Webometric Thoughts

September 23, 2009

Did you forget Samuel Johnson’s birthday?

Samuel Johnson was both a great writer and a great character; according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography “..arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history“. With his dictionary doing so much to define the English language you would expect the 300th anniversary of his birth (last Friday) to have made a bit of an impact online. Unfortunately, despite some great programmes on both BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, the public failed to be overly moved.

In fact according to Google Trends, whilst September has caused a slight blip, interest in “Samuel Johnson” has been falling over the years.

The blogosphere shows no more interest than usual, and far less than the announcing of the Samuel Johnson prize.

Obviously some historical figures stand the test of time better than others. The graph below shows the leap in interest for the mere 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (the red line at the bottom provides a comparison with Samuel Johnson).

The two men have very different legacies, but nonetheless I can’t help feeling that Samuel Johnson has been unfairly overlooked online.

September 17, 2009

On Books and the Fourth Plinth: Reactionary and off topic

Filed under: Art,Fourth Plinth,Literature,Waterstone's — admin @ 9:26 am

I love books. I love browsing them, buying them, shelving them, and (when I find the time) reading them. However pleasure from the high street bookstore (which generally means Waterstone’s) is quickly diminishing. With less stock on the floor as shops cut back in the recession, it seems as the only books available are ‘celebrity’ biographies, ‘tragic childhoods’, blockbuster novels, and quick guides which promise to make you an authority on any topic with little effort. At times like this you can’t help but despair at the reading public and be grateful for second-hand bookshops.

Today, in theory, the UK’s population is more educated than ever. Although would anyone really guess it from the books the read? Or worse still, some of the people who sit on the fourth plinth?

Sitting eating a bag of crisps and chatting to a group of girls is not art, it’s called being a bloke.

It is not impossible for a relatively small bookshop to house a decent collection of books. The London Review Bookshop is a great example. It has no more floor space than the average small town Waterstone’s, it just sells a lot less crap. Unfortunately chains have little idealism when it comes to the selling of books, they merely want to shift stock. Not only is a weighty tome on medieval history less likely to sell, but it will take far longer to read. No such problem with a Dan Brown page-turner.

Hopefully things will change, the Waterstone’s business model of little added benefit from there being a bookshop cannot be sustainable in the Internet age. I’ve just enjoyed Under Siege: Literary Life In London 1939-45, which I picked up in the secondhand bookshop at Samuel Johnson’s birthplace museum (always reasonably priced). Not only an interesting discussion of the state of literature and the arts generally in the UK in the second world war, but a reminder that the current state of the book trade is not irreversible (albeit it faces very different problems).

September 16, 2009

Can you question technology without being labelled a Luddite?

Filed under: Twitter,luddite — admin @ 8:59 am

Researchers have warned that technology addiction among young people is having a disruptive effect on their learning [via the BBC]. Like so many academic reports, it provides support for the bleeding obvious. If I, a middle-aged cantankerous git who regularly rails against the whole of humanity and desires nothing more than to be left alone on an island with a pile of books, finds myself regularly distracted by the temptations of social media, how much more so the social teenager who wants to reach out to the world.

Yet some people are not happy with such reports:

Twitter gives little room for elaboration, instead opinions become polarized. The report becomes ‘pants’ and the authors ‘Luddites’. There are questions that may be raised about the wording in the study, and the changing nature of ‘learning’ in a connected world, but Twitter gives little room for such subtleties.

When people talk about technology being neither good nor bad, they are often providing a defence against a technology’s misuse. It is important that we don’t automatically presume that a technology is good, but continue to question the effect technology is having. Albeit at the cost of being called Luddites.

September 8, 2009

Twitter is dead, long live RSSCloud

Filed under: RSScloud,Twitter — admin @ 6:27 am

RSS has had a bit of a hard time lately. “RSS is dead, all worship at the alter of Twitter and the real-time web” seems to have been the general sentiment. Over the last couple of months however, people have been working away on RSSCloud: real-time RSS. Yesterday WordPress gave it its substantial backing.

The difference between having blog posts brought to your attention as soon as they are published, rather than 15-60 minutes after they are published is insubstantial for the majority of blog readers. It will, however, encourage the sort of conversations that take place through microblogging. Whilst microblogging can be a distraction, and 140 characters is rarely enough, it has encouraged conversations, the essence of social media.

With RSSCloud the lines between blogging and microblogging will become increasingly blurred, allowing for more substance with your conversations, and the once great Twitter will merely be a site for those who don’t want to host their own real-time data stream. But who would want to give Twitter control of their data when they can keep it for themselves?

Now we just have to wait for the host of exciting applications that will be built on the back of RSSCloud to emerge.

August 27, 2009

Ulrichsweb: Why is there no free equivalent?

Filed under: Ulrichsweb,periodicals,web 2.0 — admin @ 7:49 pm

For those who don’t know, Ulrichsweb is a rather large, very useful, but unfortunately expensive database of periodicals: journals, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters. The sort of information that is very useful to librarians, publishers, and writers. What I find bizarre is that there isn’t a free alternative, especially with such a highly skilled user base.

When I wanted access to this database a couple of days ago I had to travel all the way down to the British Library to access it! The University of Wolverhampton doesn’t have a subscription, and my Open University access is only useful on-site in Milton Keynes. Whilst I’m always happy to have a trip to London, it would obviously be more useful if it was freely available from home.

Delving into Ulrichsweb I’m always amazed at how many small and specialist magazines there are, journals that you are unlikely to come across unless you already know that they are there. My favourite find from this trip was the very interesting looking Artful Blogging. Too often we overlook usefully structured information in favour of the all powerful Google.

A web 2.0 approach to periodical directory/database seems like the obvious alternative to Ulrichsweb, especially as it would of particular use to librarians who already have access to so much of the useful information. Not only could such a database be made freely available, but it could be far more up-to-date; I found that many of the Ulrichsweb links no-longer worked, but rather than being able to change the records, they remained inaccurate.

Maybe I should put my librarian’s hat on and start a creative commons Dabble

The Distraction of the Real-Time Web: I want to get off

Filed under: Twitter,blogosphere,real-time web — admin @ 2:12 pm

Whilst everyone seems to want to get on the Twitter train of the real-time web these days, I think I want to get off and take my time to blog a bit more.

Since I first went to the Birmingham Social Media Cafe back in January I have thrown myself into Twitter head first: following 124 people, posting 1,403 updates, and even going along to the BrumTwestival! However there is a downside: I blog less.

Those who read my blog may not think of my blogging less as a downside, but blog posts are as much for me as my readers. They are an opportunity for me to put down my thoughts on the web in a fairly coherent manner. The real-time web means that I am more focused on what is happening right now, rather than reflecting on what has happened.

The real-time web has it’s place for breaking news and customer engagement, but for some of us a slower blogosphere (or even traditional publishing) is a more suitable place to explore our thoughts. Let’s hope the world doesn’t go too far exchanging quality for speed.

August 21, 2009

Looking Forward to an Oxford English Dictionary API

Filed under: API,OED — admin @ 10:18 am

Final proof of my being middle-aged came on Tuesday when I found myself filling in a form on the OED site complaining about the lack of a mobile interface for the dictionary and the term ‘webometrics’ missing from the dictionary. The reply came this morning: they have no plans for a mobile interface…“However, there are plans to provide APIs which would enable third parties to develop different interfaces for querying the OED.” I couldn’t have asked for more!

I am a heavy user of the OED, in fact it is the only subscription service that I inevitably use every day. It is not only that I am an appalling speller (which I am and have always been), but the dictionary is an essential tool for any academic. Unfortunately the lack of a simple mobile interface has meant that I don’t consult the dictionary as often as I should. Despite being provided with a subscription from two different universities and two public libraries the lack of a mobile interface means a long and awkward signing-in process before you even start to look at specific entries.

Whilst a decent mobile application/interface will be of greatest interest to me, an API will enable a wide range of novel applications to be built around the world’s greatest dictionary.

nb. Webometrics has now been added to their files as a ‘hint’ to the new words team.

August 8, 2009

Does the BBC now have the best 404 page?

Filed under: 404,BBC — admin @ 7:52 pm

Today I came across my favourite 404 error page. At some point the BBC has gone from this:

To this:

I’m not sure when the change was made, but both 404s are currently available on the site.

For those who were not fortunate enough to be brought up with the BBC’s iconic clown in the 60s,70s and 80s, it was featured on the BBC’s test card (..and according to wikipedia still makes occasional appearances).

This is a 404 that is guaranteed to make people smile and feel less miserable about not finding the page they expected; every 404 is a trip down memory lane. It’s such an obvious choice of a 404 when you think about it, it’s surprising that it took the BBC so long use it. It would be nice if more sites made efforts on their 404s, as it’s amazing how many of them we come across as we surf around the web.

Nb. Personally I hate redirects, I’d rather know the page I was looking for wasn’t there, rather than having to double-check a page’s URL after searching the page for the expected information.

August 7, 2009

Scholarly Publishing and Flickr Tags

Filed under: Flickr,Scholarly Publishing,Tagging — admin @ 8:32 am

Recently Elsevier published its vision for the Article of the Future. However, whilst it paid attention to graphical abstracts and integrated audio and video, it failed to mention one of the most important aspects: delays in the publication process. I am joint author on a paper that has just been accepted by the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, unfortunately it won’t be published until 2011!

Angus, E., Stuart, D., & Thelwall, M. (2011, in press).Flickr’s potential as an academic image resource: an exploratory study, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

Many web 2.0 sites are extremely popular and contain vast amounts of content, but how much of this content is useful in academia? This paper investigates the potential use of the popular web 2.0 image site Flickr as an academic image resource. The study identified images tagged with any one of 12 subject names derived from recognised academic subject categories in the three main ISI citation indexes. Image content analysis was used to determine the types of images found, and term-frequency analysis of associated tags was carried out to provide additional insights into the context behind image placement. The results show that Flickr can be used as a resource for subject-specific images in some subject areas; and that non subject-specific images can also prove to be of value for individual academics.

Whilst you won’t be able to see the final version for a couple of years, you can nonetheless download the pre-peer-reviewed version here [.doc format].

I have also included a zoomable copy of the poster that the first author took to ISSI 2009 in Brazil for your added enjoyment (thanks to UCL’s Google Maps Image Cutter).

This is the group’s second article on Flickr Tags, a preprint of the previous article can be found HERE.

August 4, 2009

Eee PC 1005HA: Netbook or cheap laptop?

Filed under: 1005HA,Eee PC,netbook,seashell — admin @ 5:04 pm

On Friday I bought myself a new netbook, the new ‘Seashell‘ Eee PC from Asus. Netbooks have changed a lot since I bought the original Eee PC 701 in November 2007, increasingly blurring the netbook/laptop boundary.

My first Eee PC failed back in December, and since then I’ve been struggling without it. ‘Struggling’ because the netbook perfectly fills the giant gap between the mobile browser and the PC, a gap that can’t be filled by a laptop as a laptop is too large to carry everywhere without a second-thought. Getting a slightly larger than expected pay packet last month I decided that it was time to get a new netbook, luckily coinciding with the launch of a new Eee PC model.

First impressions of the 1005HA are generally positive, although there are two features I prefered on the 701: the slightly larger keyboard means I now hit ‘#’ and ‘\’ rather than ‘Enter’ and ‘Shift’; whilst the touch pad is regularly zooming in and out accidently. It would also have been nice if the 1005HA included a case as the 701 did.

Whilst the 1005HA has a larger screen and harddrive, as well as a better chip and battery (mine lasted for 6hrs 3mins of wi-fi enabled web surfing), it is pushing the boundaries of what is and isn’t a netbook. Not only does the increased size and weight mean that I am less likely to want to carry the 1005HA everywhere, but the increased harddrive space means I am more more likely to store information on it that I don’t want to risk losing. When you start to debate whether to take your netbook out with you it has become a laptop.

It is too early for me to conclude whether my 1005HA is a netbook or laptop, but I fear I may have bought a cheap laptop. Only time will tell.

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