Archive for the 'Isthmus' Category

We know where you live.

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

The New York Times has an article about the difficulties of leaving Facebook – or rather, ensuring that all your personal information is cleared off when you leave.

Briefly, to erase your presence there as much as possible, you should:

  1. Delete everything from your profile (Personal details, pictures, messages, wall posts, groups applications, etc.)
  2. Contact Facebook and request permanent account deletion.
  3. You should get a deletion confirmation – try logging in. If it asks if you want to reactivate your account, it hasn’t been deleted – bug Facebook.

More detail in the Facebook group How to permanently delete your facebook account (oh, the irony).

According to the Facebook terms and conditions, deleting all your uploads expires the license you give which allows Facebook to use them for whatever they want. However, they may still have copies on their servers. How much of your personal data is preserved when you delete it isn’t clear, and I wonder how that figures with the UK Data Protection Act.

Creating mashups involves real work

Monday, February 11th, 2008

A nice article at The Register relating the complexity in building mashups that is sometimes forgotten.

Google ♥’s the social semantic web

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

The semantic web is making steady progress in the social networking sphere via microformats like XFN and FOAF, which provide standard ways to describe me, friend, and other relationships between websites – and by proxy, their owners.

Lots of websites and tools already support these (e.g. WordPress, ClaimId,, but there’s a lot of duplication of effort required from users with, for example, having to find and add your friends in multiple social sites – adding the same relationships multiple times.

Google’s Social Graph API looks set to help solve to this by providing an easy way to identify the relationships found in their index of webpages. Social sites can ask about any URLs a user gives (e.g. their blog), and the API it will tell them about any other URLs that relate to it via the microformats, and use those to link up all the user’s me pages, and set match up other users on the site who are identified as friends elsewhere.

This API, along with other efforts such as OpenSocial, really help the web’s network effect, and make it a lot more interesting and useful.

I don’t think we have any projects in TALL that will use these tools yet, so I think some of my next tasks for my band’s website with be to see if I can automatically a) set up some relationships, and b) push out gig listings from our database into social sites like MySpace…

Following Online Society Across Time and Tech

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Below is a pitch for a research project that doesn’t exist yet because I can’t describe it properly. The ‘Open Social’ concept and Social Graph API seem to be a tech kind of response to the phenomenon I am attempting to outline. I can’t seem to find an academic tool/framework to help me though…


The web continues to expand and diversify its capacity to support communication and collaboration. This is evident in the expansion and popularity of social networking sites such as FaceBook and communication tools such as Skype. The increase in groups that now straddle the real and the virtual is now having significant cultural impact. Individuals are increasingly part of a network of friends, acquaintances and colleagues that is distributed across multiple locations on and off-line.

These groups of distributed individuals are relatively new in form and are constantly changing in character as advances in online technologies provide new affordances which interplay with individuals aspirations to extend/refine their group and collaborate in novel and useful ways. Despite this being in a constant state of flux it is highly likely that individuals in the first world will be part of a distributed group for the majority of their lives. A 28 year-old in 2008 may have been part of an online group for over 10 years, a group that has morphed as that individual moved through a number of different life stages. The group is likely to have moved across a number of online technologies or environments and may exist across multiple environments at any one time.

Collaborative groups have been characterised in many ways, for example, Affinity Groups (Gee), Communities of Practice (Wenger) and Knotworks (Englestrom). Each theory describes different motivations, goals and structures of groups of people attempting to work together with some sense of shared participation. In each instance the theory in question is based on a particular area or type of collaboration or interaction for example fandom or institutional work. This is not to say that these theories are not applicable in a wider sense rather that their underpinning rational has a specific types or styles of groups. A similar bounding can often be seen in research undertaken in this area which is often focused on activities that take place within a particular tool or environment for example, Second Life, FaceBook or World of Warcraft.

It is increasingly important that we gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of the persistent distributed group, one which is not too closely tied to a particular style of interaction or type of technology. We are at a point in time where it is possible to trace the history of an individuals relationship with these groups, following that individuals changing relationship with other members of the groups they are part of and the technology involved. This would require investigating individuals motivations for being members of a group, their reasons for types and levels of participation and their changing perception of what constitutes the ‘real’ or what Castronova calls the ‘Semi-Permeable Membrane’ between online and offline worlds. The aim being to discover and map the underlying principles that are forming as online technologies facilitate the changing makeup of societies, becoming paradoxically more distributed and fractured while at the same time affording greater flexibility for communication and collaboration. In thinking about this it is important not to bounded by a single technology but to accept that many groups transcend specific technological advances or shifts and morph across the changing online environment. In this way a clearer perspective will be gained and a better understanding of the longer term implications and opportunities for society will be understood.


So there it is. I’m assuming that if you made it this far you are intrigued by the idea. Let me know what you think.

Reaching into the Web

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

As part of our JISC funded ‘Isthmus’ project we have launched a pilot Facebook group for students on our short online courses. The overall concept is to encourage a ‘community’ of students that exists beyond the run of any single course. It’s been running for 6 days now and so far we have 45 members (about 10% of this term’s students) and around 20 posts.

Deciding to use Facebook and then deciding exactly how to set-up the group was complicated and generated a lot of discussion here at TALL. Our students are generally older than a traditional university student and many of them are retired. The recent OxIS Internet survey reported that 42% of students signed up to a Social Networking site last year but of those in the retired ‘life-stage’ category only 2% signed up. In contrast Saga recently launched a Social Networking site for the over 55s and claimed that ‘Silver Social Networking’ was on the rise. Surveys of our students revealed that not many of them were members of Social Networking sites (around a third) but that only 26% were not interested in communicating with other students after their course had finished.

As well as the difficulty in deciding to run the pilot it was also not clear exactly what form it should take because it cuts across technical, pedagogical, social and legal issues. Each area for consideration pulls the design and principle of the pilot in different directions. The core challenge was how to strike the right balance between supporting and structuring the group without ‘owning’ or managing it. This involved consulting JISC legal, Oxford University’s Legal Services Office and a range of stakeholders (including the students).

So far the group seems to be working, but it is early days. More significantly I feel we have made inroads into how to manage our relationship with third party services such as Facebook. If we can establish some principles in this area then we will be able to take advantage of the wider web much more efficiently in the future.

Metaplace – like Second Life, but open from the start?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Areae want to reinvent virtual worlds, using open standards and protocols. It sounds pretty good:

“Right now, there are lots of people who want to use virtual worlds for research, or education, or business, but it’s just too darn hard to get one going. Now [with Metaplace] you can create a world in just a few minutes and start tailoring it to your needs.”

Definitely worth looking into, when they recover from the Slashdotting…

I wonder how much Areae’s announcment influenced Linden Labs to announce their plans for the future of Second Life (or vice-versa).

A system that works for me

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Andreas Lloyd has made his thesis on the social dynamics of the Ubuntu community available.

I’ve not read it all yet, but an initial look suggests that it relates quite well to the intersection of two strands of endeavour in TALL – online communities (who sometime meet in person – how do they work, are they useful for education?), and computer tech (what tools and services can we use/adapt/create?).

NB: Andreas has, with community spirit, released it under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can redistribute it and add their comments.

Unruly students’ Facebook search

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

The BBC has reported on the University proctors using Facebook to track down students involved in “unruly post-exam pranks” as TALL is actually located in one of the Universities two main exam buildings we have more experience than most in what these involve….However for isthmus I think it is a telling example of why students may not want their online social spaces used for learning.

Scott Wilson: Using student-owned technologies in educational ict

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Here’s an interesting article on PLEs from Scott Wilson. As you would expect from someone who was a core member of the CETIS team that looked into PLEs for JISC, and the person who originated the ubiquitous future VLE, it contains a lot of the ideas that have informed our thinking on Isthmus. However the comment that intrigued me, which I have not seen so explicitly elsewhere was

“On a more basic level, the use of commercial third-party services has risks, such as a change in charging, or even services disappearing completely, and so there could be a role for universities in offering a free secure archiving service to that students would never lose access to things they have published. It is also increasingly on the agenda of universities to make access to basic administrative processes and information available through multiple channels and devices, such as using mobile phones, iPod, and RSS feeds.”

These are all things we are looking into for Isthmus – we’re drafting the survey at the moment so it will be interesting to see what our (admittedly non-standard) students make of these sorts of ideas.

PLE Classification and Market Segmentation

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Another post that touches on the ways we classify PLEs. Once the research we are doing into isthmus comes in I think it will be worth revisiting these and deciding whether the solution we decide to implement makes sense by these metrics.