I have something to say about that…

Data on the Web Best Practices — draft standard in Proposed Rec stage

For the past two years, we — the W3C Data on the Web working group — have been working on a standards document for publishing data on the web. Things like:

  • Provide descriptive metadata
  • Use machine-readable standardised data formats
  • Provide bulk download
  • Make data available through an API
  • Use web standards as the foundation for your API (REST etc)

The best practices aren’t especially groundbreaking — but just think, when you’re trying to use the data that an app or government has provided and this stuff is missing… Isn’t it frustrating?!?

We wanted to make sure the definitive guide to how to put data on the web was available for those who wanted to “do it right”.

So… a) for all of you developers. It’s out there. Enjoy.
b) for W3C members, the spec is in PR until 15 Jan 2017. Responses welcomed until then.

Best Practices for Data on the Web:
https://www.w3.org/TR/dwbp/

Announcement of publication for PR:
https://www.w3.org/blog/news/archives/6006

My OvertheAir keynote: Trump, Brexit and us as developers

I gave the opening keynote at OvertheAir yesterday, covering President-elect Trump, Brexit and what it all means for us as developers. Topics like:

  • Data protection laws. Will your app from London be able to handle users in another country? Or will you need to do something special to be compliant with their laws? Will it matter where you host data about your users?
  • The importance of informed and empowered users. We need to build services that make clear what data is going where. And I think we REALLY need to standardise private browsing mode. Everyone should know what it does when they turn it on… but it varies widely from browser to browser!
  • Keeping transactions secure. If everything depends on economic growth, and economic growth depends on secure, reliable transactions… Security and strong encryption will be crucial to our future.
  • Fake news. We (the web community) — well, we didn’t invent fake news. But we did create ways for it to be distributed on a mass scale. Therefore, we have some responsibility here — we should work towards fixing it.

There is still a lot that isn’t settled, on the political/governmental fronts, but it’s useful to keep an eye on the facts we have and the questions we’ll need answers to as things unfold. Lots to do ahead — and lots to build.

Photo by @documentally courtesy of Nexmo.

Photo of Hadley at a podium, in front of a slide that says State of the Web

Video: my keynote at ViewSource

I gave the opening keynote this morning at Mozilla’s ViewSource conference in Berlin. View Source has gathered an amazing group of web developers to explore new frontiers in the open web.

I talked about how the open web lets us build it as we like — we get to make the rules. And there are lots of rules left for us to shape. The web is not yet a finished product.

The outline of my talk is below, if you aren’t in the mood for a video.

Text: The rules are fluid, because we make them. We have the ability to shape the web. What should it be? -Hadley Beeman
Quote originally published on @viewsource’s twitter feed at https://twitter.com/viewsourceconf/status/775606536861278208

Outline of my View Source keynote

Continue with reading

Video: Making things open (OSCON 2015)

I gave the opening keynote at OSCON 2015 in Portland, Oregon. I was speaking on behalf of the UK government and the Government Digital Service.

Summary of the talk from the conference site:

Openness is good for Government on many levels — open data, open standards, open source, open markets. Where we set the way we work in Government, it’s important to let industry determine the technical standards we work with. We can’t do everything ourselves and by making our own code and data open we have an opportunity to gain from innovation as well as support other services to be developed by suppliers of all sizes.

Make things open, it makes things better.

My memories of the 7/7 bombings

Ten years ago today… my morning commute to work was disrupted. There was much confusion at Waterloo Station. The tube station was closing, and everyone was milling about near the trains.  There were rumours of trouble in multiple parts of the tube network, but no one seemed to understand the disruption.

I hopped on a bus and called an old friend, who I knew had been up all night working on her PhD on nuclear terrorism.  I thought she might interpret the news better than I could.

“They’re reporting ‘a power surge,'” she told me as my bus wound through Holborn towards Farringdon.  It’s hard to tell what’s actually happening.  Be careful just in case.”

I got to work — one of the few who did, it turned out — and was asked to make a list of my team and work out who was still alive. While the sirens raced past our office buildings en route to various hospitals, I made the phone calls. I never want to do that again.

(They were all alive, fortunately. But I counted those endless sirens, thinking of those teams across the capital — and families — who were finding that some of their members weren’t.)

I remember phoning my mother and waking her up.  “You’re going to see that there’s something going on in London,” I told her. “I just want you to know, when you see that, that I’m at work and I’m okay.”  She blearily thanked me and apparently went straight to watch the news… which was already reporting explosions.  I got a somewhat teary voicemail from her a number of hours later — when the phone networks were no longer clogged — thanking me and telling me she loved me.

The City was evacuated in the afternoon, and I headed across London on foot towards friends in South Kensington (since I lived too far away to get back to my home). All the Londoners I encountered had a surreal quality of shock at the events and a heightened, startled awareness of each other… We weren’t just obstacles in each other’s journeys anymore — we talked. We nodded to each other. We shared our worried looks and our stoic laughter. As we all tried to work out how to get home, it felt like we actually saw each other for the first time. We understood we were in it together.

When I got to Hyde Park Corner, a couple of brave TfL bus drivers had picked up their routes — all the more courageous when we didn’t yet know what had happened to cause the explosions, nor whether it was truly finished. I stepped onto a bus and was humbled to see the driver, as confused and stricken as the rest of us, determined to do his part: London was on the move, and he could help us get home. What a gesture of solidarity. I thanked him profusely.

Coincidentally, I found one of the South Ken friends at the back of that bus, and we went on to their flat to make margaritas with his wife. There was lots to talk about that night, and to be grateful for. And to mourn. We’d each experienced it differently, but we’d been through it together — and London is never more amazing than when it finds a reason to pull together.

Uses for open data

I’m often asked these days why people would bother with open data. (Here, I’m using LinkedGov’s definition of open data.)  I thought it would be useful to write down and gather some feedback, see if we can refine these categories further.

Thus far, it seems, the uses are boiling down to four categories:

1.  Transparency

Broadly speaking, this means getting a better view of what is going on inside government or the public sector.  This audience covers both the non-public sector and the public sector itself.

Examples:

  • Infrastructure:  Transport timetables, traffic information or road potholes for a journey planner app
  • Accountability:  Financial and budget statements for armchair auditors
  • Media:  Potential headlines and stories for journalists
  • Sharing information resources:  Formal research available to inform academic and professional enquiries (for example, data from NHS clinical studies informing projects hosted by universities or industry). This group also includes management and demographic statistics, like the number of people in a particular benefits programme
  • Status and progress updates: performance data, such as the number of outcomes met in a specific project
  • News: announcements about public sector activities, grant opportunities and new ways to interact with government
  • Community information:  local planning applications, crime statistics or upcoming events which impact a neighbourhood

2.  Delivering services to/on behalf of government

Open data allows commercial and third sector organisations to have a closer relationship with customers and funding sources in government and the public sector.

Examples:

  • Delivering front-line services on behalf of a governmental or public body:  As an example, the train operating companies might benefit from greater access to forecasts of passenger activity from Transport for London.
  • Marketing to government:  If a photocopier sales department can see which public sector offices are likely to need a new photocopier soon, they can target their marketing appropriately.

3.  Improving commercial activities outside of government

Many existing business models could benefit significantly from greater access to public data.  A few examples:

  • Smoothing commercial transactions. A tool for selecting the ideal import tariffs or a faster route of calculating tax could provide significant savings for a commercial goods company.
  • Enhancing an existing offering.  A tour operating company could plan more accurately (or prompt their clients to plan better) with weather data from the Met Office.
  • Targeting marketing.  Census data and council tax bands, for example, could help a new company work out where its target market is, helping them to concentrate their comms efforts in the most efficient place

4.  Efficiency

Much of the public sector could benefit from better access to their data and the information contained within it.  Examples include:

  • Procurement:  Comparing costs and existing contracts when looking at procurement for something new.
  • Evidence base: Better informed policy development and decision-making
  • Reducing the load: Less enquiries from the public (specifically requests under the Freedom of Information Act) and from within the public sector (for example, parliamentary questions from ministers to civil servants in their department).

What are your thoughts?  How can we refine this model and make it more complete?

We the people vs Facebook, Google et al.

A theme in this morning’s news items struck me:

It’s interesting to me that these issues are based in the same quandry: how do we, as a society, deal with placing the control of our content in the hands of a few big providers?

The writers and the publishers – a contract

User-generated content comes out of a relationship: the writers (us) write things, generate data through web activities, and create links to people, while the hosts (Facebook and Google, here) gather the information and do neat things with it.  They share our posts with our friends, connect us with ads that might interest us, and host our status updates and regulate who sees what we are up to.

The first two links are public retaliations for what the plaintiffs feel is a betrayal of trust by Google and Facebook.  They put their trust in these two tools to safeguard their content. They are unhappy that Google and Facebook changed the rules (or perhaps violated their side of the agreement) with the users by changing the defaults on what information is public.

This, to me, is an age-old “breach of contract” question.  Have Google and Facebook in fact violated the terms of service, to which they agreed when each user opened an account with them?  And if so, what do they owe us?

Making amends

The next story is about Facebook, having heard the outcry (well represented by the aforementioned lawsuit) and attempting to re-establish good will.  Though they aren’t admitting that they have done anything wrong, they appear to be trying to regain some of the trust they lost in November and December by offering users more control over who sees posts from the various applications they use.  (The example cited in the Facebook blog explanation: I’ll let the Someecards app post to my close friends only, but My Causes can post to everyone including the boss.)

As the Facebook announcement says, “Facebook is designed to give you control over the information you share.”  I think they are hoping that even greater control will result in a stronger feeling of contract and trust between the users and their tools.

Be careful what you say…


“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”
Pleaserobme.com

Pleaserobme.com is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that all information posted on the web is public.  Also that most posts can be added to other bits of content for more context than we might intend.

Pleaserobme.com takes basic posts to Twitter from the location-based app Foursquare, which announces where a user is when they check in at that location.  As the Pleaserobme site says, “The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”

There are a number of ways to work out where someone lives, not the least of which is that many homes are being added to Foursquare as check-in destinations. Sure it’s nice to know where your friends are, but this could be problematic!

(Side note: when I added a new location to Foursquare on Tuesday, it offered me the choice to have that location be private among my friends.  It appears that they are already trying to counter this problem.)

But the idea is that, by announcing on Twitter that I have checked in at a location that isn’t home, then all my valuables at home are open for the taking.  Obviously, that’s not good.

As a content-generator in this relationship, I have to be aware of what information I am releasing to my hosting platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google, etc.) and how that information can be compiled.

Are we making progress?

We can talk at length about the generational change in individual data, and how kids today will grow up happily sharing every last bit of their lives on the Web.  (I’m not convinced of this, by the way- I think they will grow out of a lot of their exhibitionism.  Caution and desire for privacy often comes with age.)

But these stories represent, to me, an ongoing push-me-pull-you tension of expectations and service provision, as the capabilities and they way they’re used continually race ahead of each other.  I think our society and laws will continue to swing back and forth on privacy issues as we re-establish our norms and our expectations for companies that hold our content.

*Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/38057014@N05/3542597760/

Collaborative learning resources

Just a quick follow-up to my feature on collaborative learning over at LGEO Research….  I’ve been asked for references, so here they are!

e-Learning Anaesthesia (eLA)
This is a joint programme between the Department of Health’s e-Learning for Healthcare (e-LfH) and the Royal College of Anaesthetists. They are collaboratively developing clinically-appropriate, peer-reviewed online learning modules to help trainee anasesthetists to revise for their FRCA exams.

Dimitracopoulou, A. (2005)  Designing collaborative learning systems: current trends & future research agenda.
Computer Support for Collaborative Learning (Proceedings of the 2005 conference on Computer support for collaborative learning: learning 2005: the next 10 years!) Taipei, Taiwan. p 115 – 124.
This is a good background paper on computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and models for the different kinds of systems.

Smith, B. L and MacGregor, J. T. (1992) ‘What is Collaborative Learning?‘  Abbreviation of Smith and MacGregor’s article, “What Is Collaborative Learning?” in Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education, by Anne Goodsell, Michelle Maher, Vincent Tinto, Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor. Pennsylvania State University: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.
This paper outlines the theory of collaborative learning (face-to-face or technological).

Baker , M., Quignard, M., Lund, K. & Sejourne A. (2003). Computer-supported collaborative learning in the space of debate. In B.Wasson, S. Ludvigsen and U. Hoppe (eds): CSCL: Designing for Change in Networked Learning Environments, CSCL 2003 congress: 14-18 June 2003, Bergen, Norway, pp.11-20
This paper is about designing collaborative learning spaces.  It explains that giving more feedback (for example, dialogue graphs which visually show the user how much they participate) increases the number of arguments a participant contributes.

Hope these are helpful!

Bulgaria sees the value in tech growth

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bulgaria and was struck by a country in economic and technological transition. The apartment blocks and factories, remnants of an industrial Communist era now past, clashed sharply with the modest stone-and-wood houses built by occupants who might herd goats or raise roosters in the garden. Overlaid atop this architectural tug-of-war across the countryside (no doubt simmering since the Soviet Army invaded in 1944) are signs of technological infrastructure and Western prosperity.

The billboards at Sofia airport for Hewlett-Packard and our other favourite technology companies were my first evidence that the country is growing both with through technology tools and with the innovation funds that their creator companies bring. The technology sector already accounts for 10% of Bulgaria’s GDP and the country is proud of it.

“There is no doubt the ‘old’ EU member states, for all their experience, could learn from what we have been doing in Bulgaria in terms of economic growth and competitiveness,” said Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian prime minister, last week. Stanishev spoke in a pre-Spring EU summit in Brussels.

Stanishev’s pride wasn’t just talk — I was particularly impressed with the Bansko ski resort, boasting new Doppelmayr ski lifts and the RFID-based Skidata passes that allowed us skiers through a turnstile and straight onto the lift. Far more efficient than checking paper passes by hand! Bansko seems to have been planned out with technology and efficiency in mind. gondola at Bansko in the snow

Stanishev did admit that intellectual property protections (among other things) remain a challenge for Bulgaria to become a competitor in the world technology market. Yesterday, Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva made effort towards laying down IP policy for the country. Weighing in on the international iTunes music debate in her capacity as European Commissioner for Consumers, Kuneva said, “[I do not find it] proper that a music CD can be played on all trademarks of players, but the music sold in iTunes can be played only on an iPod.” Taking this leadership role for the EU in such a high-stakes IP struggle could be significant for Bulgaria. Watch this space.

It appears that this beautiful country, which joined the EU at the beginning of this year, has every intention of becoming a major player in the tech economy. Today’s news announces that they have just been slated to receive €7 billion in EU funding over the next 7 years — I’m quite keen to see what they accomplish with it.

The spam of my blog

Because it’s a Friday, and because this has made me laugh through the week, I’d like to share with you a bit about my blog’s spam.

Quick background: let me help you boost your search ranking

Google ranks web pages based on a formula which includes their popularity (measured by how many other pages have links that point to it — see the classic Google paper Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Search Engine for more details). Consequently, the more pages out there refer to yours, the better your chances are of ending up near the top of the Google Results list when someone does a search. If you’re out to artificially inflate that ranking, planting links to your site around the web will boost your ratings. The higher your ranking, the more users will notice you, the more traffic you will get, and the more advertising revenue or potential sales you’ll land by getting them (figuratively) through the door.

And where to plant links to your site? Blog comments! Most blogging software will let you post more or less what you like, in HTML, on endless pages within the millions of blogs out there. (Note: at press time, Technorati is currently tracking 69.2 million blogs. And they haven’t got the whole blogosphere. The field is vast.)

We do have anti-spam software that filters spam comments, for example by the number of links a post contains. We blog-holders are not captive to the wills of blog spammers. But my spam filter, Akismet, kindly holds the spam comments it detects for my review. It is from this week’s list of Akismet spam from my blog that I pull the following trends.

Spam for my blog!

This past week, I’ve kept a particular eye on my blog’s spam. Since I delete them and you never get to see how funny they are, I thought I’d pull up a few to share with you.

Because they’re just out to get their links up on my site, the spammers have to convince me to post (or not delete) their comment. Each spam post begins with a little commentary around the links they are promoting, a feeble effort to catch my attention or fool me into thinking it’s a legitimate comment. These are what amuse me, and what I want to show to you.

  • A number of them are complimentary to my site or a particular post.

Hi! Guys how you manage to make such perfect sites? Good fellows!
(This was for debt consolidation services. I like the idea of being called “fellows”. Apt for a lone female running the site.)

With posts like this how long before we give up the newspaper?!!
(This was a site just trying to generate traffic. But I like that they’re referencing the whole Web 2.0-threatens-mainstream-media debate.)

This is a cool site! Thanks and wish you better luck!
(This was a comment selling replica handbags. It was posted on my Privacy Legislation and Teenagers post. It’s nice of them to, er, extend their sympathies… but I didn’t find that article so difficult to write! I imagine this was written with a more emotional blog in mind.)

That was a very nice post, I’m proud of you.
(Now that’s sweet. It recurs regularly, and even though I’m not interested in the loans and refinancing it offers, the comment always makes me feel good about the hard work I put into my blog.)

  • Some are just unrelated to the links. I got this romantic text under the subject heading of Cheap Shopping:

Lorsque la main d’un homme effleure la main d’une femme, tous deux touchent a l’éternité.
(Rough translation: “As the man’s hand brushes the woman’s, both of them touch eternity.” It may actually be syrupy enough to warrant the painkillers they were touting.)

Another tries to play the sympathy card:

My life’s been generally bland. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me. I don’t care. I’ve just been sitting around doing nothing, but eh.
(This came with a gmail address, and just to be sure I sent them an email asking if everything was okay. Hey, I’m a nice person! Not surprisingly, the message bounced. I then discovered that the link URL was a pointer which resolved to a site selling Viagra.)

  • I got one yesterday that was actually honest. No preamble, just a long list of links titled Greats from me: . I still didn’t post it, and I don’t need the sleep aids that were listed below, but I do appreciate the forthright approach.
  • For sheer creativity, as well as honesty in marketing, my current favourite is this one:

Hello.
If your site getting constantly spammed, then you are in urgent need of a new folding table
Check these: folding poker tables
Sincerely yours,
folding tables seller

That did catch my attention. I had to laugh. A salesman who knows their market! I’m impressed that they thought about what drives me as a consumer. It’s too bad that I can’t see how a folding table would solve my spam issues, but if they want to come back and leave a comment about it, I will be happy to approve it for posting.

a folding tab le