I’m currently in Florence, having spoken at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 conference. In his conclusions Bernard Smith identified two main strands at the conference: the large-scale institutional developments, typically led by national libraries or museums or funding by the EU and the exploitation of Web 2.0 approaches and services. Between these two approaches were the risks and opportunities. I smiled when I heard this as the title of my talk was “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“. In his summing up of the talks he attended Bernard described how I had argued for a more rigourous approach to the documentation of risks in making use of third party services, assessing the likelihood of the risks, their significance and approaches to minimising such risks or theii importance.
This is an approach I first took for the IWMW 2006 event, as described on the page on Risk Assessment For The IWMW 2006 Web Site. The background to this were concerns I heard that “we can’t rely on Google as a search service for the Web site – what if Goole goes out of business? We must ave an open source solution so we can fix it if the service goes wrong.”
It seems strange now hearing those concerns about the sustainability of Google. A perhaps more appropriate concern which could have been raised would have been “We can’t use Google. Their successes in search might lead to the company being a major force in other areas, such as applications, mobile devices, social services, etc. And although we may benefit from their services, we, as a society, may lose our soul!“. My apologies for the religious tone – but I am in Italy and a recent visit to the cathedral brought back memories of when I was an altar boy!
It did strike me, thought, that the talks which mentioned Social Web services where given by invited speakers from the US, such as Laura Campbell from the Library of Congress. The talks I heard were not new and the ways in which use of services such as Flickr, YouTube and Twitter can held to engage with new audiences will be familiar to readers of this blog (I provided examples from the National Library of Wales and Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in my talk). It was noticeable, though, that such approaches weren’t being discussed by speakers from mainland Europe. This reminded by of the time Dame Lynne Brindley, head of the British Library, described the significant differences between the ways in which the British Library are exploiting Web 2.0 services and the scepticism of her equivalent in the French National Library, which, if I recall correctly, Lynne described as a reflection of French statist approach, unlike the UK perspective where (like it of not) the mixed economy is now mainstream – as an been seen from Chris Sexton’s post on “Cloud computing – Hope or Hype?” (and as Chris says, in today’s economic climate, we d need to be looking at ways in which we can be saving money).
Such considerations bring me back to my talk. The slides are available on Slideshare and are also embedded below. But although the accompanying paper (which is not yet available) builds on previous work, with a contribution from Professor Charles Oppenheim on a risk assessment and management approach to copyright risks, following various discussions at the conference I now appreciate that the risks framework should perhaps consider the dangers to society of ever-increasing use of services from a dominant provider. But how would institutions go about addressing such issues when funding is likely to be the main motivating factor for the near future?