Amy Chamier gives us her summary of the plenary session: P2 “Are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’?”, presented by Susan Farrell.
Will web managers be the first to go when public sector cuts bite? This was the unsettling question put to us by independent web consultant Susan Farrell.
Susan, a former head of web services at Kings College, London, explained how those with front-end skills are most at risk. Although we make the web work for visitors – with our knowledge of writing for the web, information architecture, usability, accessibility and search engine optimisation – these skills often go unappreciated.
The rapid spread of easy-to-use web tools, such as content management systems, is leading senior managers to look on everyone as a web expert now. Departments keen for a bigger slice of the web cake, are quick to endorse this view. So how do we communicate our value as web specialists? Susan’s advice is to demonstrate the competitive advantage we deliver in turbulent times. We must show how websites run by web managers cut the cost of: (a) generating new customers (b) back office administration and (c) service delivery. And also, how websites run by amateurs can put an organisation’s reputation at risk. In wrapping up, Susan left us with a final question. Without recognised qualifications and a professional body, do web managers and their specialist skills run the risk of extinction, as our duties are absorbed into other roles? Answers on a post-card for next year’s workshop, please.
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…
If you are unable to see this video, please click here.
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.
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.
Lynda Bewley gives us her summary of the plenary session: “‘So what do you do exactly?’ In challenging times justifying the roles of the web teams”, presented by Ranjit Sidhu, Director of Statistics into Decisions.
Ranjit started by explaining that in many for-profit industries, even in these challenging times, the one area that has been resilient to large expenditure cuts are internet and web services. Often this expenditure is retained due to every pound spent being accountable and transparent, and therefore justified.
Ranjit raised the question of whether web teams can take lessons from the for-profit sector in order to stop what they are doing becoming a vague proposition to those who set budgets. The best way to do this, he said, was to provide compelling statistics and to give them context. University websites are multi-faceted – they are information and e-commerce sites – and return on investment can therefore be measured in the same way as commercial websites.
Using the example of the Honda website, Ranjit demonstrated how web managers could provide detailed and contextual reporting to show a clear return on investment. Ranjit drew parallels between key calls to action on the Honda site and those on a university website (booking a test drive: coming to open day, downloading the brochure: downloading the prospectus). Honda would typically spend £10 to £15 on their site per brochure download.
On a university site, using the example of the number of international visitors who downloaded an application form, Ranjit calculated that the cost per application based on 1000 downloads and 50 successful applications would be just £0.06, and would generate revenue of £40,400 a year.
Ranjit also conducted a cost analysis of alternative application methods, comparing the cost of offering a downloadable application form to sending out a printed application form (£400.03 per application based on sending out 1000 forms), and asking students to apply via the ‘contact us’ page (£1.25 per application based on 1000 ‘contacts’). This kind of analysis enables web managers to justify why online is more cost effective than offline and will help when making a case for more resources.
Ranjit ended by emphasising how urgent is for web teams to start demonstrating return on investment. The recent COI report on government web spending should act as a wake-up call to web teams to prove their relevance and justify the value for money they provide. Online is the most efficient communication and recruitment tool available to a university – the challenge now is to demonstrate that and therefore prove your worth.