Cultural Heritage

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Archive for the 'Social Web' Category

Voices for the Library and social media

Posted by guestblogger on 7th March 2011

About this Guest Post

Bethan Ruddock works as Content Development Officer for Library and Archival Services for Mimas at the University of Manchester.

Bethan has a strong interest in professional development and supporting new professionals.  She is a member of the SLA Europe board, and a Chartered member of CILIP.  She is editor of the LIS New Professionals’ Toolkit, to be published by Facet in 2012.

You can find Bethan on Twitter as @bethanar, where she tweets from conferences and events, takes part in professional discussions, and drinks a lot of tea.  She blogs at, and you can email her at

What is Voices for the Library?

Voices for the Library is a place for anyone who loves and values libraries to share their experiences and stories about what libraries mean to them.  The campaign was set up in September 2010 by a group of information professionals who were concerned about the negative and inaccurate coverage of libraries in the media.

Voices started out as a way to provide accurate and impartial information about UK public libraries.  But not all of this information was to come from librarians!  The name ‘Voices for the Library’ was chosen carefully – we wanted it to be a place where anyone who cares about libraries can make their voices heard.  Much of our content comes from library users, who want to share their stories about how libraries have affected their lives.

There are stories from librarians as well.  Some are examples of the kind of work they do, to show the range and depth of what trained library staff do, and to illustrate that it’s not all stamping books and shushing!  And some are more theoretical debates, about the philosophy of public libraries.

Why do we use social media?

So, how did we gather these stories from users, these thoughtful pieces from librarians?

Through social media.  We’ve relied heavily on social media right from the start of the campaign – not just for dissemination, but for collaboration too.  We faced a number of challenges, for which social media was – not just the best, but often the only – solution.

Firstly, we’re geographically dispersed.  This means that meeting face-to-face has been basically out of the question.  We’d never all been in one room together until the campaign had been running for over 6 months. This means that everything that had been done in those 6 months – all the planning, work, collaboration etc, had been done purely virtually and remotely.

Our second challenge was that we have no budget, which meant our tools had to be free.  Thanks to some generous sponsors, we now do have a budget – but it’s very easy to find vital things to spend it on! This means that we have to carry on finding free solutions – and most of these come from social media.

The third challenge?  Time!  We have even less time than we have money.  The VftL team are all volunteers, doing what we can for the campaign in the time we have available.  This means that we quite simply don’t have the time to spend on a tool that doesn’t work, quickly and easily.  We need to be putting all of our effort into what we’re doing, not the tools we’re using to do it.  Of course, some things require more time than others – the website, for instance – so our key concept here is return for time spent.

The final challenge is that of trying to connect to a huge demographic. Public libraries in the UK are designed to serve the whole community, from babies to pensioners, and often the only thing they have in common is that they use libraries.

Social media is really the only way we currently have of being able to communicate with these disparate groups of people.

What social media do we use?

We do most of our communicating within the group by email, but there are a number of other tools we use.

Wiki – we use a wiki for most of our collaboration.  We chose PB works, who offer a free version for individuals/groups and education.  We didn’t quite fit under ‘education’, so went with the free ‘individual’ option, which offers all the functionality we require. We can:

  • edit pages,
  • keep track of who has made changes when,
  • see the most recent changes in a list, or have them emailed to us
  • have folders and a file structure
  • upload files, so we can use it as a filestore

Pbwiki is quick and easy to learn to use.

We also briefly tried using google docs, but they just didn’t work for VftL.  We didn’t persist in trying to use them once we noticed they weren’t quite right for us, but just moved over completely to the wiki, where we’ve stayed happily ever since.

Chatzy: we may have only recently had our first face-to-face meeting, but we have had online meetings.  The tool we settled on for this was ‘chatzy’, an online service that allows you to create a private online chat room, and have text-based discussions.

Chatzy has been very effective – it shows everyone in a different colour, so you can instantly see who has said what, and it allows you to save the text of your discussion.  You need a premium account for the full save/download options, but you can get round this by simply selecting and copying the discussion before you leave the chat room.  This makes minuting meetings very easy.

Doodle: if we’re having meetings, we need to schedule them.  We use Doodle as a collaborative scheduler.  I like Doodle more than some of its rivals (such as meetomatic and when are you free) for a number of reasons:

  • no login/signup required
  • you can specify exact times – not just am/pm
  • respondees can see the responses everyone else has entered.  This means that all respondents (not just the admin) can see when other people have said they’re available.
  • You can also edit the times once you’ve opened the poll

To-do and tasks:  we were briefly using Task Bin as a group task management system – it allows you to invite other people to see your tasks, and to share tasks with people within a group.  However, our use of this never really got off the ground.  Nothing wrong with the software, I think it might just have been one thing too many for people to check.

These are our inward-facing uses of social media – what we use within the team.  But we also use social media for most of our external communication.

There are 3 main points of entry to our online presence, and each is important:  website, facebook, and twitter.

Website:  the website is built on the WordPress platform.  We use a installation – this is the self-hosted version, which means we have to pay for domain hosting, although the software itself is free. It is possible to have completely free site, by having it hosted on their servers.  This does limit your functionality, however, and we wanted slightly more control over the site than the totally free option allows.  As one of our members already runs several self-hosted wordpress sites, and was willing to extend his hosting package to cover VftL, we decided that this was a case where spending money was important.

And the website has been a success! We use Google analytics (again, a free tool) to track usage, and since we launched in September we’ve had over 32,000 unique visitors, with over 108,000 page views!  Most of these visits are from the UK, but we’ve had visits from 96 countries/territories in total, including Yemen, Iceland, Mexico, and Romania.

We get lots of comments on the website (we accept comments on almost all pages), and also have forums, which people can use for discussion.  They’re not getting much use, but they are getting some, and we feel the benefits of having made that space available outweigh the small time commitment required.

We already have some stories on the website that have come from feedback left for libraries, not directly to us – Weoley castle Library in Birmingham for instance have sent us comments from their comments book, and this is something we’d really like to encourage other libraries to do in the future.

We’ve also been very lucky in having a graphic designer to create our fab new logo.  This was designed by the cousin of one of our team members, which means we got it for free!

Facebook: the other main landing point for our online presence is Facebook.  Again, Facebook pages are free to create and maintain, though they do take quite a bit of time if you’re very active!  We now have 2615 likes (which used to be called ‘fans’), which is fantastic.

Facebook sits in the gap between the website and our twitter account. While there is a fair amount of cross-over in the content, Facebook gives us slightly more freedom for longer links and discussions than twitter, but is more news-y and less in-depth than the website.  It also gives users another choice about where they’d like to interact with us.

Twitter: twitter has a special place in the hearts of the Voices team.  VftL was conceived on twitter, by a group of info pros who, for the most part, had never met.  They knew each other only through twitter – that’s where the discussion and the idea started.

The twitter account was the very first thing made! That’s why it has a different name to everything else – UKpling.  This was intended to be the original name of the group, standing for ‘UK public libraries in need group’.  Discussion changed this to ‘Voices for the Library’, but the twitter account was already established, under a different name.

Now, it is possible to change your twitter name, and we have discussed doing so.  But all the ones we really wanted were taken, and we’d built up quite a twitter following – over 1500 followers – so we decided to stick with it.  It we were running the campaign all over again, one of the very first things we’d do would be to change the twitter name!

One of the things that twitter is great for is running quick and dirty viral campaigns.  This was illustrated recently when @mardixon (not a librarian, but a library user) tweeted “Libraries are important because … [fill in your answer & RT] #savelibraries”. The #savelibraries hashtag got over 5000 tweets, and was a trending topic not only in the UK, but worldwide.  As trending topics are usually breaking news, amusing memes, or celebrity gossip, this was quite an achievement!

Other tools:

Delicious:  we have a delicious account, and automatically add anything tagged with various tags (pling, voicesforthelibrary, etc).  These are then tweeted, added to the facebook account, and shown in a widget on the website.  This gives us a news feed about library news with a minimum of effort.

Flikr:  we have a flickr group, which is a nice visual way to represent the range of things that goes on libraries.  Anyone can add to it. – this is a twitter tool that gets a round-up of ‘top stories’ from your twitter stream, and presents them in a magazine format.  It’s a nice extra way of pointing people to things they might have missed.

To conclude?  Social media is fast, free and flexible, which is just what we need for a time- and resource-poor project!

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries, Social Web, Twitter, Web 2.0 | Comments Off

Some Places Left for Social Web Workshop

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3rd February 2011

There are just a few places left for the final UKOLN workshop for the cultural heritage sector on using the Social Web. This event will be held in Leicester and is being run in partnership with the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester.

The workshop will provide ideas on how to match different social web and Web 2.0 tools and services to your work projects, information on best practice, how to build a business case and a chance to network with colleagues.

Attendance is free, so why not book now? Bookings will close on 13 February. To register a place, follow the link in the workshop page listed below.

The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times
Ann Chapman will facilitate a 1-day workshop The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times to be held at Museum Studies Building, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, Leicester on 22nd February 2011.

Posted in Social Web, social-web-workshops | Comments Off

The Story of a Blog – Dulwich OnView

Posted by guestblogger on 24th January 2011

About this Guest Post

Ingrid Beazley is the strategic advisor to the Community Outreach Department and the E-learning project developer in the Education Department of Dulwich Picture Gallery. She can be contacted at

The Story of a blog – Dulwich OnView

Dulwich Picture Gallery (DPG) is a small, purpose built art museum on the outskirts of London with a fabulous Baroque permanent collection. It’s England’s first public art gallery, founded 200 years ago exactly and is pretty well known. As might be expected the majority of regular visitors are middle aged/old, white, middle class and local. DPG has a large Friends organisation similarly made up. 3 years ago I was chair of the Friends. I also fit neatly into the description of the regular visitor.

Yes, I had made efforts to attract a different demographic to DPG. Through the Friends I had arranged events to attract younger people and families, but basically, as my children explained to me, no person in their 20s and 30s would have any interest in visiting this ‘old fashioned gallery with its stuffy pictures’.

Then I met a dynamic young woman, Yang May Ooi, at a local party who suggested using social media to reach younger people and explode this myth. I agreed and Dulwich OnView was born.

Dulwich OnView is not a museum blog like the ones you might find on museum websites, written by the museum staff. Dulwich OnView is an independent blog run by members of the local community on a voluntary basis. It has a large number of guest contributors who write about/take pictures of/make short films, podcasts about the local community as well as DPG.  About 2/3 of the posts are NOT about DPG.

So Dulwich OnView is of interest to people who wish to read about local history/events/people/pubs/parks/festivals etc. They might Google ‘Dulwich walks’ and up would come Dulwich OnView’s numerous articles on these. Then they would notice all the references to DPG and be lured to read those posts and follow the wealth of links to the DPG website. We have stats to prove that this happens.

image of promotional material

Dulwich OnView minicard

Community interaction

For Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich OnView complements its official website as, like all blogs, it is informal and interactive. Many of the DPG staff write for it, from the director, the marketing, education and curatorial staff, to the warders and interns. The Friends have the opportunity to put up lots of background information about the events that they run which is not appropriate for the main DPG website, and there are many local people who submit reviews of the special exhibitions or just descriptions of their favourite paintings. DPG links to many of these articles from their website. It is an opportunity for DPG to have conversations with the local community via the Dulwich OnView comment boxes.

In the same way as you are more likely to be persuaded to go to an exhibition by your friend in a conversation at the pub, than you might be by reading the marketing blurb on an official website written by a person paid to write it, so posts recommending DPG written by locals are more convincing than reading the official information on its website.

Being a section of a local community website enables DPG to be seen as part of the local community itself, and to show its human face.

Younger people tend to read blogs, and in the case of Dulwich OnView, to accept the invitation to contribute to it. Our youngest blogger is in primary school and we have teens and university students contributing too. We also have authors in their 80’s as increasingly, older people go online not only for information but interactively too. And they tell their friends about their article – perfect viral marketing.

Blog stats.

Dulwich OnView is just 3 years old and now gets about 20,000 hits a month. The referrers come from local organisations/businesses/charities that we have featured and who link to the article from their websites, from forums where we are mentioned and from the DPG website itself. We can tell from the search engine terms that people are not looking for DPG (e.g. ‘east Dulwich cinema’, ‘Ann Shelton’, ‘South London Youth Orchestra’) but that about 2/3rds of onward clicks are to pages on the DPG website.

National and International Recognition

I have talked at numerous national and international conferences from Montreal, Denver Colorado, Iceland (Nodem), Glasgow (Museums Association) and our own London (EVA and many others), and Dulwich OnView won the prestigious ‘Museums and the Web’ award in Denver last year for the ‘best small museum site’.

How is Dulwich OnView organised?

At its inception, the younger members of the committee of the Friends of DPG (and some others not on the committee) were excited about the idea and we formed a team of joint editors. We would take in turns to be editor on duty – to be responsible for having 6 new posts every week, for responding to all emails, for encouraging contributions, for moderating and answering comments etc. I then finished my term as chair and over the next year the committee members involved with Dulwich OnView left, to be replaced by people not interested in online social networking. (We had also set up a Flickr group, a Facebook page and Twitter).

Image of editorial team

Editorial team get together

Also at its inception, DPG was very nervous about Dulwich OnView. It had no control over the articles, could impose no regulations. Three years ago it was unusual for organisations to have blogs. It took a while to persuade them to mention DOV in the Friends area of their website and to link to us. They had to take us on trust. And in the end they did. All credit to them, and all credit to us for creating a successful website.


Recently the burden of running Dulwich OnView has been on just a couple of people, making the task of maintaining the volume and quality of the articles extremely onerous. I had continued my involvement after leaving the committee, but at the end of last year I had an opportunity to change direction which I wanted to take. It was crisis time. How much did DPG value Dulwich OnView? Would they allow it to die?

No; over the years DPG had come to realise the importance of Dulwich OnView as a modern marketing tool, in particular for younger people, and were prepared to employ 3 part time people to run it. They have agreed that it maintains its independence, which, after all, it its USP, and does not become just another institutional blog.

The DPG route from original shock-horror to creating a mini community outreach department to run Dulwich OnView has been rutted and long. It is with immense pride that myself, Yang May and all the original founders of Dulwich OnView deliver this unique and popular website into the hands of Dulwich Picture Gallery with the full blessing of its Director and Trustees.

Posted in Blogs, Guest-blog, Social Web | 1 Comment »

Do You Use Library Linked Data?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21st January 2011

Call for Use Cases: Social uses and other new uses of Library Linked Data
The W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group –
Please respond by February 15th, 2011

Do you use library-related data – like reading lists, library materials (articles, books, videos, cultural heritage or archival materials, etc), bookmarks, or annotations – on the Web and mobile Web?

Are you currently using social features in library-related information systems or sites, or plan to do so in the near future? We are particularly interested in uses that are related to or could benefit from the use of linked data

The W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group is soliciting SOCIAL and EMERGENT use cases for library-related linked data:

  • What new or innovative uses do you see (or envision) integrating library and cultural heritage data into applications on the Web and in social media?
  • How are social features used in library-related information systems?
  • What are the emergent uses of library-related data on the Web and mobile Web?
  • How could linked data technology enhance the use of library-related data in a social context?
  • contribute to systems for sharing, filtering, recommending, or machine reading?
  • support new uses we may not have envisioned or achieved yet?

Some examples have been discussed in this thread

Please tell us more by filling in the questionnaire below and sending it back to us or to, preferably before February 15th, 2011.

The information you provide will be influential in guiding the activities the Library Linked Data Incubator Group will undertake to help increase global interoperability of library data on the Web. The information you provide will be curated and published on the group wikispace at

We understand that your time is precious, so please don’t feel you have to answer every question. Some sections of the templates are clearly marked as optional. However, the more information you can provide, the easier it will be for the Incubator Group to understand your case. And, of course, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any trouble answering our questions.
Editorial guidance on specific points is provided at, and examples are available at

At this time, we are particularly interested in use cases describing the social media and emergent uses for library linked data.The Incubator Group will carefully consider all submissions we receive.

On behalf of the Incubator Group, thanks in advance for your time, Jodi Schneider jodi.schneider_deri.organd Uldis Bojārs


NB: It is not possible to make your response directly via this blog post. Please copy this text into a Word document or an email, add in your responses and send to the email address above.


A short name by which we can refer to the use case in discussions.


The contact person for this use case.

Background and Current Practice

Where this use case takes place in a specific domain, and so requires some prior information to understand, this section is used to describe that domain. As far as possible, please put explanation of the domain in here, to keep the scenario as short as possible. If this scenario is best illustrated by showing how applying technology could replace current existing practice, then this section can be used to describe the current practice. Often, the key to why a use case is important also lies in what problem would occur if it was not achieved, or what problem means it is hard to achieve.


Two short statements stating (1) what is achieved in the scenario without reference to linked data, and (2) how we use linked data technology to achieve this goal.

Target Audience

The main audience of your case. For example scholars, the general public, service providers, archivists, computer programs…

Use Case Scenario

The use case scenario itself, described as a story in which actors interact with systems. This section should focus on the user needs in this scenario. Do not mention technical aspects and/or the use of linked data.

Application of linked data for the given use case

This section describes how linked data technology could be used to support the use case above. Try to focus on linked data on an abstract level, without mentioning concrete applications and/or vocabularies. Hint: Nothing library domain specific.

Existing Work (optional)

This section is used to refer to existing technologies or approaches which achieve
the use case (Hint: Specific approaches in the library domain). It may especially
refer to running prototypes or applications.

Related Vocabularies (optional)

Here you can list and clarify the use of vocabularies (element sets and value vocabularies) which can be helpful and applied within this context.

Problems and Limitations (optional)

This section lists reasons why this scenario is or may be difficult to achieve, including pre-requisites which may not be met, technological obstacles etc. Please explicitly list here the technical challenges made apparent by this use case. This will aid in creating a roadmap to overcome those challenges.

Related Use Cases and Unanticipated Uses (optional)

The scenario above describes a particular case of using linked data. However, by allowing this scenario to take place, the likely solution allows for other use cases. This section captures unanticipated uses of the same system apparent in the use case scenario.

References (optional)

This section is used to refer to cited literature and quoted websites.

End of questionnaire

Posted in Social Web, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

NAS on Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13th December 2010

About this Guest Post.

Stephanie Taylor is the Library and Information Officer for The National Autistic Society. She can be contacted at

NAS on Twitter

Our library recently joined the world of Twitter ( In my quest to find out more about how other librarians are using Twitter I posted a few questions on the LIS-WEB2 Jiscmail list (LIS-WEB2@JISCMAIL.AC.UK). This blog post is based on the summary I posted of the answers I had received.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of feedback – why did my library embark on using Twitter in the first place? The National Autistic Society (NAS) Information Centre for whom I work has three key groups of users: our colleagues at the NAS; professionals outside of the charity who work with adults and children with autism; and students undertaking projects, essays or research on autism.  When I joined the NAS in 2003 students often approached us for information by letter. However as use of the Internet and email has developed we receive a large proportion of our enquiries by email or through our website. Conscious of the fact that many people have been embracing web2 technologies in recent years we felt that we too should see if these technologies could play a role in helping us to communicate with potential service users and in helping us to disseminate information. It was not anticipated that we would provide an enquiry service through these means, rather that we could communicate with anyone who may be interested in our service, for example by highlighting our information resources and services.

My idea was to begin with a series of Tweets to coincide with the first term at university. We drew up a schedule of one Tweet per week highlighting a particular resource or service. We also carried out lots of marketing to reach potential ‘followers’ including an email to lecturers and librarians at universities hosting relevant higher education courses; small pieces in a number of relevant magazines and e-newsletters; messages to relevant LIS-LISTS; information in our email signatures and on the cover letter which accompanies our information packs and enquiry responses by post. We attracted and still have a pretty small number of followers (35 to date) though this is steadily growing. Having attended an excellent CILIP course entitled Twitter for Librarians by Phil Bradley (@Philbradley) I had a good basis to confidently begin using Twitter but in the course of using Twitter I had a few questions: chiefly how to monitor mentions of @NASInfoCentre on Twitter; and how to build up followers. I received around a dozen responses from fellow librarians generous with their knowledge, experience and ideas.

Most respondents cited Hootsuite ( as their tool of choice for monitoring mentions (among other features). Tweetdeck ( is well-known and another popular tool so I am grateful to David Jenkins (@d_jenkins) for highlighting useful comparisons between Hootsuite and Tweetdeck at and Other recommendations were for Socialmention ( and Seesmic ( Twitter’s own search was also recommended to me. Thanks to Sue Lawson who emailed me this search term for monitoring mentions. Sue writes “This URL will show you all your Twitter @ mentions
Just replace manclibraries with your Twitter username”. A number of respondents suggested using RSS both for monitoring mentions and picking up followers by having a feed of your Tweets on your website. To see this in action you can visit the NAS’s own website at

Screen shot of NAS Twitter account

NAS Twitter account

In terms of building up followers, the key advice seems to be to understand Twitter as a two-way thing; to think about it as you would building relationships and having conversations in the non-web2 world, i.e. be friendly, sociable, helpful but don’t do all the talking. Follow others, ask and answer questions, retweet other people’s Tweets as appropriate. Try to find a balance between informative and conversational Tweets. Most importantly Tweet lots of interesting and useful things regularly. I’m not sure I’ve achieved this yet but it has been really useful advice. I’ve tried to find a balance between friendly, relaxed but also professional (I am representing the NAS after all). I’ve also written a few extra Tweets in addition to the schedule designed where I’d come across information I thought would be of interest to our followers. This included about a film of a short presentation by Simon Baron-Cohen (a key expert in the field of autism) on the Guardian website; an online autism conference organised by AWARES (an autism charity in Wales); and a link to the occupational therapy database, OTDBASE, that was free for a week. Colleagues also suggested tagging posts; utilising other social platforms e.g. other web2 tools; and to think about marketing. This advice gave me food for thought.

I’m at an early stage in my use of Twitter for my library. Next on my list is to try out Hootsuite; identify others to follow on Twitter (thanks to Sian Aynsley, @QEhealthcareLib who suggested using Twellow:, the Twitter Yellow Pages for this); and typical librarian to do: to do more reading! The following blog posts were recommended to me:
I also want to look at Microblogging and Lifestreaming in Libraries by Robin M. Hastings (ISBN: 9781856047234), part of Facet Publishing’s Tech Set series; and Loudon and Hall (2010). From triviality to business tool: the case of Twitter in library and information services delivery. Business Information Review, 27(3) available at

To see how we are getting on with Twitter you can follow us @NASInfoCentre or email I would particularly like to acknowledge the generosity and helpfulness of fellow librarians on LIS-WEB2 – without them this blog post would never have happened so thank you.

Posted in Social Web, Twitter | 2 Comments »

Spitfire RW388

Posted by guestblogger on 25th October 2010

About this Guest Post

Andrew Dawson is Project Assistant for the Connecting for the Future project based at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery where he is responsible for helping with the general running of the CftF project, but particularly with the collection and storing of participating museums’ data, the running of The Potteries Museum’s e-newsletter and the maintenance of the project’s microsites & associated Twitter, Flickr, etc. presences. He can be contacted at

Read Andrew’s first post on Connecting for the Future

RW388 and

RW388 is a MkXVI clipped wing Spitfire given to the City of Stoke-on-Trent in 1972 by the RAF. It’s long been one of the most popular exhibits here at the Potteries Museum but due to being exhibited firstly in a sun-drenched and humid glasshouse (before it was brought into a special gallery in the Museum in 1986) a large block of renovation and restoration is needed to stabilise the aircraft in the long term. We decided to tackle this renovation issue by creating a microsite which would celebrate one of the City’s unique exhibits – especially important when its designer, R.J. Mitchell was born locally and was educated in the City – and help raise funds to go towards its eventual renovation.

The microsite, running on a WordPress Multi-Site install, has been designed from the beginning to be light on static content. The “Your Photos” page – where the general public can create their own gallery of RW388-related photographs – and the “Your Memories” page – where people can talk about their memories of RW388’s arrival and time in the City – are the cornerstones of the site, allowing us to capture, store and share what local people think of this unique exhibit which has been part of the City for almost 40 years.

“Your Photos”

The “Your Photos” page contains a gallery of RW388-related photographs created by using the Flickr Mini Gallery plugin and an RW388 Flickr tag. Any Flickr user can upload images of the City’s Spitfire, tag it with RW388 and it will automatically appear in the gallery – clicking on an image brings up a lightbox containing the image, the photo’s title and description and a link to the original Flickr page.

screenshot of lightbox image

Flickr Image displayed in a Lightbox

It’s difficult to say why we chose to use Flickr for our gallery other than “because it’s Flickr” – there are so many reasons to use Flickr, from the excellent hosting and organisation tools to useful little additions such as the ability to add tags to other users’ photographs as well as your own. As The Potteries Museum was already signed up to Flickr we took the opportunity to upgrade to a Pro account – this costs $24.95 per year (around £16 at the current exchange rate) and allows a greater degree of flexibility with, amongst other things, unlimited uploads and storage. To see a more exhaustive list of the benefits of “going Pro” check out What do I get with a Pro Account? on Flickr’s FAQ.

The option to create a gallery from photographs pulled from a Facebook Group also exists thanks to a plugin called Facebook Photo Fetcher. However, as this would have involved creating and monitoring a Spitfire RW388 Facebook Group on top of all the other work to prepare the site for its launch we decided to look at this in the future instead, especially as we were already setting up Flickr to give us a similar end result.

“Your Memories”

To collect people’s memories of RW388 on the “Your Memories” page we decided to use the standard WordPress comments form as it was already well integrated into the frontend of the site, encouraged people to write a manageable amount of text and allowed some HTML for people to link to websites or insert images. The standard admin framework for monitoring comments and being able to grab an RSS feed of these comments/memories were also plus points to using the standard form. WordPress supports paged comments and plugins such as Hikari Featured Comments can be used to highlight particularly interesting memories, but it’s important that the growing number of memories on the site doesn’t become unwieldy and so we’ll watch how the standard paging works as more memories are added.

scrrenshot of comment box

Filling in a “Your Memories” comment on behalf of someone who emailed their thoughts in via our e-Newsletter email address

We’re looking into adding the option to use Audioboo to record audio memories of the Spitfire as well – in a similar way to Flickr’s photos “boos” can be tagged and Audioboo plugins do exist for WordPress, though we’re yet to find out whether they can display lists of tagged boos rather than a list of a particular user’s boos.

We’re also using the comments form in a similar way on the “Your Visit” page to find out what people think of the gallery and what they’d like to see changed, if anything.


We decided to create a standalone Twitter account for RW388 as a way to promote the site in general, tweet RW388-tagged photos or extracts of memories left on the site, and also to broadcast the latest fundraising news and donation totals. Having been lucky enough to speak to a Battle of Britain pilot about his Spitfire experiences we felt we could also take advantage of the #BoB70 hashtag being given so much coverage by Tweeters such as @RAFMUSEUM and @BattleofBritain by promoting our “Pilots’ Memories” page. Officially launching the website on Battle of Britain Day only helped get @RW388s tweets out into the twittersphere all the more!

Since the first flurry of tweets surrounding the website’s launch @RW388 has been a relatively quiet account as we wait for memories and photos – this is difficult as we know how important it is to try and keep content flowing on Twitter, but hopefully as memories and photos begin to be added we can “pick up the pace”, attract a few more followers and use the account a little more proactively.

Powering a site with web services…

An interesting observation and certainly a trap we almost fell into on occasions – especially as we were pushing very hard to meet the September 15th Battle of Britain Day deadline – was that when we were adding our content to services such as Flickr and Vimeo it was important to remind ourselves that the content would not just be accessed from the site but also from within the services itself. Taking the time to add tags, titles, short descriptions (with the microsite URL in of course!) and even geolocating the images before placing them into sets and collection will make a real difference to those browsing our images via Flickr rather than through the website, just as collating our Vimeo videos into an RW388 Channel will help people find all four of our interview clips. It also makes this content look important and cared for, and where’s the harm in that?!

Posted in Guest-blog, Museums, Social Web, Twitter, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Museum Marketing

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11th October 2010

Just found this blog MuseumNext (previously titled Museum Marketing) written by Jim Richardson, Managing Director of Sumo, a specialist design consultancy working in the arts and cultural sectors.

There are some interesting posts on using social meda to promote your institution and to support your activitues, and while it’s aimed at museums, many of the posts could apply to libraries and archives as well.

Whether it’s Dealing with negative feedback, Follow a Museum day, 10 steps to supercharge your Museums Facebook page, Tips for creating more interesting tweets for your museum or a Step-by-step guide to getting started on YouTube (for Museums) there’s a lot of useful stuff here and well worth a look for ideas.

Posted in Museums, Social Web | 1 Comment »

Archives 2.0

Posted by guestblogger on 28th June 2010

About this Guest Post

In this guest blog post Kiara King talks about web 2.0 for archives and the blog she maintains on the subject called ‘web watching for archivists’.

Kiara King is the Archivist for the Ballast Trust, a charitable foundation that provides a rescue, sorting and cataloguing service for business archives with an emphasis on technical records such as plans, drawings and photographs. She can be contacted at:

Archives 2.0

Web 2.0 and me

I first began dabbling in web 2.0 stuff in a personal capacity, with a little bit of facebook at University, some photo sharing and then a few blogs. When I came to decide on a subject for my archive masters’ dissertation in 2007, I wanted to explore how Web 2.0 could work for archives and their users and what the benefits were.

My dissertation looked at how archives could use four of the main Web 2.0 tools – blogs; photo-sharing sites; podcasts and wikis. I researched and found many exciting examples of innovative use of Web 2.0 in archives across the world and I included case studies to illustrate the benefits that using these tools brought to repositories, with a focus on UK examples where possible.

After I graduated, I continued to take an interest in “Archives 2.0” and when I was asked to give a presentation at the 2008 Society of Archivists conference on Web 2.0 I thought it would be useful to start a blog to give me a space to pull together and share the examples I’d found.

Web 2.0 word cloud

Web 2.0 word cloud

Web watching for archivists

I use my blog to share those examples I find and like of archives and archivists using Web 2.0 technologies today. I try to concentrate on UK examples as I think that Kate Theimer of Archives Next already does an excellent job of showcasing the good work that happens everywhere, particularly in North America as well as writing thought provoking posts and generating discussions on web 2.0 and archives.

I originally started my blog by writing up my presentation as a series of blog posts, with one on blogs, one on flickr, etc. Since then I’ve added example to these categories and expanded its scope with posts on new technologies like twitter and youtube, open source software, how to find advice and resources for learning about web 2.0 and even a new category on whimsy for things like the blog Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century!

Web 2.0 and archives

How do I think web 2.0 can help your archive? In exactly the same way it helps museums and libraries – to create new opportunities to connect with your users and raise the profile of your collections. Essentially Web 2.0 represents opportunities for archives. Opportunities to reach wider audiences, use collections in different ways, engage with users and improve the web presence of your repository. Web 2.0 allows you to:

Share your collections

Using a photo-sharing website like Flickr allows you to reach a potential audience of 40 million members. Archives can use Flickr to share digital images of their collections and encourage comments about them like the British Postal Museum and Archive has done. Or you can collect new images from the public like the Great War Archive project at Oxford University did.

British Postal Museum and Archive photostream screenshot

British Postal Museum and Archive photostream

Communicate differently

Starting a blog allows you to share news, promote events at your archive, host small online exhibitions, share the progress of a cataloguing project and generally update readers with any items of interest. Blogs are an easy and free way to provide a secondary public face for your organisation, one that may be more accessible and less formal than the official website.

Some examples of UK repository or collection blogs include the Orkney Archive blog, Special Collections at the University of Bradford and the Bartholomew Archive blog at the National Library of Scotland. There is also the excellent Archives Hub blog.

Orkney Archive blog screenshot

Orkney Archive blog

Twitter is blogging on a smaller scale with a maximum of 140 characters per ‘tweet’ and because of that lends itself to more frequent updates and informal commentary on your collections, linking back to your website or blog for the full story. Examples I like include Strathclyde Archive and Wiltshire Archive’s list of documents being consulted.

You can also use twitter or a blog to repurpose archival content by tweeting or posting diary entries or other collections like the War Cabinet papers being tweeted by the National Archives or George Orwell’s diaries.

UK War Cabinet on twitter screenshot

UK War Cabinet on twitter

Share your talks

Recording talks as podcasts or even digital videos is a great idea if your archive regularly hosts talks and presentations. As these are available online it immediately expands the potential audience and also gives the audience control about when they view or listen to your content. The National Archives Podcast Series is very successful and regularly updated with a variety of topics.

The National Archives Podcast Series screenshot

The National Archives Podcast Series

What next?

If you are interested in using web 2.0 tools in your organisation then take a look at what others have already done to give you some ideas. I’ve pulled together lots of examples of Web 2.0 in action in the UK on my blog and there is a more comprehensive wiki directory called ‘Archives 2.0’.

Web Watching for Archvists blog

Web Watching for Archvists blog

Finally, bear in mind these five guidelines before you start:

  • Think about what you want to do. Have a clear plan about what the tool will be used for and what content it will contain.
  • Experiment. These tools are very flexible and it should be easy to think of ways you could use existing content in new ways.
  • Engage with your potential audience. Find out what your users know about your collections and how you could capture this knowledge.
  • Learn from other sectors. Find out what has worked for museums and libraries.
  • Enjoy it!

Posted in archives, Guest-blog, Social Web, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments »

Local authorities and digital continuity

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21st June 2010

Working with local authority IT departments is often cited as a problem by libraries, archives and museums wanting to use Web 2.0 tools and services, so here is a timely report.

The press release states:

Archives Sector Development at The National Archives has recently published a report on the digital continuity risks of large local authorities in England, accessible from:

Digital Continuity requires strategic alignment, senior understanding and commitment and effective working relationships between Senior Information Risk Owners, ICT Managers, information assurance and governance officers and those responsible for business processes as well as records and information management.  This report is not part of the central government-funded Digital Continuity project but was commissioned to provide an evidential basis for future dissemination of that project’s findings to the wider public sector.

The main findings are:

  • Varying degrees of senior engagement exist in the authorities concerned;
  • A few authorities have information management strategies capable of delivering continuity but only one of the 35 respondents appeared to be addressing it at the strategic, board level;
  • Many information management programmes are partial and disconnected, indicating significant continuity risk; and
  • Many authorities appear to be struggling with coordinating the main internal players in information management.

The underlying survey, analysis and report writing were conducted by our contractors, Richard Jeffrey-Cook of In-form Consult and Philip Lord of the Digital Archiving Consultancy.

In addition to our contractors, we’d like to thank Socitm, the Records Management Society and the Association of Chief Archivists in Local Government (now part of the Archives and Records Association [UK & Ireland]) for their cooperation and facilitation in running the survey.  We hope that the report will be useful not just to us but also in providing levers for local authority information managers to influence their senior management.

Please address any comments or queries to:

Malcolm Todd
Digital Archives Advice Manager

Archives Sector Development
020 8392 5330 ext. 2192

Posted in Addressing Barriers, archives, Libraries, Museums, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Events – Value for Money?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10th June 2010

Four events have been brought to my attention recently – a trade fair, a 2-day workshop and 2 webinars. In a time of financial stringency, staff must justify requests to attend events out of staff development budgets or funds set aside for specific projects. So what coud you get out of each of these events?

Collect 2010 is organised by the Collections Trust, “for collection managers, registrars, archivists, librarians – in fact, for anyone who works with collections, both physical and digital”. This free event will be held at the Kingsway Hall Hotel in London on 28th June. See the Collect 2010 Web site for more details.

With this type of event, attendance is free but you’ll need to take time away from your job to be there and there are travel costs to factor in. You’ll be able to talk to a range of trade participants – in this case they include digital asset management companies and digitisation specialists – which is useful if, say, you are about to embark on a digitisation project or actively in the market for (or just thinking about) buying or upgrading a content management system. With this focus on face-to-face contact though, the only Web 2.0 aspect is if individuals attending on the day post tweets on Twitter or refer to the event afterwards via a blog, so the value is being there on the day.

IWMW 2010 is UKOLN’s annual Institutional Web Managers’ Workshop, which takes place this year at the University of Sheffield from the 12th to the 14th July 2010. The programme includes institutional case studies, presentations on national initiatives and emerging technologies and the chance to actively participate in a number of parallel sessions.

While cultural heritage sector staff aren’t likely to be attending this (you need to pay for your delegate place), the event Web site is a useful resource in itself, demonstrating how social media can be used to build a community of both delegates and non-attenders, before, during and after an event. For example, Ideascale was used to identify and vote for topics for some of the sessions. IWMW 2010 also has its own blog, and a Twitter tag ‘#iwmw10′. To see how this all builds up to a resource that has value after the event, take a look at the IWMW 2009 site.

Finally, the webinars. UKSG’s one-day seminar “Introduction to Serials and E-Resources Today” will be run as a series of webinars, with the content split into three two-hour parts (Part 1 on 30th June, Part 2 on 7th July and Part 3 on 14th July) each taking place from 2pm-4pm BST. The webinars include both presentations and a chance to ask questions and discuss relevant topics and are targetted at “staff new to working with e-resources and serials, whether from a publisher, an intermediary or a library, [while] this seminar may also be of interest to those looking to consolidate and update their serials and e-resources knowledge”.

The second webinar is on RDA, with ALA Digital Reference Publisher Troy Linker giving an overview of Resource Description and Access (RDA), how it is integrated into the RDA Toolkit, pricing, subscription options, and future plans for the continual improvement of the RDA Toolkit. The same content is delivered on 3 separate dates at different times of day, and if you can’t make one of these, they will be recorded and posted to

Thursday, June 17, 9:00am CDT (GMT -5) [Good choice for European and African participants]
Thursday, June 17, 8:00pm CDT (GMT -5) [Good choice for Australian and Asian participants]
Friday, June 18, 3:00pm CDT (GMT -5)

The webinar format means you don’t have to be away from the office for a full day and no extra travel is involved. But it may not be cost free – the RDA webinar is free but UKSG is charging for its webinar series. Another feature of webinars is that they can have an international audience and both the RDA and the UKSG webinars make this point in their event advertising, identifying local times for various parts of the world.

If you’ve been to an event which has integrated social media into the experience, or have “attended” a webinar, why not add a comment and tell us about it?

Posted in Libraries, Social Web, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Find people, build networks, share ideas

Posted by guestblogger on 22nd April 2010

About This Guest Post

In his role as chair, Martin Bazley introduces us to the Digital Learning Network (DLNet). The group was formerly known as the E-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives and has much to offer cultural heritage professionals looking to expand their knowledge in technical areas and make contact with peers with similar interests.

Martin can be contacted on using the DLNet email (

Find people, build networks, share ideas

The ELG has become the Digital Learning Network – DLNet for short.

DLNet has been created by the group formerly known as the E-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives. The idea is to go back to basics and get people talking about technology and learning. There are so many people whose job involves some kind of educational/digital role, but who don’t have a network and really depend on colleagues and informal relationships to share information about new developments.

It’s all about connecting people and sharing ideas

The Digital Learning Network arranges events, meetups (called ‘ThinkDrinks’) and tries to encourage people to come together – whether it’s 3 people in a pub or 100 people at a conference.

Have a look at a short video from the first London ThinkDrink:

YouTube Preview Image

So we are changing our name from the E-Learning Group to the Digital Learning Network – DLNet for short – and putting more effort into getting people talking and sharing ideas, as well as doing all the stuff we used to do.

Just created, and growing fast

In the first few weeks more than 65 people have registered, and 15 local groups created.

Have a look at how the site works, in this short introductory video:

YouTube Preview Image

Find people, build networks, share ideas

  • Do you want to find people working in digital learning in your local area?
  • Do you want to build networks?
  • Do you want to exchange ideas, experiences, and best practice?

We can help. We’re getting conversations going about using digital technology to support learning:

  • online – through the website or Twitter
  • face to face – all over the country, in networked groups

Here’s what you can do:

  • get a few people together for a ThinkDrink – at the pub, out for tea, at the zoo – wherever you like
  • let us know what you talked about – Tweet it, post pictures on Flickr, write a blog post, or post a short video on YouTube
  • form your own Digital Learning Network group

And don’t worry, we are still:

  • exploring how technology can help deliver inspiring and creative learning in museums, libraries, archives and the heritage sector
  • running our highly popular events such as conferences and seminars
  • hosting the email list, which is now (instead of

You can be a member of DLNet Online for free.

Or become a full member of DLNet – and receive discounts on bookable events and other benefits. Costs £12 individual, or £40 corporate (up to 3 member discounts per event)

If you’re already a paid-up member of the ELG, you are now automatically a full member of DLNet.

Have a look around the Digital Learning Network website and let us know what you think:

Posted in archives, Guest-blog, Libraries, Museums, Social Web | Comments Off

Council Gritter Twitters Leading The Way?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16th February 2010

A recently published SOCITM Report “shows how Councils are starting to use global social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as hyperlocal, community websites operating in their areas, to communicate with their residents and businesses when local emergencies arise“.

The 16 page report is free for SOCITM members (and costs £25 for non-subscribers). An accompanying summary of the report entitled “Twitter gritters: council use of digital channels in local emergencies” described how a recent structured survey of 125 councils across the UK “looked at how councils were publishing information about service disruptions during the period of snow and ice.  It looked at their use of Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the public and analysed the data from the Website take-up service to see how traffic to their websites was affected“. It seems that “in January 2010, traffic to council websites rose sharply, with further analysis suggesting that 75% of the increase in January’s traffic related to the impact of the severe weather“.

This report on how councils exploited Social Web services during the recent bad weather contrasts with another recent SOCITM survey on council’s attitudes to providing access to Social Web services. As described in an article published by the Socitm report fires a social media warning shot to the public sector. The article described how “around 90% of respondents revealed some level of restrictions were in place to prevent employees to access social media in the workplace, with 67% confirming a total ban on its use“.

Such inconsistencies might not be unexpected. It does seem to me, however, that library and museum staff who are frustrated at not being able to engage with their user communities through use of Social Web technologies may be able to use the Gritter Twitter story to persuade local authorities to liberalise their access policies.

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web | 1 Comment »

The 90% Who Can and the 90% Who Can’t

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11th February 2010

A recent post on the UK Web Focus blog described the recently-published report on an Investigation into Challenges, Application and Benefits of Social Media in UK HEIs. The report, which was based on a survey open to the UK Higher Education community, described how:

There are few restrictions on access to social Web services in the community, with unrestricted access to Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr reported by 90% of the institutions.

This figure contrasts sharply with the “90% of councils restrict social media” according to a recently published SOCITM survey of use of the Web across local authorities and reported in an article in Computer Weekly. The article goes on to describe how:

Around 90% of councils restrict access in some way, and Socitm is urging IT bosses to encourage their organisations to open up to its opportunities instead of being cautious.

About 67% completely ban the use of networks such as Facebook and Twitter, in contrast to most private sector organisations which do not block access.

Within the Higher Education community there have been a number of high profile reports which have identified the value of Web 2.0 and the Social Web to support the main aims of higher educational institutions. These reports include:

The JISC SIS Landscape Study on “A survey of the use of Web 2.0 tools and services in the UK HE sector” (33 page PDF document), published in January 2010 and summarised in a recent UK Web Focus blog post.

The “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report (52 page PDF document) which was published by Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) in May 2009 and summarised in a UK Web Focus blog post.”

The “Edgeless University: Why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology” report, which was commissioned by Demos which was published on 23 June 2009 and summarised in a UK Web Focus blog post.

The frustrations felt by practitioners in museums, libraries and archives is a recurring feature of UKOLN’s Introduction to Web 2.0 and the Social Web workshops which we have been delivering across the country over the peat couple of years. Such concerns are becoming more worrying as the general election approaches.  A recent tweet from MLA on how “Libraries could shut in wave of spending cuts, under Government plans” alerted me to an article published in the Daily Telegraph on how “Libraries could shut in wave of spending cuts, under Government plans“. The byline  read “Public libraries across the country could be closed to save money, under plans being considered by ministers” – and yes, it seems that Conservative shadow ministers are up in arms over plans by the Labour Government to shut down public libraries! It a strange world we are currently living in.

What role can the Social Web play in this environment?  It seems to me that practitioners in the outwards-facing departments, such as museums, libraries and archives, should be encouraged to make use of the Social Web  to support their key activities.  And use of such services can help to address the economic difficulties by avoiding unnecessary duplication of IT services in-house – a point made by SOCITM in a press release which described how:

… social media might be able to help address looming budget cuts by providing a cheap way to talk to citizens and provide services. Social media can also give employers new ways of empowering and supporting employers.

Isn’t it time that local authorities were penalised if they failed to exploit the opportunities which the Social Web is providing? And remember the concerns which have been expressed (including technical concerns such as security, reliability, interoperability and human issues such as “it’s a waste of time!”) are equally relevant to the higher education sector – where such concerns are being addressed.

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web | Comments Off

Guest Post: “What’s my email address anyway Miss?” Communicating with the Facebook generation

Posted by guestblogger on 27th January 2010

About This Guest Post

In this guest blog post Nicola McNee, Librarian at Kingswood School, near Bath explores the challenges in familiarising school children with the potential of the Social Web.

“What’s my email address anyway Miss?”:
Communicating with the Facebook generation

Nicola and her students

Nicola McNee and her students

Email is the “snail” mail of the current generation of teenagers. Shocking, but true. It comes as a bit of a surprise to those of us who have spent the last 15 or so years enduring the tedious routines of logging in, reading, replying, deleting and attaching. But why would you do all that when you can tell all your friends what’s happening in your life through one status update on Facebook and make arrangements for meeting them through Instant Messaging here and now in real time. And, oh, if you want to submit that vital bit of homework-well there’s the handing in point on the schools Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for just that purpose isn’t there?

“Undeliverable. Recipients mailbox is full”

The challenge then, for all educators whether in museum, library or school is how we communicate with these teenagers when our mailings get returned with “Undeliverable. Recipients mailbox is full” from their institutional email addresses. More importantly how do we integrate teen’s social media activities online into how we teach and learn in school? Both encompass learning in a social environment so it should be easy shouldn’t it?

Trying to find a way forward in the Independent School where I work, as a librarian, is daunting but also extremely exciting. Kingswood Senior School has 650 students aged 11-18 and about a third of them live on site in a beautiful location on the outskirts of Bath. The school was founded by John Wesley and has a Christian ethos with an emphasis on educating the whole person in a community environment. This includes a wide ranging programme of extra-curricular activities as well as excellent teaching of the traditional curriculum.

As the first professional librarian employed by the school I have had the privilege over the last 4 years of setting up a new library which has quickly been embraced by the students and staff alike. It’s not an exaggeration to say the facilities are busy all day everyday with formal research (during structured lesson time) and informal learning at lunchtimes and after school.

More recently I have been developing a programme for students to improve their research and study skills. Students at the age of 11 and 12 learn how to structure a research query and use the library and its resources to answer it, through a series of projects relating to the Personal, Social and Health curriculum. This is augmented by research tasks undertaken in other departments to encourage students to develop their independent learning skills further.

Teaching using social media for learning

So far so good. But I have become increasingly aware of the many interactive tools on the social web that could be used to develop students’ study skills. It is my belief that we are not doing our job properly in school if we aren’t helping and positively encouraging our students to find them. To this end I have, since September, been teaching a 6 week module to Year 11’s about to sit their GCSE examinations about using social media for learning. This contains the opportunity to sign up for a personalised web page – using iGoogle, share brainstorming with and discover electronic note taking with Evernote (illustrated below).


The RSS reader on iGoogle is used to explain the concept that the information they want can be brought to their desktop and continually updated. Examples are taken from current work like mindmapping an essay plan for the English text “An Inspector Calls” or storing notes about Pacifism for GCSE Religious Studies “Issues”.

Students have, on the whole, seen the point of the course immediately. I have called it “Organizing Your Online Life” and tried to show them how they can join up their way of socializing online and studying at school. A survey of the first two groups (through Surveymonkey naturally) has revealed that 41% found the course life changing and a further 27% enjoyable. Two thirds of the students said they would definitely be continuing to use at least one of the tools on a regular basis.

Undeliverable. The school’s curriculum is full?

But it hasn’t been easy and there are difficulties I continue to face in teaching a course like this. Sometimes it has genuinely felt like “Undeliverable. The School’s curriculum is full!” There are problems with the perception by some staff that social media activity is wasting time. Choices of which tools to introduce are limited by safeguards deemed necessary for the network to protect students from bullying or worse. And school policy (in keeping with DCSF guidelines) discourages staff from “befriending” students in an online social environment.

Is it “appropriate to the student’s education”?

After proudly explaining how one sports mad teenager had set up a page full of RSS feeds from the likes of the Arsenal web site (whilst demonstrating iGoogle to a group of teaching colleagues) I was challenged as to whether this was “educational”. The schools acceptable use policy states that “all internet activity should be appropriate to the student’s education” and that word appropriate is obviously open to interpretation. Just what is appropriate? Just what is educational? As far as I am concerned learning to manipulate RSS feeds is definitely an appropriate life skill for a 15 year old to learn. Maybe I’m wrong? My reply was also to ask why this activity was any different from coming to the library and reading the sports supplement in the Times newspaper? Or sitting on a beanbag and reading a fantasy novel at lunchtime? The positive outcome to all this discussion has resulted in a helpful review of the wording of our acceptable use policy.

The current policy means that all social networking sites like Facebook, Youtube or Twitter are automatically filtered on the schools network even for Sixth form students although the boarding students, whose parents agree, are allowed access to some social networking at weekends. The reasoning behind this is that students are in our care and have to be protected and anyway if they could visit these sites they would waste too much time using them. However, the attitude towards this blanket ban during the school day is changing. Recently the school undertook a series of assemblies showing students the potential problems they could face if they didn’t protect themselves online. Everyone was then given access to Facebook at lunchtime to allow them to adjust their privacy settings. But I personally do not think this is enough. Surely it’s our duty to teach them to be “savvy” online in a more intensive structured way and even more to acknowledge how networking can be utilized to improve their learning. This is especially important when GSCE students have told me that one of the most helpful strategies for revising for exams is by “testing” each other i.e. working together socially! Just think… they can do that when they are home alone in the evenings (across the Internet) if we show them how.

“This application has terminated in an unusual way”

There are problems too with using social media on the Internet as part of a schools network. Our School IT department has been very helpful in unblocking access to sites like so that I can deliver my course of taster sessions. But the nature of our network environment means that students can’t always do the things they can on a personal computer at home. It’s great they can access their own personal network space from any computer in school but this means they cannot set their customized iGoogle page as their homepage. As well as this applications will not recognize their logins from previous visits so students have to remember all their log-in formats and passwords to the social media they use. Not any easy feat for some (myself included).

Voicethread created by a Year 7 class

Voicethread created by a Year 7 class (click for full size image)

Like many institutions we use the Internet Explorer browser and had been using IE6 for a number of years. Many new applications like Wallwisher, Glogster and Voicethread (which is illustrated ) require IE 7 and we had to upgrade across the network before they could be used with the junior classes I teach. But then IE 7 has its own problems with add-on toolbars used in applications like the very useful Diigo social bookmarking tool. I would love to share this with students because they could share bookmarks with one another and highlight text online. Unfortunately my own use of Diigo often results in the message “This application has terminated in an unusual way” and a shut down of the Internet browser so it has proved impossible to demonstrate it in lessons.

“With regard to social networking outside of school”

In our staff Internet access policy we are “strongly advised” not to befriend students outside of school “lest allegations, founded or unfounded-are made”. I haven’t really had a problem with this because the social networking sites I show have a recognizable educational use and I never encourage students to befriend me on them. I discuss the issue with the students and explain the school policy. I have recently found myself followed on Twitter by some of my GCSE students but I have sent them each a message thanking them for following me and in a humorous way reminding them that I won’t be following back. I expect they’ll get bored with my tweets quite quickly! However if I was a subject teacher it would be very useful for me to collaborate on, say Google docs, with presentations with my students. Does this cross the boundaries? Can BECTA’s differentiation between “social networks” and “online communities” be sustained? I note that Microsoft Office 2010 has a number of ways of linking with open source networking sites so this will become an issue that needs to be clarified further.

Developing social learning in the future

The biggest problem I see for the future is ensuring that staff have information about social media sites and the confidence to integrate the use of them into their teaching and learning. Fortunately this has been recognized by the school’s Senior Management Team and the current Head of Academic ICT has the vision to want to transform her role into one of Coordinator of E-learning. She wants ICT to be taught not as a disparate subject but across the curriculum with a strong emphasis on learning collaboratively. This is really good news for me as we have already worked together on cross-curricular approaches to improving independent study skills. But, from my experience, unless we ensure a parallel programme of support and confidence-building for staff the gap between how students learn at home and in school will grow ever wider.

BECTA’s “Next Generation Learning” initiative states that:

Online communities offer children varied opportunities for developing knowledge and interests as well as important social and communication skills

Let’s hope that schools and teaching staff can exploit student interest in social networking to raise standards in learning!

About The Author

Nicola McNee has been Librarian at Kingswood School for the past 4 years. She has a wide range of previous experience working in academic and public libraries, mostly in Northern Ireland.

Nicola McNee can be contacted at or Her Twitter id is @nicolamcnee and her Learning Log is available at <>.

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Guest-blog, Social Web | 5 Comments »

Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14th December 2009

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web” at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 Conference .

The slides for this talk are available on Slideshare and are also embedded below.

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Events, Social Web | 1 Comment »

Responding To Social Web Challenges

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6th August 2009

I mentioned previously that I took part in a 2-day workshop held in Cardiff on “Search Engine Optimisation”, running a session on “Using The Social Web To Maximise Access To Your Resources“. Towards the end of the session I asked the participants to identify some of the difficulties and challenges in exploiting the Social Web for this purpose. These (slightly tweaked) questions are listed below and, as promised, I have included some responses.

Group 1

  • How do you find relevant resources?
  • What are the quick wins?
  • How does one develop an organisational strategy?
  • How does one rein in the enthusiasts?
  • How do you get motivation higher up the food chain?

Finding Web 2.0 resources is probably easy, there are so many of them. Finding relevant resources may be more challenging. You will need to ensure that the resources are relevant to your particular requirement, that you have the appropriate skills and expertise to use them and that your investment in time and effort in learning about and using the resources will provide an appropriate return on investment. A suggestion I would make is to use the Social Web to make connections with your peers and top learn from them about the resources they find useful. This blog can also have a role to play. We have already published a number of guest blog posts which describe the experiences of a number of cultural heritage organisations in using Social Web services. We hope you can learn from these experiences. And why not offer to why a guest blog post yourself, about your experiences in using the Social Web.

What are the quick wins? I would suggest introducing your marketing department to various tools which can be used to observe what is being said about your organisation on the Social Web. Using Addictomatic to see what is being said about the SS Great Britain, for example, I can see that visitors are already using Twitter to talk about their visit, including one person who informs us that this is the “First time we’ve been since our parents got married on it“. An opportunity for some positive publicity about the marriage, perhaps – but also a need to reflect on the ethics of doing this. And if negative comments are being made about visits, wouldn’t you want to know about it so that, if appropriate, the concerns can be addressed. And once the marketing department understands how visitors and the media are using the Social Web they may then want to publish in this space.

The need for an organisational strategy is beginning to be raised more frequently. There’s a danger, I feel, in developing policies covering use of the Social Web too soon – there’s a need to observe the diversities of ways in which the Social Web is being used before implementing policies which may stifle innovative uses.  So perhaps the strategic approach needs to embrace a period of observing and experimentation.

The question of how one reins in the enthusiasts can perhaps be challenged. Why would you want to rein in the enthusiasm of colleagues who are keen to exploit the potential of the Social Web? Surely you should consider yourself fortunate to have such colleagues? But of course such enthusiasm will need to be managed. One approach to maintaining the enthusiasm whilst ensuring this is sustainable may be to ask the enthusiastic user of the Social Web to document how the institution should respond if funding is reduced or the enthusiast leaves the institution.

How do you get motivation higher up the food chain is another important question – after all, the  enthusiasm and a bottom-up approach can only go so far. I have suggested to those who work in higher education that the enthusiasts should ensure that senior managers are alerted to the Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World and The Edgeless University reports. These two high profile reports were commissioned by key funding bodies and related agencies and outline the strategic responses required of senior management. “Beat your senior managers over the head with these reports” is how I suggested these reports could be used to get motivation from those higher up the food chain.  It would be useful to see if similar reports have been published for the cultural heritage sector and for other groups in the public sector.

Group 2

  • Who owns the content and how does one go about monitoring  it?
  • How do you learn how to use social media?
  • How do you automate workflow processes to keep, for example,  course materials up-to-date on third party Web sites?

The ownership of content held on Social Web services can be complicated. I have tried to avoid the complications of contracts for my UK Web Focus blog by explicitly clarifying ownership issues in the blog’s policy. The question of monitoring content is partially covered in my response to a previous question (use services such as Addictomatic). I’d also suggest that the enthusiasts who make initial use of the Social Web in a profession context define their own policies which ensure that  their use reflects the interests of their host institution along the lines I have taken for my UK Web Focus blog.

I am pleased that the question of automating workflow processes has been raised. There are certain Social Web services, such as Facebook, which I feel should be used to automatically pull in content held elsewhere. If you wish to use Facebook for an organisational presence I would recommend that details of events, photographs, videos, etc, are embedded using RSS applications or other appropriate applications (e.g. YouTube, Flickr, etc. tools)

Group 3

  • How appropriate is it to move in to student’s social media (it might make them move out)?
  • What about the investment in existing systems (e.g. VLEs, CMSs, etc.)?

The term creepy treehouse is sometimes used as an argument that organisations shouldn’t use Social Web services. However rather than completely avoiding use of these  services I feel there is a need to use them in appropriate fashion. It would be a mistake, I feel, to require users to ‘befriend’ an organisation in order to access their resources. However providing access to such resources in a Social Web context which users may choose to access is providing a diversity of means for users to engage with the resources.

The question of one’s investment in existing systems is, when you think about it, nothing new. We’ve been through many times before this: for example when we moved from mainframe computers to workstations and from standalone PCs to networked PCs. In the IT world this regular change has always happened and we need to ensure that as organisations we are agile enough to respond.

Group 4

  • Is there a problem just trying to be cool and trendy, or can the services be used to fulfill relevant purposes?
  • Can we assume that all users will be willing and able to make use of the Social Web? What about issues such as social inclusion?
  • Should you seek permission in the first place… or just do it?

Public sector organisations shouldn’t be cool and trendy – they should be dull and worthy :-)   More seriously, innovation is often intimidating and may be dismissed by being labelled as ‘cool and trendy’.  This happened in the mid 1990s when Web sites were regarded as trendy, but eventually became established (and even dull and boring!). Social Web services may be cool and trendy – but they can still be used to fulfill one’s organisational requirements.

All users will not be willing or able to make use of the Social Web, and it would be wrong to assume there is a homogeneous user community out there, who are all using Facebook and are comfortable using various Social Web services. But not all of are users are willing or able to make use of IT. Does that mean we should abandon investment in IT? Clearly not. rather issues such as social inclusion will form part of the challenges which we need to face and address. But remember that developing engaging services which make use of the Social Web may help to engage with users communities which are otherwise difficult to reach.

The suggestion that enthusiasts and motivated individuals should take an approach of ‘just do it‘ was popular a few years ago (indeed Mike Ellis and myself presented a paper on “Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barrier” at the  Museums and the Web 2007 conference which explored these ideas. This approach, which was not possible when significant development required large budgets and the support of IT staff, is now achievable. But there is a need to consider one’s organisational cultural and the risks that any innovation may not be sustainable.  But remember that there are approaches that individuals may be able to take (using an RSS reader, using a social bookmarking services such as, etc.) which can be beneficial for the individual and help improve the individual’s efficiency without the need for formal adoption within the institution.

Group 5

  • How do you monitor what’s ‘out there’ and make sure it is answered in reasonable time?
  • How do you convince decision makers for staff to do this work and get resources?

The first question is concerned with monitoring what is being said about your organisation on the Social Web and how one should respond, especially to criticisms. There are a wide range of tools which can be used to alert you to new content – I make use of Google alerts to send me email messages which appear to mention papers I have written. I also have RSS feeds which will alert me to blog posts and RSS feeds which mention the areas of work I am involved in. In addition the administrator’s interface for my blog will inform me of new including links which cite my posts. I then have to make a judgment on hos I should respond to this information.

How do you convince decision makers of the importance of the Social Web? Well the economic recessions, which is still to hit the public sector in its full force, will help decision makers to focus on new ways of doing things. And use of services in the Cloud may have a role to play in helping public sector organisations to continue to engage with their user communities, without having to ask for significant amounts on new investment.

Group 6

  • What tone should be used for embracing Social Web?
  • How do you control and monitor use of the Social Web?
  • How do you identify authentic Web sites, compared to those that appear similar?

A variety of ‘voices’ can be used when making use of the Social Web. The voice behind the blog or the Twitter account could be that of an individual. Alternatively the voice could be the institution.  Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages.  My suggestion would be to observe the approaches taken by related organisations and adopt one that you feel would work best for your organisation and for the people in your organisation who will be involved in use of the Social Web.

The issue of monitoring use of the Social Web has been mentioned previously. The question of ‘control’ of the Social Web is a difficult and perhaps dangerous one to raise. You can’t control what is said about your organisation on the Social Web (unless you wish to te legal proceedings). My view is to regard the Social Web as a public place: you can’t stop people talking about you in such places, But you can talk about the things that you have being doing in this space.

The issue of authenticity in the Social Web is another interesting one.  For me, this is a question of information literacy. Yes not everything in Wikipedia, for example, will be true, and users need to appre5ciate this.  But Wikipedia is a very well-used resource. So let’s ensure, at least, that entries in Wikipedia relevant to our areas of interest and expertise benefit from our experiences and knowledge.

I hope these responses to the issues raised at the workshop in Cardiff are helpful for the participants. I should add, however, that these aren’t intended to provide ready-made answers: rather they aim to provide suggestions for approaches which may help. Let’s not imagine that there are a set of simple rules which will solve all of the uissues related to effective use of the Social Web. Life ain’t like that, I’m afraid!

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web | Comments Off

Challenges in Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4th August 2009

Last month I gave a series of presentations on “Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources“. These were delivered in a series of workshops organised by the Strategic Content Alliance and held in Belfast, Edinburgh, London and Cardiff. In addition a slightly tweaked version of the session was held at the IWMW 2009, following the unavailability of one of the planned sessions.

The structure of the sessions was (a) an illustration how the Social Web can complement Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques to maximise access to resources, services and ideas; (b) examples of approach to use of metrics to understand the success (or not) or the approaches taken and (c) discussions of the challenges to be faced in making use of the Social Web for these purposes.

The slides used at the IWMW 2009 session are included below (and are also available on Slideshare).

In the final workshop held at Cardiff on 31 July 2009 I invited participants to raise any specific concerns they had regarding use of the Social Web. These issues were recorded and are included below. I did (foolishly!) agree to provide ‘solutions’ to any issues which participants raised. I’ll try to do this in a forthcoming post. In the meantime can anyone help by providing solutions to these issues?

Table 1

  • How do you find relevant resources?
  • What are the quick wins?
  • How does one develop an organisational strategy?
  • How does one rein in the enthusiasts?
  • How do you get motivation higher up the food chain?

Table 2

  • Who owns the content and how does one go about monitoring  it?
  • How do you learn how to use social media?
  • How do you automate workflow processes to keep, for example,  course materials up-to-date on third party Web sites?

Table 3

  • How appropriate is it to move in to student’s social media (it might make them move out)?
  • What about the investment in existing systems (e.g. VLEs, CMSs, etc.)?

Table 4

  • Is their a problem just trying to be cool and trendy, or can we fulfill particular purposes?
  • Can you assume that all students are able to communicate i.e. social inclusion?
  • Should you seek permission in the first place… or just do it?

Table 5

  • How do you monitor what’s up there and make sure it is answered in reasonable time
  • How do you convince decision makers for staff to do this work and get resources?

Table 6

  • What tone should be used for embracing Social Web?
  • How do you control and monitor use of the Social Web?
  • How do you identify authentic Web sites, compared to those that appear similar?

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Microblogging – The Animated Cartoon

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14th July 2009

Netskills have recently released a series of Web2practice practice guides. The guides, which provide short animated video explaining key concepts,  explain how technologies like RSS, micro-blogging, podcasting and social media can enhance your working practice.

The animated video for micro-blogging is embedded in this blog (and is also available from the Web2practice blog and on in order to illustrate the approach which has been taken.

I think that this video, possibly used in conjunction with UKOLN’s Introbyte briefing documents on micro-blogging, could well provide a useful introduction to those who are unfamiliar with (or sceptical of) the potential of micro-blogging services such as Twitter. But what do you think of this approach?

Posted in Social Web | Comments Off

Emerging Best Practices For Institutional Use of Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8th June 2009

In today’s rapidly developing technical environment there is a need to gain experience of the diversity of new networked services which can be used to enhance institutional objectives. There is also a need to document and share emerging best practices – whilst avoiding the temptation to develop constraining policies too soon – a danger which public sector organisations may be prone too.

As an example I have recently started to record videos of my talks at conferences and publish the videos soon after the event. I am pleased to have received positive feedback on this, including this comment:

Many thanks for providing the video and the Slideshare of your #CILIP-CYMRU09 event. I missed your presentation because I was “on a mission” for the following speaker at the conference, so I greatly appreciate this opportunity to catch up! …

You’ve done a lot to dispel this misunderstanding and fear here, in a very balanced and helpful overview. Joeyanne’s page provides a useful example of how Web 2.0 isn’t just about Facebook and Twitter, but is the working integration of a number of tools, all enabling dialogue and sharing. The examples you provide of the NLW using social web tools also add credibility and weight to these services.

Such feedback will help in the formulation of best practices and, at a later date, policies on being videoed at events.

Another area of growing interest to many cultural heritage organisations is institutional use of Twitter. Although Twitter may have been initially regarded as a trivial application by some in the sector, it is now becoming regarded as a tool which can be used to support institutional objectives. But rather than just leaping on the Twitter bandwagon there is a need to give some thought as to how Twitter might be used. For example, an organisation may wish to allow (or, possibly encourage) use of Twitter by individuals, to support sharing and informal working across a community with shared interests. This is a use case which Mike Ellis highlighted in his blog post on “The person is the point“. And if this is your aim, then your priority may be to allow access to Twitter through your organisational fireall.

But although this was the initial way in which Twitter was used by many involved in networked development activities, there are also a variety of ways in which Twitter can be used by an organisation, rather than by just individuals within the organisation.

Such uses could include:

  • Official important announcements
  • A summary of the institution’s RSS news feed
  • A channel for providing alerts of urgent news items.
  • A way of engaging with the institution
  • A way of engaging with discussions regarding events organised by the institution.

Each of the different uses are likely to have different workflows and different guidelines for best practice. Should an institutional Twitter account follow the user’s who have chosen to follow the account? Should an institutional Twitter account respond to queries or engage in discussions? Should an institutional Twitter account have a personality or should it provide a neutral tone? Should the content be provided by a team or an individual?

Lots of questions – and patterns of usage are beginning to emerge.  In particular via the Fresh and New(er) blog I came across a post on “Twitter information for your users – good practice from Mosman Municipal“, which linked to a discussion on “Australia: Mosman Council Twitter Guidelines“. The Mosman Council Twitter Guidelines make it clear who is providing the Twitter feed, the ppurpose of the service, policies on following other Twitter users and responding to comments, a privacy statement and a legal disclaimer.  I hope we’ll seem more sharing of such emerging best practice guidelines – but more importantly the discussions as to what constitutes best practice: a discussion which is taking place on the “Australia: Mosman Council Twitter Guidelines” blog post. Is Laurel Papworth, who wrote the blog post, right to be concerned when she asked”“WTF? A council trying to control the discussion on a 3rd party site?“. Or would you agree with her when she went on to add “it’s not their fault, it’s the mess we’ve got ourselves into with lawyers and courts and such. They’ve really bent over backward to be helpful and contactable to their constituents. Bless“?

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web | 1 Comment »

Explaining the Risks and Opportunities Framework

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21st May 2009

In my recent blog post on my Talk at the MCG Spring Meeting 2009 I gave a brief summary of the talk on “Engaging With The Social Web: A Risks and Opportunities Framework” which I gave at the MCG Spring Meeting 2009 and included a video recording of the talk.

As promised in that post, I am today explaining in more detail what I mean by a risks and opportunities Framework.

The advocacy work, such as that described Mike Ellis and myself in a paper on “Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers” at the MW2007 conference, has now been widely accepted. The opportunities which can be provided by the Social Web are now widely acknowledged, as we heard in a number of presentations form staff from the Bath Cultural Heritage Service Department.

As I explained in a paper on “Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Service” presented at this year’s MW2009 conference We know need to address a range of concerns including those which have been raised at various workshops organised by UKOLN and delivered through MLA Regional Agencies and Renaissance Hubs. Such concerns include a lack of understanding (of what the Social Web is about); concerns over legal issues, technical challenges (such as interoperability, reliability issues), business challenges (such as sustainability) and related resourcing issues.

It may be useful to consider the Gartner Hype curve in the context of exploitation of Social Web services.  The early adopters have, in many cases, been successful in promoting new technologies, such as, initially the borad concept of Web 2.0 and, more recently, specific examples such as Twitter.  But we now need to attempt to reshape the Gartner curve, by managing expectations and deploying a variety of approaches in order to avoid the ‘trough of despair’ and achieve sustainability and effective services.

We firstly need to ensure that we have a realistic view of the various emerging Social Web services. Simply suggesting that a setting up, for example a Ning social networking environment will provide a sustainable community isn’t the case, and there are enough examples of empty social networking environments which can be used to demonstrate this. However we also need to remember that it’s not just a question of the numbers of active users which defines success: there will be examples of social networks with small numbers of users (such as, perhaps, a committee) who feel that the environment satisfies their needs by providing a cost-effective solution. We must remember that there is a context to any success criteria.

We do need to consider the various legal issues. But we need to remember that as the law may not reflect technical possibilities, it may sometimes it may be possible to exploit technologies in ways in which ‘reasonable measures’ clauses in legislation may permit. The Disability Discrimination Act and its application to the IT environment, for example, provides an interesting case study. Does the video recording of my talk at the MCG Spring Meeting fall foul of disability legislation, as there is no trasncipt available? Or could I argue that the video recording enhances access for people who could not attend the meeting (and we have evidence that that is the case)? And doesn’t this blog post provide an equivalent (indeed richer) experience than is provided on the video? Indeed could it not be argued that a failure to provide videos of the other speakers contravenes disability legislation? After all, it is now very easy to record talks (as I demonstrated) and make them available online.

We also need to address the issues of sustainability and interoperability. Two years ago, I frew parallels between Web 2.0 services such as Google and Yahoo! and the banks. ‘Banks might become bankrupt‘ I argued ‘But they  normally don’t, so let’s not worry too much‘.  These days I say ‘Banks do become bankrupt, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use banks and keep out money under our mattress. Rather we take a risk management approach and ensure we don’t have more than the £30,000 limit (I think) which is guareanteed by the government‘. We need to develop similar risk assessment and risk management approachs to our use of Social Web services.

In this post I will not expand on the approaches to addressing the interoperability anbd sustsinability issues in any details, or related issues regarding gaining a better understanding of the Social Web and addressing the organisational and cultural barriers we are likely to encounter, especially in public sector organisations – I’ll simply mention the various UKOLN workshops we’ve delivered over the past few years and the briefing documents which seek to address such issues.

A variety of deployment strategies have been discussed at various workshops (e.g. identifying the low-hanging fruit; supporting the enthusiasts, etc.) For now, however I wish to address three key aspects of the framework I have been working on: a risks and opportunities assessment and management approach; exploitation of Critical Friends and friendly critics and a culture of openness.

As described in the JISC infoNet Risk Management infoKitIn education, as in any other environment, you can’t decide not to take risks: that simply isn’t an option in today’s world. All of us take risks and it’s a question of which risks we take“. Our organisations will need to take risks, and we need to acknowledge the difficulties of changing a culture which, in many public sector organisations, is risk averse. We also need to apply a risk assessment approach to in-house development work as well as exploitation of third-party services. We should remember the experience of the UK eUniversity when £62 million pounds of public money was invested in the development of a national e-University. In 2004, however, we learnt that HEFCE had pulled the plug on the E-University. We need to ensure that we avoid repeating such mistakes in other areas, especially as people are predicting significant changes in the management of, and associated levels of funding, after the next election.

An approach I have been exploring recently is use of Critical Friends. I first came across this in a JISC context in order to ensure that reality checks are in place in areas of innovation. It seems that Critical Friends: (a) have a mission to make projects succeed; (b) balance informal approach with critical eye; (c) maintain confidentiality, frankness, sensitivity & independence and (d) may have a funded role. In the absence of Critical Friends innovative developments may benefit from ‘friendly critics’ who have no formal responsibilities but are still willing to discuss and engage and will appreciate sensitivities, constraints, etc. Ensuring that such mechanisms are in place will help to identify possible unexpected risks and dangers and minimise attacks at a later date from unfriendly critics & hostile opponents.

The risks and opportunities framework was first developed as A Framework For Making Use of Facebook. An updated version was described in a post on the UK Web Focus blog and the accompanying diagram is shown here.

In brief it is proposed that decisions on use of Social Web services should be informed by documentation on:

  • The intended purpose of the service
  • The perceived benefits for various stakeholders
  • The missed opportunities for the various stakeholders of not using the service
  • The costs of using the service for the various stakeholders.

It should be acknowledged that such documentation is likely to reflect an organisational and organisational and personal biases and other subjective factors.

In order to maximise the benefits of this approach, external input should be encouraged, whether through the formal use of Critical Friends or by inviting friendly critics to give feedback on proposed plans.

In public sectors organisations in particular we would expect this approach to be taken in a culture of openness and sharing.  The sharing of experiences (both good and, as Mia Ridge has recently described, bad) happens already on various mailing lists and at events and conferences. But we should be doing more of this and at an earlier stage in development work.

We  may, indeed, find ourselves in the situation in which FOI requests will be made in order to provide public access to information on networked services, as has been seen with the FOI request for information on the total number of objects in the Natural History Museum’s collection. In this example the National History Museum was able to report “a total holding of 75.6 million items for the entire Museum“.

We know from the recent stories about MPs expense claims that there can be real dangers in attempting to hide information from the public. And once legislation or pressure from the media and the public forces public bodies to provide such data we now find that the whistle-blowers aren’t just newspapers (often with an axe to grind) but the development community who now can use various technologies to visualise how public sector funding is being used (or misused, as can be seen from Tony Hirst’s various mashups of MPs expense claims).

The benefits of being open about development work shoiuld be self-evident. And It is worth mentioning Nick Moyes’ recent post on this blog on “When Peregrines Come To Town” in which he described some unexpected problems in deploying a very popular service:

So great were our webstats submitted under the now-superceded system of “Best Value Performance Indicators” reported by local authorities, that the Audit Commission even questioned their veracity. After much high level debate they declared our figures unsuitable for reflecting website usages by museums. Had it been a stuffed peregrine, fine. But this was a live bird – so how could it be seen as valid for a museum to report on that, they argued. A fair point, perhaps. After all, “Best Value” was designed to allow for fair comparison to be drawn between similar types of service across different local authorities, so maybe exclusion was sensible. But when it was suggested locally that this decision might put the viability of the whole project into question, then alarm bells did begin to ring. I feared this could be a case of the statistics-gathering tail wagging the audience-focussed dog. But common sense prevailed and we’ve since been fully supported in our work, especially so after being able to demonstrate that we draw many thousands more visitors into our main websites each summer

And rather than regarding such FOI requests as a threat, the museum sector in particular should regard this as an ideal opportunity to build on a well-established tradition of openness and use figures (such as the Natural History Museum’s “total holding of 75.6 million items for the entire Museum” as an opportunity to promote one’s own contributions to the digital environment. And if more museums were making their data available in an open and reusable way the entire sector would be well-pusitioned to exploit the opportunies provided by the ubiquity of Web 2.0 and the Social Web.

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »