Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Student Survey - Headline Findings and Key Actions

Each year CiCS takes part in the Annual Student Survey, where all students are asked to rate various central services. There's an awful lot of data generated, and a lot of detailed work taking place analysing it and drawing up actions plans. However, I thought you might be interested in the headline findings and our key actions.

Overall satisfaction with CiCS dropped from 87% last year to 86% this year.
This slight dip is on the back of a rise from 83% overall satisfaction in 2005, and mainly manifests itself as a significant drop in the ‘very satisfied’ box from 35% to 32%. Although last year we saw slightly lower levels of satisfaction amongst older students and postgraduates, this year there seems to be little or no difference by age, gender or type of student.
However, examining the ratings for the different areas of service, most areas received lower ratings than last year apart from opening hours (up from 78% to 86%). In particular ‘quality of software’ (down from 86% to 78%), ‘availability of computing facilities’ (down from 76% to 69%) and ‘reliability of systems’ (down from 79% to 65%) received significantly lower ratings than last year. Again this year MUSE received very high satisfaction ratings (88% overall, 36% very satisfied).

This survey was taken a month after the opening of the Information Commons. The great success and popularity of this building, coupled with some of its teething problems, would seem to underlie three of these ratings:

Opening Hours: the building provides 24-hour access to quality study spaces. Extended opening hours has consistently been one of the top three demands. It is pleasing to see that the Information has met this as planned.
Action: Need to maintain 24x7x365 access to Information Commons.

Reliability of Systems: power problems in the early days meant that at a very busy period (including around the survey time) 20 or so PCs were unavailable at any one time – and we were unable to get a stable solution.
Action: Work has taken place over summer to address outstanding electrical problems – however investigation of causes continues; guidance is being given to students about use of power sockets; management regime in place to monitor and control.

Availability of Computers: despite a net gain of over 300 PCs, the huge popularity of the Information Commons coupled with students ‘reserving’ PCs by leaving their belongings at a desk meant that for may students the experience was that PCs were not available.
Action: Policy/procedure in place to deal with ‘reserved’ desks – will monitor and adjust tolerance if necessary; advance PC booking system introduced; PCs are available elsewhere and information about this is now displayed/available in documentation etc.; more PCs will be added during the year.

It is clear that the perception of ‘quality of software’ is going down each year (89% satisfied in 2005, 85% in 2006, 78% in 2007) and needs to be taken seriously. In terms of the industry, we are confident that we do provide high quality systems that deliver functionality and reliability. It may be that this perception is related to increasing expectations and that students often have the latest versions of systems and applications on their own computers.
Action: we have a project underway that is looking at the next generation managed desktop; will also seek clarification from students via survey or focus group.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Seattle Public Library

Whilst in Seattle it is almost compulsory to visit the Seattle Public Library. Opened in 2004 the architecture, (from the outside at least) is stunning. The building cost $165m, was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and contains 1.4m books and 400 PCs open to the public. I thought the exterior of the building - all glass and steel, very angular, was spectacular. But, I really didn't like the interior - and that's not just because it's a library :-).

The central atrium is 10 storeys high, and for anyone who has any slight fear of heights or any tendency to vertigo, it's terrifying! I have no problem with the 4 storey atrium in our own Information Commons, but I really didn't like this. On the tenth floor I felt really unsafe and had to get down the lift as soon as possible. I didn't use the escalators because they were too steep as well - maybe I'm just a wimp.

Apart from that very personal view, there are some great features. Lots of public art including three video sculptures which talk to you as you come down the escalators, and 4 giant plasma screens at the back of the main helpdesk which displays an artwork based on what books are being checked out.

It's even got a book sorter bigger than ours! It used to sort books not just into bins, but onto trolleys. To do this it had to work out which way the spine of the book was. Unfortunately this didn't work too well, so they've turned it off. If anyone had told me a year ago I'd be interested in book sorting machines I wouldn't have believed them!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

The end of the conference

So, the final speaker sums up, the exhibition is dismantled and 6000 people make their way home. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Went to some good sessions, some bad ones, and some very good ones. Spoke to a lot of vendors - I even sold my soul to the devil one night and went out for dinner with SAP. One of things all of the British contingent came away with, was that we have very little to fear in IT terms from the US - in many areas we're way ahead of them.

Networking with colleagues is a huge part of any conference, and I was privileged at this one to be part of a great crowd. Thanks for making it such fun everyone.

Just to round things off, Tony Blair was on our flight home!

Trends in Information Security

The final session of the conference was the best. It featured Bruce Schneier speaking on Ten trends in Information Security. According to his biography, Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist, referred to by The Economist as a "security guru." He is the CTO of BT Counterpane and the author of eight books -- including the best sellers "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World," "Secrets and Lies," and "Applied Cryptography," and the influential Blowfish and Twofish encryption algorithms.

His talk was well presented and thought provoking. I'm going to try and blog it almost as he gave it:

His 10 trends were:
1 The economic value of information
Information is becoming more valuable and as storage becoming cheaper, there's more of it. Think of how much information Amazon has about you. It's often cheaper to keep than throw away.

2 Networks as critical infrastructure
How often do we think about something that comes in the mail - this can't be important. If it was, we'd have got it by email.

3 Third parties controlling information
Think about how much of information about you is stored somewhere (do you know where?) by someone other than you. Your email is somewhere else. If you delete it, they may not delete it. Your mobile phone information, medical records are all somewhere else. Your information is widely distribted and the security of it is out of your hands. This is going to get worse as more distributed applications are developed.

4 Criminals thriving on the internet
The nature of hacking on the net has changed. It used to be hackers defacing web pages, (how quaint!). Now they're looking for money. It's not a hobby anymore. Identify theft is another name for fraud. There is a market for exploits and criminals are taking over attacks.

5 Ever increasing complexity
Complexity is the worst enemy of security. As things get more complex, security is getting worse. Security is getting better but complexity is getting worse faster.

6 Slower patching and faster exploits
Concept of throw it out there and patch it if it doesn't work, doesn't work for anything other than software! Patches have to work, be reliable, be well tested, and timely - ie released in hours or days. Can't do. So, companies that have to release a lot of patches, lets just make one up - Microsoft - came up with idea of releasing patches in a regular cycle of a patch release every month. This is much more reliable But there’s a window of vunerability of up to a month - the bad guys release their vunerabilities on patch Tuesday to get the maximum window

7 Sophistication of automatic worms
Worms getting more sophisticated. They are targeted, better written and quieter. They used to put a message on your screen and wipe your hard-disk. The criminal worm sits on your computer and doesn’t advertise its presence.

8 Untrustworthiness of the endpoints
Most of our security is designed according to a WW2 paradigm - one sender, one receiver and a transmission link. Security is based on the transmission link. But, the real threat is the endpoint. What good is encryption if the receiving computer is compromised. For example it doesn’t matter how good your vpn is if the PC is controlled by spyware.
Are our student computers secure?

9 The end user as attacker
We're building security that doesn’t protect the end user from bad things, but protects the company from the end user. Can’t do both. Example of Sony putting software on your PC to track what you're doing with music downloads, but it makes your PC more susceptible to spyware.

10 Regulatory pressure
Increasing all the time. Two basic sales techniques - fear and greed. Security is a fear sell.
Regulation is best stick for people to beat their bosses with to get more money for it security.

Above are increasingly important trends – not going to get better. Non technical aspects of security are more important then the technical ones. IT Economics also have to be taken into account. So, here are 4 aspects of IT Economics:

1 The network effect
A network gets more valuable the more people are on it. This is true for all networks – EDUCAUSE, cell phones, gaming platforms. The more people in a network, the bigger it gets.
Leads to dominant markets

2 High fixed costs, low marginal cots
True for lots of things, eg music, but especially for software. The first copy costs millions, the rest are free becuase the costs are in development, not in manufacture. So how do you recover fixed costs? You use patents, copyrights, trademarks. Also proprietary accessories, eg printer cartridges. Also tends to lead to dominant markets.

3 High switching costs or lock in
Very important in IT as switching costs are very big. If you don't like pepsi, you can drink a coke tomorrow, but if you want to change your word processor? Retraining costs, converting data etc. High switching costs drives a lot of IT economics and leads to worse products and services. And the MS policy of throw it out now, get it right later.

4 A Market for Lemons
All about asymmetric markets ie the seller knows more about the product than the buyer. When a buyer can’t tell difference between a good product and a bad product, good products are driven out of the market. Happened with firewall software a few years ago. Buyers have to rely on signals, eg third party reviews, awards, Gartner, reputation.
Important in security and is why you see some good products not survive.

We're constantly making trade offs. Security failures are often economic failures but standard risk assessment difficult to do and there's a lack of good data. When you have a very low risk event with a very high cost, the maths don't work (try multiplying zero by infinity).
There's also a poor understanding of costs which are often intangible. How much is privacy worth?

Very important in security. This is the effect of a decision not borne by the decision maker.
Eg we own a chemical plant, it pollutes the river, kills people, we don’t live downriver, we don’t care.

It's everywhere in security. The whole of the security of the internet depends on your mother's computer. Why should she care - as long as she can read her emails.
Counterfeit money – why don't they teach us how to recognise it? Because it's not in your interest to find it in your wallet! If they told you how to do it you wouldn’t look.
Software vendors don’t care, especially if they're a monopoly.
Cell phone vendors – spend loads of money making sure you can’t buy a third party battery, but none on voice traffic security.

So, you have to modify the cost benefit trade off. In the example of the chemical plant it would be litigation – allow people to sue. Or regulation. Both raise the cost of polluting the river. Makes cost internal. Then the market should take over.

May see this in IT security soon – software vendors will be liable for bugs which cause us losses. There's no other way to solve the problem.

When you think of security, think of economics. If the economic motivation is not there, security will not get deployed.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Museum of Flight

The last night of the EDUCAUSE conference is always a party somewhere - we've boogied in Universal Studios, line danced in Nashville and raced armadillos in Dallas. This year it was the Museum of Flight's turn - a huge place with lots of aeroplanes in! The guys I was with even knew what sort of planes they were - I could distinguish blue ones, yellow ones, ones with propellors, and ones which appeared to have no means of propulsion whatsoever. I even got to sit in the cockpit of one - there's not a lot of room and the view is appalling.

My favourite section was space - I'm fascinated by space travel, especially the Apollo missions. It was great to see an Apollo Command module and a lunar buggy. The computers in the Apollo spacecraft didn't have enough processing power to add two numbers together - most digital watches have more - and yet they got men to the moon, and more importantly, back. A friend bought Gene Kranz's book, "Failure is not an Option". He was flight director for many of the Apollo missons, including Apollo 11 which put men on the moon, and Apollo 13 which so nearly left 3 men up there. "Failure is not an option" is what he said to his team when the enormity of what had happened on Apollo 13 became apparent. A inspiring man. I wish I'd bought it, but it isn't long until Christmas if anyone reading this is wondering what to buy me...

These boots were made for walking

Mike Zastrocky is an analyst for Gartner, the consulting company, and every year he gives an update on what the key issues for CIOs are. This year he concentrated very much on the role of the CIO as an IT educator, marketing the technology vision and emphasising the value of IT to the institution. An recent survey of CIOs and their bosses (CEO, Registrar etc) showed an interesting discrepancy. When asked to choose from list what role they best fulfilled at the university, they chose Business Partner. However, when the bosses were asked the same question, they put this role as the least effective. Gartner's recommendation was that CIOs need to take seriously their role as educator and regularly look for opportunities to market the value of IT to the whole community.

The last session of the day was delivered by the EDUCAUSE Evolving Technology Committee and covered the following emerging technologies:
web 2.0
google apps
web conferencingm-learning (using mobile devices for delivering teaching materials)
3D printing
information lifecycle management

Some were interesting - 3D printing for example. As these printers get cheaper we can expect see them become more common. They'll cause chaos with our printing management system though - imagine deciding how much to charge!
I think I was losing the will to live by the end of the presentation though. As virtualisation's been around since the 1960s I couldn't see how it could be described as an emerging technology!

Off to the "special event" tonight at Seattle's Museum of Flight - might get chance to have a go in a flight simulator!

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the boots were bought in Texas last year and are my favourite footwear at the moment. I wore them today and several complete strangers came up to me and said how cool they were!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Uncomfortable reading, and even more uncomfortable typing

General session on the Spellings Report - commissioned by the US Secretary of Education and published last year, reporting on the state of US Higher Education and making some radical recommendations. If you're in HE in the US it made fairly uncomfortable reading with accusations of complacency and lack of accountability and transparency. Of only limited interest if you're not in the US so I've joined many others in the hunt for a plug for my laptop in the conference centre halls and alleyways. Actually, what you really need is a chair and a plug, and if you're really lucky, a chair, a plug, and a table! Those are few and far between, although I did spot Tony earlier sitting on the floor with his laptop on a chair - good compromise. I'm doing what most people are doing - sitting on the floor with my laptop on my knee.

Oh, and the photo is of a few of the British contingent - I thought the blog was getting a bit boring with no pictures - posing under a totem pole.

uPortal wins an award

Back in 1996 I took part in a short tour of the US to look at what they were doing with the then very new “World Wide Web”. We visited Princeton University and met their CIO Dave Koehler, and then went to Delaware and met the WWW guru - Carl Jacobson.

Educause make an award every year for innovation, and I’m really pleased to be currently watching Carl and Dave being honoured for the development of uPortal.

Disaster planning

Another early start this morning. I'm still not sure what possesses Americans to start conference sessions at 8am.
Interesting session on planning for continuity in teaching in the event of a major disaster such as Pandemic Flu. Lots to think about, especially in terms of a communication plan - as one of the presenters said, if you can't reach em, you can't teach em. Some things being considered :
Find out where your students are likely to go if the campus closes- have international students got relatives nearby they might go to?
Everyone to have an email address which isn't the uni one - keep these on record, staff and student
Keep paper as well as electronic records of all student contact details at home and at work
All faculty to have contact details ready to give to all students in case of emergency - ie home/mobile number, non uni email etc.

Lots of discussion of how Blackboard/WebCT might be used to deliver all teaching. Interestingly many uni's are opting to have it hosted remotely by Blackboard. Again, interesting to note that we're much further on in our used of a VLE than many unis over here.

Some unis have disaster plan/business continuity wiki to share info.

Now, off to get a coffee before the next session.

and the rest of Wednesday

Several sessions on virtual worlds and social networking. The Center for Digital Media in Vancouver has a masters degree with a physical world - a real building on their campus, and a virtual world - a digital campus in Second Life. They are developing something they call participatory pedagogy, where students contribute to the learning process. The virtual world was interesting - it's completely modifiable, and reality does not apply! Not sure how it contributes to the learning process though. I have an account in Second Life but it's sessions like this that make me realise how little I know about it and how little I can do. I did learn about griefers, and what do do if a student shoots you while you're teaching him. You set him on fire of course.

Sessions on the use of social networking such as facebook, blogs and wikis were disappointing. Nothing new or earth shattering, apart from a realisation that I think we're way ahead in the UK with using these tools.

A surreal experience in the last session where a group of us had gravitated to the edge of the room to plug our laptops into the power sockets. A Facebook friend and colleague Tony was blogging the conference and managed to post a photo of me during the session. He was blogging live, I was commenting on his blog, while we were listening to a session on the use of blogs.

Lots of laptops here. At least half, probably more, are Macs.
This conference is huge - at least 1000 were turned away because bookings closed before the conference started. The British contingent are using Facebook to keep in touch, arrange where to meet etc.
It's interesting to watch the tactics the exhibitors use to get you to go to their stands. Cisco has a magician! Others have nice chocolate.

It's been a long day - sessions start at 8am and finish at 6pm. Collapsed in the bar for a quick G and T with Sue after the last session. We told the waitress to keep the tab open as we might need another. "Well you can't fly on one wing" she said. Too true.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

In Plain English...

A session on how to effectively communicate IT messages within an institution. In general IT communication suffers from:

Too technical - trying to show we know our stuff. Too many acronyms.
Too detailed – most background information is not essential
Too bossy - almost a parental tone. "You must do" or more often "you must not do"
Monodimensional – over reliance on email
Too apologetic – apologising for things that are not our fault

Solutions discussed included:
Centralise all communication through a single office. All messages are checked (and frequently rewritten). Slows things down but benefits outweigh this.
Keep it simple and concise. Less really is more. Use web links for more detailed information for those who need it.
Ask yourself – what do people really need to know? Miss out rest.
Use different mechanisms for different messages. One University has replaced its 3 monthly printed newsletter with a blog. Information is more timely and it's more interactive.
Get input from your stakeholder groups - ask non technical people to read messages before they go out. Talk to students about how they want to be communicated with.
Become better listeners – if people feel they’ve been heard they tend to be more receptive and more forgiving
Emphasis on relationship building and learning more about needs
Face to face time can’t be understated
Get yourself invited to staff student committees, departmental meetings etc.
Use podcasts and put them on your University IPTV channel guide
Use Plasma screens round campus for getting simple messages out

All common sense stuff, but it can make a real difference. The only problems the two presenters had come across in implementing the above approach, was technical staff objecting to their messages being changed, particularly when the technical details and background had been omitted. This is when user feedback can be useful.

Very interesting session, and a lot for our Customer Service and Communications team to think about!

Leadership and Abraham Lincoln

The opening keynote session was given by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian, author and journalist. Entitled simply "Leadership", her talk focussed on what traits make a good leader. What made this talk so different, and so entertaining compared to the many others I've been to on this topic, was that it was illustrated with stories and insights from the successes and failures of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Doris is an authority on Abraham Lincoln and it was his traits and stories she concentrated on. Speaking for almost an hour, with virtually no reference to notes, she kept an audience of 6000 enthralled. I saw virtually no-one leave - almost unheard of for an American audience.

So, what traits make a good leader? In her opinion, and illustrated throughout with stories and anecdotes they are:

The ability to motivate oneself in the face of adversity and never make permanent enemies.

Listen to different points of view - let your colleagues question your assumptions to create a climate of freedom to diagree. But only until a decision is made - then you all have to stick to it.

Learn on job and learn from mistakes. It is not our mistakes which hurt us but our response to them.

Share credit for success. Create a good feeling climate and congratulate success.

Shoulder the blame for your subordinates (don't like this word but it's the one she used!)

Be aware of your own weaknesses so that you can compensate and form a team with people who are complimentary to you

Control your emotions, especially anger.

Have the strength to adhere to your goals. Don’t respond to short term problems in a way that will compromise long term goals.

Know how to relax and replenish your energy - don't work too hard

Manage by walking around, and (my favourite!) a good leader likes gossip, and always knows what's going on.

Products, Pens and Pedometres

The exhibition at EDUCAUSE has over 200 different suppliers taking part and is housed in a hall the size of an aircraft hanger. It can take an hour or so just to walk round - on the opening night I was there for just over two hours, and didn't get to every stand. There's a mixture of exhibitors - the large corporates such as IBM, HP, Sun, Oracle, Apple, Microsoft, are there in force, but there are also many smaller companies trying to break into the HE Market. I find the exhibition very useful. It's a great way to talk to our existing suppliers, and discuss new developments or problems we're having. Last year for example I was able to meet with the Vice-President of Blackboard (our WebCT supplier) and discuss the support (or rather lack of it) that we were getting.

It's also a great way to keep track of new and emerging technologies. Most of the stands have small "theatres" where new products are demonstrated throughout the day. I've just watched one on the Apple stand about their new operating system, Leopard.

Some of the smaller companies whose products we are currently evaluating are also here. I've chatted to the guys on the Zimbra stand about their collaborative tools we're looking at. I've also picked up a lot of information about Learning Objects - a suite of social learning applications for students which allows you to embed wikis, blogs etc into your VLE.

Of course it's also compulsory if you're part of the British contingent to see how many freebies you can collect from the stands, and who can get the best ones - it's a bit of a competition. So far I've collected two pedometers, a torch, a flashing necklace, several pens and an assortment of sweets. Must do better tomorrow!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Pike Place Market, Space Needle and Jimi Hendrix!

Covered a lot of ground in the last day and a half. Luckily most of the sites of Seattle are within easy walking distance of each other. Pike Place Market was a run down area which was going to be completely demolished, but now it's a popular tourist destination and a thriving market. Fishmongers throw enormous fish across their stalls and catch them in one hand, bunches of brightly coloured flowers are stuffed into pumpkins ready for Halloween, fruit stalls have fantastic displays (anyone know what tomatillos are?), and there are numerous arts and craft stalls. I could have spent all day there, and spent a fortune, but I'm not sure that the fruit and fish would have travelled well.

The Space Needle is a famous landmark, and was built for the 1962 World Fair (see picture above). We had to go up, despite my fear of heights, and more specifically, lifts that allow you to see the ground disappearing beneath you! I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes (apparently someone has a photo..), and was rewarded by excellent views on a lovely sunny but cold day. Seattle is built on a bay and you can see across it to snow topped mountains.

The Museum of Science Fiction and the Experience Music Project were next, and the two highlights had to be the Power Suit Sigourney Weaver wore in Aliens, and Jimi Hendrix's Fender Stratocaster. Jimi was born in Seattle, and there was a lot of memorabilia of his in the museum.

Completed the day with a walking tour of the buried sidewalks and basements created when the streets by the waterfront were raised by about 30feet after whole blocks were destroyed by fire in the early twentieth century. Very spooky!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sleepless in Seattle.

No matter how many times I travel this far, I still find it difficult getting on a plane, travelling for 9 hours, and arriving an hour after you've set off. The only thing to do is stay awake as long as possible, and it helps if you're in a group. A crowd of the British contingent went out to do just that, and found a bar that was a real ale lovers dream. 160 real ales - all lined up with handpumps along the bar (which was a very long bar....). If you couldn't decide which one to have you had a sampler - pictured above - where the barman would ask you a few questions and pick 4 for you.
Manged to stay awake until 10.30pm (with my body constantly telling me it was 6.30am), and then got a good 8 hours sleep. Sightseeing day now in Seattle, before the conference starts properly.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Monks and data storage.....

Spent the afternoon interviewing in the Humanities Research Institute for a research officer in hriOnline. I'm really impressed by the range of the projects they're involved in. One of my favourites is Cistercians in Yorkshire - a project which has made some wonderful 3-D models of Cistercian Abbeys including Fountains, Kirkstall and Roche. Definitely worth a look.

Interesting to chat about the amount of data being produced in the HRI and I suggested that they have a chat with CiCS to see how we can help. Our new central filestore allows us to make data storage available to research groups which is secure, backed up and protected by our disaster recovery processes. We have to make a small charge, but it's less than the cost of buying and maintaining servers.

I'm off to Seattle in the morning to the EDUCAUSE conference - still trying to work out how I'm going to get everything in one suitcase, and still leave enough room for all the cheap clothes I intend bringing back!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

UCISA Executive Committee

In April 2006 I was elected to the Executive Committee of UCISA - the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association. This is a body which represents almost all UK Universities and University Colleges, and has a growing membership in the FE Sector. I'll post more about what it does later, but its main aims are to identify and promote best practice, and to inform and support policy and decision making processes concerning information systems and services.

Earlier this year I was privileged to be appointed Vice Chair, and today I've been to a meeting of the Annual Conference Organising Committee, and the Executive Committee.

The Conference Committee is planning the Management Conference to be held in March 2008 in Glasgow - arranging a programme, booking speakers, discussing who'd make a good after dinner speaker (an important decision because as Vice Chair I'll help host them!), making sure the delegates are all well looked after. Social events have to be organised, as well as a major suppliers exhibition. I'm full of admiration for the team who pull it all together. I'm looking forward to it as always, but slightly nervous about the venue, as last time it was in Glasgow, a certain CiCS Assistant Director managed to get 3 of us locked in Glasgow University grounds late one night and we had to climb over a wrought-iron fence to get out. Not at all elegant!

The Executive Committee has a varied agenda - we try to cover number of strategic issues before looking at our "normal" business - reports from sub groups etc. Today we talked about implementing ITIL. ITIL is a set of service standards designed to improve the quality of customer service in IT Departments. It focusses on areas such as the HelpDesk and the roll-out of new services. It's something I've been interested in doing in Sheffield for some time, and now that we have our new structure it seems an ideal time to begin. More on this later.....

Other areas we discussed were relationships with software suppliers, strategies for deploying and supporting Microsoft Vista, and HAERVI. Although pronounced Harvey, this has nothing to do with white rabbits (sorry, those younger than me may not get that reference), but is to do with access to electronic resources by students and academics who visit other institutions.

As more and more library materials are held electronically, it's only possible to get access to them at another institution if you have a computer account there. As nasty IT Directors like myself are usually unwilling to give them out to anyone not from our University, this can cause problems. This project set out to see if there were any mechanisms which could be put in place to solve these issues. The final report has just been published and an action plan drawn up.

The final item on the agenda was the annual swapping of mobile phone numbers, flight numbers and hotel details, as most of us set off to the Educause conference in the next couple of days. With 6500 delegates and 1500 exhibitors it can be very difficult to find each other!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The Great Facebook Debate

Tonight I've been to The Great Facebook Debate, hosted by the British Interactive Media Association, and held at BT's Headquaters in London. It was attended by about 200 people, mainly from the media and marketing industries. Given that Facebook was developed by and for college and university students, I was very surprised that I was the only (as far as I could tell), representative from a University. The first half of the event consisted of 3 speakers giving their opinions of social networking sites. One of them was Hugh MacLeod, a prolific blogger and cartoonist who's premise was that sites like Facebook are basically changing the way we communicate with each other - we should accept this, embrace the change, and get on with life!
Chad Woollen from AOL had some interesting stats about how Facebook has clearly overtaken MySpace in the UK, but interestingly not in the US, and his take on it was how much money there is to be made - either through advertising or developing applications which can then be sold. A good example is "Where I've Been" which was sold earlier this year to TripAdvisor for $3m.

In the second half of the event two motions were debated:

“This House believes that Facebook’s decision to open up its platform to all developers was a mistake”
This was defeated heavily - most people supported Facebook's decision to allow anyone to develop applications. The only arguments against were that there were so many awful applications - vampires, werewolves, zombies being good examples. There were also issues around data being accessed by developers.

“This house believes that friend requests from your boss are best ignored”
This was a very heated debate! As a boss myself I found both sides of the argument interesting - if a little worrying. The main concern was that bosses would use information posted on FB to form opinions of staff which would affect promotions/appraisals. Especially if too many drunken photos were posted. Needless to see this motion was also defeated - but it was close! If there are any members of CiCS reading this - especially those with Facebook accounts - I can assure you that I will be far more worried about you seeing drunken photos of me than the other way round.

Although the whole event was interesting, I was surprised that the Facebook I know through the University network is very different to how it is perceived in the media and marketing industries. They see it totally as a way to make money - there were at least 3 online dating agencies there - and not at all as a collaborative tool which can be used for social networking, but has so many other uses as well.

I will be very interested to see if students - who are by far still the biggest users of Facebook - will leave it in droves if it goes down this route. If any students read this, I'll be very interested to hear your comments.

The nicest thing about meetings in London is that it gives me a chance to see our capital city. I try and walk wherever possible, and tonight stood on the middle of Millenium Bridge (or the wobbly bridge as it's better known), with St Paul's behind me, Tate Modern in front, and the River Thames on both sides - it was stunning. I then walked back to my hotel, and with my fantastic sense of direction managed to do the 25 minute walk in just under an hour!

Welcome to My Blog!

I've been told that starting a blog is the hardest part, and now I believe it, as I've been staring at this screen for a few minutes deciding how to begin!
This is my work blog, where I hope to keep everyone informed of what myself, and CiCS, have been doing. I'll try and blog at least a couple of times a week, and also invite guest bloggers to post occasionally. If there's anything you want to comment on, or ask me - feel free - I'll do my best to answer any questions.