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Kevin at edUi 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013 10:32 am

The best conferences change you. Even before the closing session, you recognize something different about yourself, a new way of thinking perhaps or a new perspective on a project. This change is more than the catalog of new ideas and new projects that the conference generates; it’s a new way of seeing things, of making sense of your work and the world. After such a conference, you return excited, invigorated. (And, to be honest, apprehensive: how will I sustain this new way of being amid the torrent of the job?).

For me, edUi 2013 was this kind of conference. For three days, it was the realization of a single, simple idea: make small, meaningful improvements. It was an inversion really – of project and process, of productivity and creativity. And it was so familiar – in fact, I had abided by such a concept as a way to approach the glut of project requirements, feature requests, and feedback cycles. But ‘familiar’ was not ‘realized’.

Here was a simple, empowering method that provoked such welcome clarity through its limited scale and its confident optimism. Here was a way to transform glut into abundance. Anyway, that’s the short version. The long version includes much more about opportunities and strategies and tactics, about audiences and usability and prioritization, the context within which ‘small’ and ‘meaningful’ and ‘improvements’ are defined.

Of course, edUi was also about a wealth of other things:

  • content strategy
  • responsive analytics
  • best practices and bogus best practices
  • how (re)designing a screen sometimes feels like convincing an organization to change the way it works
  • how to use mobile as a lens to make everything better, regardless of platform
  • how to use data to make decisions (since data is often the language stakeholders speak)
  • and generally all things UX

Kevin at edUi 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 1:57 pm

edUi – a conference for web professionals serving colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and beyond – was held in Richmond, VA this year, having moved from its original location in Charlottesville. It was a good move – many first time attendees – and an incredible conference. From the plenary on the “Googlization of Everything” – where University of Virginia media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan (who wrote the book) discussed how Google has become the custodian of the web, how algorithms are not value neutral, and how we still need to be intelligent, critical re/searchers – to all the sessions and finally to the keynote by Jeffrey Zeldman, “King of Web Standards” – where he talked about universal smart defaults, content and mobile strategy, and the future of web design, edUi proved to be an exciting forum for exchanging web ideas.

Some session highlights include:

  • an in-depth look at writing better WordPress plugins;
  • a data ninja versus data squirrel view of Google Analytics;
  • an extended discussion about the mobile web, ubiquitous learning, the geosocial universe, and the prospects for education;
  • a prototyping primer using html5, css3, jquery;
  • a reflection on design sophistication including the creative use of negative space and new web typography;
  • and many others.

It was a great conference that addressed an impressive range of web issues. Many thanks to the STEP (Summer Technology Exploration Grant) program for providing the opportunity to attend.

Kevin at LITA National Forum

Friday, October 8, 2010 9:46 am

Here are a few notes from my first LITA National Forum:

  • Subjective perceptions. From the opening keynote (an epistemological discussion of Wikipedia), a couple questions resonated with me – one in particular. How do we know how to resolve conflict when we don’t really agree on reality?
  • Legitimate peripheral participation. “Through peripheral activities, novices become acquainted with the tasks, vocabulary, and organizing principles of the community.” [1] Growth depends on access to experts, on observing their practices and, through time, understanding the broader context of effort and community.
  • Interface design. Small changes in user interface can equal big changes in user behavior.
  • Cloud computing. From Saturday’s General Session, Roy Tennant discussed how the cost of innovation is approaching zero, that the model “easy-come-easy-go” enables a greater flexibility and lower risk to experiment, and cited Erik and his Code4Lib article.
  • Scrum. An iterative, incremental methodology for project management and software development. You work in a timeboxed sprint with a focus on speed and flexibility as part of your development process.

Of course, Erik, Jean-Paul, and I presented on our move to the cloud. As others have said, it went very well. Erik gave an introduction and overview of the project and service models, JP talked about the opportunities and challenges of cloud computing, Erik discussed IT service management, and I finished with our migration and production process and lessons learned. There was an exciting amount of interest following the talk. Overall, a great conference – small in size, big in ideas.

Kevin at ALA Annual 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 6:58 am

In what was a quick two-day abbreviation of the ALA Annual conference (my first), the same observation kept recurring: there are a lot of librarians here. For every session I attended, there were more librarians than the chairs (and walls and floors) could accommodate. Erik’s Saturday morning cloud computing session was a case in point: chairs stolen from adjacent rooms, concerned librarians checking the fire code room capacity, other concerned librarians threading narrow fire escapes through the throng, and still other librarians spilling through the doors into the hallway.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday: different sessions, same story. After two full days of extended tech sessions, it was clear: there are a lot of librarians here and there are a lot of librarians here interested in technology.

Some of the sessions I attended discussed rich internet applications, emerging technologies, cloud computing, digital experience design, and top technology trends. More specifically, we discussed:

  • application screen design (e.g. Should I use a dashboard or a spreadsheet layout?)
  • usability heuristics (e.g. The system status must be visible.)
  • the disjunction between vision and beta (e.g. Your imagination exceeds my resources.)
  • the role of experience design (e.g. What kind of experience did you have with this website? What kind of experience do we want you to have?)

Overall, an important theme emerged: for all these considerations, there must be balance between the handcrafted and the industrial, between creativity and scale, between care and control.

Sunday morning was the LYRASIS awards breakfast. As one of three winners of the NextGen Librarian Award, I feel very honored and am very grateful. It is a good feeling to be recognized for one’s hard work. Thanks, Susan!

Code4Lib 2010 in Asheville

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 8:02 am

Asheville hosted a fantastic code4lib. Here are a few highlights:

  • Tuesday’s keynote. Cathy Marshall (Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research) discussed the nature of living digitally, where, for many, loss is an acceptable means of culling collections, where benign neglect is the de facto stewardship technique.
  • Galactic glitter glue with space debris. There was a proposal for the code4lib community to pursue cloud4lib, a cloud platform that would enable libraries to build and use a common infrastructure and service layer, the glue to hold everything together. Development enhances the entire platform, not just a single product or installation.
  • Public data. There are 3 cloud service models: infrastructure as service, platform as service, and software as service. Related to these service models is data in the cloud. One example is Google Fusion Tables, an experimental system for data management, collaboration, and visualization from Google Labs. For libraries, the cloud could include institutional data as a service.
  • Agile development. This one is all about IT project management and development cycles. When priorities and requirements change frequently (or are undefined) and others see IT as a black box, is it possible to build both software and trust? Sprint planning and iterative development make it possible to set priorities and to commit to certain functionality collaboratively.
  • Vampires vs. werewolves. How do you balance a stable production environment with a rapid upgrade cycle? How do you balance the needs of sysadmins and developers? You use puppet and nagios.
  • Thursday’s keynote. Paul Jones (Director of ibiblio.org and Associate Professor, UNC SILS) talked about Dunbar’s Number, attributed source (where liking and quality are functions of the communication source), and the changing nature of liabilities and assets on the social web (attention deficit is to multitasking as jargon is to slang as idiocentric humor is to internet memes).

Kevin at code4lib 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009 7:38 pm

In addition to a nice blur of technologies and acronyms, here, in distilled form, are a few key ideas I gathered from code4lib 2009:

  • libraries vs. museums of books (or how the ecosystem of information will become all electronic)
  • a chair in a room, a catalog on the web (or how design requires context)
  • linked open data (or how to turn the web into an API)
  • a web of data (or how information goes from books of pages to journals of articles to webs of hyperlinks to networks of relational assertions)
  • not simply a web of data (or why the goal should be to enrich lives through access to information)
  • “if you have something to say, release it as code” (or how to become an advocate in your library)
  • data outlasts code (or why open data is more important than open source)
  • the value of data (or why we should engineer for serendipity)

Kevin at MERLOT

Monday, August 11, 2008 7:45 am

The eighth annual MERLOT Conference, held in Minneapolis, had much to offer. Under the banner of “Still Blazing the Trail and Meeting New Challenges in the Digital Age”, there were an impressive number of sessions (from 15 minute mini-sessions up to 2 hour workshops) shared among several different conference tracks. The library track, ‘Reinventing Libraries in the Digital Age’, unfortunately, seemed rather lightly represented.

Sessions ran the gamut: from the opening plenary’s ‘stuck on an escalator‘ video to Saturday evening’s consideration of learning and cognitive neuroscience. In between, I attended many other interesting sessions: the challenges of repository creation in the context of sharing educational resources; an analysis of effective online instruction and hybrid course development; the use and importance of self-assessment in asynchronous class discussions; the integration of social network environments within the campus learning context; and an examination of accessibility and deprecated development techniques in the context of online education.

Overall, it was a informative conference, where the varying perspectives on and degress of hybridity indicated the value and complexities of the changing landscape and its new opportunities.

Tufte on Analytical Design

Friday, March 28, 2008 10:51 am

Yesterday, I attended Edward Tufte‘s Presenting Data and Information, a one-day course on information design and display, in Raleigh. Tufte, a professor emeritus at Yale University, is a master of data presentation and information display; his books – Beautiful evidence, Visual explanations, Envisioning information, and The Visual display of quantitative information – are impressive and instructive. He is also known for his critique of PowerPoint.

The course, which was very heavily attended (overflow parking in an adjacent field was insufficient), ranged from an examination of Charles Joseph Minard‘s depiction of Napoleon’s march to Moscow to an assessment of the iPhone. Tufte discussed:

  • high resolution versus low resolution display
  • the centrality of content
  • the human eye-brain system and the poverty of information
  • cognition and information density
  • small multiples
  • image annotation and numerical language
  • how design mimics bureaucracy
  • flat interfaces
  • the popularization of personalization
  • and many other things

In his discussion of interface design, he focused on several main points. He lamented the prominent inclusion of what he called ‘computer administration functions’, that is, instructions on how to interact with the interface. He sees the necessity of these instructions as a failure of design; the goal should be to eliminate all of the administration functions and fill the screen with content. Of course, too much content often feels cluttered, crowded, and chaotic; clutter and confusion, he replied, exist not because of complexity of information but, again, because of failures of design. According to Tufte, the answer is not to remove or otherwise attenuate the information; the answer is to redesign, annotating and labeling, enhancing the multivariate and removing the redundant.

Another key point in his discussion of interfaces was the importance of flattening hierarchies. Hierarchies are too bureaucratic, inefficient, and influence a poverty of information throughout a site or organization. Navigating by hierarchies is equally inefficient. He recommended creating a flat interface, providing full choices and full content, and not underestimating users’ cognitive abilities.

It was an exceptional course, a compact yet rigorous sketch of a critical topic.

DigCCurr : Day 2

Friday, April 20, 2007 8:29 pm

Some of today’s sessions included:

  • Views from National Libraries and Archives. It is apparent that answers to the important questions of digital curation are still materializing. Brief session notes are available.
  • Building Capabilities for Digital Curation Repositories. There was not an empty seat in this session on defining capabilities, capabilities which included standard concerns like server space and backup migration as well as advanced concerns like organizational sustainability. It was mentioned several times that organizations need to transition from a stage of the digital “project”, the ad hoc level, to a platform of the digital “program”, where formalized and dedicated roles and responsibilities, workflows and policies ensure greater sustainability.
  • Digital Curation in Practice. Abstracts from this session on collection development are available in the DigCCurr wiki.

Well-organized and important, DigCCurr 2007 provided a solid foundation in understanding the serious work that’s being done and that needs to be done to support and secure our digital world.

DigCCurr : Day 1

Thursday, April 19, 2007 7:41 pm

A long day of talking about digital production, preservation, maintenance, and sustainability. Some of the day’s sessions included:

  • What do digital curators do and what do they need to know? Abstracts and brief notes on the research perspectives of this question are available in the DigCCurr wiki.
  • Identifying digital curation services and functional requirements. The user services section, during a discussion of the use of social software features in digital collections, emphasized the necessity of having guidelines in place for managing the comments, for answering the questions and handling the requests that users submit. Also, during a discussion of gathering comprehensive statistics and assessing how users interact with a site, Google Analytics was lauded.
  • Mechanisms for influencing data curation practices. The section on conceptual frameworks for repository architecture demonstrated models of database and XML structures and considered methods for merging varying sustainability concerns, including technological, organizational, and economic concerns.

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