Seasons Greetings and enjoy your offline time!

Sometimes you end up in a situation when you are working more but there seems to be less time. I think that happened to me this year!!

In January I moved from working part-time to being full-time. As my children have got older my hours have crept up and this year it was hard to say no to full-time work. Working from home means that the hours I work are flexible (a total necessity for me) but now work seems to eek into every part of my life. Since our last house move 3 years back my computer sits in a part of the front room, so it is now permanently on and permanent seeable – even when I’m cooking, helping the children with homework or even reading a book on the sofa. Add in phones, ipads and laptops and I seem to be unable to switch off. And as a homeworker interaction with humans, other than via Skype, seems to go down as my online time goes up.


I realise all this isn’t ideal. Not only that it goes against the advice I’ve oft given out about the work/life balance.

However it is not only me that is always online – my children (now 7, 10 and 12), despite our efforts to ration, seem to be connected a lot more too. It’s hard to moan about all of this, after all my career has been built on the Internet, but I think I am really starting to see the value of taking time out to think. I just don’t know when I can schedule it in…

The upside of all this extra working is that we’ve had a few nice holidays this year and I have turned off the electronic appliances for those. Next year my husband and I are off to Iceland for 5 days – which I’m really excited about. I’ve also tried to participate in more offline/out of work activities. I do Zumba, Tae-kwondo, support our school and am in the local Friends of the Earth group – but often work puts a kibosh on these due to travel time.

I suppose a question for me right now is how can I keep my head clear in a world that is pretty much all online these days? I’ll be giving it some thought over the Christmas break. I’d really appreciate any suggestions!

Still I hope this hasn’t been too somber a post. Work is good (I’ve finished off LinkedUp, still co-ordinate the Open Education Working Group and now work on Europeana Space and PASTEUR4OA) and most of my friends and family are well. And time plods on, real fast…

As Dr Seuss said: “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

But then I think of the adage – old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative. ;-)

Hope you all have a great Christmas and Happy New Year!

Calling All Digital Captives

Yikes! Week 3 of Stanford’s Open Knowledge MOOC already!

Last week the topic was ‘Technological Change, Digital Identity, and Connected Learning’ and I watched Socialnomics by Erik Qualman (picked because it was the shortest video!) which filled me to the brim with interesting (and sometimes unbelievable) statistics.

  • 53% of Millenials would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology
  • Each day 20% of the terms typed into Google have never been searched before
  • More people own a mobile device than a toothbrush
  • The average person has an 0.07 attention span, average goldfish has an 0.08 second one

This week it’s ‘Participatory Culture, Citizen Journalism, Citizen Science’. The idea is get critical perspectives on openness as well as the positive ones. Now this I liked! I’m always really keen to try and get an opposing view to my own. Many of us live and work in a little bubble where we surround ourselves with agreement. The RSA Animate – The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens? Talk by Evgeny Morozov was really interesting.


Morozov presents an alternative take on ‘cyber-utopianism’, the seductive idea that the internet plays a largely emancipatory role in global politics. He talks about ‘cyberutopians': people who believe in transformative power of the web and “ipod liberalism”: the belief that people who have ipods will support western values. He sees these ideas as dangerous and naïve – for example some believe that if social networking was around a few years back the genocide in Rwanda wouldn’t have happened. Morozov’s main point is the good ole one that tools can be used for both good and bad. While getting countries online has aided democracy it also leaves an evidence trail. Dictators now just need to go to Facebook and Twitter to lay their hands on information they used to have to torture people to find. I like his idea of ‘digital renegades’ and ‘digital captives’. “Are they (young people) the “digital renegades,” ready to leverage the power of social networking and text messaging to topple their undemocratic governments? Or are they “digital captives,” whose political and social dissent has been significantly neutered by the Internet, turning them into happy consumers of Hollywood’s digital marginalia?” (New York Times)

Hmm, which am I? Something to chew on while using my 0.07 attention span.

Amplifying Making it Matter

Last week I managed to hook up with old friends, Kirsty and Rich Pitkin from Event Amplifier when they helped me with streaming a one-day workshop I was organising.

Room set up at start of day

Room set up at start of day

The workshop (Making it Matter: Supporting education in the developing world through open and linked data) took place on 16th May at the Friends House in London. The aim of the day was to bring together software developers, educators and individuals from the development community to see how they can work together by using open and linked data to support education in the developing world. We recognised from the start that many of the people we’d like to participate weren’t going to be able to make it. Some of these people live on the other side of the globe and wouldn’t be able to come up with travel funds for a one-day event. Streaming the day and, possibly more importantly, making the videos from the workshop available online became high priority.

Here’s a summary of what we did.


We created a Google doc so that those interested in participating remotely could register their interest and add comments on areas of interest.


We also created a remote participation page for the event. This included details of the programme, an embed of the streaming, a form for questions from the remote audience, a link to the etherpad to be used for the break-out group session, information on the hashtag (#mim14) and an embed of the Twitter stream.

A couple of days before the workshop we contacted remote speakers and provided them with details of what was required. They were asked for the email address associated with their Google presence, a copy of their slides and any links they might wish to show and an alternative contact route (e.g. Skype name, mobile telephone number). All speakers were asked to share slides in advance. The day before Kirsty ran a rehearsal hangout for the remote presenters so they could familiarise themselves with Google hangout features, check their settings and ask any questions. We then scheduled a Google Hangout on air for the entire day.

During the event

Kirsty and Rich have lots of useful equipment (cameras, mics, extension leads, tape etc.) so they brought this along to the venue and we set up the room. We had a laptop at the front with the slides on for presenters to use, a camera (1) at the back of the room for general recording of the day and a second camera (2) near the front, which would be connected to a laptop logged in to Google Hangouts and streaming using Google Hangouts on air. The venue provided a projector and speakers. We also had a microphone reasonably near to the lectern at the front. Later on we switched to a lapel microphone when drilling noise outside the room became a little too much.

The Google Hangout setup - camera 2

The Google Hangout setup – camera 2

Speakers presented from the main lectern and were asked to try and stand reasonably still. They were filmed on both cameras, but camera 2 provided the feed for the Google hangout.


As mentioned some of the speakers presented remotely. Two did this by recording a video in advance and this was sent directly to the Google hangout and simultaneously played on the main projector in the room. The other two presented directly in the Google hangout – they were asked to turn up 20 minutes before their scheduled presentation time. For these presentations the hangout was opened up on laptop on the lectern and shown to everyone.

There were 3 breakout group sessions during the day. Feedback from these was also streamed – this is the first time I’ve seen this happen. Remote participants were able to join in the conversation remotely using an event etherpad.


After the workshop the video footage was chunked up, given a title page and uploaded to YouTube. They were then shared along with the slides on the LinkedUp website. All outcomes from the breakout group groups was summarized in a blog post and the choicest tweets were pulled into a Storify.


Any small problems?

At one point due to a problem with the speakers we ended up with the Google hangout people ahead of the people actually physically at the event. Kirsty and Rich were able to play music during periods when there was nothing being streamed – this let people know they were in the right place.


In the middle of the afternoon the Google Hangout crashed. Unfortunately the only way round this is to start a new hangout. This meant a new code had to be embedded in the remote participation page and shared with those watching via Twitter. Luckily due to the two cameras there is no break in the final videos of sessions.

The wifi at the venue was fine but we still had a few teething problems when Google hangouts was shared with those in the room. We got it to work eventually after a little faffing but had to show the slides separately and move them on manually at the presenter’s request – good job we had them in advance! Whenever you have a technical hitch the problem is always when do you decide to drop something from the schedule because it’s just not working.

I scheduled lots of tweets in advance to save myself time, this was fine but we were a little over timing wise so people got to hear the details a little early.

A few top tips

Have a master programme with details of what is happening for each talk, this should include links to the slides in various formats, links to videos and details of whether someone is presenting physically or remotely. Our master also had all the login details for accounts – just in case. We had an offline version and an online one. The online had quick links to all the slides, which I’d uploaded to the website in pdf version as a back up.


Have a back channel for event amplifier communication during the event as you’ll probably end up ignoring your emails.

The hashtag I picked for the event turned out to be shared by quite a few other events including the Memphis in May barbecue championships! Luckily none were on the same day. Next time I’d probably go for a more unique hashtag – though that might mean using up a little more space in tweets.

Get your post-event stuff (blog posts, slides, videos etc.) up as soon as possible after the event – that way there is still momentum from the day. Big thanks to Kirsty and Rich for being super speedy with the video processing and for all their other help!

Working in a super virtual organisation

Having talked the talk for many years I’m now really walking the walk! Last week I got to have three whole days with my virtual colleagues when the Open Knowledge Foundation Central team met up in Cambridge for a summit (or all-staff meeting). This was the first time I’d met most of my colleagues – Skype, Google hangouts and flash meetings aside. The beautiful Cambridge surroundings and fantastically sunny weather made for a great setting in which to get to know everyone. They’d come from far and wide (Brazil, USA and India being the most impressive commutes) and work on a variety of different projects. Most people working for, and with, the Open Knowledge Foundation are there because they believe in the empowering opportunities open data provides. Through ‘talking’ and ‘making’ the Open Knowledge Foundation is contributing to a truly global movement.

The OKF Okapi - Chuff

The OKF Okapi – Chuff

Effectively running a virtual organisation is a big ask and it is very much evolving practice. I’ve mentioned some of the tools the OKF uses and these are supported by various internal email lists and more recently Tender App, a customer service application. There are a fair number of online meetings, webinars and watercooler opportunities (in Grove) – including a daily stand up where people are encouraged to share what they’ve been up to, and any issues they’ve had. Staff are encouraged to email groups directly (rather than individuals) as this keeps activities rolling while people aren’t about. The OKF supports flexible working and with staff all over the world there are time zone issues too! So for example there is a Systems admin list, a leadership list and a payments list – for enquiries relating to pay, travel etc. The operations team act as general admin support, they seemed like a very accommodating bunch and do a great job of keeping many balls in the air.

OKFN Summit July 2013

OKFN Summit July 2013 by OKFN on Flickr

While the Open Knowledge Foundation central team spans most continents there are hubs in a couple of locations: Berlin, London and Cambridge. People from these hubs often meet up for coffee and to catch up. There is also OKF office space in Berlin and London. The Open Knowledge Foundation Network also supports local face-to-face meetups for those interested in open knowledge issues.

Punting with OKF colleagues

Punting with OKF colleagues

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the Saturday when ambassadors from the global Open Knowledge Foundation Network met up to share experiences. There are currently 32 ambassadors from all over the world, and the number is rising weekly. Hopefully I’ll get to meet a few at the Open Knowledge Conference this September in Geneva.

Sometimes all of this was a little overwhelming, though I’m sure it will become second nature soon.

I’ll end by introducing you to a great, simple to use tool available from the Open Knowledge Labs – AskNot. This is a big button tool that helps you scan the OKF website to find what it is you’re after. The tool can be customised and used by anyone. So much to see and do…


Redundancies and Pastures New

The last 8 months has been a really tough time for all of us that work at UKOLN. In October last year a decision was made by Jisc, our main funders, to cease the core funding for 3 key services from July 31st 2013: UKOLN, CETIS and OSSWatch. Although UKOLN receives other funding – the DCC funding being the other main pot of money – this naturally has had serious consequences. Yesterday the majority of UKOLN staff members were issued with redundancy notices.

I am solely funded by the DCC so my position was questionable. The DCC have now had confirmed funding, all be it reduced, and the majority of my DCC colleagues will continue to have jobs. The plan is for UKOLN to carry on at a fraction of its previous size (it peaked at around 31 staff but now there will just be 4). Obviously this still leaves a lot of people in a very difficult situation. I don’t want to get political about all of this, I’ll leave that to my colleague Brian Kelly (see his post My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today), but this is a very sad situation. Over the years UKOLN has achieved so much in the area of digital libraries, metadata, preservation, information policy and more. Right now my thoughts are with everyone getting made redundant. I really hope they find work places that allow them to use the fantastic skills that they have.

1107639981-1So what about me? Well, I’m lucky enough to have a light at the end of my tunnel. I have accepted a position of project co-ordinator with the Open Knowledge Foundation. I’ll be working on their LinkedUp project supporting the adoption of open data by educational organisations and institutions. I am going to be working part-time for the OKF from the start of May while I see out my commitments with UKOLN and the DCC, I will then be full-timeish from the start of August. This is a really exciting (and scary!) opportunity for me. I’ve been with UKOLN for 13 years and I have learnt so much from my colleagues and peers. Yet at times being part of UKOLN and the University of Bath has felt a little like having a safety net that maybe I no longer need. Time to spring free!

The OKF is an active global network that works as a virtual organisation. There is no ‘epicentre’ or head office (though its registered office is in Cambridge) and the team of employees are distributed throughout the world. I can already see that they have some great ways of working and I’m sure there will be lots of fodder for this blog!

To finish I want to reiterate what I said to my colleagues last week. The 13 years I’ve had at UKOLN constitute a significant chunk of my life. The interesting projects and flexible working haven’t been the only things that have kept me in post. I’ve always been treated with respect and have made some great friends, on the whole UKOLN has been a very happy place to work. I believe I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had this experience, I know a lot of people who would rather not have the job they have. So as Dr Seuss says:

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Sitting Comfortably at your Computer Workstation?

I was pleased to find an email in my inbox from the University Safety & Health Adviser suggesting ways that we can make sure we are sitting comfortably at our desks. Health and Safety issues had come up at the recent home working talk I gave and I’d had to admit I wasn’t great in this area and that really we were meant to self-assess.

The University have released a poster showing us how to sit and have also passed on some useful links with further information.

  • The HSE ‘office safety’ page has free information on computer
    workstation information and other office health and safety issues. Visit

  • The HSE ‘Muscular Skeletal Disorders (MSD)’ has free information on MSD,
    including a section devoted to computer use. It also has some useful
    manual handling information – another aspect of MSD. Visit

  • The HSE ‘ergonomics’ page provides further insight into good workplace
    layout. Computer workstations are only addressed in passing as part of a
    larger issue. Visit

Maybe it’s time you checked whether you are sitting comfortably and correctly. Bad backs are no fun at all!

Adventures in Space, Place and Time

A few weeks back I attended a seminar on Researching online and mobile interaction & environments: Understanding space, place and time‘ at the University of Bristol. The seminar was facilitated by Professor Carey Jewitt, Dr Niall Winters, Berit Henriksen from the London Knowledge Lab. The seminar was organised by the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) – a network of research groups, each conducting research and training in social science research methods and is part of the MODE: Multimodal methodologies for digital environments series.

Although the day was geared towards researchers and more theoretical than I am used to there were some really interesting themes from the day that align nicely with the whole remote working/event amplification area. Here are my notes…

Space, Place and Time

Space – It is not just physical and fixed, it can be modified, is an abstraction, but there are physical aspects to it. Types of space include local, global, utobian, heterotopia, aural and visual. One idea is that space doesn’t exist until something happens in it.

Place – Space is made into place by a set of activities that happen in it. Places are processes: not fixed or frozen in time. There are lots of new practices relating to online interaction, for example: cocooning – individuals socializing less and retreating into their home, camping – finding a space to sit (e.g. in a library) and setting up your online workd, foot-printing – the route you take online. Some argue that in the technology world it is no longer possible to be ‘late’ because as soon as you start texting you can still participate. Specification of spaces have changed

– Time and space always shape each other and are constitutive of social interaction. Time takes many forms. For example – clock time – people made; natural divisions of time e.g. seasons, light and dark; lazarus time – use of previously dead time.

These concepts are relevant when talking about online and mobile interaction because the classic notions of time, space and place need to be adapted for the online and mobile world. One example of this is this advert on Oxford Street which is shown only to women.

I think this ties in nicely with Brian Kelly’s discussions around Escaping the Constraints of Space and Time with regard to amplified events.

Spaceflows and Multimodality

There was also some discussion around the idea of spaceflows: what mediums are information and identity flowing through, and what is transmitted, text, video, image? One could argue that Twitter is a communter technology, users often use it on the move, while Flickr is a tourist technology because it involves standing still and documenting.

Another concepts introduced during the day was that of multimodality, where users are provided with multiple modes of interfacing with a system.

The course was really interesting and made me realise that not only is technology changing at a rapid pace but are so many other concepts we take for granted, like space, place, time and use. This often leaves us confused about how we are supposed to act in new situations. One example from the day that sums this up beautifully is the Museum of Unintended Use. No one quite knows where the technology ride will take us…