Sunday, November 29, 2009

Google Anti-Spam Policy Hurts Poor / Disabled Most

Google has decided to fight against spam emails by making it much more difficult to sign up for a Gmail account. The idea they came up with was to require a person signing up for an email to give a cell-phone number with texting capabilities. Google would then text you a password which you can use to activate your account. This allows Google to make it much more difficult for automated systems to set up accounts and by limiting the number of accounts per cell-phone number spammers will have trouble staying in business. A rather ingenious solution, but one designed with the western world in mind.

For me - a non-cell phone user - it's annoying. The solution recommended by Google is to ask a friend if I can have the password sent to their phone. I don't want to do it, but if I need to I can get around the problem. After all, I can't complain too loudly considering Gmail is free and offers invaluable services to users.

But, what about those millions of people who do not own cell phones or do not have friends with cell phones either? There are thousands of people whose only access to the internet is on shared computers in public libraries, community centers and job-bank agencies who could benefit immensely from free email service as they search for jobs or to connect with friends and family.

What about people in third-world countries who may have access to a community computer, but may never have seen a cell phone with texting capabilities? One of the greatest things about the internet has been the ability for people from all walks of life all over the world to access information and services that had previously only been available to the rich.

What about my blind grandfather, who is an avid computer user, but obviously has no use for texting? I hate to stereotype, but I'm pretty sure if he were to ask his friends at the retirement home, he'd be hard-pressed to find anyone texting their grandchildren who he could ask for help from to get onto Gmail.

I can appreciate Google wants to cut down on spam and that people in third world countries, on government assistance or the blind probably don't bring in as much revenue as your average upper/middle class Google user, but the whole policy strikes me as anti-social and poorly thought out. Gmail was an opportunity for those unable to pay for expensive services such as cell phone plans. And it's an opportunity that's being denied them by a company that so often takes the lead in making information and services available to the world.

I'll be keeping my eye on this policy and I hope to see changes soon:

You can see the "Help" page to see for yourself just how inaccessible this policy is.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to Write a Zotero Translator - Print on Demand

After a suggestion from Tom Scheinfeldt at, I've decided to release my open-content monograph, "How to Write a Zotero Translator" as a print on demand book for those who prefer a paper version. The book was originally released as an open-content website by the Network in Canadian History & Environment and is still available on their website.

As Dr. Scheinfeldt rightly pointed out, sometimes it's nice to have a tangible copy that doesn't compete for screen space with your coding work. The book is available for $11.99 through

The content of the print on demand is the same as what's available on the website, so it's up to you to decide which you prefer.

I'm happy to report that several people in a broad range of countries have used the guide to create translators, including some for foreign language sites. If you have used the guide to help you create a translator, please let me know!

To acquire "How to Write a Zotero Translator" visit the product order form on

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Discover Canada" Open Editing Call

The Canadian government recently released a new document, "Discover Canada" (pdf) that is the basis of the citizenship test for new Canadians. It contains a fairly significant section on Canadian history and, as you might expect, many Canadian historians who weren't consulted on the project have opinions about shortfalls in the document.

Yesterday, Andrew Smith posted a blog entry that suggested:

"maybe we should investigate using a Wikipedia-type process to write a real guide for new citizens. A more widely distributed process would be the best way of coming up with a statement of consensus values in modern-day Canada."

So, I’ve created a wiki and added the text from the “Canada’s History” section of the document. I encourage anyone interested in Canadian history to feel free to edit it as you see fit. Once everyone has had an opportunity to add their input, I will pass along the result to the Canadian government as a recommendation for improving the guide.

The wiki is located at:

You can add to, subtract from, or make any changes you like.

It’s one thing to disagree with a government policy and another to do something about it, so here’s our chance as historians to have our say.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Archive a Conference

Conferences and workshops are great places to network, learn new things or test out research ideas. Unfortunately, they tend to be ephemeral. Even in a best case scenario, most conferences and workshops only result in a white paper or maybe an edited collection. The vast majority of work becomes lines on the CVs of those who presented, without leaving a good record of what transpired.

If you'd like to archive your conference or workshop, but don't want to put together a book, there are a few ways you can achieve this on the web. This isn't a technical guide on setting up a website, but suggestions for what types of material to save that can help provide something tangible to point to of a conference you have been involved with.

Archiving a conference or workshop is a two step process:

1) Collecting

You'll have to put together enough material to make the project worthwhile. If you only have a one paragraph description, you aren't going to draw many lookers.

2) Hosting

If you don't have a website or access to one, you can set one up for free, or look for a research network that may be interested in hosting the project for you. Environmental historians could turn to the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) and there may be others for those studying different topics.


What you collect depends on what type of conference or workshop you are hosting. If you are running a traditional podium-based conference, you might consider the following:

1) Conference Description

Don't make the mistake of assuming people will understand from your conference title what the point of the event was or what its goals were. It's always a good idea to provide 3 or 4 paragraphs of information about the event. Who put it on and why? When was it? Where was it? Who supported it? Who attended?

You should probably answer all or most of, who, what, when, where, why and how.

2) Audio recording

For less than $100 you can get an MP3 recorder that you can leave by the podium to record the talks given by presenters. Don't forget to get signed consent forms before recording, as some people may be uncomfortable or unwilling to participate. In my experience, most people are willing if asked politely beforehand and if you explain that you are archiving the proceedings for those who were not able to attend.

You likely won't get thousands of people flocking to listen to the audio files, but as with any archive, the material is there for those who do wish to seek it. As time rolls on, you might be surprised with the number of hits you do receive.

3) Reflections

If your participants are bloggers by nature, use this to your advantage and ask people to blog about the conference and to send you links to any posts they make. You can quickly tie together a list of posts about your conference so that anyone interested can get several different perspectives as to what went on.

It's a good idea to mention this at the start and end of each day of the conference to reinforce it in everyone's mind. If you let the participants know you will be collecting the posts together they will be more likely to participate - everyone likes to think their work is appreciated.

If you're lucky enough to have a group that are active on Twitter, you might consider saving a copy of their tweets and making them available.

If your group aren't bloggers, you might consider asking 3 or 4 graduate students to write a 500 word reflection of what they learned, enjoyed, discussed, etc. Graduate students can always use exposure and this is a perfect opportunity to give it to them while getting content for your conference archive.

4) Photos

Not photos of people sitting around tables giving awkward smiles. Not someone stuffing their face with a donut. Good photos.

You might consider taking a photo of a landmark in the city you're holding the event. If you're in a nice building, take a photo of that. A good photo of someone speaking at a podium can be great, as long as it doesn't catch them with a particularly unflattering expression on their face.

Group shots can work well, but make sure you take down names as soon as possible. By the time you end up putting all the material together you may find you can't remember everyone.

If you don't have any good shots - or don't have a camera, try to find some photos with an open license that you can use. A Creative Commons search should bring up plenty of photos that capture the essence of your event. It's better to use a good photo that represents your event than a bad photo that was taken at your event.

5) Links / More Info

Sometimes people will stumble across your conference archive and want to learn more. Provide them with some links to relevant organizations, or books they might consider reading. Feel free to plug your own work as long as it's germane.


How much material is enough?

Well, you don't want too little or no one will care, and you don't need a book. I'd recommend something comparable to a magazine article. If you have between 1000 and 4000 words (can be from multiple authors writing different pieces), a few photos and a couple audio files, that's probably great.


Though not a standard practice by any means, there are a few good examples of archived conferences assembled by organizers and participants. Here are a couple that might give you some ideas.

A conference archive not only removes the ephemeral nature of an event, it gives you a tangible deliverable to point to when seeking more funding for future work. It can also build your professional online profile and generate some excitement about your work.

If you're hosting an upcoming event, consider archiving it online.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Popular Publishing Writer's Guild formed

Led by Adam Crymble (NiCHE) and Jason Young (York University).

A joint effort between NiCHE and Active History, this group came out of the graduate student workshop, "Publishing for a Wide Audience" held at the University of Western Ontario on October 19, 2009.

The workshop sought to teach young academics how to branch out and reach broader publics. Publishing in the popular press – whether local newspapers or nationally-circulated magazines – is one way to communicate academic research and analysis to a wider audience. The workshop taught students skills that will help them get their messages out to a wider audience. Sessions at the workshop included writing attention-catching op-eds, press releases, and magazine queries.

To continue to foster these new skills, participants have been invited to join the "Popular Publishing Writer's Guild," where every five months, members are asked to draft a submission to an editor of a popular publication. The length, format and subject matter are optional; the goal is to support the dissemination of research by academics to a wider audience. The first round of submissions went underway at the end of October, 2009 and round two will be held in the Spring.

We hope to expand this group in the future, as well as to offer more, similar workshops so that knowledge learned in the academy can be spread to all Canadians.

The Popular Publishing Writer's Guild wishes to thank NiCHE for support to put on the Workshop at UWO.

You can read about the initial workshop on the event website.