Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ABC Radio The Challenge at the National Gallery of Australia

Tom Worthington answering a question on ABC Radio The ChallengeThere is a photo of me getting a question wrong at ABC Radio 666 "The Challenge" at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra 19 March 2010. The previous question was about Midnight Oil's album Diesel &Dust. I knew that because I blogged the parody of the Minister for Environment's difficulties with roof insulation: "How do we sleep while our batts are burning"?

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ABC Heywire website goes haywire

The ABC Heywire website is intended for young people. But I would not like to use the site from the mobile phone of a typical young person, as the poor formatting is likely to result in a large download bill. Even on a wired high speed broadband connection the site was slow. I did some checks and found a typical page was 433.4KB: HTML document 132.3KB, stylesheets 72.4KB, images 228.7KB. Most of the space in the HTML was taken up with text which was not normally visible and excessively verbose formatting. The page failed a W3c Validation Test, with 293 errors. The W3C Mobile Okay Checker reported: "This page is not mobile-friendly!".

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Media Still Struggling with Our Broadband Future

Greetings from "Realising Our Broadband Future" forum in Sydney (you can participate online). Abigail E. Thomas, Head, Strategic Innovation & Development, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is talking about how the ABC sees the broadband future. Unfortunately the ABC seems to see this future as little video clips from TV put on a web site. The ABC is making several bold experiments online, but seem to be fixated with old fashioned TV. What the ABC seems to have difficulty with is joining up all the disparate technologies into one current whole. As an example, the ABC is starting to provide radio via Digital Audio Broadcasting, but doesn't provide the same radio via the audio channels already available on digital TV. This would be a very simple to do, but the ABC doesn't do it, perhaps because they see "radio" and "TV" as two separate media.

What ABC needs to do is restructure itself for the new environment: its all bits. The challenge is to work out what business the ABC is in. The convergence of technology would suggest that the ABC is there to collect and create content, which then can be available in the form of text, audio and video. The ABC needs to therefore restructure itself for that environment.

ps: Perhaps I was a little harsh with the ABC. The next speakers were Stuart Tucker, GM Marketing Aussie Home Loans & Iain McDonald, Director, Amnesia. They bored the audience rigid with a tedious history of how Aussie Home Loans uses the web for marketing. Such a presentation might be f interest to marketing executives who had not heard of the web before and were not familiar with its history, but this was a waste of their time and our time at a broadband conference. If this is how Aussie Home Loans think they should do promotion of their business, then this is not a business I would want to invest in.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Internet Transforming Politics and the Media

One example of a journalist who cannot be accused of not giving a topic the depth of analysis it deserves is the ABC's Eleanor Hall. She has just completed studies at Oxford University Internet Institute on the use of the Internet in politics. Her carefully researched 37 page Trinity Term Reuters Institute Fellowship Paper "Politics in the Youtube Age: Transforming the Political and Media Culture?", is available online. She argues that Obama's use of the Internet was not the grassroots campaign it was portrayed as, but had strong central coordination.

I concluded that the Obama campaign is less revolutionary than it at first appears and that there are a range of reasons why it is unlikely that British politicians will follow even some of the more riskfree elements of the Obama e-campaign.

The Obama campaign showed that online social networking can be a powerful political tool and the US President’s web supporters are justified in claiming this as the first election victory for YouTube politics. But it also showed that a web 2.0 community can be harnessed to a fairly traditional campaign hierarchy and could be open to manipulation by the very political gatekeepers it claims to
be challenging.

Obama’s is a story of how web 2.0 helped an outsider to get into the race for the White House but then how the candidate’s campaign used social networking to increase several important levers of its power. The campaign amassed a huge database of supporter contacts and information, it raised the biggest war chest of funds in US history and it used the web to marshal and direct its online supporters. It also used the internet to counter one of the other political power centres in the campaigning environment, the mainstream media. In doing all of this there were negotiations made and, sometimes uneasy, alliances formed.

The Obama team directed political activity but did not squash dissent, as campaign directors in a TV age campaign might have done. It broke away from the old “war room” approach to data that was characterised by secrecy and central control and gave supporters more autonomy in the way they involved themselves in the political campaign. The web 2.0 community showed it was powerful and Obama’s embrace of it meant many more citizens did engage in the political process. But this was still a political campaign with the goal of winning power and was strikingly similar in key respects to an old-style top down, command and control political operation.

As for British politicians emulating elements of the Obama e -campaign to re-engage citizens and reinvigorate the democratic process, most players agreed it appears unlikely to happen any time soon, despite the expenses crisis. While many MPs and citizens are increasingly using web 2.0 to engage in politics, institutional and cultural differences between the US and the UK make it unlikely Britain will ever see Obama-levels of enthusiasm for using web 2.0 in political campaigns. ...

From: Politics in the Youtube Age: Transforming the Political and Media Culture?, Eleanor Hall, Trinity Term, Reuters Institute Fellowship, University of Oxford, 2009

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maintaining services online during a flu pandemic

The Australian National University has released a revised ANU Pandemic Response Plan. Like many such plans, this envisages a progressive reduction of organisation activities with all but essential activities being stopped. However, this is based on the assumption that educational activities require gatherings of people. Instead, education and many administrative services, can be maintained using telecommunications, while avoiding face-to-face gatherings of people. Most staff and students can stay at home, but maintain many educational and research activities online.

Some simple steps would be required, such as checking that procedures allow for distribution of electronic documents in place of paper ones. Some procedures for example may refer to requiring "signatures". This requirement can usually be met with an email message with the person's name typed on it, but where a higher level of authentication is required, submission via a password protected system might be needed . Staff may need to be issued with additional equipment at home and trained in its use. Students may need advice on what to get. Online courses would need to be checked to make sure they work on slower home links and ones overseas. Servers would need to be checked for capacity.

In addition to telephone and Internet services, educators can make use of broadcast and cable TV services, including in Canberra Transact, to provide content. In the event of a pandemic, is likely that a significant proportion of the Canberra population will be at home and looking for something to keep them stimulated. The universities and schools might make some materials available for this purpose.

ps: The ANU COMP2410 students have completed their assignment on designing a swine flu advice web site for Australia. This expertise is now available, if needed.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Talking on radio about using broadband to save the planet

At 4:20pm today (local time) I will be talking to Grant Cameron on ABC Radio Adelaide 891 Drive about using broadband to save the planet. This is to promote my talk to the Joint IT SM and IT Architecture Special Interest Groups of the Australian Computer Society and itSMF Australia on "Solving Climate Change with IT Service Management". The particular issue I wanted to talk to the radio audience about is how widespread availability of broadband, such as from the federal National Broadband Network proposal, could be used to reduce carbon emissions. An obvious way to do this is to substitute video conference for travel. Also such dematerialisation can include substituting online services for physical goods, such as replacing paper document delivery with online services. A less obvious example is to make public transport more attractive. One good example is that Adelaide now has Google's trip planner for public transport as well as car and foot travel. This makes it easier to work out how to get somewhere, particularly for those who are not used to public transport. Another option would be to install WiFi on Adelaide's O-Bahn Busway and Glenelg Tram (as is envisaged for the e Cambridgeshire Guided Busway) so that people could do useful work or entertain themselves on longer trips.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Documentary of Newcastle 2007 Floods

MV Pasha Bulker aground June 2007 on Nobbys Beach, NSWThe multimedia documentary "A June to Remember" was produced by

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ABC Mobile Web Site Failed Accessibility Test

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation launched "ABC Mobile" yesterday. Unfortunately the home page does not appear to have been designed in accordance with guidelines for web accessibility for the disabled and may be unlawful. The ABC advertises for staff who have a knowledge of web accessibility and web standards and so would know its its obligations. The site also fails several mobile phone and other web guidelines. As well as the mobile phone compatible web site, there are Apple iPhone and Gooogle Android applications offered. However, the ABC should have put its resources into the basic site, rather than building nice to have, but non-essential features.

A test using the Test Accessibility Web tool (TAW 3.0 3/16/09 10:15 PM) against the WAI guidelines (W3C Recommendation 5 May 1999) reported: 1 Priority 1, 14 Priority 2 and 1 Priority 3 problems with the page. The Priority 1 problem is the most serious. The ABC has not included usable alternative text for the main navigation menu of the site. As an example, "Weather" is displayed as an image with no text saying "Weather" for those who cannot see the image. Instead the word "image" has been used for all the menu items, making the web site substantially inaccessible to those with vision impairment.

The W3C mobileOK Checker gave the home page of the new site 79/100 on mobile compatible tests. This would be a good result for an ordinary web site but is poor for a site specifically designed for mobile phones. The web page is designed for smart phones with large screens (about 3 inches and QVGA resolution) and would be difficult to use on an ordinary mobile phone. The page is 38KB: 9KB for the text and 29KB of images, which is too "heavy" for a mobile (W3C recommend 20 kbytes). There are 15 files required to be downloaded (the HTML and 14 images), whereas W3C recommends a maximum of 10. There are numerous errors reported with the HTML coding of the web site.

With its mobile service the ABC had the opportunity to not only provide a general news and entertainment service but one which would be of use in emergencies, such as bushfire and floods. However by not correctly designing the service the ABC has limited its usefulness.

Currently I am teaching mobile and accessible web design to second year and postgraduate students at The Australian National University in the course "Networked Information Systems" (COMP2410). The ABC home page would not be of an acceptable standard for student work on this course.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Content Delivery Service for ABC

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is reorganising the way its website content is delivered and have issued a Request for Tender for Provision of a Content Delivery Service. There is a detailed tender document outlining the requirements of the system.

There is provision for disaster recovery and reliability of the system, but there appears no mention for the need for the system to operate during natural disasters and other emergencies. The ABC provides emergency communications to the public in these situations and therefore its content delivery service needs to be of to a higher standard of reliability than that of a pure entertainment service.

There has been some controversy over advertising on ABC mobile web sites. There is no mention of mobile web sites in the tender document. This may indicate that the ABC thinks no special provision for mobile is required, or they are going to provide that content via separate commercial web sites with advertising.
Category 43000000 - Information Technology Broadcasting and Telecommunications ...

The ABC proposes to reorganise the way its website content is delivered to its audience and therefore is seeking to engage a Delivery Service provider such as a Content Distribution Network (CDN) or Similar Service to supply the required bandwidth, server capacity and performance. ...

From: Provision of a Content Delivery Service, ATM ID NS0761RFP, ABC, 8-Oct-2008

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

ABC Mobile Web design

ABC's Media Watch program ("ABC Designs For The Future",15 September 2008), had a detailed discussion of the possibility of advertising on new ABC mobile web sites. Contrary to what the program said, the ABC could simply and cheaply provide a mobile option for its existing site. Examples were show of prototype ABC Weather, ABC Grandstand Sport and news pages. Most of the analysis was about the appropriateness of having advertisements on an ABC web site. What didn't seem to get discussed was why have separate mobile sites at all. The ABC's web site, including media watch already work on mobile devices and just need some minor improvements to make all the ABC web pages available on mobiles.

Presenter Jonathan Holmes said: "Try to view ordinary websites on one of the flash new 3G mobile devices like Blackberry and iPhone, and they're very clunky. And they'll also quickly bust your download cap. So everyone's racing to develop new, mobile friendly, websites - the ABC included...". That is certainly the case for Media Watch's own web site, which when viewed on a mobile device (I used Opera's "Small Screen" open to emulate a mobile device) has too much content and too much animation. However, this can be fixed by simplifying the standard web site and then using the options built into web standards to have it adapt when viewed on Mobile devices.

By making the main web site mobile compatible, this will also improve the quality of the web site for all users. Web designers have a tendency to clutter web pages with too much content. Mobile devices have small screens and limited bandwidth, providing a useful curb on the designer's enthusiasm. Where high bandwidth is required, the web server can automatically adjust the content to suit the device.

There have been several past attempts by the mobile phone and web industries to make mobile web sites a viable business. These attempts have mostly failed. The ABC should make a small investment in making all its web content mobile compatible. This can be done with a small project and mostly using automated tools. It would be a minimal expense and effort compared to creating and maintaining multiple new web sites. After it has done that the ABC can see who actually wants to view what content on which mobile devices. The popular services can then be improved.

Billions of dollars have been lost over the last ten years by companies attempting to create a profitable business from mobile web sites. If more companies wish to risk more money in the attempt, they are free to do so, with the consent of their investors. However, the ABC is a government owned enterprise funded by the public and so not be investing heavily in speculative ventures with minimal chance of success. The ABC is required by law to make its services widely available. There are ways for the ABC to provide mobile web access at minimal expense with little risk using available technology. I suggest the ABC take that approach and leave risky DOT.COM style web speculation to others.

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