Friendfeed: I’m doing it wrong


I’ve been put­ting together a work­shop on social media for the Physics depart­ment here at Leicester. It’s two hours to cover Web 2.0, so to cover it all I’d have to work at the rate of 1.0 per hour. Instead I’ve opted to cover a small range of the most use­ful tools. deli­cious, Google Reader and blog­ging, which I’m using Posterous for. The more ser­vices you sign up for the more dif­fuse your pres­ence, so I’m put­ting Friendfeed at the centre of the work­shop to pull it all together.

The model I’m using is one I’ve stolen from Alan Cann which is that Friendfeed is Facebook for sci­ent­ists. I know it’s not exactly, but it’s close enough as an intro­duc­tion. In some ways it’s a Twitter sub­sti­tute too. I’ve left Twitter out of the work­shop, which I know is a big hole, but Twitter takes a couple of days to under­stand because it doesn’t make sense without the replies and inter­ac­tion, while Friendfeed has more tools for shar­ing stuff. Friendfeed needs inter­ac­tion too, but it is at least a bit easier to see the point of Friendfeed using the Facebook model. If you’re not really plugged into the idea of net­works then Twitter looks like a dull and crippled rip-off of Facebook.

So while I’ve been put­ting this together I’ve also been think­ing about how I use web­sites. Blogs are still the place for gath­er­ing longer ideas like this, and reflect­ing on them. They’re not so good for some other things. I find inter­est­ing things on the web and I want to share them. This is a prob­lem, and it’s one that Brett Holman blogged on while I was put­ting this post together.

How do you put together links for a blog post? You could just put up the links and titles, but that doesn’t make for much of a post. You could blog on each one, but that’s a lot of work. In the past I’ve used things like deli­cious or ma.gnolia to com­pile posts from book­marks. The prob­lem with that is that you need a cer­tain num­ber of book­marks in a post else almost every posts is Links for %date%. On the other hand if you store up links in groups of 10, then link 1 could be out-of-date by the time you have ten links to make a post. Blogging used to be the best way to share links, but now there are bet­ter ways. Brett Holman is using Twitter. I’m using Friendfeed, because the way it handles com­ments is easier and it can post to Twitter any­way; it’s not an either/or choice.

I don’t see it as blog­ging versus twit­ter­ing as some people have either. You could see the move to put links onto Friendfeed as cut­ting back on blog­ging. I prefer to see it as free­ing the blog from hav­ing to carry posts that don’t suit it. Friendfeed or Twitter is the per­fect place for point to this photo of cute nuzz­ling chee­tahs.

There are some prob­lems with Friendfeed. People import their twit­ter streams, and that doesn’t usu­ally work very well. Conversations appear out of con­text, but it’s an easy enough issue to solve. Friendfeed has a ‘hide’ but­ton, and you can hide all entries from Twitter unless they get a ‘like’. You’re rely­ing on other people to find the note­worthy tweets for you, but if you’re on Friendfeed you’re prob­ably also on twit­ter too — so it’s no great loss.

Following that, I’ve made a slight change to the front of the blog, with the Friendfeed stream going to the front instead of the fea­tures gal­lery. If you want to fol­low me, then you can find my Friendfeed account at http://​friend​feed​.com/​a​lun and if you tell what account you’re using I can fol­low you back.

I’ll be post­ing a link to the work­sheets for the work­shop once the class has star­ted on Friendfeed.

Teaching, Web2.0 and Teaching Web2.0

Looking for a guide to Web2.0? Image (cc) Stéphane Massa-Bidal.

Looking for a guide to Web2.0? Image (cc) Stéphane Massa-Bidal.

Yesterday I was at an event organ­ised with the HEA centre for Biosciences, Enhancing learn­ing through Web2.0. I thought it was a very good day. I didn’t get exactly what I wanted out of the day. What I was hop­ing for some­thing to help me build a work­shop for teach­ing Web2.0 tools to stu­dents. The event, as the name says, was more about using Web2.0 to teach stu­dents. There’s over­lap but it’s subtly dif­fer­ent. In the end that was no bad thing.

I struggled with the morn­ing ses­sion. I thought I was a novice. There are some tools I’m simply not aware of, some which I haven’t been max­im­ising, and I’ve no exper­i­ence of teach­ing how to use these tools. However most of the first ses­sion was about learn­ing how use use sites as your level of exper­i­ence. A lot of people were being intro­duced to Twitter and Google Docs. To work at the same level I’d really need to have con­sidered build­ing schema for machine tags and work­ing out how to get them doing some­thing use­ful with a Flickr API. It’s some­thing I want to do, slowly, because I think there’s huge poten­tial for machine tag­ging on Flickr. Unfortunately, archae­ology and his­tory doesn’t have the eas­ily recog­nis­able ref­er­ence points that astro­nomy has. Astronometry​.net is clever site, and the integ­ra­tion with Flickr is one of those things that’s worth a spon­tan­eous round of applause. It’s not some­thing that you can rip-off in a morn­ing though, so I spent the time eaves­drop­ping as politely as possible.

What came across is that some­thing like Twitter is very easy to oper­ate. Trivially easy. What makes is more dif­fi­cult is that use requires more than typ­ing into a box and click­ing sub­mit. It’s a bit like chess, just because you know how the pieces move, you don’t know how to play the game. Things like hasht­ags and retweets that make it more enga­ging, but these are social con­ven­tions that people have built around Twitter more than part of the site. There is now a retweet func­tion in Twitter, but that’s still dif­fer­ent to the RT @username tweets you see in your stream.

I think that means that any les­son plan I come up with will need a few goals. Telling people to tweet some­thing is not enough, they need a reason. I think they also need a net­work. That gives me some con­cern because you never know who is going to fol­low you on twit­ter but it’s a safe bet sooner or later someone will be invit­ing you join her, but not her clothes, on a web­site somewhere.

The after­noon ses­sions were very good. They opened with Kevin Emamy intro­du­cing CiteULike. Before he gave his talk my opin­ion of CiteULike was that it was a good site that didn’t really fit into the way I work. After his talk I was con­vinced that CiteULike was a really good tool that didn’t fit into the way I work — but I still need to keep a close eye on it.

CiteULike is del​.icio​.us for aca­demic papers. You find some­thing, click the book­mark­let to save it, give it some use­ful tags, and if you have the PDF you can upload a per­sonal copy. I think that’s use­ful, and that’s what Zotero and Mendeley can do too. Zotero even has the advant­age of work­ing with Word and Open Office, so my opin­ion of CiteULike isn’t that it’s bad, just that I don’t see a need for a duplic­ate sys­tem. It’s changed in the past few weeks. There’s now a recom­mend­a­tion sys­tem which is being developed. It makes CiteULike much more inter­est­ing, or at least it would for me if there was a viable archae­ology / ancient his­tory com­munity on it. That’s a social prob­lem, not a pro­gram­mable prob­lem, but with social tools you go where the people are.

Still, I’m look­ing at it with a lot more interest for a couple of reas­ons. While it might not yet be use­ful for me, the social side of CiteULike makes it extremely good for intro­du­cing stu­dents to it in class. They already have their net­work and you can drop them as a lump into CiteULike with a ded­ic­ated group. Another key point is that, unlike Zotero, it works with Internet Explorer. It’s a fun­da­mental incom­pat­ib­il­ity that means Zotero can’t work on Internet Explorer. That’s not a prob­lem for me, I tend to use Firefox, but it’s a prob­lem if you’re in a cor­por­ate envir­on­ment which likes to min­im­ise choice to max­im­ise effi­ciency. You have to work with what you have at the time, and right now that would be CiteULike. The fact that it is very good means I don’t feel at all grumpy about that.

The next ses­sion we had Jo Badge and Terry McAndrew. Jo Badge, who was pretty amaz­ing all day, talked through her PLE. We com­pared her skil­fully presen­ted mind map against Alan Cann’s tag cloud and I think the room was uni­formly in favour of her more nuanced approach. Both approaches helped show one of the other prob­lems that you can have selling Web2.0 to an audi­ence. As Stuart Johnson poin­ted out, it’s very diverse and if you stick it up as a block it can look over­whelm­ing. It’s related to the fact that often each site is related to an indi­vidual task. You might find a page on Google Reader, book­mark it on deli­cious and com­ment on it at Posterous. It looks like triple-handling one piece of inform­a­tion. In fact you could set things up so that you click in Google Reader to send com­ments to Posterous and the book­mark to deli­cious auto­mat­ic­ally, but this still looks like duplic­a­tion. Terry McAndrew then drew the dis­cus­sion into how Web2.0 and teach­ing and learn­ing tied into the HEA Biosciences projects.

This moved on to more spe­cific examples of using Web 2.0 in the Biosciences. There were examples using Diigo, Google forms and microvideo. There was noth­ing bad about any of these talks, but real­ist­ic­ally Diigo was the only one I could see that would be rel­ev­ant to what I want to do, and I’m more likely to use deli­cious for that. The uses of forms and video was clever, but they have logist­ical prob­lems that I can­not solve yet. For example the form were used to track data for charts dur­ing a lab prac­tical. For that you need a lab that’s happy about hav­ing mobile phones in use. After that we moved more or less into wrap­ping up the day for the sub­ject centre.

I think the most inter­est­ing ques­tion of the day was asked by someone who wasn’t there. “How do you sell this to tech­no­phobes?” We had a day of people with a keen interest in aca­demia and a desire to learn about Web2.0. In the lec­ture hall you’re likely to have stu­dents who have neither. In the case of elec­tronic bib­li­o­graphy, many stu­dents approach a pro­ject as a one-off. You only do Module X once in the course and this pro­ject once in Module X, so why invest time in set­ting up an elec­tronic bib­li­o­graphy when it’s not per­ceived to have an ongo­ing use?

I was asked what I took away from the day in a ques­tion­naire and I said I’d have to have a mull. I can think of a few things I need to con­sider for my own Web2.0 work­shop. A few things come to mind.

  • I need some good zero-network tools. A lot of Web2.0 is made much more use­ful if there’s a social ele­ment. There isn’t going to be that social ele­ment for every­one. Life sci­ences are very social but adop­tion of social net­work­ing is patchy. Why use Twitter or FriendFeed if there’s no net­work? Well, in the case of FriendFeed it could be used as an RSS aggregator.
  • Teaching to a group means there is a net­work with a com­mon interest, even if it’s only a tem­por­ary feel­ing of ‘what do we have to do to get through this course?’ I think this can be used to over­come the ini­tial prob­lem that you know no-one on a net­work when you start.
  • It’s not the tools that are the major obstacle, it’s find­ing a reason to adopt them. I know Classics pro­fess­ors who, even in 2000, were far too humor­ously eccent­ric to use email. That changed when they star­ted miss­ing out on oppor­tun­it­ies. Any web2.0 tool has to have a reason to use it. If it’s not mak­ing life easier or open­ing new oppor­tun­it­ies, then there’s no reason why we should expect people to use it anyway.
  • Safety. I can’t recall this com­ing up on the day. There are freaks on the inter­net. I know all the stu­dents are intel­li­gent adults, but I think there’s a respons­ib­il­ity you have when push­ing people out into the net that you don’t have if they choose to explore them­selves. What hap­pens if a stu­dent with an interest in bio­logy gets fol­lowed by a mad anti-vaxxer on his blog? Or a stu­dent who’s work­ing through prob­lems in cli­mate change on her blog who gets hassled by someone who insists she stops work­ing on her mod­ule and demands she provide full and com­plete answers to a vari­ety of his mad ques­tions instead? “Don’t feed the troll” might be the simple answer but, espe­cially if you’re iden­ti­fi­ably female, you can get some really vicious stuff. I’m sure they could find plenty of sup­port to fight on their side, but not every­one who sets up a blog wants a fight.

You can’t make a per­fectly safe inter­net, and I’m not sure why I’d want to, but at the same time when you teach someone to cross the road you don’t start with at the dual car­riage way where caf­fein­ated drivers hurtle at the top of the speed lim­iters. For that reason I’m think­ing of start­ing with a private room on FriendFeed. It can act as a shallow-end sub­sti­tute for Twitter and a feed reader. Because it’s a private room I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to make pub­lic, but I’ll dis­cuss the work­shop plan some more at a later date. If any­one knows of some model courses, I’d love to be able to look at them.

Fund your project via the web


Money Shot. Photo (cc) Jessica Smith

I saw an inter­est­ing fund­ing oppor­tun­ity on ReadWriteWeb and, because it’s only open to Americans, I thought to share it. Kickstarter​.com looks like it could be use­ful for fund­ing small-scale aca­demic projects.

The idea is simple enough, you look through the vari­ous pro­jects on the web­site and if you see an idea you like you pledge some money to it. If a pro­ject raises all the money it needs in pledges before a dead­line then credit cards are charges and the pro­ject gets the money. If the pro­ject doesn’t get enough money the pledges lapse. The pro­ject gets noth­ing, but this also means there’s no oblig­a­tion to ful­fil tar­gets on a cut budget.

You’re prob­ably not going to fund a large or even medium-sized Hadron col­lider with this, but for sub-$5000 pro­jects, it might be a pos­sib­il­ity. It strikes me as a good match for some archae­olo­gical work. The dif­fi­culty is work­ing out what you can give back. Ideally you’d want to pub­lish all your find­ings, so it’s hard to jus­tify keep­ing back use­ful inform­a­tion for back­ers only. You could give pri­or­ity to back­ers like subscriber-only updates live from the field. The dif­fi­culty I fore­see with this is that it then means on top of work, you’ll want to spend a couple of hours each day pro­du­cing the updates. If you’re some­where where updat­ing from the field is dif­fi­cult, like the Sahara, then it’s harder to work this model. Tweets from a private account won’t be much of bonus if the back­ers can’t inter­act with the fieldworker(s).

On the other hand if you have a known budget with a known num­ber of back­ers then you can budget to include pro­du­cing premium con­tent. So say­ing that any­one that pledges over $X get a limited-edition hard­back edi­tion of the report is feas­ible – or at least it would be if Lulu’s cost cal­cu­lator had been work­ing when I wrote this. On the down­side $20 from a $50 pledge would be lost pro­du­cing the con­tent, but that’s still a net gain of $30. Giving some­thing back to the back­ers seems pretty essen­tial as they’ll be the obvi­ous mar­ket for your next project.

At the moment the site is lim­ited to American pro­jects because the sys­tem works through Amazon pay­ments. If it’s suc­cess­ful then it’ll either expand or else a big­ger start-up with open a globally-accessible com­pet­itor. Either way if the bal­ance between premium con­tent and open-access can be found, then it could be an altern­at­ive source of fund­ing, for pro­jects with pop­u­lar appeal.

I’m now giv­ing ser­i­ous thought to fund­ing future pro­jects of my own. Because I tend to stick to basic sur­vey, my own costs tend to be travel and car hire. One idea I’m con­sid­er­ing is com­mer­cial spon­sor­ship. If a non­sense sur­vey can earn someone £500 for simply attach­ing a name, then pro­du­cing a news-worthy story should be worth a few thou­sand to the right spon­sor. That means prov­ing news-worthiness. I’ll be look­ing hard at pub­li­city for my next paper as I got it badly wrong last time. If I learn from that I’ll take a rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent approach.

The 2009 site revision


I’ve star­ted to con­sol­id­ate vari­ous web pres­ences into one Me Portal as Kimberly Alderman called it. It means mov­ing from WordPress​.com because in the end a hos­ted solu­tion isn’t flex­ible enough. I’d still highly recom­mend WordPress​.com, espe­cially as a site for new blog­gers. Still the little things, like spend­ing an after­noon writ­ing a script to import links, start to annoy. Now Postalicious will read what I’ve marked with a ‘share’ on Google Reader and you can read the latest shares on the home page.

Changes and Upgrades

The entries now fall into six cat­egor­ies: The Past, Science, Politics, Digital Academia and Life. The sixth cat­egory, for those who can count, is Featured. That’s the easy way of stick­ing stor­ies into rota­tion on the front page.

The reason for doing that is that it should work bet­ter for vari­ous aggreg­at­ors. Maia Atlantides doesn’t need to know about a photo of a cute kit­ten that I’ve seen, so I can provide a Past feed which only sends the rel­ev­ant stuff. Likewise I’ve been think­ing for a which of adding this site to an Atheism aggreg­ator, but a lot of what I write wouldn’t really be rel­ev­ant for that either. Now I have a Politics feed. I could have called it Philosophy, but I’m wary of people in the human­it­ies who call them­selves philo­soph­ers without any basic ground­ing in the sub­ject. Even if it is philo­sophy, they also tend to be posts about the art of liv­ing with people so it’s also polit­ics with a small p. I’ll prob­ably change the Digital Academia name when I can work out what a com­bin­a­tion of Lifehacking / Education / General inter­net­ness should be called.

It’s still pos­sible to track Ancient History, Archaeology and Archaeoastronomy entries via the tag pages, and now the site is off WordPress​.com the tag pages are a lot more usable,

Lots of image and video links are broken. I’ll try and fix them as and when I can. On the plus side I’m hop­ing that adding video and audio will have become a lot easier.

I’m using Postalicious to handle blog posts based on what I’ve been read­ing. Sociable for book­mark­lets at the bot­tom of posts. WP-Touch makes the site a lot more mobile friendly.


I’ve changed the com­ment sys­tem to be oper­ated by Disqus. It should oper­ate more or less as it did before. You can leave a com­ment by leav­ing a name and an email address. The email address won’t be made pub­lic. However, there’s cer­tain extra things you can do, You can sign in with your Twitter account, your Facebook account or Open ID if you prefer. You can also sign up with a Disqus account and aggreg­ate all your com­ments. If Disqus and Intense Debate could talk to each other and agree a com­mon stand­ard then you’d be able to effect­ively blog like Statler or Waldorf, gath­er­ing together all your com­ments on other posts. If it takes off then adding a sys­tem like this could add more value for the com­ment­at­ors on the blog. I say if as it hasn’t yet. I’d expec­ted Automattic to make more of their acquis­i­tion of Intense Debate by rolling it out on WordPress​.com.


I can now expand the site in some dir­ec­tions. I’m hold­ing off adding a forum for now. I’m not sure there’d be a lot of point, though I’m sure it would add a lot of hassle mod­er­at­ing it. I used to play with Pligg, but I don’t think another Past-themed ver­sion of that is neces­sary. Maia Atlantides does a good enough job aggreg­at­ing posts. On the other hand there’s plenty I can add.

There’ll be a pho­tob­log sooner or later. Probably show­ing 700px or 800px wide images on a black back­ground. Text looks bet­ter on white, but pho­tos tend to work bet­ter with a darker back­ground. WordPress simply isn’t a suit­able engine for ser­i­ous pho­tob­log­ging at the moment.

I also want to get to grips with Wikindx. For me it’s a word pro­cessor with built in bib­li­o­graphic tools. For every­one else it’ll be a way of fol­low­ing my bib­li­o­graphy. I’d like to work out what to do with CiteULike as well, but at the moment it simply doesn’t it in with how I work. I sus­pect if more people I knew were using CiteULike it would get more useful.

I’ll also be able to set up short urls for sup­port for con­fer­ence talks. For instance I could set up a site ca2010​.alun​salt​.com to sup­port a talk given at the Classical Association con­fer­ence next year. I’m not plan­ning to go there, so it’s a bit of a waste for now, but the prin­ciple is sound. To an extent this is a bit of pol­ish for my online pres­ence before the next round of job hunt­ing, but it’s more about mak­ing my life easier by gath­er­ing together vari­ous webby things into one toolbox.

Oh and the ‘fol­low me’ tag at the right of the page? Stolen from Civil War Memory. Basically if it’s not nailed down and I like it, I’ll take it. And I’m still on hiatus as far as I’m concerned. ;)

Bookmarklets: Tech Tuesday


Today’s entry is simple, if you already know what I’m talk­ing about. If you don’t then the name ‘book­mark­let’ isn’t that help­ful, espe­cially if you use Internet Explorer where book­marks are called favor­ites. Bookmarklets are but­tons you drag to your links bar on your browser, that do some­thing use­ful. This links bar is usu­ally a grey bar found below the address bar. If you’ve just installed your browser it’ll have links to Microsoft, Mozilla or some­thing sim­ilar on it. Here are a few of mine.


The easi­est example to start with is the handy book­mark­let on the bit​.ly site. If you visit there you should see there’s a book­mark­let on the right-hand side of the page. To add it to your browser, put the mouse cursor over the link then click — but keep the but­ton depressed. Now drag the link up to the links bar. You should see some­thing like a + sign, or sim­ilar. Now let go. What this book­mark­let will do is shorten URLs. This is very use­ful for Twitter. If you want to link to http://​www​.​a​-very​-long​-address​.com/​w​i​t​h​/​m​a​n​y​/​s​u​b​-​d​i​r​e​c​t​o​r​i​e​s​/​a​n​-​i​n​d​e​x​.​p​h​p​?​=​a​n​d​-​i​f​-​t​h​a​t​s​-​n​o​t​-​e​n​o​u​g​h​-​a​-​c​o​m​p​l​e​x​-​q​u​e​r​y​-​too then that’s a lot of char­ac­ters. Bit​.ly will reduce this to bit​.ly/​s​h​ort or sim­ilar which saves a lot of letters.

Another example of a book­mark­let is one that Google Reader or Newsgator provide for adding RSS feeds to their online read­ers. Rather than hav­ing to work out the RSS feed address your­self and then typ­ing it into the RSS reader’s site, these book­mark­lets handle all that with one click.

They can also be used for send­ing images to places, activ­at­ing social link­ing sites or all sorts of inter­act­ive links. But, while they’re not stag­ger­ingly dif­fi­cult to use, it does help if you know what someone means if they refer to a bookmarklet.



I’m plan­ning to attend a meet­ing on QR codes for the ISciences dept at Leicester. I’ll be hon­est I don’t fully under­stand them, and you’re wel­come to tell me how much I don’t under­stand them in the com­ments. I think if bar­codes are like pagers what QR codes are likely to be like SMS. No-one in their right mind could have pre­dicted how text mes­saging would grow to be so pop­u­lar. After all pagers were nowhere near as suc­cess­ful. Neither has bar­code scan­ning been massively pop­u­lar. I have a CueCat for scan­ning book codes but des­pite that I’m likely to type in an ISBN into a cata­logue than scan it. A QR code can pack much more use­ful inform­a­tion, includ­ing hyper­links, than a bar­code can.

So what is a QR code?


This is a QR code. It’s one of the world’s more point­less QR codes because it links to this web­site. However as part of the header in my CV, or prin­ted on my busi­ness card it becomes more use­ful. Certainly I could claim to be tech-savvy, but now I can link to that in print. My CV and cards mean links to my per­sonal site can make intru­sions into the real world. Useful or a gim­mick? I’m not sure.


The value in QR codes is that they’re not, strictly speak­ing codes. They’re ciphers. Barcodes are codes. They only have mean­ing given to them by the oper­ator. An ISBN isn’t a book if you scan in the code Barcode Battler. With that device it could be Simon the Destroyer. The mean­ing has to be assigned. A QR code in con­strast is deciphered with a key, so mean­ings do not have to be assigned in advance to be used. The example here includes a delib­er­ate mis-spelling from the Owl and the Pussycat. It would be utter mad­ness to delib­er­ately design a code for that, but a cipher which can easy encode that could be flex­ible enough to encode all sorts of use­ful things.

Why use QR codes?

Jake Fudge has a good open­ing example. He’s sug­ges­ted tag­ging build­ings. Tags could link to a web page on the build­ing giv­ing its loc­a­tion, func­tion and if there’s an event on where you think people are going to get lost, how to get to the event. While the tag itself is per­man­ent the flex­ib­il­ity of the web ensures its mean­ing can change.

Alex Mack at ISciences had a sim­ilar sug­ges­tion for rooms. QR codes could link to a timetable which can be updated cent­rally to show if a room is booked or not and when.

My own idea is to have a present­a­tion which has a QR code as a final slide along with text show­ing con­tact inform­a­tion. This is because I tend to have to leave a lot of basic inform­a­tion out of my present­a­tions either basic astro­nomy or archae­ology or clas­sics. In the past I’ve left up my name, email address and web­site URL. A QR code in addi­tion to the usual tex­tual inform­a­tion could make link­ing much easier. An extra fea­ture is that the act of pho­to­graph­ing the code is the same regard­less of the inform­a­tion in it. A QR code can embed 160 char­ac­ters, which means rather than point­ing people to http://​alun​salt​.co​.uk, as I would with text, the con­tact slide could link to a much longer URL with an annot­ated ver­sion of the slide show.

They can also be used dur­ing present­a­tions. I’ll be talk­ing to the IFA about Open Access this Easter. It would be handy to point the audi­ence to a piece I wrote for the Study Group for Roman Pottery A slide with a QR code dur­ing the talk can act as a dir­ect link for those with cam­er­a­phones, and those without can still get the link the nor­mal way. This could have sim­ilar uses in lectures.


In the­ory, the QR codes could sup­ple­ment inform­a­tion given in handouts. They need not replace other means, in the same way inter­net doc­u­ment­a­tion hasn’t replaced phys­ical hand­books in many depart­ments. It provides addi­tional routes to the same inform­a­tion. In prac­tice this use will depend on the qual­ity of the image the pro­ject­ors can pro­duce. This would seem a simple enough exper­i­ment to carry out. It may be HD pro­ject­ors or bet­ter will be needed before com­plex QR codes can be resolved from pro­jec­tions. Nevertheless they will still have uses in tag­ging the real world.

QR codes as a com­pan­ion to documentation

One of the factors which makes QR codes attract­ive is their low cost. There is time in cre­at­ing the code, but vari­ous web tools make this simple. Then there is the mat­ter of print­ing them onto stick­ers, but this can be done in any office with the right sta­tion­ery. The biggest chal­lenge is what you do with the code.

There are a vari­ety of devices that a QR code might add value to. and plenty which it wouldn’t. For example we have a nice micro­scope in our lab. We can hook it up to all sorts of things, and a QR code on it would be able to link to a page with inform­a­tion on the latest dis­plays it can inter­act with, and how to con­nect it. Putting a QR code on a lit­ter bin in con­trast is just mak­ing work for the sake of it.

Of course we can only con­nect an item to sup­port mater­ial if that sup­port mater­ial exists. This is why now might the be time to start plan­ning QR code strategy. At the moment a QR pro­ject would be identi­fy­ing gaps in online inform­a­tion. The absence of key codes would at the moment not be a crit­ical prob­lem because QR is not yet main­stream. The rapid turnover of mobile phone tech­no­logy and cur­rent avail­ab­il­ity of cam­er­a­phones indic­ates that this could change rap­idly, pos­sibly within a couple of years. Once QR does become main­stream it becomes a race to catch up with the innov­at­ors, who will have done their devel­op­ment in a much less intense environment.

What have I missed out?

I’ve prob­ably missed whatever it is that will make QR suc­cess­ful, if it is a suc­cess. The most com­mon mobile devices to access them will be phones, so audio is an obvi­ous vehicle for inform­a­tion. Speedier net­works might also make stream­ing video another pos­sible use. The reason I’ve stuck to hyper­links is that that’s what I know. There are also other uses like encod­ing emails, which most smart­phones can now send or even phone numbers.

It is also pos­sible that QR will not suc­ceed in the way it has in Japan and that it will become a passing fad. Even if this is the case, a QR cod­ing pro­gramme still deliv­ers bene­fits. Even though the codes them­selves may be fol­lies, the con­nec­tions they deliver in terms of richer vir­tual cor­rel­ates to the real world will still have bene­fits, even if they are exploited another way.

The QR code on the CV might turn out to be a gim­mick, but what it sig­ni­fies will still have value.



I wasn’t plan­ning to com­ment on the 100 anthrob­logs post. One reason is that there’s always the danger of it sound­ing like sour grapes if you ser­i­ously cri­tique it when you’re not on it. Another is that the site that wrote the post has the same M.O. as before. You put together a mix of good and not-so-good web­logs and then take the traffic as people link to the list to tear it down.

As it hap­pens I can say that I’m happy to be off the list with some cred­ib­il­ity. If I were ser­i­ous about being in the top 100 I’d put this where it would get indexed by the search-engines. To be truth­ful I don’t think I’d want to have a blog on a cred­ible “top 100 whatever blogs” list. I already know where my web­logs are. Similarly I wouldn’t want to win a Clio award myself because I think it would be more a cause of embar­rass­ment than ela­tion in my social circle. I think it would make sense in a North American con­text, but blog­ging simply isn’t on the aca­demic radar in the UK classics/archaeology as far as I can tell. There are British archae­ology and clas­sics blog­gers, but there’s not the mass to have a meet­ing of them at any major con­fer­ence yet. That kind of recog­ni­tion doesn’t appeal. Though appre­ci­ation in hard cur­rency would. Euros for pref­er­ence given what’s hap­pen­ing to the pound.

So if it’s such a non-issue why blog about it? It turns out 100 is an inter­est­ing prob­lem. I’m look­ing at set­ting up a Feedvis server. Feedvis is a nifty tool for track­ing what are pop­u­lar tags for posts over a spe­cified times­cale, like 7 days or a month. It means you can track what things are buzz­ing amongst a group of blogs. It’s pos­sible that the limit for the num­ber of feeds the server can handle is one hun­dred. The num­ber of act­ive (at least one post within the last 30 days) web­logs in the ‘Clio’ cat­egory of my news­reader is one hun­dred. Then there’s cog­nate web­logs I’d want to include from anthro­po­logy and art his­tory. No doubt more that will turn up in a month or so. Not only is 100 a mean­ing­ful limit where choices will have to be made, to begin with the excluded will be a minor­ity. That’ll make me feel really bad about exclud­ing them.

I’m not sure how I’d put the list together. One way is to do it for purely per­sonal reas­ons and add my own OPML list. The reason that’s not the only choice is that I’m a bit wary of adding people onto such a list willy-nilly. The other way would be to see if people would want to be lis­ted. That may stall because it’s hard to enthuse people about yet another aggreg­a­tion site. In the case of Feedvis the aim would be to push people out to the rel­ev­ant blogs, but that’s prob­ably not imme­di­ately obvi­ous. With more thought, it’s pretty clear it’d be point­less put­ting up a site I didn’t find use­ful, so I think 100 per­sonal choices would be the best way to go.

If you’d like to see some­thing sim­ilar for astro­nomy, I’m very impressed with Spacebuzz. I shall have to think about this some more over Christmas. I’m still talk­ing with Shawn Graham over PDQ. I think a lot of trouble can be solved if we move to a more Research Blogging style model, which has the advant­age of keep­ing the mater­ial on the authors’ sites.