Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Archive for February 2007

Email from Tony

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I received my email from Tony last week, having signed the anti-road pricing petition. There were several irritations in it, but of most relevance here is the tone and implicit attitude to debate of the email. It offered a number of opportunities to read what the government and others have said, but only a very restricted opportunity to continue the debate, or to try to find out why people might object to the proposed solution, even while accepting the premise that there is a problem. [For the record, and having seen some of the pro-car crazies associated with petition, my objection is to the market mechanism. This will have the effect of clearing lower income people off the roads in order to make driving a more pleasant experience for the better off. Some form of rationing would at least be equitable (unused miles could even be auctioned on something like ebay). At the moment the payment by time is at least equitable: there are only 24 hours in a day, whatever your income.] Of course, there’s no way to express this sort of variation of opinion in the model of e-democracy envisaged by the Cabinet Office – which is absolutely no criticism of Tom Steinberg’s work in designing e-petitions, which has had the effect of opening up this debate. The options for responding are below.

Further information

Both the 10 Downing Street and Department for Transport websites offer much more information about road pricing.

This includes a range of independent viewpoints, both for and against.

You can also read the Eddington Report in full.

You can reply to this email by posting a question to Roads Minister Dr. Stephen Ladyman in a webchat on the No 10 website this Thursday.

There will be further opportunities in the coming months to get involved in the debate. You will receive one final e-mail from Downing Street to update you in due course.

If you would like to opt out of receiving further mail on this or any other petitions you signed, please email

Written by Steve

February 26, 2007 at 11:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What do we mean by portal, or repository, or online community?

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I’m sat at the back of a staff development session looking at blogs, wikis and other ‘web 2.0’ applications in university education. The speaker, Lawrie Phipps, from JISC gave some interesting thumbnail sketches of the way students have integrated blogs, tagging, social networking etc. sites into their lives and their way of working. The issues raised for design are similar to some that we’ve recently had in the PRADSA project thinking about what designing an environment for our online working might look like. Traditionally we’ve been used to thinking of online communities (or virtual learning environments) as relative closed or discrete spaces to which people come to do whatever. This seems a rather dated way of thinking of things. Already in the PRADSA ‘management group’ we use google docs (project documents), (for relevant references), a mailing list, a wiki (currently at though we will probably replace the wiki with something else) and skype (for conference calls). I’ve started this blog and using to share links with masters students students on a Digital Media and Communication module I’m teaching.

Given Lawrie’s comments about (some) students I doubt we’re ahead of the curve. What, then does designing an environment for PRADSA mean? Leonie Ramondt has used the term ‘thin portal’ as a way of mashing and linking a range of sources together. This might include a network of blogs, some agreed links/groups in citeulike (see the TSA group there), (see the TSA links I’ve just started assembling there) and so on. Interestingly, though, this leads us into a discussion with th AHRC over archiving materials, and the use of Dublin Core metadata.


Written by Steve

February 20, 2007 at 3:44 pm

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I’ve just come across the website which is monitoring the use of ‘social media’ in the US elections. They have a fascinating counter of the number of ‘friends’ each of the candidates has in myspace. As soon as these start being counted and presented in league tables, I suppose they inevitably become some sort of indicator (though of what, precisely, is a little unclear).

Late last year, while preparing for a lecture on politics & online communities for a 3rd-year module Communities On-line (which I taught on with Janet Finlay) I had a look in MySpace and did some searches on political terms. I searched for the major UK parties and found a small number of Lib Dem and New Labour MPs, all with derisory numbers of ‘friends’. I don’t think I found any Tories. There was also a spoof page on the New Labour ‘fundraiser’ David Levy, which verged on the anti-semitic. I did a search on the BNP, and while there were no specific BNP pages, there were a disturbing number of young people who included support for the BNP in their profiles, alongside their football teams and musical tastes. The term ‘socialist’ was a cracker, though, turning up the Socialist Standard page with around 13,000 friends (as of today, ranking it behind only Obama and Clinton on the technpresident table). Socialist Standard is the organ of the rather wonderful Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) who, as well as arguing for the abolition of money, only have one form of political intevention – the debate. (I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since one of their number engaged in a year-long correspondence with a rather spotty 16 year old who had written a letter to the local newspaper in the 1970s. The letters I received weren’t formulaic, but long, detailed responses to the points I had raised in my letters. ) This raises the question though: what is it about the SPGB and MySpace that generated this number of ‘friends’, and what might it signify?

Written by Steve

February 17, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Posted in social media


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I’ve decided to start a blog to keep notes on my research and teaching interests in the broad areas of social informatics, and technology & social action.

Most immediately, this has been triggered by wanting a space to share some musings with colleagues with whom I am working to get the Practical Design for Social Action (PRADSA) project up and running. The project began in January 2007, supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s joint ‘Design for the 21st Century’ programme.


Written by Steve

February 17, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized