The JISC have recently announced the JISC Grant Funding Call 16/11 for the JISC Digital Infrastructure Programme. The call has six strands in the areas of 1) Resource Discovery; 2) Enhancing the Sustainability of Digital Collections; 3) Research Information Management; 4) Research Tools; 5) Applications of the Linking You Toolkit and 6) Access and Identity Management.
Call 5 has direct relevance to recent posts on this blog related to best practices for institutional Web sites to enhance access to institutional resources. In a recent guest post on this blog Dave Flanders, JISC Programme Manager, asked readers to Lend Me Your Ears Dear University Web Managers!. The post highlighted the potential benefits which institutions should be able to gain from implementation of recommendations which were identified by the JISC-funded Linking You project. The following benefits were identified:
Ten Benefits to Institutions
Why should you mint the suggested set of ‘linking you’ URLs for your institution? We recognise this work of minting and maintaining the redirects would be ‘yet another thing to deal with’ across your complex and growing .ac.uk websites, however we think there is potential value (both in time savings and value add) we could all communally benefit from in considering these URL conventions. Below we list reasons why we think will result if we can get multiple institutions to start adopting this syntax and vocabulary and some simply suggestions for ways of achieving these benefits:
- Better SEO: As a sector we can go to Google and say, “Hi we are the University sector and we think you should give priority to these URLs when people are searching for things like courses.”
- Management of robot.txt files: If a group of Universities started adopting these URL syntaxes, we could save time and money by generating a common robot.txt for all of us so to use so we don’t have to each write a robot.tx file, this would also make doing analytics across the sector enhanced as we could understand patters of clicking across all .ac.uk websites.
- A simple mapping tool: An apache mod_rewrite (or IIS, nginx, etc. equivalent) tool that will do most of this work for you that could be written once and support many!
- Improve discovery: Clear human-readable URLs are now integral to browser search and lookup technology and becoming essential if you want to enable ease by a student experiencing your website.
- Predictable, consistent, aggregations: It will be easier to build tools on behalf of the entire sector because people will know where to go for the data. See the below reasons (nos. 6, 7 and 8) for immediate experimentation JISC is already undertaking and just think what else could be leveraged if we could bring our data together:
- Provision of a course catalogue: As many of you know JISC is actively encouraging universities to create XCRI feeds for their courses. If everyone producing an XCRI feed put it at the following URL http://www.foo.ac.uk/courses/xcri/ we’d lay the groundwork for persistent, structured course data that developers (many of them students) could use to build new and engaging apps and websites that we could all benefit from.
- Provision of news feed aggregators: If we all knew where all the corporate news feeds were e.g. http://foo.ac.uk/news/rss we could create a UK University News Aggregation Service where the sector could have their news published on demand, let alone text mining goodness and other filters for highlight key news developments across all higher and further education institutions.
- A sector wide directory: Common information such as institutional policies, contact information, news, about, events, etc. could be aggregated into a searchable directory; useful to both the public and HEI data geeks.
- Managing your assets: Your .ac.uk addresses can be understood as your ‘virtual real estate’. Adopting a well-formed, widely understood and persistent ‘portfolio’ of core web addresses will help University Web Managers manage these increasingly valuable assets.
- Use ‘Cool URLs’: Simple, stable, manageable URLs make sense. They are recommended by the WC3, to make Web Managers’ lives easier and keep users happy, too.
Applications of the Linking You Toolkit – Up to 10 projects investigating the implementation and improvement of the ‘Linking You Toolkit’ for the purpose of demonstrating the benefits that management of institutional URLs can bring to students, researchers, lecturers and other University staff. Funding of up to £140,000 is available for this work.
Note that a commentable document about this particular call has also been published. which describes how “bidders are highly encouraged to contact the JISC Programme Manager responsible for the Call prior to bidding. Questions on the applicability of the project to the Call as well as the process by which JISC has the community mark proposals and select successful proposals is welcome and encouraged.“
The UK higher/further education sector has a well-established and well-connected community of practice for those involved in the provision of institutional Web management services. This funding call provides an opportunity for the community to submit proposals which can demonstrate the value of shared approaches across the sector. I hope we will see plenty of high quality proposals submitted.