Open Document Format and Microsoft OpenXML Converter

While ODF is an ISO standard, Microsoft lobby hard to get their OpenXML to be standardised also, in the face of objections from a substantial number of countries (strictly the National Bodies that represent national interests at ISO).

A CETIS colleague blogged about all of this last January, but in the mean time a translator has been developed that can be used as a MS Office add-in and MS is now having a second go after getting a bloody nose the first time. Place your bets please…

Creative Britain – a New Economy?

The view from DCMS and BERR in “Creative Britain – New Talents for the New Economy” (published 22 Feb) includes quite a few mentions of IP and “new business models” but doesn’t really deliver much that breaks the mold, certainly nothing that goes anywhere near the open source or open content worlds. This is an unfair comparison, given the diversity of creative industries and some may quibble about the open source comparison, but the seemingly complete omission of new business models is a bit of a shame.

(IP = Intellectual Property, BERR = Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, DCMS = Department of Culture Media and Sport)

Cross-Platform, Real-Time Games. A Sign of Social Networking’s Future?

If one is speculating about technology platforms/approaches that might be applicable to education, or maybe more particularly self-managed learning, casual real-time games might be giving us a hint. I’m thinking not so-much the gaming aspect but the underlying capabilities/technologies that are relied upon. The current state of play (!) is quite crude still but a couple of articles caught my attention.

There are some interesting points on a recent TechCrunch article, especially “Third-party applications may end up substantially downplaying the importance of each particular social network as they replicate the same functionality across networks. This trend may emerge particularly strongly if the social networks themselves resist opening up their social graphs to other networks while users demand interoperability.”

I also noted some elbowing to be at the front of the queue, although this appears to be mostly vapour-ware.

LibraryThing I Love You!

OK so the corny title has surely been used before but hey: who cares! (NB I didn’t use a question mark)

In speculating (again) about using ISBN barcode reading to get to grips with my domestic library I stumbled into LibraryThing, which I found rather appealing. You can bar-code scan straight into the form (they sell the rather cute CueCat) and there really seems to be some momentum in the Thing with Jo Public and, thanks to the involvement of Talis with some larger libraries too.

ISBNdb also caught my attention and from some initial dinking about with their data access API rather more attractive than using Amazon. Being the kind of person I am, its probably more likely that I’ll hack something up of my own than use LibraryThing but its still something to commend, I think. For example ThingISBN makes real the rather abstract FRBR, which I blogged about ages ago (and does so with a nose clearly thumbed at OCLC). And is all just soooo mashable.

LibraryThing is only part of a trend that is blurring the online from the book-line. Whether you come at this from a “you won’t ever replace books” or “if it can’t be found online it doesn’t exist” or …. doesn’t really matter. More please!

Is the Social Software War Moving to New Battlefields

While a lot of the energy behind the explosion in a diverse range of social software is the celebrated “network effect” (much talked about but a good starting point is O’Reilly’s 2005 piece on Web 2.0) it has been a story of competing networks. Initiatives such as “OpenSocial” (and blogged about by CETIS colleages Scott Wilson and Simon Grant) are more open in the sense of an API opening up a proprietary system than many might like. To be fair, OpenSocial did get buy-in from number of others but it has the feel of an “embrace and extend” tactic as Scott points out.

More recently, it was announced that individuals from Plaxo, Google and Facebook were joining DataPortability. DataPortability seems to have a rounded approach that they express as: “invent nothing + keep it simple and open and put it all in the context + create the brand (simple user story). This set of principles should be among the first candidates for adoption in any interoperability-oriented effort. Learning technology “standards” as we have seen them over the last 10 years or so have often not adopted this kind of philosophy and it would be an interesting bit of speculation to consider what would have happened if they had. You could make a provocative statement that DataPortability is working “beyond standards” (the title of the 2007 JISC CETIS conference).

What will come of this is far from certain but my speculation is that we will see some Google pick-and-mix, a bit more “embrace and extend” but overall movement in the direction of greater data portability. I think the writing on the wall has been clear for some time: that loyalty to one social network is not reality. In the war for market share the punters will drift away from sites that slam the door behind them. So far we have seen basic feeds as the means for people to bridge between silos but I predict that user demand for greater permeability will quickly drive buy-in to data portability and the war for market share will move on to new battlefields. Along the way something like the DataPortability brand will be the selling point but a quickly forgotten one.

Kuali Student Services System

The kuali foundation has been around for a few years now but only recently (since July 2007) started work on a student services system backed by 7 N. American institutions to the tune of more than $25 million over a 5-year period, with Carnegie Mellon and MIT digging deepest. At an initial glance, this initiative looks like yet another well-funded open source initiative and the sceptics will not be expecting much long term impact, although it is worth noting that the kuali board does include Brad Wheeler, co-founder of the reasonably-successful sakai project.

The timeline gives an idea of the scope and indicates that “curriculum development” is an early priority, something that is elaborated upon in the outline functional description. This seems a logical starting point but is far from trivial, being the subject of several recent and active JISC projects such as COVARM, XCRI and COVa. How well the kuali team can deliver in this area should be an acid test of the viability of the initiative.

A glance at the Technical Architecture Principles is worthwhile, both for what it says as well as what it doesn’t. It is very committed to SOAP web services and service orientation. On this front, I think the student services system effort will be useful even if it fails miserably: a contributor and proving ground for the principles of the eFramework. On the what-it-doesn’t-say front, the list of open standards didn’t mention IMS or other educationally-oriented group outside the US; only PESC was mentioned.

One to watch!

BPEL – Opening Up Applications for Digital Repositories?

 At a recent workshop for the eFramework there  was a session discussing experiences in using “BPEL” (Business Process Execution Language) in the RepoMMan project. BPEL allowed the RepoMMan to use web services provided by the Fedora Repository to bring the workflow process out of the repository in a configurable manner. Significantly, the engine that runs the BPEL instructions can also access other web services.

This seems like an important development, demonstrating how a generic repository could be wrapped within a more application-specific workflow, so avoiding the need for an application-specific repository. This makes a good companion to the ability of a repository to support multiple metadata application profiles.  Assessment “item banks” could be a good test case for the utility of BPEL. For example, a recent report on item bank requirements for repositories identifies the policies around access and capture/storage/access of usage data. Projects such as Minibix are developing the state of the art in item banking and should provide the baseline for further exploration, but we should not expect the full service oriented vision, BPEL and all, to be upon us soon. But you never know…

Its Been 21 Years Since My First IM

The thought struck me last night, on seeing a film with some students around a green-screen monitor that it was in 1986 that I first used instant messaging. The command was called “notify” but the cognoscenti created an alias, “n”, in their logon script (personalisation) and another alias to see which of their friends were on line. I think it was an IBM 3084 mainframe behind the scenes and very “dumb” and impersonal terminals at the front end. It is sometimes hard to remember the days before the internet (it was probably 1992 when I first experienced TCP/IP and was jolly pleased to remote control my SUN workstation in Durham while in Boulder Colorado) but in 1986 we were pretty impressed by CUDN, the Cambridge University Data Network and being able to IM each other from our respective places of study and dwelling.

How often we “notified” I shudder to recall, for the monikers of my friends are still memorable: SJC10, BTS11, GAN10 …

Funny how some things change while other’s don’t…

Google Co-op

Google Co-op caught my attention recently as a welcome addition to the social bookmarking family, although it is not really being sold as this by Google; the collaborative/collective elements are not brought to the fore. I don’t wish to suggest that Google Co-op is the “answer”, but it has a complementary approach  built more around an interest than a person.  It’s well worth a look, there is a browser add-in to send URLs to your “custom search” and a facility to download your URLs (essential if you are going to invest much time). A little disappointing is that there hasn’t been any attempt to include any categorisation or tagging within a “custom search”.

Some Interesting Work in eAssessment

In Southampton today there was a get together jointly between some people from the HE Academy and JISC CETIS communities to look at developments and directions in eAssessment in the context of the physical sciences and mathematics. A couple of “quite interesting” pieces of work caught my attention…

Martin Greenhow showed us some examples of his new Mathletics (you need to scroll down to find this) and talked about some of the technology (MathML, SVG and an impressive JavaScript library) and challenges in setting maths and statistics objective questions with quite deep elements of randomisation and apparent smartness. It all looked rather well done and the questions work in QM Perception. This really looked like something deserving of much wider use and appreciation as well as an exploration of how some of the underlying technology could be tool-kit-ised and exploited in wider circles.

Aside from the technical perspective, Martin talked about the positive student response and the way the rich feedback had effectively turned what was ostensibly an assessment into a learning resource – mal-rules based on common student errors and misconceptions were linked to feedback in a particularly effective way. Students were keen to work through a surprising volume of feedback material. One of the problems Martin identified is students gaming the system, something that makes the question setting quite challenging, but maybe this student strategy, once understood, can be exploited too.

Frank Margrave gave us a preview demonstration of LinuxGym, which isn’t officially released yet. This is a nice example of assessment in context, in this case linking a live linux box with a set of questions so that students would execute the commands in response to a question and have the consequence of the commands checked against various rules for success.