Igeneric Thoughts Archives: Policy

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Manifesto for a Digital Britain - How can we innovate better?

April 7, 2018

Will Davies writes on IPPR's Manifesto for a Digital Britain site, inviting comments on ways in which digital innovation can be supported in the UK.

Specifically, he asks

“Does Britain's competitiveness over the next five years depend on further infrastructural improvements, or should skills, content and media literacy issues become the Government's over-riding concern?

What single measure (for instance, new governance structures) could support better relationships between public and private sectors, in the delivery of eGovernment projects

What is the most significant obstacle to productivity growth in UK organisations, and are there any further interventions that Government could make to remedy this?

How could ICT be channelled to better forms of workplace flexibility, such as tele-working, and how might public policy support this?

Can Britain realistically expect to replicate the US 'New Economy'? If so, what is the single biggest factor in making it happen?”

Respondents are asked to post comments back to the project site throughout the week, so that they can build up a picture of thinking in this area.

These questions form the first week of a three week-long online consultation being run by the project. Next week, 'Reassuring'.

I'm having a think!

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:31 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

UK Government tackles the Digital Divide

April 1, 2018

The UK's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, Patricia Hewitt, today launched a seven-point plan to tackle the Digital Divide.

Connecting the UK: the Digital Strategy [PDF download] is a joint publication from the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit and the DTI which seeks to tackle inequalities in confidence with and access to digital content and services across the country.

Quoting from the Press Release, the plan includes:

“A 'digital challenge' prize to be awarded to a local authority and its partners to give universal on line access to local public services. The winner will have the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to transform service delivery through a by using technology to deliver modern services for modern citizens;
A commitment to give all students the opportunity ... to access ICT at home through a low cost national laptop and home PC leasing scheme. Ensuring that ICT is embedded in education to improve the quality of learning for all and equip children with skills increasingly essential in the workplace. All learners will have their own virtual learning space where they can store and access their work;
Working with the IT industry to create the safest possible on line environment, backed by the police, charities, and the industry. The Home Office is announcing today the establishment of a multi agency national internet safety centre to deter criminals targeting children for internet crime and reassure parents. And we will work with the banking industry to make that sector a market leader in terms of online authentication;
Further steps towards closing the digital divide by building on the network of UK Online centres and other communal access points giving adult learners the support, incentives and skills they need to make the most of ICT;
Creating the right environment to stimulate broadband content, particularly in public procurement. This will set out guidance on broadband content procurement by the public sector;
A cross government focus on public service delivery transformed by modern technology and a strategy for achieving that. As part of that strategy, the Government will consider how it moves its business to a wholly digital environment where it is appropriate and cost effective;
Asking Ofcom to include in their regulatory strategy for the broadband market a forward look on the prospects for home broadband take up, with a particular focus on uptake amongst the more disadvantaged.”

Providing access to computers for those still at school (presumably mainly the additional funding to the e-Learning Foundation announced in the Budget?) and enhancing the Home Computing Initiative both sound positive. However, we also need to look at tackling the 'lapsed users' that our MORI survey discovered. If there is really a dip in usage as people leave education or enter the workplace, what can we do to ensure that they remain engaged and connected?

It's also interesting to note the emphasis given to UK Online Centres as ways of reaching out to those without access at home. Looking again at our MORI data, UK Online Centres hardly registered in the consciousness of the 2,004 adults surveyed. Public Libraries on the other hand (some of which are also UK Online Centres) were identified by users and non-users alike as places they could go to get online. Maybe Government is backing the wrong brand?

The digital challenge prize sounds interesting, and I'm sure there is a lot that the Igeneric and its partners could be doing with councils there.

The report itself contains a lot more detail, and it will be interesting to see how this takes shape over the next few months in the lead-up to the publication of the e-Government Strategy.

Information from a Wired-GOV release.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 16:29 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

HEFCE publishes their e-Learning Strategy

March 11, 2018

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has published their new e-Learning Strategy, developed jointly with JISC and the HE Academy.

This document probably provides hints as to some of the topics to be addressed in the more wide-reaching e-Learning Strategy from the Department for Education & Skills (DfES), presumably due any day now in order to get out before the election.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:44 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Charles Arthur... with an interesting use for our MORI Audience results

February 12, 2018

Technology journalist Charles Arthur has an interesting use for our MORI research in a piece over at Netimperative.

He points to results showing the increasing pervasiveness and authority of Internet-based content, and contrasts this with the lack of technological engagement amongst certain of our senior decision makers. For a worrying example of this, see a recent post from technologically engaged decision maker, Richard Allan MP.

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

Ofcom publishes research into current levels of Media Literacy

February 10, 2018

As part of their mandate to promote Media Literacy, Ofcom today published two reviews of existing research in this area.

The Media Literacy of Children and Young People: a review of the research literature [PDF download] is by Prof. David Buckingham and Adult Media Literacy: A review of the research literature [PDF download] is by Prof. Sonia Livingstone. Prof. Livingstone is also involved in the research I mentioned yesterday.

Ofcom defines Media Literacy as “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts”. This broad definition recognises the value of Media Literacy in enabling us to make informed decisions, and to live lives enriched by the possibilities offered by our Media. It's far more positive in outlook than the anti-crime, anti-abuse, anti-'bad' slant usually given to these issues. They are, of course, important, but effective Media Literacy empowers us whilst also making us safer.

In our increasingly converged world, it is becoming ever more important to ensure compatibility across the approaches adopted for radio, television and the Internet. There may be little point in a television “watershed”, for example, when those the watershed is designed to protect can easily time-shift the material on their Tivo, or download it to their computer with BitTorrent.

Perhaps more importantly, to the user at least, the distinction between different forms of Media are becoming blurred, and many of the literacies required are common across them. We fail those users if we adopt unnecessarily different solutions to the common problems.

News from an Ofcom e-mail alert.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 12:14 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Placing a value on Culture?

February 4, 2018

Over on Demos' great blog, Greenhouse, John Holden nudges readers to reopen debate around issues published last December in their Capturing Cultural Value pamphlet.

“How can you measure/describe/articulate/characterise a greater public involvement and democratisation of culture? How can the cultural world be responsive to people’s needs, whilst preserving the integrity of artists and the professionalism of funders? How should we square the wishes of today’s public with the interests of future generations?

Part of the thesis is that answers come not from us, but from practitioners. Every institution needs to find its own way (that’s part of the process that creates value) and not every institution will have the same set of answers.”

Quoting from the abstract to John's pamphlet,

“Cultural organisations and their funding bodies have become very good at describing their value in terms of social outcomes. Tackling exclusion, increasing diversity and contributing to economic development are all familiar justifications in grant applications.

But by talking in functional terms about the value of culture, cultural organisations have lost the ability to describe their real purpose – producing good work that enriches people’s lives. Culture now delivers government policy by other means.”

The argument could be aimed fair and square at most of the readers of this Blog, so what do you think? Is John right? If so, what do we do about it? If not, how do we persuade him of the fact?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 20:43 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

A day for intellectual property, copyright and culture

February 3, 2018

Whilst MLA's David Dawson and myself were at Portcullis House, in an All-Party Internet Group and IPPR seminar on “Digital Rights and Digital Heritage: preserving creativity in the Internet era”, Government Ministers Patricia Hewitt and Tessa Jowell were elsewhere in London announcing a major conference on Intellectual Property, to be hosted under the UK's presidency of the European Union later this year.

IPPR's Will Davies, who was one of those organising the APIG/IPPR event, mentioned it on his Blog last month, and will be putting a report and the presentations up shortly. A meeting summary is now available from IPPR [PDF download].

Creative Commons got a number of mentions, as did Apple's iTunes Music Store, and there was a lot of discussion around the need to educate the public as to what they can and cannot do with other people's intellectual property.

A copyright law specialist, for example, pointed out that you are not actually allowed to make a personal recording of a CD you own, in order to play it on a cassette player in your car. I had always thought you were allowed to. To my mind, this raises one of the biggest hurdles to effectively educating the public. As was said at the meeting, most people are basically good and basically honest. They recognise the right of artists, musicians etc to earn a fair wage, and to profit from the fact that they've done something that you and I think is worth owning. Large areas of the law, though, are basically stupid. How can I explain to a six year old that it is 'wrong' for him to make a single copy of a CD he has bought in order that he can listen to it in the car?

We can explain right and wrong. We can explain that commercially produced content has an associated cost, and that much of that cost is reinvested to produce the next film or song. The six year old understands that. The population understands that. Waving big legal sticks, and criminalising someone who wants to make a copy of some content they have paid for, in order that they can use it in a different way that is not itself illegal (playing songs on cassettes in cars is OK) doesn't help.

Who said “the law is an ass” ? Sometimes, they have a point.

As we move into the digital realm, too, it becomes increasingly possible for content owners to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) solutions in order to become increasingly draconian in their interpretation of the law. It may be illegal to make a copy of a CD onto a cassette for personal use, but we all do it. In the digital realm, the DRM associated with the music may physically make this impossible for the home user. So what do we do? Buy multiple copies of the songs in different formats for the different devices we want to play them on? Or, angry at the unreasonableness of such an approach, feel ourselves 'forced' into criminality and a visit to our nearest P2P download site...?

An update... Just read this on one of the excellent blogs maintained by Jupiter's team of analysts.

“I just came back from my daughter's school play auditions. Kids from the local elementary, middle and high schools will perform in the play, which I won't name.

Holy copyright! The authors are taking pennies from babies. The local cluster of schools hasn't done a play since 1992, and PTA organizers chose the same one to perform. Back then, the volunteer mom producer got rights for three performances in a big hall for $120. To secure rights for the same play in the same hall for the same number of performances would cost more than $1,300, she told me this evening as she fanned through the inch-thick contract. Seeing as how the money is coming out of depleted PTA funds and play ticket sales, there won't be three performances. Not for shelling out 1,300 bucks.”

The law is an ass.

Richard Allan MP, the Lib Dem spokesman on IT, and Lloyd Shepherd from The Guardian are amongst those also blogging the event, where David Dawson gave a good plug for our new MORI report.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 10:21 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Igeneric publishes MORI research on Internet behaviour in the UK

February 3, 2018

I've alluded to the work MORI have been doing for us a number of times over the past few months.

They surveyed over 2,000 members of the UK population, gained a detailed understanding of how those already online behave, and explored some of the barriers to use for those who are not currently active on the Internet. This work builds in interesting ways upon data published last year by the Cabinet Office in Enabling a Digitally United Kingdom.

Our report is full of fascinating data, and we've made it available in its entirety here [PDF download].

Today's formal press release on the publication is also available.

Unusually, this item is reported on both of the Igeneric blogs. So if you want a different take on it, here is the posting from Igeneric News.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 07:56 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

DCMS consults on the future of museums

January 27, 2018

Estelle Morris, one of the Ministers at the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) today unveiled the Department's consultation document on the future of museums.

Understanding the Future: Museums and the 21st Century [PDF download]

“aims to look at the key issues facing museums in England in the 21st Century at a time when museums are increasingly relevant and popular. It identifies key challenges and opportunities facing England's museums in areas such as collections, to learning and research, to workforce development and leadership, but also the coherence of the sector and to advocacy.”

The consultation period is open until 30 June 2018.

Speaking at the launch, Estelle Morris said:

“We no longer have to argue the case for investment in them solely in terms of their impact on tourism, education or the economy. They are more deeply rooted in our society than that. But like so many institutions in a changing - and shrinking - world, it makes good sense for museums to look again at where they have got to, and where they want to go.

So this is an open-minded consultation. The museums world is not in crisis. Healthy investment from Government, and the brilliance and dedication of those working in the sector, mean that we can conduct this debate from a position of strength.”

The consultation covers a wide range of museum activity. Looking through it quickly, I've identified the following areas in which it impinges upon Igeneric activity (my emphasis):

“Collections are at the heart of all that museums do, but they need to remain dynamic resources. They should, and in many cases do, reflect the vitality, the uniqueness and the diversity of contemporary communities and their lives.

The economic reality of collecting in the 21st century, however, means that ways of collecting must adapt if museums are to maintain this momentum. Collaborations on scholarship and purchasing are becoming more commonplace. This could go further, with more – and more innovative – sharing of collections. In this way, the concept of national collections changes too. The internet holds the greatest potential here, and museums must look at ways of using its potential to build understanding of collections, cutting across institutional (and national) boundaries.

In this new century, it will be more important than ever for museums to create access to their collections. This may redefine conventional questions of ownership. The debate about ownership of collections is a national and an international one.”


“The Government wants to work with museums to help bring about a healthy research culture, and to see whether funding and evaluation can be enhanced through closer links with the Higher and Further Education sectors.”

I'd welcome thoughts here, and would encourage those of you with something to say to respond to DCMS' consultation.

News from a Wired-GOV release.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 14:13 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Building strategies across organisations: an example from New Zealand

December 16, 2004

Way back in 2002, I had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand as a guest of Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, the National Library of New Zealand. They had invited me to speak at a National Digital Forum, organised in order to explore the feasibility of cultural organisations across the country working together to deliver their content more effectively.

Although only there for a ridiculously short time (about 30 hours, all told), I really liked what I saw of New Zealand, and it was impressive to see the level of commitment behind what the organisations were attempting, with New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, speaking before me.

Since then, there have been two further fora, and a significant body of work undertaken in understanding and overcoming the barriers between individual organisations.

I also note that the members of the National Digital Forum have released their first public-facing collaborative project, Matapihi.

“This free collaborative service is a window onto the heritage collections of New Zealand's archives, galleries, libraries and museums. Matapihi provides a single point of access for around 50,000 selected images, sounds and objects, and this number will increase as new partner organisations join in the future.”

The ideas behind Matapihi learn from and build upon earlier similar projects, namely Picture Australia and Images Canada, and show some of what is possible when curatorial organisations are able to work together.

Not to pick upon or criticise these three excellent projects in particular, but perusing their copyright and reproduction statements flags a major (and all-to-common) barrier to use and reuse, and it would be interesting to see the extent to which something like a Creative Commons-type licence might usefully be applied in each case. It seems a shame when so much effort is put into getting content out to potential users, to then erect real or perceived barriers through the application of complex, opaque, or site/service-specific usage requirements.

Images Canada, for example, states that

“All images can be reproduced, in print and/or digital format, for the non-commercial purposes listed below. The images must not be altered or manipulated in any way and proper ”Credit“ credit must accompany the images.

Non-commercial purposes:
private study

At first glance, Picture Australia seems to be saying something similar.

“All images from the web site may be reproduced for research or study purposes.”

but then it gets confusing with

“However, images must not be reproduced for commercial purposes, communicated in any way to the public (such as through the reproduction of this material on the Internet) or gathered into a compilation for re-use without the express permission of the copyright owner.” (my emphasis)

Which presumably means I couldn't show you one of their excellent images here, or include one in a non-commercial presentation? How can I show you how good it is, if I can't show you a picture? Anyone who's seen one of my recent presentations will know they're full of pictures... and the source always gets a positive mention. Oh well, guess I won't be using Picture Australia in that way, then, which is a shame. Presumably, too, a school child can use one of the images in their class project, but isn't then allowed to put that project on the school web site?

Returning to Matapihi, it says

“To use an item for any purpose other than research or study or to order a copy, users need to contact the contributing organisation.

Examples of other use include:

putting items on a website or intranet
publishing in a book, journal or other publication
using an item in a display, exhibition, live performance or broadcast
any other public context.

Reproduction fees may apply, and prices will vary from organisation to organisation.”

Of course we need to protect the rights of artists and content owners, but can't we be a little more joined up about it, a little more helpful, and stop inviting people to come and get our content, before scaring them off with rules, threats, and the spectre of potential charges?

If we want to unlock the wealth of our institutions, and give some of it back to all those people who have actually paid quite a lot for it already, we need to get much better at this. Otherwise our users will just go to Google's Image Search, or to the increasingly comprehensive sites of interested enthusiasts, many of whom provide much better images of our content than we do (and some of whom must surely be doing so by worrying an awful lot less about rights management, buying postcards of objects from our shops, digitising them, and sticking them online!). Such abuses, if they go on, are clearly wrong, but we don't help our cause with some of the hoops we make users jump through in order to use 'our' content. Of course they're going to go somewhere else that offers them better images, easier.

So, let's have more good content released through services such as Matapihi, Picture Australia, Images Canada, or SCRAN. But let's work with the institutions and with the policy-setting agencies above them in the chain in order to address the mess that is online rights management. Let's actually allow people to use the content; it's theirs as much as it's ours.

The BBC is taking some bold steps in this area with their Creative Archive. The pilot should be out next year, with a Creative Commons-inspired licence that explicitly permits download, use, editing, and sharing of BBC television and radio content. Others can do this, too.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:50 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

BT claims 40% of UK population will lack net access at home in 2025

December 8, 2004

According to a piece on the BBC News site today, a new report from BT paints a gloomy picture with regard to increasing take-up of internet access in the home much beyond current levels.

The report, a copy of which I haven't managed to locate online, apparently suggests that only about 10% of the population will make the switch from “have nots” to “have nets” over the next 20 years. This leaves a massive 23,000,000 people in the UK without access to the growing range of online services - at least from home. The BBC article doesn't say whether or not the report considers all of the other places (public libraries, their place of learning or work, internet cafes, etc) where these apparent refuseniks might engage.

The work we're funding MORI to do for us, which will be published early in 2018, also identifies a cohort for whom the internet holds no perceived benefits. The final analysis isn't completed, but the initial results would appear to suggest a smaller proportion of the population in this category, even today.

13 December Update: Jack Schofield over at Online has located the report. BT have (finally!) put it on their site. As Jack says, better late than never. I still don't believe it, though.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:06 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Is Online Community a Policy Tool?

December 3, 2004

I should have mentioned this one earlier, especially as I was there!

IPPR's Manifesto for a Digital Britain project held a seminar last week to explore the extent to which Online Communities might assist, empower, challenge or change government interaction with the Citizen.

Chris Batt, Chief Executive of Igeneric member MLA (and Chair of the Igeneric Committee), spoke, and Will Davies of IPPR provided a thought-provoking paper (PDF).

The news has been picked up by the BBC, amongst others...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 16:17 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Getting people to want to read...

November 9, 2004

I gave a Keynote at this year's Talis conference in Birmingham today. I spoke about the disconnect between public bodies as holders of valuable content and those members of the public who seek to discover and engage with that content.

One positive example of offering buried content to users where they happen to be was that of Jon Udell's LibraryLookup tool. This is a simple bookmarklet that allows a user to view a book on Amazon and, with a single click, check to see if their local library has a copy. In principle, brilliant. Unfortunately (and this isn't Jon's fault), the majority of the UK library sites that I tried returned an incomprehensible error code rather than either the book in question or an understandable description of a fault. Even in some of the cases where the search was successful, the libraries concerned clearly hadn't anticipated such a link deep into their site (bypassing the brand-heavy home page), as I ended up on a page devoid of branding (which library am I at, again?) or navigation. Still, at least they showed that they had a copy of the book. Why, though, do organisations continue in the mistaken belief that I want to visit their endless websites, or that I want to navigate them sequentially from the top (the homepage), through diverse intermediate steps before arriving at a page that may or may not provide the resource I was seeking?

I also briefly mentioned the excellent whichbook.net, which is well worth a look.

Another Keynote speaker did it - and sites like it - far more justice.

Rachel Van Riel, Director of Opening the Book, spoke about the work of her organisation in finding innovative ways in which to encourage reading. She, too, highlighted simple limitations in many public library catalogues and pointed to their origins as collection management tools for trained staff physically located in the library building. For users coming across the library online, poor branding and a lack of basic information such as how to join or find the library create poor first impressions.

Through sites such as whichbook.net, Opening the Book is now working aggressively to make books and reading more accessible and relevant to those beyond what public libraries may long have considered their core demographic. These sites recognise that many people do not necessarily have a specific title or author in mind when looking for something to read, meaning that traditional library interfaces may not help. Further, web users often wish to be entertained and engaged, and the web itself may offer a means to make library offerings relevant to new markets.

whichbook.net, for example, was funded by the New Opportunities Fund (now the Big Lottery), and allows the user to select a variety of criteria (happy/sad, easy/demanding, etc) upon which a number of books will be selected for them. These books may include reviews by other readers, and a link is provided to click through and see if the book is available in your local (UK) library.

Variations on this theme, all aimed at different audiences, include www.givemeabreak.org (which adopts a short-break metaphor to bilingually engage 16-30 year olds in Wales), www.whatareyouuptotonight.com (aimed at 16-25 year olds in the East Midlands of England, and featuring a 'Blind Date' option that delivers an unknown book matching certain criteria to the reader's nearest library for collection), and www.4ureaders.net (offering different interfaces for boys and girls in south-central Scotland).

Each offers an interesting and engaging interface onto dry library data, each works to encourage people to read - and to try new authors and subject matter - and each links through to real books held in local public libraries. Brilliant.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:54 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

Protecting Children Online - whilst not restricting freedoms for all

November 2, 2004

Various media channels (including The Register, the BBC News site, and the Today programme on Radio 4) have today been covering a story about the need to increase child safety online through a range of measures from provision of a source of expertise upon which law enforcement agencies can draw to increased availability of tools and knowledge to assist parents in protecting their own children.

I attended an ippr/NCH event at the House of Lords this afternoon, at which the Children's Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety released their manifesto for Child Safety Online (PDF file).

The meeting was Chaired by Brian White MP, Chair of EURIM, and speakers included Oliver Goggins MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office and Chair of the Home Office Internet Task Force for Child Safety on the Internet), John Carr (NCH, representing the Coalition), Mike Galvin (Director Internet Operations at BT), and freelance journalist Bill Thompson.

Speaking first, John Carr pointed to some of the successes of the Coalition and of the Internet Task Force. 94% of children online, for example, are now aware that people with whom they are conversing in Internet Chat rooms may not be who they claim to be. As well as being a success for the work of John and his colleagues, this statistic should surely remind us that young people aren't daft; given access to education, they absorb it, and apply it in situations in which they later find themselves.

He also pointed to a proposal amongst mobile telephone companies in the UK, whereby they are encouraging the rating of sites carrying material unsuitable for minors, and will block access to those sites from the phones of young people. In an additional step, they are apparently intending to assume that any phone belongs to a minor unless its owner declares themselves to be an adult, and opts in to accessing adult content.

Oliver Goggins MP spoke of the distinctions between self regulation of Internet Service Providers by themselves and their peers as opposed to regulation by Government in the form of legislation. There is a similar distinction to be made (for the ISPs and for us as end-users) between taking responsibility for our own actions (surely a good thing?) and simply complying with what someone else tells us to do. If we only ever comply, how do we learn to think for ourselves, and avoid future mistakes?

Mike Galvin from BT started by making a point that I'm sure the other speakers probably agreed with, but didn't say. It's a point that often gets overlooked in debates such as this, where the perceived need to focus attention upon the bad, the frightening, and the worst case leads us to forget the norm; there is useful, high quality content online, and millions of children and young people access online services every day in order to learn, to be entertained, to communicate, and to enrich their lives, all without coming to any harm.

Finally, Bill Thompson spoke to stir the debate a little. He suggested that public and political debate on this topic was being dominated by the voice of the Children's Charities, driven by their mission to protect children. He challenged some of what they were attempting, but mainly appealed for other voices to be heard in the debate. As well as hearing those who sought to protect children, the debate also needed to be informed by those who sought to protect the Internet and all that it offers, for example.

He argued, compellingly I thought, that the most important solution to the problem was in education; in teaching children to think, to take responsibility, and to grow into Internet-using adults, rather than wrapping them around with firewalls, walled gardens and the like that shielded them totally from the reality of the online environment.

He cited the example of his children, arguing that he would no more prevent his daughter from researching material for her homework online (in case she came across inappropriate or dangerous content or behaviour) than he would stop his son playing rugby at school (in case he broke an arm). He has a point.

The session concluded with a wide-ranging debate in which a number of contrasting views were put forward. As a good proponent of Joined Up Government, I highlighted the Ofcom Media Literacy work that I blogged earlier today. This work, it seems to me, has real potential to deliver useful and well-adjusted members of the Knowledge Society, but it can't just be Ofcom. It'll need the Home Office, DfES, and other agencies to be involved as well. We're increasingly seeing ICT awareness described as the third Literacy (after reading/writing and Numeracy). If it's true - and it must be - let's start devoting serious effort to it, and consider all of the issues, rather than simply whipping up hysteria around the bogey-men that lurk online (and off!).

Update - Will Davies today posted the text of Bill Thompson's presentation, and an ippr summary of the event (both PDF downloads).

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 22:20 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

Ofcom publishes response to Media Literacy consulatation

November 2, 2004

The United Kingdom's Office of Communications (Ofcom), the body responsible for regulating communications industries here, has today published their response to a consultation they conducted over the summer. The consultation looked at the role Ofcom should take in promoting media literacy, defined by them as:

“the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts”

The Agency's press release summarises the outcomes, stating that Ofcom will support

Research: A wide ranging research programme will be undertaken to assess the extent of media literacy in the UK. The research will also seek to identify the issues and priorities for developing greater media literacy skills amongst both adults and children, as well as identifying the needs of different sections of society.
The development of a common labelling system to support greater consistency in presenting information related to possible harm and offence and to protect young and vulnerable people from inappropriate material. However, Ofcom also recognises the concerns raised by some stakeholderes about the best way to inform viewers about the nature of content.”

More detail is available in their full response (also available as a single PDF), which identifies a third key strand of work related to raising awareness and building partnerships.

A lot of this is relevant to the Common Information Environment, and Ofcom's identification of the need for a common labelling system obviously aligns with our own work around Trust marks, although our emphasis would be the Web, whereas theirs is audio-visual material. Another difference in emphasis is that the Igeneric work prioritises allowing the searcher to make an informed decision about the reliability of a site and its content, whereas the Ofcom work is - understandably, given current political engagement in this area - more concerned with protection of children and other at-risk elements of society.

There's perhaps more scope for commonality than not, though, and we are talking to Ofcom about ways in which some of this work might move forward in tandem.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 12:57 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (1)

Lorcan Dempsey is blogging...

October 31, 2004

Lorcan Dempsey, VP for Research at OCLC (and previously Director of UKOLN, amongst other things) now has a blog.

Thanks for letting me know, Lorcan (and for the plug) - although I now see that the news is also being carried on the OCLC Research newsfeed...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:06 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (3)

European cultural project asks for thoughts on where we go next...

October 29, 2004

The European DigiCULT project is conducting an online consultation to build a roadmap for technological developments around a digital Cultural Heritage over the next 10 to 15 years.

Participate and help to shape where we go.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 12:43 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (2)

Explaining Creative Commons... ...and the Common Information Environment!

October 21, 2004

Cory Doctorow draws my attention to Jason Fried's call for help in succinctly explaining the value proposition behind the Creative Commons. He's seeking a good summary in 20 words or less, and there are some interesting efforts in the comments to his post.

I quite like

To encourage creative sharing, without giving too much away

Igeneric, too, needs a short, snappy description. The best I've managed to date runs to 454 words, and appeared in Ariadne;

“Museums, Libraries, Archives, educational establishments, the health sector, and various facets of central and local government together create, manage and deliver a wealth of authoritative online information alongside their physical offerings with which many may be more familiar. Currently, the full value of this information is far from being realised, as it can be difficult to find and, once found, will often appear fragmented unless the needs of the user happen to fall squarely within the remit of a single institution or Web site.

Working under the umbrella of the Common Information Environment, a number of UK agencies are cooperating to nurture an open environment in which information and information-powered services may be disclosed, discovered, embedded, used and reused in a manner that meets the needs and aspirations of the user, rather than just the originating organisation. Underpinned by a shared vision and widely accepted standards, guidelines and procedures, the Common Information Environment unleashes information into new markets, and creates opportunity for Igeneric partners and for others in building a wide range of value-added services on this information for markets new and old.

Information has a crucial role to play in meeting the needs of the UK's population, in fulfilling their desire to understand where they come from, where they fit within the world of today, where they might go, and of what they might be capable. Additionally, Government priorities for the Knowledge Economy, Education, e-Skilling, aspiration-raising, e-Government, provision of compelling content to drive take-up of broadband and more are all clearly met.

The Igeneric is not a new search engine to compete with Google. Nor is it a portal onto all of our knowledge. Rather, it is collaborative work towards a culture in which existing and future organisations presume the need to be joined up - to be part of the digital aquifer of national interest information - from the outset, and work for that, rather than continuing the trend of building multitudinous silos of data, each fronted by a different Web interface, and each ignorant of related data in neighbouring silos.

When realised, the vision is one from which everyone benefits. The end user, for whom this content has been produced, is able to find it, and to work with related offerings from very different organisations. The information-holding organisations are better able to meet the needs of their existing users, have access to a wide range of comparable material from their peers, and are visible in new ways to a whole new set of potential beneficiaries.

In the Knowledge Economy, ready access to high quality, high value information must become a right and an expectation for all. The Igeneric is a large part of the process by which we all get there.”

Can anyone do better?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 09:44 | 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)

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 (9)

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)

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)

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)

Pay per Use taken to a possible (and unwelcome) extreme

August 13, 2004

United States Congressman Rick Boucher, writing on Larry Lessig's blog, offers the following worrying thought...

"Whenever I speak with librarians about fair use or the Copyright Act more generally, I inevitably hear them express concerns that we run the risk of becoming a pay per use society, one in which content is available only for a fee. I am concerned that the bookmobiles we all grew up with and their modern day equivalents will go the way of the eight track and the reel-to-reel, replaced by a world in which access to information will depend on the ability to pay and, worse, a world in which a payment gets you only a license to view or listen to something, not to actually own it. But I know it is said by some technologists and economists that this is the way it should be, if only because it is the most efficient means of allocating something in a market economy.

In thinking about the future of my information availability in our society, am I right to be concerned about the emergence of pay per use as the norm?"

Will it go that far? What do we do now to prevent this becoming the 'obvious' next step from (the very useful) iTunes Music Store et al?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 17:41 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Older people excluded by e-Government?

July 12, 2004

The current eGov monitor weekly mailing draws my attention to a recent report (also available as PDF) by the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee.

This report highlights the need to engage with older people, or those with disabilities, in planning eGovernment services, and to consider their perspectives when deploying access points such as information kiosks in preference to face-to-face contact.

The report also highlights the importance of providing non-threatening environments in which older people can become comfortable with ICT; their local public library, perhaps?

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:52 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

A different response to the BBC review

July 8, 2004

Most of the commentary I've seen on the Graf report has tended to push for the BBC's online activity being reined back still further.

In that light, this piece from DM Europe is refreshing.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:22 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Review of the BBC... again

July 5, 2004

A press release has just popped up on Wired-Gov, covering DCMS’ publication of the Graf review. As well as the report itself, which I provided a BBC link to earlier, the DCMS page provides access to a number of extremely interesting background documents, including an assessment of future trends in technology, BBC’s use of technology, and an audience consultation exercise.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 11:54 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

Understanding Search...

July 4, 2004

I've just found this fascinating piece, A Day in the Life of BBCi Search, written by Martin Belam at the BBC, who should know.

There are a number of interesting pieces of evidence in the article. The one I found hardest to believe was that only one in twelve searches have incorrect spelling. Really? Does this say something about the users of BBC online services, or about my lack of faith in users' ability to spell?

The follow-up piece, How Search can help you understand your audience is also good, taking a look at how services might be improved.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 21:54 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

ICT in local communities

July 1, 2004

Will Davies over at the Work Foundation is plugging a new one of their iSociety reports, due out at the end of July.

The report will be launched at a debate on the evening of 29 July, in London. I can't go, but the topic is fascinating and highly relevant to a host of issues around encouraging and facilitating take-up of useful and empowering ICT across society.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 15:11 | Make or Read Comments(0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

What is identity, anyway?

April 6, 2004

An interesting piece on the nature of identity from The Register, as part of their look at UK Government initiatives to introduce ID cards...

Within a reasonably constrained group, such as Further and Higher Education, it's possible to deploy an authentication and authorisation system (ATHENS, in this case) that simply looks to the individual's host institution to assert that they are who they say they are.

As you move to a Common Information Environment, where people want access to controlled resources for more reasons than simply their affiliation to an institution of learning (their employer, their public library borrowing rights, their personal membership of a professional society, etc) it becomes more difficult to work out when you need to know who they are (or something else about them), and how you reliably confirm what you're told.

I had a meeting with a company called edentity, recently, that has an interesting take on the whole thing too...

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 20:36 | Make or Read Comments(0)

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