Repositories and the Open Web: report

The CETISROW event took place at Birkbeck college, London, on the 19 April 2010, and I have to say it wasn’t really much of a row. There seemed to me to be more agreement on common themes than disagreement, so I’ll try to pull those together in this report, and if anyone disagrees with them there’s a “comment” form at the bottom of this page :-)

Focus on our aims not the means and by “means” I mean repositories. The sort of aims I have in mind are hosting, disseminating (or sharing), organising, and managing resources, facilitating social interaction around resources, and facilitating resource discovery. I was struck by how the Sheen Sharing project (about which Sarah Currier reported) had started by building what their community of users actually wanted and could use at that time, and not working with early adopters in the hope that they could somehow persuade the mainstream and laggards to follow. Roger Greenhalgh illustrated how wider aims such as social cohesion and knowledge transfer could be fostered through sites focussed on meeting community needs.

One of the participants mentioned at the end how pleased she was that we had progressed to talking in these terms rather than hitting people over the head with all the requirements that come from running a repository. I hope this would please Rachel Heery who, reflecting on various JISC Repositories programmes, made the point a while back that we might get better value from a focus on strategic objectives rather than a specific technology supposed to achieve those objectives.

So, what’s to do if we want to progress with this? We need to be clear about what the requirements are, so there is work to do building on and extending the survey on what people look for when they search online for learning resources from the MeDeV Organising OERs project presented by David Davies, and more work on getting systems to fit with needs–what the EdShare participants call cognitive ergonomics.

There was also a broad theme of working with what is already there, which I think this came through in a couple of sub themes of about web-scale systems and web-wide standards.

Firstly there were several accounts of working with existing services to provide hosting or community. Sheen Sharing (see above) did this, as did the Materials and Engineering subject centres’ OER projects that Lisa J Rogers reported on. Joss Winn also reported on using existing tools and communities saying

I don’t think it’s worth developing social features for repositories when there is already an abundance of social software available. It’s a waste of time and effort and the repository scene will never be able to trump the features that the social web scene offers and that people increasingly expect to use.

Perhaps this where we get closest to disagreement, since the EdShare team have been developing social features for ePrints that mirror those found on Web 2.0 sites. (The comment form is at the bottom…)

Related to this was the second theme of working with the technologies and specifications of web 2.0 sites, most notably RSS/ATOM syndication feeds. Patrick Lockley’s presentation on the Xpert repository was entirely about this, and Lisa Rogers and Sarah Currier both emphasised the importance of RSS (and in Lisa’s case easily-implemented APIs in general) in getting what they had done to work.

So, again, what do we need to do to continue this? Firstly there was a call to do more to synthesise and disseminate information about what approaches people are trying and what is working, so that other projects can follow the successful pioneers. Secondly there is potentially work to be done in smoothing over path that is taken, for example the Xpert project has found many complexities and irregularities in syndication feeds that could perhaps be avoided if we could provide some norms and guidelines for how to use them.

A theme that didn’t quite get discussed, but is nonetheless interesting was around openness. Joss Winn made a very valid distinction between the open web and the social web, one which I had blurred in the build up to the event. So facebook is part of the social web but is by no means open. There was some discussion about whether openness is important in achieving the goals of, e.g., disseminating learning resources. For example, iTunesU is used successfully by many to disseminate pod- and videocasts of lectures, and arguably the vertical integration offered by Apple’s ownership/control of all the levels leads to a better user experience than is the case for some of the alternatives.

All in all, I think we found ourselves broadly in agreement with the outcomes of the ADL Repository and Registries summit, as summarised by Dan Rehak, especially in: the increase in interest in social media and web 2.0 rather than conventional, formal repositories; the focus on understanding what we are really trying to do and finding out what users really want; and in not wanting new standards, especially not new repository-specific standards.

Finally, thanks to Roger Greenhalgh, I now know that there is a world carrot museum online.

7 thoughts on “Repositories and the Open Web: report

  1. Re: “There was some discussion about how important openness is achieving the goals of, e.g., disseminating learning resources. For example, iTunesU is used successfully by many to disseminate pod- and videocasts of lectures, and arguably the vertical integration offered by Apple’s ownership/control of all the levels leads to a better user experience than is the case for some of the alternatives.”

    Are you arguing that iTunesU is open?

  2. Andy: no, the argument (if I can represent it adequately) was that even though iTunesU is closed in many important respects it meets its users’ requirements, which is more important than arguments over whether it is open enough.

    I think I see where the potential for confusion in what I originally wrote lies, so I’ve made small change in the text.

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