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‘Build your own hypertext library’ starter kit

“I’ve got a dead body for you,” announced the postman, hefting the large bag. It was full of hypertext!

Mark Bernstein remarked that some hypertext literature was free to a good home, so I asked… and I received!

It arrived today.

I have never met the donor, who currently works in Chicago. How kind of her to send me this stuff! I’m bowled over by her generosity, and it’s very exciting to have this set of literature.

Alas, none of this is my thesis though 🙁 I must return to work.

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Web Art and Science Camp — a retrospective

One of my very few non-thesis commitments in the last while was co-organising Web Art and Science camp, a one-day event held in London at the start of November. We ran it as a chance to talk about, demo and play with neat ideas in advance of Web Science 2011 and Hypertext 2011. One of our aims was to be open and accessible to people who are not strongly embedded in those communities, but instead greet with open arms unfamiliar faces, non-academics, and non-computer scientists. (Neither Web Science nor Hypertext are purely computer science by any stretch of the imagination, but there can be a bit of a stereotype in there. We need to fight that!)

How did it go? Well, I’d say! There were definitely unfamiliar faces, and we introduced the two areas of Hypertext and WebSci. Paul de Bra gave an interactive ‘unkeynote’, which I thoroughly enjoyed — more importantly, I understand from people new to the field of hypertext that they found the talk an accessible introduction. Meanwhile, although it wasn’t in my plan, I ended up running a session entitled “What’s going on in Web Science?” During the discussion, I attempted to strike the balance between introducing the Web Science concept to new bods while not boring older hands with yet another discussion about how to define WebSci. (A mini write-up of the session is here.) I’m not quite sure how well the old hands managed, but the new people were definitely positive in their feedback!

So, we introduced WebSci and hypertext. What else?

There was a wide variety of talks, including a wonderful session on narrative and what sounded like a very diverse set of demos (which I was sad to miss — the inevitable problem of parallel tracks!). As Simon Harper observed, there was a strong presence of Web Scientists from Southampton, and I agree with his assessment that the event would benefit from seeing more practising artists and writers. I see his point about the lack of archival records but please note, dear reader, we are attempting to document the event as thoroughly as we can — through blog posts such as this, the wiki resources (here), Lanyrd and Flickr. Not to mention the Twitter stream.

Of course, the above don’t constitute a formal proceedings in any way. I’d be interested to hear how other unconferences have gone about self-logging and archival, so comments would be very welcome!

As the event closed, people began talking about running a WebArtSci event next year, possibly co-located with Hypertext 2011. I’d love to talk some more about this, although I might offer a little caution about the issue of co-locating (whether with Hypertext or WebSci): it would be a very easy way to boost our numbers and profile, but perhaps at risk of excluding the people on the periphery of the communities — which this year at least, was exactly the audience we were targeting.

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A summer school, collaboration in Bergen, and what next…

So I have failed miserably at updating this thing. I think I have three main things to talk about right now, two trips and one piece of news.

The news first: after a certain amount of soul-searching I have come to the conclusion that I am, at heart, an academic. I don’t want a career as a software engineer in industry — academia is my home. What this means is that I’ll be parting with IBM come the end of my degree, and starting a postdoc. I’ve really enjoyed working with IBM, and it’s a great company — it’s just not for me.

I’ve been offered a one-year position working for the desire project, looking at creative design in the context of science and technology. Given that my EngD has been all about a process for creative software design, this sounds ok to me!

However, the position is to start on 1st January next year… which means I absolutely must submit my thesis by then. So, I am currently very focused. I’ve backed out of (or deferred) all my non-essential commitments — papers, training events, talks. It is sad to say ‘no’ so much, but necessary!

That said, there were two trips I did go ahead with, despite time pressure — they were too important not to.

The first was the desire network’s second summer school, an intense six-day training event in Portugal, all about models of creative design. It’s of personal and professional interest anyway, but when you factor in that it was being run by the network which is employing me next year, not going wasn’t an option.

The event was great: some fascinating talks and seminars, but more importantly, really good people. I found it useful both for getting an insight into the ethos, goals and general ‘feel’ of the desire network, and also for getting to know the specific people with whom I’ll be working. No regrets!

I’m just back from the second trip. The IET were wonderful enough to part-fund my going out to visit Jill Walker Rettberg at the Digital Culture Research Group of the University of Bergen. Jill and I were interested in using TAPT as an analytical tool towards conducting academic research (in contrast to its previous uses as a software engineering design tool). Particularly, Jill was interested in experiences around location-based services such as Gowalla and geocaching. A couple of focus groups later, and we have a tonne of data, and some interesting papers to write… Although given my thesis situation, those papers may have to wait a little while!


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Web art and science camp — 6th November, London

It’s been a long time since I updated this: I could offer lots of excuses, but I think it boils down to “the EngD”. Poor, I know!

This is a really quick one: I’m very pleased to be co-organising Web Art and Science camp, an unconference in London on 6th November. It’s intended to be an introduction to the web science and hypertext communities, and… actually, I’ll quote from the webpage:

“Join us on 6th November for a day of ideas, fun, and creativity with Hypertext and the Web! We’re meeting in advance of Hypertext ’11  and WebSci ’11  to make cool things together, show off our work, get feedback on our ideas, and find research collaborators.  You don’t have to be a researcher to come. We’re not just computer scientists. We encourage and publish work by poets, professionals, startup warriors, and academics in the humanities and political/social sciences. We’re one of the only academic conferences to publish research in non-linear formats.”

I think that summarises it well 🙂 See you there?

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A fortnight has passed since WebSci10 opened its doors to the eager, interdisciplinary crowd. It was a fascinating conference, and I’m still processing a lot of what went on there. What follows are a few thoughts and highlights…

Keynotes: We had a couple of nice keynotes. I was most especially struck by Melissa Gilbert (no, not that Melissa Gilbert) talking about the digital divide and different frameworks of ICT usage. Specifically, she discussed work with poor women in a particular city of the USA. The key point was that we cannot build a better web from our privileged technology use framework — we have to understand the end users! Of course, that itself isn’t the most subtle point in the world, but the talk went beyond that. The take-home was that social science can’t be an add-on after technology has been built: interdisciplinary is needed during that process.

Papers: Formal talks were neatly divided into five sessions (web and: society, community, data, intelligence, methodology), with my own talk in the final of those groups. The material really was interdisciplinary, with speakers including geographers, lawyers, sociologists, and of course computer scientists.

Content ranged from privacy to porn to politics (that was just the first session!), accessibility to linked data, microblogging to folksonomies, crowdsourcing to shopping. There was a lovely talk on credibility online, and how much people think they trust mainstream vs online sources compared to how much they actually do.

Web and Methodology: My favourite session was the one in which I spoke! Entitled Web and Methodology, it opened with the wonderfully charismatic Harry Halpin talking about philosophy and WebSci, followed by various Southampton people: Dave de Roure on data in WebSci, Les Carr, Susan Halford and Cathy Pope giving CS and sociological perspectives on the WebSci framework, followed by myself. It closed with material on systems to support behaviour change.

My talk seemed to be well-received: the paper and slides can be found here, but basically I was presenting TAPT and the initial results from that study back in December. I had a couple of good questions, decent feedback on how it went, and — encouragingly — a couple of possible contacts for maybe running a case study or two. It’s too early to know whether that’ll work out, but well worth pursuing.

Other sessions: aside from the above, the conference included a wonderfully animated poster session, varied lightning talks and an engaging plenary which included discussion of where WebSci is going and how to form a cohesive community.

Miscellany: it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, some from Southampton but others from further afield. I met plenty of new folk, and hope I manage to stay in touch with at least some of them!

Memorable moments include Caroline Wilson’s wonderful comment (which appeared to take over Twitter!): “Copyright law is like an onion: it has many layers, and it will make you cry.”; chatting with Tim Berners-Lee about linked data, the W3C and my research; and seeing (also playing with) my first iPad.

Summary: I very much enjoy the opportunity to interact in a like-minded community, hear what’s going on at the cutting edge, and get feedback on my work. This conference was especially relevant to my interests, and I think the organisers did a great job. I was particularly happy with the decision to run it as a single-stream event, which was an effective device for getting the different disciplines interacting. Watching the growth of this nascent community has made for a fascinating time of late, and I don’t think it’s about to get any less interesting…


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The Plan

So, work continues apace. My main job of the last week or so has been writing up my WebSci paper, which is on its way. Meanwhile, I’ve been supervising a SEG group, written an abstract for Create10, and continued with the data analysis. I’ve also applied to the RAE and BCS for funding to attend WebSci!

Earlier this month was a joint supervision, where I got together with my industrial and academic supervisors to check we’re all up to date on what’s going on. This was an excellent prompt for updating my Gantt chart for the rest of the year. I’m not sure how many PhD students have Gantt charts, but as an EngD student I am of course more closely linked with industry, and am encouraged to go about things in a formal/professional way.

Anyway, ongoing work: it’s basically all about completing the data analysis, running various case studies, publishing where appropriate, and (inevitably) writing up. Eeek!

I’m enjoying work at the moment: I think the biggest challenge is probably making sure I don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees, as I’m juggling quite a few things. Maybe that Gantt chart will help…


The study is done!

As ever, it’s ages since the last update. Apologies.

So, I ran the study I mentioned back in November: 42 people volunteered their time! I’m really pleased about that, it’s far greater participation than I’d hoped for — especially as taking part required a good two and a half hours out of people’s days, and all I could offer in compensation was tea and biscuits. People can be so generous.

So, since the study, I’ve been deeply buried in analysing the huge quantity of data generated: it falls into two broad categories. Firstly, there is explicit feedback from participants: I asked people to fill in questionnaires about their experiences, and also take part in a recorded group discussion at the end of each session. So I have written and audio data on that — and some numeric stuff, as some of the questions included Likert scale type tick boxes. In addition to all that, I also have the actual artefacts people generated! The study involved asking people to work in pairs or threes to come up with high-level designs, using one of three different methods — each group produced two such artefacts, so I have over forty of those, too.

I had no idea how much work was involved in putting together a study: the design, ethics review, recruitment, logistics (room bookings, getting money for tea and biscuits, getting tea and biscuits), actually keeping sessions going smoothly… and similarly, I had no idea quite how big a task the data analysis would be!

Still, I’m getting there. 🙂

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Hypertext 2010

Hypertext 2010 is fast approaching! (Faster yet are the submission deadlines…)

My supervisor and I have been figuring out a publication strategy for the year ahead, and hypertext seems like a suitable venue for some of my work. I’m right in the middle of running a bunch of experiments at the mo, so it isn’t the ideal time to write a paper — but then, I’m not sure life can generally be relied upon to equip us with ideal times for things to happen. We’ll see how things pan out. 🙂

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Teasing Apart, Piecing Together

Looking over my ‘recent’ posts (updates have, I know, been sporadic), this blog is beginning to resemble a series of trip reports. Maybe it’s time I posted some content about my work!

So, I started off by looking at pervasive technologies, and how we might use them to broaden people’s access to web-based services. Particularly, I was interested in re-providing the benefits offered by social facilities such as Facebook and the like.

What became apparent was that yes, it is possible to build a system to provide the functionality in question — but how would I ever demonstrate that I’d actually re-provided those social, emotional, intangible benefits associated with the original experiences?

That’s the point when my research took a slightly different turn! I was inspired by Alan Dix’s deconstruction, a method for understanding and re-providing experiences across different contexts (for example, from physical to digital). I’ve spent the last while considering how the deconstruction method can be formalised into a structured design technique. I’ve been calling the new approach TAPT, an acronym which refers to the two halves of the process: Teasing Apart, Piecing Together.

I’m about to run a reasonably-sized study (hopefully about 30 odd participants) to evaluate TAPT, comparing it against a few other approaches. This is the first big unit of research I’ve done during my degree (yes, it took over three years to get to this point!), so it’s an exciting time.

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Hopper conference

This time last month, I was just back from Arizona: I travelled out courtesy of a Microsoft scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (quite a mouthful!). There were 1600 participants, who were almost entirely (unsurprisingly) women in computing!

It’s a really different event to traditional academic conferences: it’s very US-oriented, a good proportion of attendees are undergrads, and there’s a strong industrial presence (not to mention recruitment drive!). There’s a lot of academic content (good content, at that), but that isn’t the be-all and end-all of the event. As the name suggests, it’s a celebration as well!

I gave an oral and a poster presentation whilst out there, and both seemed to go down well. I got some useful feedback, but primarily I’ve met a lot of fascinating women, with whom I hope to stay in touch. All in all, it was a fantastic opportunity.”>

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