31 January 02005

Resources on e-learning in museums, libraries and archives

I'm surprised there aren't more sets of links to e-learning resources in the museums, libraries and archives sector. Perhaps the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is in the process of addressing this as part of their recent mapping of e-learning.

The best I've found is the E-Learning Knowledge Base, by MacKenzie Ward Research and curated by Nadia Arbach (now E-learning Curator at the Tate) — with thanks to Seb Schmoller for this link. Launched in 2002, the site is still updated, but I suspect it has not fully kept pace with developments. A wiki site, or even some moderated web links facility, would make it easier for others to contribute to the updating, and more likely that they would.

When it's updated, the web site for the elearning group for museums and galleries, libraries and archives will be a useful way of keeping in touch with the latest thinking and events. The eLearning Centre's General Interest Showcase also includes a number of examples from libraries, museums and galleries.

27 January 02005

User interface for on-demand radio

A couple of days ago the BBC launched Version 2 of its successful BBC Radio Player. Rather than attempt a review — except to say it seems to be an all-round improvement, notwithstanding the frames that make it more awkward to link to individual programmes — here is The Guardian's assessment [free registration required] and an account from Dan Hill, who played a leading role in its development.

Stations (or channels) have less relevance in on-demand listening, except insofar as they map onto clear genres of programming. When it comes to music, I find great programmes on all five of the BBC's music stations, and often on Radio 4 as well (many excellent music documentaries in the Tuesday 13.30 slot). Radio Player v2 allows users to browse by genre (the same genres the BBC Music site has been using for a while, plus documentaries), which is a major aid to cross-station listening for those (all?) of us who cannot regularly scour all the listings for all the stations.

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24 January 02005

Single- and multi-purpose devices (iPod & Mac Mini)

The iPod was originally designed as a single-purpose device, and all the signs suggest that Apple wants to keep it that way for now. However, it's popularity has inspired an industry of accessories — as BusinessWeek puts it, "a rising iPod lifts all boats" — and a sub-culture of adaptations or hacks. Some concentrate on the hardware, for example, turning the iPod into a flashlight or laser pointer. Then there's the pPod gimmick and the more serious podSites, which aren't really 'sites', but exploit the potential for hypertext links between the iPod's text notes.

As information utilities in the own right, things like podSites are hardly enticing. Rather less so than WAP sites, which is saying something. But they have led to commentary that Apple should publish the application programming interfaces its teams use to write programs [registration required], to promote the development of the iPod as a platform (see also this alternative argument).

There's a straightforward usability trade-off here.

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20 January 02005

Art applications of ubiquitous computing

The combination of wireless communications and miniaturisation of devices, from mobile phones to RFID tags, opens up a rich seam of new technology applications that do not depend so exclusively on screens for interaction with people. In some cases the user interface can be embedded in physical objects that are aware of their location in space. Howard Rheingold's book Smart Mobs was among the first to raise awareness of the potential for new services that give a new twist social and physical spaces.

At the start of February the two-day PLAN Workshop at London's ICA features a lot of research on applications of the new technologies in the arts: dance, sound, installations and new media. It may be conservative of me to say so, but I feel this area needs a better vocabulary to communicate to a wider audience: for a start, the word 'locative' has an established meaning, different from one that the PLAN people seem to give it.

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16 January 02005

The records to beat

Later today it's a pretty safe bet that the thousandth No.1 hit single will be announced in the UK Singles Chart, and Elvis Presley is odds-on to get it.

Elvis also had the 999th No.1 in last week's charts, which set some interesting records, according to Music Week. Firstly, it was the oldest recording ever to top the chart, and also the most posthumous. It sold fewer copies than any other No.1 in history, and the singles market as a whole shifted the lowest number of units since quantifiable sales data became available.

It's pretty clear that, as an indicator of what's fresh and exciting in pop culture, the singles chart is heading towards meltdown. It's a second-hand measure of developments that start elsewhere in charity (e.g. Band Aid), TV (e.g. Pop Idol) and cultural anniversaries (e.g. Elvis).

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15 January 02005

Public Service Broadband content

Here are my notes from yesterday's Public Service Broadcasting: Beyond Television event organised by the Broadband Stakeholder Group.

I've decided to present the notes I took on my palmtop fairly unprocessed, since (a) most of the sessions were panel discussions, which it is hard to condense, (b) I don't think there are any clear or snappy conclusions, so presenting the different voices sometimes talking across each other is perhaps the most fair representation of the proceedings, and (c) I have neither the brainpower nor the arrogance of strong opinion to give an 'angle' on what was said.

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14 January 02005

January digital networking meeting

The next in the series of London networking meetings that I organise is on Wednesday 26th January (see the details of the first meeting for background). It's at The Gate in Farringdon (map) and starts at 6.30. It's free, and open to all.

Participants come from the new media, television, film, music, press/publishing, radio or advertising sectors — there are usually 10-20 people there at any stage of the evening, but whoever turns up are the right people for the evening (it's very informal so you don't have to be there at the beginning if you can't make it until later).

The whole thing is organised under the umbrella of Ecademy. Here is the page with meeting details where you can register if you're a member (basic level membership is free).

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13 January 02005

Musical youth and middle-age spread

Is the cultural role of pop music maturing, or is it stuck in perpetual puberty? Has it usurped and squandered the 'shop window' profile that used to be reserved for more deserving artforms? Or is it just that, as it has moved into mainstream acceptance, it has lost its bite, its ability to express difference or opposition?

Fifty years after Elvis first had hits, the rock'n'roll energy that he brought to a white audience for the first time has been absorbed back into a tradition of 'folk music' in the broadest sense, with the effect that this tradition is now less starkly segregated in terms of race and, to a lesser degree, of age. The wave that brought Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, and later punk and hip-hop, has broken, and we're now into a period of consolidation.

I'm going to argue that it was a combination of demographic, economic, technological and cultural factors that led to the birth of rock'n'roll — as distinct from folk/blues, pop and dancehall — and it is a similar combination that's leading to its re-integration. I'm also going to draw in different ways on two articles: one by David Hepworth in Word Magazine on listening habits across generations (this article is not available on line) and one by Michael Henderson in The Spectator decrying pop music as culturally juvenile.

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10 January 02005

'CMALT' Accreditation for e-learning professionals

The fruits of the project I worked on last year on accrediting e-learning practitioners are starting to see the light of day. If you go now to the home page of the Association for Learning Technology you can sign up to receive occasional progress reports, as well as downloading this background to the planned scheme (156 KB PDF).

CMALT stands for Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology, and the scheme involves providing a portfolio with evidence of experience and achievement in four 'core' areas of e-learning and learning technology and at least one specialist area (as well as a membership fee). These areas are listed in the background document referenced above.

The CMALT scheme will be launched fully later in the year once a web-based system has been developed for portfolio creation, assessment and maintenance.

9 January 02005

Bill makes it chic to be a communist again

I'm a bit behind the breaking news here, but this Wired News article brought me up to speed on how Bill Gates has branded those who propose reforms to intellectual property regulation, to adapt them to the Internet age, as "modern-day sort of communists".

He further asserts that these people "want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers". Apparently he hasn't heard about the many musicians and moviemakers and software makers who seem fairly motivated to produce work under a more flexible set of terms. As the blurb for the Wired Creative Commons CD says, "When it comes to copyright, [these musicians] are pro-choice".

As a term, 'communism' has lost its sting, so Bill's John Birch Society rhetoric has, in many quarters, had the opposite to the intended scare effect. People are producing 'creative commies' t-shirts, button badges and all sorts. Every cultural movement needs an easy-to-lampoon, high profile opponent that it can define itself in opposition to, and Bill's brand of pullover-and-slacks blinkered denial provides just that.

8 January 02005

Collective Blanket Licensing: simple and usable?

Collective Blanket Licensing (CBL) is the term given to a proposed solution to the media downloading/sharing dilemma. As described in this new report from the Digital Media Project at Harvard Law School,

Rights holders would form a collective blanket licensing (CBL) organization, and, rather than attempting to collect per-use fees for each specific item, would offer consumers a flat-fee license to access and use all works, without restrictions over copying or further distribution. The CBL organization would count the uses and remit payment to rights holders accordingly.

You can think of it as similar to the model whereby a pub landlord pays a one-off licence fee to the Performing Right Society and is then entitled to 'share' an unlimited amount of music with his customers, in the sense of playing it in his pub.

The CBL model appears on the face of it to have simplicity on its side, and almost certainly has usability advantages over the more draconian 'lock-down' solutions of Digital Rights Management and enforced constraints on sharing. In at least some quarters, it looks to be building up a head of steam.

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5 January 02005

More Martini Media

Nine months ago I borrowed the term 'martini media' from Ashley Highfield of the BBC, and said I wanted to promote its use. I thought he might be constrained from promoting it too much, since plugging a brand name doesn't fit with the BBC's advertising-free ethos. But in the weeks either side of Christmas this site was hit by masses of users searching for 'martini media' or 'definition of martini media', which I attribute to Mr Highfield's gnomic use of it at the end of this Guardian interview (requires free registration).

There isn't a definition of martini media beyond the 'anytime, anyplace, anywhere' catch-phrase (one third of which, as pedants will note, is tautologous), but it can be illustrated by example, and I've been collecting what I call harbingers of the martini media era. Here are a few more.

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