findings of Consumer WebWatch's earlier national survey, A Matter of Trust: What Users Want From Web Sites, released April 16, 2002. In this poll of 1,500 U.S. adult Internet users, people claimed that certain elements were vital to a Web site's credibility (e.g., having a privacy policy). But this most recent Web-based credibility study showed that people rarely used these rigorous criteria when evaluating credibility (e.g., they almost never referred to a site's privacy policy.) We found a mismatch, as in other areas of life, between what people say is important and what they actually do.

The data showed that the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. For example, nearly half of all consumers (or 46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes.

This reliance on a site's overall visual appeal to gauge its credibility occurred more often with some categories of sites then others. Consumer credibility-related comments about visual design issues occurred with more frequency with finance (54.6%), search engines (52.6%), travel (50.5%), and e-commerce sites (46.2%), and with less frequency when assessing health (41.8%), news (39.6%), and nonprofit (39.4%) sites. In comparison, the parallel Sliced Bread Design study revealed that health and finance experts were far less concerned about the surface aspects of these industry-specific types of sites and more concerned about the breadth, depth, and quality of a site's information.”

The second report is Experts vs Online Consumers: A comparative credibility study of Health and Finance Web Sites (2002). This report looks at the premise that consumers are making naive assessments of online offerings, and compares their opinions to those of a panel of subject experts. Quoting from the Key Findings in the Abstract:

“The online consumers in the Stanford PTL study and our expert panel of evaluators diverged greatly in their credibility assessment criteria. Overall, our experts were far less concerned about visual appeal as a marker of credibility than the Stanford PTL consumers, and they were more concerned about the quality of a site's information. Among other conclusions, this study found that health experts assigned more credibility to health sites that provided information from reputable sources and cited the names and credentials of authors for each article published. Finance experts assigned more credibility to finance sites that provided investors with a great deal of unbiased educational information and research, rather than nudging consumers toward their own products or services.

The Stanford PTL study found that consumers tended to rely heavily on overall visual design when assessing Web sites, including layout, typography and color schemes. About half (54.6%) of the comments by the consumers regarding finance sites referred to design look, which relates to the visual appeal of a site's design, compared to only 16.4 percent of finance expert comments on this topic. Likewise, 41.8 percent of consumer comments regarding health sites made note of a site's design look, compared to 7.6 percent of surveyed health experts' comments which mentioned this topic.

Our health experts most often relied on the name reputation of a site, its operator, or that of its affiliates, when assessing the credibility of health Web sites (43.9% of health expert comments related to this credibility criterion). The next most common issues mentioned when evaluating health site credibility were information source, which relates to the citation of a site's information sources (25.8%), and company motive, which relates to a user's perception of the motive of the organization behind the site, whether good or bad (22.7%).

Our finance experts most often relied on a site's scope or information focus when assessing the credibility of finance Web sites, which includes consideration of the quantity of information provided (40.3% of finance expert comments related to this credibility criterion). The next most common issues mentioned when evaluating finance site credibility were company motive (35.8%), and information bias (29.9%), which relates to a user's perception of bias in the site's content.

This study also reveals which specific elements lend credibility to a site's perception, according to each health and finance expert group. In addition, the report provides recommendations to Web publishers, particularly those in the health and finance fields, which aim to increase the credibility of sites among each type of Internet audience.”

Both reports were brought to my attention through a posting by Joshua Porter on his blog. It, in turn, was flagged up by a posting earlier this week to Asterisk.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:52 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

“Digital Future” talks from the Library of Congress... live or archived from C-SPAN

November 13, 2004

Kevin Roebuck at Sun draws my attention to a series of talks on the “Digital Future”, to be given at the Library of Congress and broadcast live on C-SPAN.

For those of us on this side of the Atlantic, who don't fancy watching the live stream at 23:30 GMT, the content will apparently be archived at C-SPAN too...

The first talk is by blogger David Weinberger, and will be given at 18:30 ET (23:30 GMT) on Monday 15 November. Other presentations follow between then and March 2018, and include Brewester Kahle from the Internet Archive and Lawrence Lessig from the Creative Commons.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:51 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (4)

Digital Curation Centre launches

November 7, 2004

The Digital Curation Centre launched formally on 5 November.

The Centre is funded by the JISC and the e-Science Core Programme in the UK, and harnesses expertise from a range of partners.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 18:42 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Thinking about Trust

October 19, 2004

A common complaint when consulting with potential and actual users of online services relates to Trust or, sometimes, Quality. It is almost impossible, they argue, to effectively gauge whether any given Web site is authoritative, reliable, or backed by any organisation of repute. Even where the maintaining organisation is apparent, it is difficult for users less knowledgeable about a topic to know how trustworthy they might be.

There are exceptions, of course, with a significant majority of UK users aware of the British Library or English Heritage, say, and prepared to treat content found via their sites with a degree of trust.

MLA's David Dawson and I are scoping a piece of work for the Igeneric, with a view to promoting a “kite mark”-like scheme for sites meeting a number of commonly agreed criteria.

In scoping this work, we've already identified an existing Quality Mark for (legal services information) sites, from the UK's Legal Services Commission. There's also guidance (MS Word file) from the JISC-funded Quality Assurance Focus run by AHDS and UKOLN, and a proposed specification (PDF file) from the EU-funded MINERVA project.

Is anyone aware of anything else that might be relevant?

Ideally we're after a scheme that is low maintenance, in which interested sites mostly self-validate (along similar lines to a Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) rating of a site's accessibility). There will need to be some checks in place, presumably, to prevent serious abuse and devaluation of the Mark. There will also need to be work done to promote the Mark to potential implementers, and to those information seekers at whom its message is aimed.

We'll be presenting our preliminary findings to a meeting of the Forum for Network Coordination in London in November.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:01 | Make or Read Comments(1) | TrackBack (0)

A Chinese Common Information Environment

October 11, 2004

I had a very interesting chat this morning, with Professor Zhang Xiaolin. He is Director of the Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and, from what he said, they appear to be embarking upon work to build something very like our own Common Information Environment.
They seem keen - as I was - to cooperate, and hopefully we can now begin to explore how this might actually work, given the distances and timezones involved!

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:34 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

UK transport information...

July 19, 2004

During a meeting today, a colleague from the BBC drew my attention to the fact that the long-awaited Transport Direct has been quietly launched.

The site is meant to offer information on transport options for UK journeys, including cars and various forms of public transport. Part of the aim is to make it easier for people to plan 'complex' journeys on public transport, encouraging them to leave the car at home.

The site is a trial, and not all of the information is there yet, but it's worth a look. I especially like the maps showing road congestion...!

There's even some information on points of interest, schools, etc, that can be displayed on the trip maps.

Annoyingly, though, every attempt I make to travel any distance from my home postcode seems to involve - according to the site - making the whole journey by car. That's not right. What happened to getting the bus to my nearest railway station or doing what I actually do, and driving to my nearest railway station and then going on the train? That's quicker, easier, and more environmentally friendly (which was meant to be the point) than the epic car journey the site tries to persuade me to embark upon!

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 17:45 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (2)

Authority online

July 15, 2004

"On the Internet, everyone's a dog."

OK, maybe not quite, but the point that it is very easy to appear to be something you're not is well made.

This is a topic that Seth Godin picks up in two recent posts on his Blog, here and here.

Also, Jon Udell raises a different facet of the problem, highlighting the ability of 'trusted' tools like Google to perpetuate inaccuracies and misconceptions.

Whilst the Internet has undeniably been powerful in allowing small organisations and individuals a voice, we must surely also find ways to reflect the authority that certain organisations carry, and to allow 'truth' to be more evident than it is at present.

How we do this in a world where truth is far from global and authority may be subject to challenge is an open question!

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:15 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Independent review of BBC online activities

July 5, 2004

The long-awaited review of the BBC’s online services has just been published (Adobe PDF file).

Quoted on the BBC News site the governors said “Philip Graf has produced a thorough and insightful review of the BBC’s online service.”

According to the piece, the BBC is to increase outsourcing of content provision to 25% by 2006, and should prioritise coverage of news, current affairs and education.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:57 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (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)

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)

Mobile and landline phone convergence

May 18, 2004

The Register today reports on a join-up between BT and Vodafone which, if it works, will mean that we can have one phone number and have calls automatically directed to our BT phone when we're near it, or to our mobile when we're not.

Interesting idea. It's called Project Bluephone, but it's not clear whether the system uses Bluetooth-type magic or some less technological approach such as simply diverting calls to your mobile if you don't answer your BT phone...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:42 | Make or Read Comments(0)

More Igeneric publicity...

May 1, 2004

I've just had a short piece published in the April edition of Ariadne.

Posted by Frank Eevl at 21:22 | Make or Read Comments(0)

New internet usage statistics

April 29, 2004

On Tuesday, National Statistics released some new figures on internet take-up in the UK.

In February, 58% of UK adults had used the Internet in the three months prior to being asked, mainly (83%) to get at e-mail.

In the same month, 38% claimed never to have used the Internet, and a variety of reasons are given for this. Worryingly, a massive 35% of those claimed that they lacked the knowledge of confidence to get online. Given the raft of initiatives created explicitly to give people tasters of the Internet, and to get them started, that's quite worrying. The 43% who stated that they simply didn't want to use it is also a big figure, but one that we should be able to do something about, by getting better at selling the wide range of benefits available.

Behind the article itself, there are a range of data tables that can be graphed in various ways to observe the long-term trends. One of those shows public libraries, for example, holding fairly steady as used by about 10% of people as their means to get online. Can this figure get any higher (to address the 44% of non-users who cite non-availability of an internet connection as their reason for not going online), or are all the People's Network machines in our public libraries pretty much full all of the time?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 08:05 | Make or Read Comments(0)

We're in today's Guardian

April 21, 2004

There's a nice piece by Michael Cross on the Igeneric in today's Guardian; online here and on page 18 of the printed paper's ePublic supplement. My mum'll be so proud...! :-)

The JISC caters for Further as well as Higher Education, of course, and Resource is now called the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Other Igeneric member organisations are listed here.

It's also worth saying, of course, that e-enabling things like the filing of tax returns is important, worthwhile, and a valuable part of e-Government. It's just that it's not necessarily something that the citizen will overly thank you for, or feel engaged with. Hands up anyone who wants to pay tax...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 09:59 | Make or Read Comments(0)

e-Voting, big time

April 20, 2004

The BBC and others pick up on the start of three weeks of voting in India, during which over 670,000,000 Indians will vote electronically for the country's new government.

1,000,000 voting machines need to be delivered to 700,000 polling stations, many of which are in remote villages without any electricity, and where registering their vote in this election may well be citizens' very first encounter with electronics.

Amazing. And it'll be very interesting to see if any feel emerges for whether or not the technology presented any barrier to the voter, perceptual or otherwise.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:16 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Amazon builds a search engine

April 14, 2004

It's called A9, and it has just been released as a beta.

I haven't had much of a play, and have no feel (yet) for comparative comprehensiveness/currency/etc viz a viz Google.

The one thing I would say, though, is that the "site info" feature seems quite interesting.

Doing a standard vanity search, for example, you get a list of hits. No surprises there. The interesting bit, though, comes when you click through on the "site info" button...

Doing it for the first hit in my list (Igeneric Group), you get a standard Amazon-style record page, just as you would for a book or a DVD. In this case, though, it's for the web site. And it's complete with traffic ranking data, a synopsis (and picture!) of what the site's about, and links to other sites that visitors to this site also frequent (HESA and the BUFVC, apparently).

I was kind of impressed, and will probably get around to doing some serious comparisons against the search engine to beat (Google, of course) at some point. I note that the small print does credit both Google and Alexa with playing a part in the searches...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:33 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Personalisation and Public Services

April 14, 2004

Personalisation of service is seen as a big thing, whether it's Amazon greeting you by name and recommending new books, your university portal showing your lecture times and essay deadlines, or whatever.

Demos have just released a report, Personalisation through Participation which looks at the role of personalisation in delivering Government services. This has cropped up in quite a number of ministerial speeches in recent months, so is clearly currently 'in' with Government. No bad thing, but it's going to be difficult to get right, and this Demos pamphlet is useful in sketching out parts of the problem space...

There's a related piece, by the report's author, in today's Guardian, and both were brought to my attention by Demos' blog, Greenhouse.

Also interesting to see the pamphlet distributed under a Creative Commons licence, but maybe that's a topic for another post...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:36 | Make or Read Comments(0)

On-train Wi-Fi...

April 13, 2004

Continuing on the Wi-Fi theme (again), the BBC carries a story on GNER's plans to roll Wi-Fi out on to all their trains by the end of the year.

There's been a trial running in First Class on a couple of trains for a while now, and the trial's obviously been a success. Trains normally use a satellite link to provide quite decent connection speeds, and automatically switch over to GPRS (mobile phone, basically) connections when they lose the satellite. In theory, passengers shouldn't notice the changing connection type, and can stay connected all the way from Inverness to London.

According to the article, access will be free in First Class, and surprisingly affordable (as Wi-Fi access goes on this side of the Atlantic) for Standard Class passengers.

Well done, GNER, and I look forward to trying it out.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 08:29 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Pick a hotspot, any hotspot...

April 7, 2004

Continuing the Wi-Fi theme, this announcement from The Cloud is an interesting one.

A big problem with Wi-Fi at the moment (other than the patchy availability and the exhorbitant pricing, of course) is that travellers potentially need to have accounts with a whole host of Wi-Fi hotspot providers, as you can never be sure which of the multitude of suppliers runs the hotspot at the airport, cafe, hotel or conference centre in which you find yourself...

If this RoamPoint idea works, presumably I'd be able to pick up and use hotspots from any participating supplier, in the same way that my mobile phone currently roams between telcos... Then it becomes more persuasive to shell out for a subscription...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:24 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Wi-Fi from your nearest street light!

April 7, 2004

What a good idea...

If it works, and if the pricing model is right, of course...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:18 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Getting complex data to you and I...

April 5, 2004

A good example of some Igeneric concepts put to work was announced by the Department of Health today...

A comprehensive body of health information, garnered from the BMJ, has been placed onto NHS Direct Online, and can be used to allow patients and doctors to find out about current views on treatment etc for a range of conditions.

The site is called BMJ Best Treatments and offers a valuable source of information on a range of ailments in clear, jargon free language. Descriptions are based upon information from BMJ Clinical Evidence, which the Doctors' view of the site (also available to patients who wish to supplement the content prepared for them) links through to.

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

Managing information overload: an example for the News

March 31, 2004

Ever since the UK version launched, Google News has been my 'home' page in Safari; it's a great way to keep up on what's going on, and it can sometimes be interesting to compare items there with the view my all-time favourite news site (BBC News, of course) is taking on world affairs.

A new take on the Google News data, reported by WorldChanging and BoingBoing, amonst others, is Newsmap. This app visualises the information gathered by Google News, colour coding it by category (wee hee - now I can turn off sport!), and varying the size of each item on the basis of the number of sources reporting on it.

Although it doesn't appear to auto-refresh, it can be useful to dip into now and then, to get a feel for what the hot topics are, at least as viewed by the world's media.

I wonder to what extent the same techniques might work on a public-facing interface to some of our large repositories of data? Faced with an empty search box on top of the National Monuments Record, say, might be a touch daunting for the interested member of the public. A visualisation like this, though, might help some people to get a feel for what sensible questions might be...

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

Big search engines go local

March 17, 2004

A Reuters report, drawn to my attention via Yahoo! News' Portals & Search Engines feed, announces yesterday's launch of Google Local.

Like Yahoo!'s own SmartView, Google Local aims to offer up content relevant to a particular geographic locale, whether where you live, or somewhere you are planning to visit.

Interesting overlaps with what the Igeneric hopes to do around "Sense of Place", although Google Local will only work in the US in the first instance. I wonder if they'd like to talk?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 13:39 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Who'll fund my Broadband Bus ?

March 9, 2004

I've been knocking an idea around for a couple of years, now, as a way of getting community engagement with online content, as a driver for Broadband, and as a focus for some positive publicity with respect to both. I've suggested it to a few people with the wherewithall to pay, but they all seem to think I'm joking. Surely it isn't just me who thinks this is a brilliant idea?

In the UK, as elsewhere, there are a raft of programmes aimed at up-skilling the populace to deliver the Knowledge Society. This includes such public policy biggies as Social Inclusion, Widening Participation (in post-compulsory education), community building, (near) universal access to the Internet, ICT skills, etc.

We're also aiming to be world number 1 with Broadband by 2018, amongst other targets, and a lot is currently being spent to persuade people of the benefits of switching from dial-up, and on creating suitably compelling content with which to lure them.

So here's the plan. Rather than taking a large-sounding pot of money, and splitting it up so that in reality each project gets a pittance, let's buy a bus. Once we've bought it, kit it out with loads of content creation kit; digital cameras, scanners, sound recording thingummies, etc. Plug every kind of broadband connection into it (including satellite, etc.), and work up a national tour programme, during which the bus visits school playgrounds, supermarket carparks, libraries, community centres, etc.

Get the local media involved, so that people know "The Broadband Bus" is coming. In a school playground, fit in with whatever the children happen to be doing, but take a slant on it, so that the children are using the kit to capture/express their views on whatever they're learning, and what it means for them. In a community centre or supermarket car park, have people bring along old photographs etc that mean something to them, and that say something about their Sense of Place within the country. Help people to get this information online, and help them describe it in ways that make sense to them. Liberally scatter information on appropriate courses from people like LearnDirect, so that those who are interested can go on to do this themselves once the bus leaves. Remind people that their local library is also connected, and that they can do a lot there, too.

All the time, connect using whatever broadband technology is appropriate to the area in which the bus finds itself, so that local businesses etc can see some of the benefits of fast, always-on connections over their current modems.

At the end of it, you have a Domesday-style snapshot of things that real people thought were worth saying something about, which can be mounted online somewhere and, hopefully, added to over time. I suppose you might theme it a little more than that, but I'd personally be interested just to see what people thought mattered to them. I think we might be pleasantly surprised, and it would make a nice counterpoint to most of the current digitisation activity, where members of the curatorial professions make decisions about what end-users might want on behalf of those users... often without actually asking anyone.

Brilliant, huh? So - who'll pay?

Stephen Timms (e-Commerce Minister at the DTI) must be about the only likely contender to whom I haven't suggested this at some time or another. Guess it'll have to be him, then...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:45 | Make or Read Comments(0)

RSS as weapon in the battle against Information Overload

March 8, 2004

This article from e-Content Magazine highlights the potential role of RSS in delivering snippets of appropriate information to the desktop in a timely fashion.

The blog you are reading is available as RSS, too. If you have an RSS reader you can simply subscribe to www.livejournal.com/~cie_Oliver/data/rss/ and you will automatically receive new items more-or-less as I add them.

I don't know about you, but a very long time ago I got most of my information from a number of paper journals or newsletters. After that, I progressed (as they appeared) to organisational or topic websites and e-mail lists. Nowadays, though, most of my current awareness comes from RSS feeds. My feed reader, NetNewsWire, automatically downloads headlines from the 112 feeds to which I currently subscribe, and I simply browse through the downloaded items at my leisure. For any that are of interest, I link through to the originating site and read the article in more detail.

To actually have to remember to visit a web site, just to see if there's anything on it that's changed and is worth reading is such a pain! And as for e-mail lists; they seem depressingly dominated by spam, or by perfectly worthy topics in which I have no interest whatsoever... :-(

And, in a wholly gratuitous plug, I wrote something for Ariadne a while back on how to form good RSS feeds. It isn't aimed at RSS-as-blog, so much as at the use of RSS to deliver current-awareness items from organisational websites (We've done a new report on X, etc). Blogs (like this one) tend to be a little more free-form! :-)

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:40 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Bloggers as Plagiarists?

March 7, 2004

'Borrowed' from Wired. :-)

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:08 | Make or Read Comments(0)

Four new projects from Culture Online

March 4, 2004

Estelle Morris yesterday announced four more Culture Online projects.

There's an interesting range of topics and partners, and I'll be especially interested in keeping a close eye on progress with the City Heritage Guides one... Odd set of cities, though?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 09:43 | Make or Read Comments(0)

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