UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for June, 2007

Strictly Forbidden

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 June 2007

Whilst attending the Museums Mashup which preceded the UK Museums and the Web 2007 conference recently I spotted the following notice which was pinned on the wall in several of the PC cluster rooms (and thanks to Jim O’Donnell for taking this and other photos at the event).

Strictly Forbidden notice.

As someone who used to work in a number of IT Service departments I’m aware of potential security implications. But the tone of this notice strikes me as inappropriate.

Michael Nolan's PowerPoint slidesAnd it also seems to be out of sync with the trend towards more user-focussed IT Service departments, articulated in the introduction to the UCISA IT Support Staff Symposium 2007 given by David Harrison, UCISA chair who argued that IT Services departments need to stop saying that they are user-focussed and actually mean it.

Michael Nowlan, Director of Information Systems Services at Trinity College Dublin made a similar point at the TERENA Networking the Network 2007 conference recently. As can be seen from his opening three slides (PowerPoint format) in a session on The Weakest Link? – a panel discussion on campus networks Michael suggested that the IT Centre might actually be the weakest link within an institution, focussing on its role in protecting the infrastructure by denying access to services to the detriment of the user community. And Michael challenged the notion of bans on technologies such as Skype and prohibitting students from attaching devices to the campus network.

In an email Michael recently summarised what being user-focussed means to the IT services department at Trinity College Dublin:

  • Yes before No
  • Allow before disallow
  • Open rather than closed
  • Connect to the network on a device-agnostic basis

I think this is a great summary of what “IT Services 2.0″ should be about. And personally I think it should be strictly forbidden to put up notices containing the words “strictly forbidden” on campuses :-)

Technorati Tags: ukmw07

Posted in General | 6 Comments »

Yahoo Pipes and IWMW 2007 Innovation Competition

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 June 2007

In order to support the Innovation Competition which is a new feature of the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop we are providing access to a variety of RSS feeds, including feeds of the location of all eleven IWMW events and the location of the host institutions for plenary speakers at all of the events. In addition RSS feeds for the plenary talks and workshop sessions for recent events are also available. And as well as the data provided by the event organisers, there are also links to various related feeds, such as bloggers at the event and feeds from services such as and Flickr.

This data can be used by delegates at the event who may wish to submit an entry to the Innovation Competition (and we also invite submissions from people who can’t attend).

The Yahoo! Pipes application would appear to be a tool worth exploring in this context. And I’m pleased that my colleague Julie Allison has developed an application based on this tool which takes the last 10 Flickr, and Technorati tags and mixes them with the IWMW 2007 news feed. This is illustrated below.

Yahoo Pipes

Julie informs me that this simple use of Yahoo! Pipes took her about 15 minutes to write (if ‘write’ is the correct term to use for a graphical development tool). And as the source of this application is available it can form the basis of richer applications.

An opportunity for someone, I think.

Technorati Tags: yahooo-pipes

Posted in iwmw2007, Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Web 2.0: Opportunity Or Threat For IT Support Staff?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 June 2007

On Thursday 21st June 2007 I gave the opening plenary talk on
Web 2.0: Opportunity Or Threat For IT Support Staff? at the UCISA SDG IT Support Staff Symposium.

The symposium was opened by David Harrison, Assistant Director of Information Services at the University of Cardiff and the current UCISA chair. In his introduction David argued strongly that IT Service department needed to be user-focussed, and this time they need to mean it as otherwise the user community will go elsewhere.

Steve Gough, Assistant Director of IT Services at the University of Reading and chair of the UCISA SDG Distributed IT Support Staff sub-group, welcomed delegates to the event and described how a Facebook group had been set up for the symposium, which would provide an opportunity for delegates to gave an understanding of the strengths and weakness of Facebook.

These two brief talks provided a much welcomed context for my talk, in which I argued that Web 2.0 can be a valuable opportunity for IT support staff, as well as for our user community. However in order to maximise the benefits, we need to make use of Web 2.0 technologies to support our activities – which will also provide us with an opportunity to understand the limitations and to develop strategies for addressing any concerns.

My slides are available on Slideshare and I’ve noticed that within a few days 5 Slideshare users had added the presentation to their list of favourites. And one user, sleslie, (who describes himself on his blog as “an educational technology researcher and emerging technology analyst … at the BCcampus Learning Resources Centre“) gave his comments on the slides.

Comments on presentation on Slideshare

What should be the quick elevator pitch for why people should adopt Michael Nowlan’s (note not ‘Nolan’ as given above) “allow before disallow” attitude? And perhaps more importantly, how should institutions support such cultural change? Or, as indicated by the opening remarks at the symposium, perhaps we are already well advanced in the UK, and it is universities in North America which face greater problems.

Posted in Events | 7 Comments »

Slideshare Available From Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 June 2007

My colleague Nitin Parmar, a Learning Technologist at the University of Bath, has just alerted me to a post on the Slideshare blog which has just announced that SlideShare is available on FaceBook!

I’ve just tried it and uploaded a few of my slides to my Facebook account. The interface is shown below.

Facebook now supports Slideshare

The Slideshare blog posts admits that “While the Facebook application is not an exact replica of SlideShare, we have tried to include the core features“. It goes on to say that “We plan to gradually add more functionalities to the SlideShare-Facebook application“.

I welcome the fact that Slideshare are engaging their user community in early user testing and that they encourage users to “give us your feedback and let us know how we could enhance its appeal. ” As the open source community often say “release early and release often”.

Technorati Tags: Slideshare, Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 4 Comments »

Accessibility and Innovation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 June 2007

I’m looking into the potential of Web 2.0 / mashups / Second Life / … for our museum’s Web site. What do others think about this?

This, in various guises, is a question which surfaces from time to time on the MCG JISCMail list – and I’m sure the question will be raised in other sectors.

A common response seems to be “We believe in complying with Web accessibility guidelines and we won’t let ourselves be distracted by use of technologies for this own sake.

But what if this actually means “We can’t be bothered trying anything new“, “We don’t understand any of this new stuff, but we feel uncomfortable admitting this” or “We’ve just deployed an expensive new CMS which doesn’t provide such functionality, so I feel threatened by any suggestions that we’ve missed out on an important alternative service.

It would be difficult to make such suggestions on a mailing list, especially as such a response would seem to avoid the accessibility issue. But what if many of the new technologies can be demonstrated to enhance accessibility? What if the Web Accessibility Initiative’s new draft version of their guidelines recognises this and removes some the outdated guidelines. And what if a holistic approach to accessibility can be taken which can help museums to engage with new audiences?

This was the message I gave in a talk on The Accessible Web at the Web Adept: Museums and the Web 2007 conference which was held on Friday at the University of Leicester.

I pointed out the flaws in WAI’s model and the WCAG 1.0 guidelines and described how the WCAG 2.0 draft guidelines have been updated to remove some of the flaws in the original version of the guidelines and to embrace many new approaches provided by Web 2.0 technologies.

I also pointed out that, as I’ve described previously, the limitations of WAI’s approach had been admitted by Michael Cooper in his paper at the W4A 2007 conference.

And finally I argued that museums should take a holistic approach to accessibility, which covers the range of services provided by an organisation rather than focussing on individual services. Michael Twidale, who gave a talk on Second Life at the conference, provided a great example of this approach when he described how a paraplegic user, who may not be able to walk or control a computer could, with the help or a carer, be able to fly in an immersive environment such as Second Life. This example, taken from a book on Second Life, provided a great example of how Second Life may be empowering for some, and why simplistic approaches to Web accessibility, based on a hard-line interpretation of accessibility guidelines, can do more harm than good.

There seemed to be general agreement at the conference that this is an approach which would appear to be of particular relevance to the museums’ community. And it embraces many of the ideas which were described by other speakers at the conference, which are summarised in blog postings about the conference written by Mike Ellis and Seb Chan.

We do need to move on in our thinking about accessibility – and, I feel, we should stop using dated views on accessibility guidelines as an excuse for failing to engage with innovation.

Technorati Tags: ukmw07

Posted in Accessibility | 6 Comments »

The ‘Cities Visited’ Facebook Application

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 June 2007

Over the past year or so I have been geo-located the talks I’ve given. This involves using Google Maps top find the latitude and longitude of the venue and adding this to an RSS feed for my talks. This gives me the ability to display maps of my forthcoming events and talks I gave in 2006 and 2005.

However effort is required to do this, especially locating the talks I gave prior to 2005. So although I would find it useful to be able to have a map showing when I’ve spoken since I started at UKOLN, I decided it would take too long to process the required data.

But then I noticed the Cities I’ve Visited application in Facebook. And I realised that I could simply type in the names of the places I’ve been to in order to add them to a map (and as it uses an AJAX interface I didn’t even need to type in the full name). And I didn’t need to repeat the process for every time I’m been to an event at London. So I could very quickly create a map of the 64 towns and cities I’ve spoken at.

When I used the application I became aware of some of its limitation: its coverage of towns and cities is not universal (so I couldn’t include details of my talk at Gregynog in mid-Wales) but perhaps more importantly (without wishing to offend the Welsh!) is the inability to export the data.

Andy Powell, in a post on Be aggregated as you would aggregate unto others published raised this issue recently on the eFoundations blog. But as I suggested on the eFoundations blog, this can be regarded as an example of “embracing constraints“. And rather than having to wait for the application to be fully-featured but it is released, releasing the software early and gaining feedback might actually be a more effective approach to development.

After all, as Andy himself pointed out, Slideshare originally didn’t allow uploaded slides to be downloaded, but this limitation was removed shortly afterwards.

And as a user of this application, I have decided that even if data export functionality is not added to the software, my risk assessment of the application leads me to be prepared to accept this limitation, in order to benefit from the service it provides at little effort to myself.

To summarise my views:

  • Software development is a process
  • The process may include releasing early and releasing often in order to engage users in the process
  • Users may be prepared to embrace the constraints of an application, provided they are aware of such constraints and the implications.
  • There can be a missed opportunity cost associated with not using a service because it doesn’t do everything.
  • Similar issues related to embracing constraints and the dangers of missed opportunities apply even more so to developers, as getting the perfect software out after the user community has embraced flawed applications may result in having to write off the investment in development costs of that perfect, but little used application.

Technorati Tags: Facebook

Note: The image in this post was missing. A new image was added on 1 January 2012.

Posted in Facebook | 5 Comments »

Search Engines On University Web Sites

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 June 2007

A few years ago I carried out periodic surveys of search engine usage on University Web sites. The surveys were carried out at about 6-monthly intervals from 1999-2003, with an additional (partial) survey, using data provided by Lucy Anscombe of Thames Valley University, being published in 2005.

The surveys provided an opportunity to monitor trends, which informed discussions within the community, on mailing lists such as web-support .

Search engine usage, 1999The data for the initial survey, carried in summer 1999, show that the open source ht://Dig software was the most popular. There was a diverse range of search engine software found, but also a high proportion of institutional Web sites which did not have a search engine.

Over the years ht://Dig grew in popularity, and there was a consolidation in the range of applications used.  At some point, however, the Google externally-hosted service began to be used.  This initially led to debate on the possible dangers of relying on a third party service for an institutional search engine, and the possible limitations of a proprietary application when open source search engine tools, such as ht://Dig, were available.. By 2003, however, it would appear that the community felt that the benefits provided by Google outweighed possible risks, with a Google search engine was the most widely deployed solution, as shown in the Table (although note that the Table will include uses of the Google Search Appliance, and not just the externally-hosted service).

Search Engine No.
Google 44
Other 24
ht://Dig 21
Inktomi / Verity Ultraseek 10
Not working / not found 5
Google search appliance 5
Thunderstone 2
Total 109

It would be interesting to explore the position today (and a community-led survey would overcome the resource costs of having to carry out this survey centrally). Of greater interest, though, might be exploring how search engines are being used. Are they being used to provide richer types of searching, browsing and other functions – are are they still simply a search box to be found near the top of a University’s home page?

What’s the situation at your institution?

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Embracing Constraints

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 June 2007

When you are involved in development work it seems that you need to ensure that every possible contingency is catered for, all relevant standards are used, the software is repurposable, the service complies fully with accessibility guidelines, can be used by every browser and on every platform, etc., etc.

No wonder software seems to take so long to be developed! But is this the only approach which can be taken to software development?

My colleague Paul Walk recently introduced me to the concept of “embracing constraints“. This approach was used by 37Signals in the development of the Basecamp Web-based project management service, and they have described why they chose this approach:

Let limitations guide you to creative solutions

There’s never enough to go around. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough people.

That’s a good thing.

Instead of freaking out about these constraints, embrace them. Let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.

When 37signals was building Basecamp, we had plenty of limitations. We had:

  • A design firm to run
  • Existing client work
  • A 7-hour time difference (David was doing the programming in Denmark, the rest of us were in the States)
  • A small team
  • No outside funding

We felt the “not enough” blues. So we kept our plate small. That way we could only put so much on it. We took big tasks and broke them up into small bits that we tackled one at a time. We moved step by step and prioritized as we went along.

That forced us to come up with creative solutions. We lowered our cost of change by always building less software. We gave people just enough features to solve their own problems their own way — and then we got out of the way. The time difference and distance between us made us more efficient in our communication. Instead of meeting in person, we communicated almost exclusively via im and email which forced us to get to the point quickly.

Constraints are often advantages in disguise. Forget about venture capital, long release cycles, and quick hires. Instead, work with what you have.

This seems to be a development philosophy which is being adopted within the Web 2.0 development world. For example Jon Udell has commented on Dabble DB which is “a web-based workgroup database that, in the style of 37Signals, focuses on simplicity and embraces constraints. Dabble doesn’t aim to do full-blown database application development, or sophisticated query, or heavy transactions. Its mission, instead, is to enable teams to easily manage and flexibly evolve modest (say, 30- to 50-megabyte) quantities of structured data.

This makes me wonder whether current approaches to development within the public sector are too heavyweight and we shouldn’t start to ’embrace constraints.’

Posted in Web2.0 | 8 Comments »

Monitoring Web Server Usage Across A Community

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 June 2007

How many public Web servers are there at your University? And how have the numbers changed over the past 5 years? Are you running more servers, as the range of services you provide grows, or have the numbers of servers decreased due to rationalisation in order to avoid duplication of effort across the institution?

Server numbers in March 2002I published an article on A Survey Of Numbers of UK University Web Servers in June 2000, with a follow-up article on An Update Of A Survey Of The Numbers of UK University Web Servers which was published in March 2002.  

The survey was carried out using the online Netcraft service, by using a wildcard (* to obtain details of the numbers of Web servers in, in this case, the Oxford university domain.  This process was repeated manually for all (~160) UK HEIs. A histogram for the results of the 2002 survey is illustrated.

Netcraft listing of Oxford Web serversHow have things changed in the past 5 years? It would be possible to repeat the manual survey – as can be seen, the online Netcraft survey service is still available.

However in a Web 2.0 environment in which many lightweight Web-based tools are available it would not be sensible to repeat the methodology.  It strikes me that the Netcraft results page is well-suited for screen-scraping (immediately after the “Results for *” text is a line which says “Found 356 sites“. So while this interface remains, the data can be programatically extracted, stored and displayed, possibly in a graphical format). 

The Dapper application could, perhaps, could be used for this purpose. After all, as I’ve described previously, Dapper has been used to create Blotter, which scrapes Technorati ranking data on a daily basis, stores this data and display the trends graphically.

But rather than doing this myself, I’d like to suggest that this might be a suitable example for the IWMW 2007 Innovation Competition – this should be lightweight and user-focussed (providing data which can detect trends across the community). It could be possible to provide an interface for a user to supply their own domain name, although another approach might be to take the domain names for the community (or perhaps a regional subset of the community) and display variations across the community – that, I think would be cool (and ‘coolness’ is one of the criteria for the competition). 

Posted in iwmw2007, Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Are W3C Crazy?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 June 2007

Phil Wilson recently reported on his trip to the XTech 2007 conference. Phil’s report included a bullet point which said that “The W3C are crazy”. In response to my request for clarification Phil said that:

There seemed to be a couple of big fat W3C elephants in the room.

The first was that the w3c are doing stuff for use in five or ten years’ time whereas most of the other talks are about things you can do today or next year, which makes them seem like futurologists.

The other is that they really didn’t seem that happy that HTML5 was going ahead, and what the hell was wrong with XHTML2 anyway?

It must be nice to work in a standards organisation where everything you do meets some Platonic Idea of perfection.

I think it is clear that W3C have had a very purist approach to the development of Web standards. Indeed Chris Lilley admitted in a talk on HTML Reloaded at the WWW 2007 conference that “99.99999% of the Web was invalid HTML. W3C pretended that didn’t exist.

The W3C’s purist position is under pressure from companies such as Mozilla and Google, who feel that it is foolish to ignore that Web environment as it is today and build a new version of XHTML which is incompatible with HTML 4 and XHTML 1. Instead these companies, together with others who wish to build on existing tehcnologies, have been pushing evolutionary development of HTML 4, under the name HTML 5.

Under such pressure, the W3C has been forced to back both camps, with the chartering of a HTML Working Group (which will develop HTML ‘classic’) and a XHTML 2 Working Group.

Despite this concession, I feel that there is a culture at W3C which is uncomfortable will the need to address real world constraints and, as Phil describes it, prefers a world  which conforms to a “Platonic Idea of perfection“.

Are W3C crazy? No, not crazy, I would say, but idealist – and perhaps teasing the user community with a vision of perfection which is unlikely to be realised. And when Phil states they are “doing stuff for use in five or ten years’ time” it would seem he underestimates the timescales, as the WHATWG FAQ states, in response to a question on when HTML 5 will be finished: “Around 15 years or more to reach a W3C recommendation (include estimated schedule)“.

Posted in standards | 2 Comments »

Facebook and the Institutional Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 June 2007

One of the advantages that use of a social networking environment such as Facebook can provide is the ability to see the Facebook applications that one’s peers are deploying. This was how I spotted that John Kirriemuir had added the UIUC Library Search application to his Facebook account.

What does this do?” I wondered, before deciding that it was worth investing about a minute of my time to find out. So I installed the application and voila:

So I now have a simple interface for searching the UIUC Library catalogue. Not much use for me, here at the University of Bath – but potentially very useful for students (and staff) at UIUC.

Should we be doing something similar within our own institutions, perhaps providing search interface not only to the library catalogue and other local services but also to national services such as Intute? Some might argue that this is unnecessary as a search interface is available on the service’s Web site and that developing additional interfaces for platforms such as Facebook)will require additional effort. I would disagree with the first part – I feel we should be making our data and services available where our users are and expecting them to come to our services may be risky. On the issues of the effort needed to do this, well we need to explore how much effort is required. Perhaps work which can be linked to the IWMW 2007 Innovation Competition? Anyone fancy developing Facebook applications which provide access to a range of JISC services?

Technorati Tags: Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 16 Comments »

Open Standards – Are We There Yet?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 June 2007

When will all the open standards we need be finalised? What will happen when that day arrives?  And are we there yet?

Daft questions, you may be thinking.  But if that’s the case – and we’ll never arrive at a position in which the open standards we need are all done – what does this mean for the development community?  Is the seemingly never-ending development of standards simply a way of providing ‘jobs for the boys’ – so that software developers and standards developers will be guaranteed of a job?

Or, to ask a related question, are the standards which are available today good enough for most uses.  Andy Powell, in the eFoundations blog, raised this issue recently when he commentedI’m very mindful of the tension between the relatively complex … and the relatively simple, tag-based, approaches taken by Web 2.0 repository-like applications such as Slideshare and Scribd.

Andy went on to admit that “Unfortunately, I lean uncomfortably in both directions!”  I think that many of us involved in development work would admit to similar doubts – and perhaps those who have no doubts are those with a blinkered vision who were responsible for leading the UK HE sector down the cul de sac of Coloured Book network protocols in the 1980s.

What should be done?

Posted in standards | 1 Comment »

Tim Berners-Lee, Order of Merit

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 June 2007

An email I have just received:

It is my pleasure to inform you that Queen Elizabeth II, Head of State of the UK, has appointed Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web, to be a member of the Order of Merit.

Founded in 1902 by King Edward VII, the Order of Merit [1] is conferred by the sovereign of the United Kingdom to “such persons, being subjects of our Crown, as may have rendered exceptionally meritorious service in Our Crown Services, or towards the advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature and Science or such other exceptional service as We see fit to recognise.”


Some other points to note:

  • The OM is one of the few British honours that is in the personal gift of the Sovereign as opposed to her government.
  • As well as being the personal gift of the Queen, only 24 living people are allowed to hold the OM.
  • Previous holders of the OM include Florence Nightingale, Edward Elgar and
    Winston Churchill.

It’s good to see this honour being awarded to the person responsible for a great British invention which changed the world; no, not football or cricket, but the World Wide Web:-)

PS The joke going around the W3C (coined by TV Raman) is:

Q. Why doesn’t the Queen use the Web?

A. Because it’s a royalty-free Web.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

Google Email for TCD – And It’s My Fault!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 June 2007

A recent BBC News headline entitled “Google’s e-mail for universities” states that “Trinity College Dublin has switched to Google’s e-mail – with other universities considering such a switch“. A news item on the Trinity College Dublin (TCD) Web site gives their perspective – and this has also been discussed by Alison Wildish on the Edge Hill University’s Web Service blog.

And I have discovered that I was influential in Trinity College Dublin making that decision! Michael Nowlan, Director of Information Systems Services at Trinity College Dublin informed me in a Skype message last night that “at the Terena conference a couple of weeks ago I stated publicly that Brian Kelly’s talk at EUNIS changed my attitude totally.” Michael reminded me about two talks I gave at the EUNIS 2005 conference: one “IT Services – Help Or Hindrance To National IT Development Programmes?” and another on Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences. Michael went on to say that my talks “led me to talk about disruptive technology at [the HEAnet Conference 2005] and here is the talk (WMV format) at least partly plagiarised from you!”

Why was I making such predictions over two years ago? Well IT Service departments have been at the forefront of network developments, with the UK University sector having promoted the benefits of network services for many years (and let’s not forget that the UK has funded the provision of applications services, such as those hosted by MIMAS, EDINA, JISCMail and other national services). And the provision of such services by a commercial company is simply the application of mainstream political and economic orthodoxies within an IT context. We’ve got the network – so this is surely no big deal?

What are your thoughts? Is having a diversity of providers of IT solutions (which need not be restricted to email) a good thing, in that it provides the user community (staff and students) with greater choice and can also help to ensure that the default IT provider (the IT Services department) is user-focussed (i.e. driving out the ‘IT fundamentalist”). Or is this Thatcherite privitisation of the educational sector which must be resisted at all costs, as it is likely to lead to a deterioration in the quality of the services as the commercial provider seeks to maximise its profits and ignores the specialist requirements of the educational sector? And as I’m giving a talk on “Web 2.0: Opportunity Or Threat For IT Support Staff?” at the UCISA SDG IT Support Staff Symposium 2007 next week I’m very interested in people’s views on this matter. Will I get lynched at the conference, I wonder?

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

Web 2.0 for Content for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 June 2007

Via posts on the DigitalKoans and Record Management Futurewatch I came across references to a new JISC-funded report on “Web 2.0 for Content for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” by Tom Franklin and Mark van Harmelen.

This 27-page long document provides a series of recommendations to JISC on how it should respond to the challenges posed by Web 2.0.  The recommendations include:

Recommendation 1: Guidelines should not be so prescriptive as to stifle the experimentation that is needed with Web 2.0 and learning and teaching that is necessary to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by this new technology.

Recommendation 4: JISC should consider funding work looking at long-term access to student created content once they have left the university with the aim of developing good practice guides.

Recommendation 8: JISC should consider funding studies looking at the risks to the institution associated with internally and externally hosted Web 2.0 services, and ways in which the risks can be controlled and mitigated. This could be done within the wider context of examining risks associated with Web 2.0, web services and Service Oriented Architectures.

Recommendation 17: JISC should consider commissioning studies to explore i) the accessibility issues of various commonly used Web 2.0 technologies, and how any limits can be overcome, and ii) case studies on how Web 2.0 technologies can enhance accessibility.

Recommendation 9: JISC should consider funding projects or case studies that look at different methods for integrating Web 2.0 into the overall university information and information technology environment while retaining flexibility of use across teaching, learning, administrative and other areas of university activity.

All sensible stuff, I feel, which reflect some of the discussions we’ve been having on this blog (e.g. the current discussions about use of Facebook within our institutions address the issues raised in Recommendation 9).

I should point out that Tom and Mark made use of Web 2.0 technologies in the production of their report. In particular they hosted a virtual conference which discussed a range of Web 2.0 issues, based on briefing papers produced by Tom and Mark. I spoke on Content Creation: Web 2.0 Is Providing The Solution at the virtual conference – and I must admit that I was somewhat surprised that the consulation process was not described in the report.

Posted in Web2.0 | 5 Comments »

Evaluating Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 June 2007

How should we, in our institutions, go about evaluating the potential of Facebook? How can we gain a better understanding for the benefits it may provide to our students? How should we explore its limitations? And should we be pro-active in providing access to our data (our search facilities, our RSS feeds, our applications) from within Facebook?

I’ve come across a number of posting on the potential of Facebook, including one from John Kirriemuir’s Silversprite blog, Mike Ellis on his Electronic Museum blog and, for those who like puns, some witticisms provided on Mark Sammons’ In-Cider Knowledge blog. And while the University of Keele has been banning Facebook, the University of Waterloo has been discussing how Facebook can be used as a tool to communicate with the 22,000 members of the University who are registered on its Facebook network. But these postings seem to be taking place in isolation, and missing out on the benefits of wider discussion and debate.

Facebook group called IWMW2007 Alison Wildish, a plenary speaker at IWMW 2007, wrote a guest blog post about social networking environments recently, in which she described the approaches to social networks which are being taken at Edge Hill University. And Alison has set up an IWMW 2007 Facebook group which aims to provide a forum for discussion about such issues. Feel free to join (if you have a Facebook account) and participate in the discussions.

Note that the group has been set up to provide a forum for focussed discussions prior to the IWMW 2007 event which takes place on 16-18th July. One of the aims of the group during this period will be to explore whether the Facebook group should continue in its current form or migrate to an alternative environment. As you can see from the accompanying screenshot, the debate has already begun, and we are discussing whether Facebook should be banned or should be supported – or whether this debate is irrelevant, as students are likely to increasingly do their own thing anyway!

Technorati Tags: Facebook

Posted in Social Networking | 4 Comments »

Video Clips To Launch An Event

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 June 2007

This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, at the University of York, starts after lunch on 16th July 2007. Back in 2004, when the event was held at the University of Birmingham, I opened the workshop by showing a video clip of “Steve Ballmer’s [of Microsoft] crowd pleasing repertoire of the grotesque“. It was a great light-hearted way of opening the event (and worth watching if you’ve not seen it before).

Should we do something similar for this year’s event, I wonder? A few month’s ago I posted about Viral Marketing from Store Wars to Web 2.0. Several amusing video clips were mentioned, including, with an IT theme, the well-known “Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us” and the less well-known “Response to the ‘Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us’. A favourite of mine is “Introducing the book” and recently Mike Wald told me about the “Apple Irack” video clip.

All worth watching – but are there any others which might provide a fun start to a three day event aimed at members of institutional Web management teams? Or are any of the ones I’ve mentioned worth showing?

Posted in iwmw2007 | 2 Comments »

Amazon Links From Library Web Sites

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 June 2007

Amazon links form library Web siteI noticed recently that the Perth College Library Webspots blog published a a post back in April which included links to Amazon for further information about books held at the library.

I think this is a useful service – the books are mentioned in context, and the Amazon link enables further information about the book to be obtained. And if the user wishes to buy the book, they can do so – and any income which the institution gains from this referral link will be useful, although this is no likely to be substantial.

But I have heard that some libraries would not allow such services to be deployed. Some of the reservations which libraries may have over deployment of various Web 2.0 services are described in the Web 2.0: Addressing the Barriers to Implementation in a Library Context QA Focus briefing document. This document includes the comment:

However, information professionals may feel uneasy about appearing to be promoting the use of Amazon as a commercial service to their users. This might potentially damage relationships with on-campus bookshops, or leave the Library service open to criticism from users that the Library is encouraging students to purchase essential materials rather than ensuring sufficient copies are provided.

Is this a legitimate concern? Are libraries which include Amazon referral links likely to causing such problems? Or is this very much horses-for-courses, with different libraries making a variety of decisions, based on various local factors.

Posted in library2.0 | 11 Comments »

Guest Post: Marketing Man Takes Off His Tie

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 6 June 2007

Peter ReaderToday’s guest post is from Peter Reader, Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Bath. Peter will be giving a plenary talk entitled “Marketing Man takes off his Tie: Customers, Communities and Communication” at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (which, incidentally, is now fully subscribed). And, as you’ll see from Peter’s post, he will be address a hot topic of the moment, which has been the focus of recent discussions on this blog – the role of social networking environments such as Facebook.

When Brian invited me to speak at IWMW 2007, little did I know what was to follow. I’ve very much a data immigrant, but I’m also an ideas person and, for example, I treat my PC as I treat my car. I plug it in and switch it on – and I expect someone else to be able to turn my ideas into reality, just like I expect the garage mechanic to know that ‘it’s got a little rattle’ means exactly what needs fixing. But I still know what I want. Where my approach differs is that I don’t want to pay garage bills for my ICT.

I am absolutely convinced of the importance of e-communications and e-marketing, not just for the recruitment of students but in all the other markets in which universities operate. As my University’s Marketing Director, never a day goes by without me being offered one package or another, including advertising of course. What’s more, it is clear change is taking place ever faster. Take the media – remember when the Times Educational Supplement was, in effect, a listing of all teaching jobs in the country. Not any more; it’s now a magazine. And The Higher, trade paper for universities, is also seeing its advertising revenue disappear; is that, maybe, why Murdoch sold The Times supplements?

 PR and marketing used to be all about campaigns, controlling the message, managing the communication channels and promoting the product. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. All neatly defined. But these old ideas of ‘control’ look more and more unrealistic. Now the talk is of focusing on the idea, ‘influence’, public reactions and not public relations, viral marketing, students as customers, B2B, client management and CRM, with the web and web technologies seen increasingly as the university’s most important marketing tools.

 As for social media, when most of our students arrive at university with a Facebook account, why are universities bothering to think about our own sites? Most prefer to use their own email address; the vast majority have their own account when they arrive and the old idea of universities offering email accounts is no longer any big deal. And, too, the idea of there being one youth market is just rubbish. Superbrands, such as Nike, are giving way to technology brands, such as Google, which has just been voted one of the top 10 companies for whom students would like to work. And all the time there is the staggering growth in user-generated content.How can universities harness this opportunity to best advantage? The product is still the key, but we have to give the customers, including our students and potential students, something worth talking about, to differentiate themselves. And universities are not very good at doing this; evidence from the Open University is students cannot tell the difference between institutions. What about their Web sites? We need to innovate, but universities are just so conservative.

I said I’m an ideas person; what about yours?

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Guest Post: The Promise of Information Architecture

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 5 June 2007

Today’s guest post is written by Keith Doyle, who will be giving a plenary talk on The Promise of Information Architecture at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop.

I have been asked to present a plenary session at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop on The Promise of Information Architecture. But what are promise, information and architecture? According to
promise (n.)
c.1400, from L. promissum “a promise,” noun use of neuter pp. of promittere “send forth, foretell, promise,” from pro- “before” + mittere “to put, send”…
1387, “act of informing,” from O.Fr. informacion, from L. informationem (nom. informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from informare … Meaning “knowledge communicated” is from c.1450…
1563, from M.Fr. architecte, from L. architectus, from Gk. arkhitekton “master builder,” from arkhi- “chief” (see archon) + tekton “builder, carpenter”…

The word promise is usually positive. Otherwise the session might have been called “The Despair of Information Architecture”.

For a circular definition: information is knowledge communicated, and knowledge is information with judgement. But information does have context which gives meaning to data. A paragraph is data; a blog post is information; a link to a blog post is knowledge.

Literally, the architect is the master (sic) builder, the one who might be present at the building site, but doesn’t engage in bricklaying, plastering or interior design; who does make the plans and does ensure that they are implemented as visualised by the commissioning body.

With extreme etymology, the plenary will offer a “declaration about the future impact that master building will have on contextual data.” The architect gives shape to a building so that it may serve its purpose. The information architect gives shape to the content framework so that the content might be findable, useful and used.

Keith Doyle
Web Content Architect
University of Salford

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Posted in Guest-post, Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Guest Post: Social Participation for Student Recruitment

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 4 June 2007

Paul BoagThis week sees a number of guest blog posts from plenary speakers at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, which will be held at the University of York on 16-18 July.

Today’s guest blog post is by Paul Boag. The title of the post is “Social participation for student recruitment“.

Social participation renaissance

I am really looking forward to attending my first IWMW this year. In particular I am excited about the number of sessions touching on the subject of social participation.

Not that social participation is anything new. I remember writing my dissertation on a virtual community called “The Well” back in 1994. In fact the Web itself is very much about social participation, the idea of sharing information in a peer-to-peer manner.

However, it is certainly true that “community” is experiencing a renaissance. Sites like Flickr, Digg, Delicious, and MySpace are appearing all the time, each dedicated to user generated content and social interaction.

Business is quick to capitalize

The business community certainly recognizes the value of social participations, sinking millions of dollars of venture capital into these yet unprofitable businesses.

In fact business has always been very switched on to the value of peer-to-peer recommendation. They are acutely aware that a recommendation from a unbiased third party (such as a friend) is worth considerably more than endless TV commercials or billboard advertising.

It is therefore unsurprising that we are seeing elements of social participation such as ratings, reviews and recommendations, appearing on ecommerce sites like Amazon.

Student recruitment

Even higher education websites are beginning to embrace the social participation phenomena with a growing number of institutions giving students blogs and encouraging participation in wikis, forums and other social software.

So does the “social participation revolution” offer a new and unique way of reaching prospective students? In my opinion it does, but I believe there are many opportunities to move beyond the current approach being used by many institutions.

As I see it there are two ways the social participation movement is currently being used by higher education institutions. The first is implementing social networking facilities of their own sites and the second is driving traffic by participating in existing social networking sites like YouTube or MySpace. In both these scenarios I would suggest that a slight change of approach would bring substantially improved returns.

Encouraging internal social networks

One of the factors that has spurred the explosion in social participation is the ease with which community software can be implemented on a website. Giving students a blog or implementing other similar tools is relatively straightforward but technology is not what drives social interaction, people do that.

Empowering existing students to speak to prospective students is a powerful (if slightly scary) way of promoting your organisation. As in business, HE institutions are recognizing that peer-to-peer recommendation is worth considerably more than any amount of traditional marketing.

However, simply adding some technology to your site is not going to make that interaction spontaneously happen. It has to be nurtured and encouraged by one or more individuals dedicated to the task.

Although building a community and social interaction cannot be forced or controlled, it can be encouraged. In many ways it is like tending a garden. In the early days it needs a lot of feeding and protection. As it grows it can require pruning and at times it may even need dead wood removing.

The garden metaphor aside, a good community is the result of a lot of effort behind the scenes to make it a reality. Currently I get the impression that many website owners (not just those in the HE sector) have the impression that if you build community tools, then the job is done.

Leveraging existing social networks

I am seeing similar first steps being made in the HE sector in leveraging existing social networks. I know of Universities who have posted videos to YouTube and other institutions who are exploring the use of social sites like, MySpace or third party forums.

However simply utilizing these sites does not guarantee you will reach your audience effectively. Successful Guerilla marketing using social networks involves two key factors that are largely missing from the HE campaigns I have seen.


The quality of the message being conveyed is fundamental to its success. Its not about how “slick” your message is, rather it is about how well it engages with your potential audience.

Let me share an example of what I mean. I recently came across a University who had submitted a promotional video to YouTube. It was a well-produced video, which was professionally put together. They also had the foresight to submit it to YouTube rather than just put it on their own website. However, despite this it was unlikely to grab anybody’s attention.

In order for a video like that to succeed on YouTube, people have to want to associate with it. By voting for a video or passing it on to a friend they are saying that they approve of, or associate with, that piece of content in someway. Different groups of people like to be associated with different values but it is fair to say that prospective undergraduate students likes to be associated with what is funny or “cool”. If your content doesn’t meet these criteria then people are not going to want to be associated with it. They are not going to vote for it or pass it on and so other more popular items will crowd out the content.


When it comes to other social sites like Digg, MySpace or even posting on forums the issue of trust and reputation comes to the fore. With so many individuals and organizations effectively spamming these sites in order to promote their business or product, it is important to build a reputation and relationship, which in turn earns you the right to post about your course or institution.

The primary way you build this trust is by contributing content of worth over a period of time and ensure your promotional messages are left firmly in the background. Over time the audience you are communicating with will naturally start enquiring more about what it is that you offer.

I myself am a member of several communities made up of prospective clients who maybe interested in my web design services. However, it is extremely rare for me to promote the services I offer in these communities. Instead I answer questions and help out in anyway I can and yet I regularly receive leads because of my contributions. No hard sell is required.

A call for resourcing

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and I believe that nowhere is that more true than in the realm of social participation marketing. I often encounter management who perceive marketing through things like social networks as a “cheap option”. After all there is no media spend and no print costs. However, although the costs in these areas are extremely low there is an enormous overhead in time and manpower.

If HE institutions want to see student recruitment through social participation as a viable reality they need to invest properly in the human resources to achieve it. Building peer-to-peer communities, encouraging student ambassadors, seeding forums, and contributing to social websites all requires time. Too often this work falls to somebody from within the web or marketing team. This person almost always has far too much on his or her plate to do the job effectively. Only when adequate resources are dedicated to the task will we begin to experience a real return on investment.

About The Author

Paul Boag is a user interface designer and long time advocate for virtual communities. He runs a web design company in the south of England called Headscape and is a prominent blogger at
He also hosts one of the biggest web design podcast currently online, as well as writing for publications such as .net magazine and Think Vitamin.

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Posted in Guest-post, iwmw2007 | 2 Comments »

Further Thoughts On Blog Metrics

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 June 2007

In response to a recent post on “Blogging And Learning From One’s Peers” I received a comment from Wendell Dryden who asked:

Is popularity and/or hit counting a measure of good practice? Asked another way: what’s the objective of the blog, and did it reach that objective?

That’s a good question – and one which I’ll be revisiting in the future (I’m running a workshop on blogging in October, and that’s one issue I’ll need to address).

If your blog is intended to have a wide appeal, then measuring popularity would appear to be sensible. And if you are part of a community which aims to have a wide appeal, then aggregation of visitor statistics would appear to be sensible. And we find this currently in the Web 1.0 world in which civil servants have an interest in the answer to the question “How many people visit online museums?” Of course the hidden aspect to this question may be “It’s costly – can we afford it?” or “It’s costly – if we reduce funding, what will the political impact be?” However there is still a need to collate such data – even if it may be flawed.

The same argument may be made with many other metrics – TV viewing figures (the TV may have been on but nobody was watching it) and , indeed, figures on visits to the library or museum (the numbers may have been up, but was that because of the bad weather).

But Wendell is quite right to suggest that we also need to complement such figures with a range of other data – and we shouldn’t just discard quantitative data because of flaws in the data … as this cartoon suggests:

Blogging Librarian cartoon (ideas from content of blog post)

(Note click on the image to get a full-size view).

And I should point out that I got the idea for this cartoon from one of Wendell’s blog postings. This informed me of the Make Beliefs Comix Web service for creating cartoons. So I think this is an example of a softer approach to measuring the impact of blogs – did it result in readers doing something in response to a post. In his case, it did. Thanks Wendell.

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Guest Post: Let The Students Do The Talking

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 June 2007

This week I’ll be publishing a number of guest blog posts, from plenary speakers at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, the theme of which is “Next Steps for the Web Management Community“. I should also add that there are still a small number of places available – but we would advise you to book a place quickly (the cost, incidentally, is £355 per person which includes 2 nights’ accommodation).

Alison WildishThe guest posts begin with Alison Wildish, who will speak on the first day of the event. And during a week in which there has been much interest and discussion on the role of social networking services such as Facebook it is clearly timely for Alison to introduce her plenary talk on “Let The Students Do The Talking” – and please feel free to respond to Alison’s post.

Alison is Head of Web Services at Edge Hill University where, for the past seven years, she has led a team responsible for the development of the corporate Web site(s), intranet sites and Web services (which include the Web Services blog). Prior to joining Edge Hill, Alison was developing Web applications in the commercial sector. Most recently Alison has led the University portal project, the development of applicant and community Web sites, and has contributed to IDM and Single Sign-On implementations.

In my abstract for my “Let the Students do the Talking” session at July’s IWMW I talk about social networking and how “we’ve re-developed our thinking and systems to take advantage of this“. Whilst I stand by my statement it now feels somewhat naive almost as if I imply we have the answers when in fact the opposite is true. I firmly believe that student support should sit right up their alongside teaching and learning at a University and I believe it is the ‘support’ arena where social networking can have the biggest impact. During the recent shootings at Virginia Tech in the US students flocked to Facebook to inform friends of events – a platform that students have adopted as their preferred communication tool. When students have been disgruntled about staff or services, within a University, Facebook has been used by the students to air their views. So what can Universities learn from these behaviours? A lot. Whilst we “think” we’re in touch with the students needs unless we’re adapting in line with their behaviours we could be missing a trick. With this in mind I certainly favour the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach.

The majority of our ‘traditional’ students come to University equipped with a range of online skills, preferences and identities. When we questioned our students at last years Freshers Fair more than 95% of them had a MySpace, Facebook or Bebo account and used it regularly. We took the view that as students were familiar with these less formal environments we should adopt some of the same principles for the University supplied services and we did.In September last year we launched the “Go” portal for students which embedded some social networking and user-owned technologies with our institutional systems. We included a discussion forum which has proved hugely successful in allowing students to build and develop their own “communities” and a web notice board which is managed by the students themselves.Following on from this we launched a website for our applicants (Hi) in March which again is based around the community theme. The site allows our applicants to chat with our students (who also blog on the site) directly giving them an informal route to find out more about University life.

So have we really re-developed our thinking? Well yes and no. I’d like to say we’re getting there and listening to the student voice and adapting our services and systems accordingly. We’re in the process of re-developing Go to provide greater integration with social networking sites and allow for more customisation and integration of user owned technologies. From a student perspective its great and we feel it gives us additional routes to provide student support, maintain the engagement with the University and ensure our messages can be communicated to them.

On the other hand though we’re a University, a “new” one at that, and we’re working hard to establish our brand and reputation, social networking sites and user owned technologies allow our students to choose the information they engage with and their channels of choice. They have the freedom to develop these informally, outside of University constraints, and whilst that’s incredibly empowering we do need to consider the impact this has in relation to enforcing a code of conduct, the message this gives to our prospective students (outside ‘Marketings’ control) and how this can be utilised within (or distract from) the teaching and learning. So are we really that confident and prepared to “Let our students do the talking…” – that is a debate to be had!

Posted in Guest-post, iwmw2007, Social Networking | 5 Comments »