Monday, 29 March 2010

Thing 21: Blogger gadget

Gadgets, widgets - I love 'em. They're very neat. As a Samsung phone owner, I have several on my homescreen :) For the purposes of this task, I augmented my blogs - the one I have for this project, and my sketch blog: I added a list of favourite blogs to each.

I also added the Newsreel gadget, specifying news items relating to philosophy. Then I went crazy and added another gadget - this time a slideshow of photos/drawings from my Flickr album. I love this stuff!

I then went to the article linked to from the 23 Things blog. It comprises a list of Blogger widgets. The one I tried to add was a 'Share in Facebook' widget. However, I had the same problem I had with an earlier task. Instead of adding the gadget to my page, all clicking the 'add' box did was post a link to a page about the gadget to my Facebook wall, rather than adding the gadget to my page. I need to find out what's going wrong here.

Thing 22: on iGoogle

I added a My gadget to my iGoogle page. Since I haven't engaged very much with it since that task (I was a tad sceptical), it feels like a superfluous addition. But maybe its constant presence on a page I use more may make me learn more about it.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Thing 20: ThinkFree Office

This task was scuppered slightly, as when I tried to open a new document, a window opened telling me I needed to download Java. There was a link to a website and it all seemed a bit less straightforward than the '23 things' blog hinted. I can't download new software onto my work computer, as I'm not the administrator. It looked straightforward, and slightly more sophisticated than Google docs. My supervisor said it ran a but slowly which could be frustrating. I'd rather have more basic DTP tools if the trade-off was a faster application overall.

Thing 19: Google Documents

I thought Google docs (and the cloud) was a very neat concept and tool. The relatively limited options for changing the look of text etc is too much of a problem. In my case, all I need is to be able to highlight text in bold or with italics occasionally.

I played about with some text and shared the resulting doc with my supervisor. All very easy.

When I first logged in, Google alerted me to a new feature, enabling you to upload any file. Right now, I'm reading a book manuscript by a philosopher I know who lives in the States. He's send me Word docs of each chapter. My plan is to give feedback in the form of insertions into the manuscript. It occurs to me that a convenient way for us to share our thoughts would be for the docs to be in the cloud and view/editable by both of us. I could access the files when I don't have my laptop, or work on them on my work or personal computer without worrying about which computer has the latest version. Gold Star for Google. They might be a bit iffy with copyright, but I don't think they're evil.

Thing 18: Wikipedia

I find Wikipedia very useful - a good first stop to finding out about some things. I'm not sure I would trust it to enlighten me about higher mathematics, but it is great for getting all the trivia about T.J. Hooker or something. Google searches for films and people, say, invariably have it as the first result, or in the first five. I am cautious, though, and aware that the content can't be taken as Gospel. At the very least, though, pages generally have links to more credible and authoritative pages, so it can be a great launch-pad to more serious research.

I have been interested to check pages about topics I myself have some knowledge of - like philosophy. I haven't always been impressed, but it's never occurred to me to presume to edit a page: I'm old school - leave it to the experts! I've also been amused by the discussion and disagreements - often conducted at a very petty level - by competing authors/critics. It doesn't always fill you with confidence in the authors. The Wiki-discussion pages on philosopher David Chalmers and on Consciousness are hilarious.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Thing 17: Wikis

Signed up to Webpaint, Web 2 Oxford Libraries, with my Facebook account.
I didn't find the page layout attractive - the ads are distracting (especially the one that pretends it's your inbox containing a new message, only it turns out it's a MacBook ad. The price for a free resource, I guess).

There was a page about Facebook where it was suggested that one can add a SOLO widget to a Facebook page. I thought it might be fun to add one to my personal page. However, when I found the application and followed the Wiki instructions to click the 'add it to my page' button, a window opened but without any obvious way of selecting my - or any - page to add the app to. So I don't know what I was doing wrong there. I also tried adding a 'droplet' - in this case a widget that shows updates to the wiki. Again, something went wrong: Clicking 'Get the droplet' gave me the opportunity, not to get it, but rather post about it on my wall. When I clicked this link there was a failure to go to the link for some reason.

I haven't yet found a substantial contribution worth making. Just to get an experience of editing a page, I did correct a typo! I have had some prior experience of Wetpaint, though. A philosophy group I had some connections with (it was run by the philosopher who taught me when I lived up North; I used to help tutor groups sometimes) set up a Wiki for their reading group. I signed up and make some contributions to their discussions. It looked like a very useful tool for greatly enhancing distance-learning.

My supervisor (also a 23 Thing-er) created a Wiki-space for our reserve (Bodley Lower Reserve) - screenshot above. I became a member and we created a discussion topic. Actual reserve-work prevented us pursuing things further, but I can see some potential there for facilitating discussion on how procedures might be improved, etc

Thing 15/16: Twitter

I already have a Twitter account. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. I don't tweet. I follow a handful of random people: a couple of journalists whose columns I like (you often find them trying out material in their tweetings), an artist, a film director, and Stephen Fry (obviously; though he has become a very infrequent tweeter after a period of disillusionment)! I was amazed by how quickly you can find yourself in strange and/or super-famous company you can find yourself in after a very few clicks through followers (and followers of followers) - very 'six degrees of separation'. And I found unexpected liaisons: like a relatively obscure American comic-book artist getting wished happy birthday by Lynda laPlante!

My contributions are limited to the occasional reply to someone (usually a compliment to an artist I follow) and the even more occasional retweet (usually something witty by one of the journos I follow).

I searched for tweets tagged "#ox23" and discovered little enthusiasm for Twitter among participants. For the purposes of the project, I tweeted an abbreviated version of the above.

I find myself a bit underwhelmed by the possibilities of Twitter for academic, work-related affairs. I often find this with 23 Things. I wonder if this because some of the tools we're being introduced to are more appropriate for other purposes, and that trying to co-opt them for work or academia is against their grain; or whether I'm not giving them enough of a chance or using my imagination enough to see how their use can extend beyond my own prior, often minimal needs (for e.g., look how something as seemingly superficial and benign as Twitter became politically significant recently); or whether my problem is that they all represent another barrage in an onslaught of information without the promise of presenting it more constructively. I guess an advantage of Twitter is that the information is bite-sized, with the option (via links) of accessing more information; good for updates and alerts maybe.

The issue always seems to be, which tool is best, where several seem to compete for or overlap functionality. For example, I see that one of the enhancements to Twitter is a site called Twitter-feed, which enables you to feed content from your blog to Facebook or Twitter. Since there are tools for directly following a blog, it seems superfluous to have a feed also going to Twitter. I guess if you want maximum coverage of your puny blog-thoughts, and have Twitter Followers who aren't iGooglers, or Facebook-friends who aren't Twitterers. I'm getting a picture where, if you think of yourself as a producer of content, you do it once - say in a blog - then have a set-up where that content is easily and automatically disseminated to all platforms, without you having to re-transmit manually to every platform. Makes sense, assuming you want to transmit the same content to all audiences: 'friends' 'followers' etc. But why does it make me feel exhausted and in need of an hour in a floatation tank.

Thing 14: LinkedIn

I confess I was sceptical about LinkedIn. It had a whiff of 'networking' which - at conferences when I was a grad student - I never had the stomach for. I know it's what 'getting on' requires and that it doesn't have to be as phoney as it feels to me to be, but I knew I was only going to be able to engage with this 'thing' in minimal way. I signed up and created a basic profile. I wanted to try to import my work contacts but I could find the right file on my computer to use on the 'Import Contacts' page. When I signed in a second time I was informed that I had turned up in searches 16 times since I last logged in. That disturbed me slightly. Unless I update this post, I think I'm going to move on.

Thing 13: Facebook

The Music Library already utilises Facebook and, though I have no need to use the library, I became a 'fan' in order to experience how such a page might work for a Facebook user. I received occasional updates in my news feed about opening times, holidays and other information. This could be useful but, if you have a lot of Facebook friends, then such newsfeed updates might get overlooked. I've visited other academic Facebook pages which have plug-ins giving direct links to academic e-resources; I thought that was pretty neat.

I can see how various commercial and academic enterprises would see the Facebook environment as offering a captive audience and an opportunity to make their presence felt where many people devote a good deal of their time. But commercial overtures feel intrusive and an academic presence feels slightly incongruous and superfluous. Personallly, because I see Facebook as a place for fairly frivollous social interaction with friends whom one cannot see physically and nothing else, there will be other more appropriate places where this kind of academic information might be better accessed or disseminated. I can see how others might see more potential in the site. RSS feeds from libraries or SMS alerts would be more fitting for me, if anything.

That said, perhaps a library of department 'fan page' might engender a sense of community among users and establish relationships that wouldn't necessarily occur otherwise.