Initial Reflections on IWMW 2010
Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 July 2010
“You guys did a great job with #iwmw10 – my first & really enjoyed it!“
This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2010, is now over – and, judging by the Twitter comments from, for example, @andyowen (given above), @Davie_T and @lborouniweb it seems that I am not alone in feeling that it was a great event. A summary of the event will be published in the Ariadne ejournal and there will be further posts on the IWMW 2010 blog. But here I’d like to give my initial reflection on the event. I will give some further reflections shortly.
Before the Event
We had identified that due to cutbacks potential participants may find it difficult to receive permission to attend the event. In order to address this concern we set up the IWMW 2010 blog which was launched on 18 May.
In the last week of May and first week of June we published a series of posts summarising the topics which would be covered including Economic Challenges, Mobile Web, Social Web, HTML 5 and Linked Data as well as mainstream Web management issues. These were summarised in a post entitled “IWMW 2010: An Event for Newcomers and Oldtimers” which provided various reasons which potential participants could use when seeking permission to attend from their managers/budget holders.
We were aware that some people had already been told that there was no money for them to attend. In order to address this we were successful in obtaining funding from Statistics into Decisions which covered most of the cost for 5 people to attend. The recipients of these sponsored places were expected to support the running of the event and, in particular, help Kirsty Pitkin, our official live Twitterer and blogger, by reporting on some of the talks and workshops session for the blog as well as providing video interviews with a number of the participants.
I feel this approach was successful in keeping the numbers up to a reasonable level – there were 174 participants which, although down from last year’s record of 197 was only slightly down on the attendance figures for the previous 4 years. It was also pleasing that there were a large number of new attendees at the event and I feel that the use of a diversity of communications channels helped to reach out to these new people. I also suspect that the event’s theme – The Web In Turbulent Times – also resonated with the concerns of those working in institutional Web management teams.
The Opening Session
I gave the opening welcome talk (which is also summarised on the IWMW 2010 blog) in which I described the economic and political context to the event and the implications for HE and Web managers. I also described how the JISC provided a good example of a centralised shared service which can help to avoid unnecessary duplication across the sector and funded the development of advice and best practices as well as innovative developments which can be beneficial across the UK higher and further education sector. An example of such JISC-funded activities is the JISC PoWR Guide to Web Preservation which was officially announced the launched at the event. The Guide was distributed in the delegate packs and is also available on the JISCPress service – a good example of software developed through JISC-funded rapid innovation funding which provides the users for viewers to comment and annotate documents which may previously have been available only as a PDF document. As I mentioned in my talk, at a time of cuts UK HEIs should be willing to exploit the benefits of many of such services, tools and advice which are provided for use across the sector.
In the opening plenary session Chris Sexton’s talk on The Web in Turbulent Times echoed my comments on the economic challenges, although Chris argued that those who feel we are facing a time of economic uncertainties are mistaken – there is no uncertainty: we will face large scale cuts :-( Chris’s honesty in acknowledging that difficulties which we face was appreciated by many and we were also, I feel, reassured by some of the positive comments made in Chris’s talk, in [particular her concluding remarks that “It would be tempting in this climate to cut back on innovation, but failure to innovate carries a greater risk“. A more comprehensive summary of the talk is available on the IWMW 2010 blog, which also provides access to the slides. In addition a video of Chris’s talk is available on the University of Sheffield Web site.
Plenary Talks From The Commercial Sector
For me the two highlights of the plenary talks were given by the two speakers from the commercial sector. Ranjit Sidu from Statistics into Decisions (who funded the sponsored places) gave a talk on “‘So what do you do exactly?’ In challenging times justifying the roles of the web teams”. As described by Linda Bewley (who, appropriately, benefitted from of the sponsored places) in her report on the talk on the IMW 2010 blog “Ranjit raised the question of whether web teams can take lessons from the for-profit sector in order to stop what they are doing becoming a vague proposition to those who set budgets“. I have to admit that this suggestion initially struck me as a typical suggestion from someone in the commercial sector who is critical of the public sector. But Ranjit went on to point out that “even in these challenging times, the one area that has been resilient to large expenditure cuts are internet and web services“. The challenge for Web teams is to demonstrate the financial benefits which can be provided by use of Web services. Ranjit demonstrated how Web managers could provide detailed and contextual reporting to show a clear return on investment: “On a university site, using the example of the number of international visitors who downloaded an application form, Ranjit calculated that the cost per application based on 1000 downloads and 50 successful applications would be just £0.06, and would generate revenue of £40,400 a year“. Comments were made which suggested that Ranjit’s approaches were too simplistic -but for me, and for many others, I think, Ranjit demonstrated how an approach which we may have previously felt uncomfortable in using can have value to use.
Ranjit’s talk was really stimulating and enjoyable. As Paul Boag went to the podium I said to him “Follow that” – and he did, with another both challenging and stimulating talk. Once again the highlights of the talk on “No Money? No Matter – Improve Your Website With Next To No Cash” have been summarised by Linda Bewley with a more detailed summary of the points made in Paul’s talk available on Owen Stephen’s blog. As Owen described Paul was very up beat about the opportunities which the cuts are providing those working in Web teams. In particular he identified two big opportunities:
- Opportunity to simplify – Universities have more legacy (in their websites) than anyone else on the web
- Opportunity to approach things differently
Paul provided a range of approaches which he felt that Web teams could adopt -and helpfully published a blog post on his Boagworld blog which summarised these suggestions in a 48 minute video rehearsal of his talk.
Other Plenary Talks
There were other plenary talks but, as I said on the concluding session, we are providing summaries of all of the plenary talks on the IWMW 2010 blog with the aim of minimising the time needed by delegates in writing their own trip reports. So if you want to read more about the talks you can read the reports on the talks on “Are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’?“, “HTML5 (and friends)“, “Mobile Web and Campus Assistant“, “It’s all gone horribly wrong: disaster communication in a crisis” and “Doing the Day Job” on the IWMW 2010 and Owen Stephen’s Meanboyfriend blogs.
The Event Amplification
Supporting the Remote Audience
We had stated that we would treat the remote participants as “first class citizens”. The University of Sheffield AV team did a great job of providing the live streaming video of the talks (although the video stream was lost for about 40 minutes on the final day). As she did last year Kirsty Pitkin provided the live Twitter summary of the talks and again did an excellent job; I would recommend her without hesitation for other events.
Kirsty also organising a bar camp session for the remote audience and, as she described in the review of the session, succeeded in attracted about 20 participants with about 7 being actively involved.
Kirsty used the Coveritlive software to facilitate the barcamp. The software was used in conjunction with Twitter with the #iwmw10 tweets being fed into Coveritlive environment.
I must admit that I initially wondered whether any benefits would be gained from setting up a (free) Coveritlive session but in the end Kirsty demonstrated that there were benefits to be gained from use of a diversity of back channel tools.
We still have to analyse the statistics of the numbers of views on the video stream but I understand that there were around 80 people watching the video. We would welcome feedback on the value of the provision of the video stream and the subsequent access to the videos.
Miquel Duran, a Chemistry of Professor at the University of Girona has already written a blog post giving his thoughts. “Not easy to follow remotely” was the headline of the post with his concerns focussing on the lack of the personal contact: “a workshop remotely lacks something important: personal interaction with participants“. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that remark, but to me the question is “if you can’t attend an event, due to lack of funding, for example, how useful do you think event amplification is?”
Another view from abroad was given by Ann Priestley, a UK citizen who is now working in Denmark. In a post entitled “#iwmw10 follow-up (1): eavesdropping on the conversation” Ann agreed that “Remote attendance looks set to play an increasing role in higher education events, with details of remote access starting to appear on non-technical conferences as well as those targeted at IT aware audiences“. It was pleasing to read that Ann appreciated the work UKOLN and the University of Sheffield had put in to the event amplification: “it’s not just about putting up a video stream – the IWMW conference organisers made a big effort to make it is easy as possible for remote participants to engage and feel welcome“. But Ann agreed with the comment made by Miquel: “One thing which gets mentioned a lot is how difficult it is to maintain concentration in the face of competing demands – it’s not the same as taking time out from the day job”
There is clearly the need for much more evaluation of the experiences of remote audiences at amplified events.
Enhancing Discussions Amongst The Participants
When I created the Amplified Conferences page on Wikipedia I described how such event amplification can enhance discussions by participants who are physically present at an event as well as for those attending remotely.
At the event we found that Twitter played a significant role for conversations about the various talks and sessions. According to the statistics provided by the Summarizr service developed by Andy Powell, Eduserv to data there have been a total of 3,352 tweets posted from 315 Twitter IDs. As might be expected the majority (386) came from the official iwmwlive Twitter account. The other prolific Twitterers in the top ten were PlanetClaire (136), spellerlive (124), mariekeguy (108), patrick_h_lauke (103), webpackets (85), ostephens (84), kammer (71), briankelly (70) and m1ke_ellis (67). It was interesting to note that 80% (2761) of the tweets were made by 20% (65) of the Twitterers and that the top 10 Twitterers account for 35% of the tweets. I wonder if we might regard an 80% level as an indication of a benchmark of active Twitter engagement, in which case this suggests that there were 65 active Twitters, about 37% of those present at the event.
Summarizr also provides details of the ten most popular hashtags used. The recommendation that a session hashtag was used to identify the specific sessions was widely adopted. As can be seen session #P8 provided the most debate. In part this was because several talks in the session but in addition, as described in a blog post on the “Reaction to SharePoint from web professionals in UK higher education” posted yesterday by James Lappin, one of the speakers in the session, there was a lot of heated – and negative – comments about the Microsoft Sharepoint technology which was discussed in the session. It was also interesting to note that the #remote tag appeared to work as a way of communicating with the remote audience.
Of course there was also Twitter activity from the remote audience. Thanks to developments to the Summarizr service which Andy Powell implement in the few days prior to the event we are now able to see a map of geo-located tweets. There have been 331 geo-located tweets which represents ~9% of the total number of tweets. I must admit that I was surprised to see such a high proportion of geo-located tweets in light of my expected concerns regarding the privacy implications and the less than obvious ways in which geo-location of tweets is initially authorised and then the different ways in which Twitter clients allow such information to be sent. I should also add that in my case I only geo-located a small number of my tweets, such as the first tweet when I arrived at the venue.
In will be noticed from the image that there were 328 tweets from the UK and 3 from Spain.
You can also zoom in on the map so it is possible to see the various areas around Sheffield from which the tweets were posted (subject, of course, to the accuracy of the geo-location technology used). A map showing the locations of tweets from the north/midlands is given below, showing that there were 252 tweets from around Sheffield itself.
It should be noted that the statistics related to the use of Twitter should be treated with caution – for example the Twitter buzzword bingo game which was played during the final session will have skewed the statistics.
These are my initial thoughts on the event and the event amplification. I will be writing some further summaries but for now I’d welcome your comments.