Tuesday 30 October 2012

What's in a name? Academic Identity in the metadata age, or, I didnt see #tarotgate coming

At the end of last week I was pulling together some internal appraisal documentation - the kind of thing where you say "oh look how many people cited my work over the past year". Wandering over to my Google scholar profile to check some citation counts I noted something weird. Alongside my usual digital humanities-ey, digitisation-ey, digital classicist-ey journal papers and book chapters were some strange papers that I definitely had not written. Things like Human Experience and Tarot Symbolism, (link still working to my Google scholar profile at time of writing) or Tarot and Projective Hypothesis.

Now, I'm a committed atheist, which means I also don't care for the occult either. And while I try to respect other's research choices (its a bit like feminism - I may not like what you are doing with your life, but I respect your right to choose what you do with it) this is not something that, professionally, I would choose to be associated with. And it's extremely strange to see your name academically associated with something you don't want to be associated with - especially when academic identity is everything in this game.

Perhaps there is another Melissa M. Terras? I first thought. I'm very lucky that there aren't too many Terrases about - I've never really had to deal with name disambiguation (I know academics who have other colleagues with the same name as them in the same department) so I'm a bit spoiled on that front in real life. Melissa is a really rare name in Scotland (although not other parts of the world) and so I had never met another one until I was 15. I sometimes get confused for Melody Terras, who is in Psychology, and automated algorithms especially like to assign me her works (such as Google scholar, or the algorithm in our open access repository).  But no, the works clearly showed that the Melissa M. Terras was in the Department of Information Studies at UCL. There's only one of us there, and that's me.

A bit of googling told me that the author of the book in which all of these chapters were published was Inna Semetsky. A few seconds more of googling took me to her personal website, which had a big fat CALL ME NOW skype button on it (I'm not linking to it here, as I dont want to encourage anyone to call her. If you want to seek her out, you will have to do so yourself).  So I CALLED HER NOW, not really expecting anyone to pick up. She picked up on video chat after a few rings, although it was clearly in the middle of the night wherever she was (which I wasnt to know). She knew immediately who I was: it was clear that the book had been up with the wrong authorship attributed for some time, which I find strange: if you had written a book, and the "Internet" decided it was written by someone else, would you not fight to get it righted? A heated exchange followed. I dont want to say too much about Inna Semetsky - she is entitled to her own privacy and her own research space. Let's just say we didnt exactly hit it off, and that heated exchange continued over email. (Everyone knows that the one way to anger someone from Scotland is to call them English, right?)

By now it had become clear that there was no real malice in this: but I suspected metadata fail. I had previously published a chapter in a book which was published by Sense Publishers - who published Semetsky's book Re-Symbolization of the Self, Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic. It seemed to me that somewhere in the ingestion process into the Springer system, that my name had gotten into the author field - field slippage in a database? that's fairly common? S next to T in the alphabet, so perhaps field slippage in Sense Publisher's author database? - which meant I had been erroneously associated with this work. So now to get it right.

I contacted both Springer and the Press. Sense Publishers were very helpful, but ducked for cover when I hit them with the cease and desist. Springer said they would take it down. But they didnt. I complained again, and lined up the UCL lawyers to begin legal proceedings. Springer said they would take down the content ("We induced the deletion of the content from our platform, which will be done as soon as possible" - but hey, their English is better than my German, so I cant really mock them too badly when they later said they would delete the "hole" book). It took 6 days of constant emailing to complain and escalating legal threats before they eventually assigned the correct authorship information to the publication, which really must've been a 5 minute job. I hate to think how they would handle a request from someone not nearly as... pushy as me.

I repeatedly asked for an explanation from the  press and Springer - explaining a professional interest (and thinking of my dear, neglected blog, and the folks who were all pitching in on twitter by this time, following #tarotgate and the toings and froings from Springer and book author and me). I have received no explanation. You take my name, you pin it to something else, and you expect me not to want to find out why? When I work in an information studies department? No explanation has been given, and really - without malice! - I would like to know the assignation structure of author to material, given it seems so very fragile.

And so I am no longer associated with Tarot in publications databases. Except at time of writing, I still am. Various places crawl and syndicate authorship content online - Google Scholar is still showing me as author of various pieces of Tarot scholarship, and now its going to be up to me to chase down mentions of my name associated with something I never chose to be associated with, simply because of an automated error, replicated across time and space and electronic repository, in a professional space becoming obsessed with citation counts and authorship and If You Liked This You May Like That, all churned out by thousands of servers and databases and... who cares if a database field slips in all this and an academic name is assigned to the wrong thing? It's the future! It's how scholarship works these days!

I have up til now pretty much ignored the discussions and systems about how to look after your scholarly identity - things like ORCID - why do I need to register! I have an unusual name! Everyone knows that it's me who publishes on the digitisation-ey, digital humanities-ey stuff! Except the machines, the machines they dont care. We're looking at a future where we dont just have to look after the stuff we have published, we now have to weed out the things that we havent. We have to be vigilant that the joiney-uppey automated systems dont replicate authorship errors uncontrollably. How rare of commonplace is this? I have no way to tell. But when the electronic record can be so easily compromised, how can we trust digital-only publications, without a canonical physical artefact to check?

It takes a long time to build up a scholarly identity. One slipped database field may have permanently associated me with an area I, quite frankly, dont respect. This blog post will go some way to explaining how that happened, so serves a dual purpose - explanation of how, and reference for why it's not me. When was the last time you checked what the Internet said you wrote? Will you ever be able to rectify it, should a mistake be made? Will I? I didnt see that one coming. Maybe I should take up Tarot.

Update: 31/10/12, Response from the Publisher!!!!!! I will paste the email below.

My colleague Georg Kaimann alerted me about the serious mistake in the author information of several chapters in Dr. Semetsky’s book. Please do accept our apologies, also on behalf of our data conversion partner, and be assured that the problem is taken seriously.

High quality metadata, especially the correctness of titles, author names, and affiliations are of utmost importance for us. We have therefore taken the matter up with the production manager at our supplier. It turned out that errors in two places led to the incorrect author information which was published online: Firstly, the operator who created the xml metadata mistakenly used an already filled-out sample template for updating the chapter metadata; and secondly, quality control did not check the metadata in all chapters because they assumed that they were created in the approved way.

Although this is a very rare error (I don’t remember having seen such a case before), we of course want to rule out that it can happen again. At the vendors end, the technical team will work on improving the tool for capturing metadata information to avoid errors related to manual intervention. At Springer’s end, we will investigate if further data checks can be introduced so that errors are caught early in the production process.

Once again, we apologize for this mistake. Be assured that this problem is taken seriously as it affects the relationship between authors and publisher which is of high importance to us.

Best regards

Ilse Wittig

Manager Quality Assurance
Update: 06/05/12. Further contact from the publishers (Sense Publishers, this time, not Springer). See our conversation below. I would note at this stage that they have indeed kept their promises, the catalogue now reflects the true authorship of the pieces, and even google scholar finally no longer lists me as author of them. It doesn't mean that this didn't happen, though... hence the emails below. Oh, and its lovely weather here as I type this, hence my final comment.

Dear Melissa:

Now this matter had been solved quite a while ago, could you please delete it from your blog?


Many thanks,
Peter de Liefde

-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Inna Semetsky
Verzonden: zondag 28 april 2013 21:46
Aan: Peter de Liefde
Onderwerp: Problem again

Dear Peter
I sincerely hope that you will contact Melissa to request her to remove this insulting post from the Internet. As you recall she promised to to so after she apologized for her insinuations . Still the post exists. This is degrading to me as the author and to Sense as publishers. Please take it in your hands as it was a case between Sense and Springer -- yet my name is involved. I hope that upon your request Melissa will delete the post which goes viral here http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2012/11/26/terras-identity-metadata-age/
I consider this matter a subject if legal action -- my academic status is tarnished because of Springer -- and Springer got all data from Sense.

Please contact Melissa!
Thank you

Sent from my iPhone
To which I replied:

Thanks for your email!

- it may have been resolved, but it still happened. My blog post will be staying up, both here and on my own personal blog. There is nothing factually incorrect, and I haven't been nasty or untruthful.

best wishes,

To which the publisher replied:

Good for you.

Thank God most of the people I deal with are a lot nicer.

All best wishes,
Peter de Liefde

To which I replied:

Hmmm. I'm too nice to get into a flame war with you over this.

Have a good day, and enjoy the sun.


Saturday 22 September 2012

Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter

Greetings from Dublin airport. Its been a busy week - on Tuesday I hosted the first 4Humanities conference, at UCL, then jetted off to Galway, Ireland where on Thursday I keynoted at the Digital Arts and Humanities PhD Programme annual conference.

The conference at UCL, entitled Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter gathered together various initiatives who are actively promoting the arts and humanities, to allow discussion regarding what is the best way forward to ensure that the benefits and contribution that the Arts and Humanities make to society is recognised. It was a fantastic day, and I learnt a lot - I'm fairly new to this area. Ernesto Priego live blogged and tweeted the event, and there is a storify of the tweets for those who want to catch up on the discussion.

One thing we decided to do was have a practice based artist, Dr Lucy Lyons, as a conference artist in residence, sketching and note taking, using a different sort of technology (pen, pencil, paper) than the ones we usually use, in what she calls "a frenetic, haptic method of note taking and engaging with the speakers". Lucy created a wonderful set of notes and drawings of the day that capture the flavour of the event.

It is interesting to reflect that our discussions seldom wandered into talking about the practice led arts - and the fact that the immediate reaction of many speakers who saw Lucy's drawings was "great! a new avatar for me on twitter!" (how we are all addicted) rather than a discussion of what integrating this process into the conference setting would show or tell us. I'm still processing that, myself - but I loved having a conference artist in residence, and hope to feature this again at future events.

Time for me to check in, I'll tell you about #dahphdie at another time!

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Just in time for term starting... Bag Lady Central

For the past few months I've been obsessing about getting a new rucksack to carry my computer around. My dear, cheaply purchased a decade ago, rucksack is finally giving up the ghost (but to tell the truth it was the best rucksack I could find at the time on a very limited budget, and Husband winds me up that it looks like I'm always going camping when I go to work). I have to have a rucksack to watch out for weight distribution over my back, but also I feel more secure with a backpack on, walking through London. Time to hit the shops!

But man, are the laptop bags out there all fugly. Most things for sale make you look like you are about to do the 10 peaks challenge, rather than be sassy academic-about-town!!!! etc etc. 

There is a serious gap in the market for smart, professional looking backpacks. I've done a trawl of the internet, and for the past day or so been chatting to various people on the twitters who wanted to know what I dug up, so here, for your "back to school special" is a roundup of the best laptop bags I have found.

Ally Capellino does lovely canvas ones. (via @rachelcoldicutt)

Sandqvist also do ones in this retro/vintage canvas style (via the power of google), and Notemaker stock a whole range of nice ones, especially the Herschel bags (via @flexnib).

Other brands worth having a look at are Knomo (via and Koyono (via @_ndrew) and Samsonite (via ) and Booq. (via ) and Tumi (via ). On the affordable end of the nicely designed spectrum, Belkin (via ) and Crumpler (via ). On the outrageously expensive end of the nicely designed spectrum, Steven Harkin (via google). Others swear by Timbuktu () or Deuter (). And you can, of course, go into the wondeful world of Etsy to see if there is anything there that takes your fancy (via ). (Thanks to anyone I missed in my twitter feed, too! I tried to keep a track...)

So there you have it. You should find something you really, really like amongst all that, right?

I've ordered something - I just need a new bag - but I'm still searching for the perfect match...

Thursday 23 August 2012

Sneak Peek - Digital Humanities in Practice!

We're in the very final stages of putting Digital Humanities in Practice to press - it should be going off to the printers on Friday, fingers crossed! The publishers (Facet) have just sent us the picture of our new cover, updated from a network diagram thingy. The new design reflects better on UCLDH's digital identity, I think.

The book fairly rollicks along - it's a whistlestop tour of the breadth and diversity of the kind of research that we and our colleagues in different institutions get up to. Instead of Digital Humanities as mere XML Factory we show the vibrancy and scope of a growing interest in how to apply digital technologies in the humanities and cultural and heritage sector. We went bottom up, rather than top down, showing what we are doing with DH, rather than trying to define it by what we are doing. Topics include DH centres, social media and crowd-sourcing, digitisation, image processing, 3D scanning, historical bibliography, Open Educational Resources, text processing... its not the same-old-same-old roundup of DH topics, instead showing the kind of things we do with ample applied case studies as well as introductions to each topic.

I hear it will be out in mid September. Once we have the date fixed we'll have a launch party. A Party! never such a party will there have been. We'll see if we can open up the invites to all... you'll be the first to know.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

On not being Superwoman, or, this is how she does it

                                         The Boy, The Boys, and me.

It's been almost a year now since I returned from maternity leave to my full time job as an academic at UCL. At the time, I had three children aged 3 and under (The Boy, and The Boys - fraternal twins). Not a week has gone by without someone commenting on the fact that I am Superwoman. So I thought I would explain how I balance having rather a large family of small people and academia: partly to show that it can be done, partly to show that I am not superwoman but incredibly lucky, and partly as a record for myself in the future when I think "how did I do that?"

I'm not superwoman... I have a supportive partner. Seriously, the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone contemplating having a career and a family is choose the right person to do it with. It takes two to tango, and the raising of a family should not just be the responsibility of the mother. Neither should looking after the household be. Feminism begins at home, folks: share chores and childcare equally. I never understood the statistics that show that women do much, much more than men - and working mothers even more - around the home. I just wouldn't stand for that. My Husband and I are both hands on and support each other, as well as do our best for the bairns.

I'm not superwoman... I can afford childcare. This is not a glib statement. The cost of childcare in the UK is just horrific, especially near London. Given the fact that we had twins (surprise!) we are currently paying three lots of full time nursery fees, presenting us with a bill each month of just under £3000. By the time the boys all go to school, we'll have paid around £100k in childcare costs. You need to be paid a certain level of salary and/or have a level of savings to be able to afford that, and I'm incredibly lucky that our household income is such (I've had two major promotions since becoming pregnant with The Boy) that we can afford for both of us to go to work. I refuse to countenance this in a "will my salary cover childcare?" way - why is it always the women's salary that has to cover childcare? But the fact of the matter is that many people in our situation - three kids for the price of two - don't have a choice and one of them has to give up work as the finances just dont add up. I'm incredibly lucky that we didn't have to make that choice - lets face it, if you give up your academic job, the competition is such that you arent getting one back again - although it has meant sacrifices from us and we are financially hanging on by the skin of our teeth til The Boy starts school soon.

I'm not superwoman... I have flexible working hours. Long academic working hours are legendary. But so are their flexibility. In the first year I was back to work with The Boy, I looked after him at home one day during the working week, and no-one batted an eye-lid as I made up the hours in evenings. This year, in a twelve week period between April and June, I had six weeks off with all the boys as we were undertaking a huge build at home and it was best to get out of the way while the really messy stuff happened. I regularly work in the evenings so I can spend more time with the boys through the week (I usually see them for a couple of hours every morning and evening, although I think missing bedtime once a week or so to go to work events is acceptable). I never work weekends, though, unless I am at a conference. Weekends are family time.

I'm not superwoman... I dont work in a lab based discpline. One or two days a week I work from home from my shed at the bottom of the garden (I'm here now! hello!) which means I keep on top of email and working documents, plus can power through the laundry backlog in lunch and coffee breaks. I would hate to be in a job that meant I had to be in London every working day though - and not sure how I would cope having to be in a lab from 9-5 every day (at least). I can imagine that would be exhausting, and you would certainly not see very much of your children if you had to commute. As it is,  on the days I am in town I make my first appointments of the day at 10am, and often leave UCL at 4.45 so I am home with the boys by 6pm. All academic jobs are not created equal, but the ones which are flexible... man, are they flexible.

I'm not superwoman... I can afford help around the home. Despite our best efforts (and lets face it, it was never my ambition to be a dream house wife) we have a cleaner come in for two hours a week to deep clean the bathrooms, scrub all the floors, and hoover throughout the house. Something I also dont understand: guilt about paying for extra help (as long as you pay decent rates, pay for holidays, and dont treat your cleaner like.... dirt). We go with a local agency, and they are fab. It takes the edge off the house, and I can ensure that the house is hygenic, especially during crazy periods in term time when finding those hours a week to scrub the floors would slay us.

I'm not superwoman... I take as many shortcuts as possible. I havent ironed anything since 2003. And that was just my graduation shirt. I'm not spending hours of my time making things flat just so that they can get crumpled again when worn. No-one has noticed yet (have you? right? If so, you're too polite to say, thanks). Make as many short cuts around housework and your home as you can. Think efficiency, rather than show-home. I'm never going to be one of those people that walks across a room to find a coaster in a drawer before they put their cup of tea down at the other side of the room. Seriously? My home - and office - are set up to be as efficient as possible, even if that can lead to weird juxtapositions of stuff in places.

I'm not superwoman... I use all the technology I can to make this easy. The postman hates us with all the parcels off eBay; we use lots of shared calendars online to plan everything and keep track of the movements and needs of two adults, three small people, and a cat; I tweet, shop, and email when I'm waiting on trains. When I'm away with work I speak to the boys on video chat as often as I can. Make technology your friend.

I'm not superwoman... My Husband works from home. This is probably the biggest thing that makes our life easier, and here it is tucked half way down, quietly taking the stress out of the nursery run. My Husband is not a house husband: he has a senior job with a Canadian software firm, runs his own successful business in his spare time, and even finds the time and energy to play in a well respected band. But working from home for the majority of his time does mean he is on hand to do nursery drop off and pick up. I do try to do as many of the nursery runs as I can with my schedule - but it means that on days when the trains are borked I'm not the person having a breakdown at Kings Cross station about the fact they cant get back to the nursery before it closes at 6pm, or when one of the boys is ill and needs picking up from nursery they can be brought home immediately. Removing that level of stress from our daily lives makes going an hour away from home much, much less stressful for me, and going away with work for a night or two doesnt take olympic levels of organisation. Did I mention that I have a supportive partner?

I'm not superwoman... I don't have a dead commute. It takes just over an hour to get door to door from home to work. I walk for 15mins (and nursery is on the way between our house and the station for drop off and pick up: dont forget the importance of location!), travel by train for 35 minutes, and walk 15 mins at the other end. Time on the station platform is generally spent on twitter: the time spent on the train I get on with some work. I get a tonne of stuff done on the train (but its also the reason I hate documents that get sent to me in the cloud. Cloud doesnt work with train tunnels).

I'm not superwoman... I travel a lot with work. This may sound like an oxymoron, given I've done lots of work travel over the past year with at least one or two trips a month away. I try to go away for two nights maximum, and during that time, not only do I get a couple of good nights sleep (which is not always guaranteed at home: The Boys didnt sleep through once until they were 16 months old), but I tend to work like a daemon. Room service, and work til midnight. I get loads done in hotel rooms.

I'm not superwoman... I have supportive family and friends. My mother-in-law moved to be closer to us shortly after the twins arrived. This is wonderful for the boys - getting to see their grandmother often - but also extremely helpful when illness strikes. The Boys got chicken pox the week I was giving a plenary in Paris and another invited lecture at a conference in Munich. Mother-in-law stepped in to be the other pair of hands while I was away. It comes with some drawbacks - hey, I have my mother-in-law living round the corner! But on balance, having family nearby makes caring for children, and dealing with the chaos that that often brings, much much easier. My own parents live further away, but are already signed up to stay with us as we make the transition to dealing with childcare over school holidays, and have been known to jump on a plane or train at times of real emergency. We also have a close-knit band of chums who live locally who are very involved in the the boys' lives. Who could ask for more?

I'm not superwoman... I just work incredibly hard. I do work long hours, but when I am working I am WORKING, and when I am with the boys I am with the boys. I've found that, if anything, motherhood has made me much more focused, and I take my career much more seriously: if I'm going away from the family then every minute is generally filled up with tasks. No I'm not going to meet you for a coffee during the working day to talk about shoes. I have things to be done, in the shortened hours I have available in the working week since I had the boys.

I'm not superwoman... I just dont suffer from motherhood guilt. I am not one of those people who bursts into tears as they leave their children at nursery. If you feel like that, go back to them, be with them, if you have the choice to. I have faith in the care my boys get when we are not with them, and I feel I see the boys a lot for someone who both works full time in a competitive environment and commutes. Did I mention flexible working hours?

I'm not superwoman... I just have a very supportive employer.  UCL is incredibly supportive of working mothers, and were very supportive of my situation when I developed a pregnancy related disability. There are family-friendly working hours for meetings (to stop official meetings happening over breakfasts and evenings) and, in general, management are open to suggestions about how to improve support. Again, I'm incredibly lucky to have an employer who both values my contribution and supports the fact that humans might actually breed and want to continue working.

So there you have it. A confluence of luck, good choices, hard work, and support have meant that - whisper it - its not terribly stressful to be an academic working mother, for me. It would be much, much harder work to stay at home looking after 3 small boys day in, day out. I've done it. Believe me.

I dont like being called superwoman. It suggests I'm heading for a fall, in lots of ways. So how about this, I'll let you call me superwoman if I maintain my academic trajectory and my boys all make it to a happy, healthy adulthood, and are fulfilled and settled in their own ways (whatever that may turn out to be). Then you can call me superwoman. But for now, I'm just a woman who happens to have a larger-than-usual young family and a job that I really enjoy (and how lucky am I, in both counts?). There are lots of us around, all doing our best: it can be done without fanfare.

You'll also spot that I havent mentioned "work-life balance".  I dont believe in it. There are only 24 hours in a day, and its all my life. My work is my life and my home is my life and my family is my life and my addiction to mid-century Belgian ceramics on eBay is my life. Going to the British Museum for a work meeting is as much my life as scraping squashed peas off the floor from under the dining room table, or cranking out a book chapter, or leading a sing-song of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain, or looking at the UX of an iPhone App, is. Life is full, round, packed, joyous, tiring, exhilarating, exhausting, fast, fun, and being lived. I love my family. I love my job. And this is how I do it.

Tuesday 31 July 2012


Has it really been two months since I posted here? Evidently it has. I go through phases with the blogging thing - I like that it stands here as an avenue to post longer pieces than the things I say on twitter, and I feel less and less guilty in the phases where I don't have something to say, as I'm quite frankly focusing my energies elsewhere. I have a couple of things brewing that I want to tell you about, but for now, suffice to say I've been busy.

A brief look at my diary over the last couple of months says what I have been up to: meetings with MA students, meetings with PhD students, meetings with partner institutions (both on and off site), meetings with potential students and research partners. Email. Admin. Project management. UCLDH nights out, UCLDH management. Funding bids. Three day training course. Book proofs. Email. One day conferences, two day conferences, and a week look stint in Hamburg for DH2012. Email. Project management. Admin. Three day training course. Book proofs. Email. Meetings with collaborators within UCL. Overseeing a building project at UCL. Email. Book proofs. Meetings, meetings, meetings. Hosting departmental events. Email. A holiday in Sussex for a week in May. A holiday at the Norfolk Coast for a week in June. Email. And, at home, managing the end of a 7 month build as we redesign our house to accommodate everyone. Book proofs. Email.

I'm now working from home over the Olympics (I'm not going anywhere near that there London) and hope to catch up with the overflow of email that has accrued when I have been away from my machine. And once that has happened, I may turn my face towards the blog, again. A lot going on...

Monday 21 May 2012

Into the Academic Dragon's Den

Image borrowed from http://www.london-student.net/community/academia/peer-review-in-academia/, although it appears online elsewhere so I have no idea who owns the copyright, sorry.

Today I did a Big Thing, for me. I pressed a Submit button on a funding bid, which has now gone into council to be peer reviewed. It's part of my job to pursue funding, and I've been involved with a variety of research projects that have received funding from a variety of places - but this is the first time I have written a whole bid myself, from start to finish, on an open call - rather than responding to a specific research call or question. This is probably academic jargon, so let me rephrase: for the past 9 months I have been crafting a proposal which says "give me lots of money to employ some people, to do some interesting work over a few years. Please. It's really interesting and I'm the best person to do it. And here's why".

It has been a lot of work, as it not only involves me, but four major institutional partners, so I had to approach and engage them in the process, getting permission through their internal structures to carry out some research which involves them. In addition to that, I had help from our Departmental Administrator and our Research Manager, our Head of Department, our Vice Dean of Research, our Faculty Research Officers (two of), and Research Managers in Finance. On top of that, I asked for - and received - fantastic feedback and proof-reading from 5 academic colleagues. This bid is now as good as its going to get, and I thank everyone wholeheartedly for their input.

So, 9 months from idea, to "let's write that up", to submission (bear in mind I have to do this on top of my other teaching, administration, and research duties). The whole thing comes in at 10,000 words or so, proof-read and double-checked and triple-checked. I would say that it has taken about the same amount of work it would take to submit a 10,000 word paper to a top research journal - if not more so - with certainly more input from colleagues. The difference is, of course, if a paper was rejected for publication I could recycle it and get it published elsewhere, or put it up as pre-print myself. If this funding bid crashes and burns, then there will be no mention of the investment of effort from me - or others - anywhere.

What happens now? It goes to council where a group of peer reviewers will decide whether or not it is worthy of funding. I may get a right to reply to some of the queries raised. There is around a 20% chance of being successful, or so I hear. I should know around Xmas whether or not the project will go ahead.

In academia, it's good to set the goalposts for your own successes. Whatever happens to this one, I will hold on to the fact that I set myself a goal to co-ordinate a large funding bid myself, and see it through to submission. Of course, I have my fingers crossed for this one (I wouldn't have pursued it if I didn't believe in the idea). But at the end of the day, the goal was to enter the academic dragon's den, and pitch an idea, to the best of my ability. And I did: I pressed submit. Phew.

And now? Give me a few days, then I have to dig out the funding council documentation for the next one...

Update: The bid was rejected by the peer review panel. I go and lick my wounds, and regroup, to try again. There will be no mention of this investment in time and effort in anyone's records, except for this post here. You win some, you lose some...

Thursday 17 May 2012

Qrator at the Museums and Heritage Awards

Nothing quite complements a black tie outfit like a tattoo that, when scanned, leads to your (award winning) project website. You saw it here first!

It was a big night for UCL last night, with folks from UCLDH, CASA and Museums and Public Engagement, heading down to the 10th annual Museums and Heritage Awards where we were nominated in three different categories, and I'm pleased to say that the QRator project won the Innovation category!

If you haven't heard of Qrator, who better to quote than Claire Ross, whose idea it all was, from her blog:
QRator is a collaboration between the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and UCL Museums, to develop new kinds of content, co-curated by the public, and museum staff, to enhance museum interpretation, public engagement and meaning making by establishing new connections to museum exhibit content.
Its a truly interdisciplinary team, including Mark Carnall and Jack Ashby from the Grant Museum, Steve Gray and Andy Hudson Smith from CASA, Susannah Chan and Sally MacDonald from UCL Museums and Public Engagement, and Claire Warwick and I from UCLDH.  Well done team - and thank you all for your hard work, and for letting me join in the fun!

As well as the blog posts from the Grant Museum and Claire Ross, Andy Hudson-Smith has a good write up on his blog about the QRator team and the award - I dont think I can add much more than these three posts cover, except that I'm delighted!

Me, I got the temporary tattoos made up which we had fun baffling other attendees with. And drank some wine. And grinned into the wee small hours!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

When was the last time you asked how your published research was doing?

A month or so ago, I posted about whether blogging and tweeting about academic research papers was "worth it". Whilst writing up my thoughts, the one thing that I found really problematic was the following:
I also know nothing about how many times my other papers are downloaded from the websites of published journals, or consulted in print in the Library. The latter, no-one can really say about - but the former? It seems strange to me that we write articles (without being paid) and we get them published by people who make a profit on them, then we don't even know - usually - how many downloads they are getting from the journals themselves.
That's true enough, I thought. But whose fault is it that I don't know about access statistics for journals I have published in? Heck, have I ever asked for the access statistics for how many times my papers have been downloaded from the journals they are published in? Has anyone?

So, Reader, I asked for some facts and figures, regarding the circulation of journals, and the download statistics of my papers.

I have to say that the journals were really very helpful, and forthcoming, if surprised:
"I imagine the publishers would be happy to tell an author the cumulative downloads for their papers... So far as I know, you are the first author ever to ask... certainly the first to ask me." said David Bawden, Editor of the Journal of Documentation.  Jonas Söderholm, Editor of HumanIT, highlighted some of the issues journals will face if people start asking this kind of question, saying
"A reasonable request and we would gladly assist you. Unfortunately we do not have direct access to server logs as our web site is hosted as part of the larger University of Borås web. We will take your request as a good excuse to check into the matter though, and also review our general policy on log data."
Most journals got back to me by return of email, telling me immediately what they knew (and being very aware of the limitations of their reporting mechanisms, for example whether or not the figures excluded robot activity, the fact that how long the user stays on the website is not known so accidental click-throughs are undetermined, etc. Such caveats were explained in detail).  Emerald, the publishers of JDoc and Aslib Proceedings, were not comfortable in giving me access to wider statistics about their general readership numbers, given this could be commercially sensitive information, which is understandable: they were very happy to give me the statistics relating to my own papers, though.

The only journal not to get back to me was LLC , published by Oxford University Press (The editor replied to say he was not sure he had access to these statistics, but would ask). This is ironic, given I'm on the editorial board. I'll press further, and take it to our summer steering-group meeting.

I suspect that the actual statistics involved are only really very interesting to myself. I had originally planned to make comparisons with the amount of downloads from UCL Discovery (Open Access (OA) is better, folks! etc) , but I think the picture is foggier than that. What this exercise does do is highlight the type of information that, as authors, we dont normally hear about, which can be actually quite interesting for us, as well as stressing the complex relationship between OA and paywalled publications. Here are some details:

  • One of my papers published in JDoc (Ross, C and Terras, M and Warwick, C and Welsh, A (2011) Enabled backchannel: conference Twitter use by digital humanists. J DOC, 67 (2) 214 - 237) was downloaded 804 times from the JDOC website during 2011, and was number 16 in the download popularity list that year. The total number of paper downloads from JDoc as a whole during that year was 123,228. Isn't that interesting to know? I have a top 20 paper in a really good journal in my discipline! Who knew? It has now been downloaded 1114 times from their website. In comparison, there have been 531 total downloads of that paper from UCL Discovery in the past 6 months. But the time frame for comparison of downloads with the OA copy from Discovery isn't the same, so comparing is problematic - and there are more downloads from the subscription journal than from our OA repository. Still, it shows a healthy amount of downloads, so I'm happy with that.
  • The Art Libraries Journal - only available in print, not online, were quick to tell me that the journal is distributed to 550 members: 200 going abroad to Libraries/Institutions, 150 sent to UK Personal members, and 200 going to UK Libraries/Institutions. My paper published there (Terras, M (2010) Should we just send a copy? Digitisation, Use and Usefulness. Art Libraries Journal, 35 (1)) has had 205 downloads in the last six months from UCL Discovery, so I perceive that as a really good additional advert for OA: the print circulation is fairly limited, but the OA copy is available to all who want it.
  • My paper in the International Journal of Digital Curation - itself an OA journal - (Gooding, P and Terras, M (2008) Grand Theft Archive: a quantitative analysis of the current state of computer game preservation. The International Journal of Digital Curation, 3 (2)) was downloaded 903 times in 2009 out of the 53,261 times the full text of a paper was accessed. (The average was 476, with standard deviation 307). In 2010 the paper accounted for 919 out of the 120,126 times the full text of a paper was accessed. (The average was 938, with standard deviation 1045.) That compares to only 85 downloads from the UCL repository, but hey, its freely available online anyway, without having to revert to an OA copy in an institutional repository. It might be worth drawing from this that copies of papers in institutional archives are only really used when the paper isnt available anywhere else, but you would hope that would be obvious, no?
  • InternetArchaeology journal has an online page with their download statistics readily available (how I wish all journals would do this). The journal gets around 6200 page requests per day. But since article size varies widely, with some split into 100s of separate HTML pages, it is difficult to know how meaningful this is.  I was sent a spreadsheet of the stats from my paper published there (Terras, M (1999) A Virtual Tomb for Kelvingrove: Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Education. Internet Archaeology (7)) which suggests that there have been 2083 downloads of the PDF version of the paper from behind the paywall since 2001 (but some may be missing due to the way the reporting mechanism is set up) with none in the past year (compared to 276 downloads of this from UCL Discovery in the past six months, so many more from our institutional repository comparing like on like periods). The HTML version of the table of contents has been consulted 16, 282 times since 2001 (this is freely available to all comers) but there have been  67, 525 views of all files in the directory since then - but since the paper is comprised of hundreds of individual files, its difficult to ascertain readership. Judith Winters, the Editor of Internet Archaeology, notes "It is curious that when the journal went Open Access for about 2 weeks towards the end of last year, the counts did increase but not dramatically so" - so when a non-OA journal throws open its doors for a limited time (IA did this to mark open access week last year) its not like access figures go wild. That's really interesting, in itself. 
If you are still reading, then thanks. This stuff gets pretty turgid. But its been fascinating, for me, to see the (mostly positive) reactions publishers have to being approached about this - and surprising that not more people have actually asked publishers about these statistics. We are giving away our scholarship to publishers, in most cases: shouldn't we get to know how it fares in the wide, wide world? As citation counts, and h-indexes, and "impact" become increasingly important to external funding councils and internal promotion procedures within universities, why would journal publishers not make this information available to authors? But why don't they do it more routinely?

Will you need this type of information for the next grant proposal, or internal promotion, you chase? Why would you not be interested in how your research flies?  But journal publishers will only start providing authors with this kind of information routinely if enough scholars start to ask about it, and it becomes part of the mechanics of publishing research - particularly when publishing research online.

So if you have published in a print journal which has an online presence, or in an online journal, drop them an email to ask politely how your downloads are going*. Do it. Do it now. Ask them. Ask them!

*Perhaps someone online can provide some input as to whether such a request comes under the rights of individuals in the Data Protection Act in the UK.   If you are a named author on a journal article, does access statistics about that journal paper count as personal information? just a thought...

Monday 14 May 2012

Announcing the Slade Archive History Project

Treasures in the Slade School of Fine Art Archive, waiting to be looked at... 

A few months ago I was invited to the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL, by the Head of Department, Professor Susan Collins, to have a poke about in their archive and a chat about what to do with it.  Since 1871 the Slade School of Fine Art has educated and trained generations of world-renowned artists, from Gwen and Augustus John, Stanley Spencer and Ben Nicholson around the turn of the 20th century and early 1900’s, to Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi in the 1940’s, through to Derek Jarman, Paula Rego, Euan Uglow and Craigie Aitchison in the 50’s and 60’s. More recent Turner Prize winning alumni include Martin Creed, Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and Douglas Gordon. The Slade has an extensive archive on site which includes objects, papers, photographs, class lists, student records and artefacts dating throughout its history at UCL, which contains rich evidence of the time artists spent at the Slade. However, this archive is difficult to access, and no attempt has been made to present this rich information to a wider audience.

Until now. I'm really pleased to announce that UCLDH have received a UCL Small Research Grant to work with the Slade to undertake a pilot project with the Slade Archive - to see what is there, and how it can be exploited and used. One of the things we are going to do is dig up old class photographs, and try to identify people in them. We're also going to be rummaging... and digitising... and plotting... and scheming... and posting things online... and...

The project starts in October, for only a few months, but I'm really looking forward to being involved. Dave Beavan, the UCLDH Research Manager, will also be on the case. You'll hear more about this in the autumn!

Thursday 10 May 2012

Pop-up publicity

I just got sent this flyer from the UCL Art Museum. How cool is that? Grin!

Congratulations, Dr Henriette Roued-Cunliffe!

Henriette's Interpretation Support System (ISS), which forms the basis of her thesis "Building an Interpretation Support System to aid the reading of Ancient Documents".
Yesterday was a nail-biting day for me, as I headed over to Oxford to meet Henriette Roued-Cunliffe, one of my PhD students who I supervise with Professor Alan Bowman, to find out the outcome of her doctoral viva. (For those who dont know, the 3 or 4 year process of writing up a 100,000 word PhD, or D.Phil as they call it in Oxford, is examined by a face-to-face grilling with two examiners where you are expected to show you are a worthy intellectual combatant).

We had arranged to meet at 5pm (her viva started at 2pm) but there was no sign... 5.30 came and went... then the time edged towards 6... Doctoral vivas in Oxford are usually around 2 hours, so we started to get worried. But then Henriette arrived, slightly dazed but happy - the viva had started late due to one of the examiners being held up in traffic, and the examiners wanted to be thorough and let the viva take its course.  But the strange thing about doctoral vivas in Oxford is that they are not allowed to tell you in the exam how you have done! So it wasn't until all the paperwork was filed after that we got the news - around 7pm by now - that Henriette has passed with corrections (which is the best you can hope for!) Hurrah! Champagne all round!

You can read about Henriette's doctoral work, "Building an Interpretation Support System to aid the reading of Ancient Documents", here.
The aim is that the expert reading an ancient document should be able to use the ISS for the things which humans find difficult, which are things like:
  • Remembering complicated reasoning
  • Searching huge datasets
  • Accessing other experts knowledge
  • Enable cooperation between experts on a single document 
Henriette demonstrates that this can be used to help experts search through different hypotheses and record the interpretation process of reading an Ancient text, whilst consulting and reusing existing information sources from other projects. 

Congratulations, Henriette!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Planning a Pop Up Exhibition at UCL Art Museum

Today was my first day in UCL for 5 weeks, and I had a really enjoyable task to start the working day with: off to the UCL Art Museum to choose items in the archive, with the help of the curator, Andrea Fredericksen, for a pop-up exhibition I will be holding there in a few weeks time.

Pop-Up displays at UCL Art Museum are held throughout the year.  By becoming a guest curator for one day, anyone at UCL can select works from the vast art collection. They can share their choices with students, colleagues and the general public in the informal setting of a free lunchtime exhibition in the museum. I am delighted to get the opportunity to do this! But what to choose?

UCL Art Museum. One of my choices is on the easel behind the painting, handily obscured by the glare to keep it a surprise.

Given my background in computing and the arts and humanities, I thought it would be really fun to try and see what computer generated art there was in the collection. UCL has a good history of this - there was a lot of experimental computer art going on with the aid of the engineering faculty in the 1970s, and the Slade School of Fine Art (part of UCL)
established what was later called the 'Experimental and Computing Department'. The Slade was one of the few institutions that attempted to fully integrate the use of computers in art into its teaching curriculum during the 1970s. The department offered unparalleled resources with its in-house computer system. [see here for a picture of the Slade Computing System, halfway down the page]
 The Slade Centre for Electronic Media in Fine Art has been running since 1995.  What interesting art works that started their life on a computer now lurk in the UCL Art Museum archives?

Well, to find that out you'll have to come by on Tuesday 29th May, 1-2pm! Free entry. See you there?

Thursday 3 May 2012

The blog post that was

So, I admit, I committed a crime in social media circles. I created some content that I thought a few people may be interested in, posted it, then promptly went on leave for four weeks and didn't follow up here. Sorry. Real life cant be helped though (we had to vacate our house for four weeks as it is being massively extended and I took the boys out of the way while walls came down and went up again. And when I got back the internet was broken in my shed).

I didn't predict the level of interest that my post on blogging and tweeting about research papers would garner, though! It has been retweeted at least 500 times, featured in the Times Higher, been circulated to all the Deans and Heads of Department at UCL (so I'm told), been guest featured at the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, and been viewed by at least 7000 people (including the stats from LSE). I even have 200 or so new twitter followers (hullo!) So, further evidence that its worth keeping up this blogging malarky then...

Best get back to it.  Need to think of something else as interesting to write next... but therein madness lies. I've enjoyed seeing how far a little, simple, idea of mine flew. Now on to the next thing...

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict

Guess when I tweeted my papers? Top ten downloaded papers from my department in the last year, 7 of which include me in the author list.

In October 2011 I began a project to make all of my 26 articles published in refereed journals available via UCL's Open Access Repository - "Discovery". I decided that as well as putting them in the institutional repository, I would write a blog post about each research project, and tweet the papers for download. Would this affect how much my research was read, known, discussed, distributed?

I wrote about the stories behind the research papers - the stuff that doesn't make it into the official writeup. From becoming so immersed in developing 3D that you start walking into things in real life, to nearly barfing over the front row of an audience's shoes whilst giving a keynote, to passive aggressive notes from an archaeological dig that take on a digital life of their own, I gave a run down, in roughly reverse chronological order, of the 12 or so projects I've been involved in over the past decade that resulted in published journal papers. Along the way, I wrote a little bit about the difficulties getting stuff up there on the institutional repository in the first place, but the thing that really flew was my post on what happens when you blog and tweet a journal paper: showing (proving?) the link between blogging and tweeting and the fact that people will download your research if you tell them about it.

So what are my conclusions about this whole experiment?

Some rough stats, first of all. Most of my papers, before I blogged and tweeted them, had one to two downloads, even if they had been in the repository for months (or years, in some cases). Upon blogging and tweeting, within 24 hours, there were on average seventy downloads of my papers. Seventy. Now, this might not be internet meme status, but that's a huge leap in interest. Most of the downloads followed the trajectory I described with the downloads to Digital Curiosities, in that there would be a peak of interest, then a long tail after. I believe that the first spike of interest from people clicking the link that flies by them on twitter (which was sometimes retweeted) is then replaced by a gradual trickle of visitors from postings on other blogs, and the fact that the very blog posts about the papers make them more findable when the subject is googled. People read the blog posts - I have about 2000 visitors here a month, 70% new, with an average time on the site of 1 minute and 5 seconds. You come here and tend to read what I have written (thanks!) and seem to be clicking and downloading my research papers.

The image above shows the top ten papers downloaded from my entire department over the last year. There were a total of 6172 downloads from our department (UCL Department of Information Studies is one of the leading iSchools in the UK). Look at the spikes. That's where I blog and tweet about my research. I'm not the only person producing research in my department (I think there are 18 current members of staff and a further 20 or so who have moved on but still have items in the institutional repository, but I'm the only person who has gone the whole hog on promoting their research like this). You will see that 7 out of 10 of the most downloaded papers from my Department in the last calendar year have me in the author list. As a clue, I dont know anything about Uganda, e-books, or classification in public libraries. 27 out of the top 50 downloads in our department in the last calendar year feature me (as a rough guide, I get about 1/3 of the entire downloads for my department). My stuff isn't better than my colleagues' work. They're all doing wonderful things! But I'm just the only one actively promoting access to my research papers. If you tell people about your research, they look at it. Your research will get looked at more than papers which are not promoted via social media.

Some obvious points and conclusions. Don't tweet things at midnight, you'll get half the click throughs you get through the day when people are online. Don't tweet important things on a Friday, especially not late - people do take weekends and you can see a clear drop off in downloads when the weekend rolls around and your paper falls a bit flat, as you sent it on its way on social media at the wrong time. The best time is between 11am and 5pm GMT, Monday to Thursday in a working week. I have the stats here somewhere to prove it. I wont write it up, though, as its pretty predictable (you would think! But somehow the message doesn't get through to people that just putting it on twitter isnt enough, you have to time it right. The Discovery twitter account regularly posts an automated list of the really interesting things people have been looking at... at 10pm on a Friday night. Sheesh. I only know as I'm regularly sad enough to still be on twitter at that time, but I suspect if they tweeted the papers through the day during the working week... well, you guess what would happen?)

The paper that really flew - Digital Curiosities - has now been downloaded over a thousand times in the past year. It was the 16th most downloaded paper from our entire institutional repository in the final quarter of 2011, and the 3rd most downloaded paper in UCL's entire Arts Faculty in the past year. It's all relative really - what does this really mean? Well, I can tell you that this paper was the most downloaded paper in 2011 in LLC Journal, where it was published (and where it lives behind a paywall apart from being available free from Discovery). LLC is the most prestigious journal in the discipline I operate in, Digital Humanities. The entire download count for this paper from LLC itself, which made it top paper last year? 376 full text downloads. There have been almost 3 times that number of downloads from our institutional repository. What does this mean? What can we extrapolate from this? I think its fair to say: It's a really good thing to make your work open access. More people will read it than if it is behind a paywall. Even if it is the most downloaded paper from a journal in your field, Open Access makes it even more accessed.

However. I might just have written a nice paper that caught people's interest: there are, after all, no controls to this are there? No controls! How can we tell if papers would fly without this type of exposure? Well. Erm. I might not have have tweeted one or two papers to see the difference between tweeting and blogging about papers and not doing so. Take the LAIRAH (Log Analysis of Internet Resources in the Arts and Humanities) project, which I wrote about here. We actually published four papers from this research. I tweeted and promoted three of them actively. One I didnt mention to you. Here are the download counts. Guess which one I didnt circulate?
Library and information resources and users of digital resources in the humanities: 297 downloads
Documentation and the users of digital resources in the humanities: 209 downloads
If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data.: 142 downloads
The Master Builders: LAIRAH Research on Good Practice in the Construction of Digital Humanities Projects: 12 downloads.
The papers that were tweeted and blogged had at least more than 11 times the number of downloads than their sibling paper which was left to its own devices in the institutional repository. QED, my friends. QED.

I cant know if the downloaded papers are read though, can I? The only way to do so is to enter the murky world of citation analysis. The trouble with this is the proof of the pudding will come to light in a few years time - if someone reads something of mine now and decides to cite it, its going to take 1 or even 2 years - or more - for it to appear in my citation list. So, I'll be keeping an eye on things, not too seriously as we all know things like H index are problematic. Just for the record, at time of writing, I have 218 citations, according to Google scholar. My H index is 8, and my i10 index is 5, which is ok for a relatively young Humanities scholar (I'm still technically an Early Career Researcher for another year, as defined by the UK funding councils). Digital Curiosities only has 3 published citations to date. 3 published citations. Remember, it's been downloaded over 1300 times, between LLC and our repository. Will this citation count grow? Will I be able to demonstrate, over the next few years, that retweeting leads to citation? Will I be able to tell how people came across my research - if they come across my research? We'll see. Dont worry, I'll blog it if I have anything to say on this.

I also know nothing about how many times my other papers are downloaded from the websites of published journals, or consulted in print in the Library. The latter, no-one can really say about - but the former? It seems strange to me that we write articles (without being paid) and we get them published by people who make a profit on them, then we don't even know - usually - how many downloads they are getting from the journals themselves. The only reason I know about the LLC statistics is because I am good friends with the Editor. So, there are obvious advantages to being able to monitor my own downloads from my institutional repository. Its been a surprise to me to see what papers of mine are of interest to others. (Should that drive my research direction, though?)

The final point to make is that people don't just follow me or read my blog to download my research papers. This has only been part of what I do online - I have more than 2000 followers on twitter now and it has taken me over 3 years of regular engagement - hanging out and chatting, pointing to interesting stuff, repointing to interesting stuff, asking questions, answering questions, getting stroppy, sending supportive comments, etc - to build up an "audience" (I'd actually call a lot of you friends!) If all I was doing was pumping out links to my published stuff would you still be reading this? Would you have read this? Would you keep reading? My blog is similar: sure, I've talked about my research, but I also post a variety of other content, some silly, some serious, as part of my academic work. I suspect this little experiment only worked as I already had a "digital presence" whatever that may mean. Thanks for putting up with me. All these numbers, these stats. Those clicks were made by real people. Thanks!

So that would be my conclusion, really. If you want people to find and read your research, build up a digital presence in your discipline, and use it to promote your work when you have something interesting to share. It's pretty darn obvious, really:

If (social media interaction is often) then (Open access + social media = increased downloads).

What next? From now on, I will definitely post anything I publish straight into our institutional repository, and blog and tweet it straight away. After all, the time it takes to undertake research, and write research papers, and see them through to publication is large: the time is takes to blog or tweet about them is negligible. This has been a retrospective journey for me, through my past research, at a time when I came back from a period of leave. It's been fun to get my act together like this - in general I needed to sort out my online systems at UCL, so it gave me some impetus to do so. But it has shown me that making your research available puts it out there - and as soon as I have something new to show you, you'll be the first to know.

And here are a list of my personal top downloaded items from our repository, with download count since October, when I started this. Just for your eyes only, you understand.
Terras, M (2009) Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation. Literary and Linguistic Computing , 25 (4) 425 - 438.

Ross, C and Terras, M and Warwick, C and Welsh, A (2011) Enabled backchannel: conference Twitter use by digital humanists. J DOC , 67 (2) 214 - 237.
Warwick, C. and Terras, M. and Galina, I. and Huntington, P. and Pappa, N. (2008) Library and information resources and users of digital resources in the humanities. Program: Electronic Library and Information Systems , 42 (1) pp. 5-27.

Terras, M (1999) A Virtual Tomb for Kelvingrove: Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Education. Internet Archaeology (7).
Warwick, C and Galina, I and Rimmer, J and Terras, M and Blandford, A and Gow, J and Buchanan, G (2009) Documentation and the users of digital resources in the humanities. J DOC , 65 (1) 33 - 57.
Terras, M and Van den Branden, R and Vanhoutte, E (2009) Teaching TEI: The Need for TEI by Example. Literary and Linguistic Computing , 24 (3) 297 - 306.

Terras, M (2010) Should we just send a copy? Digitisation, Use and Usefulness. Art Libraries Journal , 35 (1)
Warwick, C and Terras, M and Huntington, P and Pappa, N (2008) If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data. LIT LINGUIST COMPUT , 23 (1) 85 - 102.
Warwick, C. and Fisher, C. and Terras, M. and Baker, M. and Clarke, A. and Fulford, M. and Grove, M. and O'Riordan, E. and Rains, M. (2009) iTrench: a study of user reactions to the use of information technology in field archaeology. LIT LINGUIST COMPUT , 24 (2) pp. 211-223.


Thursday 29 March 2012

There aint no party like a spam bot partay

Q. What do the following people have in common?

Vaksman Innes, Keown Yabne, Noelia Laun, Carmella Tunney, Tanisha Hendricks, Aaron Faubli, Lee Buffet, Sharron Romanowski, Hudson Swift, Tia Printz, Padilla Roldan, Greg Jeffries, Sillman Harry, Marylou Freas, Buyus Philmen,Defosse Sutton, McMammon Whitney, Shallom McGettigan, Perla Barras, Pretzer Colwyn, Yme Hockstra, Leane McGwin, Castera Drew, Ducci White, Cryssie Amberd, Jamel Gaskin, Hoaglin Little, Runels Stewart, Mei Tobery, Tish Dreith, Gus Cinco, Elke Fayad, Corey Thomen, Elza Edel, and Gemma Batterton.

A. They dont exist. For the past couple of weeks I've noted down the "name" of the spam bots messaging me on twitter. Goodness, spam bots are irritating, yes. But look at these names - aren't they fabulous?

I often have a gentle chuckle to myself at some of the random combinations that are generated by our bot chums. Vaksman Innes, Hoaglin Little, Marylou Freas - surely the names of previously anonymous guests from one of Jay Gatsby's parties? Tanisha Hendricks, Lee Buffet, Tish Dreith - straight from a Jilly Cooper novel? Tia Printz, Cryssie Amberd, Runels Stewart - straight from whatever the cool high school tv series du jour is? And poor old Greg Jeffries, tagging along beside all his more glamorous friends...

What is it about the randomly generated names that make them seem so fascinating, so charismatic? The combination of strings of known characters wont take into account any of our tacit understanding of the cultural norms of naming, nor its traditional sounds, beats, or cadences. It makes them seem other wordly, known but ridiculous, celebrity like. Which means perhaps we will pay them more attention? The names are delibrately set to be at the rare and obscure end of the naming bell curve?

An article from a good few years ago in the New York Times - before Twitter was even imagined - summed up the automatic name generation tools used by spammers - suggesting that online tools such as the Random Name Generator (based on data from the US Census to randomly generate names, with even a setting provided for how obscure you want them to be) are routinely used to generate these never-were spammers.

I'm as irritated as the next person by spam. What a waste of our resources. But in some alternative universe, my people-named-after-spam-bots are dancing late into the night, Vaksman with Marylou, Tanisha with Lee, the growing spam roll-call being the mother of all social-media party invites spiraling out of control.

Friday 23 March 2012

On Making, Use and Reuse in Digital Humanities

Something very exciting happened last week over at Transcribe Bentham, the crowdsourcing transcription project at UCL that I am part of. Buried within the weekly blog post giving an update on the transcription process was an announcement. It was easy to overlook it - given the stats that are now rolling out from TB:
3,057 manuscripts have now been worked on, up 82 on last week’s total; this is the biggest seven-day increase since the week ending 4 January 2011. The 3,000-transcript mark has now been comfortably broken, and congratulations to volunteer Diane Folan for transcribing her 1,000th manuscript, and volunteer JFoxe for having transcribed her 500th manuscript in little over six months. Volunteer Lea Stern isn’t far off the 500-transcript mark either.
In total, we're now over 1,500,000 words of transcription done by volunteer labour over the last 18 months or so. Them's a lot of transcription, and we're really delighted with the pace that is picking up. But no, that's not what I mean to talk about just now. The truly exciting thing is this:

We were delighted to see that the Public Record Office of Victoria in Melbourne have utilised and customised the software developed for Transcribe Bentham by the University of London Computer Centre, for their own pilot transcription project. We heartily recommend that you take a look, and if you wish to use the code for the TB transcription interface, you can find it here.
That's right. The code we made is now in use by another institution, to do their own transcription project. Hurrah!

It was always our aim in Transcribe Bentham to provide the code to others: it was a key part of our project proposal. But you always have to wonder if that is going to happen. Its the kind of thing that everyone writes in project proposals. And whilst lots of people talk about making things in Digital Humanities, and whether or not you have to make things to be a Digital Humanist, we've shied away - as a community - from the spectre of reuse: who takes our code and reappropriates it once we are done? How can we demonstrate impact through the things we've built being utilised beyond just us and - quite frankly - our mates?

So I'm happy as larry that the code we developed, and the system we have built, is both useful to us, but is now useful to others. I'm not sure how much I want to prod the sleeping monster that is general code reuse in Digital Humanities... dont draw attention to our deficiencies!

But I would be delighted if anyone else could point me to examples where code and systems in Digital Humanities were repurposed beyond their original project, just as we would wish?

Remembering Paris

I popped over to Paris a few weeks ago to Keynote at "L’image-document face au numérique : mise en crise ou mise en lumière ?" at the Institut national d'histoire de l'art, 5 mars 201. It was great to meet Parisian Digital Humanities folks - and I did my best to follow the papers given by French Art Historians regarding how their work is being changed by computational method.

The organiser of the conference, Elli Doulkaridou, has storified the tweets from the day - capturing the flavour of the discussion.

What was apparent to me was that there was still some reticence in using Digital methods - are they proper methods, and proper research? I tend to forget how far we've come in the UK, and how supportive the institution I work in is towards Digital Humanities. Very interesting discussions, and to be reminded that scholars are still fighting to be taken seriously in DH - and I hope to visit again soon...

Friday 9 March 2012

Blogging In Munich

Greetings from an hotel room in Munich. I cant not blog from here: I was hear to talk about this very blog at Weblogs in den Geisteswissenschaften at Die Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, today.

It was only a 20 minute paper, plus questions, looking at my personal experience of blogging, how this place has developed over time: for example how I used to post "cool stuff what I had found" online here, and now that stuff gets posted to twitter, and this blog is for more reflective content. I talked about the distinction between personal and professional, and where to draw the line at telling people things about your private life, which can be difficult sometimes. I talked about leaving yourself open to snark, and worse, trolls. I talked about developing confidence in this sphere. I talked about how I've been putting up little stories about my research, and the type of effect this has had on downloads of papers, etc. I talked about how you balance between the public outreach, and public engagement and actually sitting in front of your computer to get some, ya know, "real work" done. I talked about the reader stats of this little blog (about 100 readers a day now, when I havent posted anything new, and anything around 500 readers a day on the days I have posted something new). All backed up with slides of my previous content posted here. Fun, and some interesting discussions followed about whether we should be encouraging students to do this kind of thing, issues of self confidence in the blogosphere, why there arent more women academic bloggers, and so on and so on.

I then got interviewed for 30 minutes for a documentary for Austrian National Radio on blogging (which I wasn't expecting) and for something for someone in Switzerland about Digital Humanities (I have no idea what that is even for, apparently they will email me) and then talked to
Cornelius Puschmann for an hour about my blog, for his research - on the motivations of academic bloggers.

The whole day was very thought provoking: it has strengthened my belief in why I should bother/continue to keep up posting these random musings here, how beneficial it has been to my career (I met lots of people today who actually read my blog - that is why I was invited here!) and... well, it just allowed me to contextualise what I am up to a bit more, in my own head.

Its been a busy ten days. I should have four or five hours tomorrow in Munich before I have to head back to the airport, so I hope to see an exhibition, as a reward. I didnt even get to tell you about going to Paris on Monday, to keynote there. So in the past 10 days or so, I've keynoted in Edinburgh, Paris, and given this talk, as well as been in London for a day 8.30-7pm with meetings back to back, including examining a phd upgrade. Some of that has to wait for another day. Time to recharge, both my computer, and my own batteries. And tomorrow, time to go home. I'm not going anywhere else for three whole weeks!