Archive for March, 2010

Web Tools: A Process Perspective

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Steve Wheeler’s list of his top 10 Web tools generated a typically popular response on his blog today, with others sharing what they are using and why. I raise the point that whilst these tools are highly effective for a range of purposes, we should not necessarily treat them as discrete technologies. In adopting a holistic view to studying the social web, I’m particularly interested in the type of emergent processes that students are developing in using these tools collectively.

I go on to comment:

“For example, writing a blog post such as this one is not an isolated activity. What are the motivations for writing it and how might they involve other social media? Attending a webinar perhaps, or reading an online journal article? Or is it in response to another blog post? And was that sourced from Twitter, or from a regularly subscribed blog via a RSS feedreader? What external resources might the post link to, or does it embed content from other sites? What happens after the blog is posted? Is it promoted on Twitter or Facebook? Does anyone leave a comment, or bookmark it? Well, you get the general idea…”

Tools come and go. Whist certain tools become culturally embedded and synonymous with specific activities, or we appropriate certain sites with specific communities, it’s the combined processes of – as Steve rightly says – connection, sharing and amplification that makes social media so powerful. Identifying these processes enables us to develop good practices, but how transferable are these as new tools emerge?

Digital Researcher

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

A week on from attending the excellent Digital Researcher event run by Vitae and the British Library, it’s been interesting to see how some attendees have followed up with their online activity; developing networks and continuing discussions, partly driven by Tristram Hooley and Alan Cann, two of the presenters at the event. The #dr10 hashtag key has been evident on Twitter, FriendFeed and a number of blogs.

Open online course models, such as George Siemens’ and Stephen Downes’ Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08 and CCK09) may partly rely on traditional ‘bounded’ online platforms (such as their Moodle site), but actively encourage participants to use their own existing social media (blogs, wikis and social bookmarking sites etc.) for personal reflection, social engagement and content management, as well as creating new groups and platforms for further discussion and knowledge sharing. The use of a unifying hashtag seems at present, the most effective way of aggregating this type of distributed activity.

But how effective is this in sustaining interest and participation? By adopting and encouraging an open, distributed model like this, it is necessary to accept that the resulting activities can be exciting, unpredictable, imperfect, messy or just plain non-eventful.

Attendees at events like Digital Researcher can vary considerably in their awareness, knowledge and competences of the technologies being introduced, and in their motivations to use them (like it or not, some PhD students DO attend training courses just to tick off another skill-set for their annual reviews). The excitement and good intentions which some may take home with them can be soon forgotten in the subsequent days and weeks, as busy schedules and deadlines take over. In addition, people trying social media for the first time often ‘don’t get the point’ of them because their affordances only become evident once a level of maturity is attained.

In the recent sessions I ran with LeRoy Hill at the University of Nottingham, we adopted similar methods of presentation and discussion to those which featured at the Digital Researcher event (albeit on a far less ambitious scale). Though we’ve not conducted any formal evaluation as yet, anecdotal evidence would suggest that the take up of these tools in the subsequent weeks that have followed has been patchy at best. Reflecting on our sessions, we identified that whilst such initiatives can raise awareness, the need to scaffold them with ongoing support such as drop-in open workshops and online discussion groups becomes apparent.

Tristram Hooley rightly points out that students were best supported at Digital Researcher by actively working with each other, sharing personal perspectives and good practice. Arguably, follow-up activities can be scaffolded in similar ways. However, whilst the initial focus can be on the event itself, and within the core group of attendees who are keen to continue participating, that motivation will soon dissipate, as the event and the group become increasingly irrelevant to individual research practices, disciplines and communities. How do we make the transition?

A Delicious Contemplation

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Having recently created the 1000th bookmark on my Delicious site, it’s as good a time as any to pause and reflect on social bookmarking.

I think Delicious itself is one of the most smartly realised websites out there. Its pared-down 2008 redesign – with its two-colour, modular interface – perfectly suits my design sensibilities. Not only is this one of my most important social media resources, but is one that has significantly changed the way I think about collecting Web-based content. I can confidently and routinely save and forget about the resources I tag, yet easily find them again when required (evidence that tools can and do shape practice). Any ‘intra-personal’ tagging inconsistencies are quickly resolved by occasional housekeeping.

Folksonomies would seem to represent a radical democratisation in the ordering, managing and sharing of digital content. Yet part of my role as a critical researcher is to challenge the rhetoric that routinely surrounds Web 2.0 technologies, and in considering social bookmarking, two issues in particular spring to mind:

Just how social is social bookmarking?

I’m fully aware of the social and collaborative affordances of social bookmarking sites like Delicious, yet I consider my own resource as predominantly a personal rather than social bookmarking site. Clearly there are specific strategies and methods that can be adopted to utilise participatory features such as networks and subscriptions, yet I’ve never been motivated to apply them regularly. Is this use of Delicious typical, or am I oblivious to widespread social and collaborative practices across bookmarking sites?


I also wonder how distinctive folksonomies represented by the collective tagging of a platform like Delicious actually are. When I’ve occasionally used Delicious as a social search engine, results have been interesting, yet I’ve not been inspired to adopt this activity regularly. If the majority of users are saving Web resources based on Google searches and social networking interactions, does social bookmarking merely replicate existing and more dominant systems? I’d be interested in any thoughts on this.

Top Five Posts

Monday, March 1st, 2010

To date, according to my stats plug-in, the five most viewed posts on this blog are: