Adrian Tribe from Birkbeck, University of London gives us his impressions of IWMW10 and his reaction to winning the Twitter Buzzword Bingo in this quick interview with Kirsty Pitkin…
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Josef Lapka of Canterbury Christ Church University explains what he finds valuable about IWMW10 and summarises his presentation about the StudentNET portal in this quick interview with Kirsty Pitkin…
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Professor Melius Weideman from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa explains why he attended IWMW10 and gives us his impressions of the event in this interview with Kirsty Pitkin…
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Miles Banbery from the University of Kent tells us about his favourite session at IWMW10, gives his impressions about the impact and value of IWMW event for the sector, and updates us following his conversion to Twitter at last year’s event in this video interview with Kirsty Pitkin…
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In his final closing comments to the workshop, Brian Kelly summarised the topics covered throughout the event within the context of the workshop theme “The Web In Turbulent Times”. He outlined how the programme had tried to cover a range of things, including the bigger economic picture affecting the sector, the opportunities for innovation that still exist, and some of the practical things that web teams are doing now that could inspire everyone else.
Brian invited various people to speak to provide their perspectives on this issues raised. Owen Stephens picked up on some of the issues raised by Chris Sexton in her opening plenary and by Patrick Lauke in his plenary about HTML5, Dave Stanley summarised his parallel session about the “Sheffield Made Us” campaign, and Mike Ellis announced the results of the QR code game, which had involved delegates finding and scanning QR codes hidden around the conference venue, then answering multiple choice questions.
Brian then demonstrated some of the innovative tools we have been using to analyse and increase the impact of IWMW. These included our use of Twapperkeeper, upon which Andy Powell has developed Summarizr, geotagging of tweets and the use of Linked Data. He demonstrated that the 14 years of data about IWMW locations, speakers, presentations, attendees and represented institutions, all linked to Dbpedia, can be used to answer questions about dissemination and impact of the event by showing patterns that could lead to new insights into the factors affecting conference attendance and impact.
To emphasise the need for the impact of an event to be sustainable, Brian restated his argument from previous years about the need for web teams to be blogging to create shared resources to help both themselves and the community. He has set up ukoln.ac.uk/community to draw together these blogs, but noted that there is still a long way to go, with few web teams blogging to draw attention to what they do.
To conclude, Brian drew our attention to the share press release for the event, which anyone can edit and contribute to here. He emphasised that the future is still uncertain, so they will be exploring the future of the IWMW event and potential sources of additional sponsorship as the whole sector rides out these turbulent times.
Throughout Brian’s talk, we premiered Twitter Bingo – a new version of Buzzword Bingo created by Richard Pitkin. Delegates were asked to tweet as normal using the event hash tag, but if their tweet included one of the secret buzzwords, a square would light up and play an accompanying sound effect to alert everyone. This became quite competitive towards the end, with a bidding war between two sponsors offering a prize for the winner, who tweeted the final buzzword. As well as being a bit of fun, Brian emphasised that this provided an example not only of rapid development (the game was developed from scratch within 2 days), but also an example of how technology can be used to enhance collaborative learning. The buzzwords his talk generated were: rapper, mobile, twitter, value, elephant, cuts, linked, sharepoint, remote, web, network, social, HTML5, innovation, beer and economic.
The final plenary of this year’s event focused on practical activities undertaken by web managers and featured three short presentations discussing particular technologies.
The first to present was Richard Brierton from the University of Sheffield, who gave a talk entitled: “Replacement CMS – Getting it right and getting the buy-in”. The University of Sheffield has been using Polopoly since 2003, and last year upgraded to version 9. The change between versions was so significant that it was effectively like moving to an entirely new product. Brierton discussed some of the common issues connected with using and changing CMS, and some of the measures they have taken at Sheffield to ensure user buy-in.
He began by discussing some of the common (and to many, quite familiar) criticisms users have of content management systems, the most repeatable of which was: “CMS is a catastrophe – the interface is clunky, slow and unattractive”. Brierton highlighted how easy it is to blame the CMS when users complain about changes, particularly when the users already have this attitude to the product. However, he emphasised that if you change something, it is not the CMS’s fault, it is your fault for changing it, and if you do choose to change aspects of your CMS, you have to bring the users with you in a positive way. He described CMS as the “promised land that we need to get people to” and outline some of the measures his department have taken towards this, including keeping the users informed about the process via blogs and demonstrations.
Brierton also discussed some of the reasons that web teams themselves often feel frustrated by CMS. Prior to the use of CMS, the number of users creating web pages was quite small, and they needed specialist skills to be able to do so. CMS effectively lowers the bar to web page creation, so there are now more users with a lower level of technical skill, who now need supporting in their use of CMS. He emphasised that no one approaches the task thinking “I want to make a really bad web page”, but this lower level of technical skill means that they will need more support and more careful thought about the configuration of your CMS to prevent unnecessary complexity for your users.
Brierton outlined his 7 commandments of CMS as a summary of his department’s ethos:
- Keep the 90% in mind all the time – keep the majority of users in mind, not just the techies
- One voice – we are not a coalition
- Training is cheap – it is the most cost effective way to improve your website
- Content is expensive – do not be tempted to get people to re-do their content when you move to a new CMS, as it is easy to forget that the content is the most expensive bit of your site to produce
- Editors will often best-guess if unsure – so it is important to remember that if your CMS is unclear in any way, people will not necessarily ring for support, they will have a stab, and this should inform your design
- Avoid unnecessary flexibility – if features are not really necessary, remove them
- Most editors don’t care – the content providers are not passionate about the web, as it is not their job, they are just passionate about their content
To conclude, Brierton described the gradual process they are doing to roll out their new CMS – department at a time, so that they can ensure everyone is onboard and comfortable with the system, and to identify problems as they go along with a smaller set of users, rather than being hit with all of the problems in one go. This was the most painless route they could see to successfully getting it right and getting the buy-in.
Second to speak with Josef Lapka from Canterbury Christ Church University. Lapka introduced their latest project: StudentNET Portal, which received considerable admiration from the audience via the Twitter backchannel.
The system began life as an online student re-enrolment system, developed to address the problem of students failing to re-enrol each year. After attending IWMW in 2007, Lapka’s team were inspired to bring this system together with all of their ideas about supporting the student to create a portal service. Their challenge was to build a tool that was consistent, engaging and interesting that helped the university to build a relationship with students throughout the course of their involvement with the university.
Lapka outlined the various options they considered, including Sharepoint and in-house development, but the team finally chose to use Drop Things as their base – an open source framework that the aggregating service PageFlakes is based upon. This allows them to give students three zones on their own personalised web page: an app area, a fixed content side area and a regular widget zone. The architecture of the system is so granular that they can send individual messages to communicate with specific users or groups of users using widgets. Changes can happen in realtime, with a maximum of a 30 min delay.
Lapka also described how easy it was to transfer from their old systems to this new portal – as the old systems can be compressed into widgets, making migration relatively easy and free from re-coding. Now the framework is in place, they can continue to add new features by developing new widgets, which can take 5-10 days to build, making it very easy to improve and respond to user requirements on an ongoing basis.
To conclude his presentation, Lapka gave a practical demonstration of the site, showing how students can personalise their portal space and bring in their own content using an RSS feed widget to make it a more useful to them.
In the final slot of practical discussions, James Lappin and Peter Gilbert discussed the impact of Sharepoint in higher education in an open conversation. They noted the scale of the product and used the analogy of an elephant to explain the wide range of reactions to it. They explained that a Hindu proverb, in which six blind men are taken to touch an elephant, but all touch different parts of the elephant’s body, and so come away with different ideas about what an elephant is like. They related this to Sharepoint, a similarly very big system, comprising of many different systems, so people generally only look at specific parts.
The pair discussed the ubiquity of Sharepoint, quoting that 90% of HEI are making some use of it for some purposes. It is usually used for intranet services, rather than external web services, but there are other divides within its use profile, including a higher rate of use by admin and research departments, and lower levels of adoption within teaching and learning.
They moved on to discuss the reasons for its high level of use within HE. Gilbert explained that Sharepoint use has grown by two methods: dictate, and by stealth. In explaining his remark about stealth, Gilbert noted that Sharepoint has been added to the Microsoft Campus Agreement which most institutions use to licence their software, so it is often just there, and therefore gets used when a need arises.
In discussing the criticisms and practicalities of using Sharepoint, the pair noted that branding can often be difficult due to the large number of stylesheets, which is often one of the reasons why it is more popular for use as the basis of an internal system, rather than an outward facing websites. They also commented that this aspect has been improved in the 2007 and 2010 versions.
The use of Sharepoint within research has been a relatively new and interesting development. Lappin and Gilbert explained that there are currently not very many solutions within the research market, and as researchers often want to share and communicate with other researchers in other institutions, the benefits of using such a widely established system are quite clear.
The pair concluded by observing that Sharepoint, like an elephant, has a massive ecosystem around it, so like it or hate it, it is an almost unavoidable system.
Richard Brierton’s slides are available on Slideshare here.
Josef Lapka’s slides are available on Slideshare here.
Peter Gilbert and James Lappin did not use any slides for their presentation (just a large image of an elephant!)
Now people have a few days to reflect on what they heard, saw and experienced at IWMW lots of blog posts have appeared. Here’s what we have so far:
- Ben Whitehouse – Highlights of #iwmw10
- Owen Stephens – Overdue Ideas (lots of posts)
- Brian Kelly – Initial Reflections on IWMW 2010
- James Lappin – Reaction to SharePoint from web professionals in UK higher education
- Chris Sexton – The Web in Turbulent Times
- Paul Boag – No Money, No Matter
- Joss Winn – WordPress: Beyond Blogging session at IWMW10
- Chris Gutteridge – Open & Linked Data for Universities
- Chris Gutteridge – Data Visualisation
- Tony Hirst – Using Twitter Lists to Define Custom Search Engines
- SiteImprove – IWMW 2010 – Good to see you all again!
If you write a post and would like it listed let me know and we’ll get a second list up next week.
Damian Steer from the University of Bristol provided us with an overview of the evolution of the mobile web, including the development of the hardware capabilities and the mobile web protocols through from WAP to WML.
Steer identified 2000 as the year that things started to get interesting, when lots of people had mobile devices and they started to be used for purposes other than voice calls – including SMS messaging. At this point, phones start to become internet devices, but are very much “leafs on the network”. They didn’t speak the same language as the rest of the internet, which enabled service providers to offer a walled garden service. The devices themselves were also very restricted – Steer noted that he has icons bigger than some of the mobile screens from that period. As a result, not many people were making use of these limited internet services.
Things improve from 2002 onwards, when smart phones appear. These start to have bluetooth, GPS and cameras, as well as internet connectivity and email so these devices were starting to look more like proper web devices, using Java and XHTML. At this point Steer drew particular attention to Opera Mini, which was not widely used, but deserved appreciation because it handled the real web very well. It allowed you to look at normal web pages on a reasonably limited device without any need for the pages to be specially configured.
Steer then moved on to 2007 and the advent of the iPhone, which he noted had almost no novel features at all, except for gestures, but was very useable. He demonstrated the iPhone effect by showing us the increase in mobile users visitors to the University of Bristol website. The proportion of these visitors using an Apple product is much higher than Apple’s market share, showing that whilst many devices had the capacity to enable web browsing, people were not making use of these features as much. Steer used this point to illustrate how there is no equivalent to I.E 6 in the mobile web sphere – there are terrible browsers out there, but people are not using them, so there is no need to cater for them.
In response to the question “how does my institution join the mobile web?”, Steer noted that if universities are building websites that comply with web standards, don’t use Flash too much, and stick to good practice with regards to accessibility, then their websites already work on a mobile device. He also noted that the proportion of people accessing university sites from a mobile device is still very small, so there needs to be some perspective. He also recommended thinking about the context – the situations when your users will only have a mobile device conveniently available and what services will they require at those points? He also discussed the benefits of building mobile web applications, rather than native applications in terms of market coverage and support. He explained how CSS can be used to tune your mobile website to suit the capabilities of a range of devices if you don’t want to build a specialised mobile page. Specialised mobile sites often have limited functionality, but can make use of some of the features of the device, such as the GPS to offer different services. However, browser sniffing and redirecting to mobile sites is generally frowned upon.
This led Steer to describe the University of Bristol Campus Assistant, which was a JISC Rapid Innovation project. This was designed to be a time and location sensitive service for students, rather than a complete mobile version of the University of Bristol site. The use cases included: location of the nearest wireless spot; location of a free PC to use; times of buses to halls of residence; library opening times. The bus departures feature is the most popular feature. The Campus Assistant takes information from RSS feeds, screen scrapes from web pages and other sources, and represents this in a relevant way. It is an open source and ongoing project, so it can be reused if you can provide the information to feed into it.
Steer then handed over to Alex Dutton, who described a similar project undertaken by the Oxford University, called Mobile Oxford. Again, this presents essentials such as bus information, feeds from local webcams, locations of pubs and university buildings. The main features he discussed were the contacts search and the library search for which they use a Google search client to index the site and provide the XML to help people search the site. Dutton’s favourite aspect of the project is that although it is a mobile web app, they have left it open for people to build other web apps or native applications on top, as each page can be rendered in HTML, XML, JSON or YAML. Future developments include linking into their VLE and other authenticated services. Dutton also explained how this project has now been taken open source to become the Molly project, which they hope will enable it be used at other universities too.
Damian Steer’s slides are available at Slideshare here.
We used a blog for the first time to support the IWMW 2009 event and felt that it would be worth continuing to provide a blog at this year’s event. We also decided to use an in-house blog which enabled us to make use of various WordPress features which are not available on WordPress.com, in particular the BuddyPress social networking environment.
We used the blog to:
- Provide information about the event and the various sessions in advance.
- Provide summaries of the plenary talks which were published shortly after the talks had been given.
- Host interviews (in text and video formats) with workshop participants.
- Provide an online social networking environment which enabled participants to create groups and discuss topics of interest.
- Provide an easy means of publishing last minute information.
- Provide easy access to information for those who make use of RSS readers.
We now wish to evaluate the effectiveness of the blog in order to identify whether it is worth investing effort in providing a blog environment for future events. We also welcome comments on ways in which the blog can be improved if it is felt worth providing in the future.
Please give your comments below.