Really interesting step for IRMA: they’re now offering BigBlueButton enabled videoconferencing for meetings where participants have their identities verified.

IRMA is a Dutch mobile app that allows you to share specific aspects of your identity with different parties, relevant to a specific context. For instance if you have to proof you’re over 18 to order an alcoholic beverage, showing your ID is the current norm. But that discloses much more than just your age, as it shows your ID number, full name, date and place of birth etc. IRMA is an app that you can preload with verified identifying aspects, such as your date of birth as registered with the local government’s citizens database, which you can then disclose partially where needed. When ordering a drink, you can show the bartender that you’re ‘over 18’ as verified by your municipality, without having to show your actual date of birth or your full name.

In our pandemic age video conferencing has grown enormously, including for conversations where identity is important. E.g. conversations between patients and doctors, or job interviews, conversations with your bank, exams etc. IRMA-Meet now offers BigBlueButton videocalls from their site, where all participants have been verified on the relevant identity aspects for the call.

Looking forward to hearing user experiences.

A public sector client announced last week that working from home will be their default until September 1st for certain, and maybe until January 1st. I can imagine why, there is no real way to house their 1600 staff under distancing guidelines, and the staff restaurant (that usually caters to some 1200 people in 90 minutes each day) has no real way of accomodating people for lunch in meaningful numbers. Three similar organisations in a different part of the country announced they would keep working from home until January.

I wonder how this may shift modes of working over time, now that centralised working is replaced by distributed working. When will public sector organisations realise they now have eyes and ears on the ground everywhere in their area, and put that to good use? In our experience not ‘going outside’ for real stories and feedback from directly involved people often reduces the quality of choices and decisions made, as observations get replaced by assumptions. This is true for any type of larger organisation I think, but now we all of a sudden have turned them into a distributed network.

If you’re in a larger organisation working from home, do you have a notion of where all your people are, and is that geographical spread a potential instrument in your work?

Two things to read and think about on presenting and being present in video talks and webinars. One by Matt Web, Rethinking Video Talks, (found via Peter Rukavina), on how his usual careful design of switching between slides and himself, creating rhythm and building up sequences. One by Bryan Alexander on how to ensure webinars aren’t bad and boring, the first of a series of upcoming postings.

Like everyone in the world working from home during the pandemic, we saw a sudden switch to intensive use of video conferencing for the past eight weeks.
Daily stand-ups with clients, coffee chats with colleagues, meetings, on and on, up to the point you feel you’re only in video calls the entire day. It was such a sudden increase that it now feels suddenly odd to have an actual phone call, without video.

I want to jot down some of our experiences with various video conferencing tools these past weeks, and how it compares to ‘before’. It’s a good thing meanwhile to keep in mind that phones, sms, mail etc also still exist.

One of the first things that stood out for my company at the start of the lock down was that while we did have regular video conferences previously, we didn’t host them ourselves. It was mostly at the invitation of clients or others, using their solutions such as Webex, and Skype for business. Amongst ourselves we used Skype, but usually made regular phone calls. Within my World Bank projects we used Skype as well.

Our cloud tool, NextCloud offers NextCloud Talk, supported with a STUN and a TURN server. We tested this and it works reasonably well for up to 4 people. Our first experiences were however not convincing enough to want to use it for larger groups or as a default for client interaction. We did however use it with one client reliably with 3 to 4 people.

Next to our existing NextCloud we added Zoom, with 4 hosts. Zoom works very well, also with a few dozen participants, and we have been using it for our own all-hands meetings, weekly check-ins and daily coffee times. We also used Zoom for an online workshop, including the use of break-out rooms and that worked very well. Zoom however has been the subject of a lot of privacy and data security criticism, which have only in part been addressed. Various clients of ours do not allow Zoom. Specifically the use of the Zoom client is seen as problematic, some do allow their people participating in a Zoom call through their browser.

Meanwhile our clients operating within the Microsoft silo speeded up their switch to Microsoft Teams, which meant that our interaction with them takes place through Teams’ video conferencing. This for us reduced the need for being the host of a range of meetings, and our need for Zoom.

Still we wanted another video conferencing option for ourselves, that supports larger groups, and is within our own scope of control. We arranged for a managed Jitsi server for our company’s use. This at first glance looked like it might be an expensive solution (as it meant a bespoke service as no regular hosting offers were to be found), but in the end our existing cloud hoster provided us with our own Jitsi server geared to use for larger groups against low costs. Our experiences with Jitsi are somewhat mixed. It works best if everyone is on Chrome browsers, but that in itself is not really desirable nor even easy to ask of every participant. Jitsi does not allow for scheduling or planning a call, as you can only login as a host after starting a call. Jitsi also does not support break out rooms, nor is it on the current development agenda it seems. We’ve used Jitsi reliably in various settings, both with others and amongst ourselves, including a group of 8 people from different organisations. In that case being able to offer to use Jitsi on our own server made the call possible in the first place, as several participants were adamant about not wanting to use other tools such as Zoom.

So the current reality is that we use Nextcloud Talk, Jitsi, Teams, Zoom all in parallel, depending on context and participants, while we also still participate in Hangouts, Webex and Skype for Business meetings. The only thing that has seen a reduction of use is regular phone calls, which upon reflection is an odd effect, as no-one set out to replace or try to improve upon those. Maybe it’s because all the video conferencing tools bring the conversations into the device you have in front of you working from home all day anyway: your computer screen.

Jeroen de Boer over bibliotheekwerkplaatsen, en hoe die soms mislukken. Herkenbaar, want er is het risico dat het instrument (een werkplaats voor …. ) een doel op zich wordt (een werkplaats want dat is hip). En als de werkplaats er dan is weet je niet waarvoor je hem wilt inzetten. En over Doug Belshaw en mij en hoe ons werk dat van Fers beïnvloedt.

Liked “Jeroen, hoe zou jouw ideale bibliotheekwerkplaats eruitzien?” (Rafelranden)

Dat was de vraag die Norma Verheijen me stelde tijdens de eerste bijeenkomst van de Denktank Digitale Geletterdheid, 17 februari jl. bij de KB. Mijn antwoord: een plek waar kritisch bewustzijn en maatschappelijke impact in aanraking komen met intrinsieke motivatie.

The Britsh Museum is chock full of fascinating artefacts, even if the sourcing of some of those artefacts means their ownership of them is disputed. While that sourcing happened in different times perhaps (which doesn’t mean our current perspective can’t be different), in these times echoes of that can be heard in the form of digital appropriation.

Earlier this week the British Museum announced they had revamped their website. Part of the revamp is providing more and better digital images of artefacts. Digitising artefacts well is a lot of work and effort, and making them available to the public is very laudable. Especially as the British Museum says, since we’re now only capable of visiting from home.

Director Hartwig Fischer in the museum’s communication is quoted saying

We hope that these important objects can provide inspiration, reflection or even just quiet moments of distraction during this difficult time

Inspiration, cool. Let’s do. Jason Kottke wrote about it and posted some beautiful images.
I went to the BM’s site as well and browsed. Then I came across this artefact:

Screenshot of the British Museum showing a 1725 etching, with copyright claim

I didn’t know the British Museum had a print of the water gates in my hometown!

Then I noticed an oddity: a ‘(c) Trustees of the British Museum’ statement on it. I have the image (remixed with a Mondriaan painting, by E after my idea) on my wall. This as the etching by A. Rademaker is also in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, and they too have digitised their collection and made it available. At the Rijksmuseum that image however is public domain.

The British Museum also allows downloading images. For ‘my’ image at least that download is of distinctly lower resolution than the Rijksmuseum download (the BM’s download is 365Kb, the Rijks’ 2.8MB). Here you see them side by side, BM on the left, Rijks on the right.

‘high-ish’ res BM image on the left, higher res Rijks image on the right

Moving on from inspiration to reflection then, as per the director’s words: What’s up with that copyright claim? The etching itself, being from the 18th century, is clearly in the public domain. Are they saying making a photo of an artefact is creating a new copyright? As Cory Doctorow also noted, that is a wild claim to make. Making a photo of an artefact to show just that artefact is not considered a creative act, and thus not protected under copyright rules, in the UK (PDF) and the EU.

The actual licensing terms attached by the British Museum to a downloaded image are Creative Commons BY NC SA, meaning only non-commercial use is allowed, if the results are shared under the same conditions and the British Museum is mentioned as the source. This is not an open license. It means that Jason Kottke who, inspired as hoped by the BM’s director, put images on his site is in breach of this license, as he also sollicits membership payments through his blog. Appropriate would be a CC0 license, or public domain mark. Claiming copyright on an image that actually is in the public domain because its subject matter is in the public domain on the other hand is digital appropriation.

A second question is why would the British Museum do this? A clue is the information shown when you want to download an image:

BM allows download for non-commercial use, but for commercial use requires a request

The distinction between commercial and non-commercial forms of use, I suspect, may have something to do with the effort of digitisation. Digitisation is generally very costly. Museums fall under the EU PSI Directive on the re-use of public information. In that Directive a possibility exists to temporarily make the exploitation of digitised material exclusive to a certain party as reward for help with the digitisation. Under this exemption tech companies can enter into agreements with museums and libraries to digitise their collections and have a handful of years before the results become generally available to the public. The fact that the BM publishes some images for the general public, at lower quality, is another potential clue. It’s my speculation, but it may mean that the BM tries to provide at least some publicly available material, while the exclusive exploitation rights for whoever is paying for the digitisation still exist. In other countries we’ve seen that material isn’t published until those rights expire, and it would indeed be a useful step to find a way of providing at least some access.

However, none of that has any relation to copyright, as the digitisation itself does not create new rights to license. It would I think better be solved by providing lower quality material as public domain material, while higher quality material is made available as part of the exclusive exploitation deal. If this is what is happening, again it’s just my assumption, using a restrictive CC license is the wrong instrument. If it has nothing to do with the digitisation process and surrounding contracts, but only to create revenue for the museum, then using Creative Commons licenses to do so is just plain wrong and digital appropriation that should be corrected.