OUseful.Info, the blog…

Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

OUseful.Info, err, 2.0?

So I’ve changed blog engine and, err, moved the OUseful.info blog to here – http://ouseful.wordpress.com/ – for now, though the Feedburner feed is still the same: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ouseful, and http://ouseful.info/ should always point somewhere relevant…

The old blog posts (that is, everything that used to dangle off http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59) are all archived at http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive, and links to the old blog should redirect posts there…

I did consider importing the old posts here, but I’m not going to… Fresh start and all that…

I do need to sort out a search engine that covers the old posts as well as the new, though, so I will probably go with something like a Google CSE (or maybe a Yahoo BOSS engine…?)

Anyway – aside from that, things will continue pretty much as before… or maybe not…

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Written by Tony Hirst

July 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Admin...

Back from Behind Enemy Lines, Without Being Autodiscovered(?!)

Home again after a few very enjoyable days away at IWMW2008 in Aberdeen, and I feel like I need a way of saying thank you to the web managers’ community for allowing an academic in…heh heh ;-)

So I spent half an hour or so (no… really…;-) on the train back from the airport putting together a front end for an HEI feed autodiscovery pipe that I knocked up in one of the presentations yesterday (I was giving the talk that was on at the time my full partial attention, of course ;-) that picks up on some of the conversation that was in the air at the end of the innovation competition session (I didn’t win, of course…;-(

The context is/was a comment from Mike Ellis that HEIs et al. could start opening up their data by offering RSS feeds of news releases, job/recruitment ads and event listings, because there’s no reason not to…. So my, err, gift(?!) back to the IWMW community is a little something where UK HEI web managers can proudly show off how they’ve taken up the challenge and published a whole suite of autodiscoverable RSS feeds from their home pages ;-): UK HEI autodiscoverable feeds.

(Cynics may say that the page actually names and shames sites that don’t offer any autodiscoverable feeds; I couldn’t possibly comment… ;-)

Anyway, the pipework goes like this…

First of all I grab a feed of UK HEI homepages… There isn’t an official one, of course, so as a stopgap I’ve scraped a dodgy secondary source (safe in the expectation that Mike Ellis will have an authoritative, hacked feed available from studentviews.net sometime soon…)

All that’s required then is to pull out the link in each item, that hopefully corresponds to the HEI homepage, and use that as the focus for feed autodiscovery:

Any feed URLs that are autodiscovered are then added as elaborations to the corresponding HEI feed item. Although these elaborations aren’t exposed in the RSS feed output from the pipe, they are available in the pipe’s JSON output, so the half-hour (offline) hack on the train earlier this afternoon consumes the JSON feed and gives a quick and dirty show’n’tell display of which institutions have autodiscoverable feeds on their homepage: UK HEI autodiscoverable feeds.

Looking at a couple of comments to the post Nudge: Improving Decisions About RSS Usage, (in which Brian Kelly tabulated the provision of RSS feeds from Scottish HEIs), it seems that publicly highlighting the lack of support for feed autodiscovery can encourage people to look at their pages and add the feature… So I wonder: when IWMW comes around next year, will the phrase No autodiscoverable feeds… be missing from the UK HEI autodiscoverable feeds page, possibly in part because that page exists?!

(Note that if you use this page to test a homepage you’ve added feed autodiscovery to, there is cacheing going on everywhere so you may not see any change in the display for an hour or so… I’ll try and post a cache-resistant feed autodiscovery page over the next few days; in the meantime, most browsers glow somewhere if they load an HTML page containing autodiscoverable feeds…)

Written by Tony Hirst

July 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Pipework, Tinkering

Tagged with

UK HEI “Page Not Found” Error Pages

In Back from Behind Enemy Lines, Without Being Autodiscovered(?!), I described a simple service that displays the autodiscoverable RSS feeds from UK HEI homepages (it went down over the weekend as the screenscraping broke, but it’s back now and some of the ‘issues’ with some of the linkscraping has been fixed ;-)

Over the weekend, I tweaked the code and created a parallel service that displays the ‘Page Not Found’ (HTML error code 404) splash page for UK HEIs using thumbnails generated using websnapr.

You can find the service here: UK HEI “Page Not Found” pages

The page takes in a list of UK HEI homepage URLs, generates a nonsense URL off each domain, and uses that nonexistent page URL as the basis for the thumbnail screenshot.

You’ll also notice I took the opportunity to do a little (unofficial) OU course advertising… At times like this, it would so handy for us to have a contextual course ad serving javascript snippet/widget…

PS Brian Kelly pinged me with a note that he’s had a UK HEI 404 viewer around for just about forever… University 404 pages rolling demo… Just by the by, the script that Brian used to scroll through the pages was the inspiration for the original “deliShow” version of feedshow (about feedshow).

Written by Tony Hirst

July 28, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Pipework, Tinkering

Tagged with

Wanted: 17-24 yr olds…

Yesterday (err, Tuesday) I took part in a very enjoyable OU/BBC brainstorming session on “multiplatform ideas for a younger audience (17-24 yr olds)…as a new way of working for the future”.

(I asked: multiplatform is pretty much everything that is not “linear TV”, where “linear TV” is, err, scheduled, traditionally delivered (and scheduled) TV content, I think…?! I’m not sure if it’s still linear if you’ve timeshifted it or are watching it through iPlayer, though… err…? Web stuff, events, and so on are all classed as ‘multiplatform’.)

The session involved several time constrained (15 minute or so) sessions on set topics, in three groups of 8 so, with sharing back to the other groups after each session.

A particularly entertaining part of the session was a pop quiz/bar quiz on what the kids are into…(even with the BBC Controller of Knowledge on our table, we still didn’t win…!)

It struck me that the day beforwe the w/s I should have trawled the web to find out some of this stuf…

For example, the most popular channels are the ones that most people can get with the most popular soaps (and also follow the BARB reported trends), the most popular websites are guessable, (search, IM, social networking, a surprising one, online videos), big event shows are popular (as you can work out by looking back over BARB weekly viewing – the demographic probably skews things but just use a bit of nous when deciding whether it’s your dad or your daughter who’s likely to be watching…), most kids have a mobile phone, most of them send umpteen text messages a day, hardly any of them ever look at a newspaper.

Something that wasn’t mentioned was that “younger viewers are particularly fond of going online while watching TV – over 20% of 16-24 year olds said this was something they always did.” (70% of TV audience goes online while viewing).

(There’s some more old data/insights on the BBC commissioning site for this demographic too – BBC Commissioning (16-24 year olds, youth). Everything there is probably more true now…)

Not surprisingly, none of us knew what the favourite OU courses were among 18-24 year olds, though I think the VC mentioned what percentage of our student population as a whole fell into that category. I also realised that I wouldn’t know how to even find out which courses in our Faculty, say, were most popular in terms of: a) raw numbers; and b) percentage of the overall course demographic. Any OU readers know the answer, or how to find out the answer?

Something else I picked up – any TV programme that lasts an hour was not made for the audience’s benefit (or something like that ;-) Even getting people to hang around for half an hour is an achievement, apparently…;-)

One of the desired outcomes of the meeting was that we should have definite things to build on… One clear statement was that future co-pros should be commissioned as multi-platform plays. I’m hopefully going to be working on some Digital Planet co-pros for BBC World service, so it’ll be interesting how far we can push the web stuff under that banner on open2.net, especially as the World Service don’t really push web adjuncts to radio at all…

Another outcome was that we should use blogs and wikis to keep the conversation going… I have to admit, I sighed… the we need blogs’n’wikis and then it’ll be alright phrase always makes me sigh… I was going to suggest that if we followed each other on twitter it’d probably be more useful, but I guess I’d have needed someone like James Cridland in the room to back me up that such a service existed and might in fact be useful…;-)

Now, if someone had said “and the discussion tag we should use is…” I’d have probably fallen off my chair, but until that becomes the norm (and people know what it means in practical terms), using “blogs’n’wikis” is not going to be the answer… IMVHO, of course;-)

(That said, I can see that maybe people would want the conversation/related info kept to some private backchannel… But I reckon every layer of privacy makes it harder to access, and therefore harder to engage with? And we’d be looking for a private backchannel that could cross two institutional boundaries – OU and BBC… Sigh…)

PS having a quick scout around, the only blogs I’ve found so far from others who were at the event are these occasional affairs: Mark Brandon (open2.net), Richard Williams, BBC Internet blog, Dan Gluckman. I have no idea whether anyone there twitters, or whether there are any others still (actively) blogging…?

PPS in the bar the evening before the brainstorm, we had an interesting chat about the extent to which the iPlayer is, or could become, a device independent channel in its own right. This is a note to self to post more about that another day…

PPPS looking the the OU presence on youtube just now, it looks like they’re gearing up for the full OU on Youtube release…

Or as Ian Roddis, who looks after the OU web team, put it:

It seems that as an institution, we are starting to get a bit of momentum up… and then it’ll be hard to stop, like turning a supertanker round… Methinks we could be in for a fun year or two :-)

P…PS on the topic of Youtube, anyone know of OU courses other than T184 that are embedding 3rd party Youtube movies?

Written by Tony Hirst

July 30, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Posted in OBU

New OU Channel(s) on Youtube

So it seems like the revamped OU presence Youtube has gone live, with three channels (at the mo) and maybe another one to come if I read the greyed out Research icon right?

(Laura has the low down on the launch here: OU launch YouTube site.)

The main channel – which I guess establishes the ou view brand – appears to be home to ads and TV trails, and based on the old content that’s there is currently just a reskinning of the original OU presence on Youtube.

More exciting are the two new channels…. Firstly, OU Life, a video box for students and staff to talk about their relationship with the OU:

As well as student voices, there are some staff voices in there too…

What’s interesting about these movies is the way that secondary videos are linked to from the talking head videos – so you can easily view the videos that are being talked about as examples ‘learning content’ on Youtube. Click through on the above movie and you’ll see what I mean…

It’s interesting to note how the branding carries through to the about box on each video page… and the fluid ident at the end of each clip is really quite beautiful:-)

The second new area (again with its own colour theme) is OU Learn, a collection of movies from OU course materials.

Some of the content has been organised in playlists, which could be handy…

Again the branding carries through to the video splash page, and it’s good to see the use of course code tags that could well support some automated mashup magic somewhere down the line…;-)

One thing I can’t see offhand are license terms and conditions – is the material up for remix under a CC license or not, for example? Whatever the case, the material all seems to be embeddable:-)

For any OU staff readers interested in getting their view, or other video content, onto the OU view pages, there’s some handy advice on the intranet: Online Services Intranet > Web2.0: Youtube. (When I get back from holiday, I’ll go through the material that’s there and post what I can…)

I’m not sure about the extent to which the OU Youtube and iTunes content is either duplicated or exclusive to each site? (Or maybe content will be pushed to each site in parallel?) But there’s an info page about the iTunesU strategy on the intranet site too, so I’ll try to work out to what extent the two initiatives complement each other…

Written by Tony Hirst

July 31, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Posted in OU2.0

Tagged with

Embedding BBC iPlayer Music Videos – Foals

Having a quick look at the new BBC Music and BBC Artist pages that have been getting a lot of mentions this week, I noticed (again?!) that it’s possible to officially embed at least some iPlayer videos now:

So for example, here’s clip of Foals from the BBC Introducing stage at the Bestival last year (I was there, they rocked…. totally…)

more about "BBC – Music – Introducing – Foals", posted with vodpod

I have to admit, though, that I suspect that if anyone at Ofcom has a visionary moment about the potential of a BBC backed iPlayer, in the context of all the other BBC web content that’s available (including increasing amounts of semantic/linked data, they’re going to come down on the Beeb like a tonne of bricks – though it may be too late by then…

Anyway, if you’re not keeping up with iPlayer plays, here’s a good round up: BBC iPlayer 2.0: Links Roundup.

And if you’re into music, here’s another take on how the beeb sees music on the web: Sound Index. At the moment, the Sound Index artist pages don’t appear to match the BBC music artist pages (e.g. Foals (BBC Sound Index) and Foals (BBC Music, Artist pages, beta), nor does Sound Index use the MusicBrainz artist identifier that the Artist pages do in the URL, but maybe these services will merge in the near future?

If I was in the music biz, particularly the “360” music biz where merchandise and sales around the music (and artist profile/fan pages) is arguably more lucrative than music sales themselves, I’d be getting twitchy… (no ads or clicks-to-buy on the BBC…)

PS I’m going to be offline for a week or two, taking a bit of holiday, and catching up on some reading that’ll probably include BBC Trust – PwC Study into the economic impact of the BBC on the UK, Scoring Points and Making Money!

Written by Tony Hirst

August 1, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Posted in BBC

Tagged with ,

The End of Linear TV Schedules?

Just back from a proper holiday (i.e. off the interweb), though still on a sort of holiday, so here’s a quick rag tag of a post, to follow on from the previous BBC dominated post, with a couple more BBC related things that caught my eye when in catch-up mode earlier today…

First up, it seems that someone’s picking at the linear schedule scab and looking for new ways to promote cross-channel content: When’s the sailing on? Introducing genre schedules….

The schedules can be accessed in a variety of formats (HTML, XML, JSON, iCal, etc) and also “by genre, by channel” (e.g. allowing you to tunnel into drama on Radio 4, for example) using an oh so lovely, hackable URL format – check out Tom Scott’s linked to post above for more info…

I’d say that was a “notable” step, but then, I’m not much of a media pundit…

I fired off the obligatory email to OBU/open2, of course, asking whether we’d be able to get something like this URL working:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/genres/learning/openuniversity/schedules/

so it’ll be interesting to see whether our agreement with the beeb goes so far as to allow OU co-pros to be defined as a genre in their own right!

What else was there…? Oh yes, this was interesting: Martin Belam spotted that the Beeb are experimenting with ‘in-line text links’ (BBC News in-line text links trial out in the wild).

I’ve been arguing for ages that we should be using the rather sleeker lightbox progressive enhancement for certain sorts of links, such as links to ‘optional’ Youtube videos, within our course materials… I guess I really should try to make a formal case, identifying the conditions under which we might want to open a link in an ‘overlayed’ frame, rather than the same window or a new tab, but that’s always for another day…! (That said, I have been using the approach “informally – e.g. follow the “Cheswick/Burch Map of the Internet” link on this page….

And finally, I’ve been dipping in and out of a report from Ofcom on The Communications Market 2008 (August) all day, and learning all sorts of interesting stuff, as well as finding little bits of evidence for stuff I’ve heard spoken of elsewhere…

Like this for example – a stat showing how TV fails to completely hold anyone’s attention any more!

(I’ll pull out some more graphs in a later post…)

And finally, finally, for anyone who still thinks that 360 plays are not the way forward, you should probably check out the Britain from Above website first…

more about "BBC – Britain From Above – Stories – …", posted with vodpod

I’d love to have seen a general interest short course pulled together around this programme, but I don’t think it was a co-pro…. (err, “so what?”, maybe????)

Written by Tony Hirst

August 15, 2008 at 9:37 pm

Posted in OBU

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