How can government innovate with Drupal?

28 07 2012

Earlier this week, I braved the cold, foggy Canberra weather to attend an industry breakfast focused on the open-source content Management System, Drupal, which was hosted by PreviousNext and Acquia. For readers unfamiliar with Drupal – it is a free, open-source content management system (CMS) and content management framework (CMF) written in PHP and distributed under the GNU General Public License. It is used as a back-end system for  many websites ranging from personal blogs to corporate, political, and government sites including and, as well as numerous Australian government sites – see here for complete list. It is also used for knowledge management and business collaboration.

One of Acquia’s founders, Kieran Lal, along with Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) developer Daniel Nitsche, gave an introduction to Drupal to explain how the Australian Government can “Do More With Drupal” at the seminar. A glance around the room was enough to determine that there is a massive amount of interest from government agencies in Drupal, presumably for its possibilities for streamlining both financial and development costs .

I found Daniel’s talk very useful in terms of a practical implementation of Drupal in a large government agency. Some of his comments came as no surprise though – especially regarding accessibility. For example, it is common knowledge that Drupal is more accessible  ‘out of the box’ than SharePoint. What I thought very interesting was the set-up of web developers  in his department (esp as I worked in what was the precursor agency to DEEWR). Apparently in the communications branch, there are 10 Drupal developers doing the entire end-to-end process of development, design and publication. I think this is excellent, but I do think there was an essential element missing in this discussion – the role of content and stakeholders.

There was something quite ‘de ja vu’ about the breakfast, as it conjured memories of going to similar industry events around 7 years ago, promoting MySource Matrix as the great new open source CMS for gov websites. At this event , poor old MySource Matrix was held up as a CMS which is not really ‘open source’ and with limited developer and vendor support, as opposed to Drupal where it was cited that there is about 17,000 tools out there and 19,000 developers. Yup – I am impressed, there is a huge community of people out there who are passionate about Drupal.

Unfortunately, I was less impressed with the talk from Kieran Lal. I appreciate that he has been a key driver in the exponential rise of Drupal but his talk seemed to be pitched at senior managers and CEOs, rather than a room full of  IT and Web savvy people (my assumption). For example, I thought it was a long stretch to talk about different aspects of the Information Architecture featured on the website for Harvard University as a Drupal solution. In fact I found most of the presentation lacking in terms of accessiblity of content and user perspective. Also his discussion about ‘Risk’ was vague and didn’t address what the risks actually were for government agencies considering moving to Drupal. From my perspective, a bit more specific detail would have been very useful as this kind of information could save agencies a lot of time.

I think it is great we have all of this cool online technology, which is flexible, interoperable and not to mention cheap – fantastic!! What is missing from this discussion are the issues around content, audiences and strategy. This is not an observation that is directed only at Keiran, but to many people working in the web space.

At times I find the disconnect between technology and audience needs highly problematic. Yes, government agencies do need to make websites, quicker, more flexible and cheaply, plus comply with the Web Transition Strategy, but audiences also need to understand the content and to find it accessible. This form of accessibility is not about getting 100% on the HTML Validator, it is about ensuring written content is understood by the audience.

IT News published an article about the breakfast which offers more detail about the DEEWR implementation.

More info about the event:


New social bookmarking obsessions

3 07 2012

For some time, I have been curious about pinterest as I love the idea of collecting resources online and love images even more! Last night I took the plunge and activated my account, and then spent the next three hours building 10 boards – loved every minute of it!

For a number of years, I was an avid social bookmarker with Delicious, until I discovered on twitter. Since then I have used twitter as a way of both sharing links I like as well as saving them for later. Although I know I already have them in twitter, the thought of them stockpiling in delicious is strangely comforting, though the task of reorganising tags and stacks after two years is daunting.

Anyway, one of the things I like about pinterest, aside from being able to share images easily (irrespective of  copyright concerns), is that you are visually bookmarking, much in the same way you would with delicious but with images. I don’t know why copyright owners would be upset about this tool as pinterest drives the traffic back to the original website where the image was located.


my pinterest boards

This is a complete contrast to Facebook, who actually own every photo on the website – even if you thought you owned the copyright. Annabel Crabb sums it up nicely in her recent article You might not like it, but you and Facebook are worst friends forever.

In recent times it looked like linkedin was on the rise, but now the twitter feed function has been removed, it will be interesting to see how that impacts on the site’s popularity. It is also worth noting that pinterest has a much higher proportion of women users, check out this infographic about gender preferences and spocial media platforms.

Social Media commentators Mashable had this to say in a recent article:

Pinterest is social media’s rising star — and now has the traffic stats to prove it.

The darling network of brides-to-be, fashionistas and budding bakers now beats YouTube, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace for percentage of total referral traffic in January, according to a Shareaholic study.

Well, there you go  – sounds like the place to be if you are interested in building interest in your brand and driving traffic to your website.

Anyway, for now I am content to just pinterest the things I like looking at, and thinking about.

@Trib’s Challenge

5 11 2010

After I posted a blog about my TEDxCanberra experience one of the organisers, Stephen Collins (better known in the twitterverse as @trib), set forth a challenge in the form of a comment posted on mediakult.

It read:

I’m so glad you found TEDxCanberra inspiring. Now, while we all still have that TED-ache, it’s time to get out there and do something, anything, that makes a little bit of difference.

Now I have been thinking a lot about his comment and how I might make a difference. Most of my ideas are linked to my interest in human rights, the environment, sustainability and social inclusion as well my passion for accessible, flexible and usable online environments. In particular, as I have been doing some research into the uptake of 3G mobile technology in remote Indigenous communities, I have been thinking about how I could make a difference to the access that young people have to the Internet via mobile devices. I am especially interested in how this form of communications could have a beneficial effect on literacy and education.

Another event I recently attended also further triggered my interest in collaborating with young people in remote communities. Earlier this week, I was very lucky to have attended the Iconic Songs book launch where Neil Murray and Shane Howard also performed. The Warumpi Band and Goanna both made a big impression on me as a teenager, as I had spent many formative years in Darwin. Through my love of the natural environment I learnt a lot about the connectedness of everything in Indigenous cultures. To understand that family, community, land, spirit, ancestors and ceremony were all linked as aspects of identity was a tranformative and awakening experience for me as a young person trying to understand the world from a bigger perspective.

Well, I guess my ideas at this point are a bit vague, but today I am making my first baby step – by registering to be an Indigenous Community Volunteer.

Anyway – I will keep you informed of my progress in this area -so watch this space 🙂

What’s hot at Web Directions

15 10 2010

Yesterday a colleague and I were interviewed at Web Directions about “What’s hot and what’s not”. This was a great opportunity for us to plug as well as offer our opinion about what is emerging in the web development and design space.

Well, for me what is smoking hot at the moment is HTML5 and CSS3. I am uber impressed by what you can do without Javascript – transitions, fades, specialised fonts, animating images. To be honest I don’t think I have even explored the tip of the iceberg here as there is so much new stuff.

It seems so long ago when I created my first page in 1995, complete with tiled pineapples and a flashing title (many would remember that now ousted tag). There was not a lot of opportunity to animate then, not unless you included an animated gif or a flash tag. Javascript and Flash came later and both had their pros and cons. The capacity HTML5 and CSS3 has for doing much more of this work with less code is very inspiring.

Silvia Pfeiffer’s talk on HTML5 audio and video was fantastic (I know that is totally uncritical feedback). It was excellent because the possibilities offered to audio and video in HTML5. Silvia’s knowledge of this area as impressive and I look forward to keeping abreast of developments with HTML5, particularly in the open video space.

Knud Möller’s talk on RDFa was good value. As a member of the W3C RDFa working group he has a lot of insight into this emerging standard for tagging data. Again, there seems to be some good support in the open source community with Drupal 7 including RDFa as part of the standard set up.

Michael Smith’s “HTML5 Report Card” was very entertaining, the information was really useful and the presenting style was lots of fun. The useful links from this talk are all covered in his presentation on Slideshare (where he appears under the handle of sideshowbarker).

Also, I think there is momentum building in the geomapping space, though I have a way to go to get around the dev side of things. Icelabs Max Wheeler’s talk went a bit over my head on a technical level, though his website decaf sucks, is a lovely example of the use of geo-data that displays elegantly across desktop and mobile devices. Although I still have lots to learn, I am certainly getting a much better idea of what is possible with flexible design and geo-data.

Speaking of Icelab, it was great to see Nathan McGinness, who used to work there and was a member of dorkbot cbr before he relocated to Sydney to work with Digital Eskimo. He was there showing off his invention sketch lab. Good luck Nathan – it is a great idea!

Nathan McGinness - sketch lab

As a first timer, I understand now why so many web people make the pilgrimage to Web Direction year after year, as this is a great opportunity to learn, network, catch up with friends, colleagues and even past students. One of the things that hit me the most is this where people talk about how they make things, rather than just thinking or writing about it (which is what I have spent last 9 years doing –  focusing on my PhD).

I am looking forward to much more time to play and learning through doing, not just observing and I have plenty to inspiration thanks to Web Directions.

Report: Life of Information Symposium

27 09 2010

I arrived at the Life of Information Symposium (#lois2010) at ANU somewhat fatigued from the previous days attendance at media140.

Fortunately, I did not feel this way for long. Thanks to Dr Paul Arthur, et al, this event was very well organised, with the timing of presentations and discussions very tight and subject matter kept on topic.

A broad range of very interesting online dictionaries, encyclopedias and collections were discussed including Atlas of Living Australia, Austlit: The Australian Literature Resource, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Medical Pioneers Index, Defining Moments, Dictionary of Sydney, Black Loyalists, Encyclopedia of Australian Science, Gallipoli: The First Day, Founders and Survivors, Invisible Australians, Mapping Our Anzacs, Obituaries Australia, People Australia and Trove

The speakers included Stephen Due, Janet McCalman, Sandra Silcot, Len Smith, Zoë D’Arcy, Cassandra Pybus, Katherine Bode, Donald Hobern, Kerry Taylor, Basil Dewhurst, Ian Johnson, Ross Coleman, Emma Grahame, Steven Hayes,  Stewart Wallace and Tim Sherratt.

My primary interest in this event was to learn more about the technical applications used in the digital humanities as this is a current research interest, particularly data visualisations of semantic web data. So for me the most interesting presentations were by Cassandra Pybus (Black Loyalists), Ian Johnson (Heurist Scholar), Tim Sherratt (Invisible Australians) see his presentation on Slideshare and the team from Dictionary of Sydney – Ross Coleman, Emma Grahame, Steven Hayes and Stewart Wallace. These projects were discussed on a range of levels including content, context and technical tools used for production and management of data.

I could not help comparing media140 and lois2010 even though these events were so different in terms of outlook. What was evident for me as a connection point was the use of the Internet as a communications channel. The major difference at media140, there was a focus on a small number of tools i.e. Twitter and Facebook, whereas at lois2010 many of the projects used custom built, open source and free tools. I guess researchers lead and the rest follow.

The other big difference was the use of social media during the symposium – at #media140 over 2000 tweets were transmitted as opposed to the 50 or so at #lois2010. In fact at one point, I tweeted that I was a lonely voice. Quite a different scenario to the day before.

In summary, I think that the digital humanities is building momentum and starting to really analyse the way in which its subject matter is managed and disseminated. There are still many challenges, including how to manage divergent ontologies and develop tools that have archival value. One of the most interesting questions came from a cultural studies researcher about how dissenting narratives could be portrayed and how other voices could be included in some of the biographical projects. For me this is a crucial issue and one that crowd sourcing can assist with as the audience should be able to include their voice to the narrative.

The other question in my mind is about the audience and their capacity to utilise the tools effectively, which comes back to my accessibility and usability hobby horses. What I would like to see next is a symposium that focuses on the functionality and usability of tools rather than the subject matter as this is currently a gap in my skill set, which I am trying to overcome as quickly as possible.

I look forward to seeing some of the presentations on Slideshare, and I will update this post with the links when they become available.

Project list


During the Friday Forum Gavan McCarthy mentioned this report on contextual information frameworks:

THATCamp CBR – Summary report

9 09 2010

THATCamp CBR Report

On 28-29 August, I participated in a very interesting event titled THATcamp Canberra, which was organised by Tim Sherratt (@wragge), Cath Styles (@cathstyles) and Mitchell Whitelaw (@mtchl) and hosted by University of Canberra.

This blog post is a summary of all the posts that were published on the mediakult blog about THATCamp, in an effort to keep the content together.

To explain, THATCamp Canberra was a user-generated ‘unconference’ on digital humanities. It was inspired by the original THATCamp, organised by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and is one of a growing number of regional THATCamps springing up around the world. (‘THAT’ = ‘The Humanities And Technology’.)

The unconference model works on the idea that the participants generate the sessions, based on individual interests and research. In the lead up to THATCamp, participants blogged suggestions and then when we met on Saturday morning, the program was decided as a group, facilitated by Tim.

The sessions covered a broad range of topics including data visualisation to digital mapping to semantic web to augmented/digital space. Here is link to the THATCamp CBRprogram from Cath Styles Flickr page.

The sessions I attended were:

I missed the data visualisation session, but thanks to Michael Honey, this list of data viz links is a great resource of information about projects and tools focused on the visualisation of data.

As a general comment, the content of the sessions I attended was very rich, which was achieved by sharing experiences and tools in the spirit of collaboration. I have referred to some of the tools and projects in my reports on the workshops I attended. I went to THATcamp hoping to gain some practical skills and I found this, plus much more. I think the unconference model is a great way to focus on what participants want to explore, which was a big contributor to the success of the event.

THATCamp CBR – Semantic web session

The semantic web session was hugely popular, facilitated by Corey Wallis a software engineer who is involved in the development of additional services for the AusStage system as part of the Aus-e-Stage project.

I am particularly interested in the development of semantic web tools as an opportunity for LivingGreener to visualise data about sustainability issues. In addition to this as an artist and researcher I am starting to explore the use of semantic web and mapping tools as a way of developing creative work about family, identity. migration and place.

In short, Corey proposed a session that explored the potential use of semantic web technologies, such as the Resource Description Framework RDF, in supporting research and other projects in the humanities. Some initial questions to start the discussion include:

  • What are these types of technologies used for?
  • What kinds of activities in the humanities do they support?
  • What are the kinds of problems that we’ve used these technologies to solve?
  • What kinds of issues have been explored in using these types of technologies?
  • Sharing thoughts on success stories, war stories and other experiences with these types of technologies.

THATCamp CBR – Open linked data session

The main focus on this session was the access and use of PSI (Public Sector Information). Asa LeTourneau, from the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) led this discussion.

This discussion focused on a range of issues including, developing APIs, data scaping from websites, and making data available and different institutions that have made their data available in different formats.

In many ways, this discussion ended up being more about the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ and I was hoping for more about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ on a technical level. That said, I did learn that it is important to write good XML and to have strong URIs 🙂

There was a general comment that Australian government archives ahead of the game because of the ‘series system’ developed in the 1960s. This is a great opportunity for access and visualisation of open data on a global scale. There were also comments that there had been some very good work in this area in New Zealand.

THATCamp CBR – Digital mapping session

BootCamp: Putting the Digital Humanities in its place … what, why and how to map
Presented by Ian Johnson.

This session was an excellent practical introduction into digital mapping. Ian provided some very good information about the basics of GIS (Geographic Information System) and the types of tools and databases used to generate visualisations that intersected data with mapping.

To begin with, the group was taken through an overview of GIS, which I found particularly helpful as I have not had any formal training in this area and have a great interest in learning skills in mapping and GIS.

The presentation then focused on a number of projects that have used GIS technologies, for example: Macquarie map of Indigenous Australia 2007; South Seas Project; Digital Harlem 1915 – 1930 and Dictionary of Sydney.

Ian then provided a list of tools that are used for developing these projects – most significantly Time Maps and Heurist.

I am looking forward to learning much more about digital mapping and building technical skills with some of the tools mentioned in the blog post.

THATCamp CBR – Digital/Augmented space session

In this session, the focus was on how we can traverse physical space with digital tools, map our location and connect with others. There was a particular focus on who has been in the same location and what this could mean for sharing an experience of a space or idea of place. The discussion was led by Dr Chris Chesher, who initiated the discussion by sharing his interest in robots and augmented space.

This topic is close to my heart as it is related to my creative practice as well as my PhD research.

This discussion covered a lot of ground in terms of covering tools, conceptual issues, future possibilities and challenges. For this reason, the majority of this blog post is a list of dot points which are split into three sections – concepts/issues, tools and references. The best aspect of this session was that there was a lot of blue sky thinking about what was imagined, what was possible and what is already emerging. Thanks to @ellenforsyth for providing the initial list of discussion points.

THATCamp CBR – Semantic web session

1 09 2010

The semantic web session was hugely popular, facilitated by Corey Wallis a software engineer who is involved in the development of additional services for the AusStage system as part of the Aus-e-Stage project.

I am particularly interested in the development of semantic web tools as an opportunity for LivingGreener to visualise data about sustainability issues. In addition to this as an artist and researcher I am starting to explore the use of semantic web and mapping tools as a way of developing creative work about family, identity. migration and place.

In short, Corey proposed a session that explored the potential use of semantic web technologies, such as the Resource Description Framework RDF, in supporting research and other projects in the humanities. Some initial questions to start the discussion include:

  • What are these types of technologies used for?
  • What kinds of activities in the humanities do they support?
  • What are the kinds of problems that we’ve used these technologies to solve?
  • What kinds of issues have been explored in using these types of technologies?
  • Sharing thoughts on success stories, war stories and other experiences with these types of technologies.

The conversation covered the following points:

  • what is the difference between semantic web and linked open data?
  • Relational data and semantic web? Relationship data operates within a schema eg. Database
  • semantic web creates definitions that can be read universally
  • semantic web google doc to share
  • ANDS funded research – Basil D – People Australia
  • local identifiers (URIs) with persistent identifiers (internal) – subjects, events, geo-locale, history
  • making sure that data is published in the right format – RDF (uni of melbourne)
  • friend of a friend – looking at relational ontologies  – People Australia links in
  • trove, skos – concept of a person, simple knowledge origin systems skos
  • link between tagging within the organisation and public interactions
  • XML represents data structure but not meaning, RDF document can be rendered to be human readable
  • you can embed RDF, RDF aarnet, RDFA, griddle into html
  • freebase?
  • seems to be a gap in developer expertise in RDF
  • sparql queries do not compress, distributed sources of data is more flexible and lighter and huge data store
  • breaking up sets of ontologies and cross referencing
  • bio ontologies, creative commons, isocat, dublin core, ontology register, schemipedia, swoogle
  • rdf browser, disco browser
  • australian pictorial resource, AMOL
  • problem with authorative data base of ontologies with folksonomies
  • understanding how ontologies are developed
  • the discussion about universal tags created by institutions vs crowdsourced, folksonomy tags has been going for over ten years – see Ontologies and Metadata

It seems that the way forward is to develop small manageable ontologies that can be woven together in a cohesive, flexible way. It is also important to create good code that follows with RDF standards. Given that there appears to be limited expertise in the area of RDF development, there is a need to build those skills to ensure the success of semantic web projects,