Just as I posted that last post, including some stuff on preservation of the digital, this piece from Robert Scoble dropped into my Twitter stream. I thought a quick sharing of my approach to digital preservation (such as it is) might be interesting:
When we copy these from our digital camera, they go straight onto our NAS (networked attached storage), in date labelled folders (named as YYYYMMDD) – one for each day we do a download. I then copy them into iPhoto on our MacBook Pro – which is our primary tool for organising the photos – we might delete some of the pictures we import, but I don’t go back and remove these from the NAS. In iPhoto I take advantage of the various organisation tools to split the photos into ‘events’, and have recently started adding ‘place’ and ‘face’ information (where it was taken, and who is in the photo) using the built in tools.
We then may select some of these to be published on our website. We used to do this in custom software built into our then blogging platform, but now we use Flickr.
The photos on the NAS are backed up to online storage (using JungleDisk, which layers over Amazon S3) on a weekly basis. So that is essentially two local copies, and one remote.
Pictures are taken as JPEGs and stored in that format. I haven’t got a plan for what happens when the standard image format moves away from JPEG – I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Also on our NAS, and backed up online once a week. Organised by iTunes, but this time on our Mac Mini rather than the MacBook Pro. Files are a mix of AAC and MP3.
Also on the NAS and backed up online once a week. Organised by iMovie on the MacBook Pro again. I think this is an area I’m going to have to revisit, as neither the MBP or the Mac Mini really have enough disk space to comfortably store large amounts of video.
Sometimes I get round to producing some actual films from the video footage, and these are either published to our website (just as video files). I think I’ve only put one on YouTube. I have to admit I’m a bit fuzzy about the format – the camera records MPEG2, but I’m not sure what iMovie does to this on import. I tend to export any finished films as MPEG4.
Simply stored on the NAS with weekly online backups. Stuff obviously gets put on the MacBook Pro at various times, but I’m pretty good at making sure anything key goes back on the NAS.
I guess that this blog is the other key ‘document’ store – and at the moment I only have a very vague backup policy for this – I do have a snapshot from a couple of months ago stored as web pages on our NAS (and therefore backed up online).
In some ways the video and photos are our biggest problem. However the fact we are already doing some selection should actually make preservation easier I think. We are already ‘curating’ our collections when we decide what goes online, or in a film. It would make sense to focus preservation activities on these parts of the collection – and much cheaper to do as well.
Probably the least ‘curated’ part of our collection is Documents – this contains just about everything I’ve done over the last 10 years – including huge email archives, and documents on every project I’ve been involved in since about 1998. I haven’t deleted much, and everytime I think about pruning it, I realise I don’t know where to start, and besides, compared to the video it hardly takes up any space….
The areas I feel I need to look at are:
File formats – are we using the most sensible file formats, check what we use for video
Migration strategies – how would I move file formats in the future
Curation strategies – should we focus only on the parts of the collection we really care about?
What to do about blogs?
What I really don’t believe to be the answer is (as Robert Scoble suggests, and as came up in Giles Turnbull’s Bathcamp talk) ‘print it out’.
Last weekend, I went to Bathcamp, a barcamp style event, but slightly unusual as it actually included camping. Although I don’t live particularly close to Bath, I knew several of the people involved – mainly via Twitter (at least initially).
After I booked, I suddenly had the idea that rather than drive down to Bath, I could instead do a combination of cycling and taking the train. I had one days holiday to take before the end of September, so I decided to set off on Friday morning aiming to get to the campsite in time to get my tent up before the sun went down.
Unfortunately I made it to Moreton-in-Marsh just in time to see the train I wanted pulling out. So, I stopped for an early lunch (BLT and Chips) in the local pub, and got the 12:48 train to Bath. I’d originally intended to go to Chippenham by train and cycle from there, but I decided I might not make it to the campsite before sundown, and that going to Bath was a safer bet. I tweeted that I was going that way, and got an offer of some company for a bit of the way from Andy Powell – which was extremely welcome as he was able to show me a canal-side route that avoided the huge hill outside Bath.
The weekend included a huge variety of talks – from an introduction to jQuery to Libraries (me), from HTML Email to making music with Ableton Live, as well as films, live music, barbecued dinner and breakfast and the odd sip of cider.
A couple of the talks I managed to make some reasonable notes about – and it surprised me they were both very relevant to my work. The first one was by Giles Turnbull, and was about the use of URL shorteners – Giles said that he was responsible for the original idea which, with some help from other people, became makeashorterlink.com. Giles described how they really didn’t anticipate the level of abuse that the service would get from spammers. However, despite this they kept it going for a couple of years. Then for various reasons – changes in lives and locations – they decided they could no longer maintain the service – they asked if anyone wanted to take over the service, and the fledgling service TinyURL took it over.
The issue that Giles wanted to highlight was that really the service relied on the enthusiasm of a few individuals – and he felt that this was essentially true of all online services. This, combined with the experience of finding old papers belonging to his step father (I think), made him realise how emphemeral what he put online was compared to paper. He said he was excited by the idea of Newspaperclub which is a service (currently in Alpha) to create a printed ‘newspaper’ from your online content – something you can keep, or give as a gift.
I’m not convinced by this – the solution to digital preservation can’t ultimately be to print it all out – and as Cameron Neylon pointed out, this is a form of caching rather than preservation – online content isn’t like printed content.
Giles’ talk provoked some discussion – but mainly about the longevity and economic viability of various Internet companies – which for me isn’t the heart of the problem. Even if companies survive, the question of how my grandchildren will access, say, my photos saved as JPEGs is far more of an issue.
The second talk I took notes from was Chris Leonard from BioMedCentral (bit hard to believe at this point, but this really wasn’t a library conference!). Chris spoke about how scientific publishing was gradually creeping outside the journal – to blogs, video and other media – but that it was difficult to keep track, and also difficult for scientists to be ‘rewarded’ for these routes of publication (in the way they are recognised and/or cited when they publish in journals).
Chris suggested an approach like that taken by Friendfeed or Faculty of 1000, which I’ve not come across before. He listed some pros and cons of these different services and suggested that what was needed was a service:
that is open and free
uses metrics to motivate contributors (RAE-worthy metrics)
rewards contributors for their efforts
archives contribution and discussions – making them citable
Chris suggested this approach would mean:
Scientist’s whose work is not suited to being shoehorned into a pdf may no longer need to write an article
The interconnected web of data could lead to new ‘article’ types
Unpublished research could reach a wider audience [where it is merited] and discredit crackpots
He suggested that “Peer-review Lite” should be able to sort the wheat from the chaff – if not replace the usefulness of traditional peer-review.
I think Chris is right there is a need to look at new forms of publication and how the effort put into these is recognised and rewarded. However, I also think this is a big challenge – it means changing attitudes towards how academic discourse is conducted, which will be hard to do.
On Sunday morning I skipped out early to cycle back to Bath – a beautiful ride across country, and then along the Kennet and Avon canal – and took the train home. Thanks again to all who organised, especially Mike Ellis, and all those who sponsored an excellent event.
A few years ago at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival I went to see Lawrence Lessig present on Copyright law (I know how to have a good time!). It was a transformational experience – not in my view of copright and intellectual property (although he had very interesting things to say about that), but in my understanding of how you could use Powerpoint to illustrate a speech. As you can see from my later comment on the eFoundation’s blog – I was left both amazed and jealous. If you want to see a version of this presentation by Lessig (which is well worth it for the content alone) you can see his TED talk.
I think I was a OK presenter, and I don’t think I was particularly guilty of just reading out the slides – but I would definitely say my slides tended to be text and bulletpoint heavy. To illustrate – this is a reasonably typical presentation from that time:
Lessig’s example really made me want to change how I approached using slides. Going back to my desk, and browsing the web, I came across the Presentation Zen blog, and from there Garr Reynold’s tips on using slides. On the latter site I remember particularly being struck by the example under tip 2 (Limit bullet points and text), where the point that the presenter wants to communicate is “72% of part-time workers in Japan are women” (I have no idea if this is true by the way). The immediate impact of the slide that simply had the characters 72% on it in a huge font was something I really noticed. This lead to my style evolving, and you can hopefully see the difference in a more recent presentation I did on ‘Resource Discovery Infrastructure’
I’m definitely happier with this latter set of slides, but there are some issues. Without me actually talking, the second set of slides have a lot less meaning than the first. I’ve also found that sometimes I end up stretching for a visual metaphor, and end up with pictures that only tangentially relate to what I’m saying (I find signposts particularly flexible as a visual metaphor). In some cases the pictures became just something to look at while I talked.
So, when I had the opportunity to present a paper on the project I’m currently working on (Telstar) at ALT-C, and they actually mentioned Lawrence Lessig in their ‘guidelines for speakers’, I decided I wanted to try something slightly more ambitious (actually the guidelines to speakers wound me up a bit, since it included a suggest limit of 6 slides for a 12 minute talk – this may have influenced what happened next).
I wanted to really have a slideshow that would punctuate my talk, give emphasis to the things I wanted to say, catch the attention of the audience, and try out a few things I’d had floating around my head for a while. So I went to town. I ended up with 159 slides to deliver in 12 minutes (it actually took me more like 10 minutes on the day).
The whole process of putting together the slideshow was extremely frustrating and took a long time – for a 12 minute talk it took several days to put the presentation together – and writing the talk was not more than half that. Powerpoint is simply not designed to work well in this way – all kinds of things frustrated me. An integration with Flickr would be nice for a start. Then the ability to standardise a size and position for inserted pictures. Positioning guides when dragging elements around the slide (Keynote has had this for years, and I think the latest version of Powerpoint does as well). Basic things like the ability to give a title to a slide (so it shows in the outline view) without having to acutally add text to the slide itself. A much better ‘notes’ editing interface.
I also realised how closely I was going to have to script the talk. This isn’t how I’ve normally worked in the past. Although I’d have a script for rehearsal, by the time I spoke I would be down to basic notes and extemporise around these. This works if you basically have a ‘point per slide’ approach – but not when you have slides that are intended (for example) to display the word you are saying right at the moment you say it – in that instance if you use a synonym, the whole effect is lost (or mislaid).
So, after I’d got my script, and my slides, I started to rehearse. Again, the issue of syncing the slides so closely to what I was saying was an issue – I had to get it exactly right. I had a look at various ‘presenter’ programs available for the iPhone, thinking this could help, and came across some ‘autocue’ apps. I tried one of these, and after a bit of a struggle, got the text of my talk (with indicators where I was to move on the slides using the word [click]). The autocue worked well, although I found having to control the speed, pause it etc. could be distracting – so I had to play around with the speed, and putting in extra spacing to try to make it as close to my natural pace of delivery as possible.
I recorded myself giving the presentation so I could load it on my ipod and listen to it and rehearse along with it in the car. (I started recording myself presenting a few years ago and do find it really helpful in pointing up the places I don’t actually know what I’m saying)
Finally I was ready, and I gave the presentation to a polite audience in Manchester. How did it go? I’m not sure – I got some good questions, which I guess is a good sign. However, I did feel the tightly scripted talk, delivered with autocue, resulted in a much less relaxed and engaging presentation style – I didn’t really feel I connected with the audience, as I was too busy worrying about getting all the words right, making sure the autocue didn’t run away with me, and that I was clicking the mouse in all the right places! If you were there, I’d be interested in some honest feedback – was it all too much? Did it come across I was reading a script? What did you think? (I hope, at least, I managed to avoid falling foul of Sarah Horrigan’s 10 Powerpoint Commandments – although it may have been bad in several other ways)
I knew that when I came to put this presentation online it would be completely useless without the accompanying narration – so I decided I should record a version of the talk, with slides, to put online. This was a complete nightmare! Firstly I tried the built-in function in Powerpoint to ‘record a narration’. Unfortunately when you do this, Powerpoint ignores any automatic slide timings you have set – which were essential to some of the effects I wanted to achieve.
I then decided I’d do an ‘enhanced podcast’ – this is basically a podcast with pictures. I used GarageBand (on a Mac) to record my narration, while running the powerpoint on a separate machine. Once I’d done this, I exported all the slides from powerpoint to JPEG, and imported into GarageBand, and by hand, synced them to the presentation. This worked well, and I was really happy – right up until the point that I realised GarageBand automatically cropped all the images into a square – losing bits of the slides, including some of the branding I absolutely had to have on there. So that was another 2 hours down the drain.
I then though about using ‘screen capture’ software to capture the slideshow while it played on the screen, and my narration at the same time. The first one I tried couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing slides, and the second crashed almost before I started.
I finally decided that iMovie would be the easiest thing to do – I’d re-record the narration with GarageBand, and use the ability of iMovie to import stills and use them instead of video, syncing their duration with the narration track. It took several attempts (not least because the shortest time iMovie will display any image seems to be 0.2s – and I had some images that were timed to display for only 0.1s – I eventually had to give up on this, and settle for the 0.2s for each image, which means that there is a slightly long pause at one point in the presentation)
Overall I’m much more pleased with this recorded version than with the live performance – which I think lacked any ‘performance’. The autocue application worked really well when sitting in front of a computer talking into the microphone. There are still some issues – you may notice some interference on the track, which comes from my mobile phone interacting with some speakers I forgot to turn off. However I think it works well, and actually as a video as opposed to a ‘slidecast’ is more portable and distributable than a ‘slidecast’ I think. It’s on YouTube, and there is also a downloadable version you can use on your PC, or your portable device.
Finally, once I’d put the video on YouTube, I was able to add Closed Captioning (using the free CaptionTube app – although not bug free) – and here, having the script written out was very helpful, and it wasn’t too difficult to add the subtitles (although I do worry whether some of them are on the screen just a bit too briefly).
Would I do it again? I suspect that I was a little guilty this time of putting style before substance – I’m pleased with the video output, but I felt the live presentation left something to be desired. Perhaps if I’d known the script better, and hadn’t been relying on the autocue to make sure I was keeping to the script, it might have been better. But, I guess that it isn’t suprising that something that works on screen is going to be different to something that works on stage.
I think the other thing that I’ve realised, is that although my powerpoint may be prettier, I’m probably still just an OK presenter. If I’ve got good content I do an OK job. Perhaps what I need is to look at how I present – my writing, and what you might call my stage presence I guess – afterall, if I get that right, who is going to care about the slides?
Anyway, after all that, here it is – if you are interested…
This week I’ve been at the ALT-C conference in Manchester. One of the most interesting and thought provoking talks I went to was by David White (@daveowhite) from Oxford, who talked about the concept of visitors and residents in the context of technology and online tools.
The work David and colleagues have done (the ISTHMUS project) suggests that moving on from Prensky’s idea of ‘digital natives and immigrants’ (which David said had sadly been boiled down to in popular thought as ‘old people just can’t do stuff’ – even if that wasn’t what Prensky said exactly), that it was useful to think in terms of visitors and residents.
Residents are those who live parts of their life online – their presence is persistent over time, even when they aren’t logged in. On the otherhand Visitors tend to log on, complete a task, and then log off, leaving no particular trace of their identity.
The Resident/Visitor concept isn’t meant to be a binary one – it is a continuum – we all display some level of both types of behaviour. Also, it may be that you are more ‘resident’ in some areas of your life or in some online environments, but more a ‘visitor’ in others.
I think the most powerful analogy David drew was to illustrate ‘resident’ behaviour as people milling round and picnicing in a park. They were ‘inhabiting’ the space – not solving a particular problem, or doing a particular task. It might be that they would talk to others, learn stuff, experience stuff etc. but this probably wasn’t their motivation in going to the park.
On the otherhand a visitor would treat an online environment in a much more functional manner – like a toolbox – they would go there to do a particular thing, and then get out.
David suggested that some online environments were more ‘residential’ than others – perhaps Twitter and Second Life both being examples – and that approaching these as a ‘visitor’ wasn’t likely to be a successful strategy. That wasn’t to pass judgement on the use or not of these tools – there’s nothing to say you have to use them.
David also noted that moving formal education into a residential environment wasn’t always easy – you can’t just turn up in a pub as a teacher and start teaching people (even if those same people are your students in a formal setting) – and that the same is true online, An example was the different attitudes from two groups of students to their tutors when working in Second Life – in the first example the tutor had worked continually in SL with the students, and had successfully established their authority in the space. In the second example a tutor had only ‘popped in’ to SL occasionally, and tried to act with the same authority – which grated on the students.
At the heart of the presentation was the thesis that we need to look much more at the motivations and behaviours of people, not focus on the technology – a concept that David and others are trying to frame – currently under the phrase ‘post-technical’. Ian Truelove has done quite a good post on what post-technical is about.
Another point made was that setting up ‘residential’ environments could be extremely cheap – and you should think about this when both planning what to do and what your measures of ‘success’ are – think about the value you get in terms of your investment.
The points that David made came back to me in a session this morning on Digital Identity (run by Frances Bell, Josie Fraser, James Clay and Helen Keegan). I joined a group discussing Twitter, and some of the questions were about ‘how can I use Twitter in my teaching/education’. For me, a definite ‘resident’ on Twitter, this felt like a incongruous question. I started to think about it a bit more and realised, there are ‘tool’ like aspects to Twitter:
Publication platform (albeit in a very restrictive format)
Ability to publish easily from mobile devices (with or without internet access)
Ability to repurpose outputs via RSS
This probably needs breaking down a bit more. But you can see that if you wanted to create a ‘news channel’ that you could easily update from anywhere, you could use Twitter, and push an RSS version of the stream to a web page etc. In this way, you can exploit the tool like aspects of Twitter – a very ‘visitor’ approach.
However, I’d also say that if you want to do this kind of thing, there are probably better platforms than Twitter (or at least, equally good platforms) – perhaps the WordPress Microblog plugin that Joss Winn mentioned in his session on WordPress (another very interesting session).
For me, the strength of Twitter in particular is the network I’ve built up there (something reinforced by the conference as I met some of my Twitter contacts for the first time – such as @HallyMk1, who has posted a great reflection on the conference – although I should declare an interest – he says nice things about me). I can’t see that you can exploit this side of Twitter without accepting the need to become ‘resident’ to some degree. Of course, part of the issue then becomes whether there is any way you can exploit this type of informal environment for formal learning – my instinct is that this would be very difficult – but what you can do is facilitate for the community both informal learning and access to formal learning.
As an aside, one of the things that also came out of the Digital Identities session was that even ‘visitors’ have an online life – sometimes one they aren’t aware of – as friends/family/strangers post pictures of them (or write about them). We all leave traces online, even if we don’t behave as residents.
The final thread I want to pull on here is a phrase that was used and debated (especially I think in the F-ALT sessions) “it’s not about the technology’”. This was certainly part of the point that David White made – that people’s motivations were much more important than any particular technology they would use to achieve their goals. He made the point that people who don’t use Twitter don’t avoid doing so because they aren’t capable, or don’t understand, they just don’t have the motivation to use it.
Martin Weller has posted on this and I think I agree with him when he says “I guess it depends on where you are coming from” – and I think the reason that the phrase got debated so much is that the audience at ALT-C is coming from many different places.
I’m guilty of liking the ‘shiny shiny’ stuff as much as any other iPhone owning geek – but the thing that interests me in this context is what the impact is likely to be on education (or more broadly to be honest, society) – I’m not in the position of being immediately concerned about how the Twitter or iPhones or whatever else should be used in the classroom.
I do think that we need to keep an eye on how technology continues to change because I think a very few technologies impact society to the extent that our answers need to change – but the question remains the same whatever – how are we going to (need to) change the way we educate to deal with the demands and requirements of society in the 21st Century.