UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

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Don’t Look Back In Anger

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Nov 2007

In a post on Putting an official stamp on things Grainne Conole, professor of e-learning at the Open University responses to my post on UK Universities On Facebook, and reminisces about the problems she’d encountered in the early days of the Web:

The powers that be in the institution began to get wind of this ‘Internet’ thing; suddenly it began to appear on senior management’s agenda. One of the deans apparently was particularly concerned that ‘some academics even had pictures of their cats on their web sites!’ – guess who?

And once the powers that be had set up their working groups and established institutional policies, their decisions didn’t meet with Grainne’s approval:

what followed was a period of stagnation and the creation of over centralized, bureaucratic, institutional web presences, with policies and procedures and dos and don’ts as long as your arm.

But rather than getting despondent that we’ll be sharing a ‘groundhog day’ moment, I feel that we can learn from the past.

My thoughts on this:

  • The institutional Web team should have a remit which covers the institution’s presence ‘out there’ in the wild west of the Web, and not just manage its own Web service.
  • The policies should be focussed on the needs of the user communities, which will include the needs of the institution.
  • The policies should not be driven by technical issues.
  • It should be acknowledged that there may be risks in managing presences ‘out there’ – the service may not be sustainable, for example.
  • The risk assessment should include the risks of not doing anything and the risks of being left behind.
  • There will be times when a light-weight ‘just do it’ approach will be appropriate.

This would probably then lead to an institution initially claiming an organisational page on Facebook (possibly two, covering the ‘University of x’and ‘X University’ variants) but not necessarily publishing it immediately. This can then be followed by discussions over the purpose of the service. There should then be experimentation to identify Facebook applications which will enable content to be embedded from a managed source (note at present it seems only a small number of Facebook applications can be embedded on an organisational page). Finally mechanisms and responsibilities for monitoring user-generated content will need to be established.

Does this make sense? Or would this approach simply repeat the ‘over centralized, bureaucratic’ procedures which upset Grainne and others in the past? My approach has been to set up a Facebook page for the social group I am involved with (Northgate Rapper) in order to gain experience. The aims of this service (besides gained experiences for professional purposes)?

  • To provide a prescence on Facebook for people who may be interested in Northgate Rapper and rapper sword dancing.
  • To allow people who see us to have an easily found location up upload photos and videos (“go to Facebook and search for ‘Northgate Rapper’.  Then upload the video, and any comments you may have).
  • To keep a record of where we’ve danced.
  • To make it easy for other dancers to edit the page.

The template I’ve used for the page (Clubs) isn’t ideal, as it is aimed at clubs as a venue rather than a social group. But at least I’ve created a page with little effort:

Northgate Rapper on Facebook

One Response to “Don’t Look Back In Anger”

  1. Grainne said

    Hi Brian

    hopefully we have all moved on from the early days of the web – i do think institutional management in general are more aware of the whole technology thing than they were in the early nineties and also that they recognise they need people in the organisation with appropriate technology expertise. But the technological environment is changing and shifting so quickly its darn hard to keep up!!!

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