BIG data = a BIG problem

Yesterday I attended the 2nd LIKE Conference "From BIG data to little apps" I'd spoken at last years conference on social media and have been invited to take part in the LIKE microphone session where practitioners talked about how they were managing big data.

Before that though we were treated to three talks on what Big Data was and how it was being managed outside of the library/information sector. The first of these was from Dom Pollard of the Big Data Group Insight Group. Dom provided an excellent introduction to the concept of big data, including a good definition, which is that Big Data is about:

  • Volume, variety and velocity and Big Data is any amount of data that is too large to be stored, managed or analysed within a traditional database structure

However Dom stressed that it was important not to get hung up on Volume. Stressing that just because you have a lot of data doesn't necessarily mean it's Big Data. I think this is an important point. Whilst many organisations create a lot of content, take the average law firm and imagine how many emails they have in their document management system? it's going to be millions and millions, but is that Big Data? Probably not in the traditional sense, but it's certainly a lot of information that needs to be managed somehow.

Dom also talked about the benefits of collaboration with other Big Data sources arguing that:

  • Not all the data has to sit within your organisation
  • Creating mutually beneficial relationships can open up new possibilities
  • You should be prepared to embrace disruption and undergo a paradigm shift

The final key takeway was that you shouldn't blindly trust any data (including big data). Just because something is being presented to you in a nice format, doesn't mean it should be trusted. 

Our next presentation was from Michael Agar or Michael Agar Design. Michael talked briefly about how he created infographics to present complex information. One of Michael's first points was that all data needs a story. I think this is true to some extent, but like another attendee I suffer from infographic fatigue, in that all information nowadays seems to presented as an infographic. As I said in one of my tweets during the conference, some of these infographics just go on and on an on without really telling a story. I do believe that infographics can be an incredibly useful tool in presenting complex information, but they have to be used properly.

After Michael's presentation we then heard from Manny Cohen of the RM Group. Manny talked about how they had developed an app to present company information to consumers. You can read more about the app in this BBC Click video. Whilst this was interesting, it was unfortunately followed by a rather pointless exercise in looking at the future of information delivery, whilst the 15 minutes spent discussing this amongst ourselves was interesting, the 30 minutes spent analysing the results and then deciding on a winner was not. Especially as my table, which had probably the least tangible and well thought ideas won a glass of champagne each, which sadly I didn't get to enjoy.

The final session was the "LIKEmic" session where I was one of three presenters. During my session I talked about how we had been using Enterprise search to manage the data we were creating and present it to users. I also talked about how I believe intranets and specifically intranet dashboards have a key role to play in the delivery of complex information to users. As I said during my presentation, dashboards have the potential to make sense of complex information and tell users what they need to know rather then just present them with dead data.

Overall quite an interesting conference, although I didn't get as much out of it as last years conference on social media. I would also say I felt the venue last year was a bit better then the St Bride foundation. My main bugbear was that the room we were in was very large and the microphones didn't work particularly well.

[Photo credit - Big Data on Flickr]

Can intranets "go bad"?

Is it possible for an intranet to bad? Yes definitely is the short answer. Understanding why is more difficult to answer, but one of the most common reasons for intranets going bad is that content becomes outdated and nobody takes responsibility for updating it.

This issue is discussed in the blog post "Why intranets go bad - set it and forget it" In the blog post the authors look at why intranet teams often spend a lot of time during an intranet upgrade ensuring content has an owner, but once an intranet has launched responsibility for content sections can often be neglected or forgotten.

The authors argue that whilst a decentralised published model might work initially, over time it will break down as individuals leave departments and with is responsibility for updating content. The answer the authors suggest is to put in place the idea of delegated ownership of intranet pages. Frpm the blog post:

"Delegated ownership differs from assigned ownership in that the responsibility is bestowed upon an individual or role temporarily but ultimately remains with a core group. Delegations can be open ended and long term but the ultimate responsibility still remains with the central authority. So when the person to whom the ownership has been delegated changes roles, goes on long-term leave or leaves the organization, authority automatically returns to the core team, who then decides who takes over. This central group is also responsible for ensuring adequate training and support are available"

Whilst this sounds like it might work, in practice it does mean that there is a lot of extra administration for the central intranet team and if that is just a team of one then this extra administration could quickly become very onerous. I'd be interested to hear what other people think?

This blog is just one in a series of four posts on "Why intranets go bad" on the non-linear thinking blog, the other posts, which are well worth reading, are:

BIALL Conference 2013 - Part 2

With Thursday behind us delegates awoke fresh as the proverbial daisy to the sessions planned for Friday. The first of these was a session on Managing change, these probably had some good ideas and some interesting takeaways, unfortunately I was focusing on events later in the day at that moment in time so probably wasn't given the session my full attention.

The next session however was definitely more interesting. Called "Flipping the classroom" Nicola Sales looked at how she had turned training on its head at her academic establishment. This was achieved by essentially asking individuals to complete pre-training exercises so that during the training that followed the focus could be on interacting with the individuals rather the delivering a lecture style address. I thought this was a really concept and one that could be applied to all organisations, not just academic law libraries.

I then listened to how the lovely Maria Robertson was working outside the box in her role at the Society of Advocates - Aberdeen. What I took from this session is that Librarians working in any organisation should take any opportunity (within reason) that they can do, as it may lead on to even more bigger and better opportunities. The other thing I left feeling was that there was no way I could do Maria's job, but that it certainly sounded very exciting. This session was followed by the BIALL AGM, which I had eluded to earlier in this post. This was the session I had been most dreading as it's a very official affair and there are certain procedures that have to be undertaken in the correct manner. Fortunately the AGM went without too many issues and certainly no procedural issues, which was a relief.

I then attended a session delivered by Colin Frankland called "Building your online professional brand" this looked primarily at how Law Librarians could use LinkedIn to develop their online brand. There were definitely some interesting takeaways from this session. Although I would say that LinkedIn isn't the only way to develop an online brand. Blogging and Twitter certainly have there place. However what I would say is that LinkedIn is probably the safest way to develop a brand online and if you don't already have a LinkedIn account then you should definitely have one!

The final session of Friday was a session delivered by the editor of Legal Information Management (LIM) David Wills. In the session David looked at the history and future of LIM and encouraged those present to think about writing an article for LIM. I would definitely support this having written for LIM on a number of occassions in the past. Writing for a journal like LIM is a great opportunity to show what expertise you have in a particular field. It's also a great way to sell yourself to the rest of the profession and increase your brand, which followed on nicely from the last session.

With that the sessions on Friday finished and it was time to head for the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the Presidents Reception and the final flourish, which was 5 scottish drummers and bagpipe players. Highlight of the evening however had to be the conversations that followed the dinner and bagpipers whilst looking around the museum, these included, birds coming alive, barnacles, killer kangaroos, stag horns, the closet relatives to wolves, which animal you wouldn't want to be killed by and a discussion around some of the quirkier exhibits. 

Saturday went by in a bit of a blur, although I do have to share the following song, which was played to us during the session from Bruce Beveridge - Incoming President of the Law Society of Scotland. I think this is brilliant!

After Bruce's session it was pretty much downhill until the end of the conference and flights/trains home for conference attendees. In summary a fantastic conference as ever and the end of a very challenging, but ultimately very rewarding year.

BIALL Conference 2013 - Part 1

I know I'm sorry it has been a while since I have blogged, but I promise to do better in future. The reason for the lack of blog posts will be evident to many of you, but just in case you aren't aware up until yesterday I was President of the British & Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) It was an honour to represent the association at the highest level and I would recommend joining Council to anyone who is thinking about doing so.

What that has meant is that May and the beginning of June in the lead up to the Conference have been a bit manic! Now I was hoping that I would be able to provide a full summary of the sessions I attended, but unfortunately I was too caught up in the activities the President has to undertake at Conference to make substantive notes. So instead I have tried to remember some of the key points from the sessions I attended. I'm sure in due course there will be much better written summaries of the BIALL Conference published. I would urge you to read these and the selected papers which will appear in the Winter edition of Legal Information Management and bursary winner reports in the BIALL newsletter.

So back to the Conference :-) For me the Conference started with the overseas delegates dinner on the Wednesday night before the Conference. This was a great opportunity for Council Members to meet the delegates from our sister associations (ALLA, NZALL, OSALL, SLA Legal and CALL) and to relax in the very pleasant surroundings of the 19th floor of the Hilton. I was struck by how much everyone was looking forward to the conference and catching up will colleagues. The Conference started properly with my opening of the Conference of the Thursday morning, for anyone who is interested in what I included in my opening speech, you can look at some of the photos on the BIALL Flickr pages, including one of me doing a MoBot, or a MullBot as I referred to it! Professor Hector MacQueen then delivered a very interesting Keynote & Willi Steiner Memorial Lecture. The highlight of this had to be the playing of the Monty Python - Black Knight video

This was followed by a session delivered by Carol Tullo - Director of Information Policy and Services at the National Archives, who outlined the development and future development of There are some interesting developments planned, which I'm sure many Law Librarians will be pleased to have heard about. The next session I attended was called "Developing mature social media platforms". Whilst I wouldn't ordinarily complain about sessions that I've attended at Conference, as the organisers do such a good job, there was very little that I took from this session. The session certainly didn't talk about developing mature social media platforms, but rather took us on a tour of the presenters favourite social media tools. This was a real shame, as the session was very well attended and as ever with social media people are always interested in learning how they can do more with these tools. 

The last parallel session of Thursday was a really excellent presentation from Sam Wiggins and Marie Grace Cannon who talked about new professionals and the results of a survey they had undertaken earlier that year. I was impressed at how well they spoke despite some technical issues and they introduced a new concept to me, which was the concept of battledecks. I thought this was a really great to way to both see how well participants had been listening and to reinforce the training that had been delivered, definitely something to consider for future presentations.

However the highlight of Thursday had to be my presentation of the Lexis Library Awards and a very special prize to Catherine McArdle. It was an honour to present these new awards to three very worthy libraries. I was also delighted that Catherine was a good sport and played along with my adlibbing when I presented her a "lifetime achievement award" for attending 25 consecutive BIALL Conferences. That could have gone REALLY badly, but everyone I spoke to commented on how they weren't expecting me to do that! and that was the end of Day 1. Day 2 and 3 will be covered in my next blog post!