Wednesday, 24 December 2008

XBRL saves the day... maybe

Earlier this year (on another web platform) I wrote about XBRL and the impact it would have on standard business reporting and governance, so I was more than a little bit interested to see the recent post on ReadWriteWeb on XBRL titled XBRL: Mashing up Financial Statements. Given the current state of financial affairs this is probably a good blog post to finish the year.

XBRL or eXtensible Business Reporting Language, is to quote Wikipedia "an open standard which supports information modelling and the expression of semantic meaning commonly required in business reporting". So what does this mean?

Well it means that entities (companies, government agencies, non profit organisations) mark up their financial reporting once (and in standard way), and the information can be readily harvested for governance and reporting requirements.

So what is the fuss about? Well, Ernst & Young state that "Once the XBRL standard is accepted, management, investors, regulatory agencies, and others will reap significant benefits whether sharing information within a single organization or trading documents across company lines."

In Australia, adoption of XBRL is being lead by the Department of Treasury and its Standard Business Reporting Programme while the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is acting as a facilitator. Sponsors include: CPA Australia, The Institute of Chartered Accountants, PriceWaterHouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, MYOB, Fujitsu, and Deloittes. So it is a fair bet to say you are going to hear more about XBRL in 2009. If you want to know more there is a very good video on (you guessed it) YouTube. See following for details. While this Youtube video cites US examples, XBRL is being applied internationally.

Not that standard business reporting or XBRL on their own would have saved us from the current economic yuckiness (highly technical terms that suggests we are up to our eyeballs in crap), but hopefully streamlining and making business reporting easier, more automated, and transparent, may make it harder to hide some of the smelly business shenanigans that has brought the financial market to its knees... and that has to be a good thing.

Now all we need is a international standard xml way to record and report library performance statistics. In my experience the only librarians who hide and don't report their stats are the ones that, well... have something to hide.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Second Life TV: coming to a library near you?

Last night at a party I met StarrSonic in first life. StarrSonic is the Executive Producer of SLCN: Second Life Cable Network. As the name says, this is cable TV produced in second life and distributed via second life and the web.

"SLCN is a professional video network designed to expand the in-world audience as well as deliver virtual entertainment to the real-world. All the video clips found on [their] website are archives of live events as they happened in Second Life... Typically, the live video is seen on screens at various locations in Second Life as well as streamed to [the SLCN] website... SLCN offers special interest channels for community, lifestyle in addition to sports. If you would like to add the SLCN stream to your land please see Get SLCN. SLCN.TV programs are also available as video podcasts. See the SLNC Podcast page to subscribe with iTunes or other RSS manager software." In Second Life the SLCN Offices are located at Northpoint (125, 185, 33).

If you have not come across Second Life TV, you can get an idea of what a programme looks like by checking out the Cybergrrl interview with IBM. The interview takes place in IBMs new Second Life Green Data Centre.

While digital cameras, post production processing, and distribution have revolutionised the film and television industries, Second Life TV has the potential to take things one step further. For example, Second Life TV is significantly cheaper to produce. See the following table which I sourced from StarrSonic's blog.

Currently the Second Life 'production values' are not as good as mainstream TV, however developments in gaming interfaces and film animation, together with ever increasing broadband, may see this gap reduce over time.

Second Life TV therefore has the potential to democratise and open television production. So this is an area worth keeping an eye on. As mainstream TV is very heavily regulated, it will also be interesting to see how issues such as media cross ownership, censorship, and copyright are addressed in Second Life TV.

For school, public, academic (and who knows may be even business) libraries there may be an opportunity to work with clients to create second life TV content and then wrap this content into the libraries existing Web 2.0 online offerings. 14 years ago VICNET was about empowering community groups by hosting static web content. Does Second Life TV give libraries a role in helping patrons build and present virtual multimedia content? Could libraries then allow clients to embed this TV content into other online resources such as online local history collections, group assignments, or school projects? Is there a synergy between potential content building in public and school libraries and community based web TV? I suspect anything is possible, it just needs imagination.

So congratulations to SLCN: Second Life Cable Network for building and developing what looks like an interesting and sustainable business model for web broadcasting.

Oh, and by the way, it was great to see the role women are playing in Second Life TV. If you want to see more on my views about the role of women in IT go to Is there enough Girrrl Power in Library IT.

Looking Forward: Film + Library = Hollywood Librarian?

Those who know me know that the in-laws are very heavily involved in the local film industry which is why I was flicking through the December / January issue of IF: Inside Film magazine. In this issue there is an article on the top tech trends for the film industry in 2009 and guess what? Some (though not all) of the predictions could be talking about libraries.

This should not come as a big surprise, as both film makers and librarians are increasingly concerned with how to present online content in ways that the target audience will use. By 'use', film makers and librarians are interested in how audiences / patrons engage with content rather than just passively consuming content. Film makers and librarians are also interested in building online loyalty or stickiness.

Though the following quote from the article is about the film industry, it could easily apply to libraries in 2009: "The by-products of digitisation has allowed the convergence of all traditional media formats, and as audiences grow more multimedia savvy by the day, producers will be challenged to create encompassing visual content."

Where librarians have traditionally focused on presenting (for the most part) linear narratives - be it fiction or non fiction, AND where film makers have been traditionally focused on presenting film narratives; both are now more involved in exploring ways of presenting bits of multimedia information in nonlinear ways. Examples include blogs, wikis, and other interactive Web 2.0 offerings wrapped around film and television program web sites in the way that libraries are increasingly wrapping blogs, wikis, and other interactive Web 2.0 offerings around library catalogues and portals. Libraries and the film industry are also looking at how they can incorporate elements coming out of the online game industry into their own online products. Needless to say, both libraries and the film industry are concerned with issues of online copyright as well as environmental sustainability.

I suspect that if there are avenues and opportunities to share ideas, both librarians and independent film makers could learn from each other. By international standards the Australian film industry is small and there is less money floating around, so the industry has to (and often does) work smarter, doing more with less. What is there to lose by getting librarians and independent film makers to share ideas?

As of late December 2008 the text of the IF: Inside Film article on the top tech trends is yet to be posted onto the IF web site. So to summaries, the overlap between the issues faced by the film industry and libraries in 2009 is:

• Increasing Digitisation,
• Film Game Convergence,
• Environmental Sustainability, and as always
• Funding.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Scholarly Wikipedia?

Earlier this year a colleague complained that she had recently returned from a meeting of reference librarians held in a certain nameless (hint - some would say souless) planned city to the north, and the day was spent with the (insert collective noun for reference librarians) bitching and moaning about Wikipedia. The crux of the complaints was that they saw Wikipedia content as biased, lacking in authority, simplistic, and basically not as good as what would be delivered by a good reference librarian. (What's that I hear - the sound of users voting with their feet.)

So without passing judgement on these reference librarians (after all I wasn't at the meeting, and all the reference librarians I know actually use Wikipedia) I was interested to read on ReadWriteWeb that the scholarly journal "RNA Biology, has decided to ask every author who submits an article to a newly created section of the journal about families of RNA molecules to also submit a Wikipedia page that summarises the work. As Nature reports, this is the first time an academic journal has forced its authors to disseminate information this way."

According to the ReadWriteWeb post, "Every new Wikipedia page will go through the same peer review process as the original article, though afterward, of course, the pages are open for editing just like every other page in the Wikipedia."

It will be interesting to see if this is an important shift in the way in which scholarly information is disseminated. It will also be interesting to see if this actually makes scholarly information more accessible to the wider community. I can just see school and university students sneaking their Blackberries and iPhones into exams to look up Wikipedia for answers. Oh the ingenuity of digital natives!

Looking back: VICNET and proto Web 2.0

The end of the year is also a good time to look back as well as forward. Over the last 2 years there has been a lot written about Web 2.0, Learning 2.0, and Library 2.0; but there are examples of Web / Library 2.0 activities and software that go back much further, like back 14 years. So lets spend some time looking back.

VICNET began in 1994 and was officially launched in May 1995. In its time VICNET was Victoria's largest website. For example, by late 1999 VICNET web servers received 10 million hits a month. VICNET's success was driven in part by the fact that they hosted nearly 2,000 websites for Victoria's community groups. So with all this free online social networking, VICNET was like mySpace or Facebook years and years before mySpace or Facebook became household brands. At the time this was not called Web 2.0 or Library 2.0 because these terms had not been invented. As a aside, there is a story behind why the very successful VICNET logo was killed off, but this blog is probably not the appropriate forum for going over this sad and sorry tale. Needless to say, the person who was in charge of marketing for the State Library of Victoria at the time is no longer in that position.

But even way back then, the statistics showed the power of online engagement and proto Web 2.0 services. For example, look at the following web statistics:

State Library of Victoria Online visits versus VICNET Community Portal visits

Financial YearState LibraryVICNET
2006 – 2007New measures implementedNew measures implemented
2005 – 20062,836,31531,722,019
2004 – 20052,006,32321,732,747
2003 – 20042,000,75922,000,000
2002 – 20031,766,97019,897,157
2001 – 20021,204,96216,100,241

Source: State Library of Victoria Annual Reports,

VICNET was (and is) more than just web hosting, but this look back into the past shows that with vision and determination libraries can indeed be innovative and ahead of the pack. The question is - what innovative and strategic things should we be doing today and tomorrow.

The matrix of the mind: Plugging your brain into Amazon

I've being doing some catch up reading, and as it is the end of the year it is also a good time to think about the past and the future. Speaking of the future, I was interested to see an article in the November issue (I did say I had to catch up on reading) of Scientific America titled Jacking into the Brain: Is the Brain the Ultimate Computer Interface?

So what is all this about? Well, imaging being able to plug your brain into a computer (or a USB stick) and down load the complete works of Shakespeare, or War and Peace, or a technical manual directly into your brain. Imagine being able to plug your brain into all the books on Amazon. Imagine being able to download study notes while you sleep. This article is about whether this is possible, and what are the issues. Who knows, combined with a semantic web type product that watches what you download, there may even come a day when the information that interests you is downloaded into your mind without the need for you to go out and find it. Now what would this do to learning and libraries?

Though we know a lot about neuroscience, there is still so much we don't know. So this cyberpunk fantasy is still a long, long way off. And as any student who has photocopied or downloaded pages and pages of material for an assignment can tell you, there is a BIG difference between downloading information, processing information, and UNDERSTANDING information. So breath easy, it looks like there will be lots of sleeps before (as in the Matrix film) you can download a manual on how to drive a helicopter and then off you go.

This said, there is some really interesting and important work being done in the area of Machine / Mind interfaces. For example, there is work being done that allows amputees to control prosthetic devices by thought.

However, one of the really fascinating sections of this Scientific America article dealt with the way we would have to translate a machine's thoughts (binary code) into human thoughts. While even the most powerful computer in the world still basically operates by processing lots of 1 ons and 0 offs, it appears that the 'binary code' of the mind is much more varied, multi-dimensional, and subtle. The "oldest notion [we have to explain neural activity] is that a rate of code is made up of voltage spikes when a neuron fires in a given interval". However, it appears that there is much more going on within each spike, and the most advanced research suggests that patterns of brain activity are also influenced by the interaction between groups of neurons firing in both space and time. So much for the boring and simple binary code.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Being Digital in school, home, and community

I have just being reading the recent Monash University Faculty of Education research report titled Being Digital in School, Home and Community. This survey asked 2,635 year 10 students what digital technology they use, and what they think about digital technology in their school, home, and community. "Demographic factors selected for analysis were school sector, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), geographic remoteness and cultural diversity.

So what does it say? Well; some of it will come as no surprise:

• most young Australians have home computers and use them daily,
• computers and the internet are important for schooling,
• young people multi-task when using technology,
• girls tend to use digital technology for communicating and boys use it to play games, and
• private schools have better access to computers and internet capacity than state schools;

There are also some fascinating information in the report's details. Some tidbits include:

• Lower levels of ownership of certain technologies such as computer/video games and office technologies reflect different levels of interest rather than barriers based on cost.
• 40% of the highest socioeconomic segment and just over 20% of the lowest socioeconomic segment had access to computers at home prior to primary school [talk about digital natives!]
• 20% of boys and 10% of girls use their computers for programming. Even though this is low I was surprised by this level of programming, but the report did suggest what is meant by programming is open to interpretation.

There are also some possibly controversial observations, including:

• there is little evidence of innovative use of digital technologies in schools, "although students used school computers for finding information, for word processing... spreadsheets and databases, this survey did not find evidence of creative or innovative computer use transforming educational practice in schools as judged by the young people."
• the majority of students across school sectors found that rules on internet usage interfered with their ability to use school computers for their school work. "Much of the interference related to the blocking of access to internet sites. Many of the schools surveyed limited their access to email and chat programmes thereby restricting the ability of students to communicate with each other online and send their schoolwork from school computers to their home computers using their preferred email accounts".
• young people learn about the internet mainly by themselves [what no librarians - mock horror!] "Around half of those surveyed report learning at least a moderate amount about the internet at school. However, 11 per cent of those surveyed reported not learning anything at all about the internet from school. These data may indicate that schools could be doing a better job in teaching students about the internet or, alternatively, that by the time young people begin using the internet at school, they have already learnt about it from their other sources."

It was a pity the survey did not look at where students did their after school internet and digital activities. While many young people use home PCs, a lot also use public libraries even when their have the internet at home. Why, would be an interesting topic of research. Still there is a lot in this report worth checking out.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

6 forces of change in 2009 and media barons

I sometimes think I must be a frustrated "futurist" trapped in the head of a librarian, or maybe I have always being interested in how things interconnect and work in real time. For example, what happens if you push this lever, press that button, or pull that halyard (maybe that is why I like sailing).

Anyway, I was interested to see a post from Ross Dawson titled Six important forces that will shape 2009. Interestingly, Ross says that the economic downturn may actually accelerate the pace of change as business and government looks to emerging technologies to deliver even greater efficiencies.

To summaries the 6 forces of change in 2009 are:

1. Constant partial attention,
2. Half of us expose ourselves; the other half watches,
3. Gen Y wakes up to Gen Z,
4. Outsourcing for the masses,
5. Companies become social, and
6. Media industry shatters.

I certainly recommend you check it out. However further to force number 6 Media industry shatters, there is also two pertinent and interesting items in the December 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. One item is about the Murdochs and Newscorp, and the other is about Bloomberg News.

What makes Bloombergs so interesting, and as a result successful, is that their business model was based from the start around online service delivery. Bloomberg must be doing something right because at a time when so many media conglomerates are shrinking, Bloomberg is growing. For example did you know that "Bloomberg News’s 2,300-person staff is larger than the combined editorial operations of the [New York] Times and The Washington Post, or that included among its 135 bureaus are 30 in the Asia-Pacific region alone, or that Bloomberg had not so much been bucking the industry-wide trend toward contractions as obliterating it." Bloomberg's annual operating profit is also estimated to be more than USD $1.5 billion!

While all may not be well with Bloomberg in the current financial crisis, "Lehman Brothers alone had more than 3,000 subscribers to Bloombergs", the following approach seems to have put them in good stead:

"Every story needed to include “the Five Fs”: first, fastest, factual, final, and future. Leads were to be exactly four paragraphs long, comprising the stating of a theme, a quotation in “plain English from someone who backs up that theme,” numbers-based details that further support it, and an explanation of what’s at stake. The use of “but” was banned—it forced readers “to deal with conflicting ideas in the same sentence.” Words such as “despite” and “however” were to be avoided for the same reason."

I guess this goes to show that if the market sees value in the information they will pay for it.

ticTOCs free table of contents

What with Roadshows, Digitisation Projects, the wonderful NLS4 symposium (it was good to see so many dynamic newbie Librarians together in one spot), and the usual frenetic round of end of year functions, life has been busy so blog postings have been down.

BUT, it was interesting to see the blog postings coming out of the UK about ticTOC. TicToc is a FREE table of contents (TOCs) service. It provides access to the most recent tables of contents of over 11,000 scholarly journals from more than 400 publishers.

So far so good, what I really liked about TicToc was that it is very easy to use, it has a nice interface, and you can set up RSS feeds. (Gota love that!) As an aside, the free bit is actually important. For details see free web and the future of libraries

Following is a quote from the ticToc media release: "Using ticTOCs, you can find journals of interest by title, subject or publisher, view the latest TOC, link through to the full text of over 250,000 articles (where institutional or personal subscriptions, or Open Access, allow), and save selected journals to MyTOCs so that you can view future TOCs (free registration is required if you want to permanently save your MyTOCs). ticTOCs also makes it easy to export selected TOC RSS feeds to popular feedreaders such as Google Reader and Bloglines, and in addition you can import article citations into RefWorks (where institutional or personal subscriptions allow).

You select TOCs by ticking those of interest - thousands of TOCs, within a tick or two (hence the name ticTOCs)." How cute is that.

If you want to see the full media release go to scholarly journals new free service makes keeping up to date easy. This is located on the ticToc News Blog.

ticTOCs has been funded under the JISC Users & Innovations programme. I am often in awe of those clever people at JISC, so to paraphrase a well known Australian TV commercial for margarine: "Good on ya JISC - you aught to be congratulated".