Apr 052017
 
Cakes at the CIGS Web 2.0 and Metadata Event 2017

Today I’m at the Cataloguing and Indexing Group Scotland event – their 7th Metadata & Web 2.0 event – Somewhere over the Rainbow: our metadata online, past, present & future. I’m blogging live so, as usual, all comments, corrections, additions, etc. are welcome. 

Paul Cunnea, CIGS Chair is introducing the day noting that this is the 10th year of these events: we don’t have one every year but we thought we’d return to our Wizard of Oz theme.

On a practical note, Paul notes that if we have a fire alarm today we’d normally assemble outside St Giles Cathedral but as they are filming The Avengers today, we’ll be assembling elsewhere!

There is also a cupcake competition today – expect many baked goods to appear on the hashtag for the day #cigsweb2. The winner takes home a copy of Managing Metadata in Web-scale Discovery Systems / edited by Louise F Spiteri. London : Facet Publishing, 2016 (list price £55).

Engaging the crowd: old hands, modern minds. Evolving an on-line manuscript transcription project / Steve Rigden with Ines Byrne (not here today) (National Library of Scotland)

Ines has led the development of our crowdsourcing side. My role has been on the manuscripts side. Any transcription is about discovery. For the manuscripts team we have to prioritise digitisation so that we can deliver digital surrogates that enable access, and to open up access. Transcription hugely opens up texts but it is time consuming and that time may be better spent on other digitisation tasks.

OCR has issues but works relatively well for printed texts. Manuscripts are a different matter – handwriting, ink density, paper, all vary wildly. The REED(?) project is looking at what may be possible but until something better comes along we rely on human effort. Generally the manuscript team do not undertake manual transcription, but do so for special exhibitions or very high priority items. We also have the challenge that so much of our material is still under copyright so cannot be done remotely (but can be accessed on site). The expected user community generally can be expected to have the skill to read the manuscript – so a digital surrogate replicates that experience. That being said, new possibilities shape expectations. So we need to explore possibilities for transcription – and that’s where crowd sourcing comes in.

Crowd sourcing can resolve transcription, but issues with copyright and data protection still have to be resolved. It has taken time to select suitable candidates for transcription. In developing this transcription project we looked to other projects – like Transcribe Bentham which was highly specialised, through to projects with much broader audiences. We also looked at transcription undertaken for the John Murray Archive, aimed at non specialists.

The selection criteria we decided upon was for:

  • Hands that are not too troublesome.
  • Manuscripts that have not been re-worked excessively with scoring through, corrections and additions.
  • Documents that are structurally simple – no tables or columns for example where more complex mark-up (tagging) would be required.
  • Subject areas with broad appeal: genealogies, recipe book (in the old crafts of all kinds sense), mountaineering.

Based on our previous John Murray Archive work we also want the crowd to provide us with structure text, so that it can be easily used, by tagging the text. That’s an approach that is borrowed from Transcribe Bentham, but we want our community to be self-correcting rather than doing QA of everything going through. If something is marked as finalised and completed, it will be released with the tool to a wider public – otherwise it is only available within the tool.

The approach could be summed up as keep it simple – and that requires feedback to ensure it really is simple (something we did through a survey). We did user testing on our tool, it particularly confirmed that users just want to go in, use it, and make it intuitive – that’s a problem with transcription and mark up so there are challenges in making that usable. We have a great team who are creative and have come up with solutions for us… But meanwhile other project have emerged. If the REED project is successful in getting machines to read manuscripts then perhaps these tools will become redundant. Right now there is nothing out there or in scope for transcribing manuscripts at scale.

So, lets take a look at Transcribe NLS

You have to login to use the system. That’s mainly to help restrict the appeal to potential malicious or erroneous data. Once you log into the tool you can browse manuscripts, you can also filter by the completeness of the transcription, the grade of the transcription – we ummed and ahhed about including that but we though it was important to include.

Once you pick a text you click the button to begin transcribing – you can enter text, special characters, etc. You can indicate if text is above/below the line. You can mark up where the figure is. You can tag whether the text is not in English. You can mark up gaps. You can mark that an area is a table. And you can also insert special characters. It’s all quite straight forward.

Q&A

Q1) Do you pick the transcribers, or do they pick you?

A1) Anyone can take part but they have to sign up. And they can indicate a query – which comes to our team. We do want to engage with people… As the project evolves we are looking at the resources required to monitor the tool.

Q2) It’s interesting what you were saying about copyright…

A2) The issues of copyright here is about sharing off site. A lot of our manuscripts are unpublished. We use exceptions such as the 1956 Copyright Act for old works whose authors had died. The selection process has been difficult, working out what can go in there. We’ve also cheated a wee bit

Q3) What has the uptake of this been like?

A3) The tool is not yet live. We thin it will build quite quickly – people like a challenge. Transcription is quite addictive.

Q4) Are there enough people with palaeography skills?

A4) I think that most of the content is C19th, where handwriting is the main challenge. For much older materials we’d hit that concern and would need to think about how best to do that.

Q5) You are creating these documents that people are reading. What is your plan for archiving these.

A5) We do have a colleague considering and looking at digital preservation – longer term storage being more the challenge. As part of normal digital preservation scheme.

Q6) Are you going for a Project Gutenberg model? Or have you spoken to them?

A6) It’s all very localised right now, just seeing what happens and what uptake looks like.

Q7) How will this move back into the catalogue?

A7) Totally manual for now. It has been the source of discussion. There was discussion of pushing things through automatically once transcribed to a particular level but we are quite cautious and we want to see what the results start to look like.

Q8) What about tagging with TEI? Is this tool a subset of that?

A8) There was a John Murray Archive, including mark up and tagging. There was a handbook for that. TEI is huge but there is also TEI Light – the JMA used a subset of the latter. I would say this approach – that subset of TEI Light – is essentially TEI Very Light.

Q9) Have other places used similar approaches?

A9) TRanscribe Bentham is similar in terms of tagging. The University of Iowa Civil War Archive has also had a similar transcription and tagging approach.

Q10) The metadata behind this – how significant is that work?

A10) We have basic metadata for these. We have items in our digital object database and simple metadata goes in there – we don’t replicate the catalogue record but ensure it is identifiable, log date of creation, etc. And this transcription tool is intentionally very basic at th emoment.

Coming up later…

Can web archiving the Olympics be an international team effort? Running the Rio Olympics and Paralympics project / Helena Byrne (British Library)

I am based at the UK Web Archive, which is based at the British Library. The British Library is one of the six legal deposit libraries. The BL are also a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium – as are the National Library of Scotland. The Content Development Group works on any project with international relevance and a number of interested organisations.

Last year I was lucky enough to be lead curator on the Olympics 2016 Web Archiving project. We wanted to get a good range of content. Historically our archives for Olympics have been about the events and official information only. This time we wanted the wider debate, controversy, fandom, and the “e-Olympics”.

We received a lot of nominations for sites. This is one of the biggest we have been involved in. There was 18 IIPC members involved in the project, but nominations also came from wider nominations. We think this will be a really good resource for those researching the events in Rio. We had material in 34 languages in total. English was the top language collected – reflecting IIPC memberships to some extent. In terms of what we collected it included Official IOC materials – but few as we have a separate archive across Games for these. But subjects included athletes, teams, gender, doping, etc. There were a large number of website types submitted. Not all material nominated were collected – some incomplete metadata, unsuccessful crawls, duplicate nominations, and the web is quite fragile still and some links were already dead when we reached them.

There were four people involved here, myself, my line manager, the two IIPC chairs, and the IIPC communications person (also based at BL). We designed a collection strategy to build engagement as well as content. The Olympics is something with very wide appeal and lots of media coverage around the political and Zika situation so we did widen the scope of collection.

Thinking about our user we had collaborative tools that worked with contributors context: Webex, Google Drive and Maps, and Slack (free for many contexts) was really useful. Chapter 8 in “Altmetrics” is great for alternatives to Google – it is important to have those as it’s simply not accessible in some locations.

We used mostly Google Sheets for IIPC member nominations – 15 fields, 6 of which were obligatory. For non members we used a (simplified) Google Form – shared through social media. Some non IIPC member organisations used this approach – for instance a librarian in Hawaii submitted lots of pacific islands content.

In terms of communicating the strategy we developed instructional videos (with free tools – Screencastomatic and Windows Movie Maker) with text and audio commentary, print summaries, emails, and public blog posts. Resources were shared via Google Drive so that IIPC members could download and redistributed.

No matter whether IIPC member or through the nomination form, we wanted six key fields:

  1. URL – free form
  2. Event – drop down option
  3. Title – free form (and English translation option if relevant)
  4. Olympic/Paralympic sport – drop down option
  5. Country – free form
  6. Contributing organisation – free form (for admin rather than archive purposes)

There are no international standards for cataloguing web archive data. OCLC have a working group looking at this just now – they are due to report this year. One issue that has been raised is the context of those doing the cataloguing – cataloguing versus archiving.

Communications are essential on a regular basis – there was quite a long window of nomination and collection across the summer. We had several pre-event crawl dates, then also dates during and after both the Olympics and the Paralympics. I would remind folk about this, and provide updates on that, on what was collected, to share that map of content collected. We also blogged the projects to engage and promote what we were doing. The Participants enjoyed the updates – it helped them justify time spent on the project to their own managers and organisations.

There were some issues along the way…

  • The trailing backslash is required for the crawler – so if there is no trailing backslash the crawler takes everything it can find – attempting all of BBC or Twitter is a problem.
  • Not tracking the date of nomination – e.g. organisations adding to the spreadsheet without updating date of nomination – that was essential to avoid duplication so that’s a tip for Google forms.
  • Some people did not fill in all of the six mandatory fields (or didn’t fill them in completely.
  • Country name vs Olympic team name. That is unexpectedly complex. Team GB includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland… But Northern Ireland can also compete in Ireland. Palestine isn’t recognised as a country in all places, but it is in the Olympics. And there was a Refugee Team as well – with no country to tie to. Similar issues of complexity came out of organisation names – there are lots of ways to write the name of the British Library for instance.

We promoted the project with four blog posts sharing key updates and news. We had limited direct contact – mostly through email and Slack/messaging. We also had a unique hashtag for the collection #Rio2016WA – not catchy but avoids confusion with Wario (Nintendo game) – and Twitter chat, a small but international chat.

Ethically we only crawl public sites but the IIPC also have a take down policy so that anyone can request their site be removed.

Conclusions… Be aware of any cultural differences with collaborators. Know who your users are. Have a clear project plan, available in different mediums. And communicate regularly – to keep enthusiasm going. And, most importantly, don’t assume anything!

Finally… Web Archiving Week is in London in June, 12th-16th 2017. There is a “Datathon” but the deadline is Friday! Find out more at http://netpreserve.org/general-assembly/2017/overview. And you can find out more about the UK Web Archive via our website and blog: webarchive.org.uk/blog. You can also follow us and the IIPC on Twitter.

Explore the Olympics archive at: https://archive-it.org/collections/7235

Q&A

Q1) For British Library etc… Did you use a controlled vocabulary

A1) No but we probably will next time. There were suggestions/autocomplete. Similarly for countries. For Northern Irish sites I had to put them in as Irish and Team GB at the same time.

Q2) Any interest from researchers yet? And/or any connection to those undertaking research – I know internet researchers will have been collecting tweets…

A2) Colleagues in Rio identified a PhD project researching the tweets – very dynamic content so hard to capture. Not huge amount of work yet. I want to look at the research projects that took place after the London 2012 Olympics – to see if the sites are still available.

Q3) Anything you were unable to collect?

A3) In some cases articles are only open for short periods of time – we’d do more regular crawls of those nominations next time I think.

Q4) What about Zika content?

A4) We didn’t have a tag for Zika, but we did have one for corruption, doping, etc. Lots of corruption post event after the chair of the Irish Olympic Committee was arrested!

Statistical Accounts of Scotland / Vivienne Mayo (EDINA)

I’m based at EDINA and we run various digital services and projects, primarily for the education sector. Today I’m going to talk about the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. These are a hugely rich and valuable collection of statistical data that span both the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Scotland. The online service launched in 2001 but was thoroughly refreshed and relaunched next year.

There are two accounts. The first set was created (1791-1799) by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster. He had a real zeal for agricultural data. There had been attempts to collect data in the 16th and 17th centuries. So Sir John set about a plan to get every minister in Scotland to collect data on their parishes. He was inspired by German surveys but also had his own ideas for his project:

“an inquiry into the state of a country, for the purpose of ascertaining the quantum of happiness enjoyed by its inhabitants, and the means of its future improvement”

He also used the word “Statistics” as a kind of novel, interesting term – it wasn’t in wide use. And the statistics in the accounts are more qualitative then the quantitative data we associate with the word today.

Sir John sent minister 160 questions, then another 6, then another set a year late so that there were 171 in total. So you can imagine how delighted they were to receive that. And the questions (you can access them all in the service) were hard to answer – asking about the wellbeing of parishioners, how their circumstances could be ameliorated… But ministers were paid by the landowners who employed their parishioners so that data also has to be understood in context. There were also more factual questions on crops, pricing, etc.

It took a long time – 8 years – to collect the data. But it was a major achievement. And these accounts were part of a “pyramid” of data for the agricultural reports. He had country reports, but also higher level reports. This was at the time of the Enlightenment and the idea was that with this data you could improve the condition of life.

Even though the ministers did complete their returns, for some it was struggle – and certainly hard to be accurate. Population tables were hard to get correct, especially in the context of scepticism that this data might be used to collect taxes or other non-beneficial purposes.

The Old Account was a real success. And the Church of Scotland commissioned a New Account from 1834-45 as a follow up to that set of accounts.

The online service was part of one of the biggest digitisation projects in Scotland in the late 1990s, with the accounts going live in 2001. But much had changed since then in terms of functionality that any user might expect. In this new updated service we have added the ability to tag, to annotate, to save… Transcriptions have been improved, the interface has been improved. We have also made it easier to find associated resources – selected by our editorial board drawn from libraries, archives, specialists on this data.

When Sir John published the Old Accounts he printed them in volumes as they were received – that makes it difficult to browse and explore those. And there can be multiple accounts for the same parish. So we have added a way to browse each of the 21 volumes so that it is easier to find what you need. Place is key for our users and we wanted to make the service more accessible. Page numbers were an issue too – our engineers provide numbering of sections – so if you look for Portpatrick – you can find all of the sections and volumes where that area occurs. Typically sections are a parish report, but it can be other types of content too – title pages, etc.

Each section is associated with a Parish – which is part of a county. And there may be images (illustrations such as coal seams, elevations of notable buildings in the parish, etc.). Each section is also associated with pages – including images of the pages – as well as transcripts and indexed data used to enable searching.

So, if I search for tea drinking… Described as a moral menace in some of the earlier accounts! When you run a search like this identifies associated sections, the related resources, and associated words – those words that often occur with the search term. For tea-drinking “twopenny” is often associated… Following that thread I found a county of forfar from 1793… And this turns out to be the slighly alarming sounding home brew…

“They make their own malt, and brew it into that kind of drink called Two-penny which, till debased in consequence of multiplied taxes, was long the favourite liquor of all ranks of people in Dundee.”

When you do look at a page like this you can view the transcription – which tends to be easier to read than the scanned pages with their flourishes and “f” instead of “s”. You can tag, annotate, and share the pages. There are lots of ways to explore and engage with the text.

There are lots of options to search the service – simple search, advanced search, and new interactive maps of areas and parishes – these use historic maps from the NLS collections and are brand new to the service.

With all these new features we’d love to hear your feedback when you do take a look at the service – do let us know how you find it.

I wanted to show an example of change and illustration here. In the old Accounts of Dumfries (Vol 5, p. 119) talks about the positive improvements to housing and the idea of “improvement” as a very positive thing. We also see an illustration from the New Accounts of old habitations and new modern house of the small tenants – but that was from a Parish owned by the Duke of Sutherland who had a notorious reputation as a brutal landlord for clearing land and murdering tenants to make these “improvements”. So, again one has to understand the context of this content.

Looking at Dumfries in the Old Accounts things looked good, some receiving poor support. The increase in industry means that by the New Accounts the population has substantially grown, as has poverty. The minister also comments on the impact of the three inns in town, the increase in poaching. Transitory population can also effect health – there is a vivid account of a cholera outbreak from 15th Sept – 27th Nov in 1832. That seems relatively recent but at that point they thought transmission was through the air, they didn’t realise it was water born until some time later.

Some accounts, like that one, are highly descriptive. But many are briefer or less richly engaging. Deaths are often carefully captured. The minister for Dumfries put together a whole table of deaths – causes of which include, surprisingly, teething. And there are also records of healthcare and healthcare costs – including one individual paying for several thousand children to be inoculated against smallpox.

Looking at the schools near us here in central Edinburgh there was free education for some poor children. But schooling mostly wasn’t free. The costs for one child for reading and writing, if you were a farm labourer, it would be a 12th of your salary. To climb the social ladder with e.g. French, Latin, etc. the teaching was far more expensive. And indeed there is a chilling quote in the New Accounts from Cadder, County of Lanark (Vol 8, P. 481) spoke of attitudes that education was corrupting for the poor. This was before education became mandatory (in 1834).

There is also some colourful stuff in the Accounts. There is a lot of witchcraft, local stories, and folk stories. One of my colleagues found a lovely story about a tradition that the last person buried in one area “manned the gates” until the next one arrived. Then one day two people died and there were fisticuffs!

I was looking for something else entirely and, in Fife, a story of a girl who set sale from Greenock, was captured by pirates, was sold into a Hareem, and became a princess in Morroco – there’s a book called The Fourth Queen based on that story.

There is an anvil known as the “Reformation Cloth” – pre-reformation there was a blacksmith thought the catholic priest was having an affair with his wife… And took his revenge by attacking the offending part of the minister on that anvil. I suspect that there may have been some ministerial stuff at play here too – the parish minister notes that “no other catholic minister replaced him” – but it is certainly colourful.

And that’s all I wanted to share today. Hopefully I’ve peaked your interest. You can browse the accounts for free and then some of the richer features are part of our subscription service. Explore the Statistical Accounts of Scotland at: http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Q&A

Q1) SOLR indexing and subject headings – can you say more?

A1) They used subject headings from original transcriptions. And then there was some additions made based on those.

Comment) The Accounts are also great for Wikipedia editing! I found references to Christian Shaw, a thread pioneer I was looking to build a page about. In the Accounts as she was mentioned in a witchcraft trial that is included there. It can be a really useful way to find details that aren’t documented elsewhere.

Q2) You said it was free to browse – how about those related resources?

A2) Those related resources are part of the subscription services.

Q3) Any references to sports and leisure?

A3) Definitely to festivals, competitions, events etc. As well as some regular activities in the parish.

Beyond bibliographic description: emotional metadata on YouTube / Diane Pennington (University of Strathclyde)

I want to start with this picture of a dog in a dress…. How do you feel when you see this picture? How do you think she was feeling? [people in the room guess the pup might be embarrassed].

So, this is Tina, she’s my dog. She’s wearing a dress we had made for her when we got married… And when she wears it she always looks so happy… And people, when I shared it on social media, also thought she looked happy. And that got me curious about emotion and emotional responses… That isn’t accommodated in bibliographic metadata. As a community we need to think about how this material makes us feel, how else can we describe things? When you search for music online mood is something you might want to see… But usually it’s recommendations like “this band is similar to…”. My favourite band is U2 and I get recommended Coldplay… And that makes me mad, they aren’t similar!

So, when we teach and practice ILS, we think about information as text that sits in a database, waiting for a user to write a query and get a match. The problem is that there are so many other ways that people also want to look for information – not just bibliographic information, full text, but in other areas too, like bodily – what pain means (Yates 2015); photographs, videos, music (Rasmussen Neal, 2012) – where the full text doesn’t include the search terms or keywords inherantly; “matter and energy” (Bates, 2006) – that there is information everywhere and the need to think more broadly to describe this.

I’ve been working in this area for a while and I started looking at Flickr, at pictures that are tagged “happy”. Those tend to include smiling people, holiday photos, sunny days, babies, cute animals. Relevance rankings showed “happy” more often, people engaged and liked more with happy photos… But music is different. We often want music that matches our mood… There were differences to tags and understanding music… Heavy metal sounds angy, slower or minor key music sounds sad…

So, the work I’m talking about you can also find in an article published last year.

My work was based on the U2 song, Song for Someone. And there are over 150 fan videos created for this song.. And if I show you this one (by Dimas Fletcher) you’ll see it is high production values… The song was written by Bono for his wife – they’ve been together since they were teenagers, and it’s very slow and emotional, and reminisces about being together. So this video is a really different interpretation.

Background to this work, and theoretical framework for it, includes:

  • “Basic emotions” from cognition, psychology, music therapy (Ekman, 1992)
  • Emotional Information Retrieval
  • omains of fandom and aca-fandom (Stein & Busse, 2009; Bennett, 2014)
  • Online participatory culture, such as writing fan fiction or making cover versions of videos for loves songs (Jenkins, 2013)
  • U2 acadeic study – and u2conference.com
  • Intertexuality as a practic in online participatory culture (Varmacelli 2013?)

So I wanted to do a discourse analysis (Budd & Raber 1996, Iedema 2003) applied to intertextuality. And I wanted to analyse the emotional information conveyed in 150 YouTUbe cover videos of U2’s Song for Someone. And also a quantitative view of views, comments, likes and dislikes – indicating response to them.

The producers of these videos created lots of different types of videos. Some were cover versions. Some were original versions of the song with new visual content. Some were tutorials on how to play the song. And then there were videos exhibiting really deep personal connections with the song.

So the cover versions are often very emotional – a comment says that. That emotion level is metadata. There are videos in context – background details, kids dancing, etc. But then some are filmed out of a plane window. The tutorials include people, some annotated “kareoke piano” tutorials…

Intertextuality… You need to understand your context. So one of the videos shows a guy in a yellow cape who is reaching and touching the Achtung Baby album cover before starting to sing. In another video a person is in the dark, in shadow… But here Song for Someone lyrics and title on the wall, but then playing and mashing up with another song. In another video the producer and his friend try to look like U2.

Then we have the producers comments and descriptions that add greatly to understanding those videos. Responses from consumers – more likes than dislikes; almost all positive comments – this is very different from some Justin Bieber YouTube work I did a while back. You see comments on the quality of the cover, on the emotion of the song.

The discussion is an expression of emotion. The producers show tenderness, facial expressions, surrounds, music elements. And you see social construction here…

And we can link this to something like FRBR… U2 as authoritative version, and FRBR relationships… Is there a way we can show the relationship between Songs of Innocence by William Blake, Songs of Innocence as an album, cover versions, etc.

As we move forward there is so much more we need to do when we design systems for description that accommodate more than just keywords/bibliographic records. There is no full text inherent in a video or other non-textual document – an indexing problem. And we need to account for not only emotion, but also socially constructed and individually experienced emotional responses to items. Ultimate goal – help people to find things in meaningful ways to even potentially be useful in therapies (Hanser 2010).

Q&A

Q1) Comment more than a question… I work with film materials in the archive, and we struggle to bring that alive, but you do have some response from the cataloguer and their reactions – and reactions at the access centre – and that could be part of the record.

A1) That’s part of archives – do we need it in every case… Some of the stuff I study gets taken down… Do we need to archive (some of) them?

Q1) Also a danger that you lose content because catalogue records are not exciting enough… Often stuff has to go on YouTube to get seen and accessed – but then you lose that additional metadata…

A1) We do need to go where our audience is… Maybe we do need to be on YouTube more… And maybe we can use Linked Data to make things more findable. Catalogue records rarely come up high enough in search results…

Q2) This is a really subjective way to mark something up… So, for instance, Songs of Innocence was imposed on my iPhone and I respond quite negatively to that… How do you catalogue emotion with that much subjectivity at play?

A2) This is where we have happy songs versus individual perspectives… Most people think The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun is mostly seen is happy… But if someone broke up with you during it…  How do we build into algorithms to tune into those different opinions..

Q3) How do producers choose to tag things – the lyrics, the tune, their reaction… But you kind of answered that… I mean people have Every Breath You Take by the Police as their first song at a wedding but it’s about a jilted lover stalking his ex…

A3) We need to think about how we provide access, and how we can move forward with this… My first job was in a record store and people would come in and ask “can I buy this record that was on the radio at about 3pm” and that was all they could offer… We need those facets, those emotions…

Q4) I had the experience of seeing quite a neutral painting but then with more context that painting meant something else entirely… So how do we account for that, that issue of context and understanding of the same songs in different ways…

A4) There isn’t one good solution to that but part of the web 2.0 approach is about giving space for the collective and the individual perspective.

Q5) How about musical language?

A5) Yeah.. I took an elective on musical librarianship. My tutor there showed me the tetrachords in Dido & Aeneid as a good example of an opera that people respond in very particular ways. There are musical styles that map to particular emotions.

Our 5Rights: digital rights of children and young people / Dev Kornish, Dan Dickson, Bethany Wilson (5Rights Youth Commission)

We are from Young Scot and Young Scot

1 in 5 young people have missed food or sleep because of the internet.

How many unemployed young people struggle with entering work due to the lack of digital skills? It’s 1 in 10 who struggle with CVs, online applications, and jobs requiring digital skills.

How young do people start building their digital footprint? Before birth – an EU study found that 80% of mothers had shared images, including scans, of their children.

Bethany: We are passionate about our rights and how our rights can be maintained in a digital world. When it comes to protecting young people online it can be scary… But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use the internet or technology, when used critically The 5Rights campaign aims to do ensure we have that understanding.

Dan: The UNCRC outlines rights and these are: the right to remove; the right to know – who has your data and what they are doing with it; the right to safety and support; the right to informed and conscious use – we should be able to opt out or remove ourselves if we want to; right to digital literacy – to use and to create.

Bethany: Under the right to remove, we do sometimes post things we shouldn’t but we should be able to remove things if we want to. In terms of the right to know – we don’t read the terms and conditions but we have the right to be informed, we need support. The right to safety and support requires respect – dismissing our online life can make us not want to talk about it openly with you. If you speak to us openly and individually then we will appreciate your support but restrictions cannot be too restrictive. Technology is designed to be addictive and that’s a reality we need to engage with. Technology is a part of most aspects of our lives, teaching and curriculum should reflect that. It’s not just about coding, it’s about finding information, and to understand what is reliable, what sources we can trust. And finally you need to listen to us, to our needs, to be able to support us.

And a question for us: What challenges have you encountered when supporting young people online? [a good question]

And a second question: What can you do in your work to realise young people’s rights in the digital world?

Q1) What digital literacy is being taught in schools right now?

A1) It’s school to school, depends on the educational authority. Education Scotland have it as a priority but only over the last year… It depends…

Q2) My kid’s 5 and she has library cards…

Comment) The perception is that kids are experts by default

A2 – Dan) That’s not the case but there is that perception of “digital natives” knowing everything. And that isn’t the case…

Dan: Do you want to share what you’ve been discussing?

Comment: It’s not just an age thing… Some love technology, some hate it… But it’s hard to be totally safe online… How do you protect people from that…

Dan: It is incredibly difficult, especially in education.

Comment [me]: There is a real challenge when the internet is filtered and restricted – it is hard to teach real world information literacy and digital literacy when you are doing that in an artificial school set up. That was something that came up in the Royal Society of Edinburgh Digital Participation Inquiry I was involved in a few years ago. I also wanted to add that we have a new MOOC on Digital Footprints that is particularly aimed at those leaving school/coming into university.

Bethany: We really want that deletion when we use our right to remove to be proper deleted. We really want to know where our data is held. And we want everyone to have access to quality information online and offline. And we want to right to disengage when we want to. And we want digital literacy to be about more than just coding, but also what we do and can do online.

Dan: We invite you all to join our 5Rights Coalition to show your support and engagement with this work. We are now in the final stages of this work and will be publishing our report soon. We’ve spoken to Google, Facebook, Education Scotland, mental health organisations, etc. We hope our report will provide great guidance for implementing the 5Rights.

You can find out more and contact us: 5Rights@young.scot, #5RightsYC, http://young.scot/5rights.

Q&A

Q1) Has your organisation written any guidance for librarians in putting these rights into action?

A1) Not yet but that report should include some of that guidance.

Playing with metadata / Gavin Willshaw and Scott Renton (University of Edinburgh)

Gavin: Scott and I will be talking about our metadata games project which we’ve been working on for the last few years. My current focus is on PhD digitisation but I’m also involved in this work. I’ll give an overview, what we’ve learned… And then Scott will give more of an idea of the technical side of things.

A few years ago we had 2 full time photographers working on high quality digital images. Now there are three photographers, 5 scanning assistants, and several specialists all working in digitisation. And that means we have a lot more digital content. A few years ago we launched collections.ed.ac.uk which is the one stop shop into our digital collections. You can access the images at: http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/. We have around 30k images, and most are CC BY licenced at high resolution.

Looking at the individual images we tend to have really good information of the volume the image comes from, but prior to this project we had little information on what was actually in the image. That made them hard to find. We didn’t really have anyone to catalogue this. A lot of these images are as much as 10 years old – for projects but not neccassarily intended to go online. So, we decided to create this game to improve the description of our collections…

The game has a really retro theme – we didn’t want to spend too long on the design side of things, just keep it simple. And the game is open to everyone.

So, stage 1: tag. You harvest initial tags, it’s an open text box, there is no quality review, and there are points for tags entered. We do have some safety measures to avoid swear or stop words.

Stage 2: vote. You vote on the quality of others’ tags. It’s a closed system – good/bad/don’t know. That filters out any initial gobbldegook. You get points…

The tags are QAed and imported into our image management system. We make a distinction between formal metadata and crowdsourced tags. We show that on the record and include a link to the tool – so others can go and play.

We don’t see crowdsourcing as being just about free labour, but about communities of people with an interest and knowledge. We see it as a way to engage and connect with people beyond the usual groups – members of the public, educators, anyone really. People playing the game range from 7 to 70’s and we are interest to have the widest audience possible. And obviously the more people use the system, the more tags and participation we get. We also get feedback for improvements – some features in the game came from feedback. In theory it frees up staff time, but it takes time to run. But it lets us reach languages, collections, special knowledge that may not be in our team.

To engage our communities we took the games on tour across our sites. We’ve also brought the activity into other events – Innovative Learning Week/Festival of Creative Learning; Ada Lovelace Day; exhibitions – e.g. the Where’s Dolly game that coincided with the Towards Dolly exhibition. Those events are vital to get interest – it doesn’t work to expect people to just find it themselves.

In terms of motivation people like to do something good, some like to share their skills, and some just enjoy it because it is fun and a wee bit competitive. We’ve had a few (small) prizes… We also display real time high scores at events which gets people in competitive mode.

This also fits into an emerging culture of play in Library and Information Services… Looking at play in learning – it being ok to try things whether or not they succeed. These have included Board Game Jam sessions using images from the collections, learning about copyright and IP in a fun context. Ada Lovelace day I’ve mentioned – designing your own Raspberry Pi case out of LEGO, Making music… And also Wikipedia Editathons – also fun events.

There is also an organisatoin called Tiltfactor who have their own metadata games looking at tagging and gaming. They have Zen Tag – like ours. But also Nextag for video and audio. And also Guess What! a multiplier game of description. We put about 2000 images into the metadatagames platform Tiltfactor run and got huge numbers of tags quickly. They are at quite a different scale.

We’ve also experimented with Lady Grange’s correspondence in the Zooniverse platform, where you have to underline or indicate names and titles etc.

We’ve also put some of our images into Crowdcrafting to see if we can learn more about the content of images.

There are Pros and Cons here…

Pros:

  • Hosted service
  • Easy to create an account
  • Easy to set up and play
  • Range of options – not just tagging
  • Easy to load in images from Dropbox/Flickr

Cons

  • Some limitations of what you can do
  • Technical expertise needed for best value – especially in platforms like Crowdcrafting.

What we’ve learned so far is that it is difficult to create engaging platform but combining with events and activities – with target theme and collections – work well. Incentives and prizes help. Considerable staff time is needed. And crowdsourced tags are a compliment rather than an alternative to the official record.

Scott: So I’ll give the more technical side of what we’ve done. Why we needed them, how we built them, how we got on, and what we’ve learned.

I’ve been hacking away at workflows for a good 7 years. We have a reader who sees something they want, and they request the photograph of the page. They don’t provide much information – just about what is needed. These make for skeleton records – and we now have about 30k of these. It also used to be the case that buying a high end piece of kit can be easier to buy in for a project than a low level cataloguer… That means we end up with data being copied and pasted in by photographers rather than good records.

We have all these skeletons… But we need some meat on our bones… If we take an image from the Incunabula we want to know that there’s a skeleton on a horse with a scyth. Now the image platform we have does let us annotate an image – but it’s hidden away and hard to use. We needed something better and easier. That’s where we came up with an initial front end. When I came in it was a module for us to use. It was Gavin that said “hey, this should be a game”. So the nostalgic computer games thing is weirdly appealing (like the Google Maps Pacman Aprils Fool!). So it’s super simple, you put in a few words…

And it is truly lo-fi. It’s LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) – not cool! Front end design retrofit. Authentication added to let students and staff login. In terms of design decisions we have a moderation module, we have a voting module, we have a scoreboard, we have stars for high contributors. And now more complex games: set no of items, clock, featured items, and Easter Eggs within the game. For instance in the Dolly the Sheep game we hid a few images with hideous comic sans that you could stumble upon if you tagged enough images!

Where we do have moderation, voting module, thresholds, demarcation… Tiltfactor told us we’re the only library putting data back in from the crowd to our system – people are really nervous about this but we demarcate it really carefully.

We now have a codebase we can clone. We skin it up differently for particular events or exhibitions – like Dolly – but it’s all the same idea with different design and collections. This all connects up through (authenticated) APIs back into the image management system (Luna).

So, how have we gotten on?

  • 283 users
  • 34070 tags in system
  • 15616 tags from our game
  • 18454 tags from Tiltfactor metadata games pushed in
  • 6212 tags pushed back into our system – that’s because of backlog in the moderation (upvotes may be good enough).

So, what next? Well we have MSc projects coming up. We are having a revamp with an intern signed up for the summer – responsiveness, links to social media, more gamification, more incentives, authentication for non UoE users, etc.

And also we are excited about IIIF – about beautification of websites with embedded viewers, streamlining (thumbnails through URL; photoshopping through URL etc) and annotations. You can do deep zoom into images without having to link out to do that with an image.

We also have the Polyglot Project – coming soon – which is a paleography project for manuscripts in our collections of any age, in any language. We asked an intern to find a transcription and translation module using IIIF. She’s come up with something fantastic… Ways to draw around text, for users to add in annotations, to discuss annotations, etc. She’s got 50-60 keyboards so almost all languages supported. Not sure how to bring back into core systems but really excited about this.

That’s basically where we’ve gotten to. And if you want to try the games, come and have a play.

Q&A

Q1) That example you showed for IIIF tagging has words written in widely varied spellings… You wouldn’t key it in as written in the document.

A1 – Scott) We do have a project looking at this. We have a girl looking for dictionaries to find variance and different spellings.

A1 – Gavin) There are projects like Transcribe Bentham who will have faced that issue…

Comment – Paul C) It’s a common issue… Methods like fuzzy searching help with that…

Q2) I’m quite interested about how you identify parts of images, and how you feed that back to the catalogue?

A2 – Scott) Right now I think the scope of the project is… Well it will be interesting to see how best to feed into catalogue records. Still to be addressed.

Q3 – Paul C) You built this in-house… How open is it? Can others use it?

A3 – Gavin) It is using Luna image management system…

A3 – Scott) It’s based on Luna for derivatives and data. It’s on Github and it is open. The website is open to everyone. You login through EASE – you can join as an “EASE Friend” if you aren’t part of the University. Others can use the code if they want it…

And finally it was me up to present…

Managing your Digital Footprint : Taking control of the metadata and tracks and traces that define us online / Nicola Osborne (EDINA)

Obviously I didn’t take notes on my session, but you can explore the slides below:

Look out for a new blogpost very soon on some of the background to our new Digital Footprint MOOC, which launched on Monday 3rd April. You can join the course now, or sign up to join the next run of the course next month, here: https://goo.gl/jgHLQs

And with that the event drew to a close with thank you’s to all of the organisers, speakers, and attended!

 

 April 5, 2017  Posted by at 11:08 am Events Attended, LiveBlogs, Presentation and Performance Tagged with:  No Responses »
Dec 042016
 

This summer I will be co-chairing, with Stefania Manca (from The Institute of Educational Technology of the National Research Council of Italy) “Social Media in Education”, a Mini Track of the European Conference on Social Median (#ECSM17) in Vilnius, Lithuania. As the call for papers has been out for a while (deadline for abstracts: 12th December 2016) I wanted to remind and encourage you to consider submitting to the conference and, particularly, for our Mini Track, which we hope will highlight exciting social media and education research.

You can download the Mini Track Call for Papers on Social Media in Education here. And, from the website, here is the summary of what we are looking for:

An expanding amount of social media content is generated every day, yet organisations are facing increasing difficulties in both collecting and analysing the content related to their operations. This mini track on Big Social Data Analytics aims to explore the models, methods and tools that help organisations in gaining actionable insight from social media content and turning that to business or other value. The mini track also welcomes papers addressing the Big Social Data Analytics challenges, such as, security, privacy and ethical issues related to social media content. The mini track is an important part of ECSM 2017 dealing with all aspects of social media and big data analytics.

Topics of the mini track include but are not limited to:

  • Reflective and conceptual studies of social media for teaching and scholarly purposes in higher education.
  • Innovative experience or research around social media and the future university.
  • Issues of social media identity and engagement in higher education, e.g: digital footprints of staff, students or organisations; professional and scholarly communications; and engagement with academia and wider audiences.
  • Social media as a facilitator of changing relationships between formal and informal learning in higher education.
  • The role of hidden media and backchannels (e.g. SnapChat and YikYak) in teaching, learning.
  • Social media and the student experience.

The conference, the 4th European Conference on Social Media (ECSM) will be taking place at the Business and Media School of the Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) in Vilnius, Lithuania on the 3-4 July 2017. Having seen the presentation on the city and venue at this year’s event I feel confident it will be lovely setting and should be a really good conference. (I also hear Vilnius has exceptional internet connectivity, which is always useful).

I would also encourage anyone working in social media to consider applying for the Social Media in Practice Excellence Awards, which ECSM is hosting this year. The competition will be showcasing innovative social media applications in business and the public sector, and they are particularly looking for ways in which academia have been working with business around social media. You can read more – and apply to the competition (deadline for entries: 17th January 2017)- here.

This is a really interdisciplinary conference with a real range of speakers and topics so a great place to showcase interesting applications of and research into social media. The papers presented at the conference are published in the conference proceedings, widely indexed, and will also be considered for publication in: Online Information Review (Emerald Insight, ISSN: 1468-4527); International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments (Inderscience, ISSN 2050-3962); International Journal of Web-Based Communities (Inderscience); Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society (Emerald Insight, ISSN 1477-996X).

So, get applying to the conference  and/or to the competition! If you have any questions or comments about the Social Media in Education track, do let me know.

Nov 212016
 
The band Cassia play at TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016.

Last Wednesday, I had the absolute pleasure of being part of the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016, which had the theme of “Identity. I had been invited along to speak about our Managing Your Digital Footprint work, and my #CODI2016 Fringe show, If I Googled You, What Would I Find? The event was quite extraordinary and I wanted to share some thoughts on the day itself, as well as some reflections on my experience of preparing a TEDx talk.

TEDxYouth@Manchester is in it’s 8th year, and is based at Fallibroome Academy, a secondary school with a specialism in performing arts (see, for instance, their elaborate and impressive trailer video for the school). And Fallibroome was apparently the first school in the world to host a TEDxYouth event. Like other TEDx events the schedule mixes invited talks, talks from youth speakers, and recorded items – in today’s case that included a TED talk, a range of short films, music videos and a quite amazing set of videos of primary school kids responding to questions on identity (beautifully edited by the Fallibroome team and featuring children from schools in the area).

In my own talk – the second of the day – I asked the audience to consider the question of what their digital footprints say about them. And what they want them to say about them. My intention was to trigger reflection and thought, to make the audience in the room – and on the livestream – think about what they share, what they share about others and,hopefully, what else they do online – their privacy settings, their choices..

My fellow invited speakers were a lovely and diverse bunch:

Kat Arney, a geneticist, science writer, musician, and author. She was there to talk about identity from a genetic perspective, drawing on her fantastic new book “Herding Hemingway’s Cats” (my bedtime reading this week). Kat’s main message – a really important one – is that genes don’t predetermine your identity, and that any understanding of there being a “Gene for… x”, i.e. the “Gene for Cancer”, a “Gay Gene”, a gene for whatever… is misleading at best. Things are much more complicated and unpredictable than that. As part of her talk she spoke about gene “wobbles” – a new concept to me – which describes the unexpected and rule-defying behaviour of genes in the real world vs our expectations based on the theory, drawing on work on nematode worms. It was a really interesting start to the day and I highly recommend checking out both Kat’s book, and the The Naked Scientists’ Naked Gentics podcast.

Ben Smith, spoke about his own very personal story and how that led to the 401 Challenge, in which he ran 401 marathons in 401 days. Ben spoke brilliantly and bravely on his experience of bullying, of struggling with his sexuality, and the personal crises and suicide attempts that led to him finding his own sense of self and identity, and happiness, through his passion for running in his late 20s/early 30s. Ben’s talk was even more powerful as it was preceded by an extraordinary video (see below) of the poem “To This Day” by performance poet Shane Koyczan on the impact of bullying and the strength in overcoming it.

VV Brown, singer, songwriter, producer and ethical fashion entrepreneur, gave a lovely presentation on identity and black hair. She gave a personal and serious take on issues of identity and appropriation which have been explored (from another angle) in Chris Rock’s Good Hair (2009). As well as the rich culture of black hairdressing and hugely problematic nature of hair relaxants, weaves, and hair care regimes (including some extreme acids) that are focused on pressuring black women to meet an unobtainable and undesirable white hair ideal. She also spoke from her experience of the modelling industry and it’s incapability of dealing with black hair, whilst simultaneously happily engaging in cultural appropriation, braiding corn rows into white celebrities hair. V.V. followed up her talk with a live performance, of “Shift” (see video below), a song which she explained was inspired by the gay rights movement, and particularly black gay men in New York expressing themselves and their sexuality.

The final invited speaker was Ben Garrod, a Teaching Fellow in evolutionary biology at Anglia Ruskin University as well as a science communicator and broadcaster who has worked with David Attenborough and is on the Board of Trustees for the Jane Goodall Institute. Ben spoke about the power of the individual in a community, bringing in the idea of identity amongst animals, that the uniqueness of the chimps he worked with as part of Jane Goodall’s team. He also had us all join in a Pant-hoot – an escalating group chimp call, to illustrate the power of both the individual and the community.

In amongst the speakers were a range of videos – lovely selections that I gather (and believe) a student team spent months selecting from a huge amount of TED content. However, the main strand of the programme were a group of student presentations and performances which were quite extraordinary.

Highlights for me included Imogen Walsh, who spoke about the fluidity of gender and explained the importance of choice, the many forms of non-binary or genderqueer identity, the use of pronouns like they and Mx and the importance of not singling people out, or questioning them, for buying non gender-conforming, their choice of bathroom, etc. Because, well, why is it anyone else’s business?

Sophie Baxter talked about being a gay teen witnessing the global response to the Pulse nightclub shooting and the fear and reassurance that wider public response to this had provided. She also highlighted the importance of having an LGBT community since for most LGBT young people their own immediate biological/adoptive family may not, no matter how supportive, have a shared experience to draw upon, to understand challenges or concerns faced.

Maddie Travers and Nina Holland-Jones described a visit to Auschwitz (they had actually landed the night before the event) reflecting on what that experience of visiting the site had meant to them, and what it said about identity. They particularly focused on the pain and horror of stripping individual identity, treating camp prisoners (and victims) as a group that denied their individuality at the same time as privileging some individuals for special skills and contributions that extended their life and made them useful to the Nazi regime.

Sam Amey, Nicola Smith and Ellena Wilson talked about attending the London International Youth Science Festival student science conference, of seeing inspiring new science and the excitement of that – watching as a real geek and science fan it was lovely to see their enthusiasm and to hear them state that they “identify as scientists” (that phrasing a recurrent theme and seems to be the 2016 way for youth to define themselves I think).

Meanwhile performances included an absolutely haunting violin piece, Nigun by Bloch, performed by Ewan Kilpatrick (see a video of his playing here). As brilliant as Ewan’s playing was, musically the show was stolen by two precocious young composers, both of whom had the confidence of successful 40 year olds at the peak of their career, backed up by musical skills that made that confidence seem entirely appropriately founded. Ignacio Mana Mesas described his composition process and showed some of his film score (and acting) work, before playing a piece of his own composition; Tammas Slater (you can hear his prize winning work in this BBC Radio 3 clip) meanwhile showed some unexpected comic sparkle, showing off his skills before creating a composition in real time! And the event finished with a lively and charming set of tracks performed by school alumnae and up and coming band Cassia.

All of the youth contributions were incredible. The enthusiasm, competence and confidence of these kids – and of their peers who respectfully engaged and listened throughout the day – was heartening. The future seems pretty safe if this is what the future is looking like – a very lovely thing to be reminded in these strange political times.

Preparing a TEDx talk – a rather different speaking proposition

For me the invitation to give a TEDx talk was really exciting. I have mixed feelings about the brilliantly engaging but often too slick TED format, at the same time as recognising the power that the brand and reputation for the high quality speakers can have.

I regularly give talks and presentations, but distilling ideas of digital identity into 14 minutes whilst keeping them clear, engaging, meeting the speaker rules felt challenging. Doing that in a way that would have some sort of longevity seemed like a tougher ask as things move quickly in internet research, in social media, and in social practices online, so I wanted to make sure my talk focused on those aspects of our work that are solid and long-lived concepts – ideas that would have usefulness even if Facebook disappeared tomorrow (who knows, fake news may just make that a possibility), or SnapChat immediately lost all interest, or some new game-changing space appears tomorrow. This issue of being timely but not immediately out of date is also something we face in creating Digital Footprint MOOC content at the moment.

As an intellectual challenge developing my TEDx talk was useful for finding another way to think about my own presentation and writing skills, in much the same way that taking on the 8 minute format of Bright Club has been, or the 50 ish minute format of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, or indeed teaching 2+ hour seminars for the MSc in Science Communication & Public Engagement for the three years I led a module on that programme. It is always useful to rethink your topic, to think about fitting a totally different dynamic or house style, and to imagine a different audience and their needs and interests. In this case the audience was 16-18 year olds, who are a little younger than my usual audience, but who I felt sure would have lots of interest in my topic, and plenty of questions to ask (as there were in the separate panel event later in the day at Fallibroome).

There are some particular curiosities about the TED/TEDx format versus other speaking and presentations and I thought I’d share some key things I spent time thinking about. You never know, if you find yourself invited to do a TEDx (or if you are very high flying, a TED) these should help a wee bit:

  1. Managing the format

Because I have mixed feelings about the TED format, since it can be brilliant, but also too easy to parody (as in this brilliant faux talk), I was very aware of wanting to live up to the invitation and the expectations for this event, without giving a talk that wouldn’t meet my own personal speaking style or presentation tastes. I think I did manage that in the end but it required some watching of former videos to get my head around what I both did and did not want to do. That included looking back at previous TEDxYouth@Manchester events (to get a sense of space, scale, speaker set up and local expectations), as well as wider TED videos.

I did read the TED/TEDx speaker guidance and largely followed it although, since I do a lot of talks and know what works for me, I chose to write and create slides in parallel with the visuals helping me develop my story (rather than writing first, then doing slides as the guidance suggests). I also didn’t practice my talk nearly as often as either the TED instructions or the local organisers suggest – not out of arrogance but knowing that practicing a few times to myself works well, practising a lot gets me bored of the content and sets up unhelpful memorisations of errors, developing ideas, etc.

I do hugely appreciate that TED/TEDx insist on copyright cleared images. My slides were mostly images I had taken myself but I found a lovely image of yarn under CC-BY on Flickr which was included (and credited) too. Although as I began work on the talk I did start by thinking hard about whether or not to use slides… TED is a format associated with innovative slides (they were the original cheerleaders for Prezi), but at the same time the fact that talks are videoed means much of the power comes from close ups of the speaker, of capturing the connection between speaker and the live audience, and of building connection with the livestream and video audience. With all of that in mind I wanted to keep my slides simple, lively, and rather stylish. I think I managed that but see what you think of my slides [PDF].

  1. Which audience?

Normally when I write a talk, presentation, workshop, etc. I think about tailoring the content to the context and to my audience. I find that is a key part of ensuring I meet my audience’s needs, but it also makes the talk looks, well, kind of cute and clever. Tailoring a talk for a particular moment in time, a specific event or day, and a particular audience means you can make timely and specific references, you can connect to talks and content elsewhere in the day, you can adapt and adlib to meet the interests and mood that you see, and you can show you have understood the context of your audience. Essentially all that tailoring helps you connect more immediately and builds a real bond.

But for TEDx is the audience the 500+ people in the room? Our audience on Wednesday were mainly between 16 and 18, but there were other audience members who had been invited or just signed up to attend (you can find all upcoming TEDx events on their website and most offer tickets for those that are interested). It was a packed venue, but they are probably the smallest audience who will see my performance…

The video being during the event captured goes on the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016 Playlist on the TEDxYouth YouTube channel and on the TEDx YouTube channel. All of the videos are also submitted to TED so, if your video looks great to the folk  there you could also end up featured on the core TED website, with much wider visibility. Now, I certainly wouldn’t suggest I am counting on having a huge global audience, but those channels all attract a much wider audience than was sitting in the hall. So, where do you pitch the talk?

For my talk I decided to strike a balance between issues that are most pertinent to developing identity, to managing challenges that we know from our research are particularly relevant and difficult for young people – ad which these students may face now or when they go to university. But I also pitched the talk to have relevance more widely, focusing less on cyber bullying, or teen dynamics, and more about changing contexts and the control one can choose to take of ones own digital footprint and social media content, something particularly pertinent to young people but relevant to us all.

  1. When Is it for?

Just as streaming distorts your sense of audience, it also challenges time. The livestream is watching on the day – that’s easy. But the recorded video could stick around for years, and will have a lifespan long beyond the day. With my fast moving area that was a challenge – do I make my talk timely or do I make it general? What points of connection and moments of humour are potentially missed by giving that talk a longer lifespan? I was giving a talk just after Trump’s election and in the midst of the social media bubble discussion – there are easy jokes there, things to bring my audience on board – but they might distance viewers at another time, and date rapidly. And maybe those references wouldn’t be universal enough for a wider audience beyond the UK…

In the end I tried to again balance general and specific advice. But I did that knowing that many of those in the physical audience would also be attending a separate panel event later in the day which would allow many more opportunities to talk about very contemporary questions, and to address sensitive questions that might (and did) arise. In fact in that panel session we took questions on mental health, about how parental postings and video (including some of those made for this event) might impact on their child’s digital footprint, and on whether not being on social media was a disadvantage in life. Those at the panel session also weren’t being streamed or captured in any way, which allowed for frank discussion building on an intense and complex day.

  1. What’s the main take away?

The thing that took me the longest time was thinking about the “take away” I wanted to leave the audience with. That was partly because I wanted my talk to have impact, to feel energising and hopefully somewhat inspiring, but also because the whole idea of TED is “Ideas worth sharing”, which means a TED(x) talk has to have at its core a real idea, something specific and memorable to take from those 14 minutes, something that has impact.

I did have to think of a title far in advance of the event and settled on “What do you digital footprints say about you?”. I picked that as it brought together some of my #CODI16 show’s ideas, and some of the questions I knew I wanted to raise in my talk. But what would I do with that idea? I could have taken the Digital Footprint thing in a more specific direction – something I might do in a longer workshop or training session – picking on particularly poor or good practices and zoning in on good or bad posts. But that isn’t big picture stuff. I had to think about analogy, about examples, about getting the audience to understand the longevity of impact a social media post might have…

After a lot of thinking, testing out of ideas in conversation with my partner and some of my colleagues, I had some vague concepts and then I found my best ideas came – contrary to the TED guidance – from trying to select images to help me form my narrative. An image I had taken at Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival earlier this year of an artwork created from a web of strung yarn proved the perfect visual analogy for the complexity involved in taking back an unintended, regretted, or ill-thought-through social media post. It’s an idea I have explained before but actually trying to think about getting the idea across quickly in 1 minute of my 14 minute talk really helped me identify that image as vivid effective shorthand. And from that I found my preceding image and, from that, the flow and the look and feel of the story I wanted to tell. It’s not always the obvious (or simple) things that get you to a place of simplicity and clarity.

Finally I went back to my title and thought about whether my talk did speak to that idea, what else I should raise, and how I would really get my audience to feel engaged and ready to listen, and to really reflect on their own practice, quickly. In the end I settled on a single slide with that title, that question, at it’s heart. I made that the first stepping stone on my path through the talk, building in a pause that was intended to get the audience listening and thinking about their own digital identity. You’d have to ask the audience whether that worked or not but the quality of questions and comments later in the day certainly suggested they had taken in some of what I said and asked.

  1. Logistics

As a speaker there are some logistical aspects that are easy to deal with once you’ve done it a first time: travel, accommodation, etc. There are venue details that you either ask about – filming, photography, mics, etc. or you can find out in advance. Looking at previous years’ videos helped a lot: I would get a screen behind me for slides, there would be a set (build by students no less) and clear speaker zone on stage (the infamous red carpet/dot), I’d have a head mic (a first for me, but essentially a glamorous radio mic, which I am used to) and there would be a remote for my slides. It also looked likely I’d have a clock counting down although, in the end, that wasn’t working during my talk (a reminder, again, that I need a new watch with classic stand up comedy/speaker-friendly vibrating alarm). On the day there was a sound check (very helpful) and also an extremely professional and exceptionally helpful team of technicians – staff, students and Siemens interns – to get us wired up and recorded. The organisers also gave us plenty of advance notice of filming and photography.

I have been on the periphery of TEDx events before: Edinburgh University has held several events and I know how much work has gone into these; I attended a TEDxGlasgow hosted by STV a few years back and, again, was struck buy the organisation required. For TEDxYouth@Manchester I was invited to speak earlier in the year – late August/early September – so I had several months to prepare. The organisers tell me that sometimes they invite speakers as much as 6 to 12 months ahead of the event – as soon as the event finishes their team begin their search for next years’s invitees…

As the organising team spend all year planning a slick event – and Fallibroome Academy really did do an incredibly well organised and slick job – they expect slick and well organised speakers. I think all of us invited speakers, each of us with a lot of experience of talks and performance, experienced more coordination, more contact and more clarity on expectation, format, etc. than at any previous speaking event.

That level of detail is always useful as a a speaker but it can also be intimidating – although that is useful for focusing your thoughts too. There were conference calls in September and October to share developing presentation thoughts, to finalise titles, and to hear a little about each others talks. That last aspect was very helpful – I knew little of the detail of the other talks until the event itself, but I had a broad idea of the topic and angle of each speaker which meant I could ensure minimal overlap, and maximum impact as I understood how my talk fitted in to the wider context.

All credit to Peter Rubery and the Fallibroome team for their work here. They curated a brilliant selection of videos and some phenomenal live performances and short talks from students to create a coherent programme with appropriate and clever segues that added to the power of the presentations, the talks, and took us on something of a powerful emotional rollercoaster. All of us invited speakers felt it was a speaking engagement like we’d never had before and it really was an intense and impactful day. And, as Ben G said, for some students the talks they gave today will be life changing, sharing something very personally on a pretty high profile stage, owning their personal experience and reflections in a really empowering way.

In conclusion then, this was really a wonderful experience and a usefully challenging format to work in. I will update this post or add a new post with the videos of the talks as soon as they are available – you can then judge for yourself how I did. However, if you get the chance to take part in a TEDx event, particularly a TEDxYouth event I would recommend it. I would also encourage you to keep an eye on the TEDxYouth@Manchester YouTube channel for those exceptional student presentations!

Aug 102016
 
Nicola Osborne presenting the Digital Footprint poster at ECSM2016

It has been a while since I’ve posted something other than a liveblog here but it has been a busy summer so it seems like a good time to share some updates…

A Growing Digital Footprint

Last September I was awarded some University of Edinburgh IS Innovation Fund support to develop a pilot training and consultancy service to build upon the approaches and findings of our recent PTAS-funded Managing Your Digital Footprint research project.

During that University of Edinburgh-wide research and parallel awareness-raising campaign we (my colleague – and Digital Footprint research project PI – Louise Connelly of IAD/Vet School, myself, and colleagues across the University) sought to inform students of the importance of digital tracks and traces in general, particularly around employment and “eProfessionalism”. This included best practice advice around use of social media, personal safety and information security choices, and thoughtful approaches to digital identity and online presences. Throughout the project we were approached by organisations outside of the University for similar training, advice, and consulting around social media best practices and that is how the idea for this pilot service began to take shape.

Over the last few months I have been busy developing the pilot, which has involved getting out and about delivering social media training sessions for clients including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (with Jennifer Jones); for the British HIV Association (BHIVA) with the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) (also with Jennifer Jones); developing a “Making an Impact with your Blog” Know How session for the lovely members of Culture Republic; leading a public engagement session for the very international gang at EuroStemCell, and an “Engaging with the Real World” session for the inspiring postgrads attending the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science Summer School 2016. I have also been commissioned by colleagues in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to create an Impact of Social Media session and accompanying resources (the latter of which will continue to develop over time). You can find resources and information from most of these sessions over on my presentations and publications page.

These have been really interesting opportunities and I’m excited to see how this work progresses. If you do have an interest in social media best practice, including advice for your organisation’s social media practice, developing your online profile, or managing your digital footprint, please do get in touch and/or pass on my contact details. I am in the process of writing up the pilot and looking at ways myself and my colleagues can share our expertise and advice in this area.

Adventures in MOOCs and Yik Yak

So, what next?

Well, the Managing Your Digital Footprint team have joined up with colleagues in the Language Technology Group in the School of Informatics for a new project looking at Yik Yak. You can read more about the project, “A Live Pulse: Yik Yak for Understanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Edinburgh“, on the Digital Education Research Centre website. We are really excited to explore Yik Yak’s use in more depth as it is one of a range of “anonymous” social networking spaces that appear to be emerging as important alternative spaces for discussion as mainstream social media spaces lose favour/become too well inhabited by extended families, older contacts, etc.

Our core Managing Your Digital Footprint research also continues… I presented a paper, co-written with Louise Connelly, at the European Conference on Social Media 2016 this July on “Students’ Digital Footprints: curation of online presences, privacy and peer support”. This summer we also hosted visiting scholar Rachel Buchanan of University of Newcastle, Australia who has been leading some very interesting work into digital footprints across Australia. We are very much looking forward to collaborating with Rachel in the future – watch this space!

And, more exciting news: my lovely colleague Louise Connelly (University of Edinburgh Vet School) and I have been developing a Digital Footprint MOOC which will go live later this year. The MOOC will complement our ongoing University of Edinburgh service (run by IAD) and external consultancy word (led by us in EDINA) and You can find out much more about that in this poster, presented at the European Conference on Social Media 2016, earlier this month…

Preview of Digital Footprint MOOC Poster

Alternatively, you could join me for my Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas 2016 show….

Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas 2016 - If I Googled You, What Would I Find? Poster

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas runs throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival but every performance is different! Each day academics and researchers share their work by proposing a dangerous idea, a provocative question, or a challenge, and the audience are invited to respond, discuss, ask difficult questions, etc. It’s a really fun show to see and to be part of – I’ve now been fortunate enough to be involved each year since it started in 2013. You can see a short video on #codi2016 here:

In this year’s show I’ll be talking about some of those core ideas around managing your digital footprint, understanding your online tracks and traces, and reflecting on the type of identity you want to portray online. You can find out more about my show, If I Googled You What Would I Find, in my recent “25 Days of CODI” blog post:

25 Days of CoDI: Day 18

You’ll also find a short promo film for the series of data, identity, and surveillance shows at #codi2016 here:

So… A very busy summer of social media, digital footprints, and exciting new opportunities. Do look out for more news on the MOOC, the YikYak work and the Digital Footprint Training and Consultancy service over the coming weeks and months. And, if you are in Edinburgh this summer, I hope to see you on the 21st at the Stand in the Square!

 

Aug 092016
 
Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016

After 6 years of being Repository Fringe‘s resident live blogger this was the first year that I haven’t been part of the organisation or amplification in any official capacity. From what I’ve seen though my colleagues from EDINA, University of Edinburgh Library, and the DCC did an awesome job of putting together a really interesting programme for the 2016 edition of RepoFringe, attracting a big and diverse audience.

Whilst I was mainly participating through reading the tweets to #rfringe16, I couldn’t quite keep away!

Pauline Ward at Repository Fringe 2016

Pauline Ward at Repository Fringe 2016

This year’s chair, Pauline Ward, asked me to be part of the Unleashing Data session on Tuesday 2nd August. The session was a “World Cafe” format and I was asked to help facilitate discussion around the question: “How can the respository community use crowd-sourcing (e.g. Citizen Science) to engage the public in reuse of data?” – so I was along wearing my COBWEB: Citizen Observatory Web and social media hats. My session also benefited from what I gather was an excellent talk on “The Social Life of Data” earlier in the event from the Erinma Ochu (who, although I missed her this time, is always involved in really interesting projects including several fab citizen science initiatives).

I won’t attempt to reflect on all of the discussions during the Unleashing Data Session here – I know that Pauline will be reporting back from the session to Repository Fringe 2016 participants shortly – but I thought I would share a few pictures of our notes, capturing some of the ideas and discussions that came out of the various groups visiting this question throughout the session. Click the image to view a larger version. Questions or clarifications are welcome – just leave me a comment here on the blog.

Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016

Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016

Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016

If you are interested in finding out more about crowd sourcing and citizen science in general then there are a couple of resources that made be helpful (plus many more resources and articles if you leave a comment/drop me an email with your particular interests).

This June I chaired the “Crowd-Sourcing Data and Citizen Science” breakout session for the Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network (FCERM.NET) Annual Assembly in Newcastle. The short slide set created for that workshop gives a brief overview of some of the challenges and considerations in setting up and running citizen science projects:

Last October the CSCS Network interviewed me on developing and running Citizen Science projects for their website – the interview brings together some general thoughts as well as specific comment on the COBWEB experience:

After the Unleashing Data session I was also able to stick around for Stuart Lewis’ closing keynote. Stuart has been working at Edinburgh University since 2012 but is moving on soon to the National Library of Scotland so this was a lovely chance to get some of his reflections and predictions as he prepares to make that move. And to include quite a lot of fun references to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾. (Before his talk Stuart had also snuck some boxes of sweets under some of the tables around the room – a popularity tactic I’m noting for future talks!)

So, my liveblog notes from Stuart’s talk (slightly tidied up but corrections are, of course, welcomed) follow. Because old Repofringe live blogging habits are hard to kick!

The Secret Diary of a Repository aged 13 ¾ – Stuart Lewis

I’m going to talk about our bread and butter – the institutional repository… Now my inspiration is Adrian Mole… Why? Well we have a bunch of teenage repositories… EPrints is 15 1/2; Fedora is 13 ½; DSpace is 13 ¾.

Now Adrian Mole is a teenager – you can read about him on Wikipedia [note to fellow Wikipedia contributors: this, and most of the other Adrian Mole-related pages could use some major work!]. You see him quoted in two conferences to my amazement! And there are also some Scotland and Edinburgh entries in there too… Brought a haggis… Goes to Glasgow at 11am… and says he encounters 27 drunks in one hour…

Stuart Lewis at Repository Fringe 2016

Stuart Lewis illustrates the teenage birth dates of three of the major repository softwares as captured in (perhaps less well-aged) pop hits of the day.

So, I have four points to make about how repositories are like/unlike teenagers…

The thing about teenagers… People complain about them… They can be expensive, they can be awkward, they aren’t always self aware… Eventually though they usually become useful members of society. So, is that true of repositories? Well ERA, one of our repositories has gotten bigger and bigger – over 18k items… and over 10k paper thesis currently being digitized…

Now teenagers also start to look around… Pandora!

I’m going to call Pandora the CRIS… And we’ve all kind of overlooked their commercial background because we are in love with them…!

Stuart Lewis at Repository Fringe 2016

Stuart Lewis captures the eternal optimism – both around Mole’s love of Pandora, and our love of the (commercial) CRIS.

Now, we have PURE at Edinburgh which also powers Edinburgh Research Explorer. When you looked at repositories a few years ago, it was a bit like Freshers Week… The three questions were: where are you from; what repository platform do you use; how many items do you have? But that’s moved on. We now have around 80% of our outputs in the repository within the REF compliance (3 months of Acceptance)… And that’s a huge change – volumes of materials are open access very promptly.

So,

1. We need to celebrate our success

But are our successes as positive as they could be?

Repositories continue to develop. We’ve heard good things about new developments. But how do repositories demonstrate value – and how do we compare to other areas of librarianship.

Other library domains use different numbers. We can use these to give comparative figures. How do we compare to publishers for cost? Whats our CPU (Cost Per Use)? And what is a good CPU? £10, £5, £0.46… But how easy is it to calculate – are repositories expensive? That’s a “to do” – to take the cost to run/IRUS cost. I would expect it to be lower than publishers, but I’d like to do that calculation.

The other side of this is to become more self-aware… Can we gather new numbers? We only tend to look at deposit and use from our own repositories… What about our own local consumption of OA (the reverse)?

Working within new e-resource infrastructure – http://doai.io/ – lets us see where open versions are available. And we can integrate with OpenURL resolvers to see how much of our usage can be fulfilled.

2. Our repositories must continue to grow up

Do we have double standards?

Hopefully you are all aware of the UK Text and Data Mining Copyright Exception that came out from 1st June 2014. We have massive massive access to electronic resources as universities, and can text and data mine those.

Some do a good job here – Gale Cengage Historic British Newspapers: additional payment to buy all the data (images + XML text) on hard drives for local use. Working with local informatics LTG staff to (geo)parse the data.

Some are not so good – basic APIs allow only simple searchers… But not complex queries (e.g. could use a search term, but not e.g. sentiment).

And many publishers do nothing at all….

So we are working with publishers to encourage and highlight the potential.

But what about our content? Our repositories are open, with extracted full-text, data can be harvested… Sufficient but is it ideal? Why not do bulk download from one click… You can – for example – download all of Wikipedia (if you want to).  We should be able to do that with our repositories.

3. We need to get our house in order for Text and Data Mining

When will we be finished though? Depends on what we do with open access? What should we be doing with OA? Where do we want to get to? Right now we have mandates so it’s easy – green and gold. With gold there is PURE or Hybrid… Mixed views on Hybrid. Can also publish locally for free. Then for gree there is local or disciplinary repositories… For Gold – Pure, Hybrid, Local we pay APCs (some local option is free)… In Hybrid we can do offsetting, discounted subscriptions, voucher schemes too. And for green we have UK Scholarly Communications License (Harvard)…

But which of these forms of OA are best?! Is choice always a great thing?

We still have outstanding OA issues. Is a mixed-modal approach OK, or should we choose a single route? Which one? What role will repositories play? What is the ultimate aim of Open Access? Is it “just” access?

How and where do we have these conversations? We need academics, repository managers, librarians, publishers to all come together to do this.

4. Do we now what a grown-up repository look like? What part does it play?

Please remember to celebrate your repositories – we are in a fantastic place, making a real difference. But they need to continue to grow up. There is work to do with text and data mining… And we have more to do… To be a grown up, to be in the right sort of environment, etc.

Q&A

Q1) I can remember giving my first talk on repositories in 2010… When it comes to OA I think we need to think about what is cost effective, what is sustainable, why are we doing it and what’s the cost?

A1) I think in some ways that’s about what repositories are versus publishers… Right now we are essentially replicating them… And maybe that isn’t the way to approach this.

And with that Repository Fringe 2016 drew to a close. I am sure others will have already blogged their experiences and comments on the event. Do have a look at the Repository Fringe website and at #rfringe16 for more comments, shared blog posts, and resources from the sessions. 

Oct 202015
 
Digital Footprint campaign logo

I am involved in organising, and very much looking forward to, two events this week which I think will be of interest to Edinburgh-based readers of this blog. Both are taking place on Thursday and I’ll try to either liveblog or summarise them here.

If you are are based at Edinburgh University do consider booking these events or sharing the details with your colleagues or contacts at the University. If you are based further afield you might still be interested in taking a look at these and following up some of the links etc.

Firstly we have the fourth seminar of the new(ish) University of Edinburgh Crowd Sourcing and Citizen Science network:

Citizen Science and the Mass Media

Thursday, 22nd October 2015, 12 – 1.30 pm, Paterson’s Land 1.21, Old Moray House, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh.

“This session will be an opportunity to look at how media and communications can be used to promote a CSCS project and to engage and develop the community around a project.

The kinds of issues that we hope will be covered will include aspects such as understanding the purpose and audience for your project; gaining exposure from a project; communicating these types of projects effectively; engaging the press; expectation management;  practical issues such as timing, use of interviewees and quotes, etc.

We will have two guest presenters, Dave Kilbey from Natural Apptitude Ltd, and Ally Tibbitt from STV, followed by plenty of time for questions and discussion. The session will be chaired by Nicola Osborne (EDINA), drawing on her experience working on the COBWEB project.”

I am really excited about this session as both Dave and Ally have really interesting backgrounds: Dave runs his own app company and has worked on a range of high profile projects so has some great insights into what makes a project appealing to the media, what makes the difference to that project’s success, etc; Ally works as STV and has a background in journalism but also in community engagement, particularly around social and environmental projects. I think the combination will make for an excellent lunchtime session. UoE staff and students can register for the event via Eventbright, here.

On the same day we have our Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme seminar for the Managing Your Digital Footprints project:

Social media, students and digital footprints (PTAS research findings)

Thursday, 22nd October 2015, 2 – 3.30pm, IAD Resources Room, 7 Bristo Square, George Square, Edinburgh.

“This short information and interactive session will present findings from the PTAS Digital Footprint research http://edin.ac/1d1qY4K

In order to understand how students are curating their digital presence, key findings from two student surveys (1457 responses) as well as data from 16 in-depth interviews with six students will be presented. This unique dataset provides an opportunity for us to critically reflect on the changing internet landscape and take stock of how students are currently using social media; how they are presenting themselves online; and what challenges they face, such as cyberbullying, viewing inappropriate content or whether they have the digital skills to successfully navigate in online spaces.

The session will also introduce the next phase of the Digital Footprint research: social media in a learning & teaching context.  There will be an opportunity to discuss e-professionalism and social media guidelines for inclusion in handbooks/VLEs, as well as other areas.”

I am also really excited about this event, at which Louise Connelly, Sian Bayne, and I will be talking about the early findings from our Managing Your Digital Footprints project, and some of the outputs from the research and campaign (find these at: www.ed.ac.uk/iad/digitalfootprint).

Although this event is open to University staff and students only (register via the Online Bookings system, here), we are disseminating this work at a variety of events, publications etc. Our recent ECSM 2015 paper is the best overview of the work to date but expect to see more here in the near future about how we are taking forward this work. Do also get in touch with Louise or I if you have any questions about the project or would be interested in hearing more about the project, some of the associated training, or the research findings as they emerge.

Aug 162015
 
Image of Nicola Osborne and Helen Aiton from Fringe 2015 brochure

What is it like to write a show for the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas (#codi15)? Well, as I make the final preparations for my own show, Back to the Statistical Future (26th August, Stand in the Square, 3pm, just £8 per ticket!), I thought I would share some reflections on the process of developing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe that is based on academic and research areas, but is accessible to a wider audience. And also on the nerve-jangling experience that is selling real tickets to real punters – and using social and other media to help with that!

So, firstly a wee bit of background.

Back in 2013 Beltane Public Engagement Network – of whom I am a long term fan/member/participant/event junkie – decided to create a new show for the Fringe. It was to be a light hearted academic and research led strand of one-off events for smart audiences. And this “Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas“, was to be a co-production with the lovely experienced production company Fair Pley and the unstoppable ball of energy and obscure facts that is Susan Morrison (stand up, Bright Club compere and enthusiast, and Director of the Previously… History festival). You can hear the original pitch, filmed outside that first venue, here:

YouTube Preview Image

That first year was an experiment (read more about our EDINA show at CODI13 here) that led to an amazing CODI (as it became known to insiders/Twitter) run in 2014. Having rushed through prep for our first CODI show, we were keen to be better prepared and planned for our 2014 show, What Skeletons Are in Your Closet?. Looking across the EDINA activities we were keen to highlight and thought would be of interest to Fringe audiences we decided that the Statistical Accounts of Scotland were an ideal candidate.  The show sold well, got some lovely comments and attention, and was great fun, and so for 2015 we are going Back to the Statistical Future, and here’s how we are doing it…

Where do you start?

The whole idea of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas is to actually have a “dangerous idea” – something challenging or provocative. Last year we – myself and my lovely co-host and Statistical Accounts of Scotland editorial board corresponding member Helen Aiton – focused a lot on the forgotten members of society, and the ways in which the Statistical Accounts capture and share their lives. This year we wanted to do something a wee bit different, but we also wanted to be able to build on the best bits of the 2014 show, things like the background to the accounts including, as Susan calls it “the world longest letter” – our enormous physical list of all the questions that had generated the Accounts in the first place (indeed we discovered 6 additional questions last year when researching the show!).

"The World's Longest Letter" being shown off at CODI 2014 (image copyright Edinburgh Beltane Network)

“The World’s Longest Letter” being shown off at CODI 2014 (image copyright Edinburgh Beltane Network).

 

So there we were, in autumn 2014, trying to think about what might make for a good show… because planning for a Fringe show really has to start about a year ahead to make the various deadlines. At this point we knew the Scottish Referendum result but we also knew that there would be a general election before the Fringe and that the Fringe programme deadline would pass before we knew the impact of that. Now, why would that matter for a show about 18th or 19th Century Scotland? Well, for our ideas to be dangerous and engaging they also needed to be timely and that meant making some sort of connection to the current context.

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

One of the brilliant things about CODI is that the production team have set a lot of early deadlines to make sure those terrifying Fringe form deadlines start to look easily achievable! This year pitches for show were due in person by the end of November or by video in early December. That means you need to know roughly what you want to talk about and roughly how you plan to do that 9 to 10 months ahead of your show. It means much of the hard work is done long before you officially start writing.

So, in November Helen and I started thinking about ideas and decided to take a wee risk. We decided that such was the focus on austerity and cuts that, no matter what the election outcome, there would be a great social policy angle tying the historical picture in the Accounts to modern day Scotland.

But then we needed a name…

Thankfully all of the buzz around the upcoming anniversary of Back to the Future inspired us. The film had been interesting partly because 50s fashions and mid-80s tailoring actually has a lot in common, which meant that whilst social attitudes and pop music provided fun contrasts, a lot of what makes that film great is the familiar being re-experienced in an unfamiliar context. With what we had found in the Second Statistical Accounts on part time librarians, pressures to pay to school your children, gentrification, increasing scrutiny of those receiving poor relief and the help of the parish, we knew we had some parallels and a perfect simple title: Back to the Statistical Future!

The next stage was to get all of our expression of interest paperwork together for the CODI producers and, once our show was selected/accepted (yay!) we needed to ensure we had all our details for the Fringe programme. Because the Fringe deadlines are very early – the final deadline for totally finalized copy, images, URLs etc. for the programme and website hits as early in January – we also had to make sure we had everything finalized. That included the modest funding to cover registering our show in the guide, in key programmes, on posters in St Andrews Square, etc. The CODI producers, being fabulous, bundle this all together into a very affordable fee that doesn’t even pretend to cover all their serious hard work supporting the shows and working to get potential audiences, as well as University press offices and local and national press aware of the strand.

So, we had a show title and basic idea… And an official listing imminently going live… What next?

Northern Exposure

Never mind writing the show itself, the next priority is actually writing the stuff to promote the show: news items for websites, tweets, blog posts, emailing contacts or nudging the press. Because if there is an audience all booked in, we not only need to have the show written but there’s a good chance it will go well. If there is no audience the best written show in the world won’t be nearly as fun.

Tickets for CODI have been priced this year at £8. That is a marker of the confidence the CODI producers have in us lot – the writers and performers – but it is also something of a challenge. If I can go see Bridget Christie for only a few more pounds, or something at the book festival for a similar price, my expectations as an audience member are set high. But I’m also really invested in what I’m about to see or be part of. Psychologically paying for stuff makes us value it more than free stuff. There is a whole free fringe, and there are also quite a lot of free events led by academics and researchers, which are frequently excellent.

A Yurt full of CODI attendees watching last years show.

Motivation to do a good job: a yurt full of expectant CODI attendees watching our show last year (image copyright Edinburgh Beltane Network).

There are other reasons to charge £8. Our venue this year and last has been a yurt in St Andrews Square, part of the Stand in the Square, one of the offshoot venues from legendary comedy club The Stand. So there are promotion costs, the venue costs (hire of space, yurt, power etc), and the costs of having an (excellent) technician keeping our mics and music working as expected – and those apply to every show no matter how famous you are.

Thus, as August draws closer you find yourself logging in daily, checking ticket sales, panicking, and working out how to make your show better, how to let people know about it in a new way, how to tell all of your friends that really, they are better booking early. Every ticket sale is a victory as well as a reminder that your show really really better be good… And so…

Writing the show itself

So, as I post this it is mid August and our show, taking place on 26th is coming together but isn’t finished yet.

Back in November, when we were preparing our pitch Helen and I both scoured the Statistical Accounts for what we call our “snippits” file – highlights, quotes, interesting leads, stories and statistics that we think might make a show. Once we had that clearer idea of what to focus on we started looking for more, digging deeper into some of our key topics: libraries; schools; literacy; public housing; disability and poor relief.

Notes from the writing process - snippets, leads, and nineteenth century finances...

Notes from the writing process – snippets, leads, and nineteenth century finances…

There were also Boot Camps to help us along – CODI gatherings in which all participants are encouraged to come along and share advice and in-progress show ideas. Some of these are in the Stand, which comes with the bonus of letting you tread the hallowed 4 feet of plywood that is their tiny stage. And for the last of these, in June, we were expected to give our 3 minute presentation outlining not just the topic, but also the structure of our show. Which means you have to have one. And even if that structure is only finalized late the night before the bootcamp, it’s still awfully useful to have. Because with that title, description, structure and a slowly booking audience all in place you have at least a full skeleton of your show, and plenty of time to flesh it out properly.

With CODI now in it’s third year there are some golden rules about what makes a CODI show too. It isn’t a presentation; it’s about interacting with the audience and engaging them. It isn’t about being the cleverest person in the room but it is about sharing and enlightening the audience with what you know. You need to be prepared but you can also count on Susan, now the compere for all CODI shows, to manage anything really challenging for you. As a bonus she’ll also dress as a minion, or a penguin, or a hurricane, or, for our show, impersonate a judgmental 19th century Minister of the Church of Scotland.

So the final stage is writing that script down. Which doing Bright Club has taught me is always worth doing for a performance where timing and wording will matter (so this is not always the case for presentations elsewhere). And that structure will get rejigged, and new data may need gathering – for instance in the last week Helen has been gathering data on average pay in 1835, whilst I’ve been scrutinizing the finances of an Edinburgh workhouse. As Helen and I are in different geographical locations emails and google docs and Skype calls have been happening to check in. And finally, as I am currently doing, it will all get into a finalized script, then read through and changed and made funnier. Then we’ll need to think “is that clear enough” and “can I back that up”…

And then, on 26th August, we will go into a wonderful and hopefully full yurt, and anything could happen… we may forget half of the content, we probably will be taken in whole new directions by the audience, why not join us and find out?