Unmeasurable Impact

Lots of deleted stuff I might have regretted posting…

(I also apologise in advance for what some might take to be the self-aggrandising nature of this post…)

Anyway, that’s all as maybe… One of the ideas I started trying to develop in preparing the promotion case was the notion of “influence”, and how online, network based activities might result in payoff for someone else, through being influenced, that could in part trickle back through some sort of recognised acknowledgement, or feed forward into a payoff that makes the academic or host institution more productive.

So here are a handful of examples from the last week or so that provide anecdotal evidence about the influence and reach of posts appearing on OUseful.info:

I flashed up on screen a post from Tony Hirst’s OUseful blog where he confessed to ‘hassling’ Simon Rogers over the formats of some of the information in the Guardian Datastore.

Tony’s contributions are fantastically useful, and the team have now changed some of their workflows to try and include more universal identifiers. On datasets with country lists, for example, they now aim to provide the two letter ISO country code in order to get around confusion when comparing datasets that might feature Burma or Myanmar for example.

news:rewired – “Reader-centred journalism”

[C]hanged some of their workflows… right… so that might make it easier for others, such as academics stooping so low as to use news media published data rather than “original” sources in their own work. Or it might mean that folk who are not academics putting the data to work because it’s now easier for them to do so, and getting real value out of it.

(Academic bashing? Me? Surely not… Though of course, I have come to realise over the last year that I am absolutely not considered an academic by the academy…)

Here’s the second example, referring to some “work” that resulted from an open exchange over a weekend earlier this year which Cameron Neylon reviewed in A little bit of federated Open Notebook Science. The context is graphing user and compound interactions by extracting the appropriate bipartite graph from a set of open notebooks:

We are very fortunate that Don Pellegrino, an IST student at Drexel, has selected the analysis of networks within Open Notebooks as part of his Ph.D. work. He has started to report his progress on our wiki and is eager to receive any feedback as the work progresses (his FriendFeed account is donpellegrino).

Don’s first report is available here. He is using the Open Source software Gephi for visualization and has provided all of the data and code on the associated wiki page. (also see Tony Hirst’s description of mapping ONS work which provided some very useful insights) Don has provided a detailed report of his findings but I think the most important can be seen in the global plot below.

Visualizing Social Networks in Open Notebooks

[S]ome very useful insights – right, a couple of approximately and quickly worked through examples that sketched out some possible ways of looking at this area, as well as crude proof of concept demos; it maybe also identified some dead-ends that might otherwise have been pursued?

Finally, this from Brian Kelly:

Niall Sclater made his point succinctly:

@mweller @psychemedia delicious. i rest my case.

The case Niall was making was, I suspect, that one shouldn’t be promoting use of Cloud services within institutions. This is an argument (although that might be putting it a bit too strongly) which Niall has been having over the past few years with Tony Hirst and Martin Weller, his colleagues at the Open University. As I described in a post on “When Two Tribes Go To War” back in 2007:

Niall Sclater, Director of the OU VLE Programme at the Open University recently pointed out that the Slideshare service was down, using this as an “attempt to inject some reality into the VLEs v Small Pieces debate“. His colleague at the Open University, Tony Hirst responded with a post entitled “An error has occurred whilst accessing this site” in which Tony, with “beautifully sweet irony“, alerted Niall to the fact that the OU’s Intranet was also down.

Back then the specifics related to the reliability of the Slideshare service, with Tony pointing out the the Slideshare service was actually more reliable that the Open University’s Intranet. But that was just a minor detail. The leaked news that Yahoo was, it appeared, intending to close a social bookmarking services which is highly regarded by many of its users, was clearly of much more significance. So is Niall correct to rest his case on this news? Or, as Niall wrote his tweet before we found that the news of Delicious’s death was greatly exaggerated, might we feel that the issue is now simply whether an alternative social bookmarking service should be used?

Lessons From Delicious’s (Non)-Demise

What this example shows, and maybe the one before it too, is that the very act of working in open and in public means that the process of the work/interaction as well as the “work” itself can become the focus of (authentic) stories in other people’s work. Brian has been telling the above story repeatedly over the last few years, which has the side-effect of raising the OU’s profile as an institution that is *really* engaged with these issues.

None of the above anecdotes has resulted in an academic citation for me, so none of it counts in academic terms. None of the above resulted in the OU being paid for the time I spent engaged in the related activities, so it none if it helped the OU bottom line directly (we’re really, really a business now, right?). None of the above ended up in any OU course materials (to my knowledge). It was all, from my perspective looking round my current institutional role, pointless…

PS it’s worth noting that, through trackbacks and email requests, I see these ephemeral “been influenced by” signals on my web radar as a matter of course. But my internal profile is largely below the radar, and these “influence signals” are likely to be even more invisible. This maybe suggests that my reach is only to folk who look outwards (from any institution), using the web, or the people who see me give a presentation (which I do once a month or so)… Hmm…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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