OUseful.Info, the blog…

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

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

www.gov.uk – Replacing the master (dot com) of Previous Government Departmental Web Domains?

By the by, I ran a search on the deprecated dwp.gov.uk website earlier today (Google took me there originally, I think, rather than to the new site reached via http://www.gov.uk/dwp):

search on dwp.gov.uk

and ended up on a search results page with the URL http://dwp.gov.uk.master.com/texis/master/search/?q=sharing+data+local+authority&s=SS:

dwp search

(The results appear to be broken – on the first link at least, the redirect from the results page goes to a largely irrelevant link on the new gov.uk site.)

Hmm…, master.com?

master.com homepage

Ooh – slick… ‘ere, gov, wanna buy a new motorwebservice?

Written by Tony Hirst

September 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

BBC Click Radio Recording As-Live at the OU

In case you’re around the OU campus in Milton Keynes on Monday 18th July, we’re recording the final episode in our season of special episodes on openness with Gareth Mitchell and the BBC Click Radio team.

If you’d like to attend, the recording will take place in the Berrill Lecture Theatre from 1pm to 1.30. Please be seated by 12.45 for the sound check;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

July 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Who Can See Whose Conversations In-stream on Twitter?

A week or so ago, I posted a quick hack using the Google Social graph API showing how to generate a list Common Friends or Followers on Twitter, so that you could look up which folk would see, in their Twitter timeline, a conversation between two other people on Twitter. (A hosted version of the service is now available here.)

At the time I also generalised the code so that you could look up the extent to which any party could see the conversations between two other parties on twitter, in stream. This is another single page web app and it can be found hre: Twitter in-stream eavesdrop.

It looks like this:


Very simple, very quick… there is nothing more to it than what you find if you View Source… (In fact, there’s more than you need if you View Source – there is also a Google Analytics tracking code in there…)

Written by Tony Hirst

December 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Virtual Revolution: Google Economics

Th third episode of the OU/BBC co-produced Virtual Revolution (which may well be available on iPlayer from time to time) has just aired, and included a quick overview of how Google works – from finding relevant search results, to pricing the adverts that make Google its money.

So here’s a quick recap, and a little more detail…

Firstly, the famous PageRank mechanism that drives Google’s search results ranking. Here’s how Terry Winograd, one of the interviewees on the Virtual Revolution programme, describes it:

more about "BBC – The Virtual Revolution Blog: Ru…", posted with vodpod

(Michael Nielsen has written an even more comprehensive tutorial on how this works at Lectures on the Google Technology Stack 1: Introduction to PageRank. If you want to read the original PageRank paper, you can find it here: The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.)

Next up, Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, explains how the advert auction that powers Google’s AdSense service works:

(If you buy Google AdSense adverts, you might also be interested in how to price your bids effectively…)

For a full length lecture by Hal Varian on “The Economics of Internet Search”, check out the following hour long video:

[To learn more about effective searching on the web, see the OU course Beyond Google: working with information online, or check out this free tutorial from the Open University Library: Safari: Skills in Accessing, Finding and Reviewing Information.]

Written by Tony Hirst

February 13, 2010 at 11:32 pm



Written by Tony Hirst

October 23, 2009 at 9:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Blog….?

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

A.A. Milne

Written by Tony Hirst

August 18, 2009 at 9:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Okay – So I Need Something New to Read. Any Suggestions?

I tweeted”randomly buying books on amazon, and it’s not making me happy… anyone got any good holiday book recommendations?” and among the replies @janetedavis suggested “Write us a quick blog on what books you’ve enjoyed & maybe we can suggest holiday books you might enjoy.”

So here it is: books I’ve enjoyed include most of what I’ve read (and I tend to ‘collect the set’ when I read an author I like) by:

- Jose Luis Borges
- Richard Brautigan;
- Terry Pratchett;
- John le Carre;
- Herman Hesse;
- William Gibson;
- Mark Manning and Bill Drummond…(?!);
- Michael Dobbs;
- Iain Banks.

That gives a flavour… (the list is far from being exhaustive, and is just off the top of my head… but I’m slow at typing and this was a quick post!)

I’ve also trawled through more than a few Harvard Business Books (new business models, management innovation, data driven business etc) and O’Reilly geeky techie books (analytics, visualisation, web 2 and mashup stuff – you can imagine…)

At the recent Festival at the Edge, a compelling story by Hugh Lupton made me realise I know nothing about the enclosure acts, so something non-fiction there would be interesting. I keep looking for books about the Luddites, but I’ve collected most things with “Luddite’ in the title or subtitle! (So I guess industrial revolution themes are in there… tales of early factories and workhouses could be interesting, and the growth of the canals… Stuff that brings to mind the dark satanic hills and mills of my upbringing in West Yorkshire ;-)

I’m definitely on the lookout for a simple intro to architecture, and keep having a scout around (so far unsuccessfully) for something to read about consumer psychology and the design and layout of supermarkets (architecture again, I guess?)

Maybe I should run this post through a term extractor and then see what Amazon recommends as a result?! ;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

August 3, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Guardian DataStore Visualisation Competition

A post over on the Guardian DataStore site last week announced a competition based around visualising data from the Guardian DataStore: Build stuff with our data and win a Flip Mino HD camcorder.

There are two categories for submissions:

1) The best user experience for understanding meaning in data, and
2) The best tool for web developers to build other things with data

I’ve posted quite a few recipes so far that describe different ways of engaging with the data, many of which you can find from posts categorised here with visualisation, so it’d be great to see people trying to run with them.

Many of the recipes I’ve come up with start by getting data out of the spreadsheets as CSV, so that it can then be passed to other services, such as Many Eyes Wikified or Yahoo Pipes; or JSON, so that it can be pulled in to a web page. (My very work in progress Guardian Datastore explorer can be used to generate URIs that run queries on Google spreadsheets, which may be of some use if you want to get started on running SQL like queries on spreadsheet data.)

As far as I know, know one has explored using tools like the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit yet, which could be interesting from the point of view nice UIs, as well as the developer perspective (e.g. a nice set of hooks in to the DataStore from visualisation toolkits or code frameworks). And then of course there are plenty of other more traditional chart toolkits out there…

If you’re after something a little more exotic, how about something like Thematic Mapping, HeatMap API or CloudMade on the geoviz front, though the problem of geocoding DataStore data would have to be solved first (Yahoo Placemaker might be handy there?); the Timetric or the MIT Simile Timeplot or Timeline tools for displaying information against a time axis (none of which have, to date, and as far as I know, been combined with a Fourier Analysis tools to help identify periodicities in the charted data); or how about finding a use for TimeMap, which combines MIT Simile Timeline widgets with Google maps..?

For truly open ended visualisations, using something like Processing may be the way to go: there’s already a Processing wrapper for the OpenPlatform API, but I’m not sure if anyone has provided an easy way (as yet) to pull DataStore content into it. Integration with Processing.js, a Javascript implementation of Processing that makes things like Obsessing possible, is also something that could open up a lot of opportunities for making use of the data?

On the other hand, if it’s analysis you’re after, it might be interesting to see what could be done if the DataStore spreadsheets could be integrated with various stats analysis packages (is there a variant of R as a st of Javascript libraries, I wonder?!)

PS Just for the record, I’m not eligible to enter the competition just at the moment…

Written by Tony Hirst

June 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Aw, Shucks, I Got a Coupla Nessies…

Nessie award
The “Makes my Jaw Drop and Scratch my Head Most Often” Award

Nessie award
The “Blog Whose Feed I Dare Not Open” Award

Thanks, Scott, much appreciated:-)

PS I’ll pop a couple of hacks in the post for you;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

December 19, 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Revisiting the Library Flip – Why Librarians Need to Know About SEO

What does information literacy mean in the age of web search engines? I’ve been arguing for some time (e.g. in The Library Flip) that one of the core skills going forward for those information professionals who “help people find stuff” is going to be SEO – search engine optimisation. Why? Because increasingly people are attuned to searching for “stuff” using a web search engine (you know who I’m talking about…;-); and if your “stuff” doesn’t appear near the top of the organic results listing (or in the paid for links) for a particular query, it might as well not exist…

Whereas once academics and students would have traipsed into the library to ask the one of the High Priestesses to perform some magical incantation on a Dialog database through a privileged access terminal, for many people research now starts with a G. Which means that if you want your academics and students to find the content that you’d recommend, then you have to help get that content to the top of the search engine listings.

With the rate of content production growing to seventy three tera-peta-megabits a second, or whatever it is, does it make sense to expect library staffers to know what the good content is, any more (in the sense of “here, read this – it’s just what you need”)? Does it make even make sense to expect people to know where to find it (in the sense of “try this database, it should contain what you need”)? Or is the business now more one of showing people how to go about finding good stuff, wherever it is (in the sense of “here’s a search strategy for finding what you need”) and helping the search engines see that stuff as good stuff?

Just think about this for a moment. If your service is only usable by members of your institution and only usable within the locked down confines of your local intranet, how useful is it?

When your students leave your institution, how many reusable skills are they taking away? How many people doing informal learning or working within SMEs have access to highly priced, subscription content? How useful is the content in those archives anyway? How useful are “academic information skills” to non-academics and non-students? (I’m just asking the question…;-)

And some more: do academic courses set people up for life outside? Irrespective of whether they do or not, does the library serve students on those courses well within the context of their course? Does the library provide students with skills they will be able to use when they leave the campus and go back to the real world and live with Google. (“Back to”? Hah – I wonder how much traffic on HEI networks is launched by people clicking on links from pages that sit on the google.com domain?) Should libraries help students pass their courses, or give them skills that are useful after graduation? Are those skills the same skills? Or are they different skills (and if so, are they compatible with the course related skills?)?

Here’s where SEO comes in – help people find the good stuff by improving the likelihood that it will be surfaced on the front page of a relevant web search query. For example, “how to cite an article“. (If you click through, it will take you to a Google results page for that query. Are you happy with the results? If not, you need to do one of two things – either start to promote third party resources you do like from your website (essentially, this means you’re doing off-site SEO for those resources) OR start to do onsite and offsite SEO on resources you want people to find on your own site.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re well on the way to admitting that you don’t understand how web search engines work. Which is a good first step… because it means you’ve realised you need to learn about it…)

As to how to go about it, I’d suggest one way is to get a better understanding of how people actually use library or course websites. (Another is Realising the Value of Library Data and finding ways of mining behavioural data to build recommendation engines that people might find useful.)

So to start off – find out what search terms are the most popular in terms of driving traffic to your Library website (ideally relating to some sort of resource on your site, such as a citation guide, or a tutorial on information skills); run that query on Google and see where you page comes in the results listing. If it’s not at the top, try to improve its ranking. That’s all…

For example, take a look at the following traffic (as collected by Google Analytics) coming in to the OU Library site over a short period some time ago.

A quick scan suggests that we maybe have some interesting content on “law cases” and “references”. For the “references” link, there’s a good proportion of new visitors to the OU site, and it looks from the bounce rate that half of those visited more than one page on the OU site. (We really should do a little more digging at this point to see what those people actually did on site, but this is just for argument’s sake, okay?!;-)

Now do a quick Google on “references” and what do we see?

On the first page, most of the links are relating to job references, although there is one citation reference near the bottom:

Leeds University library makes it in at 11 (at the time of searching, on google.co.uk):

So here would be a challenge – try to improve the ranking of an OU page on this results listing (or try to boost the Leeds University ranking). As to which OU page we could improve, first look at what Google thinks the OU library knows about references:

Now check that Google favours the page we favour for a search on “references” and if it does, try to boost it’s ranking on the organic SERP. If Google isn’t favouring the page we want as its top hit on the OU site for a search on “references”, do some SEO to correct that (maybe we want “Manage Your References” to come out as the top hit?)

Okay, enough for now – in the next post on this topic I’ll look at the related issue of Search Engine Consequences, which is something that we’re all going to have to become increasingly aware of…

PS Ah, what the heck – here’s how to find out what the people who arrived at the Library website from a Google search on “references” were doing onsite. Create an advanced segment:

Google analytics advanced segment

(PS I first saw these and learned how to use them at a trivial level maybe 5 minutes ago;-)

Now look to see where the traffic came in (i.e. the landing pages for that segment):

Okay? The power of segmentation – isn’t it lovely:-)

We can also go back to the “All Visitors” segment, and see what other keywords people were using who ended up on the “How to cite a reference” page, because we’d possibly want to optimise for those, too.

Enough – time for the weekend to start :-)

PS if you’re not sure what techniques to use to actually “do SEO”, check on Academic Search Premier (or whatever it’s called), because Google and Google Blogsearch won’t return the right sort of information, will they?;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

December 13, 2008 at 1:55 pm


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