I know it doesn’t have the same dactylic rhyme as “security through obscurity”, but the discussion we led at #cetis12 really drove home to me the fact that a lot of people rely on the laziness of others to remain private.
It turns out that a lot of people give away more data in reality than they say they would if you asked them. It’s called the privacy paradox. Many of the people who claim they want to remain private still post all their photos on Facebook and use Google for search, despite it being well known that they both harvest and hoard immense amounts personal data.
Some of this can be put down to people not knowing or reflecting on how things work behind the scenes, but I think there’s an element of expected behaviour from other people and relying on their laziness to keep our data private.
I have reached this conclusion by the reaction people have to making access to data easier. That is one of the fundamental aims of the Southampton Student Dashboard after all. Even though the data is accessible in one way or another (whether it is virtually trudging through Banner Self-Service or physically trudging down to student services to view the paper copy of a student record), people immediately raise privacy concerns as soon as you present an accessible interface to it.
An example of this came up in the discussion. One group were asked what directory information should be available on the University intranet, and the issue of photos was hit upon. When we ask the potential users of the Dashboard what information would be useful to them, photos are always high on their list. However, one of our participants countered with something along the lines of: “if students want others to see what they look like, they put photos on Facebook, just go look there”.
Well immediately that begs the question, if it’s already openly available, why make someone go to more effort to see your photo, unless you are hoping they will just give up and not bother?
Some of you may be wondering what happened to PANFeed Journals and Issues that we mentioned back in November. Well we have been quietly working away on them. Today we released the newest PANFeed. New features include user accounts, and with user accounts you can create Journals and Issues. We have done a fair bit of testing and trying out of different models and broadly the model has been well received. Journals allow you to take a much more hands off approach to managing your news where as issues give you a much greater level of control. I’d like to thank William Nixon, Les Carr and the students from the Web Science DTC who have been playing about with it and coming up with some use cases.
Another side affect of get all of this sorted is our Google Code is finally upto date with the latest source. Sorry for not pushing for long I promise to be better moving forward. PANFeed is not feature complete (as if anything every could be) but its got a lot of tools and tricks that we think will be useful moving forward. A few things on my personal to do list are:
- Add a public and private element to Journals and Issues, so that you can keep the bits you are working on hidden away.
- Add the ability to delete journals and issues.
- Do make a release of the new version of PANFeed which is trivial to install.
- Make a tutorial video explaining how Journals and Issues work and talking about the use cases.
Please pop along and try out the new PANFeed and let us know if you have any problems.
One of the big selling points of RedFeather is how light weight it is. The intention is that a base install of RedFeather will be a single .php file which can be dropped into almost any web space to provide quick and straight forward access to digital resources. This objective presents a number of problems which require us to think carefully about RedFeathers arhitecture.
The tool must be a single file and it must run on almost any php install but it must be flexible enough that functionaliy can be trivally extended or over written. A fairly simple way to achieve this goal might be make RedFeather one “Class” and modifications can inherit from it. This is neither simple enough for our tastes, particularly when you consider running multiple extentions, but it also breaks our rule about running anywhere. PHP is a fairly ill considered language has only had object orientation since version 5. Since many servers run PHP 4 the software can not be object oriented.
RedFeather has a very basic but powerful aritecture. It allows you to define pages as a list of functions to be called in order. Each of these functions is then declared and registered in a function map. As each of the functions for the page executes they access a global variables hash and contribute to the proceedural building of a “page” which is then returned when all of the functions have executed. Ironically this model is not far from how many languages object model actually works.
This structure has a number of useful properties. You can easily insert a function into the list of functions which build the page. You can added new pages and reuse functions used to build other pages. Finally if you want to completely change what a function does you can write a new function and change the reference in the function map to point to your function rather than the one initially declared. Thus you can easily overwrite functionality and extend the functionality of RedFeather in a flexible way which is reasonably easy to understand. It is debatable whether this model would scale for larger code bases but the light weight nature of RedFeather means this hopefully will not be an issue.
I began writing this post at the Connected Past conference, which being someone not burdened with any real understanding of humanities, was astonishingly interesting to me. However this post is not really on the subject of networks. It is on the subject of scholarly discourse.
Until Connected Past I have only heard about and never witnessed, what in computer science, would be considered a phenomenon but in humanities, I am told, is much more common. I watched a person give a conference presentation by standing up and reading their conference paper. When I have heard about this in the past reaction has been to dismiss it as a largely valueless and disengaging enterprise. Seeing it live really set me thinking in a number of ways I had not bothered to previously.
Let us suppose that the purpose of a conference is to disseminate your work. You put days of effort into preparing that paper and there is a very real danger that it will never be read. The data deluge is so vast that most people would not have time to read every paper from a single conference much less from all the conferences. The purpose of a presentation might be argued to be a summary of the work carried out. A paper is summary of your work already, but now you are summarizing that summary. The idea that a person could read their paper allowed in presentation time demonstrates that their work does not need further distillation.
Perhaps you might say the aim was to simplify the ideas. If you feel that, at an academic conference with an audience of academic discipline peers, you need to simplify your paper then you NEED to simplify it for everyone. Maybe the language you wrote your paper in does not transfer well to the spoken word. That undoubtedly means your paper does not read well.
From the plus side if someone reads you their paper you don’t need to read it until you refer back to it. Frequently conferences presentations are being captured on video. This means you have created is a multimedia version of your paper. I might start doing this because it is clearly of benefit. I have spent a lot of time looking at replacements to academic papers but until now my ideas have always been based on text. Imagine if your iPod on the walk to work was reading you the academic papers from a conference.
In conclusion I do not think that this is one presentation format to rule them all, but I think it serves its function as well if not better than some of the alternatives. I would definitely tell people like myself to shut up and think about the real practical of elements of the academic processes before dismissing an unfamiliar style out of xenophobia.
The first page of Google didn’t yield any supporting blog material for my argument but I did happen upon this interesting article: http://thenoisychannel.com/2009/08/02/are-academic-conferences-broken-can-we-fix-them/ I think we have to go back to the drawing board of the academic model and build something which actually achieves our goals. As I constantly harp on the WAIS seminar series should be a seminar series not a lecture series…
During our work on teaching and learning repositories we identified cases where people wanted to share teaching resources but a repository platform such as EdShare would be unsuitable. These people all shared the need for a lightweight tool which enables simple sharing of small collections with minimal financial or technical overhead. The RedFeather Resource Exhibition and Discovery platform aims to fill that niche by allowing users to quickly annotate teaching resources and make them available for distribution on the web in a simple but useful way.
We’ve consolidated these needs into three basic use cases which I’ll illustrate below using personas:
1. The small project.
SMART is a JISC funded OER project to collate and release the diaries and writings of Christopher Strachey as a rich collection of computer history teaching resources. The project is a collaboration between four different institution’s libraries. Between them they want to collect all their materials together so that they can visualise the whole collection and determine which are of most value. At the end of the project the materials will be deposited in Jorum.
There are too many resources to email and even then the individual files would still need to be annotated. SMART are initially attracted to a teaching repository but soon realise such a system is over-specified for their needs since this is a one-off project and won’t have ongoing community activity. They identify RedFeather as a low-maintenance alternative.
SMART get some web hosting from their lead institution and FTP all the files to one central point. They then use RedFeather to annotate and visualise all of the files. Once they have worked out what needs to be added to the collection and what can be removed they use the RedFeather RSS Feed to import the whole collection into Jorum.
2. The solo sharer.
James is a physics lecturer, he has teaching materials which he has made and wishes to make openly available. While the institution he works for does not prevent him from making these resources available they provide no facilities for him to do so. James thinks his teaching materials are good and would like more people than his immediate students to benefit from them. However, he doesn’t have the technical expertise required to create a website to showcase them.
James is attracted to RedFeather because it provides a comprehensive solution without any significant technical requirements. He downloads an FTP client for his laptop and with a minimum of help from his webmaster uses it to connect to his staff webspace. The FTP client he chose has a familiar drag and drop interface so he has no problem using it to upload his learning resources. He is relieved to find out that all he has to do to install RedFeather is upload a single PHP file.
Even without additional configuration, the default RedFeather annotation schema, page layout and styling is perfectly adequate for James’ needs. His students are now able to browse all his resources from a central location and use the provided keywords and description metadata to find relevant material. James also uses the RedFeather embeddable resource viewer to include his teaching materials in his personal blog.
3. The solution-oriented admin.
David is a systems administrator for the Language department at a University. He has been told by his superiors that they want to release their teaching materials as OER to increase the profile of teaching in the department. David is busy and hasn’t got the time to learn and deploy a full teaching repository at short notice but he does see the value of the task.
Since David already uses PHP for the department website he can deploy RedFeather the same day. As an advanced user, Dave is able to change the stylesheet to fit the university branding and customise the workflow and metadata to suit the needs of the academics. The head of department is impressed by how quickly he delivered the solution. David also discovers that RedFeather can automatically add the department resources to both Nottingham Xpert search and ROAR. He knows that when he has time to deploy a full solution he can easily migrate from RedFeather using the SWORD resource transfer protocol.
The OneShare team is embarking on a new project. The JISC have very kindly funded the RedFeather project. RedFeather is a Resource Exhibition and Discovery tool which is Feather light. It allows users to trivially upload and share small collections of OER. As well as the HTML interface metadata can be exposed in various formats including RSS, RDF and OAI-PMH. The tool is easily adaptable to into various Web2.0 services. Our plan is that the default user experience will visualize Resources using Google Docs Viewer and will allow commenting from Facebook.
While this is not the most attractive graphical design it does illustrate the key elements of the RedFeather browsing experience. The metadata is light weight but still visually engaging and experience with ties to social networks.
RedFeather’s target audience are users who have a small collection (5-50 Resources maybe), very limited technical experience and no repository solution in which to exhibit those resources. RedFeather is not a Repository although it does have some similarities with a repository platform. In a future post I will talk more about the target audience and some key use cases for RedFeather.