Congratulations : ye have overcome the wiki one*

26 February 2008

Task 19 of the 23 Things program requires me to put a photo of my pet on the library staff wiki. My lilac Burmese cat Lily is already there, in excellent company with 77 other pets:


I regret that this was quite a difficult task for those who don’t have pets, those who have recently lost their pets, and those who struggle with the wiki software.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the origin of the wiki; my colleague Dana gives an excellent linguistic rundown on her post so I’ll save myself the time. But I think I’ve made it clear in a previous post that I like the idea of wikis as a means of keeping as much of our corporate work accessible, transparent and current as possible.

There are many reasons why wikis are better than intranets in our setting. For starters, intranets tend to be a top-down method of communication where senior levels of management deposit policy documents and statements to trickle down to their underlings. There is usually little or no encouragement for contributions from further down the food chain. That’s not how we want communicate in a library. Libraries are spaces for learning, creativity and collaboration at all levels of scholarship; that should include the library staff.

Secondly, intranets are usually maintained by a single administrator who uses complex HTML and stylesheets to build pages. While our web managers are quite capable of running a system like that, it defeats the purpose of a horizontal communication tool if we have to email them every time we want to make a change. Documents on intranets tend to go out of date very quickly and become redundant when an administrator has to see to other tasks; staff members are unlikely to pay attention to an internal method of communication if it’s perceived to be constantly out-of-date.

Many of my colleagues seem to have found using the staff wiki quite stressful. I agree with Dana that remembering the special wiki markup language is actually very difficult for those schooled in the HTML encoding used in websites; it’s like learning Dutch after learning German — the languages are similar on the surface, but sometimes their similarity is actively misleading.

For me, learning to use our Swinburne Library MediaWiki software has been a process of trial and error (lots of errors and quite a trial at times). I’d never used a wiki before June last year, but I found many of the help manuals on Wikipedia very useful for both basic and more advanced skills.

Library staff will have noticed that it’s particularly difficult to upload documents to a wiki. This is because wikis can’t really compute the concept of a word processed document; the software makes the assumption (whether good or bad) that if you’re adding textual content, you’ll do it in wiki markup. Uploading images is not an easy task, either.

I was disappointed that my idealistic viewpoint on democratic flows of information is hampered by my pedantry. I found it difficult to search for specific pages on the wiki; no matter which keywords I used, I often couldn’t find the page I was looking for. So I made a decision to introduce categories to our wiki, so that it’s easier to browse by topic, unit or campus for pages of interest. Every time someone adds a page to the wiki, the software sends me an email so I can log in to add the page to a category. This might appear a little intrusive, so please let me know what you think in the comments or on my talk page.

The other problem I discovered with wikis is that attempting to navigate around them can lead users into a bit of an abyss. It’s especially difficult to go backwards. You can click the Main Page link on the left-hand side panel to return to the homepage, but if you’ve come across a page purely by chance you’ll struggle to ever find it again. My response to this problem is to add breadcrumbs to each wiki page in the hope that it’s easier to feel my way around. On our Online Services and Strategies pages, I’ve also added a section for related links at the base of each page to help users find more information or return to an area of interest. If you’d like to do this to your own pages, please feel free. I think it’s a handy trick. Again, please let me know what you think in the comments.

*’ I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.’ (1 John 2:13)


Generation … Y?

31 October 2007

This tortoise is lagging behind in the race to finish 23 Things. The hare has well and truly taken the flag, and Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have gone home too for a well earned rest. But just when it looks like the tortoise has accidentally rolled over onto her shell and won’t get up again, she has a little help from a bending robot and manages to launch back into the seventh leg.

For those who didn’t get a word of that, I’m sorry for mixing my metaphors; it’s that time of the afternoon when my first few daily rounds of caffeine abandon me and my head goes to mush. I’m of course referring firstly to the Aesop’s fables (I hope they still teach those to the kids in school?); secondly to the wonderful canonic literature of children’s writer Beatrix Potter; and finally to a classic Futurama episode where Bender reveals that, like a tortoise, if he rolls onto his back, he can’t physically get up again. The friendly tortoise teaches him to roll from side to side vigorously until finally the force flips him upright. By the end of the episode, the show’s lovable metallic antihero is able to overcome his weakness AND save the robot population from a dastardly death at the hands of the Nixon administration.

Futurama … for when you can’t find a Simpsons quote for everything …

OK, I promise I’ll stop being sidetracked by edible greens, low-brow culture and an honest day’s work, and I’ll try to stay up-to-date with the program.

So, image generators … I’m not sure that I can find a place in my daily tasks for pavement graffiti and Simpsons avatars, but I had fun nonetheless when I had a play with several of the generators suggested on the post for Task 7. Most of them were pretty easy to use, as long as the nasty flashing banner ads don’t induce a seizure …

Here’s my Image Chef product (with apologies to Bob Dylan for the timely but unclear iteration of his worthy text):

I found this website very easy to use; it offered me the option of copying and pasting the code into my blog (as I’ve done here), or clicking a shortcut button that would automatically post the image to WordPress on my behalf. As I like to be in control of what’s published here in my name, I chose to do it myself.

I’m not sure I’m instantly recognisable as a Simpsons character but here goes anyway:

Me as a Simpsons character

You might also like to try a generator I found myself, which creates a shadowy mirror image from a photo you upload or link to. Here’s what I was able to do with it:

Reflected image
(Created with a photo from my Flickr photostream, taken in the beautiful Yarra Valley region)

Another tool turns a photo into a text file (what a clever concept!), although I recommend that you use an image with strong shapes and contrast levels, like a picture of you or your animal companion. You can download the text to a plain text (.txt) file, or link to it like this. The original photo is another from the Yarra Valley, and resides in my Flickr photostream. I can’t for the life of me remember the faithful dog’s name, but he followed us everywhere and even guarded the door at night. His mate Toby the sheepdog, in the absence of sheep, regularly tried to round up the resident alpacas and copped a spit in the eye and a swift kick for his troubles. This is the lovely farm/vineyard/holiday unit where we stayed and I highly recommend it.

Last of all, I couldn’t resist this website, which I found through The Generator Blog (to which I now subscribe):

create your own


torture your emo

As you can see, it helps you make your own emo, and they’re interactive (which is more than you can say of most emos, who are frankly too hungry and too busy writing bad poetry to do very much …) Unfortunately the save and copy features don’t seem to be working, but you can still have a play nonetheless.

Oh, and on a final note, in case you saw the title of this post and thought I’d explain it, Generation Y concept doesn’t exist. Neither does ‘Generation X’, ‘Baby Boomer’ or ‘Depression Era miser’. People are just people. Yes, nurture does have a tangible effect on our development, but ultimately we’re governed by our own natures, our own values and desires, regardless of the decade in which we were born.

A photo from my Flickr album

30 October 2007

There is one good thing I forgot to mention about Flickr.

I’m really pleased that it provides a script for logged-in users to paste images to a website. It makes including an image in a blog post much easier. Hence:

<a href=”; title=”Lily”>
<img src=”; alt=”Lily15″ height=”375″ width=”500″ /></a></p>

becomes a much more manageable:


For anyone who doesn’t know her already, this is my wonderful lilac Burmese cat, Lily. She’s not to everyone’s taste, I know, but she’s devoted to her family. Lily’s getting on in years now but she’s still a glamorous little princess. She’s pictured here cuddling up to her favourite feather duster in the late afternoon sun.

Giving Flickr the flick

29 October 2007

I’m afraid I’m less than satisfied with Flickr.

I joined Flickr last year when I first started work on Swinburne’s digital collections. I’ve always been a pretty average photographer – it might be partly my shortsightedness, but it’s mostly to do with me panicking and jumping at the last minute just before I hit the ‘go’ button. I end up with some impressive ghostly images, but the intended subject usually eludes me. Suffice to say, don’t ask me to take your wedding photos unless you don’t mind sharing the limelight with the undead.

Working on the Swinburne Image Bank, an online gallery of over 2500 photos taken during Swinburne’s 99 year history, I don’t have to take any photos myself, but I’ve learned a bit about DPI resolution, export formats and image enhancement. Some of my favourite Image Bank submissions to date include ‘youthful seamstress’, an ‘ETS 2010 modular electronic typing system’ that’s almost as old as I am, and some glorious examples of fashion through the ages: 1975, 1977, 1987 and 1990. The influence of everyone’s favourite TV couple is palpable. There’s also plenty of inspiration for anyone needing an authentic Halloween costume, especially if you’ve forgotten the art of ‘business in the front, party in the back’ or you’ve misplaced your Dame Edna glasses.

To be serious for just a moment, the Image Bank is actually a very important tool for Swinburne, in terms of documenting and displaying its progression from working man’s college to TAFE and higher education institution with an increasingly impressive research profile. We’re very lucky to have such a vast catalogue of Swinburne’s staff and student achievements; most other Victorian universities have nothing like it (although I found this gem in Monash’s gallery).

Swinburne Image Bank is harvested by Picture Australia, the National Library of Australia‘s online pictorial collection, which has an interesting interaction program with Flickr, the subject of this post and the embodiment of the fifth and sixth 23 Things tasks. Flickr is an online photo sharing and management tool owned by the Yahoo corporation, and you need a login to join (unless you already have a Yahoo ID, in which case you can use that).

Flickr allows you to upload and share your photos with friends, family, and if you want, the world. You can choose to assign a Creative Commons licence to your happy snaps, allowing others to use your photos for non-commercial purposes as long as they give you credit (as I did here). However, if you’re keen for your images remain the same when reproduced, and you don’t want them recycled like this, then you should read the fine print about attribution, non-attribution, non-commercial etc licences before you agree to them.

In many ways, Flickr is the perfect Web 2.0 tool. It helps ordinary Web users explore their creativity by tagging and sharing their photos with others. It also allows the more serious paparazzo to receive feedback through the comments facility, a good alternative to workshopping in person, and after all, Web 2.0 is all about recreating the physical through the virtual. Joining a Flickr group provides access to photos and social networking opportunities with likeminded people. On advice from some of the other Swinburne 23 Things bloggers, I’ve joined Swinburne photos (still a small pool) and Withnail and I, (photos from devotees of the movie who have recreated scenes all over the English countryside), and I also found a group called Vanishing Beauty, for photos of beautiful old things trying hard to survive in a world obsessed with the new. It’s an interesting concept for a website designed entirely around new technologies.

With over 1500 photos uploaded every minute, Flickr is an indispensable resource for images to spice up your presentations, blog posts or even your workspace. The Flickr blog presents some amazing photos from all around the world, and a quick search on ‘Swinburne library’ shows that even our humble environ has a presence on Flickr.

Yet Flickr is far from ideal. My first stumbling block was having to create yet another login – I haven’t used Yahoo regularly since Google arrived on the scene (with far better search capabilities and email functionality) and my membership had lapsed. Next I found I could only load 100MB per month (a quota I quickly filled, unfortunately). Worst of all, being a compulsive categoriser, I struggled to limit myself to the 3 free albums (or ‘sets’, a Flickr-specific term Dana finds unhelpful) available to me. I’m not prepared to purchase extra space when Picasa Web allows me 1GB of storage at no cost, and uses my Google account.

Despite these administration problems, I really enjoyed sharing the few photos I’m able to, and admiring the work of others. As Dana suggests, Flickr is a wonderful tool if you’re ‘just looking’. If you like, you can ‘just look’ at my photos here, although I’d love it if left a comment!