Save and manage your information on ‘Pearltrees’

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

Pearltrees is a creative and visual way to save and manage your favourite websites or ‘pearls’ as they are known. ‘Pearls’ – websites, files, photos and notes – can be saved and organised into what’s known as ‘pearltrees’. These ‘trees’ can be created and organised around subjects of interest. For example, you may have an interest in photography and want to save lots of interesting websites, blogs, photos on the topic. Using Pearltrees it’s simple. Just create a ‘tree’ called ‘photography’ and start to save ‘pearls’ Visually, the pearltrees have a tree-like structure much like mind mapping. Similar tools exist such as Delicious and Diigo, which are less visual. These are more commonly known as social bookmarking tools and allow you to save favourite websites in lists which can be tagged with words that identify them.

What’s great about Pearltrees?

  • Visual – it is a creative and accessible way to manage information
  • Intuitive – it is simple to setup, use and browse
  • Access – ‘pearltrees’ can be accessed on computers, mobile phone and tablet devices
  • Scope – websites, files, photos and notes can be saved rather than web pages alone
  • Learn – using the search function it is easy to see what other people are collecting
  • Collaborate – people can work together to create ‘pearltrees’
  • Share – information saved using Pearltrees can be easily shared through Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Pearltrees also offers a number of Premium account options with added features such as privacy control, and ways to more effectively customise content.

Visit Pearltrees.

Research Unbound: the future of research dissemination.

In mid 2012 the Finch Report heralded the ‘’the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet‘. By 2014 all publicly funded research was to be freely available to the public. To achieve this, Finch recommended support for ‘Gold’ open access publishing, where publishers receive their revenues from authors rather than readers, thus allowing journal articles to become freely accessible to everyone immediately upon publication.

RU launch-iw-2

Introducing Research Unbound

This approach leaves the role of the academic publisher largely unchanged, which is rather odd when we consider that the internet has disrupted so many business models, including newspaper publishing, music and travel.  Why not journal publishing?  After all, when Tim Berners-Lee invented the web he was aiming to support and improve scientific communication and the dissemination of scientific research. And it has been argued that researchers do not consume articles in the form in which the currently write them.

In January 2014 an article in Guardian Professional (Why open access should be a key issue for university leaders) argued that it was time senior leaders in higher education made openness their concern

the strategic and ethical questions that arise from the rapid and comprehensive advances in digital technologies – and particularly openness and its consequences – are for anyone in a leadership position, whether an academic programme convenor, a dean or a vice-chancellor. All universities are now digital, and all research and teaching will be shaped by continuing technological change

Gold and Green Open Access will remain a part of the publishing ecosytem but, as Gary Hall argues (On the unbound book: academic publishing in the age of the infinite archive)

publishing strategies are becoming more pluralistic and decentralised, making use of blogs, wikis and services like Figshare

Which brings us to Research Unbound, an IRISS contribution to creating such a decentralised and pluralistic world.  Research Unbound is a platform (a blog, basically) on which researchers of all kind (academics, practitioners) may share their findings, in whole or in part. It is also a campaign to encourage the use of social media to share, engage and build networks.

At our launch event on 21 February 2014, Brian Kelly shared his practical wisdom on how social media can enhance your research activities.  Among his many hints and tips was Socialbro for managing and analysing your Twitter network.  Fergus McNeil, Professor of Criminology and Social Work at the University of Glasgow and an active blogger (see Discovering Desistance), offered a measured assessment of ‘new’ versus ‘old’. While the traditional route to publication remains important, it can be many years before a researcher gets feedback, in the form of citations, whereas blogging can deliver immediate feedback and can help measure impact. Nina Vaswani, Research Fellow at the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, talked about  blogs as a form of reflective journal writing.

Research is a tangled, messy and complicated process and sharing the experience of this journey not only aids reflection and learning for the blogger, but also can help readers learn from the experience too. (from Nina’s blog post about the event)

Two of our contributors to Research Unbound (Marguerite Schinkel and Fiona Sherwood-Johnson) talked about why they are using this channel to share their research. The event generated lively and stimulating discussion, some of it captured via Twitter and summarised on Storify (or see and contribute to the whole #researchunbound stream on Twubs).

The role of social networking in the research process is neatly summarised by Nina Vaswani in her blog

In order for me to make a difference I need to produce high quality research that is relevant, useful and, equally importantly, accessible to my audience.  I certainly don’t want my research gathering dust in some far corner of a university library.

We hope Research Unbound will play an important part in linking research and practice in social care.

Collaborate creatively with Padlet

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager, IRISS)

If you often need to collect feedback on an event, create a noticeboard, take notes, brainstorm ideas or make lists, then take a look at Padlet. It enables the creation of a ‘wall’ or web space where you can post text, photos and videos, and then invite others – colleagues, clients, friends – to do the same, working collaboratively to create content. And it’s really easy to get started and use – you don’t even have to create an account!

To get started, go to the Padlet website simply click on the ‘Build a wall’ button. Then just start adding content: click on the white space to add text; or drag and drop images or other media from your desktop onto the wall. You can customise your wall with a choice of wallpapers and layouts, so you can play around with how it looks. You can also add a title and header image to each wall. Examples are available on the Padlet website.

Why use Padlet?

  • It’s collaborative. Padlet allows many people to post to a wall (once the wall has been shared with them) and everyone can see the activity of each other.
  • It’s multimedia rich. You can drag a Word document, paste a link to a YouTube video and drag a photo onto the wall for example.
  • It works on many devices. Padlet can be used on your phone, tablet and desktop computer.
  • It does public and private. There are settings you can choose to keep walls private, password protect them, or make them available to only those you share with by email.
  • It integrates with social media. You can share walls to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google + and such like.
  • Walls can be exported and / or embedded – a wall can be exported in PDF, Excel, CSV and image formats. Embed code is also provided for use on blogs and websites.
  • While you don’t need to set-up an account, if you want to save the walls you build then it’s best to set up an account. This takes all of a minute.

Visit Padlet:

An undeniable right to digital inclusion?

The interim report of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into spreading the benefit of digital participation in Scotland – published on 4 December 2013 – calls on the Scottish Government to recognise that every individual has an undeniable right to digital inclusion and for steps to be taken to motivate individuals and businesses to engage in the online world. Digital technologies, the report notes, can offer opportunities for people to explore interests and share and access knowledge, and to achieve this

…we must ensure that all public, private and third-sector organisations in Scotland have unfettered access to the infrastructure, tools and skills they need to make effective use of digital technologies.

The word ‘unfettered’ is important. Our experience at IRISS is that while people who work within organisations can be motivated to try out new ways of sharing information, for example by using Dropbox, employers offers little encouragement to use this form of communication.  Some block access to Eventbrite (on the ground that is is a ‘shopping site’). Others have stopped their staff from using Doodle which takes the pain out of scheduling meetings. Unfettered access must mean allowing to staff to engage with any web-based service as and when required, bearing in mind that it is often the client who chooses the tool. To refuse to use, say Doodle, is simply to transfer costs onto the client.

The report goes on to say that enterprise agencies should develop simple checklists of free online services and tools -such as business listings, appointments diaries, blogs and calendars – and use these to help businesses to engage with the online world. The problem is that staff in enterprise agencies are themselves often blocked from using these tools (Google Docs, Flickr etc) and are therefore hardly in a position to offer advice.

Organisations need to develop a culture that supports and encourages their staff to engage in web-based communication,  By engaging they will acquire the digital literacy skills necessary to be digitally included.

Along with former DCC Gordon Scobbie and Ian Watt, representing SOCITM, I’ll making a presentation to the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Digital Participation on this topic on 10 December 2013.  We’ll be suggesting that to tackle digital exclusion and promote digital participation, it is absurd on the one hand to wonder why people don’t engage while, on the other, actively block them from doing exactly that.

Showcasing best practice through film making

Guest blogger, Alan McGhee from North Lanarkshire Council tells us how he worked with social services staff to showcase best practice and encourage the development of film making skills.

Alan McGhee

Hi, my name is Alan McGhee and I am the new Media and Communications Graduate at North Lanarkshire Council. I am delighted to have been asked by IRISS to write this blog to talk about my work. I find that blogging is an extremely useful tool in engaging with others with similar interests and also allows me to reach new audiences that may take an interest in what I do. So what exactly does the Media and Communications Graduate do at North Lanarkshire Council? That’s a good question.

Aside from drinking a lot of tea, I am responsible for developing and creating several short films that will be shown at the North Lanarkshire Council Social Work Roadshows in September 2014, where all staff comes together. The short films will reflect and capture examples of best practice within social work. The films will showcase just how dedicated North Lanarkshire Council employees are in the assisting and enabling those in the North Lanarkshire area to have a better life. This can involve anything from helping with simple tasks such as bathing to providing short breaks for carers to providing support to those with drugs or alcohol issues to child care and protection.

I hope that the short films we create will highlight the dedication and hard work of North Lanarkshire social workers. I also hope that with the involvement of other staff members in the development stage, I can inspire other employees to dabble in film making and learn new skills. Linking with IRISS to tap into developing skills, provide experience and create a wider network will help further develop any new skills that can be carried forward after this road show.

Aside from creating the short films, I will create a Photographic Journal that will take an in-depth look into what social work is. This will involve documenting other areas of social work that are often unknown to the public, such as the Integrated Equipment and Adaptation Service. This service specialises in providing support such as chair lifts, railings and specialised beds. The Photo Journal will be displayed alongside the short films at the Roadshow and will also be shown within the different localities. The Photo Journal and the Short Films will also be shown on the North Lanarkshire Council intranet service which is accessible to staff only.

One of the aims of this project is to highlight the North Lanarkshire Council Social Work employee’s hard work and dedication to service users. Another aim is to help staff members develop new skills. The development of the short films will leave staff members with new film making skills that can be taken on further after the next roadshow.

Make remembering easy with Evernote

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

Busy modern life can make it difficult to remember everything. And there always seems to be quite a lot to remember, not only in our daily working lives, but also in our private lives. Up to recently I had paper to-do lists, notes and ideas in my bag, coat pockets, on my desk – anywhere to make it easier to remember! Then I discovered Evernote which quickly put paper lists to bed. I no longer needed to put my project and event notes, blog ideas and to-do lists to paper. Evernote provided me with an easy and effective way to manage them using one tool.

Evernote is a free-to use web-based note taking tool. It’s just one of many ways the web can help you work smarter. Advantages of using Evernote over other note taking tools include:

  • Your notes can be accessed on any device – computer, tablet device, Smartphone etc.
  • Notes can be sorted into folders and then tagged and annotated, making it a great way to organise information.
  • You can search your notes at any time and from any device.
  • You can embed documents, web pages and photos into notes.
  • You can include a voice memo as part of your note.
  • You can easily email notes to others and share them to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Free and Premium versions are available. A Premium account gives you a lot more upload capacity (photos and files) and an increase in maximum note size. It also allows you to search inside PDFs and gives access to Note History, which shows you past versions of notes. A PIN lock can be activated which adds a layer of protection on mobile devices.

Evernote champions productivity and makes remembering easy.

Social media in the workplace – survey and infographic

social-media-workplaceMedia agency ZenithOptimedia were in touch this week to tell us about this infographic drawn from a survey of social media in the workplace around the world. The survey finds that social media has become increasingly accepted as a vehicle for conducting business, but the ways in which workplaces deal with it are still in flux.


Around the world, social media usage raises difficult questions as to whether and how rules regarding workplace confidentiality, loyalty, privacy and monitoring apply to these forums, and, if so, how they are balanced against freedom of expression.


The report offers five recommendations on best practice:

  1. Get a social media policy and make sure you communicate it.
  2. Make sure you have a separate policy on misuse of confidential information by employees via social media.
  3. If you monitor staff make sure you have policies that comply with the law.
  4. Monitoring should go no further than necessary.
  5. Exercise extreme caution if relying on information from social media sites to make employment-related decisions.

While it is generally accepted that having policies on social media is a good thing, my problem with this report is that it doesn’t define ‘social media’.  The only social media service mentioned by name in the report is Facebook which, while very popular, is only one kind of social media. While the infographic has statistics relating to LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Google+ there seems to be no recognition that social media encompasses an ever increasing number of tools such as Skype, Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote,, Ning and Delicious, all of which offer ways of finding and sharing information to create personal knowledge networks.  Integrated into the workplace and the workflow they can deliver huge productivity gains.

While it may be wise to advise ‘extreme caution’ in using information from, say, Facebook for employment related decisions, HR departments, we assume, have always been careful to check the provenance of information regardless of the medium through which it is obtained. Good old fashioned references, for example, have long been treated with caution.

The report includes an interesting and useful roundup of case law from around the world, including the case of an Apple employee who was dismissed for using Facebook to make derogatory comments about Apple products.  An employment tribunal had to grapple with the balance between, on the one hand, the employee’s right to privacy and freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights  and, on the other, the protection of business interests. The tribunal ruled that the employee could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over comments made online because of the ease with which such comments could be forwarded to others outwith his control. The tribunal also felt that Apple’s restriction on freedom of expression was justified and proportionate in the context of protecting its reputation.

All of which reminds us that existing laws apply in the online world. Social media is really just the web and the web is here to stay.  If people are to learn how to use web-based communication media within existing law and within existing terms of employment they have to be allowed and encouraged to use these media.

Focusing too much on Facebook may risk missing the big issue which is that improving digital literacy in the workplace will improve workforce competence in using the web for communicating, building networks and personal knowledge management.

What the report is really asking is whether businesses are allowing their staff to be effective communicators and learners and have they adapted their policies to reflect these new ways of working?

Be first to get the latest news –!

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

For the last four years at IRISS, I’ve been involved in creating a daily social services news feed and email newsletter. We like to keep up to date with what’s new in social media and are very open to using it to improve how we do things. And our news service has evolved over time. Until Google killed it off in July 2013, we were using Google Reader, a tool for reading news feeds (or RSS as it is often called). In summary, this involved ‘starring’ items in Google reader, and putting these items through Feedburner (another Google service) to create our own customised RSS feed and email newsletter. Lots of people are still using RSS on other types of reader such as Feedly and Bloglines, and it’s still a great way to manage news.

The demise of Google Reader prompted us to explore more effective (and savvy!) ways of providing sector news.! was something that appealed as it offers an easy way to gather topic-specific news together in one place. And not only that, it enables us to give our own insight on news articles and then share them to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s not just useful to organisations, individuals can use it too! And many do. It’s great for ‘scooping’ information on personal interests, as well as work-related stuff, and you can curate as many topics as you like using keywords.! suggests content based on the keywords you tell it to use, and although it does some of the work for you, you also have the ability to pull in RSS feeds from your favourite websites and blogs, and even add Facebook and Twitter feeds!

In summary,! will:

  • Save you time searching for relevant content on topics of interest
  • Enable you to customise your own news
  • Allow to comment on news and share your insights
  • Display news in an interesting, user friendly way
  • Not cost you anything – it’s free to use (paid-for options available)

Visit our Social Services sector news on! to see an example:

Free, Pro and Business versions are available. Full details are available in the Plans section of the website.

Like all social media, is much easier to do than describe. So why not ‘Just do it’ as we encourage at IRISS – and Scoop.It!

Why can’t you access stuff on the web?

Since starting this blog about eighteen months ago I’ve mentioned many reports and studies that advocate digital participation, digital inclusion, digital literacy, digital by default, digital future and so on. Despite these official and authoritative arguments for better access to the web in the workplace, the workforce remains are blocked from using the most basic of web services, Doodle meeting scheduler for example. So, we at IRISS created this webpage containing key quotations from these reports which you can use to support your case for better access to the web.

We also asked for stories about blocked access and this one, from a local authority communications officer (yes, communications!), makes depressing reading

Getting information out to the many hundreds of staff across my department is difficult as a lot of web content is blocked. There are regular complaints made about the lack of communication between staff at headquarters and staff at remote sites, but despite this, information continues to be sent via ‘traditional’ methods (i.e newsletters in the post, filtered down through senior management). As the ICT policy for the local authority is managed at corporate level, departmental staff feel helpless to take any action against a policy that is so centrally engrained in the process of ‘how we do things’. 

I would love to work towards changing this, but am unsure of how to start without seeming to be causing problems or complaining.

This is not the first time we’ve heard people express concern about being seen as troublemakers. So where do we start?  People ‘at the top’ will have to take a lead.  ICT professionals, as mentioned a previous post, have been urged by Socitm – the Society of Information Technology Management – to ‘get into the digital vanguard’ by positioning themselves as leaders in promoting digital services.  Making people feel like troublemakers for trying be more efficient by using modern communication methods does not sit well with being in the vanguard.

Maybe a better dialogue between ICT professionals and front line professionals about what digital services and digital participation actually means in practice would help.



ICT professionals to ‘get into digital vanguard’

ICT professionals should be positioning themselves as leaders in promoting digital services.  So says Socitm, the Society of Information Technology Management, in its latest briefing.   We have to hope that Socitim members understand that in practice this means allowing ordinary members of the workforce to do simple things like participate in a Ning discussion forum, watch a video or add a ‘read later’ button to their browser.

We also have to hope this report has more impact than the 2010 briefing on why ICT managers should take the lead on social media. As noted frequently in this blog, ICT professionals do not seem to have taken much heed of this earlier rallying call. If they don’t take the lead, warns Socitm, ‘the risk is much greater that others will decide the future direction of ICT in their organisation‘.  Which would be a shame because ICT managers are, or should be, well placed to support others. They do have the skills and knowledge to help identify and therefore avoid real risks.

For example, Aberdeen City Council is the subject of an investigation by the Information Commissioner following the alleged loss of data after an employee in the social work department allegedly used an unsecure computer network when working from home. Correctly this is a matter of concern but we must differentiate between this kind of risk and the imagined risks of adding a ‘read later’ button to a browser or joining a Ning-hosted community (both of which activities are currently disallowed by default in certain public bodies).

User education will help minimise risk.  Blocking won’t. Instead, as Socitm warns, it will lead to ICT policies being developed without the valued input from ICT professionals.

If you are affected by restrictive ICT polices why not join Scotland’s Digital Dialogue, a discussion forum hosted by the Scottish Government with the aim of raising the level of digital participation, which is ‘essential to ensure everyone is able to benefit from the digital age‘?