IWMW10: Sharepoint

James Lappin and Pete Gilbert talking about Sharepoint.

90% of UK HEIs using Sharepoint for something – but very wide variety of use – this talk going to explore this.

Pete says ‘Sharepoint is a like an Elephant’ – telling story of ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant‘ – in the story 6 blind men all touch an elephant and try to describe it – but each one only gets a small part of the story because the elephant is so big, and they can only touch it in one place.

Sharepoint is like this – so big, and so many bits, experience with it can vary hugely.

The most popular use of Sharepoint in HE is the collaborative functions – document sharing etc. Tends to be used on the adminstrative side, and also some in research projects – but not so much in teaching and learning. Ambitious project in Oxford to roll out Sharepoint for all research groups.

Lots of ‘big implementation’ type of projects with Sharepoint. E.g. “use Sharepoint as student portal”. Sometimes Sharepoint is used – because it’s there – you’ve got the licenses, and the IT department start to use it to do something and slowly grows.

Why does Sharepoint have such high penetration in HE? Microsoft added in client licenses for Sharepoint into other software that is licensed in the Campus license agreeement – so just there.

“I don’t think your community loves Sharepoint” (says James) – but also says you can’t ignore it, because it is there – at somepoint someone will ask ‘can Sharepoint do that’?

Sharepoint is better at somethings than others – so Pete now going to relate how he has used it. Started to see use of Sharepoint for ‘quick and dirty’ websites where teams could collaborate, they had control over permissions etc.

Started small, but then found people were directed to Sharepoint team when core web team couldn’t provide solution. Pete says it has enabled him and his team to develop for the web quickly (even if quick and dirty).

But if you are going to work with Sharepoint, you have to buy into the Sharepoint way of doing things – steep learning curve.

I have to admit my personal experience of using Sharepoint as an end-user is the UI was just horrible – I’m not sure if that is down to implementation I experienced or something else – but it really put me off. I suspect there is some stuff there that it can do good stuff – but I don’t think it is really a good web facing product.

IWMW10: Building StudentNET portal

Next up Josef Lapka from Canterbury Christ Church University  Рtalking about building a student portal.

The concept of the CCCU portal was to support the student journey from browser to alumnus – something they would recognise and go back to – to achieve:

  • sense of belonging from early on
  • transparency of data and processes
  • gateway to external online apps like Facebook, online mail services

Advertised concepts with mock-ups of portal to stakeholders – got approval.

Then had to start building it! Turn the concept into reality. Had variety of options for building the system:

  • Sharepoint (too clunky!)
  • In-house development (too difficult/big)
  • DropThings – same architecture that Pageflakes built on…

DropThings – personalised online experience. Each user can have one or multiple pages – currently CCCU restrict students to a single page. Relatively standard organisational structure – you get ‘columns’, ‘zones’ (to hold apps, widgets etc.).

Each zone can contain one or many widget instances. A couple of the areas in the student view are fixed – ‘applications’ and ‘notifications’ – and the rest is made up of widgets that can be moved around or deleted.

Particularly worth mentioning is the WebNote widget – allows you to send messages to students or groups of students – granularity goes down to individuals, but then can do to groups of students, or to everyone. Can also be automated – so can send prompts based on other information – like when it is time for students to choose modules can nudge them to do it.

The portal view is the ‘homepage’ across the University (I’m guessing this means on student computing provision – fine if you control the environment, but this is often not the case now)

Want to do further work – Blackboard integration, Facebook widget, external mail clients, possibly CampusM. Also getting requests from staff and students now – e.g. ‘timetabling widget’. Only takes a few days to develop a widget – Patrick says ‘you just need an API’ (this is where the problem usually arises in my experience – getting the data out of other systems – which brings us back to Chris Gutteridge’s Linked Data?)

Patrick then showed the StudentNET portal – think the fact it is built on the same tech as Pageflakes showed through – very nice looking UI ūüôā

IWMW10: Linked Data

This session led by Chris Gutteridge from the School of Elecronics and Computer Science (ECS) of the University of Southampton.

ECS have just published all their public data as open linked data – and so Chris was able to share both his knowledge of how to publish linked data, why do it, and how not to do it. Chris gave a relatively gentle introduction to Linked Data and RDF. RDF is a pretty simple way of expressing information – at it’s heart is the idea of a ‘triple’ made up of a ‘subject’ a ‘predicate’ and an ‘object’ – typical example is for a book:

‘The Hobbit’ (subject) ‘has a creator’ (predicate) ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’ (object)

Chris described this as ‘really really simple’ – when I tweeted this I got a lot of sceptical responses, but I think Chris’s point was as a concept, the idea of an RDF is not complex. However, several responses on Twitter suggested that it maybe simple in theory, but when you start using it to describe stuff, it can quickly get complex.

Chris went on to describe the concept of ‘cool URIs‘ (Tim Berners-Lee said “A cool URI is one which does not change”), and how a RDF uses URIs to identify things – and how Linked Data principles say that when you follow a URI it should ‘resolve’ to some useful information. Chris mentioned a few of the issues – especially the difference between a resource and a document. Chris also mentioned another problem which is ‘blank nodes’. RDF can be visualised as a ‘graph’ – a diagram of connected dots, with each dot representing a subject or object, and the lines between the dots representing the predicate relationships. Sometimes when you design RDF, you can end up with ‘blank nodes’ (a.k.a. anonymous nodes or bnodes), which are essentially nodes in an RDF graph which are not identified by a¬†URI and is not a literal.

Having described some of the basics of Linked Data, Chris got us to brainstorm information in our institutions that might be ready to be published openly – and shared his own brainstorm of this in the form of a mindmap. Chris described some of the thinking that had happened at Southampton, and also some of the mistakes they had made. He mentioned several useful resources (see link below) and also had some ‘take aways’:

  • get your URIs right
  • don’t use anonymous (blank) nodes unless you really have to
  • start with easy stuff – incremental approach with eye on future. (Chris says N.B. RDFa is not easy stuff! Get to grips with RDF first, as this is the basis for RDFa anyway)
  • aim to publish as RDF but don’t underestimate simpler data formats like CSV – these can enable you to get data published quickly in interim

There was quite a bit of content in this session, and while it covered some of the basics of RDF and Linked Data, and was definitely aimed at those not that experienced with RDF and Linked Data, it was, by it’s nature, quite a technical session with quite a few concepts to get your head round. However, I found it useful, and some worthwhile hints and tips to those looking at publishing institutional linked data – especially some of the things that Southampton have learnt the hard way – so we don’t have to.

Chris has helpfully published a page with all the relevant links from his talk, except the mindmap of institutional data that might be published. Chris has also helpfully blogged the Linked Data session.

IWMW10: It’s all gone horribly wrong

Jeremy Speller from UCL talking about disaster communication. Jeremy reflecting on his last presentation at IWMW – on 7th July 2005 – and as Jeremy was about to speak, news started to filter through of the bombings in London.

Jeremy was using the IRC chat channel at IWMW – and this was where he first saw news about the bombings – at 10:08 from the IRC log. Jeremy trying to get through to staff at UCL – no ability to get in contact – feeling of isolation from institution.

Jeremy going to talk about:

  • How institutions respond when there is a crisis
  • What methods can be used to communicate in a crisis
  • And what happens in a real world…

Universities are ‘prepared’ for crisis in that they have a ‘Major Incident Plan’ – will identify key staff, a ‘bunker’ (somewhere remote that can be used to work from), communications. Many places don’t include web team in Major Incident Plan – and they should be in there.

Wide range of types of ‘disaster’. ¬†Not always about ‘hi-tech’ – sometimes only way of communicating is with a megaphone!

However, vast number of wasy of communicating using technology – and you can cascade from one to another – using individuals in the network as ‘megaphones’ [did I get that right?]

  • Email – UCL starting to use Live@edu email from Microsoft – but if you use normal UCL email addresses they get routed via UCL servers before going to live@edu service in Ireland – so need to look at how to use ‘live@edu’ addresses instead.
  • campusM – mobile service …
  • Twitter – example of University of Bath tweeting about campus closure when snow last winter. But unlike email and campusM, not control over it. Could use Audioboo in similar way
  • Facebook – can be fed by same stream as Twitter
  • Non-institutional email – e.g. individual accounts on gmail, hotmail. But how do you get the data? Who keeps it up to date
  • Cellular phone network – difficult to get mobile numbers – people don’t want to give it out – again unreliable data. Also, some disasters cell network goes down
    • use JANET web hosting to provide web host if your local provision goes down – JANET web hosting can run simple web apps – e.g. WordPress – so can use for content
    • JANET txt – can use to send out SMS messages – but comes back to unreliable data, unreliable network, costs can be significant if sending out messages to lots of users (4p per sms message)
  • Shared services – can introduce single points of failure?
  • Other institutions – work together provide mutual services – but some sites perhaps at more risk than others – so London institutions perhaps don’t look like a good place to host services – Jeremy hopes can do more of this though

What happens today?

At UCL, use JANET web hosting, use WordPress Рcan cross publish to Twitter and back again, which in turn can push to Facebook and/or audioboo.

[Sorry – missed the end of what Jeremy said here – really sorry ūüôĀ ]

IWMW10: No Money, No Matter

Paul Boag – for blogpost on this talk see http://boagworld.com/talks/no-money – lots of talk about ‘make do and mend’ at the moment. But the coming cuts are the most exciting opportunity that you’ve ever had!

This is an opportunity to change how you work – to embrace best practice from the rest of the web. Establish university web teams as a driving force in the web world. Paul very very up beat about this! He sees two big opportunities:

  • Opportunity to simplify –¬†Universities have more legacy (in their websites) than anyone else on the web
  • Opportunity to approach things differently


Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) – said a lot, but really really true. At the moment you have massively bloated, unmanagable websites. Why? When you start to talk about simplifying website and removing content you get responses:

  • But somebody might find it useful
  • Well my content is too important to remove
  • Users might not understand
  • But we need to convince users
  • Well its not my job to remove content (question – who in your organisation is responsible for removing content from your website)

You can no longer afford to maintain websites at their current size. Can’t keep content up to date, complicated to change, difficult for users to find content – too much stuff. Paul uses Microsoft as an example – they used to put everything online – and then a search for something like basic help with Excel brings back loads of stuff including research whitepapers etc.

So many people involved in putting content on site – can’t keep quality high.

Biggest issue – no time to think strategically about the website. Lack of planning for the next few months – how is your web site going to change in the next 6 months? It is growing organically not strategically.

Paul says “Less money means a smaller website” – so we should:

  • Remove content
  • Hide content
  • Shrink content

Always try to remove content first.

Hide – example of a ‘get started’ guide on Wiltshire Farm Foods – shows the first time, then collapses to compact display after that (see http://www.wiltshirefarmfoods.com/).

Another example – move links you don’t want to do see – small text, bottom of the page.

But politics get in the way – Paul says, avoid politics, embrace policies. Universities like policies! Paul says introduce some of the following policies (not necessarily all of them):

  • The link on the homepage with the fewest clicks will be replaced – automatically with another link – content gets pushed off the homepage if it doesn’t get enough response
  • Pages that not meet minimum levels of views and dwell time will be unpublished – not deleted, but triggers review process – for content provider to come to talk to you about improving for republication
  • Pages that are not regularly updated will be unpublished until reviewed – e.g. after 6 months – could follow email notifications – although could just let them find it. All they need to do is look at the page and decide to republish

These policies can be automated.

However, if unpublishing is too radical – rather than doing that, remove from navigation and search, insert a message on the page saying out of date.

If you could implement these three policies think about how much smaller your website would get immediately.

Paul moving on now to working with external organisations. Suggests that web teams work at 2 levels:

  • Keeping website running, keeping it up to date
  • Running big projects that will ‘solve all problems with x’ – e.g. re-vamp information architecture, redesign whole website

It is in the second area universities enage external companies – like Paul’s. He thinks that in general Universities are wasting their money when they do this!

These big projects tend to throw away all previous work. Also they bunch up expenditure into one place – e.g. once every two years need huge investment to redesign etc. websites. Also, often very interlinked set of big projects – combine new user interface, with re-branding exercise, with content management system implementation etc. – all have interlinked dependencies, and are all complex projects – creates huge problems and slows everything down.

Outside providers tend to be treated as ‘pixel pushers’ – tend not to use their expertise.

More agile approach needed – should be looking at doing one month ‘sprints’ – i.e. deliver something every month – at end of sprint should have measurable return associated with it. More continuous development – advantages:

  • Don’t throw away existing work
  • Don’t have single point of massive expenditure
  • Avoids complex interdependencies
  • Don’t throw massive changes at users
  • Build ongoing partnership with external agencies

Paul suggests getting external view regularly – doesn’t have to be commercial company – could be someone from other institution web team. Once a month – meet with external, do some user testing, set sprint goals, talk strategically

Paul recommends “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by Steve Krug to see how you can do regular usability testing quickly and easily.


  • Smaller sites
  • Ditch ‘big projects’
  • Think strategically
  • Have a monthly roadmap

IWMW10: So what do you do exactly?

Ranjit Sidhu (http://twitter.com/rssidhu) is going to talk about justifying the roles of the web teams in challenging times.

Are institutional web team showing the value of what they do? And perhaps we need to start talking about value in £s?

‘The web is sexy’ – are we (as web managers) exploiting this? Internet overtook television to become biggest advertising sector in the UK – “We can justify increasing expenditure as we have an accurate breakdown of how the online budget will bring higher revenue than other channels: The expenditure is more efficient and accountable” – quote from someone at Honda.

Ranjit mentioning the Cabinet Office press release announcing cut of websites – highlights how much they ‘cost per visit’ – but says there is no context – it isn’t (just) about cost – it is about what you get out of the visit – maybe there is return on your investment. Ranjit says getting a quote from gocompare.com – costs Go Compare between ¬£5-¬£15 pounds per visit – but that doesn’t matter – they make money!

Ranjit taling about measuring web traffic – often use ABCes – these are measures designed for the newspaper industry – who care about adverts – why are we applying these measures to public sector websites?

Ranjit stressing that ‘online’ has to be part of the University – you have to put this into context.

Ranjit suggesting Universities are different to newspapers – but perhaps not that different to a car sales website. Think about prospective students site – if you go to a car website – what does the car manufacturer want you to do? What is their conversion point? It’s downloading a brocuhre – that’s like a student downloading a course brochure or prospectus. And yet public sector/universities don’t seem to regard ‘downloading a pdf’ as value – but a car manufacturer might be happy to have a visit cost ¬£5 if the user downloads a brochure.

Ranjit suggesting that you need to look at overall picture of student applications – so link visits to prospective students to site, to number of application form downloads, to the percentage of students who download application who apply, to percentage who then get a place and pay to attend university – linking web stats to revenue.

Ranjit saying – good to compare the ‘web route’ to other routes – e.g. do analysis of cost of applications from downloading via website to (e.g.) offering to send them a printed application form – show overall costs in comparison to other methods. [there is an issue of accessibility here? Public bodies have a responsibility to be inclusive – car manufacturers don’t]

Once you have some of these figures, can start to show how you can enable more revenue – e.g. show what revenue would accrue from converting 2% more conversions from browsing to download application – and then justify investment in developing website to achieve that extra 2% conversion.

Can also go further with ‘predictive analysis’ – how to predict how segments of audience will react – but Ranjit not going to cover today – need to get some of the basics in place first.

Some things that need doing:

  • Agree standards for measuring web use – not ABCes
  • Standardise monthly and end of year reporting
  • Dashboard that summarises performance – in one page
    • Include industry performance as well as local performance

Interesting examples of dashboard used by car manufacturer – includes ‘Highlights and Recommendations’ – very briefly at bottom – how to increase revenue.

Ranjit says – need to start now – COI report should be used as a wake up call – don’t let this happen to your website – statistics can be used and abused – can’t afford to be sitting ducks… Need to learn from the past and become enablers rather wall builders. If the web team doesn’t enable people – they’ll work around the web team.

Online is the most efficient communication and recruitment tool available to the University – challenge is show that and therefore prove your worth.

Q & A

Q: Victims of our own success – been providing websites on a shoestring, so how to justify more investment now

A: Universities are big organisations – University of Sheffield is as big as Yahoo! There is a lot of money – it gets spent one way or another – and you’ll see it being spent – e.g. on a new cafe. You can get this money!

Q: Example – paying council tax ‘in person’ more expensive than doing by phone, which is still ten times more than doing it online

A: Agree – but look outside public sector – look at how Amazon change webpage as you go to buy a book – navigation disappears

Q: Look at using Google Analytics with goal tracking – can assign costs and also track people through your site

A: Google Analytics v good – although it is aggregated so can’t drill down to indvidual – although may not be a bad thing

IWMW10 Mobile Web and Campus Assistant

Damian Steer from University of Bristol and Alex Dutton from University of Oxford taking this session.

Originally mobile phones were just ‘phones’! Ten years ago, phones had started to support other functions – SMS, WAP, WML – but very limited interactions – ‘web fidelity’ very low. Things continued to develop – ‘smartphones’, Blackberries etc. Supported better interactions – java becomes standard development platform for these devices. Could read email on these devices, and to some extent could browse the web – e.g. using Opera Mini – although a lot of ‘backroom’ stuff to make this work – but it was browsing the real web.

Then the iPhone appears. Damian says generally nothing new about the iPhone (except possibly ‘gestures’) – but it was really really usable, and had a really good web browser… (doesn’t mention the unlimited data plan – would have thought this was also a factor?)

iPhone has much higher usage on webpages than it’s marketshare – that is iPhone users browse the web disproportionately more than users with other devices.

Mobile Safari on iPhone built on WebKit. WebKit also used for other platforms. There is no IE6 for mobile devices – that is terrible browser that is very widely used and needs to be catered for – nice to have clean slate.

‘One Web’ concept – don’t do something special for mobile devices.

Traditional usage absolutely dwarfs mobile usage – so think very carefully about when users going to using or need mobile access – focus for what you deliver to mobiles on these scenarios.

Why do ‘web applications’ rather than platform apps (e.g. iPhone app)? Don’t you lose lots of functionality – can’t access stuff like motion sensors in phones etc? Damian says very fragmented market – if you develop web apps you can reach wider range of devices. Also only a few things you can’t access via web apps as opposed to a platform based app – so unless you really need to use motion sensor build a web app instead. Note you can access geo-location information within the browser, and provide ‘offline’ functionality.

Some stuff you can’t do so well in web apps – gestures (supported at a low level, and can be fiddly).

So there are some things native apps are better – e.g. gaming, 3D etc. Also example of Guardian iPhone app – could all be done as web app, but native app is very careful with resources and a key factor – you could sell the app easily and make revenue via the app store!

Damian now showing some web app stuff developed at Bristol – example of ¬†‘when is next bus’ – can locate and find next bus times – all done as web app. Can contact Mike Jones (@mrj1971) for more information…

Now moving to Alex Dutton from Oxford. JISC funded development of mobile services under Institutional Innovation programme. Developed ‘Mobile Oxford’ – went for easy wins – readily available data – location etc. Getting University contact information (originally screenscraped, but can now do via API and LDAP), search library catalogue via z39.50 etc. Also working with Oxford Brookes to add their data.

Mobile Oxford search box – uses regular expressions to try to work out what type of search is being done and return relevant information – e.g. look for ISBNs, Bus stop numbers etc.

Every page in Mobile Oxford can be returned as HTML, XML, JSON and YAML – e.g. add “?format=xml” to URL, or also support content negotation. So others could build services based on the Mobile Oxford data.

Other work in progress – new developments coming – e.g. Sakai (VLE) tools…

Oxford do quite a bit of ‘client sniffing’ – i.e. work out what client is accessing the page, and return appropriate content (so e.g. if javascript not supported, don’t use it etc.)

Oxford releasing the work they have done as an Open Source project ‘Molly’ – http://mollyproject.sourceforge.net/ – encourage other institutions to join in, use and contribute to Molly.

Finally Damian mentioning that more developments coming to web apps – Augmented Reality perhaps a notable development that is coming.

IWMW10: HTML5 and friends

The second day of IWMW10 kicks off with Patrick Lauke – he is currently ‘Web Evangelist’ at Opera, and was previously web manager at University of Salford. Slides at http://www.slideshare.net/redux/html5-and-friends-institutional-web-management-workshop-2010

HTML5 is a huge topic – Patrick wants to try to answer the question today ‘should I use HTML5 today?’

HTML5 is a ‘woolly’ term – people use it to encompass lots of technologies. However, Patrick is going to concentrate on the ‘core’ HTML5 – not talking about other technologies that often get lumped into the HTML5 bucket (example he gives is geo-location services – not part of HTML5, but often referred to when people talk about HTML5) – HTML5 without the hype.

Why are we back talking about HTML – weren’t we all going to be using XHTML? XHTML 1.0 came out in 2000 – idea was to move to xml base. Started to see development of XML based technologies – related to te web – e.g. XForms. At Opera they liked the functionality of XForms, but wanted to be able to introduce the same ideas to older sites, still using non-XML based sites – and came up with Web Forms 1.0

In 2004 W3C started to focus on XHTML 2.0 – but this was not backwards compatible – and browser companies not happy. So Firefox, Opera and Apple (Safari) worked together as the ‘Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group’ (WHATWG). Eventually ¬†W3C proposed bringing the work done by WHATWG back into W3C development – stepping back from XHTML. So in 2007 a W3C working group for HTML5 was setup (including browser vendors)

Quote from Ian Hickson (Google) who is Editor of HTML5 says HTML5 is about “extending the language to better support Web applications […] This puts HTML in direct competition with other technologies […], in particular Flash and Silverlight.”

Patrick says HTML5 does not replace HTML 4.01 (or XHTML 1.0) – just extends the languages. In general if you have a valid HTML 4.01 website, simply changing the doctype will result in a valid HTML5 webpage (with some minor tweaks maybe).

HTML5 specification is aimed at browser developers – so if you aren’t a browser developer you don’t want to look at it. For authors rather look at ‘HTML5 differences from HTML4‘. HTML5 standardises current browser and authoring behaviour – previously there has been a lot of inconsistency in how different browsers deal with different code.

HTML5 doctype just says it is html – doesn’t include a version etc. So just use <! DOCTYPE html> – in reality this is all the browsers use generally anyway.

HTML5 doesn’t care about some of the xml conventions – use of lowercase for tags, double quotes in attributes, closing empty tags. Patrick emphasises some of these things can still be good practice – but HTML5 doesn’t care about them.

HTML5 looked at the most commonly used names for <div> tags, and transformed them into elements – so now a <nav> tag can be used instead of <div class=”nav”> for navigation – also for <header> and <article>.

Lots of new types and attributes in forms for built-in validation – e.g. <input type=”date”> etc. Browser can both validate, and automatically offer a date picker rather than having to build this into javascript in the site. I guess this moves use much more towards browser as platform – more stuff ‘baked in’ to the browser. One nice example (I think) can specify a regular expression as a ‘pattern’ for a input – so can simply validate input (plus pre-defined types like email etc.)

HTML5 introduces <video> element for embedding video – allows specification of basic player information – like size, whether controls display etc.

Bringing Video as a native object is important – it ‘plays nice’ with the rest of the page, has keyboard accessibility built-in and an API for controls (javascript based APIs). Also means you can style video player using CSS etc.

However, still a big debate about video formats – H.264/MP4 – supported by Chrome, Safari and IE 9 – but there are patent issues – and worries that this could lead to royalty coming down the line. Firefox and Opera support Ogg Theora – no patent/licensing issues but not very many tools for Ogg Theora – very geeky still.

New video standard started by Google and released free without patent/licensing issues – WebM – supported by most major browsers, but IE needs codec installed, as would Safari (unspoken but implication Apple are the barrier to agreement on WebM adoption?). However you can specify a cascade of different video formats in the <video> element – so basically ‘use WebM if browser can, otherwise use Ogg, otherwise use H.264 etc.

Is HTML5 a ‘flash killer’? Patrick says too early to talk about HTML5 replacing Flash – but HTML5 introduces choice – look at the tools, and what you want to do.

Should you use HTML5 today? Patrick says, if you want to make use of the tools – yes, but otherwise you don’t need to rush. However, you could just try changing the doctype – you might already have a valid HTML5 site.

Q & A

Q: How does HTML5 work with/relate to RDFa?

A: Working group looking at this. Also Patrick mentioned something about ‘microdata’

Q: Why is there not a <content> tag

A: Good question – Patrick says some of the decisions on tags are slightly odd – e.g. <article> not going to be relevant in all cases

Q: How secure is HTML5 for copyright material?

A: It is an issue – for e.g. easier to grab video because it is just referenced in the HTML code. YouTube are experimenting with HTML5 but have said they won’t use it for some types of video – e.g. those with adverts in them, because people could easily write something to skip the ads and go straight to the content – so loss of control over this is an issue. But then, there is no good way of protecting the content generally

IWMW10: Are web managers still needed…

Second plenary today is from Susan Farrell – asking ‘are web managers still needed when everyone is a web “expert”?’. Slides at http://www.slideshare.net/iwmw/farrell

Susan asks – why web manager are not valued? Who are these ‘web experts’? Should we be looking at recognised qualifications? How do we show the value we add to the institution? She is thinking of the ‘softer’ skills sides – writing for the web, metadata, search, user interface design etc.

Susan asks what is the perception of ‘web people’ – techies in a cellar? Are staff and students aware of what you do?

Web professionals – similar to librarians? … but less respected Susan suggests:

  • Organising information
  • Classification
  • Cataloguing
  • Updating users on new resources

Some issues Susan outlining:

  • user research & usability testing – difficult to get funding for this
  • writing for the web – devolved responsibility can mean that web team can’t affect what is written
  • SEO – not appreciated, but lots spent on ‘marketing’ – but SEO is marketing, so why mismatch?
  • Metadata – no-one interested (welcome to the library world)
  • Information architecture – expectation that you can just change this to suit specific needs
  • Search – expectation of good search experience – but

Experience that ‘consultants know best’ – often listen to consultants above local expertise.

What is a ‘web professional’?

  • Need broad range of skills and experience
  • Softer skills less recognised
  • No set qualifications
  • Skills being absorbed by other roles

[hmm – I struggle with this in the way that I struggle with the professional status of librarians. For me the key thing about the professional status of librarians is not skills or qualifications – these have changed over time and continue to change. However, the professional ethics are (and should be) more persistent – ‘Concern for the public good’ and other principles listed at http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/policy/ethics/pages/principles.aspx should be true no matter what the technology. So what do ‘web professionals’ stand for?]

Susan saying web professionals have to promote themselves to key audiences…

Susan asking do web professionals need a professional body?

So – are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’? Yes – but we need to promote ourselve and be part of the solution in our Institutions, not part of the overhead…

Q & A

Q: Martin Moyne – is it that difficult to justify? Survey that says web site No 1 factor in overseas students making decisions

A: But perhaps senior management don’t know that?

Q: Careers advice – came across career advice on government site for web managers that said this was going to disappear as a career and suggested a move to finance!

A: Perhaps this is where a professional body is needed – make a representation to government etc.

Q: Brian Kelly – what do we need to do?

A:  Perhaps not a generic thing Рtuned to institution?

Q: (from me) librarians have a set of professional ethics – do web managers ‘stand’ for anything?

A: perhaps to many routes to being a web manager to say there is a standard approach

Q: Jeremy Speller – status can’t be gained overnight – takes along time

A: True – but got to start somewhere

IWMW10: The Web in Turbulent Times keynote

Now Chris Sexton, director of IT at the University of Sheffield (where IWMW is being hosted). Chris blogs at http://cicsdir.blogspot.com/ and tweets as cloggingchris.

It is a certainty that ‘we’ (Universities I guess) are going to get less money – the question is how much less. Cuts are going to bite next year, and the year after – not this year.

Letter from David Willets and Vince Cable to University VCs included a line describing IT projects as “discretionary” – and suggestion they should be cut.

Why IT projects? Vince Cable as shadow chancellor identified many failing and very expensive public sector IT projects. Web sites also a target for cuts Рexample of Business Link website Рcost an incredible £105million!

Government committed to getting government web back under control. Martha Lane Fox (Digital Champion) looking at how resources can be shared and use of open source software etc. can save money.

It is very easy to see IT as a cost. Chris gets frustrated by the view of ‘IT’ as something separate from the ‘business’ – she says, we shouldn’t have IT projects, we should only have business projects.

Shared services being pushed by government and HEFCE – there are examples of massive savings in parts of public sector especially the NHS. Part of the shared services agenda is around back office systems – e.g. Finance, HR, Payroll.

Chris suggests we already have very good examples of shared services – JANET, UCAS, HESA.

Chris highlighting example from Charity sector – ‘Just Giving’ website – all charities need to need people to give money – and Just Giving website gives a shared service they can all use to achieve that.

Chris describing how things have changed for IT departments – have to provide access to services on any device – IT don’t control the user platform anymore (if they ever did). Need to provide services to multiple devices/browsers/platforms etc.

User expectations are changing – increasing demand for services and increase in student expectations – especially if student fee cap is lifted. Students used to easy access to services (e.g. dropbox), via high quality interfaces (e.g. don’t need training to use the Tesco website?).

Generation of students who grew up with the internet. Not interested in ‘software’ but services. Also big contrast between attitude from students and often senior staff who get PAs to print off emails for them to read. Students often describe university systems/services as ‘clunky’.

Lots of overlapping services – everything does everything. Count how many services/software in your institution lets you store a document – Sheffield got into double figures for this looking at institutional services.

24/7 expectations – at Sheffield Information Commons operates 24/7 – and if printers go down on a Saturday afternoon users expect them to be fixed. How can you support services 24/7 when staff generally employed on 9-5 contracts. Resilience is key.

Survey by ¬†University of Edinburgh – 100% of students had phones, and 50% had what they would have called a ‘smartphone’. Biggest challenge for mobile devices is diversity of devices and platforms – anecdote that to develop app to achieve 70% penetration of mobile market had to test on over 300 devices. Starting to see universities developing apps… University of Sheffield app – 2000 downloads in weeks after launch – two thirds to iPod touch…

Chris relating how they are having to increase their wireless provision to cope with the profusion of devices – many students now connecting with 2 devices – phone and laptop – when they use the network.

Chris now talking about data security – only a matter of time before a laptop with large amounts of student data or university finance data left on a train/cab/bus?

Moving on to legislation – Chris believes Digital Economy Act full of problems – and worries that unless OFCOM consultation clarifies some of this, there are going to be huge problems.

Green IT – IT accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions (possibly – Chris isn’t sure how accurate this is) – same as airline industry. Lots can and needs to be done in universities – in areas like:

  • Printing
  • Data centres
  • Video conferencing
  • Reduce Power
  • Virtualisation

Sheffield has dropped from 130 servers to 4 servers – with approximately 75% reduction in energy bill!

Need to be much more flexible and agile. Days of 2 year projects are gone – if we can’t deliver in 6 months, we shouldn’t be doing it. Chris quotes ‘Keep it Simple Stupid’. Noting ‘shared services’ – haven’t even got consistency across institutions nevermind between institutions. In some institutions there are distributed IT services – lots of servers in departments/labs/offices, people don’t get best value because don’t use central procurement, security issues on those servers that aren’t centrally managed, etc. etc.

Chris stresses – it’s about processes not technology – technology does not solve anything. If the process doesn’t work, no amount of IT will make it work. Responsibility has to be taken by individuals – people have to take responsibility for their own (efficient) use of IT.

Different delivery models:

  • Self service
  • Managed services
  • Outsourcing
  • Out hosting
  • Cloud

Have to focus IT department resources on key tasks in University Рteaching and research. There are going to be hard choices outsources services may not be as good as in-house Рbut which is more important a good calendar or a good vle? If Google docs offer a collaborative environment, why should the University provide one? These are the hard decisions that will need to be made.

IT department will no longer be ‘gatekeepers’ – help people use systems – going to be facilitators and educators instead.

Chris does not believe we can afford to ‘just keep the lights on’ – we have to keep innovation – otherwise we will die as IT departments. Innovation carries a risk – but it is a risk that you need to take. Need to get balance right – need to get resourcing right. Chris very clear need to continue to invest in innovation.

Q & A

Q: Ben Coulthard – University of Leicester. Lots of changes at Leicester – but not sure feeling the benefit of that. This year no money for innovation – and no money to web team this year. What about at Sheffield?

A: May not have funded more – but have protected them. Money tends to go into projects as opposed to teams – so flexible. Some comments on split between marketing and IT – at Sheffield Marketing and IT work together on web team (2 from marketing, 2 from IT and 1 across the two)

Sorry – missed the other Q & A, but interesting stat from Chris – review at Sheffield suggests on 2% of IT budget goes specifically to support research – that needs to change in Chris’s view. Question about how much iPhone app cost to develop – Chris says she can’t give a proper figure as it was first time company they worked with had done that, but she’d estimate ¬£10k