Animoto: Sharing Video

Animoto is a great tool for creating short videos from images. I started out using the free version to create a short video about last years Institutional Web Management Workshop (a 3 day event I chair for HE/FE Web managers) but ended up paying $3 for a longer video because it was so easy to use.

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Institutional Web Management Workshop 2008, Aberdeen, 22-24th July

Have a watch, I think it gives a good idea of the atmosphere of the the event!

Embedding in WordPress

Figuring out how to embed it in WordPress.com took a little time. After you’ve created your video there is a button on the right hand side called Video toolbox which opens up a set of options. Although there is an option to Embed the code given doesn’t seem to work on WordPress.

animoto

Instead you chose the Share option and then click on More options where it will ask for your WordPress login and then will directly send the code as a draft post. Be careful, some other ways of doing this (such as this Vodpod work around) actually publish your video by default, so you might find that you have a live post before you are ready!

I’ve also upload the video to YouTube, though this version isn’t as high quality.

If you want to see the video in its full glory take a look at the Animoto original.

Credit Due

Thanks to all the people who took the photos used in the video (especially Sharon Steeples). They are all available from Flickr using the iwmw2008 tag and all have a Creative Commons licence on them.

Also thanks to everyone who appears on the photos!

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Remote Worker Awards

I’ve entered the Remote Worker Awards organised by Remote Employment.

The awards are open to anyone who works remotely or from home and any employer who employs remote workers. Prizes include a £15k home based franchise and a Garden Home Office worth £10k. Why not have a go!

There are several categories:

  • The Home Worker Award – Employees currently working predominantly from home.
  • The Remote Worker Award – Employees currently working remotely, out of office, field or mobile based.
  • Work From Home Award – Anybody who wants to work from home but is currently not doing so.
  • Freelance Consultant Award – Anyone working as a freelance consultant.
  • Helen O’ Grady Special Award – Anyone looking for a life changing career.
  • The Open University Skills Award – Anyone looking to re-train or re-skill possibly following redundancy.
  • The BT Home Business Award – Anyone running a Home Business, large or small.
  • The Vivid Green Award – All entrants are automatically entered.
  • The Remote Employer Award – Companies who have remote or home based workers included in their workforce.

Now I’m not one to enter myself in competitions but this one had my name written all over it!
😉

It’s also a really great opportunity for me to talk more about the support I’ve received from my employers (UKOLN), the support framework we want to share with other remote workers and to enthuse on the positive side of remote working (such as environmental factors and achieving that work-life balance).

Remote Employment recently sent out a press release to my local paper (Melksham Independant News) which led to many people I know (and don’t know) asking me more about my situation. A pretty common reaction was “Aren’t you lucky, I’d love to work from home“. It isn’t all plain sailing but I’m the first to admit that in my situation (a working mum) it really means I can give as much as possible to my two (very different) worlds, which makes me pretty lucky. It also means my children and my work get the best out of me – so they are lucky too!!

Melksham News

You can’t vote for the awards, there is a team of judges who’ll make the decision in late September. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed! That home office would look great in my garden! Not only that it would be an ideal place to hide from my family when the going gets tough!
😉

Local Authorities Working Smarter

Yesterday I attended a one-day conference on Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working organised by Public Sector Forums. The event was held at Edgbaston Cricket ground, which seemed to cause a lot of excitement among the a few of the delegates…it just looked like a big lawn to me!
😉

The delegates were primarily (IT/change/communications etc.) managers working within Local Authority Councils. I have to admit that the local authority public sector community are not one I’ve had a huge amount to do within the past so I did occasionally feel like a fish out of water. That said the day was really useful and I now feel I have a much clearer idea of what is happening within local authorities with regard to remote working. The key driver to all flexible and remote working activity is ‘rationalisation of office space’ in an attempt to cut costs – many councils are closing down their many smaller, unfit-for-purpose offices and replacing them with a small number of purpose built offices. This means centralisation of resources, server virtualisation and relocation of staff. In most cases there are now (or will be) less desk spaces than there are staff – hence the encouragement of remote working.

It’s interesting that remote working is here being led by organisational need rather than employee need, but then such is business. This of course means that there is not so much a requirement to win support among the higher management (hopefully the business case will have already displayed this) but middle management and the employees who will be becoming remote workers may not have been convinced yet.

Jon Watkinson from The Project Network Ltd started off the day with an excellent introduction to the benefits and challenges of remote working. He used some key statistics (such as remote working bringing a consistent 20% improvement in output) and looked at some common hurdles to implementation. Jon chaired the day.

The majority of presentations were case studies looking at how councils had made the move. Kelly MacMillan, Market Specialist, Mitel gave a case study on Malvern Hills District Council’s uptake of Mitel’s intelligent migration VOIP phone system. A technical person from Mittel also introduced SunRay, a stateless thin-client solution (virtual desktop) aimed at corporate environments which has been available for 12 years now. The technology demonstrations showed that there is a need for corporate lock down on many remote working set ups, something that probably wouldn’t work among many HE/FE remote workers.

Flexible Working Conference

Terri Fleming, Performance and Information Manager, Denbighshire County Council gave a more down to earth presentation on their Worksmart initiatives. Some great ideas here including running a training programme for middle management to help them move from assessing by attendance to assessing by outputs. It was a relief to see Jill Scott, Equality and Diversity Adviser, Birmingham City University explore some of the differences and similarities between the issues local authorities and Higher Education face. She recently worked on a project implementing flexible working funded by HEFCE. She explained that HE is not leading the field in this area but there has been a move towards formal policies. Jill said that HE is not suffering building closures so didn’t have to get people off site but I’d have to disagree and say that in HE the increase in student population has meant that their are increasingly space restrictions which has led to more remote working. It may not be long till we are following the Local Authority example.

After Jill I gave probably the only presentation of the day that considered things from the employee’s angle. I tried to explain that although there may be an enthusiasm and appetite for remote working that it would only be a success for all if it was well supported. Retention of staff may be an argument in favour of remote and flexible working but staff could be left isolated and unhappy if not managed effectively. I think my presentation was met with some interest and afterwards a number of people remarked that it covered a lot of things that they’d “not thought about before“. Lets hope that winning hearts and minds of staff continues to be as important as saving pennies for our LAs.

My presentation How to be a Connected Remote Worker in 10 Easy Steps is available from Slideshare.

I also took a video of my talk. Unfortunately the battery on my Flip camera ran out half way through.
😦

If you are interested in viewing it (the first 15 minutes) please do let me know.

My talk was followed by two more case studies. The first by Andrew Hughes, Project Manager on the Worksmart programme at Wakefield Council and the second was by Emel Morris, Head of Communications on The Way We Work programme at Hertfordshire County Council. Both were exemplars case studies:  hot desking, team areas, check in spots around the county, mobile devices, digital pens and great support. The audience seemed very enthusiastic about what could be done.

During the day there were opportunities for round table discussions and it was interesting to hear people’s issues and how they were dealing with them. There was also an exhibition of appropriate remote working systems.

The final conclusions were presented by Jon Watkinson. He also offered two slides – one for managers, one for everyone else – for us to take a final thought from…

managers

managers2

All slides will be available from the Public Sector Forums Web site.

Reviving Video Conferencing

Last week I had a look at the University of Bath’s video conferencing suite situated in the BUCS (Bath University Computing Services) building.

Video Conferencing Suite

The facilities comprise:

  • A Tandberg 6000 MXP Codec video conferencing system including P/T/Z/F controllable colour WAVE camera, dual 33″ monitors with Tandberg Natural Presenter Package (NPP) and MultiSite (MS) Packages. This runs over IP only.
  • Laptop, DVD player, VCR, overhead projector, interactive whiteboard, projector etc.
  • Screen
  • Seating for up 25 people

Despite considerable money and effort having been spent acquiring it, the kit is currently under-used. There were originally two dedicated rooms for video conferencing but university requirements for more space has meant that one of these has now been returned to staff use.

Martin Stone, who gave me a tour of the facilities, explained that the room was well used for a brief period while the University had been investigating having Oakfield campus as an extra university site in Swindon.  Short meetings between colleagues on the two sites had been the perfect material for the video conferencing suite. Now the room is primarily used by Human Resources as a way to interview overseas students for university places and by schools for e-learning activities.

Martin and I speculated on reason’s for the suite’s lack of use. We came up with:

  • Low level of promotion of the resources by BUCs and the university.
  • Expense – at £25 for half an hour the cost does seem high. A day’s use of the room would work out at quite an expense. However the cost is relative and fairly low if you compare it with the cost of flying a staff member out to a meeting.
  • Reluctance by staff to forgo travel opportunities.
  • Technical issues – To use the system, both ends need have appropriate facilities in place.
  • The increased use of free and low-cost software applications that allow peer-to-peer video contact e.g Skype.
  • Better options – despite being bespoke, costly and purchased only a few years ago the system is already out of date. Many newer teleconference systems offer visual options like life-size images of attendees. The experience could be a much better one than that offered by Bath.

It seems a real shame that room isn’t being used more and I have to admit to feeling a little sad about the situation. The University is currently taking part in Our Big Energy Challenge and could quite easily do more to promote the suite’s use  from an environmental perspective.

Are other Universities finding that their video conferencing suites are sitting empty? How can we get people to embrace the technology?

Further information on video conferencing in Higher Education is available in the form of a briefing paper by JISC’s Tech Learn.

Are We Ready for Opera Unite?

This weeks exciting new technology is Opera Unite, which is basically a Web server on the Web browser.

Opera Unite allows you to easily share your data: photos, music, notes and other files. You can even run chat rooms and host entire Web sites with Opera Unite. It puts the power of a Web server in your browser, giving you greater privacy and flexibility than other online services.

What if you use Opera at home, and a different Web browser at work? Opera Unite services can be accessed from any modern browser, including mobile browsers! At home, just select what you want to share, and you can view it later using your work Web browser without any problems.

Potentially this could mark a significant change in the way we use Web services. Brian Kelly, in his post Who Needs Social Networks? I’ve Got Opera Unite, suggests that despite many IT service teams having reservations Opera Unite may be a move away from reliance on commercial companies such as Google and Facebook. Most of the comments on his post seem fairly positive, apart from those who have observed the need to keep your PC on all day!

The big question is how well will it work for those of us working from home? In the past home broadband and the use of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), which have meant a possible lack of bandwidth, have stopped people from locally hosting Web sites.

As Mashable explains when talking about challenges to of locally hosting a web site “a popular web site can suck a lot of bandwidth, and most home connections simply couldn’t deal with it.” Also upload speed is fairly limited – basically it’s a lot slower going up than it is going down! Mashable goes on to say “this web server also needs to be secure from intrusions and hacker attacks, it should have backup; in short, it should be a lot of things that the average user’s computer is not.

Mashable concludes that “Opera doesn’t really try to change all that, but they do count on the fact that internet connections offer way more bandwidth than they used to“.

Is this really the case? Despite the promise of super fast broadband roll out made in the Digital Britain report recent observations on the low quality of broadband may mean that for many of us running a Opera Unite effectively is still a pipe dream.

I have yet to try it out but would be interested in hearing about people’s experiences.

Digital Identity Dilemmas

On Saturday (5am in the UK) Facebook allowed users to select a vanity URL which will point to their regular profile page. Naturally there was a mad rush to capture the ‘best identities‘ and some people just weren’t quick enough (further discussed by Brian Kelly on his blog).

Once users have selected a name they are not able to change it or transfer it. Digital identity experts urged users to give some thought to their choice.

Why a Vanity URL?

Well firstly having a number for your ID isn’t particularly user friendly. This new approach will make it easier for users to share their profile pages and link to other people’s pages. There may also be other reasons too. Mike Nolan suggests 3 possibles on his blog:

  • OpenID Provider: Facebook are being forced to become more open, and one way which gives the illusion of openness is OpenID. It’s similar to Facebook Connect and an easy thing for them to offer while still forcing you to log in with them.
  • Jabber/XMPP: They’ve already announced that they were going to open up Facebook chat to connect with third party services such as Google Talk. It will be based on XMPP which uses email-like addresses to reference accounts. A username is almost essential for this to be easy to use.
  • Email: Many – especially younger people – already use Facebook mail considerably more than regular email accounts so I imagine they’ll allow you to use your username@facebook.com as an email address. I just hope they’ve got good spam filters!

Digital Identity

Digital identity refers to the aspect of digital technology that is concerned with the mediation of people’s experience of their own identity and the identity of other people and things. Wikipedia

Our digital identity is becoming a big issue. Twitter have recently begun verifying accounts and many Facebook urls are already being sold for hard cash. The problem for many people, especially early adopters, is that they didn’t realise the significance of user names when they started registering for all these services. As Lorcan Dempsey explains the result is a fractured online identity. In in a Facebook note based on an old blog post Lorcan talks about his (and Andy Powell of Eduserv’s) quests to centre their decentralised identity and consolidate their network presence.

It seems clear that managing our network presences and the relationships between them is becoming of more interest. And this cuts across previous boundaries – between work, family and friends, for example – in different ways.

Digital Identity for our Children

Lorcan also touches on the issue of digital identity and naming of children. This resonates strongly with me. Having a Dutch Mother and a Dutch name (Marieke) and an Scottish/English Father I grew up with a pretty unusual name (Marieke Napier). Even my married name (Marieke Guy) is rare and I’ve yet to come across any other online people with the same name. You only need to do a quick Google search for me to see that as far as Marieke Guys go I’m the Webs number 1 (5,020 hits). Having a clear digital presence is quite straightforward for me. I don’t have people queuing up to steal my name and this morning registered http://www.facebook.com/mariekeguy with no problem. No getting up at dawn for me!

The irony of all this is that I have 3 children who, despite our best efforts to be original but not too wacky, now have pretty common names: Catrin, Keira and Zak. My husband’s name is Andrew, but at University he decided to rename himself Bill (his middle name) in order to distinguish himself from his other 3 friends (also called Andrew). There are moments when while sat at toddler singing-group with 2 other Zaks (or Zacs or Zacks), a Zachary and an Isaac (my son’s registered name) I bemoan that I didn’t call him Andrew – at least there are no babies being called that name these days!

Anyway it seems to me that my children will have to join the orderly queue when it comes to assigning their digital identity. Or maybe we’ll be doing things differently then and a quick retina scan will do the trick!

Any other Marieke Guy’s out there? Anyone have problems registering their Facebook url? Anyone totally opposed to the whole digital identity movement?

A Support Framework for Remote Workers

Last week Ariadne Web magazine published my article on A Support Framework for Remote Workers.

The article is the last in a series of three I’ve written on remote working for Ariadne. The first A Desk Too Far?: The Case for Remote Working was a look at the pros and cons of working off-site, the second Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers looked at technologies that can support you if you are working off-site and the third one takes a look at what we have done in the past, and are now doing, for UKOLN off-site workers. It is an attempt to show that if a commitment is made by an organisation to its remote workers then with some little changes the benefits can be huge (happy, motivated staff who stay with you!)

This article aims to discuss how we, here at UKOLN, have put this theory into practice by creating a support framework for remote workers. It is a case study of what can be done with enthusiastic staff, support from managers and faith in an iterative process. It is also a reality check. Remote working continues to be an aspiration for so many yet the reality is not always plain sailing. However what remote working does offer, if it can be realised, is choice and flexibility; two increasingly required job characteristics that let the best employees work to the best of their ability.

Some of the content of the article is based on posts I’ve written for this blog. I really have found the blog to be a very useful way to record what we are up to and a great way to get feedback from people.

If you do want some ideas on how to start supporting your remote workers more than please take a look.