Should Projects Be Required To Blog? They Should Now!
A recent post on Blogging Practices Session at the JISC MRD Launch Event (#jiscmrd) contains access to the slides hosted on Slideshare used at the JISC MRD Programme Launch Meeting. In the talk I reflected on the discussion on Should Projects Be Required To Have Blogs? which took place initially on Twitter and then on this blog in February 2009.
The context to the discussion was described by Amber Thomas: “I should clarify that my colleagues and I were thinking of mandating blogs for a specific set of projects not across all our programmes“. During the discussion the consensus seemed to be that we should encourage a culture of openness rather than mandate a particular technology such as blogs. One dissenting voice was Owen Stephens who commented “I note that Brian omitted one of my later tweets – not sure if this was by mistake or deliberately because he recognised it for a slightly more light-hearted comment “i say mandate – let them write blogs!” – but I wasn’t entirely joking.”
Owen’s view is now becoming more widely accepted across the JISC development environment with a number of programmes, including the recently established JISC Managing Research Data and the open JISC OER Rapid Innovation call both requiring funded projects to provide blogs. This current call (available in MS Word and PDF formats) states that:
In keeping with the size of the grants and short duration of the projects, the bidding process is lightweight (see the Bid Form) and the reporting process will be blog-based
and goes on to state that:
We would also expect to see projects making use of various media for dissemination and engagement with subject and OER communities, including via project blogs and twitter (tag: ukoer)
I’m pleased that JISC have formalised this requirement as I feel that blogs can help to embed open working practices in development activities as well as providing access to information which is more easily integrated into other systems and viewed on variety of devices than formats normally used for reporting purposes.
But how should projects go about measuring the effectiveness of their blogging processes and should should the findings we made openly available, as part of the open practices which projects may be being encouraged to adopt, and as data which is available under an appropriate open data – as we might expect data associated with these two programmes in particular – which is unencumbered by licencing restrictions which may be imposed by publishers or other content owners?
Openness for Blog Usage Data
In addition to providing project blogs there may be a need to be able to demonstrate the value of project blogs. And as well as the individual blogs, programme managers may wish to be able to demonstrate the value of the aggregation of blogs. But how might this be done?
A simple approach would be to publish a public usage icon on the blog. As well as providing usage statistics such tools should also be able to provide answers to questions such as “Has IE6 gone yet?” and “What proportion of visitors use a mobile device?“. But beyond the tools which we will be familiar with in the context of traditional Web sites there may be a need to be able to measures aspects which are of particular relevance to blogs, such as comments posted on blogs and links to blogs posted from elsewhere.
A post on Blog Analytic Services for JISC MRD Project Blogs explored this issue and described how tools such as Technorati and eBuzzing may provide lightweight solutions which may help to provide a better understanding of a blog’s engagement across the blogosphere. It should be acknowledged that such tools do have limitations and can be ‘gamed’. However in some circumstances they may help to identify examples of good practice. In addition gaining an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of such analytic tools may be helpful if the altmetrics initiative which, in its manifesto, describes how “the growth of new, online scholarly tools allows us to make new filters; these altmetrics reflect the broad, rapid impact of scholarship in this burgeoning ecosystem” and goes on to “call for more tools and research based on altmetrics“.
In a post The OER Turn (which is, according to the author, ” the most read post of 2011 on [the JISC Digital Infrastructure] team blog“) Amber Thomas reflects on developments in the Open Educational Resources environment and describes how she now “find[s] [her]self asking what the “Open” in Open Content means” and concludes by asking “What questions should be asking about open content?“.
My contribution to the discussion is that I propose that when adopting open practices, one should be willing to provide open accesses to usage data associated with the practices.
This was an idea I explored in a post on Numbers Matter: Let’s Provide Open Access to Usage Data and Not Just Research Papers in which I highlighted the comment published in JISC-funded report on Splashes and Ripples: Synthesizing the Evidence on the Impacts of Digital Resources which said that:
Being able to demonstrate your impact numerically can be a means of convincing others to visit your resource, and thus increase the resource’s future impact. For instance, the amount of traffic and size of iTunesU featured prominently in early press reports.
which suggests how quantitative data can be used to support marketing activities. But beyond such marketing considerations, shouldn’t those who believe in the provision of open content and who, in addition, wish to minimise limitations on how the content can be reused (by removing non-commercial and share-alike restrictions from Creative Commons licences, for example) also be willing to make usage statistics similarly freely available? And to argue that “my use case is unique and usage statistics won’t provide the nuanced understanding which is needed” is little different from those who wish to keep strict control on their data?
In other words, what is the limit to the mantra “set your data free“? Does this include setting your usage data free?
Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]