ICTlogy.net: 10th anniversary

If it’s October 21st, then it’s ICTlogy.net anniversary. And if this is 2013, then it’s the tenth anniversary. Happy birthday, ICTlogy.net.

As usual, first some figures and then some comments.

The first obligatory remark that needs being made is that I forgot celebrating the 9th anniversary. It is a surprising thing to acknowledge as I cannot remember being specially hectic at that time. Maybe the novelty of the site having been somewhat recently renewed contributed to forget the date.

On the other hand, Twitter has become so central in daily, quick news, that the whole dynamics of the site — and not only sharing special dates — have been affected by it. Thus, now many of the things that I do are not publicly announced on the website as they used to, but are just shared on Twitter once the corresponding file has been created in the personal repository. Now, the news section features only very remarkable milestones, mostly publications, leaving other stuff (speeches, for instance) fall directly into the personal repository and then shared on Twitter.

The second big, huge, change has been the creation of the second blog, SociedadRed in Spanish and about Spanish politics and policy — with some bias, of course, towards the Information Society. Yes, the blog has already been up for almost 4 years so far. But its activity has grown quite a bit in the last two, especially in the comments section: in less than four years, the blog has more than four times the comments of the main academic blog. In terms of comments per post, while the ICT4D blog has 1.16 comments/post, SociedadRed has 16.37 comments/post. That is a difference.

I am glad to ackowledge, though, that even if the second blog is not an academic one, a series of posts on the Spanish “Second Transition” has already been the seed to the paper Intención de voto en España 1978-2013. ¿Una Segunda Transición hacia una política extra-representativa? which I recently presented at an academic congress on political science. So, despite it not being an academic blog, I am glad to see that I am quite able to keep some rigour in my non-academic reflections.

By the way, both blogs have now the possibility to navigate through their archives in a much more comfortable way than before. Check that yourself visiting the ICT4D Blog Archives and the SociedadRed Blog Archives.

This year also saw the discontinuation of Google Reader, which took away my Blogroll, which was feed by Google Reader shared folders. Feedly is proving to be a good substitute, but it does not have this feature yet.

I cannot help by ending this reflection with a couple of negative notes.

The first one, of course, is about how increasingly difficult is to do research in Spain. Budget cuts in research and education in general (and especially in higher education) are making things very complicated. Just as an example, two of my academic communications in academic conferences required that I looked for an extra gig (a keynote in Granada and a workshop in Seville) to pay for my travel expenses. Not that I did not enjoy those gigs (on the contrary), but the point is that funding for research is really an issue — and, comparing with many of my colleagues, I cannot complain very much.

The second one is how the academy is increasingly locked in its own ivory tower. Research and policy are becoming so far away one from the other one that it will soon become difficult to make informed and evidence-based decisions. Scholars do not “waste their time” on policy papers, and decision-makers do not make the effort of digging into scholarly research. Many of the works that I did during 2013 are useless in academic terms. A complete, utter, sheer waste of time. An issue that raises an important dilemma: should the researcher focus only on “what matters” in academic terms? or should the researcher risk the academic career and try to make an impact even if it is outside of the scholarly track? or should the researcher — as I am myself struggling to do — try and play a role in both worlds? The latter is very satisfying, but a little bit stressing (and resources consuming). Any comments on that?

ICTlogy v6.0

What better way to celebrate the day of the book than seeing my website — that personal book one writes every day — being reborn again.

It had been long since the site had gathered a remarkable amount of different kinds content. Broadly speaking, there were like three web pages living under the same roof:

  • My personal/professional page, with information on who I am, what I do and, above all, what is my scientific production.
  • Resources I use in my work (teaching, research and outreach).
  • And the two blogs — academic, personal — with up-to-date content.
  • …and all the activity on several social networking sites and that, somehow, was also reflected here.

On the other hand, those very same social networking sites as well as the widespread use of search engines caused that the main point of entrance to the site ceased to be its homepage, and to literally become any page.

It thus became an urgent need to undergo some reforms, while bearing three main goals in mind:

  1. To rethink how content was sorted and the overall site architecture.
  2. To make possible that any page could operate as a homepage (as a good landing page).
  3. To provide the user with access to related content from any page they were on, and to facilitate the identification of the author (i.e. me) where this was particularly important (e.g. from the scientific production page).

Unlike what had been the norm in the past eight years, this time I asked out for the help of professionals. In particular the help of Anna Fuster and Daniel Julià, from the Pimpampum studio. They were able to rethink the site without luggages from the past or sentimentality.

The result is in plain sight.

At the visual level, I would like to highlight the immense work of updating and managing the graphic look and feel, focusing on how different kinds of content use different colours, or how content was repositioned when it was repetitive or ‘interfered’ with other content, to name but a few amongst a long list of details.

At the technical level, the most notable is the idea of ​​”widgetizing” the site so that one can put any piece of information (a blog, the literature, the “about me”, etc.) elsewhere when deemed necessary. Furthermore, the management of the whole thing or the creation of new pieces has been made really easy and robust, so the site can now grow without the bounds to which was constrained.

I can only thank the good times — as creative as challenging — that I spent with @tartanna and @daniel_julia, from whom I learned a lot in a short time.

And to the reader, both the regular and the occasional, thanks for being there, at the other end of the wire. As always, any comments are welcome.

iPad for Researchers and Scholars: the leap to enhanced reading

For the last 15 months I have owned an iPad, which I use for many purposes but, mainly, for my academic activity. Every now and then I am asked or find myself involved in a debate on why and how to use an iPad (or, in general, tablets) for research. Although an offtopic in this blog, this post here will save me lots of typing and talking elsewhere.

For the sake of the context, I must say that I am a social scientist working in the crossroads of the Knowledge Society and development, especially in what is related with individual empowerment (education) and social empowerment (governance). I teach at a 100% online university, which means that all my working tools are a computer, some common software and access to the Internet. My professional life is mostly digitized, and gathered in my personal research portal. I mostly do not work with paper and mostly do not work offline. I am quite a fast typist (my liveblogging sessions a proof of it) and have a very light (circa 1,000g) while powerful laptop which I can take anywhere without hesitation. I do not own any Apple computer and do not plan to own one in the nearest future (i.e. I am not an Apple fan).

So, how does an iPad or a tablet fit in this context at the professional level?

Enhanced Reading

Reading it not anymore what it used to be.

Reading used to be sitting with a bunch of papers. Maybe a pen would be handy to scribble some notes on the margins, underline some sentences. Maybe not on the margins, but on a piece of paper. Maybe even on a notebook. You would stand up to look up something on the dictionary or the encyclopaedia. And that was it.

Now reading is, for starters, not knowing what you will be feeling like reading. Maybe it will it be a couple of academic papers, maybe it will be correcting some assignments, or proofreading a paper of yours. Or them all: some trips are long and you want to carry everything with you. What is the weight of 500 pages? And the weight of 5 MB?

Besides the dictionary, or the encyclopaedia, you might search for a description of Aztec god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli or you might even want to see how Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli looks like; you can wonder how Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray would sound like when playing before Jack Kerouac or just listen to a live performance by Gordon & Gray; or you can imagine Jon Krakauer’s Stampede Trail or locate it on a map and pay a visit to it.

Now combine everything said above: picture yourself with a dozen papers; reading all them at the same time (those papers with interesting bibliographies…); underlining and taking notes on them; writing some other notes on a separate file which you can tag and categorize and store and search and retrieve; accessing on the go the authors’ personal websites and their curricula and their list of published works; writing a short e-mail to them asking them for a pre-print of a difficult to find paper; forwarding your annotated copy of the paper to a colleague; or copying and pasting a table of data on a spreadsheet to plot some graphics (why hadn’t they in the original paper?).

And that is enhanced reading.

Picture yourself doing all that sitting (or standing) on the train. Or sitting on your couch.

And that is a tablet.

Why not an eReader

I tried several eReader devices based on e-ink before trying the tablet. There are two main reasons why an eReader is not an option for me:

eReaders are very slow for academic papers reading. They may be fair enough to read a book (whatever its kind) whose content has been repaged for your device and for you to turn the pages sequentially, once a minute or two.

But if you are reading a PDF, A4-sized, with footnotes or endnotes and definitely with a bibliography, you will find yourself turning pages very often. Mainly because it is not optimized for the eReader. And also because the eReader is not prepared (yet) for continuous and quick page-turning. And if you want to compare different papers in parallel, the exercise of exiting a paper, opening a new one, closing that one and going back to the former one… that is simply not bearable for the common human being.

The second reason is that, usually, e-readers lack everything that is not strictly for reading purposes: browsing the internet, writing an e-mail or running an application (notebook, spreadsheet, etc.) are not usually supported by e-Readers. And if they are… aren’t we already talking about a table?

An eReader is mainly to read and to read plain text. But academic reading, enhanced reading, is much more than that.

Why not a laptop?

First of all, there is weight. Even if we assume that your laptop does not weight much more than your average tablet (which is quite an assumption), the iPad, one of the heaviest ones, is similar in weight as a 200 pages hardcover. You are already used to handle that weight. The best ultralight laptop will normally double that weight (and cut to a half the autonomy, BTW): if you think a hardcover edition of a book is heavy, try holding a pair of them for more than a while.

Second, there is comfort. Let’s speak only about reading for a while: for reading purposes, the extra keyboard in the laptop and the tactile screen in the tablet make a huge difference. Not only a keyboard is almost useless when reading — almost because you just type scattered notes ‐, but it is only uncomfortable: it takes extra space (and weight) of your surroundings (remember the crowded train: I spend, on average, 2h on it, daily) and key operating is much more difficult than simply touching a screen.

Besides weight and comfort, there is a third aspect, very subjective, but that I have tested several times, and is friendliness.

I’ve been to several “serious” meetings where people brought their laptops to take notes while I tapped and typed on my iPad. Unbelievable as it might sound, laptops all raised suspicion on whether their owners would be taking notes or reading e-mail or checking their preferred social networking site. On your iPad “of course” you are taking notes. Laptops are for writing and working and iPads are for taking notes, and you are supposed to take notes during a meeting.

And the fact that laptops raise a wall (the screen) between the owner and the rest and the iPad does not (because it rests on your lap or almost flat on the table) makes a huge “emotional” difference. Really.

Related to that, working at home is also different. We scientists know that there is no big difference between reading a paper for work or for leisure. But there actually is a tremendous difference between reading that paper in your home studio sitting in front of your desktop, or reading it sprawling on your couch. Especially if you do not live alone and it’s Sunday. Believe it or not, my Sundays or afternoons are very different now.

On the other side, laptops — or desktops — are unbeatable for writing. But we were talking about (enhanced) reading, right?

The added value of the tablet

In my own experience, the main added value of the tablet can be summarized in some keywords: read, notes, train, couch, shoulder bag.

Having get rid of most my paper usage in the last years, with the tablet I succeeded in getting rid of all paper. Period. This means, specifically, getting rid of:

  • The annoying collection of separate sheets and stickies with casual notes you will never revisit but never dare to trash: the tablet keeps them all together, searchable and easy to transfer (to other people by e-mail, to more serious documents).
  • Printouts of readings with limited life-span (destroy after read): thousands of times more digital documents in your tablet than printed ones in your usual bag, immediate transfer, time and paper saving — and healthier back.

Even more important than working paperless, the tablet provides full mobility, especially if accompanied with an Internet connection (embedded 3G or using your cellphone as a hotspot). And full mobility means that the tablet is always in my shoulder bag. Instead of everything else. The laptop is something you consider bringing with you: the tablet is always with you, as a pen or a notebook used to be.

For those more curious, I’ve shared my setup (or most of it) in the following set of snapshots. Enjoy.

If you cannot see the slides, please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3713">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3916</a>.

ICTlogy.net: 8th anniversary

Time to celebrate again, and stop even for a little while to recap the activity for the last twelve months: since last time I checked, ICTlogy.net became one year older. And, thus, my personal research portal, my personal learning environment — is now eight years old.

As usual, some figures first, then some comments:

This year, the “other” blog SociedadRed became quite important: international politics, in general, and Spanish politics, in particular, caught my attention powerfully and I thus spent a lot of time thinking out loud on topics like the Spanish Indignants Movement.

On the other hand, Twitter established itself as an essential way to get information, to communicate and to share with others. That was especially true during events and for discussing issues on real time, like the aforementioned politics.

Indeed, most traffic comes now from Google searches and Twitter conversations, and you visitors come looking for three different things: resources on ICT4D, my rants in Spanish on the Information Society and related issues, and personal/professional information about me, like who I am, what do I do, or what have I done.

That, and the increasing amount of content gathered behind these virtual walls, made me think that a thorough redesign of the project was definitely due. And we are working on it. More information about that, hopefully soon.

By the way, for those who do not know yet and care about it, I became a father on September 4th of a beautiful Muriel. That is a project and, as we say in Spanish, the rest is nonsense.

Browsing ICT4D Authors Visually

As it has been recently mentioned, this website has an ICT4D Bibliography with 1797 works and 1436 authors more or less related with the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, the Information Society, Development, etc.

Sometimes authors share the authorship of a work, and thus one can jump from an author to another one by clicking on the links of the aforementioned authors, always listed besides their shared works. But especially for the most prolific authors, the result ends up being a long list crowded with links (to authors, to works, to source journals) that becomes quite messy.

To solve that, I’ve applied Daniel McLaren (Asterisq) Constellation Roamer (free version here) to visualize the relationships that one author has with other authors according to the works they have in common.

The goal of the tool is twofold: (1) to glimpse the social ecosystem of the author (within the boundaries of this ICT4D Bibliography, of course) and (2) to (re)discover other authors and, with them, their works. Let us see an example.

A visit to Richard Heeks‘ page in the ICT4D Bibliography will first of all provide us with his ecosystem of co-authors:

We can see that he has four shared works listed in this bibliography with a total of five more authors. By clicking (also just putting our mouse over it) the work he has in common with Charles Kenny — which appears to be The Economics of ICTs and Global Inequality: Convergence or Divergence for Developing Countries? — Charles Kenny’s shared works have their co-authors appear too:

With yet another click now on Charles Kenny, we see now all the authors and their shared works related to him. Thus, starting from Richard Heeks, we easily (re)discover that Charles Kenny is related to Robert Schware and Christine Qiang, who, in their turn, also share works with other people, which allows us to keep on browsing.

ICTlogy.net: 7th anniversary

It seems that a whole year has gone by, and ICTlogy.net — my personal research portal, my personal learning environment — has become seven years old (that is one year in a cat’s life… or maybe is it the other way round? ;).

First some figures, then some comments:

Two experiments on ICT4D information finally became reality:

  • The ICT4D Calendar, a Google Calendar for ICT4D-related events (ICT4D Calendar feed), visit the page to see who’s involved)
  • ICT4D Tweetmap, a mashup that presents #ict4d tweets on a Google Map (inspired by the always inspiring Tony Hirst)

The big news was that, during this last year, the (one and only) blog got to have a new name, the ICT4D Blog, the reason being the coming to existence of its smaller sibling, the blog SociedadRed (RSS feed), less academic, more opinion-biased and in Spanish.

Amongst the things to forget (or not to…), during this year I got my first hate comment — a xenophobic/racist one — that didn’t come from spam, but from a human hand. Shame on you.

There’s little else that I could say. Just a big thank you to all the people I read and drink knowledge from, wherever I am, whenever I want to. Thank you all.