2008 : nostuff.org under review

It takes someone with a grossly over inflated ego, and thinks their website is a trillion times more important than it actually is to try and write a review of the previous year. What sort of idiot does that, as if anyone will read it!

Hello.

Think of it as a school report, annual appraisal, or cheap channel 4 air time filler around the new year.

nostuff.org has grown in the last year, so did the readership. Some of the posts were even read by humans.

nostuff.org/words started out like many a blog, rambling on my oh-so-important thoughts about the latest news story, gadget, or (I confess) the software I installed on my laptop (in my defence, as no one read it, I was using the blog as a personal notepad as I reinstalled said laptop).

In 2008 (well late 2007 if truth be told, but that would ruin the whole thing, is that what you want? do you?) something happened: some original content appeared on nostuff. I didn’t even copy it from somewhere else.

Part of this was due to me getting a little more geeky than I had in a while. The web had become a read-only resource for me, I consumed (the entire) wikipedia, other blogs, news sites, and often becoming an expert on how to apply for a parking permit in some random US state. I was also watching too much crap TV (why was quizcall so addictive). The telly went off, Radio 4 went on, and I decided to actually do something (perhaps, somewhat belatedly taking the advice of why don’t you).

ircount / Repository Statistics

One of these things I had been working on well over a year. I had written a simple script which connected to ROAR each week and collected the count of records for each UK repository. I finally got around to writing a simple web interface to show all of this, which utilised the amazing simple to use Google Charts. I announced this in March 2008, which was in no way set to coincide with the Open Repositories conference I was attending a few days later.

This went down well, and was probably the first time when well known websites had linked to me (not that I’m obsessed with hits and being linked to or anything). Peter Suber’s highly regarded Open Access news linked here, it felt good (I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I actually have a delicious.com ‘ego’ tag for this). In October I  released an updated version of the site, now on my own website, which included stats for all Institutional Repositories, not just those in the UK.

A future development will be to report on ‘fulltext’ items, not just the number of records, though this will be a departure from just using ROAR as a datasource and will involve me connecting to individual repositories myself. In November I carried out a bit of research by playing with Tim Brody’s Perl library for connecting to OAI-PMH repositories.

Book catalogue using Talis Platform (and mashedlibraries)

The Talis Panlibus Blog and ‘Talis Technical Development’ have a lot of posts discussing APIs and functionality, all of it was hard to visualise at the time (probably because a lot of the infrastructure was in active development). The Talis Platform is a place to store RDF data accessible via the web (like Amazon S3 is a place to store files accessible via the web). It has seperate stores for different users/applications. I first explored this in the summer of 2007, and my steps at the time now look somewhat simple and naive!

In February 2008 I released the first version of my (simple) interface (use this link for the current version). This searches the ‘ukbib’ store which is a Talis Platform store holding RDF data of book records. A seperate store has holdings information for many libraries. The two can be linked via the ISBN (used a bit like a primary key in a relational database). The design of the Platform is such that you can merge multiple sources of data (from across the web) and it will bring back a single response with the data from the various sources.

In March I added the just released Google book API, both the static and dynamic versions. However the dynamic version (which should also show a book cover) only seems to work for a small amount of books.

Mashedlibraries: In November I attended the excellent Mashedlibraries day. During the afternoon we had a opportunity to work on various things. I decided to provide a holdings page, with a Google map showing the location of libraies which hold the item. With no experience of the Google Maps API, nor javascript, nor how to get the information our of the Platform (and Talis Silkworm), this was no small task. Luckily Rob Styles worked with me to provides a huge amount of patient help.

I’ve also added ‘Google Friend Connect’ to the site, though it currently doesn’t really work, as comments appear for all items, rather than just for the item they were added to.

UK Universities

I’ve always (well, the last few years, not so much when I was 5) taken an interest in the University league tables published by the national press. I often make the mistake in thinking that older and Russell group Universities are ‘better’ than others, but these league tables often show otherwise. The problem is they often come up with different results. But what if you combined all the scores from these tables to get an over-all average, hopefully ironing out the oddities of particular methodologies.

I spent a bit of time adding the league tables of various papers (and international rankings) to a spreadsheet, and sticking it on the web – along with some comments – as both an excel file and a Google spreadsheet. Before I published it, I also asked readers to suggested their top 20, to compare those we perceive to be ‘top’ with those that come top in these league tables.

This clearly hit a nerve. Or more to a point, hit a popular Google search term!

list of search terms for nostuff.org (most about Universities)

list of search terms for nostuff.org (most about Universities)

Annoyingly I was getting most hits to the post which asked readers to submit their own guesses to the top 20, and not to the post which listed the carefully compiled top 50 based on collecting data from various sources (which is presumably of more use to most people carrying out such searches). This seemed to be due to the titles of the two posts, so, in my first ever attempt in SEO, I changed the title of the latter, and it then increased the number of hits from search engines (I also added some bold links from the former ‘reader guesses’ post’).

These posts have brought in a lot of readers who are searching Google to find out about Universities in the UK, and had a massive affect on the number of hits the blog has received:

nostuff blog hits 2008 by month

nostuff blog hits 2008 by month

A number of people (mainly outside the UK) have asked for recommendations, especially for particular subjects. I’ve avoiding answering this directly, as I know have no knowledge or experience to be able to answer this. Though have suggested the HERO, and UCAS websites as well as the Guardian and Times Higher Education sections.

I hadn’t predicted this interest from potential students, though it seems so obvious now. Though good to see something I did for my own interest may have been of some use to others.

Open Repositories 2008

As mentioned above,  I attended the Open Repositories 2008 conference. In previous years it had been held across the globe, though this time was held just along the south coast in Southampton. My Uni kindly funded my attendance, so long as I went via the cheapest rail ticket, for two days, with no hotel or expenses. Still it means I got to hear the shipping forecast for the first time ever as I raised early both mornings.

I had only just started using Twitter and was the first time I had blogged (and tweeted?) about conference. In fact probably the first time I had really blogged about work stuff. It sounds very cynical (and I feel cheap saying it), but helped to attract attention of repository/library tech people to the blog.

Conferences

I also attended an event about a project – RIOJA – to look at how an ‘overlay’ journal could be implemented, i.e. if repositories provide a way to access content (including that not published in a traditional journal), then a overlay journal could provide a way to peer review and categorise a subset of the items published in repositories, the ‘overlay journal’ linking to the articles already available online, but by doing so, showing an essential peer review (quality) process has taken place. The day also had speakers talking about over novel journal publishing concepts, and the REF.

It was the first time I had used coveritlive, which Andy Powell has used (very successfully) many times. It was also the first time I had used a t-mobile usb 3G network stick, which I, and others, had persuaded our library to purchase, I set it up on the Mac on the train to Cambridge, and I was glad I did, it meant I had a network connection throughout (power, as ever, was a different issue). My live blog is here, and also on the even less popular Sussex repository blog.

In December I attended an event called ‘Sitting on a Goldmine’ (based on the JISC TILE project), based in London, this was a fantastic day with great speakers and attendees looking at how we can make use of usage data and user generated data to create new services. My write up is here.

And as previously mentioned, I also attended the Mashed Libraries event.

Mobile phones

I posted three articles about mobile phones. About why they are badly named, about the phones I have owned (not that you care) and my musings about getting a new smart phone (I’ve now got a iphone in front of me, it may be common, but my god it is good).

Nostuff, web hosting and wordpress

Jisc Library Management System Review

I found the report with the above name via the Talis blog, found some time to read it, and made some notes, which I randomly decided to store on this blog. Turns out this was quite popular and quite a few accessed it via Google (and via Tom Ropers blog).

Other bits

Reviews

The shorts

Templates and look

In November I looked at some new plug-ins and themes for wordpress. The theme I currently use is Greening, I’ve modified it a bit to increase the font size, show tags used for each post, and add ads. WordPress’ excellent widget system also comes in very handy.

Ads: I’ve had ads since around 2005. So far I have made (on paper) around $30 (I only get the money once I reach $100, which at this rate could take many years!). An added element to this is the large fluctuation between the pound and dollar exchange rate: a few months a go $100 was worth £50, now it is almost £100, so when that cheque gets sent makes a difference!

The ads have always been more a bit of an experiment than hard and fast capitalism (but the extra cash is still appealing). I’ve tried to place them with a balance between not being too annoying (a small one at the top right, some at the bottom, and a few on the left), and hope no one objects too much.

The continuous increase in visits over the last year has seen an increase in click-thrus (which generate the revenue), especially in the last few months with the postings about University rankings in the UK.

Stats

I mentioned stats above. Over the last year visits/hits have been going up month on month.

2008 stats for nostuff.org blog

2008 stats for nostuff.org blog

I collect stats via the WordPress Stats Plugin, via Google Analytics, and some rather basic web server reports. Of coruse they all report different numbers but more or less show the same thing, the table above is from the WordPress stats plugin.

So 2008 was, relatively speaking, a quite good year, just don’t expect the same for 2009!