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Open Standard for Social Apps

December 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I think this is important. For day to day work – both research and teaching and learning – we use a lot of different social software programmes. We  know we cannot rely on these in the long term. Intrusive and inappropriate advertising can render applications useless. Services may disappear. Others move from being free to being paid for. And yet others change the conditions of use. But with a multiplicity of services and with new applications appearing almost daily, it is usually possible to find something which will do the job.

At the same time for more critical services – such as web sites or database services – we use our own leased servers. That too works fine.

The problem comes with longer term development projects – such as the Learning Layers project. On the one had we need the advanced infrastructure that better funded social software providers are able to offer. But we also need some guarantee of longevity and stability in terms of service provision plus an openness to allow us to develop on top of these platforms. And here we have a problem.

Mozilla seems to be developing an answer to this problem. According to webmonkey, Mozilla’s “newest Social API demo removes the need for social websites entirely, tapping emerging web standards to create a real-time video calling, data sharing app — one part Skype, one part Facebook, all parts web-native.”

The Social APi is built through WebRTC, which is a proposed web standard that Mozilla and others are working on in conjunction with the W3C. The RTC in WebRTC stands for Real-Time Communications, and the core of WebRTC is the getUserMedia JavaScript API, which gives the browser access to hardware features like the camera and microphone.

As the Firefox blog explains:

Prior to WebRTC, video calling applications were either stand-alone, isolated apps (like Skype) or browser plug-ins which lacked the tight connection to the browser internals to guarantee a good quality call.

We share data in WebRTC using DataChannels, which Mozilla is the first to implement.  DataChannels is a powerful component of WebRTC that can be used by itself or combined with an audio/video chat to send almost any data that the browser can access.

This could have huge potential for developing new applications – both for business and learning – and free us from the dilemma of either using proprietary applications or being forced into substantial infrastructure development..

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    The future of libraries

    The NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry has released its library edition. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology are identified across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, giving library leaders and staff, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning.

    The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Library Edition identifies “Increasing Value of the User Experience” and “Prioritization of Mobile Content and Delivery” as short-term impact trends driving changes in academic and research libraries over the next one to two years. The “Evolving Nature of the Scholarly Record” and “Increasing Focus on Research Data Management” are mid-term impact trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and “Increasing Accessibility of Research Content” and “Rethinking Library Spaces” are long-term impact trends, anticipated to impact libraries for the next five years or more.

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at

    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”

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