Reflections: Cloudworks at ALT-C 2009

I thought I’d take the chance to reflect on some of the patterns of use of Cloudworks we have seen this week, price particularly in the way it was used around the ALT-C 2009 conference. We set up a cloudscape for the conference and put stub-clouds for each of the sessions. The intention was that the cloudscape would complement the ALT crowdvine site and act as a means of aggregating resources and debates around sessions. Whereas the crowdvine site provided a useful flow of discussion, means of connecting with others at the conference and centred around the programme at the conference, we felt the cloudscape focussed specifically on the actual sessions. A number of folk live blogged sessions they went to – Juliette Culver, Rebecca Galley, Partick McAndrew , Chris Pegler and Martin Weller and Doug Clow even managed to live blog remotely! I didn’t attend the conference but participated remotely. Ironically I felt that I almost learnt more about the conference by following what was happening in the Cloudscape than I would have done if I had attended. But perhaps that says more about me gossiping and networking too much at conferences, than about the usefulness of the site per se ;-)

I think there are mixed views as to how well crowdvine and the cloudscape worked together and we need to reflect on these. One key concern, not surprisingly, was whether the cloudscape detracted from/diluted the activities on crowdvine. However, certainly a number of people watching in remotely said that they found the cloudscape useful as a simple way of keeping in touch with what was happening at the conference. There were a number of trigger clouds around which there was significant activity – the two most active were The VLE is Dead debate and Martin Bean’s Keynote. I think the adding links and academic reference functionality on clouds worked well. Similarly adding additional content to clouds and additional comments also seemed to work well, although we are aware that the current two-column format for this isn’t quite right. I found that I wanted to be able to interact with people more – to be able to post something on their profile, so this is something we are going to look into.

We have activity streams for individuals and cloudscapes as well as the whole site. I found I was using this a lot as a means of keeping abreast of new things happening on the site, but I wonder to what extent other people are using these features or indeed whether they are even aware they are there? Likewise to what extent are people using the RSS feed feature?

We have an irritating bug that needs fixing – currently if you cut and paste from word you get lots of erroneous code. Also we want to be able to add pictures easily and also an embed button from sites like YouTube and Slideshare.

We are still torn as to whether or not to enable users to upload files, given that there are many other good sites that do this – such as GoogleDocs and Slideshare, is this really necessary?

Searching and being able to find content is clearly going to be critical as the site grows. You can also find a lot usefully via the Tag button at the top of the front page but again I don’t know how many people are aware of that.

Adding clouds still seems to be a major barrier, although its encouraging to see more people being willing to add links, additional content or comments – for some reason there seems to be a lower barrier than creating a new cloud.

So these are just some of my initial random thoughts. I know Juliette and Rebecca have their own reflections and hopefully they will post something here. Again any feedback much appreciated and if you have a moment to fill out the Cloudworks survey that would be great.

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