Web 2.0 in student activism

Those of us who work as educational technologists dream of combining online services and participatory sites in order to enthuse students to research a topic, work together and present results to each other. To my amazement, I’m seeing this happen right now and it’s nothing to do with the curriculum.

In response to Scientology’s attacks on the Internet, especially the recent deletion of YouTube clips of an internal video, thousands of people are gathering under the name “Anonymous” to attack the organisation in a variety of ways.

They are using a full range of online tools. Here for example is a mashup using Google Maps to show the location of Scientology properties and protest events. Wikis and Facebook groups are being used to organise a forthcoming London street protest (and similar protests around the world). Bittorrent and file-sharing services are being used to distribute leaked Scientology documents (the “secretdox”). YouTube is being used for sharing opinions, parodies and spreading film of real-life activism. Digg is being used to promote anti-Scientology links (at one point 9 of the top 10 Digg links were Scientology-related). Some of these activists are students (see the article in the Imperial College newspaper). The planning is very decentralised, but there are clearly people involved who are technically savvy and informed about the issues.

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Wiki-isation of a static web site

From a presentation at HE Academy Technical Away Day, Newcastle, 7 February 2007

Most of our site content is in databases or in dedicated applications such as a blog or wiki. However, we still have a lot of content in static XHTML pages. We occasionally need to make corrections to this archive material, but I can’t justify the effort of slurping it all into a CMS, with attendant information architecture/URL design issues. This page describes a small project to allow authorised people to edit that content in a wiki-like way.


  • Make changes immediately from the browser
  • Restrict editing only to the page content, not the other things on the page like breadcrumb trail, Server Side Includes etc.
  • Word-processor-style editing, but with option to edit source directly
  • Ability to paste from Word
  • Minimal effect on source formatting
  • Live spell-check
  • Multiple users with logging of their activity
  • Deployable on multiple sites
  • Secure
  • No money- must use only free software
  • Relatively small amount of new code: this is primarily supposed to be a time-saving exercise Read the rest of this entry »

Resource Sharing in Academic Support

Slides from a talk I gave this week about how an academic support “site” is increasingly a content provider using multiple external services, both commercial and academic (e.g. Google Video, SlideShare, Amazon, Intute).

I had been asked to talk about what will happen with resource sharing technology over the next five years, and there’s a little bit of technical stuff, but I thought the main point to get across was that resource sharing is central to what we do, and that we need to engage with the current environment of web services and embeddable content. This embedded presentation has active links:

The original presentation had ten slides, nine of which I used in the talk. Some explanatory text slides have been added. The lack of the “Web2.0” buzzword is deliberate.

Students’ expectations about technology

Following on from the earlier post about what students use the internet for, I’m grateful to Lisa Whistlecroft for drawing my attention to a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI for the JISC on school-leavers’ expectations of ICT at university. The report confirms the ubiquity of social networking:

Only 5% of the online sample claimed never to use this and 65% said that they used it regularly – with females more likely to use it regularly than males (71% against 59% respectively). Three-fifths (62%) use wikis, blogs or online networks, which can also be used as a tool of social networking.

Many of the sample saw themselves as having “graduated” from MySpace to Facebook:

“Facebook is more about identity, and communication, whereas MySpace is where you get stuff… about poems and crying” Read the rest of this entry »

The Ongoing Software Crisis

Recommended by Jan Grant, who describes it as “a thoroughly inspiring video… well worth 48 minutes of your time,” Yahoo developer Douglas Crockford’s lecture on software quality discusses the “Software Crisis” which has been going on for 40 years now. He mentions bloat; cruft; over-time, over-budget, under-spec projects; redundant code; unmaintainable code and security issues but ends with some positive recommendations.

If you work in software, or in IT generally, it’s both reassuring and depressing to know that, to a first approximation, all software sucks. It’s worth all of us, developers and managers, thinking about what can go wrong and why it does and this presentation provides a useful context. Crockford was also mentioned in my previous post.

What do students use the Internet for?

I’ve just come from a very interesting talk by the guys who run the student residential network here at the University of Bristol (Paul Seward and Nick Skelton – thanks guys).

In terms of hits, the most popular site by a long way is Facebook. It accounts for 20% of web requests. 85% of undergrads are signed up to it, as well as a third of postgrads, and they seem to use it regularly. Students regard it as their “shared space”, using it to organise (and post sordid details of) their social lives. They are blissfully unaware that recruiters are searching Facebook to find out about job applicants.

In terms of bandwidth, the three most popular sites are video streaming sites: 1. DailyMotion, 2. Veoh, 3. YouTube. The former two stream in a better quality than YouTube. The next two most popular are file sharing facilities: 4. RapidShare and 5. Uploading.com .

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Hi Folks,

Just thought I would say hello and express my support for this community, my (real) name is Steve Richardson, some of you may remember me from the HEA technical mailing list or more accurately from the LTSN list. Would be great to hear from everyone, see who is on the list, their expertise etc…

I currently work for a European Commission funded project called ProFaNE (really!) and you can see my work at http://www.profane.eu.org/

I work with a lot of people who are not tech savvy and as such most of my efforts have been towards making current and new technology ‘accessible’. I don’t mean this in the ‘rights’ sense of the word, rather, just how to present information and services that are easy to use. Thats the theory anyway.

I work almost exclusively with MAMP (Mac OS X, Apache, MySQL, PHP) but I do know one or two other things besides and am not too shy when it comes to media development etc… Almost everything you see on the ProFaNE site is a product of my efforts, no one else works on the site.

Looking forwrad to seeing who else is here,,, come on say hello!

All the best


Thumbnail previews of web sites: an overview

Conference presentation given 8th March 2007

Why thumbnails?

  • Foreknowledge is good (i.e. Giving users an idea of what will happen when they click on a link)
  • and thumbnails can be a kind of foreknowledge
  • … but thumbnails can be misleading foreknowledge, which is bad.
  • The dumbest of dumb syndication. Not relevant to blind users, mobile device users etc. Maybe it would help to have the images written in by javascript so they don’t appear on low-featured devices.
  • Making a page of links look nice, colourful. Getting oohs and aahs: Economics Network links to central banks
  • Thumbnails are not useful for discovery because you don’t learn about the site except how “professional” it looks, and that’s not a reliable indicator of the quality of its educational content.
  • Thumbnails are useful for re-discovery Imagine that your user wants to re-visit a site she previously found useful, but doesn’t remember what it was called. Or imagine your user looking at a gallery of sites or of learning objects and trying to find which ones she hasn’t already tried. Is it better to read a page of text or glance at some thumbnails? (Obviously you provide the thumbnails along with a proper description.)
  • NB: Legal hot water? You are making a derivative work of someone else’s creative work. Probably not an issue with the Deutsche Bundesbank site but potentially disastrous if you are working in visual arts.

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The Hostile Tagging Phenomenon

(The November 2006 timestamp for this article is fake. That’s when it was included in the ILRT‘s internal newsletter, but I thought it was worth archiving here for historical reasons -MLP) 

In a number of different meetings I’ve been to recently, the Web 2.0 meme, especially tagging, has come up. Let the users tag each resource with a word or phrase which goes into a searchable database, they say. These tags are crucial to sites like the music database last.fm, where an obscure musical term like “electroacoustica” can be applied by an army of users to relevant music as it emerges, or where the labelling of something as “relaxing” or “heavy” is the aggregate of thousands of judgements rather than one person’s. This system also brings out the emotional associations of the music, such as “winter” or “shimmering”.

But in other news, I’ve been reading about Kevin Federline. Until yesterday as I write this, K-Fed (as he likes to be known) was happily married to Britney Spears and, as a case-study in sexually-transmitted celebrity, has managed to release a hip-hop album. It hasn’t been well-received.

Looking at the tags on Amazon, “Playing With Fire” scores high on the tags “talentless”, “loser” and “wannabe”. Some users have used the tag function to write micro-reviews, including “excrutiating dreck”, “every track ought to be hidden” and “music to make you long for the sweet release of death”. Over at last.fm, K-Fed is tagged “the worst thing ever to happen to music” along with more obscene tags. “Failed at musicianship and life in general” is a tag that K-Fed shares with the Republican broadcaster Ann Coulter and the RnB musician R. Kelly.

From one perspective, this is an argument for professional cataloguers who give meaningful labels. Who searching on “landfill” is going to be grateful for finding K-Fed in the results?

On the other hand, would professional cataloguers ever be inspired to use “vogon poetry” as a label? The move from ontology to “folksonomy” is like a lot of internet changes: it reveals more of what people actually want to see, though that might be more obscene and disgusting than what we anticipated. People who want to open up their sites to tagging should be warned, though.

Current style in web design

Some of the examples here look like they were designed by Captain WhiiiiiiteSpaaaaaaaace and are way too sparse, but, if you trust this guy, these principles capture the best of web design circa the beginning of 2006.

This post was originally made on the Kewl Doodz’n’Chyx community blog.