30 June 02005

Launch of the Network Users' Forum, ten years ago

Launch of the Sheffield Network Users Forum, 30 June 01995Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. That's me, sitting down in the suit — clean-cut, respectable and still the right side of thirty — on 30 June 01995. Standing behind me are (from left) Ian Gow, Pro-vice Chancellor at University of Sheffield, Mike Bower, then leader of Sheffield City Council, and Richard Caborn MP. We were photographed at the launch of the Sheffield Network Users' Forum, attended by 150-200 people at St George's Lecture Theatre, a converted church owned by the University.

At the time, this was the largest public meeting at which people from communities, business and education came together in Sheffield to share ideas and experiences of applying the Internet to their lives. The Sheffield Network Users' Forum — quickly re-branded as just the Network Users' Forum (NUF) in a vain attempt to avoid South Yorkshire identity politics — was an idea I seeded and grew through the Information Communications Technology group of the City Liaison Group (now Sheffield First).

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29 June 02005

FIQL: a further playlist service

Following my review of playlist sharing services, Mike Wu of FIQL.com got in touch to point me to his site. Mike writes,

FIQL.com is also a playlist sharing site and we have close to 2,000 community contributed playlists divided up by genre, mood and occasion.

Our playlists are hooked up to itunes, msn music and we recently added support for Real Rhapsody. The latter is great because if you're a rhapsody subscriber, you can listen to entire playlists with one click and that's been incredibly popular.…

We also have writers who pen regular columns for us about playlists covering such diverse topics as "Songs With Backmasking" to "Prom Songs". Each (often heavily researched) column includes an accompanying playlist. These can be found off the homepage and in the "buzz" section.

Anyway, there are many similarities between our site and the sites you've played around with recently but we do think we also have some advantages. We hope you'll take a look and let us know how we compare.

Which I'm very happy to do.

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26 June 02005

Playlist sharing services: a comparative review

Since my series of postings about different playlist sharing experiments, Wired has picked up on the theme with a feature on the playlist phenomenon a few days ago. This focuses on the social and community potential of sharing playlists, though, in my opinion, it's important not to get carried away with the everyone-a-DJ concept: if DJs act as 'filters' and mediators for new music then, when more people become filters, you start to need filters for the filters…

Over the last few weeks I've tried five different online playlist services: you can see my pages on Webjay, Soundflavor, Upto11.net and Art of the Mix. I've used GarageBand.com as well, but not extensively, since playlists created there are restricted to tracks from other GarageBand.com members. [Update, 19 July 02005: I've now used three further services — see this posting for reviews and comparison.]

Based on that experience here are a few review comments on how each of the services measures up in terms of audio, community features, usability, portability of playlists, and their main selling points.

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22 June 02005

An American ballad collection: Playlist #3

A few weeks ago, I started reading the collection of essays The Rose and the Briar, which re-imagines America through the lens of its ballads — mostly from the twentieth century, though the origins of some go back much further (and to parts of the British Isles). As soon as I started reading, I realised that it would be a frustrating experience unless I could hear the songs being written about.

There is a CD to accompany the book, but it's only available on import in the UK, so I couldn't get it quickly. Instead I turned to the web, since several versions of the ballads, particularly the older ones, are freely available in various audio formats. I compiled a selection of them in a playlist on webjay, so that you can hear them on your computer. (This is the third in a series of shared online playlists — see #1 and #2.)

There are clearly going to be more of these book-CD tie-ins — see the Love Supreme book-CD-radio promotion, for example — but what scope is there for audience-generated resources that augment products in the market place, while also helping to broaden and deepen the audience?

The rest of this posting starts to address this very general question in the specific terms of compiling a Rose and the Briar playlist, focusing on availability of material, its quality and the legal issues.

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19 June 02005

Evaluation of Learning Activity Management Systems

I've finally finished the rigorous evaluation report of Learning Activity Management Systems (LAMS). Seb Schmoller has an overview of the report and commentary on the small number of actual LAMS implementation cases.

One strand of the report jumped out at me. It observes that "it is less easy to adapt [a] lesson 'on the fly' in LAMS than in a traditional teacher-facilitated session," and that "some [students] were frustrated by the inflexibility of a LAMS sequence". Elsewhere the report refers to the linearity of LAMS sequences as restrictive and less than satisfactory.

What this suggests to me is that LAMS — in common, it must be said, with most e-learning approaches — reinforces the separation between the planning of a learning experience and its execution. This separation reduces the scope to be sensitive to the interactions with (and between), and to adjust and improvise accordingly.

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17 June 02005

Licensing of BBC music audio and video

For those of us trying to read the tea leaves concerning how different parts of the enormous BBC archive may be licensed in the future, this Guardian article on a Universal-BBC deal makes interesting reading. "Anything ever recorded or filmed by the BBC by Universal artists since the 1920s to the present day could be sold on CD or DVD," according to the article, and "both the music label… and BBC Worldwide hope to earn several million pounds from the five-year deal".

So it doesn't look as if these music recordings are going to form part of the Creative Archive. The article refers to the BBC being "hell-bent on being a record label" two years ago, as though it has retrenched from issuing extensive music material since then. (Here's BBC Worldwide's music page, and Googling found me this curio history of BBC Records.)

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9 June 02005

Slow walk for longplayer on summer solstice

I've written a few posts recently (1, 2) related to the Longplayer 1000-year-long piece of music, and here's one more, including a request for your credit card contribution.

On 21 June, Ohad Fishof will be doing a fundraising slow walk across London Bridge and back, a total distance of 563.8m. For a contribution of £5 you can enter your estimate of how long this will take him, and, if you're closest to the actual time, you win a free flight to Brisbane (from London, so may be of limited interest to any international readers). Enter via the Slow Walk web site. As far as I can tell — though don't blame me if this is wrong — you can work out the shortest and longest possible durations from the fact that the walk starts at 8am, entries are allowed until 1pm, Ohad is having a one-hour break at the half-way point, and you can join him for a celebratory drink on the terrace at the Old Thameside Inn at 6.30pm (these latter timings are taken from an email from Jem Finer, composer of Longplayer and member of the Longplayer Trust). Please have a go.

The Slow Walk site has some links to 'slow culture' and long-term thinking, to which I would add the slow sound system.

4 June 02005

Incense and Playlist #2

An anecdote from yesterday evening's Twisted Folk gig. Arriving a few minutes early, and alone, I went straight to my seat rather than hang around in the bar. There were only four or five people in the stalls when Devendra Banhart jumped down off the stage, and criss-crossed the rows of seats carrying a smoking incense stick to fumigate the space. Now I liked the idea of this: it demonstrated an unusual attention to detail, a bit of an Alan Watts touch, and not many acts care about how their gigs smell. But just as he was disappearing back up on stage, a security guy appeared at the back of the stalls, with the exasperated air of someone who's spent the whole afternoon curtailing the eccentricities of a bunch weirdy-beardies. You know the type: haircut like a worn bogbrush, and an abrasively nasal tone as he spoke into his walkie-talkie, "Gary, can you ask him to extinguish that?!" (And yet this was the same venue that, eighteen months ago, tolerated Julian Cope performing with one leg slung over the parapet of the circle — not to mention his unconventional cohorts.)

Loosely connected — M.Ward is the common denominator — is the second instalment of my playing around with different online playlist services. Compared with the first one, this was dashed off very quickly.

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1 June 02005

Doris Lessing and Laurie Anderson: rough notes

Here are my notes of last week's Artangel Longplayer Conversation 2005, which I previewed a few weeks ago.

Michael Morris of Artangel introduced the event by saying that, after five years of Longplayer — just 995 to go — they're instituting conversations like this as an annual event.

Doris Lessing and Laurie Anderson hadn't met until earlier in the month, when Anderson arrived in London to prepare for her recent shows. They had clearly decided that they wanted the conversation to be spontaneous and unscripted, and the only prompt they used was a flipchart behind their chairs on which they'd written a series of loosely-associated topics that they thought might trigger interesting exchanges.

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