Tag Archives: software

Move along now.

A wee while ago Twitter bought Posterous. There was uncertainty at the time about what this would mean – for the service, for the existing blogs hosted by Posterous, for the people behind its development and whether that was the cue to jump ship. I stuck around, partly through inertia and partly because I figured that the import/export tools to make a clean transfer to an alternative would only get better as time went by.

The situation took on a new urgency a week ago when it was announced that Posterous was about to disappear. So the last week has been an interesting mix of experimentation, discussion, play and progress. Having started the old blog with my own domain name I’ve transferred that across too and am now happy enough to start posting in the new blog and driving a little traffic that way.

My new blog is a self-hosted WordPress.org affair and my key to getting it there was to go via WordPress.com (which is the WordPress-hosted version). At first I wanted to go direct from Posterous to .org, but there wasn’t a native import tool available. Third party tools were there to try, but they didn’t cut it. WordPress.com does have its own importer though, so I created a free space there, imported from Posterous, then went from there to my desired self-hosted site. Some bits of formatting have gone awry and it doesn’t seem to handle photos as well as Posterous (in galleries), but the posts are there and available for editing. What’s very satisfying is that the metadata has come too, primarily the tags and some other stats – this includes the posts keeping their original date of posting. Remarkably the links I’ve sent out since starting the blog appear to still work, redirecting to the new site.

I’m now open to ideas on how best to progress from here, what to add to the space and what to take away. The possibilities are clearly much broader than they ever were with Posterous, so I’ve come of age… or at least I’m found a place at the grown ups table even if I don’t recognise half the food on my plate.

Social media talk: 3 December 2012, Sighthill

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As part of an event for ‘Supporting Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University‘ I’ve been asked to put together some resources and reflections on the ways blogs and blogging can play a part in the life of a humble researcher, such as me. Rather than produce some slides for my twenty minutes in the spotlight I’ve bundled a collection of links into this blog post. Please post questions, suggestions and more connections in the comments below ??? particularly if you’re in the audience for the talk.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used this blog as the basis of a presentation ??? follow these links to other posts for…
  • previous conference talk on using blogs, including links to websites that can provide you with a (free) space online to start your own and lots of tools to make it look good
  • lecture I presented to a fourth year class when my guest speaker fell ill with an hour or so before the class
  • some slides that were used at an industry focused training day, where I presented on social media
I find it all too easy to neglect my blog, particularly during a busy autumn term when I get distracted by teaching and programme leadership. Fear not for there are many other resources out there, such as the Guardian HE Network (http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network). Within their site you’ll find resources such as…

The next set of links is a hand picked collection of ways I’ve used blogs and blogging, gathered together in a few categories:
  • Developing my research ideas and interpreting different topics, particularly those related to my PhD themes
  • Keeping a record of conference talks, events attended, books and papers read
  • Engaging with other bloggers: David McGillivray (UWS)
  • Publication
  • Teaching links
      • When I created the blog in the summer of 2010 I decided I was primarily writing it for myself. I wanted to have a space for my thoughts, somewhere I could write and publish work on a variety of topics and be able to find it later. Rather than keeping it to myself I also saw it as a space in which to have a presence online, but somewhere I could control rather than having to abide by the rules of Facebook or another comprehensive social media platform. It is important to me that my blog is open to anyone with an internet connection and isn’t locked up in an online walled garden. I spent a small amount of money buying a domain name to suit me (www.davidjarman.info), but this isn’t compulsory by any means. I’ve been happy with the blogging platform I use (Posterous), but as they’ve since been bought by Twitter there’s a degree of uncertainty about the future.

        At times my attitude towards using the blog is ???sharing by default???: if I attend an event I might automatically write a post as my way of recording what happened, which is then shared with the world. I don’t see my work as being commercially sensitive, although I know of other researchers who wouldn’t consider publicising what they’re doing ??? perhaps they’re contractually obliged not to! At the back of my mind I ask myself what my students, employers and parents might think of the things I write and publish, whether it’s for the blog or on Twitter. In my experience it doesn’t tend to take long for new users to get used to the cultural norms of conversation and sharing on a given social media platform, but if you???re not familiar then it???s advisable to spend time reading and observing before jumping in.

        I don’t think I make full use of the tools available: I don’t blog often enough, rarely dip into organised Twitter conversations (such as #PhDchat) and could do more with video and audio to liven up my corner of the web. But I enjoy it nonetheless and am very glad I’ve got an easily accessible record of my PhD progress thus far.

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      Image: ‘Blog 62’  |  flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/74117168/

      London 2012 Olympic Twitter archive

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      Over the course of the London 2012 Olympic Games I put together a Storify of tweets relating to the events and the debates and the media stories that people were linking too. It wasn’t systematic process, there’ll be lots that slipped through the net and this is a manual compilation without the aid of APIs or other labour saving devices.

       

      I’m posting it here so I can find it again in the future, but it is of course available to anyone to scroll through. It starts (at the very bottom) with Aiden Burley MP’s famous remarks about the opening ceremony…

       

       

      …and at the time of writing finishes with a link to Fatima Whitbread’s comments on whether the Games will really ‘Inspire a Generation’.

       

       

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      Image: taken by me on my trip to the Olympic Park, Wednesday 1 August 2012

      #enconf Using Storify to tell the story of an academic conference

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      Edinburgh Napier University, my employer, hosts an annual conference for academic and professional services staff – an opportunity to get people together, focus on chosen themes and discuss ways of integrating them into our teaching and learning. Technology is a recurring topic, as was the case on Friday 15 June with the title ‘Enhancing, extending and empowering student learning within online environments’. The conference site is here, with the ‘3E Benchmark Framework’ which underpins the university’s efforts in this area here (available for wider use under a CC licence).

      My job, somewhat self appointed, was to encourage the use of social media as a means of discussing and capturing what happened on the day. When pitching the idea before the event I wrote…

      In my head there would perhaps be three types of contributors:
      • Those ‘on the team’ who are deliberately setting out to capture the event
      • Those ‘interested parties’ who come to the pre-conference meet-up to see if they can bring something to it
      • Those ‘existing users’ who will be doing something like this anyway, but can be encouraged to add their contributions to the main body of work (through hashtags, etc.)
      …with the first and third of those ideas eventually coming to fruition. A core of people attended the event knowing that we were going to use social media and were kitted up to contribute. For some that was a Twitter account on a smart phone, while others (notably two volunteers from our Masters in Event Management) were purposefully taking still photos and video footage for later use. As hoped for, there was also a large enough pool of type three ‘existing users’ who quickly started using the conference hashtag and got stuck into the debate online – expectations are such among some conference delegates that they will only wait so long to be told how to engage in that conversation before finding their own solution, so it was important that #enconf was publicised early and regularly. There was half a plan to have a pre-conference gathering of all those interested in using social media, where appropriate tools could be discussed, but in the end this didn’t happen and probably wasn’t necessary.

      Two main goals were set: to enable/facilitate an online discussion on the day; then find a way to capture this for future reference and dissemination to those who attended, and those who didn’t. Twitter was the basis of on-the-day discussion, with folk tweeting photos, links, questions and comments – this worked well. Capturing the day also used Flickr and YouTube to host the material from our students, with Storify acting as the basis of the final record of the day (as inspired by work like this from David McGillivray).

      A quick note on Storify to finish this post, quoting from their site: ‘Storify lets you curate social networks to build social stories, bringing together media scattered across the Web into a coherent narrative. We are building the story layer above social networks, to amplify the voices that matter and create a new media format that is interactive, dynamic and social’. It’s a doddle to use, enabling you to drag in pictures, tweets, videos and more into the order you desire. You can add text to help set the scene, guide the narrative and link topics together. And as with so much of social media these days it’s very difficult to come up with something that doesn’t look good.

      I was flicking between Twitter and Storify throughout the day, curating the story as I went which meant I had plenty to show the delegates during the closing plenary – hopefully some could see the value in the project as an ongoing resource. So here it is:

      Culture Hack Scotland (#chscot) and Citizen Relay (#citizenrelay): on events and projects and communities and networks

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      Here are some notes on two projects I’ve recently been involved with – shame on me for not getting this onto the blog before now. On consecutive weekends I attended Culture Hack Scotland (Glasgow) and Citizen Relay training (Edinburgh).

      From Culture Hack Scotland (27-28.04.2012)…

      //April 27-28th//SocietyM, Glasgow//Come make stuff//#chscot

      Culture Hack Scotland is a fast-paced and highly creative event that challenges designers, technologists and artists to make innovative new culture-related projects in just 24 hours.

      …that about sums up the premise: get some very talented, creative folk together in an environment that breeds collaboration and experimentation, then (to some extent) let them get on with it. This is the second hack weekend in Scotland with a cultural theme, so I’d imagine the organisers were able to apply some of the lessons learned from the first running and be more ambitious. So I don’t think there was a coding workshop last time around, but charged with their inaugural success they knew they would be catering for a wider audience.

       

      Then from Citizen Relay (06.05.2012)…

      #CitizenRelay is a participatory project which relies on the involvement of people from across Scotland to effectively report on the untold local stories and creative ways that Scotland’s citizens are interacting with the Olympic Games.

       

      …it’s another project that relies on people getting stuck in and creating work: collaboration through the kit in your pocket and the tools at your disposal. Led by staff and research students at University of the West of Scotland it taps into existing networks (through academia, etc.) in preparation for the imminent arrival of a newly applied connective tissue, soon to be sutured onto the winding roads, villages, cities and suburbs of Scotland: the Olympic torch relay is coming.

       

      Three questions for this blog to address:

      • What did I do at these events and why?
      • What’s the bigger picture?
      • What could be the upshot… what happens to this work?

       

      Ivory Tower Syndrome has a tendency of catching up on me from time to time: I view in awe and wonderment the folk who get on and do stuff, rather than reading, writing and talking about it. The chance to make a small contribution to these projects was too good an opportunity to pass up therefore, drawing on both some academic knowledge and expertise, as well as my former life spent working with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (managing box offices and so on). The nature of the Fringe cycle, as with many an annual event, is of course that you get to know a lot of people very well for a few weeks or months… and then you go your separate ways. It can be a powerful way of working and often breeds an intensity of effort and a willingness to get the job done that might look out of place in a ‘regular’ job. (One without quite so many trips to the pub perhaps.)

       

      For me one of the biggest differences between Fringe work and entering academia has been a greater degree of autonomy, matched with more personal responsibility. Collaborative processes are not always at the heart of my job, or at least I don’t perceive them to be: if I’m not ready for a class no one is going to step in and solve that problem, but within a box office you work together to build the events on your system, refer customers to your colleagues and so on. Of course there are collaborative projects in academia, but the teams tend to be smaller and there’s less overlap of skills – each person has their own expertise, it isn’t such a ‘flat’ structure.

       

      All of which leads back to those experiences of working together in order to keep the festival moving, day after day after day, living in each others’ back pockets. Until it ends. So the project we conceived and started building at Culture Hack Scotland sought to provide an online space to maintain those links, as well as retrospectively piecing together the communities of old. Thanks to the expert design prowess of @rufflemuffin (Sarah) we pieced together an interface that would allow users of the website to add their memories to a piece of Edinburgh festivals history – maybe a festival in a particular year, perhaps a venue within that festival, a show that was performed there… ultimately even individual performances would be ripe for photos, written memories, perhaps video clips and links to other sites and contributors. It’s a way of recreating the collections of administrators, performers and audiences that made the festivals hap
      pen: last year, the year before and right back to the 1940s.

       

      I spent over a decade of summers in one bit of the festivals or another, and loved almost every minute. Back in the olden days there was no social media to link people together once they’d drifted apart, you simply didn’t know what had happened to most folk until miraculously half of you gathered together again at the allotted time to do it all over again the following year. So there’s a community aspect to it, with its attendant social capital potential, but there’s also an archival opportunity – I have a couple of degrees in social history, so that sort of thing appeals to me. Right now where can people get their online fix of Edinburgh festival history? There’ll be a few annual reports kicking about for sure, as well as a barrel load of reviews, previews and old news from the last decade or so; but further back? Not so much. We envisaged our site being populated with some curated content: pictures, listings, perhaps some documents and the like …a unified hub for this information with the scope for constant improvement, investment and development at the hands of anyone with a connection to the festivals – ‘citizen curators’ if you will.

       

      At which point I turn to Citizen Relay, with its growing band of citizen journalists, getting tooled up to hit the streets and cover the Olympic torch relay from the host communities’ perspectives. Until the training day I wasn’t aware that the project is part of the Cultural Olympiad, so to an extent officially sanctioned to go out and deliver some Games legacy whether Scotland wants it or not. There’s less of the historical archive at the heart of this project, at least not yet – this is about real time coverage of the biggest peace time event the world will have ever seen, yet one which risks remaining out of reach for most of the UK population apart from fleeting glimpses of a torch and the mediated spectacle of the competitive action. #citizenrelay will be despatching reporters and interns to all parts of Scotland as nation speaks unto nation through the catalyst of the torch relay – it’s a great project made possible thanks to the small pieces of technology so many folk carry with them every day in their pockets and bags.

       

      As for the upshot of all this relay coverage, there’s a particular Scottish motivation for this work because as with everything Olympic it’s just a dress rehearsal for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Does that mean Glasgow and Scotland stand a better chance of delivering enduring legacies from its mega event after this learning experience? The trial run isn’t going to do it any harm that’s for sure. (Either way I’ll have had time to learn even more about what can be done with a humble smart phone.)

       

      The Culture Hack project may well have a legacy too, beyond the bleary-eyed show and tell that ended the hack weekend. One of the contributors, Jennifer, works for Festivals Edinburgh… the perfect organisation to take this sort of idea further, give it some funding and get other partners on board. Who knows, maybe Jay (the patient programmer we worked with) will adapt it to work for mega sporting events as well as cultural celebrations.

       

      *

       

      Update: now with added logo!

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      Created, in the blink of an eye during Saturday lunchtime, by Dan Frydman (@danfrydman). Dan was with us in Glasgow on the Friday, then had to head back to Edinburgh. The joy of the internet meant he could keep in touch and lend his considerable talents to the project.

      DREaM workshop two. (Part three of five events.)

      Part three of the DREaM sequence took place in the British Library’s conference facilities on Monday 30 January – full details are here, presentation videos are here (for community members). This was the half way mark in a series of events that I’ve written about here, exploring a range of research methods with Library and Information Science scholars in mind. After a little scene-setting from Hazel Hall (@hazelh) we moved on to the speakers.
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      The most relevant discussion for my own research was presented by Mike Thelwall on the subject of ‘webometrics’. Mike is part of the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at Wolverhampton University, with much of his work based on software that is free to download (see below). Thelwall described the motivation behind this kind of work as seeking to gather and make use of some of the data being added to the web all the time, material which might be used alongside other forms of research that utilises both online and offline sources. The social web in particular could sit alongside survey data: there’s a lot of information out there and it can be quick to gather. Much will depend on the topic being studied, because those who contribute online are a self-selecting community – Twitter may be a great source of information about Twitter, but it may be representative of general opinion on other subjects.

      What Thelwall and colleagues have been able to show is that data from the web, including analysis of links between websites, can reflect the degree to which different countries recognise the academic output of other nations – which parts of the world are well connected and which talk only to themselves.

      Tools of the trade:
      • Socscibot: hosted on the Wolverhamption Uni site. ‘SocSciBot is a Web crawler for link analysis research. It is for link analysis on a single web site or collection of sites, or for text search/analysis on a collection of sites. It can also be used in teaching, to illustrate how link analysis and search engines work.’
      • Webometric Analyst: also hosted by Wolverhamption. ‘Webometric Analyst, formerly known as LexiURL Searcher, automatically analyses the impact of collections of documents or web sites, and creates network diagrams of collections of web sites. It automatically submits queries to search engines and process the results.’
      • Sentisoft: also at Wolverhamption. ‘SentiStrength estimates the strength of positive and negative sentiment in short texts, even for informal language. It has human-level accuracy for short social web texts in English, except political texts.’ This is about judging the strength of feeling behind a tweet, etc. Over time more rules are being added to take account of emoticons, exaggeration and new forms of language. More can be found at CyberEmotions.
      • Using some of these tools it is now possible to analyse huge amounts of data: 35 million tweets, for example. We can see which events captured the most attention, which way the sentiment fell and so on.
      • Comments on YouTube can also be tracked, to see who is commenting, whether they are related to other commenters on the same videos, which subjects capture the most attention and the most varied opinions. Is there a community, or are the commenters neither linked nor associated with each other?

      Thelwall also drew attention to ‘altmetrics’, an attempt to devise and use alternative means by which to recognise academic output. By utilising the available data it is now possible to widen the evidence base when judging the ‘impact’ of a paper. Now blogs, government papers and other data sources offer to shine a light on the wider utilisation of academic research. Thelwall and others have taken this further, proposing an ‘Integrated Online Impact’ (IOI) indicator that combines searches from a variety of online sources – there’s plenty of potential to take this further.

      Overall the message remains that these are new forms of data analysis and should be used with some caution. At the moment their greatest strength is perhaps in identifying and drawing attention to topics worthy of further analysis. Quite when and how other forms of research are then brought in is up to the researcher.
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      Peter Beresford spoke on user involvement in research, approaching the subject from a policy perspective much of the time. As such he described a dynamic relationship between action and research, with one informing the other – a pragmatic approach perhaps. An organisation that exemplifies this approach was cited in the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), specifically their INVOLVE project.

      Whether within the health field or more generally, Beresford believes there is growing pressure for more user involvement, from government, funders, users themselves and those who act on their behalf. This might include greater consultation with user groups in setting up research, closer working in partnership and ultimately research which is led and controlled by users. Where might such an influence be felt: from funding choices to methods used, peer reviewing processes and the selection of projects to pursue.

      Beresford was confident that this could have an emancipatory and democratising effect, giving voice to under-represented groups and ultimately granting them new levels of control over the research agenda. Where this is linked to policy interventions the impacts could be dramatic.

      Questions for researchers therefore include…
      • To what extent is there a place for user-involvement?
      • Who are the ‘users’ and how might they be selected, or represented?
      • How much consultation is too much?
      • What sort of returns can be gained from this investment and are they sufficient?
      • Are the views being expressed worth taking notice of?
      • What are the costs of involving service users in your research?
      • What are the benefits: will users ultimately gain from the adoption of this approach?
      • In a given instance is it more than just box-ticking?
      • What are the i
        mplications for the REF?

      When discussing policy related research, the involvement of users will necessarily add a politicised dimension to research work. Policy is about making choices, making changes and hopefully improving people’s lives – it’s not just about fact-finding. As a result there will be differences of opinion and of course contentious decisions.

      So, why do it – why involve users in research? Ultimately they speak from experience: they know what they’re talking about. And yet, this goes against the positivist grain when it lacks objectivity and distance from the subject. So to not listen to the views of user groups perhaps implies that they are seen as less reliable sources of information. Such obstacles may have contributed to the length of time it has taken for some issues to gain recognition as necessary of thorough investigation, such as child abuse cases.

      Beresford closed with a comment that reticence to involve users in research doesn’t ring true with real life: we regularly turn to others because of their experiences, taking their views on board, so why not when planning and carrying out research?
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      Thomas Haigh covered plenty of ground in his discussion on historical research and transferable techniques. The initial emphasis was on history as a study of change over time, as told through stories that we tell ourselves and others. Haigh singled out some examples of ‘bad’ history, such as that which overlooks connections between the present and the past. Likewise however the problem of ‘presentism’, whereby the past is judged by the standards of the present day – a comment here was that we shouldn’t be judging what actors from the past did, but what they thought they were doing.

      An interesting balance was struck between academic approaches: the historian as craftsman, somewhat protective of their methods, as opposed to those in the social sciences who like to show their working. Haigh also drew attention to the variety of historical approaches which have their own communities and styles: social, institutional, cultural, etc. As such each type of history would prioritise a different type of question and focus. It seems however that each discipline goes through a phase where it discovers its history – a point is reached where it becomes important to some that the history of their subject is recorded, before it is lost. Thus begins a process of analysis that ultimately leads to histories written by trained historians, rather than the elder statesmen of a community.
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      I was also fortunate enough to talk to Alison Brettle about systematic reviews of literature. Alison is also attending all the DREaM events and in her day job works at Salford University. She has compiled this resource for her students on the uses of literature reviews, including a discussion on systematic versus traditional reviews. The reason for my interest in this is that I expect to use a systematic approach for my PhD literature review, bringing some structure and order to this element of the research in a way that rarely features in my subject area.
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      Overall another excellent day as part of the DREaM series. Next stop is Edinburgh again a little after Easter.

      Social music

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      Having been socialised into a society that worships the ???0??? I???m using a small anniversary to ponder social music. Just as we celebrated the arrival of the year 2000 with fireworks (and fears that it would kill our computers and bring planes out of the sky), so I noted my 60,000th ???scrobble??? to Last.fm. This site tracks the music that you play, from iTunes, Spotify and other sources, getting to know your tastes so that it can recommend other artists. Registering a track is called scrobbling. You can also stream music directly from the site or the smartphone app, though more akin to a radio station than Spotify???s on-demand offering. I joined up on 14 January 2007 and five years later clocked up the big 6-0 (0-0-0); that???s 12,000 a year; 1,000 a month. The mild obsessive compulsive in me was turning cartwheels last Saturday.

      My Last.fm profile is here. The milestone track was ???The Awakening of a Woman (Burnout)??? by the Cinematic Orchestra, from their score to Dziga Vertov???s 1929 ???Man With a Movie Camera??? ??? here???s the DVD on Amazon.

      But why, oh why, go to the trouble of passing all this information to Last.fm???s servers, when it???s relatively rare for me to spend much time listening to music directly from the site?

      I like keeping a track of the tracks, curating a listening history that stretches back through a variety of jobs, places and social networks I’ve drifted through. Curating is just about the right word for it, for I???ve used Last.fm to shape my listening, trying to avoid too much of a single artist in too short a time. The milestones are also of interest and I suspect I???ll be trying to keep to a 1,000 a month tempo from now on. But what of the social ??? I haven???t made many new contacts through the site, none that has been sustained through the Last.fm itself. The key connections are therefore with the unknown, the people who listen to the same stuff as I do and can therefore help shape my listening habits when I ask Last.fm to build me a radio station: it???s their scrobbles that are powering what comes out of my computer. I suspect few people have sought out my profile, although on occasion if someone asks what I like to listen to I have somewhere to send them.

      Google???s Eric Schmidt probably didn???t set the world alight when identifying a ???mobile, local, social??? future for the net (and by extension a lot of other industries and platforms). He still felt the need to make this point in late 2011 though, by which time I would have thought the penny had long since dropped. Thus Last.fm, keen to show its social side from its earliest days, was??? what, too soon on the scene? It had social baked into it from the first bar of music played.

      As you may know Last.fm of London, UK, was sold to CBS of America a few years back. A few folk made a lot of money, though I fear that innovation on the site has been relatively limited since. There???s a community of developers trying out neat stuff though ??? such as the graphic above. To keep the theme of zeros going I???d say it loooks coool.