UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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The 10th Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Nov 2016

The UK Web Focus blog was launched on 1st November 2006 so today sees its 10th anniversary!

ukwebfocus-blog-first-anniversaryI suspect there will only be a handful of blogs which have been in operation within the UK educational technology over this period: Tony Hurst’s OUSeful blog is one that springs to mind (although posts prior to 24 July 2008 seem to have been lost); Martin Weller’s Edtechie blog seems to have been launched around May 2006 with Steve Wheeller’s Learning with E’s blog having being launched around December 2006 (note for all of these blogs I haven’t been able to find a post announcing the launch of the blog, so they may be older than this).

The edtech environment has seen many changes over the past 10 years, of course not only due to technological developments (in particular the mobile environment and the social web) but the impact of political and funding changes – with the fall-out of the Brexit referendum still to be fully felt.

Blogs which have been published over that period can provide a useful record of the changes in the environment. On this anniversary of this blog I will provide some links which have sought to document developments described on this blog.

I was aware from the start of the importance of blogs as an historical record, rather than simply transient reflections. I therefore published a series of posts on anniversaries of the launch of the blog during the time I was employed at UKOLN:

On 31 July 2013 I ceased work at UKOLN due to the cessation of Jisc funding. In order to continue a tradition of documenting my professional environment in my final week at UKOLN I published a series of posts on Reflections of 16 years at UKOLN (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5).

The blog continued to be published after leaving UKOLN (incidentally Friday marked the 20th anniversary of starting work at UKOLN so this blog provides a useful summary of a significant proportion of my time advising the UK’s higher educations sector on web developments). During the transition from UKOLN to initially working at Cetis and then as an independent consultant the blog was migrated from to Much less time was spent on writing blog posts as I no longer had responsibilities for advising the sector. However occasional posts are still published, with the focus now on supporting the annual IWMW event (the Institutional Web Management Workshop which also celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year), and my continued interests in digital preservation, use of Cloud services and continued use of online services after leaving one’s host institution (an area which I feel will grow in importance once the higher education sector feels the full impact of Brexit :-)

I hope to revisit these areas in subsequent posts.


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Do You Have Memories Of IWMW Events?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Apr 2016

Recent posts on the IWMW blog

20 Years of IWMW!

This years annual Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2016, will be the 20th in the series. The event was launched in July 1997 with a two-day event. Although initially envisaged as a one-off event the feedback for the first event made it clear that there was interest in continuation of an event for those with responsibilities for management institutional web services. The event grew to be hosted over 3 days (with one exception, in 2010, when concerns over cutbacks in the sector led to the event being held over two days for that year only). The event peaked in popularity in 2009 when it attracted 197 participants. The Jisc cessation of funding for UKOLN in 2013 led to concerns that IWMW 2013 would be the final event. However participants at the event – and across the wider web management community – made it clear that there was continued interest in the event. The event was relaunched in 2014 (organised in conjunction with Netskills and hosted at Northumbria University) and in 2015 was held at Edge Hill University. As part of the transition from an event which was funded by the Jisc, an enlarged advisory group has been set up to oversee the planning for the IWMW 2016 event.

19 Years of IWMW Online Content!

The IWMW event is probably unique in long-standing IT-related events in the UK’s higher education community in the continued availability of the event web site content, which includes timetables, titles and abstracts for talks, speaker biographies and, for much of the content, access to speakers’ slides. This content is available on the original UKOLN web site (from 1997-2013) and the web site since then. In addition, in case of loss of the original content  as well as providing a more conference set of resources, much of the content is also available on Lanyrd.

Your Memories

Over the past 19 years there have been over 2,500 registrations at the events (although of course, many delegates will have attended multiple events). Judging from the comments received on the evaluation forms over the years the event has been highly regarded, not only for providing an opportunity to update one’s professional skills but also to develop one’s professional network – and also to have some fun!

The IWMW blog was launched recently in order to document memories of the event. In recent posts my former colleague Marieke Guy alludes to the IWMW song in her post on “IWMW: On the Web, the World Wide Web” which summaries her long-standing participation at the event as a delegate, speaker, facilitator and event co-chair. Marieke has also shared her thoughts on other aspects of the event in her posts on My Top 10 IWMW Session Titles and My Top 10 IWMW Photos.

In another post by a long-standing participant at IWMW event – “Friends, blivets and Haribo” – Debbie Brooke reflected on the ten events she has attended, as a delegate, workshop facilitator and local event organises and conclude “For me the friends I have made is definitely the best part of being involved with something as wonderful as IWMW for so many years“.

Many of the local event organisers have been invited to reflect on the events they helped organised with the first being “Ricky Rankin on IWMW 2001“. However a number of the local organisers have now left the sector or (like Ricky Rankin) have retired. This is to be expected for such a long-running event, so it will be important to capture memories before these numbers increase.

Other participants at IWMW events left the higher education sector following the economic turmoil and cuts which have affected the sector since 2008. In “A Brief EncounterDeborah Fern reflected on her first event in 2009: “My overwhelming memory was the relief in finding a like-minded bunch of people facing similar challenges to myself“. The following year was turbulent with talks of public sector cuts and a general feeling of gloomy times to come in the HE sector which was reflected in many of the talks at the IWMW 2010 event. A passionate ‘call to arms’ by Ranjit Sidhu helped lift Deborah’s gloom and fill her ‘to do list’ for the months to come: “So as an optimist (with realistic tendencies) I came back from Sheffield fired up to lead my team through the challenges to come as evidenced in my blog post at the time“. Sadly shortly after publishing her post Deborah was to become a victim of those cuts (and yet another departmental restructure) – her job disappeared as the University removed a level of management to cut costs, Fortunately Deborah subsequently got a job as a Project Manager for a digital agency and is still “destroying chaos (organising project teams) and herding cats (organising clients) to this day“. In her post Deborah concluded “So what did the IWMW events mean to me? Lots of knowledge gained and shared; a warm and welcoming community; new friends (now old friends); fun nights and horrible hangovers – I loved every minute of it and long may it continue!”.

IWMW2015: sketchnoteThe impact 0f IWMW events was also described in Kevin Mears‘ post which asked “What has IWMW done for me?“. Kevin (who is best know at IWMW events for his sketchnotes of the talks at the events) described how the “experience of his first [IWMW event] at the University of Essex was a wonderful realisation that here was a conference where I could speak to people experiencing similar problems with an understanding of university cultures“. Kevin concluded by paraphrasing the famous Monty Python quotation: “All right, but apart from the knowledge, information, education, wine, discussion, enthusiasm, contacts and community, what has the IWMW ever done for us?

Kevin is a member of the IWMW 2016 Advisory Group. Two other Advisory Group members have also contributed gust posts to the blog: Andrew Millar and Claire Gibbons

Andrew Millar launched the series of guest posts with his “Reflections on Recent IWMW Events” and concluded by describing his expectations of this year’s event from his perspective as a recently-appointed Head of Web Services at the University of Dundee: “What I hope for the conference, more than anything else, is that it continues to do what it does best. To bring together a community of people, to share openly and encourage but most of all to inspire us all to greatness in our own spheres of service.”

Claire Gibbons came to her first IWMW event in Bath in 2000, as ‘a slightly scared new Web Officer in her twenties’. In her guest post on “It Started in the Year 2000 – For Me” she looks back at her “love affair with IWMW“. Claire, who has attended 15 IWMW events, provided an answer to the question “why do I keep going back?”. IWMW events provide:

an opportunity in a very hectic calendar to stop (Hammer Time) and spend time with very like-minded people, but also those who are willing to be a critical friend, challenge and stretch you, as well as encourage and support you and your ideas. Web (and, dare I say, digital) professionals aren’t rare, but they can struggle in HE institutions where their ideas and innovations may be ahead of where an institution is willing to go at that time – and IWMW is an opportunity to collectively come up with ideas to overcome these potential barriers

In recent years it was noticeable that IWMW events was attracting significant numbers of first time attendees. One of these first-timers was Stratos Filalithis, the acting head for the University Website Programme at the University of Edinburgh. Stratos attended his first IWMW event in 2014 – and, as he described in his post on “Any 20th Year Anniversary is Significant!” discovered “a community to share and discuss ideas, meet people and look at things from a different perspective“.

Although many of the guest posts have focussed on the community aspects of the event, specific content areas have also been addressed. In particular in her guest post on “The Portal is Dead. Long Live the Portal!Tracey Stanley, a librarian who has spoken at the IWMW 2002, 2003 and 2004 events, looks back at the panel session on “Avoiding Portal Wars” she participated in at the IWMW 2002 event. Tracey described how back in 2002 “We were all getting very excited about web portals in higher education back then, and many of us put these at the centre of our institutional web strategies“. Reflecting on the environment 14 years ago Tracey feels that:

The Institutional Portal was perhaps seen at that time as a panacea by Senior Managers, Marketing and IT staff alike. Managers and Marketing wanted to separate out content for prospective students and external audiences and put it onto a flashy institutional website over which they could have complete control. Internal Communications were keen to find new ways of presenting internally-focused content – and the Institutional Portal offered the promise of delivering this in a way which segmented it according to the different internal audiences, so that users were only presented with the stuff that is most relevant to them. IT staff were keen to implement single-sign on so that the Institutional Portal could act as a one stop shop to all the web systems and services increasingly proliferating on campus – from the Library system to the Student Information System, and the VLE.

But hands-up if you are using the hot institutional portal technologies of the time, such as IBM Websphere, uPortal (the open source portal offering), Luminis, and Sharepoint? Tracey feels that although there is still interest in institutional portals, she feels that in the UK the concept hasn’t gone much beyond the original early adopters, possibly because the model of aggregating everything into a single place on a web page perhaps makes less sense when increasingly users are accessing content through their smartphone or tablet.

An Opportunity To Contribute!

The IWMW blog provides an opportunity for those with responsibilities for managing institutional web services and other digital channels to contribute their thoughts. In addition the 20th anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect of the development of the community and the services provides over this significant period for the development of online services across the higher education sector.

A number of potential contributors have already been approached. However now that 11 guest posts have been published it is timely to open up contributions more widely.  As mentioned details of the content and speakers for all of the IWMW events is available on Lanyrd, which may help trigger memories. But for me such approaches to digital preservation (the preservation of the content itself) is insufficient – we also need the stories which can bring the content to life and provide the contextualisation to appreciate the relevance of the past to planning for the future.

So if you would like to contribute a guest post to the IWMW blog please get in touch (email to’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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Guest post: Evolution at its finest in the Higher Education sector

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Aug 2015

This year’s IWMW 2015 event attracted larger numbers of speakers and participants from beyond the HE sector than in the past. This guest post by Rachel Rennie, Head of Edinburgh at Precedent is the fourth in a series of guest posts from participants at the IWMW 2015 event, was initially published on LinkedIn.

IWMW guest postI don’t get to go to too many conferences. Partly, the majority of my work is very delivery focused, partly because it’s hard to get out of the office for extended periods of time. However, for the right conference and the right client, I can just about make it work.

Last week, I went to the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) at the very lovely Edge Hill University. I was accompanying our senior consultant Rob van Tol, and his counterpart from our partners at KPMG, Sam Sanders, as they presented in front of professionals working in the marketing, communications and technology fields (and sometimes all three) in the higher education sector. The reason I got the chance to go, was that our charismatic client Mike McConnell, was presenting the work we had recently delivered for them – namely, the Digital Vision and Strategy for the University of Aberdeen.

When we, as an agency, get the opportunity to speak side-by-side with our talented clients we jump at the chance. Of course, no one was silly enough to let me do the presenting bit, but what I did do over three days was talk to some of the amazing people who are working in this sector today.

Although I love all of my clients, it is the higher education sector in particular that is drawing my attention at the moment.

Maybe it’s zithromax online sales because they’re a sector which has notoriously been slow to catch on to digital, but seeing what some of the attendees are focusing on now; making huge leaps in content delivery, understanding their audiences, embracing and utilising technological change, that makes it all the more impressive. Surely, making education more accessible through digital, and supporting and nurturing the student’s digital experience once they get onsite, is an idea we can all get behind.

Smaller conferences, such as IWMW – which is about to enter its 20th year – are invaluable for getting to meet, personally, sector specific people who are skilled in their fields. It’s a great opportunity to show ideas, collaborate, and even share some of their HEI pain down the pub.

For us suppliers, it’s really valuable for us to meet other companies in the same space; talk about what we’re working on, think about ways to collaborate, and share some war stories down the pub.

Of course the cynical amongst you will think – it’s just a sales opportunity – but that’s not the way Precedent have ever worked. We are not a hard sell agency, and we never will be. We just want to understand this, and all of our sectors as well as we can; to stay contemporary and joined up to the needs of our clients and this is what these events do.

If you work in the higher education sector, I can’t support IWMW highly enough and next year I’d encourage you to get on their list early – their 20th year is sure to be a lot of fun.

Rachel Rennie, Head of Edinburgh

Key links:

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Guest post: Reflections on IWMW Events from Jean Jumelle

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Aug 2015

Jean Jumelle, Web Communications Analyst at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh is retiring shortly. Jean has attended several IWMW events since 2007  and, in this third guest post by IWMW 2015 participants, gives his brief reflections on the events.

IWMW guest postI am retiring in October 2015, so Brian has asked me to share some thoughts about my times at IWMW.

I first took over my web responsibilities at QMU in 2005, I thought it was a good idea at the time and I never regretted it.

I cannot recall how I got introduced to ScottishWebFolks, a bunch of enthusiastic web experts in H.E. based in Scotland and a renegade from Sunderland, however this has been an invaluable source of information shared openly, QMU and myself benefited greatly from this web managerial expertise, as I am moving away from all this the most memorable aspect of this group is the comradery and the friendship that will survive long after web and digital trends will fade.

Through these people I got introduced to IWMW, my first experience was in 2007 at the University of York and I loved it, I haste to add that I don’t get out much. The experience was facilitated by my mentors from Scotland; the focus was very much on the operational management and technicalities of the web. This was my first introduction from a distance to Brian Kelly and the like, I must admit that I thought these people were on a different planet, their enthusiasm and foresight meant they were light years ahead or perhaps in need of therapy, eight years later I am still unsure :o).

IWMW 2008 in Aberdeen basked in sunshine as you would expect, great setting, and great debate.

Sheffield 2010 was all about the web in turbulent times; it was a great place to listen to the storm, actually more like the start of climate change in H.E. with funding cuts.

Edinburgh 2012 brought a change; less moaning about the climate but the realisation that innovation was the key to progress. Northumbria 2014 carried on with this theme in asking what’s next. IWMW 2015 at Edge Hill University – Beyond Digital: Transforming the Institution was marked by Aberdeen University’s project presented by Mike McConnell, their vision of total transformation of their digital business was most impressive, very few individuals and institution will be brave or resourced enough to embrace such vision. This year also saw more involvement from the commercial sector, a breath of fresh air – however be aware that their vision is not without self interest and that their vision of education can be pretty narrow.

Through the years the focus has evolved from operational management through to strategic management, this is a natural progression. It was great to welcome so many freshers in this year’s smaller audience. However the mix of the assembly poses a challenge to the organisers; funding is obviously an issue. It was great to see Claire Gibbons, Mike McConnell and others supporting Brian Kelly as this event owes him so much.

Thank you Brian and everyone involved through the years.

Jean Jumelle Web Communications Analyst QMU

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Guest post: Reflections on IWMW 2015 from Charlotte Harry

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Aug 2015

Yesterday Emma Cragg gave her Reflections on IWMW 2015. Today’s second guest post about the IWMW 2015 event is written by Charlotte Harry, another IWMW first-timer.

IWMW guest postSince attending my first Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) in July I’ve been chastising myself for not discovering it sooner. What pearls of wisdom, illuminating ideas and work practices and valuable connections have I been missing out on all these years?

I felt an immediate sense of relief at walking into a ready-made community of like-minded individuals all grappling with the challenges of ‘doing digital’ in higher education (HE). In his talk on “Marrying Creativity with Management Complexity” Rob Van Tol (Precedent) recognised the therapy-like function of such a gathering: let’s face it, it’s good to share the pain. And when you consider the scope of the challenges facing most HE digital teams there’s a fair bit of pain to go around…

Revolution not evolution – the need to think big

The theme of IWMW 2015 (‘Beyond Digital: Transforming the Institution’) was nevertheless bold and positive and the conference was full of talented, passionate individuals that it was a privilege to listen to and learn from. Mike McConnell, for example, talked about the University of Aberdeen’s consultation process for developing a ‘digital vision’. This was big stuff – transformational stuff, no less. The focus was resolutely on people and processes, not just systems, websites and technology, and it was a theme that arose again and again during the workshop. Listening to such case studies, and hearing from people who are attempting to transform their institutions in this way, was inspiring. It reminded me of Martha Lane Fox’s recommendations to the Cabinet Office back in 2010 – ‘revolution not evolution’. I sense that it struck a deep chord with many of those present at IWMW 2015.

Putting the user first

Another notable theme (addressed by Paul Boag, among others) was just how crucial it is for universities to prioritise user/customer experience. Before returning to HE this year I worked at the Government Digital Service (GDS) where user needs are the driving force behind everything they do. The argument for putting the user/customer first doesn’t always seem to be accepted (or perhaps even heard) in the higher echelons of some universities, so it was heartening to hear this message being blasted out loud and clear.

An agile approach to content

Besides plenty of excellent plenary talks we also got to choose from a range of practical master classes. I couldn’t resist the University of Bath digital team’s session on an agile approach to content creation, delivery and standards. Music to my ears!

Rich Prowse and his colleagues generously shared everything – from their digital principles, roadmap and content strategy to their experiences of building up a wider community of publishers and supporting them with clear standards and guidelines. They skilfully led the group in a real-time user stories workshop, allowing us to try on a variety of agile practices (e.g. stand-up) for size. I came away feeling invigorated and relieved to see that many of the well-tested GDS design principles and agile work practices are finding their way into HE.

Breaking down the silos

Given the tendency towards silos in HE it seemed fitting that the conference encompassed content editors, designers, developers and digital managers, with everyone exposed to each other’s fields of expertise and how they interrelate. As a content person I appreciated the mix, and I enjoyed hearing some of the more tech-focused talks, such as the University of Kent’s hack day experiences.

Making connections

Finally, as a newcomer to IWMW, the sense of community was striking – almost familial. The longstanding organiser Brian Kelly went out of his way to welcome me, to the extent of cherry-picking people for me to talk to at some of the social events (a fellow lone-wolf worker here, a fellow musician there, …).

Despite a late initiation, I’m looking forward to IWMW 2016. I just hope that other digital HE bods don’t take as long as I did to discover it.

About the author

Charlotte is a writer and digital content editor/manager with a background in higher education, currently based at UCL. She previously worked as a content designer for the Government Digital Service (GDS).

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Guest post: Reflections on IWMW 2015 from Emma Cragg

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Aug 2015

IWMW 2015, the 19th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop, took place recently at Edge Hill University. In this, the first guest blog post about the event Emma Cragg gives her thoughts from the perspective as a first-timer at the event.

At the end of July I attended my first Institutional Web Management Workshop. I was encouraged to see I wasn’t alone. When Brian profiled the audience during his introduction lots of first-timers raised their hands. I knew I was among friends when a large part of the introduction was dedicated to the best places in Ormskirk to get a pint of real ale.

Digital strategyThe title of the conference, Beyond Digital, was addressed in all sessions through the focus on people, not systems. This came most directly through plenary talks given by Mandy Phillips and Mike McConnell. Both talked us through digital transformations happening at their institutions. While they involved new systems and front-end design the main drive was to change the culture of the institution.

The culture shift begins with the recognition that digital cuts across all activities of the institution:

  • Facilities: spaces that support digital working
  • Learning: initiatives to improve the digital literacy of staff and students
  • Support: student services and business processes
  • Marketing: channels to support communications throughout the student lifecycle

You don’t need a digital strategy, you need a business strategy fit for the digital age” – PwC

"Symptoms"Another theme threaded throughout the conference was agility. In this we got a masterclass from Rich Prowse and the University of Bath team. In his plenary talk, Rich walked us through the steps when applying agile to content creation. In planning, the use of analytics and user stories help to develop a culture that values data and user needs. Sprint teams involve members from beyond the digital team. This has helped to build trust with faculty and administrative teams.

Those of us lucky enough to attend the “Working in an Agile way” practical session got a view of what it might be like to work at the University of Bath. We developed a minimum buy cheap medications online viable product for a course search and wrote user stories to help the sprint team develop a solution.

Agile is hard work. It requires practice and discipline” – Rich Prowse

The Q&A session sought to challenge our perceptions of what universities are for. Are they businesses? The panel was split with three in yes camp and two adamantly saying no. Should we refer to students as customers? This seems to be a given if you see universities as businesses and hard to argue against with the current price tag for a degree.

In his closing remarks, Brian encouraged us all to contact at least three people after we returned to work. I’m really pleased to see people taking up this call to action. I’ve sent and received two emails (one of which led to this post). I’ve also seen my online network grow, with new followers and conversations on Twitter, and connections on LinkedIn. This would be my key takeaway from the event – actually, any event – don’t let the conversation go quiet just because we’re no longer in the same place.

Whatever the future of IWMW, you can be sure I’ll be back.

Biographical details

Emma CraggsEmma Cragg is a Web Content Officer at Newcastle University. In this role she plans, writes and edits content for the university’s central website. She supports the University’s community of web editors, delivers training in planning and writing web content, and is responsible for development of the web team’s blog. Emma is a productivity geek and is always on the lookout for solutions that can help the team work smarter.

If you’re interested in writing and editing, training, digital literacies, productivity or blogging, contact Emma using the details given below.

Contact details

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Guest Post: A Revolution in the Exchange of Courses Information

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Jun 2015

The IWMW 2015 event is only six weeks away! In today’s guest post, the latest in a series of posts about the IWMW 2015 event Jayne Rowley introduces the workshop session which Jayne and Alan Paull will be facilitating at the event.

A Revolution in the Exchange of Courses Information

IWMW 2015: exchange of courses informationFor many years now data in the Higher Education sector has flowed between Higher Education Institutions and sector organisations using standardised, system-to-system data exchange methods.  Common examples include HESA data returns, UCAS application data and Key Information Set data.  However, the vast majority of Universities and Colleges in the UK still supply course marketing information in a traditional manner.  Your staff have to re-key the course marketing information from your prospectus or web content management system into bespoke online forms provided by aggregating organisations.  These forms usually ask for slightly different types and items of data, requiring your staff to massage the information, so that it fits a proprietary format.  Research shows that on average each University or College receives about a dozen or so requests for course marketing data each year, which multiplies the different formats and therefore the resources needed to supply it.

With the spread of the HE sector’s course marketing information standard, a revolution in the exchange of courses information is happening.  This revolution will have profound beneficial effects on how you supply courses information in the future, it will improve the timeliness and quality of the information, and help learners to make better learning opportunity choices.

Changes to Postgraduate Course Data Management and Supply

Prospects is becoming the first aggregator of postgraduate course marketing information to use the new data exchange standard, with the development and launch of Course Exchange.  Funded and governed by HEFCE through Jisc, this will deliver national implementation of the XCRI-CAP British and European standard for course information, beginning with an approved postgraduate taught course vocabulary.

The benefits of Course Exchange:

  • It enables you to supply standardised taught postgraduate course information via an xml feed.
  • The data will be used by aggregators on multiple websites and platforms.
  • The service includes Course Check – a validator that will ensure your data meets the required standards.
  • It significantly reduces the burden of work for data administrators, saving an average sized University and College around £18,000 a year in resource costs for re-keying alone.
  • It gives postgraduate marketing and admissions departments full control over the dissemination of their course marketing information.
  • It makes the process of sharing course information quicker and easier.

About the Author

jayne rowleyCurrently Business Services Director of HECSU/Graduate Prospects, Jayne Rowley is responsible for the provision of a suite of shared services to the HE sector supporting the work of Higher Education Institutions in postgraduate study, careers, employability, degree verification and work experience. Prospects is becoming the first aggregator of postgraduate course data with the development and launch of Course Exchange. Funded and governed by HEFCE through Jisc, this will deliver national implementation of the XCRI-CAP British and European standard for course information, beginning with an approved postgraduate taught course vocabulary.

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Guest Post: The Challenge Is Institutional: Merging Customer Needs With New Operating Realities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Jun 2015

On Tuesday 28 July 2015 Mike McConnell will give a plenary talk on “The Challenge Is Institutional: Merging Customer Needs With New Operating Realities” at the IWMW 2015 event. The talk will describe a case study of a consultation exercise at the University of Aberdeen to define a digital vision for the institution. In this guest post Mike summarises the key aspects of the consultation process.

iwmw 2015: mike mcconnellFollowing last year’s IWMW event I wrote a post for Brian’s UK Web Focus blog wherein I noted that “digital goes beyond web and marketing; it is about institutions, how they are structured and how they respond to change”.

As I write the University of Aberdeen is concluding a significant consultancy engagement with the consultants Precedent/KPMG, conducted over 16 weeks. This consultation was commissioned by the University in order to help it define its digital vision and any associated changes required to deliver that vision. My presentation at IWMW 2015 will discuss the project and give further detail on the outcomes.

The consultation was conducted in three phases – Discovery, Vision and Planning.

1. Discovery

This phase involved an audit of the University’s existing digital activity and strategic aims; a review of competitors (direct and aspirational), and a comprehensive engagement with key stakeholders throughout the University. Over 100 staff were interviewed. Outcomes included a map of the customer experience landscape and an articulation of the current state of business processes/sub-processes.

2. Vision

This phase involved the consultants working with the University to identify strategic opportunities and prioritise three key areas for transformation; research the viability of these with staff affected (over 80 staff were involved); identify customer needs and develop a digitally-enabled Target Operating Model1 for the institution.

3. Planning

This phase produced high level plans with options and recommendations: 9 outline business cases including identifiable risks, issues and dependences; costs and timelines; ROI and benefits realisation timescales, as well as detailed customer journey maps for the three key areas and an implementation plan.

The project board is currently considering the outcomes and recommendations in the final report, prior to wider dissemination. Many of the recommendations were anticipated but others were not, and some are extremely radical. Nearly all imply significant changes to the University’s systems, processes and staffing.

In my earlier post I noted that I hoped the exercise would ‘provide us with a digital vision that is broad in scope and world class in its ambition’. I believe that the exercise has delivered on these aims. It will be interesting to see how the University reacts to it.

About the Author

mike mcconnellMike McConnell is responsible for Web & Corporate Systems at the University of Aberdeen. He manages developers responsible for digital, web and corporate applications development.

Mike’s main duties are:

  • Institutional digital strategy
  • Web applications development
  • Supporting and developing the institutional corporate systems (MIS) environment including Finance, HR, Admissions and Student Record systems
  • Supporting and developing the institutional SharePoint and CRM environments

Prior to his current role, Mike worked in Educational Development and before that was a researcher in Information Management.

If you are interested in digital transformation, web usability, social media and user experience, especially in higher education, feel free to contact Mike using the contact details given below.

Contact details


1 A Target Operating Model, as defined by Precedent/KPMG, “describes the strategy & services provided based on clear design principles; describes the processes to follow and the responsibilities for process steps; describes how the service will be governed and managed; provides details on the number, capabilities & grouping of people required; provides details on the technology & data to be used in support of services, and describes the locations where people will be based“.

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Guest Post: Making Usability Testing Agile

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Jun 2015

At this year’s IWMW 2015 event Neil Allison, the User Experience Manager at the University of Edinburgh will facilitate a half-day master class on “Usability Testing in an Agile Development Process“.

In this guest post Neil summarises the approaches taken at the University of Edinburgh to agile usability testing. Note that this post was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Making Usability Testing Agile

Usability testing in an agile development process

Spaces are still available for the half-day workshop on
“Usability testing in an agile development process”

I’ve been running regular usability testing observation sessions as part of an agile project we’re running at the University of Edinburgh to enhance the new Content Management System we’re delivering, and to bring the development team closer to the end user.

Fitting usability testing into an agile process is quite challenging (we operate 9 day iterations spanning 3 weeks at a time) as time is always tight, but the methodology I’ve put together is working really well.

At the end of 2014, I ran an open invite session for web publishers, developers and project managers from around the University, to give colleagues an insight into how we’re doing this, and to allow them to participate in the process.

In this post (based on a something I wrote for our team blog), I’m basically writing up what I said so that readers can get a good idea of how I fit regular usability testing into a very tight development schedule.

Original post on the University of Edinburgh Website Programme blog

24 staff from around the University joined the CMS development team to watch 3 usability tests and contribute prioritised issues to address.

I’ve included links to the slides and am happy to help anyone who wants to try it for themselves. It’s pretty easy and the resources I use are freely available.

What we’re trying to achieve

The first thing to be clear about is that this isn’t about agile development. It’s about achieving regular, rapid, inclusive usability testing that results in measurable improvements, and with minimal overheads. So it will work for you regardless of any development methodology you’re following.

I’ve run a usability testing training course for years and had over 600 colleagues around the University attend. As Steve Krug says, “It’s not rocket science” and I think most leave my training seeing just how easy it is to get insight into the effectiveness of their website or application. Many go on to put the training into practice.

Usability testing training session overview and participant feedback

But there are challenges, and I overhauled this training a couple of years ago to cover what happens after you’ve done a few tests and identified what you feel you need to do to improve.

The challenges staff have raised with me (and I’ve encountered myself at times):

  • Getting the go ahead to use your time on usability testing
  • Getting colleagues to take on board what you uncover
  • Getting fixes to problems implemented

And challenges such as these aren’t just faced by people like you and me. Usability and user experience professionals the world over encounter blockers such as these every day.

Caroline Jarrett and Steve Krug presented research on the topic: Why usability problems go unfixed

I have additional challenges playing the role of UX Lead for the development of the new University CMS, the main one being that this is not a formally recognised role within Information Services and there are no formal usability-related processes in their approach to software development. But on the plus side, this has given me scope to experiment and innovate and it’s helped drive me to where we are now and the approach that we take.

Our process

I’m going to say right now that there’s nothing particularly innovative going on here, and that I didn’t invent any of it – I’m just standing on the shoulders of giants. Mainly Steve Krug, with a bit of help from David Travis.

The majority of what is covered below (minus a few tweaks) is from Steve’s fantastic book: Rocket Surgery Made Easy. After running sessions for a few months, I also discovered the Gov.UK user research blog which highlighted that they’re just a bit further down the same road I’ve taken us.

Have you had your recommended dose of research? – Gov.UK user research blog post

What we do:

  1. Get the right people in a room
  2. Watch a small number of short sessions with users doing something
  3. Prioritise the issues we see
  4. Collaboratively consolidate their priority lists
  5. Agree actions for usability issues
  6. Repeat every few weeks

Who are the right people? Basically everyone with a stake in the development. No exceptions. Our time is so tight that I’ve negotiated within the team to ensure that at least one representative from each area of activity is present. Ideally the whole team would be present to observe but it’s not an ideal world. So this means I always have at least: a project manager, a developer, a service manager, and a training and support representative. Sometimes I manage to get a more senior stakeholder in the room for at least some of the time too. So a minimum of 4 colleagues see what I see, and sometimes we’ve had 9 or 10.

What do we watch? We watch real CMS users undertaking tasks in usability testing sessions that I facilitate. The focus for the session is agreed a week or two in advance so that I can plan scenarios and make sure we have a representative environment to work in, and also so that the team can focus my attention to whatever they feel is most appropriate. Typically this is an area which is causing concern or an area where we’re about to begin adding new features.

How many participants? In the presentation I use the graph from Jakob Nielsen’s famous article, “Why you only need to test with 5 users” but what I actually said was “As many as you can fit into the time you have (so probably not very many)”. In practice for us, with 3 hours allotted for this activity, we watch 3 participants for about 20-30 minutes each which leaves us with enough time to discuss at the end.

Jakob Nielsen: “Why you only need to test with 5 users”

How do we prioritise? We all make our own notes, and at the end of each participant’s session, we each fill in a form independently that logs the top 3 issues we observed. So at the end of the session we have each filled in a form with 9 blank spaces. We may have written down the same 3 issues for all 3 participants, but not usually.

The CMS development team discuss the issues they’ve noted during the usability testing session.

How do we consolidate? In the early months we just did this through an open discussion, but I found it quite hard to keep the discussion on track and therefore on time. Time ran on and people needed to leave so getting real consensus was difficult. And then I remembered David Travis’ usability issue prioritisation flowchart and more recently we’ve been using this. This has helped keep the post-test conversation to about 30 minutes and provided greater transparency about how we prioritise.

And so out of this, we have a list of prioritised issues that we assign to members of the team to action. The action might be:

  • Get this prioritised for upcoming development (because the solution is “obvious”).
  • Make changes to our training and support processes.
  • Add to challenges for future prototyping of new interfaces and processes for additional testing (because we don’t have consensus on how to improve the situation, or the best solution would be costly to implement so we want to be assured it’s right before we commit the development time).

Benefits of this approach

For the development team:

  • We get closer to our CMS users – and immediately see the impact of our efforts
  • We gain shared insight & experience
  • We confirm ownership of the priority issues
    • What to fix immediately
    • What to do better next time we’re developing in that part of the system
    • What we thought was a problem that turns out to be something we can live with

For me:

  • The process keeps set up and organisation of session to a minimum
  • No report writing – just a single wiki page logging what we did and a table of priority issues and actions
  • Doing this regularly moves the culture of the team on, emphasising CMS usability on the development agenda

What we need to do better

I have two challenges that I continue to work on:

  1. How do we minimise usability issues making it in to the system in the first place?
  2. How do I get more of the right people in the room, more often and for longer?

How do we minimise usability issues making it in to the system in the first place?

This is tricky because we’re working in Drupal, an open source CMS. This means our developers rarely create stuff from scratch. They’re drawing on a community of developers’ existing work which means the cheapest solution is to just take it as it is. We have inconsistencies in presentation, labelling and functionality which need to be prioritised to be addressed. This of course gets us back to why I’m doing this testing in the first place.

Developer time is so tight, it’s difficult sometimes to find the space to discuss just how we’d like something to work to the level of detail we’d all like. Ideally I would work with developers to understand what was cost effective to work on and what we should probably leave as is before I went off to prototype and conduct early usability testing. But this can’t always happen and I have to work with what I receive from developers as a first pass. However, going back to why we’re doing this testing, the more our developers see real users interacting with the product, the more likely they are to make better decisions independently (not that our developers don’t make a lot of good decisions of course!) and we get more (more) right first time.

How do I get more of the right people in the room, more often and for longer?

As I mentioned earlier, we have agreed a minimal attendance from the team but the benefit of this process comes from everyone seeing the same thing with their own eyes, and discussing it together. Everyone on the team agrees it’s a very worthwhile initiative but unfortunately we all have other pressures and commitments. We continue to discuss and evolve our wider working practices and I hope that this activity can further enhance the perception of value in usability research on the project.

What are you waiting for? Try it yourself!

So there you have it. Not that hard at all, particularly if you just take on the same materials and processes I have. The benefits are cumulative I think. With every month that you get stakeholders back together to watch users the greater the momentum behind the user focus grows.

We use Steve Krug’s form to log 3 issues for each participant, to be discussed and prioritised at the end of the session.

Have a look at my slides and drop me a line if you have any questions. All the resources and further reading are in the slides, but essentially all you need is:

You can download my slides from Slideshare if you want to dig a bit deeper.

Sessions slides on

After the event – the feedback

Colleagues from across the University that came along to our open session were incredibly positive both on the day and after it in comments on the session wiki page.

I think the session worked in 3 different ways:

  • Users of our current CMS got a preview of how they’ll undertake key tasks in the future. We were open about where we’re up to, including the flaws we still need to deal with.
  • Members of our web management community got to highlight issues they saw in the new system, and contribute to an open and democratic means of prioritising the severity of issues.
  • Developers, project managers and website owners gained some experience of a way to approach usability testing that is efficient, inclusive and more likely to result in improvements being made.

A few snippets from the feedback I received:

“…[the session] gave me a few good ideas to use when user testing my own websites, particularly the flowchart for prioritising issues and the instructions for usability test observers… [I] will be trying these out in February when testing a website we’re developing… I also enjoyed collaborating with other university staff.”

“…[the session] highlighted the importance and difficulties of user testing someone ‘live’. I noticed that myself and other participants began focusing on aspects of the design which we thought should be improved regardless of whether those aspects actually caused the participant any issues. So I took away from it the realisation that a bit of focus and discipline in observation is needed…”

“It was good to see users in action and how the new university website is shaping up. It was an interesting insight into user testing and definitely gave me ideas for our own user testing. I think the prioritisation flowchart was really useful and I think I will use this myself in the future. Another thing to mention, is that it was good to see other staff from the university and collaborate.

“Overall, excellent… The slides …and notes I took will help myself and colleagues greatly as we undertake user experience sessions in the coming weeks… The session was extremely useful and provided valuable insight and guidance on how to run UX sessions that provide measurable results.”

About the Author

Neil AllisonNeil Allison is UX Manager at the University of Edinburgh Website Programme. Here he steers the evolution of the University website’s information architecture and the user experience of the corporate content management system. He also oversees the provision of training and support to the University’s web publishing community.

The University of Edinburgh is a large, research-led institution and a member of the Russell Group. The student body totals almost 34,000 with over 11,000 engaged in postgraduate study, supported by  over 12,000 staff.

The University Website Programme began life as a project team in 2006, becoming established as a Programme two years later. Its function is to manage the corporate content management system (used by over 1000 staff in around 90 business units), promote and support best practice in website management and to facilitate the ongoing enhancement of the site in areas of cross-institutional collaboration. The primary focus at present is the development of a new CMS (using Drupal) and the migration of websites, users and processes to the new platform.  This transition will be completed by the end of 2015.

Contact details

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Guest Post: eduWeb: American version of a Higher Education Marketing Conference

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Jun 2015

About this Guest Post

This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2015, takes place at Edge Hill University on 27-29 July. At the same time the eduWeb 2015 conference is taking place in Chicago.

In this guest post guest post Shelley Wetzel, partner & director of the eduWeb Digital Summit describes the history of the eduWeb event which, this year, is celebrating its tenth anniversary – and has just been named as one of the Top 5 Higher Education Marketing Conferences to attend in the US.

Over the years I have observed from afar the eduWeb event and back on February 2009 asked “What Can We Learn From The eduWeb Conference?“. Earlier this year I revisited the question in a post which asked “What Can IWMW Learn From Higher Education Web Events in the US?“. I’m very pleased that Shelley agreed to my request to provide some further background information about the eduWeb conference.

In her guest post Shelley highlights some challenges which web managers in US higher educational institutions are facing and comments:

as someone from our Advisory Board just mentioned, if higher Ed (at least in the U.S.) doesn’t get their act together regarding digital within the next five years, they will not survive. To some extent, I agree with that; what is it like in the U.K.? Where are you progressing? Where are you not?

I’d be interested in comments from members of institutional Web teams based in the UK on Shelley’s perspectives.

eduWeb: American version of a Higher Education Marketing Conference

eduweb 2015Back in late 1995, I was driving with a friend near my home in Rockville, Maryland (about 45 minutes north of Washington, D.C.) and he asked me if I had heard of Netscape. I had replied “no” and asked what it was; he went to tell me about this fascinating Internet browser that I just had to look at. That was the beginning of my Internet education and career.

As I was self-employed at the time, with my own marketing agency, designing and creating marketing collateral for various clients in the metropolitan Washington, DC area and a few overseas, I was intrigued by the Internet and decided to teach myself HTML code. I loved that the designing part of it was easier than print since I didn’t have to worry about bleeds, inks, press runs, etc, and this white screen was an open canvas that could display my imagination, per client’s requests. I then started designing and coding websites.

This led to a full-time job as the first Webmaster at Salisbury State University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, about half hour from several beaches in the area. I thrived in the position for eight years, having moved from Webmaster to Director of Web Development and from reporting to the Dir. of PR (no marketing office at the institution) to the CIO. I was and still am a marketing person, but I also understood the technical side of this new platform, of which during those eight years and probably until about 2008, was all about your website. Social media was just starting with Twitter and I had already left my position in 2005 to start the eduWeb Conference.

While working at Salisbury University (name change around 2000), I saw and learned about “both sides of the fence” regarding an institution’s digital presence but also saw the power games going on that reduced, if not destroyed, the interest and engagement on and off campus to develop the institution’s brand through a whole new environment.

With that background, I saw a need to develop a conference and trade show for higher education that focused on marketing and technical for the administrative side of higher education. I researched and found a partner to join me in this effort and we launched the 1st eduWeb Conference in 2005 in downtown Baltimore. We grew each year until the recession hit, but still we have done well, changing program tracks to reflect the needs of higher education and their interests, bringing on guest track authors for the program, allowing them to create and market their content and recommend speakers. As the conference grew, so did my partner’s and I need to reflect higher education more as we both had worked in the field but we’re farther away from working in it on a day-by-day basis.

Adding a social media team, along with photographer and videographer, the on-site staff grew to 10 and our highest attendance year was 500! We were thrilled and knew we had to keep up with our competition to provide the best experience possible, beyond just the programming. Over the years, we have added pre- and post-conference workshops and last year, a new event, the Master Class. It’s an intense, one-day event, after the conference, on just one topic and with no more than 35 people, to keep it intimate and one-on-one between faculty and “students.”

Our 10 year Anniversary is this year and we’re celebrating in Chicago, at the same dates as your event (IWMW 2015), otherwise, I’d be coming over to visit you and Brian visiting us.

Even at 10 years old, the goal and philosophy are still the same: to bring marketing, communications, advancement, enrollment management/admissions, student affairs, alumni, and more to learn about their strategic digital needs and for anyone within the IT field of digital to do the same, BUT to learn from each other, network and take back to our campus an excitement and encouragement to work well with “both sides of the fence/department” for the best of the institution. That is your ultimate client – not your boss or the president. And even after 10 years, I still see the struggles of power, budget, enough employees and professional development within higher education to stall creativity and bring the best of digital to accomplish your goals and meet the needs of a external population that is almost all digital; as someone from our Advisory Board just mentioned, if higher Ed (at least in the U.S.) doesn’t get their act together regarding digital within the next five years, they will not survive. To some extent, I agree with that; what is it like in the U.K.? Where are you progressing? Where are you not?

At this stage, my partner and I also know that we have to keep moving forward and part of that is changing the business model a bit; it hasn’t been announced yet, but a goal is to move toward this new model within three years.

Just discovered that we have been named one of the Top 5 Higher Education Marketing Conferences to attend in the U.S.! Wonderful news and we’re proud of it.

Find us at:

Biographical Details and Contact Information

Shelley WetzelShelley Wetzel, M.B.A, is an entrepreneur, currently the Conference Director and Partner of the eduWeb Digital Summit, Principal at Second Story, LLC, a marketing and events firm, and an inventor, with a patent, launching a tablet and phablet accessory later in 2015.

Ms. Wetzel has been involved in higher education for close to 20 years, eight being Director of Web Development at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland and the last 10 years, managing the eduWeb Conference, now titled the eduWeb Digital Summit. And she has been an entrepreneur for more than half of her professional career, originally owning and managing a marketing agency in the Washington, DC area before starting her higher education career.




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Guest Post: Reflections on IWMW 2014 from the University of Edinburgh

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 18 Sep 2014

In a recent guest post on this blog Mike McConnell described how the IWMW event “is much loved by its community and reflects a collegiate and resolutely non-commercial mindset that was once taken for granted in HE” and went on to explain how the key theme for the IWMW 2014 event was “The Year It Went From Web To Digital” and describe how there was “an unapologetic focus of the user as customer and repeated references to ‘product’ and the user experience“.

Mike was not the only participant to find this year’s event a stimulating experience which provided new insights into institutional developments. Neil Allison, a speaker at this year’s event, attended along with a number of his colleagues from Edinburgh University. In his report on the event Neil described how “my big takeaway was the need for organisational change and executive-level buy-in to truly bring about digital transformation“. Neil, together with his colleagues Aldona GosnellMartin MorreySteven RossStratos Filalithis and Bruce Darby have summarised their reflections on the event on the University of Edinburgh’s University Website Programme blog. They have kindly agreed that a slightly modified version of the post can be republished here.

Higher ed web managers conference write up – Neil Allison

Last month a small group of colleagues from across the University of Edinburgh attended IWMW 2014, the annual web managers conference held, this year, in Newcastle. I asked everyone to answer three quick questions to give you a snapshot of what they thought of the event.

The Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) has been running for nearly 20 years now and I’ve been attending (most years) since joining the University Website Programme in 2006. This is probably the largest turnout by Edinburgh staff (apart possibly from 2012 when we hosted) and definitely the highest number of contributors with myself and Martin Morrey giving plenary talks, while Bruce Darby ran a workshop.

Blog posts on my talk at this year’s IWMW and Martin Morrey and Neil’s preview of their IWMW 2014 presentations have been published previously on the University Website Programme blog.

As ever, the IWMW event provided a Lanyrd site to capture slides, write ups and various thoughts from contributors and attendees. I recommend you explore the resources, perhaps steered by the additional comments of colleagues which are included below.

Quick conference write ups

I asked colleagues who attended to answer three quick questions:

  1. Why did you decide to attend the conference?
  2. What was the best presentation or session?
  3. What was the big trend or takeaway point you took from the conference?

The responses from my colleagues are included below.

Aldona Gosnell

Ross Ferguson at IWMW 2014My reason for attending the IWMW conference was mostly to keep my eyes open and to listen. Not under any pressure to deliver my own presentation or sell a product, I had the luxury of not having to worry too much about what to say, and the freedom to explore whatever caught my interest. The truth is that we (the CHSS Web Team) don’t get a chance to stop and look around very often.

It is hard to choose one talk out of the many expertly delivered and entertaining IWMW presentations this year. Perhaps the one that rung particularly true for me was “Using the Start-up playbook to reboot a big University Website” by Ross Ferguson (University of Bath) as I have a long standing interest in both start-ups and big university websites. To some extent it echoed the agile processes developed in my team – especially “release iteratively and often” and “provide ongoing support”.

I had my eyes open for any signs of the agile trend. I discovered that some of the delegates held the official SCRUM accreditation. It was interesting to meet with an official “Scrum Master” – Edele Gromley – and her team from the University of Kent. We have been trying to find our feet in the agile world for some time and come up with a successful recipe for the right balance between planning, doing and documenting. Had I been less worried about making a nuisance of myself, I would have asked her outright – do you really have the everyday stand-up 15-minute meeting, and is that working for you guys?

Aldona is the Web Team Manager at the College of Humanities and Social Science. See Aldona’s staff profile and the HSS Web Team blog.

Martin Morrey

Martin Morrey and colleagues at IWMW 2014 conference

Martin’s answers to the questions posed by Neil are:

  1. I was speaking (!) + It’s the best way to find out what the rest of sector is doing.
  2. Ross Ferguson. Reminded me that you can achieve change quickly if you are determined/stubborn/insensitive enough! Also, Paul Boag on Digital Transformation.
  3. Digital Transformation. Rethink digital experience from scratch, and from the point of view of the end-user.

Martin is the Manager of the Web Integration Team in Information Services, with responsibility for portal, web development, and graphic design services.

Steven Ross

This was the first IWMW I had attended so wasn’t sure what to expect. I hoped it would be an opportunity to gain insight into industry best practice and also a chance to pick the brains of others facing similar challenges. It’s too easy to become stuck in your institutional ways, so a reminder that others face and address similar challenges, was revitalising.

The theme that weaved its way through many diverse presentations was digital transformation. To meet our users’ needs, we need to enable digital teams to function beyond organisational bureaucracy and dated processes. It’s clear that without organisational belief in the value of digital, we will continue to be perceived as facilitating the vision of others, rather the driver that brings improvement and keeps pace with fast evolving user demands.

Ross Ferguson’s presentation encapsulated these points well and unsurprisingly grabbed peoples’ attention. He countered the challenges we all face by presenting a brave new world where digital teams possess all the building blocks and resources required to deliver user focused services and products. Being able to quickly deliver and iterate products gives credence to this approach and generates confidence within the organisation and management.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Bath to see if the rhetoric rings true.

Steven is the Senior Digital Marketing Officer in Communications and Marketing.

Stratos Filalithis

As this was the first time I have attended the IWMW 2014 conference, my goal was to listen, learn and engage with people working within the UK Higher Education. It was a very nice opportunity to understand how common challenges are dealt in other institutions, as well as to understand different solutions or approaches to similar problems. All IWMW presentations were interesting and I was really happy that they covered an area of themes rather than focusing on a specific subjects.

I think that the presentation by Ross Ferguson (Head of the Digital team at the University of Bath), titled “Using the Start-up playbook to reboot a big University Website” really stood out, and was probably a taste of things to come on how to govern websites and digital services in general.

What was even more interesting was the following ‘birds of feathers‘ session around web governance itself where interesting conversations around how centralised and devolved models address the issue. It was apparent that there isn’t a magic solution as teams are structured in a way to suit each institution’s philosophy, business or organisational structure, while it’s too difficult to make radical changes even though they might directly fulfil their needs. It was really an optimistic touch, though, that there are initiatives, like the one at the University of Bath, which can rock the boat of web governance in UK Higher Education, if successful.

These are, certainly, interesting times and IWMW 2014 showcased the amount of change around us.

Stratos is the CMS Service Manager at the University Website Programme.

Bruce Darby

I’d heard a lot of good things about the IWMW conference but the main reason for going was that I thought it would be a good opportunity to see what issues other education institutes around the UK were concentrating on and what their approaches were. If you never leave the University to go to conferences there is a real danger you can become institutionalised!

Ross Ferguson’s talk on using start-up techniques to reboot the University of Bath’s website was also the best of great bunch for me. I felt that it was an honest and open presentation about his working practises. He’s implementing some of the things we are setting out to do with the new Drupal CMS project we’re currently working on. Three slides in particular I liked which seemed to say if you are using the agile methodology, which we are, be confident to follow these techniques and approaches through to the end however difficult it can become.

A few statements from the three slides stood out:

  1. Put users’ needs first.
  2. Keep things simple and consistent.
  3. Fail fast and lower risk.

And two final points were ‘too much product’ and ‘burn out’. I took the first to mean that there is lot of pressure to build too much into projects in one go and so ‘burn out’ is the inevitable outcome. If you are aware of this and constantly look out for it then at least that gives you some protection.

What surprised me was that quite a few universities seem to be embracing the term ‘digital’ even going as far as to include it in team and job titles. Paul Boag, who was at the conference, has been saying this for some time. It’s about incorporating digital into everything rather than seeing it something separate with its own strand and strategy.

Bruce is a Project Manager at the University Website Programme.

And finally, my thoughts …

Steven Ross at IWMW 2014 conference

I attended the conference as I think it’s a fantastic forum to network with colleagues in the sector, to learn about what they’re up to; their challenges and successes. The presentations are always varied and typically of a high standard. So great from a professional development and a social point of view. I always follow up with a few people via email or Twitter afterwards and end up with a new reading list and a few new people I can call on for an opinion or a bit of help.

Everyone has been talking about Ross Ferguson’s presentations so I will pick on something else – there were a good few excellent sessions besides him. (Martin and I for starters!) I went to a workshop session run by Richard Prowse (coincidentally from the University of Bath) in which he went through the principles of Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) and shared his experiences of trying to implement this with his university’s prospectuses. As I suspected, it’s been a big challenge for Bath, but it sounds like his hard work will pay dividends in the years to come. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Richard speak, and his experiences in the emerging field of content strategy are always worth hearing [or reading – see Richard Prowse’s blog – Content Bear].

My big takeaway was the need for organisational change and executive-level buy-in to truly bring about digital transformation. We web management folk can do great things in our sphere of influence, but there comes a point where you have to accept that to be able to present information and services in a way that really works for the customer, then the culture of the organisation needs to change. This message came across loud and clear in the presentations of Ross Ferguson (on agile development), Paul Boag (on digital adaption) and Tracy Playle (on social media). It was also a major point in my own presentation about user experience.

I’d encourage you all to check out the conference materials available and consider coming along to next year’s conference.

About the authors

The contributors to this guest blog post are:

  • Neil Allison, Head of User Experience, University Website Programme, University of Edinburgh.
  • Aldona Gosnell, the Web Team Manager at the College of Humanities and Social Science, University of Edinburgh.
  • Martin Morrey, Manager of the Web Integration Team in Information Services, University of Edinburgh.
  • Steven Ross, the Senior Digital Marketing Officer, Communications and Marketing, University of Edinburgh.
  • Stratos Filalithis, the CMS Service Manager at the University Website Programme, University of Edinburgh.
  • Bruce Darby, a Project Manager at the University Website Programme, University of Edinburgh.

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Guest Post : It’s Not About Technology! The Digital Challenge is Institutional

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 4 Sep 2014

Mike McConnell has attended many of the IWMW events which have been held since its launch in 1997. This year’s event made a particular impression, particularly with its focus on ‘digital’ rather than ‘web’. In this guest post Mike reflects on the event and describes the moves towards digital taking place at his host institution, the University of Aberdeen.

In June I attended the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2014) event which was held at the University of Northumbria. IWMW is primarily aimed at Higher Education (HE) web managers and their teams and has been running as an annual event since 1997. Its ponderous and slightly quaint title is much loved by its community and reflects a collegiate and resolutely non-commercial mindset that was once taken for granted in HE.

I have attended IWMW, on and off, almost since its inception and each conference seems to have its defining, epochal ‘thing’, which often overshadows the formal agenda, e.g.  The Year Of The CMS, The Year Of The Rejection Of The CMS, The Year We Daringly Asked Marketing People Along, The Year The Everything Became Irrelevant Because Of Web 2.0, and so on. This year’s formal title was ‘Rebooting The Web’ but the real ‘thing’ was The Year It Went From Web To Digital. There was an unapologetic focus of the user as customer and repeated references to ‘product’ and the user experience.

I expect that before too long the word ‘digital’ in this context will sound as anachronistic as Web 2.0 but currently it makes the term ‘Web’ itself sound dated. My view is that this is because, to an extent, the community has ‘solved’ the Web, if Web is defined as technologies related to the traditional university website. Of course there are massive, ongoing operational issues related to university websites, but the challenge is no longer primarily a technological one.

The disintermediation brought about by social media was an early indicator for institutions of the disruptive effect of digital. Many have risen to the social media challenge, but social is only a piece of the digital jigsaw. Digital goes beyond web and marketing; it is about institutions, how they are structured and how they respond to change. The traditional guardians of Web – IT and Marketing – find that digital increasingly requires them to operate outside their normal spheres of influence – it is a business-wide problem that requires strategy, governance, technology, people and processes. How can IT and Marketing effect the scope of change required?

At my own institution, the University of Aberdeen, awareness of the digital issue grew out of a traditional Web project to implement a new information architecture (IA) for the University site. Once the IA had been approved and the templates created in the CMS, it became increasingly apparent that the challenge was no longer a technological one but was instead related to content, ownership and governance. It became apparent that there was no-one at all in the entire institution who wrote content for the Web as part of their formal duties. This might seem startling to non-HE readers, but I suspect it is not just our institution where this was the case.

The result of this was that we created a new type of role, the Digital Communications Officer (DCO). The DCO job description included the model skills we felt were lacking in the institution’s web authors: writing for the Web, an understanding of IA, web usability and user experience, social marketing experience and the ability to utilise analytics to inform web design.

Our initial appointment of two DCOs and the adoption of a third from another role proved to be transformative for the traditional website. Almost immediately the Web Team were released from having to make decisions about governance and content. The DCOs rationalised website structures and used analytics data to make their arguments. The website became smaller, more effective and standardised.

However, the DCOs also started asking awkward questions. Why is the site not responsive? What is the brand? Why does the architecture reflect the institution and not user journeys? Why do we not have a content strategy? And so on. In short, all the questions that the Web Team had been aware of for years but not had the time, resource or authority to do anything about.

The result was that we managed to persuade the University to create a Digital Strategy Group (DSG). The DSG is a traditional University committee, comprising senior staff from across the institution as well as Web staff and the DCOs. Its remit is “to provide high level direction for the delivery and resourcing of the University’s digital engagement, including the production of an overall digital strategy”.

At the time of writing, the group has convened three times. At the first meeting the group was presented with a vision piece from some third party consultants. This showed a digitally enabled student journey, from applicant to student, alumnus and beyond.

This was tremendously helpful for showcasing the potential opportunities of digital. DSG members responded with enthusiasm, the result of which was that we engaged with the consultants for 5 days of ‘discovery’ work to ascertain our digital readiness. The consultants conducted 3 days of interviews with staff from across the institution to understand activities, strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.

The results of this discovery work were presented at the second meeting of the committee. Findings were broadly as follows:

  • There is lots of digital-type activity ongoing in the institution, much of which is good, but there is no overall vision for this, or alignment with strategic objectives.
  • There are varying levels of digital understanding across the institution and no individual interviewed has a complete vision.
  • The University does not currently have the structures or targeted resources in place to deliver a digital vision.
  • The University does not need separate digital strategy; rather it requires an overall business strategy that is fit for the digital age.

It has been difficult for the DSG to convey the universal scope of the digital challenge and indeed group members themselves have differing interests and views. It is hard to explain to some staff that, for example, for a student to have a responsive, seamless customer experience on the front-end website that the institution might require a customer relationship management (CRM) system and beyond that an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). Understandably, such systems and concepts can be alien to many of the key University decision makers.

The DSG acknowledged that to overcome these challenges and identify and articulate a digital vision for the institution it was desirable to seek outside expertise. The University therefore went to tender for support. The following text is abstracted from the tender documents:

This Invitation to Tender (ITT) is issued as part of an initiative to define a digital vision for the University of Aberdeen; to ensure that this is embedded in University strategy, and to help assess what people, systems and processes are necessary to deliver this vision.

The University wishes to define a digital vision that will enable it to achieve its strategic ambitions; differentiate itself significantly from its competitors; engage with all its major stakeholders and customers, and enhance and develop its brand.

It is suggested that in order to achieve this, suppliers might wish to follow the following methodology:

  1. A discovery phase, which would provide a detailed understanding of current capabilities and activities; market analysis, and customer groups
  2. A vision stage, which would identify and prioritise ideas; run research with target groups; identify opportunities, strategic aims and an operating model, and formulate a business case
  3. A planning stage, which would produce a high level business plan, options and recommendations

Suppliers are however welcome to suggest alternative methodologies and outputs to help the University achieve the objectives defined above.

The tender was deliberately written in broad terms because the DSG wished suppliers to engage with the University prior to submission and also because the DSG itself was unclear on what the strategic objectives should be, prior to any visioning stage. Concerns that suppliers would find this confusing or off-putting have proved to be unfounded and we have been encouraged by how many suppliers seem to ‘get it’. Almost all understand the scope of the issue and that it is not about technology – at least at this stage.

The tender has now concluded and we have had healthy number of responses. The DSG trust that the exercise will provide us with a digital vision that is broad in scope and world class in its ambition.

However, I am conscious that despite the University’s aspirations, we are approaching this challenge using traditional methodologies – committees and projects – and existing structures. I am curious how other HE institutions are approaching the digital challenge and would ask colleagues the following questions:

  • What is the focus of your digital activity: student lifecycle, research, alumni, donors, public engagement?
  • Who owns digital: Marketing, IT, senior management?
  • Who drives digital: is it top down or bottom up?
  • What new roles or teams are required?
  • What has changed about the institution? What should change?
  • What effect has this had?
  • What does digital ‘success’ look like?

About the Author

Mike McConnell

Mike McConnell is Business Application Manager in IT Services at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He manages the Web and Corporate Systems teams who are responsible for digital, web and corporate applications development.

His main duties are:

  • Leading on institutional IT digital strategy, including web and mobile development.
  • Supporting and developing the institutional corporate systems environment including Finance, HR, Admissions and Student Record systems.
  • Supporting and developing the institutional SharePoint and CRM environments.

Contact details:

LinkedIn: mikeramcconnell

Twitter: @mike_mcconnell


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Guest Post: Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 17 Jun 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop takes place in Newcastle on 16-18 July. The workshop fee is only £350, which includes 2 nights accommodation.The IWMW 2014 event is rapidly approaching- this year the annual event for university Web managers will take place at Northumbria University on 16-18 July. So if you haven’t book your place yet, do so quickly!

In the latest guest post from speakers at the event Martin Morrey, Web Integration Manager at the University of Edinburgh provides the background to his plenary talk on Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again.

Martin’s talk will open the third and final day of the IWMW 2014 event.

Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again

IWMW 2014 programme, with Martin Morrey's talk highlighted

IWMW 2014 programme, with Martin Morrey’s talk highlighted

Apologies to all for the late arrival of this blog post, but I’ve just spent three of the most intense weeks of my working life helping to upgrade the University of Edinburgh’s web portal, MyEd.

Reflecting on this experience has taken me back a masterclass delivered by the intranet usability guru Gerry McGovern, which I attended in 2008. At one point during the day, Gerry started talking about portals …

“For years, I’ve been going around asking people what a portal is, and I still don’t really know. The best definition I’ve come up with is: ‘A portal is like a website….except it takes five times longer to develop.‘”

Not for the first time that day, this was a cue for much hilarity.  For a long time afterwards, I was the smug website guy, pitying the lot of the poor, self-deluding, portal people in the office across the corridor.

Gradually though, I became more and more intrigued by the challenge of making a better portal.  Eventually I made the fatal mistake of commenting on the University’s portal here and there, and lo-and-behold in late 2011 I was put in charge of it.

Web portals were a concept that was born, and to a large extent abandoned again, in the mid-noughties.   However, in the education sector it seems to have hung around, presumably because it does actually deliver some value.

So what is a portal?  Is it just a list of useful links, or a personalised information hub, or a completely customisable experience?  In our case it is a bit of all of these things. What it should be though, is an experience centred on the needs and priorities of the end-user, which actually makes their life easier, as well as supporting the process needs of the institution.

The University of Edinburgh’s portal system was established in the noughties with great investment and fanfare, but later-on other IT priorities took over. So, ironically, a system that was meant to be dynamic, flexible and focussed,  ended up feeling static, out-of-date, and cluttered.

Improving our portal from there has been a slow process. Portal systems have integrations-with and dependencies-on a whole range of other information systems. When we upgrade our portal, updating and testing all these integrations is a real headache.   We are working on a better way of doing this, but in the meantime, we just have to live with it.

Just like a website, a portal needs really active monitoring and management, if it is to continue to meet everyone’s needs effectively.  Unlike a website however, tools like Google Analytics don’t give you the information you need to do this off-the-shelf. The first I thing I did with MyEd, was to find a way to get meaningful analytics on the usage of its content.

Our analytics revealed that mobile users seemed to prefer the clunky, desktop-optimised interface of our web portal, over the trendy native-app that had been rolled-out just the year before. We didn’t have the resources to get the best out of both, so since then we have focussed our mobile effort on developing a mobile-friendly skin for the portal.

My team has used its portal analytics, the results of user surveys, and student input, to inform the design of new layouts and interfaces for our portal.  I’ll be presenting the full story of this process, and some of the initial outcomes, at IWMW 2014 in my plenary Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again.

About the author

Martin MorreyMartin Morrey is the manager of the Web Integration Team at the University of Edinburgh, with responsibility for portal, wiki, web hosting and web development services.  He has been working with the web for 18 years, and the mobile web for 14 years (remember WAP?).

He presented at EDUCAUSE last year on “Adding Analytics to the University Portal”.

Formerly an e-learning specialist and software entrepreneur, he won a SMART award in 2000 to develop a mobile-learning system and was co-founder of Intrallect Ltd.


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Guest Post: I Do UX – Do You?

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 16 Jun 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop takes place in Newcastle on 16-18 July. The workshop fee is only £350, which includes 2 nights accommodation.The IWMW 2014 event starts a month today – this year the annual event for university Web managers will take place at Northumbria University on 16-18 July.

In the latest guest post from speakers at the event Neil Allison tells us that he ‘does’ user experience (UX) but wonders if he is alone.

Neil is giving a plenary talk on “Marketing is dead, long live UX” from 11.00-11.45 on Thursday 17 July 2014. He will also facilitate with Bruce Darby a workshop session on “Making Personas Work” from 16.00-17.30 on Thursday 17 July 2014.

I Do UX – Do You?

IWMW 2014 programme, with Neil Allison's talk highlighted

Neil Allison will give a talk on user experience on the second day at IWMW 2014.

I love the IWMW conferences. Always come away with new ideas and food for thought. Always meet good people. But I’ve been thinking about what I don’t get from the IWMW. And it’s this thought that’s prompted me to speak at this year’s conference.

I’ve been working in public sector (and mainly UK HE) for 15 years and attending IWMW since 2006. In that time there has been a lot of change in terms of online content and service management in the sector.

And over this period there has been a huge growth generally in awareness of online usability and latterly the competitive advantage leveraged from improved user experience. But while user experience teams are cropping up in all sorts of commercial organisations, we’re not seeing it in higher education.

This brings me back to what I don’t get out of IWMW. I don’t get a sense of a UX community within the sector. I don’t tend to meet people who do the same kind of things as me. I do meet lots of people interested in usability and user experience but not much in the way of active practitioners.

At first I thought: “Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m not moving in the right circles or I’ve missed the year when UX was the hot topic.” But taking a look about online reassured me I’m not paranoid :)

Very little turns up on previous conference schedules around UX or usability. The last item was me in Edinburgh in 2012 doing a workshop on our experiences in user centred design. And the JISC usability mailing list is awfully quiet.

A couple of years ago, Dan Jackson at UCL asked the usability mailing list:

I’m wondering out loud how many HEI’s in the UK have positions directly responsible for improving the user experience, interaction design and information architecture of their institutional web sites and web applications? A quick scan of the last 12 months’ activity on this list, and a perusal of the web/digital jobs currently being advertised at, shows the usual mix of adverts for web developers and web content editors, but nothing related to UX or IA. This is in stark contrast to private sector companies, who are recruiting UX consultants like there’s no tomorrow…

Chatting with Dan this week, it seems like he wasn’t overwhelmed with responses to his question. Which is a shame because it’s a very important question.

It’s basically the question I’m asking and attempting to answer in my plenary talk.

My talk at IWMW 2014: “Marketing is dead, long live UX!

I have my opinions, and those of a few people like Dan who think aloud from time to time.

UX survey for UK Higher Education web managers

But what about you? What do you think?

I’ve set up a short survey to gather some experiences from around our sector and feed them into my talk (and probably a blog post too).

Please spare me a couple of minutes to contribute your views and perhaps outline what is happening at your institution.

Take part in my survey – the state of UX in UK higher education.

I’m getting excited already about the conference as it’s not so far off now. Hopefully I’ll be able to prompt a bit of reflection, stir up a bit of controversy and continue the conversation with a few of you…

Neil Allison

About the author

Neil Allison is Head of User Experience for the University Website Programme at the University of Edinburgh.

He believes everyone has responsibility for user experience, and with a background in education and training, works to give colleagues the skills and confidence to conduct their own research and inform their work. He is an active member of the Scottish chapter of the UX Professionals Association.

Neil is currently playing the role of product owner in the agile development of a new University CMS and leading the evolution of the website’s information architecture.

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Guest Post: Wake Up and Face the Digital Reality

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 20 May 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop takes place in Newcastle on 16-18 July. The workshop fee is only £350, which includes 2 nights accommodation.In the first guest post provided by a plenary speaker at the IWMW 2014 event Hiten Vaghmaria, Head of Digital Development at the University of Westminster, asked “Planning work: How can technology help the Workload Allocation process?“.

In today’s guest post Paul Boag, co-founder of the digital agency Headscape and regular speaker at IWMW events, urges those working in institutional Web management teams to “Wake Up and Face the Digital Reality“. Paul will give a plenary talk on “Digital Adaptation: Time to Untie Your Hands” on the opening day of the IWMW 2014 event, from 15.45-16.30 on Wednesday 16 July 2014.

Wake up and face the digital reality

IWMW 2014 programme

The opening day at IWMW 2014 provides talks from experienced speakers from the commercial sector including one from Paul Boag.

It’s time for us to face an uncomfortable reality — the way we are approaching digital is not working. I am not talking about how our institutions are approaching digital, although there are problems with that. I am talking about how we approach it as digital specialists. We are failing our organisations and feeling frustrated in our jobs.

We see so much potential. But if we continue to follow our present path, we will not fulfil our potential.

Our digital vision won’t succeed

We all share a similar vision for the future of digital and education. A day when students have a joined up, integrated digital experience. From their first encounter with a university until they are a well established alumni.

We talk of augmented reality apps to help freshers find their way around campus. E-learning environments that widen the reach of the university. Student portals that save users time and the institution money. Unfortunately, this vision is never going to happen if we continue working the way we are.

At the moment every step is a battle. We fight management, get resources, navigate committees, deal with politics and resist scope creep. By the time we succeed in putting one part of our vision in place it has become out of date. We complete one redesign just in time to start the next.

We need to adopt a different approach.

Our tactics have failed

Many of us have resigned ourselves to “the reality of university life”. We work the best we can within the system, making small incremental changes. We hope that one day, somebody with authority will realise how broken the system is.

We hope that maybe this will be the last redesign of the site, with management realising the need for ongoing evolution. That this time governance will be just as important as a new visual appearance.

We spend our days addressing symptoms. We struggle to stop yet another pointless mobile app or unnecessary microsite. We endeavour to set standards and bring order. But never do we address the fundamental problem. We never try and fix our organisations.

After all is beyond our pay grade. That has to come from the executive. But how are they going to know what needs doing? How are they going to even recognise the problem? They are not digital experts.

We fear moving beyond addressing symptoms because it means sticking our heads above the parapet. It means risking stepping on somebody else’s shoes. Most of all it means venturing into areas that we are not experts in.

But here is the thing — nobody is an expert in this kind of digital transformation. It’s new and scary but sooner or later things will have to change.

What it does offer is a unique opportunity that we must grasp.

The opportunity of digital transformation

Digital transformation has crept up the agenda of both public and private organisations. From the British Government to Starbucks, organisations are restructuring for the digital age. These high profile digital projects provides us with a unique opportunity to do more than treat the symptoms.

Now is the time to show management the barriers that prevent your institution adapting to digital. No more working within the constraints imposed on you. Challenge the operating procedures of the past and become agents for change.

Digital transformation projects in well known organisations gives us a precedent. But, we still need to present an attractive vision that gets the executive on board.

Forming an attractive vision for change

As digital professionals we are often bad at communicating the need for change. We talk about user requirements, frustration with organisational structures and the need for speed. But the truth is management don’t care about things like that. They don’t care because they cannot see the connections to things that matter to them.

If we want to see change happen in our institutions we need to speak in terms management care about. We need to help them make the connections. We can do this by focusing on three areas:

  1. Opportunities that will benefit the institution.
  2. Threats that could disrupt the status quo.
  3. Possible cost savings.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Highlight opportunities

Management are always looking for new opportunities. In the case of senior management that is opportunities that benefit the whole institution.

For example, don’t waste your breadth talking about the need to make your website mobile friendly. Instead talk about how a mobile friendly website will help attract overseas students from Asia. These students are valuable to the institution and rely on mobile devices. Use data to backup these claims and you have a compelling case.

Middle management are a bit trickier. They don’t care so much about the bigger picture. Instead they are more focused on their own position and influence.

Moaning about their blinkered vision does not help. Recognise they are in a vulnerable position and work hard to present arguments that make their lives easier.

Take for example forming a digital transformation team. This often involves consolidating staff from other departments. Soften the blow by suggesting secondment rather than a permanent move. You might even suggest this is only for a limited time. Anything to prevent managers feeling that you are stealing their staff. They will interpret this as an attempt to undermine their position.

Try suggesting to management that they want somebody on the digital transformation team. This will ensure they have somebody representing their ideas on the ‘inside’.

Use threats

Another powerful weapon in your arsenal is fear. Large institutions are reluctant to embrace new opportunities. They don’t see a need to change what has worked so well in the past. But if you can prove that past tactics will no longer work they will respond to this threat.

Spend time talking about the threats to the higher education sector. Competition from educational startups, shifts in student expectations, changes in student behaviour. The list could go on.

Reference sectors that have been decimated because they were too slow to act when change came. Talk about how the music industry had a clear sign that things were changing when Napster arrived, but how they failed to act. Apple stepped in with iTunes and HMV and Tower Records went out of business. Also reference stories like Kodak, Blockbusters and many newspapers. There are no shortage of stories that show the cost of failing to adapt.

The key here is demonstrating that not acting will lead to disaster. Change is coming anyway. Those who fail to adapt will become extinct.

Focus on cost savings

Finally, talk about cost savings. Money talks, even in a large institution like a university. At the moment most universities are inefficient in the way they manage digital assets. Each part of the organisation is doing its own thing. If you can show how a single approach to digital can save money it will get the executives attention.

I recently helped a higher education institution put together a case for digital transformation. As part of that I met with a member of senior management to explain why this needed to happen. We covered a lot of ground, but one simple argument won the day. We calculated that to redesign all school websites using the current approach would take seven years. If we implemented a transformation plan that figure would be closer to seven months. We could achieve this by restructuring how things worked. There were no extra costs. This simple argument of more results for the same money was enough to tip the balance.

Talking the language of management will get their attention. But, highlighting threats, opportunities and even cost savings is not enough. You must also present a clear plan for change.

Providing a clear vision

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have persuaded management that change needs to happen. That the way you currently work is failing and they give you free reign to change. What would you do?

Often we moan about the current state of affairs, but lack a clear vision of how we want things to be. We focus too much on fixing the immediate problems with our process, rather than looking at the bigger picture.

Lets take a moment to consider what our roadmap for change might look like. The first step is to form a digital transformation team.

Form a digital transformation team

Most public institutions have expertise scattered across the organisation. They have web developers, IT specialists, content creators, photographers. Often they have all the skills they need, but they are not working together.

Step one is to bring these people together into a digital transformation team. Notice the name I have chosen. There are two parts to it:

  1. Digital: The implication is that this is more than the web. You cannot consider social media, the web, email or mobile apps in isolation. They are apart of one whole.
  2. Transformation: This is not a service team. It doesn’t exist to serve other departments. Its mandate is to change working practices across the institution.

This team should not support the ongoing maintenance of existing digital assets. If things are going to change, updates and fixes cannot distract them. Too many web teams spend the majority of their time providing support for the existing site. Form a separate support team for that job and put new development projects on hold.

Once the digital transformation team is in place, start looking at customer requirements.

Map customer journeys

Any digital transformation project has to start with the user. For too long institutions approach to digital looked inwards. They focused on what it was they wanted to say. This led to a proliferation of content. Many institutional websites run into hundreds of thousands of pages.

One of the best ways to break this thinking is to focus on user needs. This provides an opportunity to rebuild digital assets from scratch. No more porting content from the old site to the new.

Mapping the customer journey identifies user goals when interacting with an institution. They outline the various touch points users use to achieve those goals.

Some argue that as an institution they already have a good idea how users behave. But, behaviour has changed since the arrival of digital. It is important to step back and understand exactly how things have changed.

Customer journeys help show that much of your website’s content is not required. They also help identify organisational problems. For example, they show how many departments prospective students have to deal with. Unfortunately these departments rarely present the same message. Customer journeys shows that to serve the needs of students you may have to make organisational changes.

With a clear idea of who your customers are and what they want to achieve it is time to move onto the prototype stage.

Build a prototype

When the Government Digital Service (GDS) began its digital transformation project it started small. It took a handful of people and built a prototype site. This site only encompassed the first few levels. It then deep linked into existing content on other government sites. This became known as and we can learn much from this approach.

First, it allowed the government digital team to bypass the normal sign off process. Because they were only creating a prototype they didn’t need to get approval for every part. Some higher education institutions have adopted this approach with dramatic results. One institution even achieved design sign-off in less than two week!

Second, it allowed them to show other stakeholders what the future might look like in a much more tangible way than a written report. When people could see the possibilities in a working site they were much more inclined to listen.

Finally, building a prototype allowed the team to gather real data about user behaviour. This helped them to build a compelling case to support their new approach. It was no longer about opinion but rather hard numbers.

Form a digital framework

Digital transformation projects should lead to the creation of a digital framework.

This digital framework consists of guides, policies and processes needed to support the new way of working. They outline what needs doing and methods for achieving those goals.

Although this framework will vary between organisations, typical elements might include:

  • Key performance indicators.
  • User personas.
  • Top tasks.
  • Design pattern library.
  • Content style guide.
  • Accessibility policy.
  • Business objectives.
  • Content management policy.
  • Responsibility assignment matrix.
  • Analytics dashboards.
  • Working processes.
  • Service standards.

This framework is like the GDS service manual. It provides the institution with a pattern for working on digital projects. The digital transformation team should use this pattern. But other internal teams and even third parties should also work within this framework.

In short the digital framework helps educate colleagues about best practice.

Educate and disband

The primary role of the digital transformation team is to bring about organisational change. This will only happen through a programme of education.

What must not happen is for the digital transformation team to become yet another silo in the organisation. It needs to engage with colleagues across the organisation at every level. The aim should be to help them better understand the role of digital.

The best analogy for this role is that of Chief Electricity Officer in the 1900s. The arrival of electricity was changing business, but most organisations were unsure how to use it. Their solution was to appoint Chief Electricity Officers to help them make the transition.

Today the idea of a Chief Electricity Officer seems absurd. Electricity is ubiquitous and none of us would be able to do our jobs without it. Yet, at the time they needed somebody to show them the way. Somebody to help them make that transition. We don’t have Chief Electricity Officers today because they did their job in the 1900s.

In the same way, the job of a digital transformation team is to make the use of digital ubiquitous across the organisation. Their ultimate aim is to become redundant, with digital embedded in the DNA of their institution.

Maintaining this aim is essential. One day we will no longer need digital transformation teams. Transformation is a finite process.

This goal is important for two reasons. First it makes it clear that the aim is to empower others to use digital, not manage it in a single team. Second, it helps reduce the political backlash associated with the creation of a new team. Some middle management will feel threatened by having their team members and areas of authority taken away. Knowing it will not be forever maybe of some reassurance.

How long we will need digital transformation teams will depend. But, if one day they are not disbanded then they have failed. Failed to change their institution’s mindset from thinking of digital as a bolt on to digital being ubiquitous.

About the author

Paul BoagPaul Boag has been working with the web since 1994. He is now co-founder of the digital agency Headscape, where he works closely with clients to establish their web strategy.

Paul is a prolific writer having written Digital AdaptationWebsite Owners ManualClient Centric Web Design and numerous articles for publications such as .net magazineSmashing Magazine and

Paul also speaks extensively on various aspects of web design both atconferences across the world and on his award winning web design podcast boagworld.

Posted in Guest-post, iwmw | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Guest Post: Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 6 May 2014

In a recent post on “Preparing Our Users for Digital Life Beyond the Institution” I highlighted the need to ensure that academics had a digital identity which was not constrained to their current host institution. Earlier today Jonathon O’Donnell, a researcher at RMIT, Melbourne, Australia published a blog post entitled “Allow me to introduce myself” on The Research Whisperer blog in which he gives his thoughts on digital identity. This post is being republished on the UK Web Focus blog in order to encourage feedback on this important subject.

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

My university, like many others, is racing to embrace an open future. We are putting stuff into our repository as fast as we can. Each item has a unique identifier, like an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), so that we know exactly which book or paper we are talking about.

We are also encouraging staff to share their research data, where they can. We are working with the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), through their Cite My Data service, to make sure that these data sets also have Digital Object Identifiers.

Excitingly, these identifiers will link the papers, chapters, artworks, and (insert your favourite research output here) with the data sets. How cool is that? When I write my groundbreaking libretto, drawing on my amazing new data set, everybody will know exactly which dataset was used in exactly which libretto.

And everybody will know exactly which ‘me’ did it, because I’ll have included my ORCID ID, Scopus Author ID, Google Scholar ID, or my (insert your favourite researcher ID scheme here).

Everyone will know, that is, except for my university. My university will just have to guess.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jonathan O’Donnell. I’m not this Jonathan O’Donnell (although it would be really cool to work on the Arctic for the US National Parks Service). I’m certainly not this J. O’Donnell (I wish! He writes beautifully about digital humanities).

You might know me by my ORCID ID (0000-0001-5435-235X), or by my Scopus Author ID (23005925700), or even my Google scholar ID (3pvY_LgAAAAJ). If you know who that is, then you know who I am. Categorically. Unambiguously. Forever.

These three identifiers are examples of unique identifiers provided for free to academics. Admittedly, it is probably unlikely that you use identifiers like these day to day:

Hi, 3pvY_LgAAAAJ. How are you?

Not bad, thanks, Have you seen 0000-0001-5875-8744 around?

We don’t talk like that. Computers do. They do it so that we can disambiguate scholars of the same name. These sorts of identifiers are vital if you have variations to your name or change your name, lose your job, or move to a different institution (or country) or move between academic and #altac careers. I’m only a tiny researcher, so they are really important to me.

They are so important that I’m going to wait right here while you go and sign up for one right now. Go on – I’ll wait.

I don’t know what it is like at your university, but where I work, we don’t actually know who we are. We know what we publish, and we proudly tell the world about it. We know what data we collect, and are increasingly keen to share it with the world. But we don’t have a clue who we are. Or, to be more exact, my university doesn’t know who I am.

Unless you work at my university, you probably don’t know me as RMIT employee number 24323. That’s what my university knows me as. That’s all they know me as. They don’t know me as any of those other identifiers. At the moment, there is no easy way to link my external identifier (ORCID, Scopus, or Google Scholar) to my internal identifier, my employee number (e-number).

So, I’m having an identity crisis. My external identity is blossoming. It is becoming more and more intertwined as computers pick up these identifiers and I build cross-links between them. Meanwhile, my RMIT identity, the identity that pays my wage, is stagnant. External me is reaching out while internal me is stuck forever in its feeble e-number – limited, lost, dead. Go towards the light, e-number! Go towards the light.

It will take considerable work for my university to see the light. They will need to:

  • Decide that they should adopt an external identifier for all research-active staff.
  • Decide what identifier they should adopt.
  • Explicitly link that identifier to the internal identifier, preferably through our Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server or similar technology.

Making policy is hard. On the face of it, this one should be a no-brainer. By linking internal employee numbers to an external identifier, my university would gain significant advantages:

  • We would encourage all our researchers to adopt an external identifier, which would be a good thing.
  • This would improve the profile of our researchers, in the same way that open repositories improve the visibility of papers and other outputs.
  • It would make it easier for our researchers to measure their performance using alt-metrics.
  • Most importantly for the organisation: it should make the collection of research statistics much easier. Given that we spend an enormous amount of staff time doing this now, that is a clear cost saving for the university.

If it is so smart to do this, why haven’t we done it already? Perhaps we are shy. I don’t think so.

Is it because we are allergic to things that we don’t control? It can’t be that either because we have championed external identifiers for a long time. I remember contacting my university library (probably 20 years ago) to ask for my first International Standard Book Number. I was so excited! In those days, the university library used to be the custodian of blocks of ISBNs and distribute them to staff upon request.

This is what I think it is: we’re allergic to these new technologies that we don’t control, blind to services outside the walls. Also, it is a bit hard to link to different external services, and to keep those links working over time. And it should be noted that identifiers like this are only relevant for staff who may be contributors to research, so they are not a universal solution. They won’t cover all staff. However, they will cover all staff with an academic output, which would be a lot better than the current situation.

Besides that, there needs to be a fight an evaluation of corporate solutions (à la Elsevier and Google) versus open solutions (à la ORCID), and whether the business case is worth the effort. For the record, I think that it is absolutely worth the effort, and that open beats corporate every time.

However it happens, I think linking to an external identifier is inevitable. When it happens, the triangle will be complete. When I write my groundbreaking libretto, which is built upon my wonderful data set, everybody will be happy.

  • People will know exactly what data I have drawn upon.
  • They will know exactly which research output I have created.
  • And they will know exactly who I am.

Everyone will know, including my employer. I will be able to stand up and be counted.

About Jonathan O’Donnell
Jonathan O'DonnellJonathan O’Donnell helps people get funding for their research. To be specific, he helps the people in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He loves his job. One day a week he does his own research into privacy, identity and transactions on the Internet. He likes that day, too, even when it makes his brain hurt.

View Twitter conversations and metrics using: [Topsy] – []

Posted in Guest-post, Identifiers | 2 Comments »

Guest Post: Data Expeditions and Data Journalism project as OER in Russian

Posted by Irina Radchenko on 15 Mar 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The fifth and final guest post in the series published on the UK Web Focus blog is written by Anna Sakoyan and Irina Radchenko. In this post Anna and Irina describe “Data Expeditions and Data Journalism project as OER in Russian“.

Data Expeditions and Data Journalism project as OER in Russian

As the availability of education enhances internationally, in particular through the development of OERs and informal educational projects, predominantly in English, similar trends appear in other language environments. By their nature, they are less available for the contributors from all over the world, but at the same time, they often provide the only participation opportunity for those who for whom the English-language sources are not an option due to the language barrier. What seems important here is to create such projects in a way that makes them both their language audience-oriented and integrated into the international knowledge exchange.

Our online educational project DataDrivenJournalism.RU and its data expeditions are an example of an attempt to adopt this approach.


Before we discuss the details of this particular project, we find it necessary to introduce the context, in which it was born and is currently developing. Basically, there seem to have been three deficiencies, or aspects to the problem, that we tried to address in this way.

First off, in the spring 2013 there was a surge of interest in open data among the Russian media, primarily due to the fact that the government was about to open its data officially. Many journalists turned to this subject, simply because it was promoted and supported by the state, so it was a discussed topic by default. Following the coverage, their audience was becoming aware of this kind of developments, but there was little understanding of what exactly it was about. Before the official move, there was some Open Data movement in Russia, but it was mostly promoted by a relatively small group of citizen activists and IT-developers with little response from the broader audience. All in all, by the moment when open data were about to be introduced officially, the bottom-up initiative was really scarce and with deplorably weak horizontal connections.

Second, there is a lack of Russian-language projects for those who might be interested in learning how to deal with data from scratch. Clearly, there were programmers’ communities and some of those were rather enthusiastic about building open data-based applications. But outside this scope, there were journalists, citizen activists, and scholars who could well make use of the new developments, but had no sufficient technical skills, nor even the idea of where to start acquiring them. While there are numerous international English-language learning projects of this kind, they are hardly available for those with a considerable language barrier. So there was a need for translated or newly created Russian-language manuals, as well as some supportive environment, which would encourage people to learn something really new.

Third, and most general, the project seems to comply with the trend all over the world. When there is a considerable number of open materials (books, manuals, tutorials), as well as open/free tools, and there are people who are trying to use them, at a certain stage there is also a demand for further structuring and adaptation of such materials and tools for learning. This means not only collecting relevant links in one catalogue, which is sometimes very helpful by itself, but creating something more interactive that could provide more comfortable learning facilities.

DataDrivenJournalism.RU and its data expeditions


DataDrivenJournalism.RU was initially created as a blog to accumulate translated or originally written manuals on working with data. Its mission was formulated as promoting the broad use of data (Open Data first of all) in the Russian-language environment. As the number of the published materials was growing, it was necessary to structure them in a searchable way, which resulted in making it look more like a website. After almost a year of its existance, the functioning of the project appears basically twofold. On one hand, it operates as an educational resource with a growing collection of tutorials, a glossary and lists of helpful external links, as well as the central platform of its data expeditions; on the other hand, as a blog, it provides a broader context of open data application to various areas of activity, including data driven journalism itself.

First Data Expedition

Being inspired by the School of Data example, we decided to try such format as online data expeditions soon after the blog was created. The first Russian-language Data Expedition (DE1) was launched in July 2013. It was a week long and its objectives were searching, processing and visualizing datasets on universities, both Russian and international. The review of DE1 was published on DataDrivenJournalism.RU (in Russian). Its English version can be found on Anna’s blog

Our Second Data Expedition (DE2) launched in December 2013 was based on working with data collected in 2013 within a survey that was conducted by PSRAI Omnibus ( This dataset can be found at PEW Internet & American Life Project site:—Online-Video-%28onmibus%29.aspx. It was chosen due to its clear structure and lots of variables in the first place. DE2’s main idea was to get beginners to try working with data in a friendly and encouraging environment. Unlike DE1, which heavily relied on self-organisation, DE2 had a ready-made scenario for those who might find it difficult to conduct their own research.

The review of DE2 can be found at DataDrivenJournalism.RU: (in Russian) and on Anna Sakoyan’s blog: (in English).

Data Expeditions

Our most recent Data Expedition (DE3) had a special feature. This Data Expedition was dedicated to researching the subject of orphan or rare diseases. DE3 was organised in a partnership with NGO “Teplitsa of Social Technologies” so it was a joint project. They helped us to involve experts in the fields of rare diseases. The active participation of experts was an invaluable part of the research, because they provided extremely helpful navigation on the subject. This was the first time we have seen the combination of peer-learning and research in action. We are planning to publish the review of this DE3 in the near future. Right now, its participants are working on creating the follow-up digital story based on the findings.


Undoubtedly, data expeditions being a combination of a peer-learning project and a hackaton can be an extremely helpful tool not only for learning (and teaching) data processing techniques, but also for researching particular areas of knowledge or life posed as the subjects of these expeditions. In this respect, data expeditions could be a very flexible promising format equally applicable to things like an activist campaign or an educational project.

DataDrivenJournalism.RU was created as a response to the two former challenges, because it was designed to accumulate and generate the Russian-language learning materials and also to contribute to building a community of people interested in learning more about making sense of data. As to the latter, an interactive approach was implemented through the Russian-language online data expeditions as a subproject of DataDrivenJournalism.RU.

However, this is only one side of the project. Like any other open educational resource, DataDrivenJournalism.RU can’t exist in a vacuum. It needs to be integrated in broader OER networks and open data communities, both Russian-language and international. It might be some interaction on the basis of knowledge or experience exchange; it might be participation in international data expeditions or other project-based peer-learning projects. Due to the flexibility of open projects, the variety of cooperation formats is virtually great.

About the authors

Anna Sakoyan Anna Sakoyan is a co-founder of DataDrivenJournalism.RU. Anna is currently working as a journalist and translator for a Russian analytical resource and is also involved in the activities of NGO InfoCulture.

Twitter: @ansakoy
Facebook: anna.sakoyan
LinkedIn: Anna Sakoyan
Blog (English):

Irina Radchenko Irina Radchenko is consultant on Open Data at NGO Infoculture and Associate Professor at Higher School of Economics. She is co-founder of DataDrivenJournalism.RU and lecturer at Open Data School.

Twitter: @iradche
Facebook: iradche
LinkedIn: Irina Radchenko Irina Radchenko
Blog (Russian):

View Twitter conversations and metrics using: [Topsy] – []

Posted in Guest-post, openness | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Guest Post: Why the Opposite of Open isn’t Necessarily Broken

Posted by sheilmcn on 14 Mar 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The fourth guest post in the series published on the UK Web Focus blog is written by by Sheila MacNeill. In this post Sheila gives her reasons “Why the Opposite of Open isn’t Necessarily Broken“.

Why the Opposite of Open isn’t Necessarily Broken

When Brian approached me to write a guest post for Open Education week, I was flattered particularly when he told me about the other guest bloggers he had lined up. And I was relieved that my last excursion onto his blog hadn’t put him off! But more seriously it seemed to the perfect opportunity for me to share some of my recent experiences of open education and open educational practice. Later today, along with Catherine Cronin, I’ll be taking part in a webinar latsr today (from 13.00-14.00 on Friday 14th March) organised by David Walker, University of Sussex as part of their open education week activities. This post will hopefully complement the webinar, as well as contributing to the discussions on this blog this week.

The title of our webinar is “Open and online: connections, community and reality“. It will give us an opportunity to explore the research and realities of open education, online identities, networks, communities and connections.

As some of you may know, I have fairly recently changed jobs from Assistant Director with Cetis to a Senior Lecturer in Blended Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University. A large part of my work with Cetis was increasingly predicated by engagement in open, online communities. My visibility in a number of networks was a key part in me getting my current position. Openness, from open software to OER to open educational practice was and continues to be a core value not only for Cetis but for my own professional practice and values. However I am increasingly conscious that my practice is changing in response to my institutional role and new physical networks. This ties in really well to Catherine’s research on open online identity and the role of the networked educator.

When Brian and I were talking about this post, I half jokingly said to him that I felt a bit like a time traveller and a bit like Marty McFly was experiencing some back to the future moments. At other times I feel a bit like one of the Tomorrow People, who has to be very careful about where and when to use their special powers, particularly in relation to open education.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard in various places (both online and offline) that the “battle for open” has been won, or that open education is now “ mainstream”. I’ve always been slightly skeptical about such grand claims. Whilst the open education movement has made considerably inroads in the past decade, OERs and open educational practice are still not universally known about and used. Now, I’ve not started to work at some backwater on the edge of civilisation but believe me there are people here who aren’t even aware there has been a battle let alone have any idea of who/what has won, and what the legacy of the war is. Perhaps the greatest Trojan horse for open education has been MOOCs, as nearly everyone has heard about them.

Of course we do have some pockets of excellent activity not least from our library who are currently developing an institutional OER policy. But open practice, and to take an important step back to just sharing “stuff” doesn’t feature on the radar of many of my colleagues. It’s not because they are anti-open, or closed, it’s just not their practice. They haven’t developed open practices or habits in the way I have over the last however many years. And you know what? I think some of us in our open, care-y, share-y, OER-y community forget how hard it can be to start being open and develop open habits. I am getting a bit of a reputation here for saying (perhaps slightly flippantly) “just slap a CC licence on it”, and then more importantly “stick it somewhere other people can find and use it”. It really is that simple. However I am still being met with wide-eyes and doubting, knowing faces. Sharing and being open is a great thing in context, but the benefits aren’t always obvious and there is a lot of confidence building and hand holding to be done yet. And that is always the part of “the war” that seems to be forgotten about. Developing people and habits is where any education battle is really won or lost.

I have come from an incredibly privileged position where I was able to be in on almost at the start of developments, particularly in the UK, around OER and open practice. I had time to explore the issues, play with open playgrounds, build my online networks , be a very small part of the twitterati, build up my confidence around blogging and sharing my thoughts with others, sharing slides with images attributed, try things just because I could. Most jobbing academics, learning technologists, librarian and other support staff don’t have that luxury. I now have even more respect for those who do make time to engage externally. With cut backs to funding from bodies like Jisc, experimentation and risk taking opportunities are becoming less and less common. However I can (and am) doing as much as I can to support open-ness across our institution – from policy to hand holding level.

The irony of this is that as I am connecting and sharing more with my new internal networks I feel that I am sharing less and less with my external networks. I certainly don’t spend as much time on twitter, which maybe isn’t such a bad thing . . . In preparation for this week, I was heartened to see that people in my twitter network do still consider me an open practitioner (this storify collates a few responses). My former Cetis colleague David Sherlock in this response to a tweet from me point out another side to why people might not be open, that of who controls our open communication networks and who owns our data? That hadn’t been on my mind thinking of this post, but it is a crucial point. Our networks and data aren’t only valuable to us, they have other economic values. We do need to remember that seemingly open and free services do have economic models.

Last year at the Open Scotland summit, Cable Green gave a great line “the opposite of open is not ‘closed’, the opposite of open is ‘broken’.” However good a line that is, in reality things are more nuanced. In trying to support others to be open I may for a time, appear closed, and may even feel a bit broken and bruised. I’m not working with broken people or systems, just ones that need time and support to be comfortable with being open in ways that work for them. It is my open practice and the support from my open networks that continues to give me the support I need to continue to be open and contribute to our collective development and understanding of what being open actually means.

Biography and Contact Details:

Sheila MacNeill

Sheila is UK Learning Technologist of the Year, 2013.

She is interested in all aspects of the development and use of technology in education. She is a Senior Lecturer in Blended Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Over the past 10 years her work has centred on developments in the Higher Education sector through her work with CETIS.

For further biographical details please see Sheila’s page.

Sheila MacNeill
Senior Lecturer
Blended Learning
Glasgow Caledonian University

Blog: How Sheila Sees It
Twitter: @sheilamcn

View Twitter conversations and metrics using: [Topsy] – []

Posted in Guest-post, openness | Tagged: | 13 Comments »

Guest Post: Open Education and Staff Development at the University of Salford

Posted by gdfielding on 13 Mar 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The third guest post in the series is written by Gillian Fielding of the University of Salford. In this post Gillian reports on “Open Education and Staff Development at the University of Salford“.

Open Education and Staff Development at the University of Salford

Thanks to Brian for asking me to write a guest blog. Being ‘open’ I’ve never written a guest blog before so it’s a bit scary. Also thanks to the thought-provoking guest bloggers: Doug Belshaw who posted yesterday and Ross Mounce who wrote a guest post during Open Access Week 2012. Ross’s comment: “things were different before the Internet!” made me smile, and Doug’s suggestion of writing a policy openly are both things I shall return to later.

I am not going to debate definitions “open” etc, These been discussed elsewhere. I am going to focus on our staff development activity in open educational practice and on how the Internet has changed that.

I’d like to also say a thank you Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet (Happy 25th). It has not only kept me in work the last 22 years but it has made my work in learning and teaching even more interesting. Looking back I have loved (almost) every moment of it and I still feel as passionate about it today as I did in the early 1990s. Open education/al practices, elearning, collaborative learning, blended learning, interactivity, multimedia, mobile learning, … all open up new opportunities, debates and challenges. Sometimes we struggle to keep up, or should that be we always struggle to keep up? For example, it was only last year when we introduced a staff development workshop on Twitter, Twitter was launched in 2006. We do not have a social media policy yet. We just do it and to great effect I might add. Salford is in fourth position in “theunipod” national university rankings on social media use. Is that because we don’t have a policy I wonder? Similarly we do not have a University policy on open education practice/resources staff just do “it”.

We are currently developing both policies, better late than never. And I feel we need these policies to endorse open practices and social media use. To say to staff yes it’s great, embrace it, do it, it has huge benefits for you, your students and the University. (Just pay regard to the potential risks and drawbacks). In our development sessions we illustrate the benefits with a case study from one of our Professors. The month the Prof set-up social media accounts, he saw his open access article downloads triple (stored in the University’s Institutional Repository), he has seen other tangible benefits too. (Incidentally I am going to pass on Doug’s suggestion of open policy making to the teams concerned).

The other staff development workshop we offer in this area is “Managing Your Digital Identity” (introduced late last year). Next month, we are introducing a Facebook session and hopefully later in the year, other workshops too. We have always supported individual requests for support.

Last year we introduced a new module on the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PG CAP) called, Flexible, Distance and Online Learning (FDOL). This embedded Social Media and included a unit on open educational practices.

The module was 13 weeks in duration. Eleven “classes” were delivered fully online (synchronously using Collaborate). However the initial class, and week 6 class, were an on-campus physical session (apart from the three students joined virtually – how flexible was that!?). It was only open to our PGCAP students, it’s not an open course. The original module designer has an open version available. We used a variety of tools used, both synchronous and asynchronous: Twitter, Google+, Google Hangouts, Blackboard, Skype, YouTube, WordPress, Collaborate, etc. (“Things were certainly different before the Internet!”). The module used online problem-based learning (pbl), the groups decided amongst themselves what problems to solve, their roles in the group, what learning technologies to use, etc.

During the module we held two “Twitter Journal Clubs” (twjc). A new concept introduced to me by a student (Chloe James). A twjc is generally open to anyone to join in on a discussion (via Twitter) of a journal. These are in a defined time period of an hour or up to 24 hours. The benefits are it was: open, educational, concise (140 characters forces that) though it can be challenging putting deep thought into 140 characters; it was fun and innovative but could be frustrating for others especially if they were new to Twitter or the session was unstructured (it works best if you go through the journal in order and the facilitator keeps time and people on topic. For more information on our first twjc see my post on Using a Twitter journal club for learning and teaching (and my first foray into twjc’s)The second twjc was more exciting as the journal’s author saw this as his opportunity to start using Twitter and joined our debate. “Things were different before the Internet!” that wouldn’t have happened.

Assessment of the module was the creation of a reflective portfolio (in WordPress). Students were encouraged to be innovative and creative and to use tools they had not used before. Examples included: cartoons, images, videos, even a specially written and performed song. In the spirit of the open educational practice, students were encouraged to make their portfolios open to the world, however this was not compulsory. Publishing on the web can be a very daunting undertaking, publishing your reflections on your own professional practice is even more daunting to those newer to this publishing medium.

With that note it seems entirely appropriate to finish with links to some of my students portfolios. These include their reflections on open educational practices and on using Internet tools, and how they are applying/will apply what they learnt in their own professional practice. Note that the unit included a webinar on open educational practices led by Brian. This can be viewed in the recording of the webinar and Brian’s reflections were given in a post on Open Educational Practices (OEP): What They Mean For Me and How I Use Them

Links to students’ portfolios are available below:

Paul Crowe 
Alex Fenton
Natalie Ferry
Liz Hannaford
Joe Telles
Nadine Watson
Juliette Wilson

Biography and Contact Details

Gillian FieldingGillian Fielding is responsible for the development of digital literacies of staff at the University of Salford. She is also a PhD candidate at Lancaster University. Gillian has a background in lecturing and has a strong passion for enhancing the student and staff experiences by using open access, the Social Web, learning technologies, mobile devices, etc.

Gillian has presented on learning technologies at conferences including: SOLSTICE, CLTR, LILAC, ECE, UCISA, and Blackboard World.

Twitter: g_fielding
Facebook: Gillian D Fielding
Telephone: 0161 295 2451

Posted in Guest-post, openness | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Guest Post: What Does Working Openly on the Web Mean in Practice?

Posted by Doug Belshaw on 12 Mar 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week  (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The second guest post in the series is written by Doug Belshaw whom I’ve known in Jisc circles for several years. Last year Doug, who now works for the Mozilla Foundation, was a plenary speaker at the IWMW 2013 event. In this post Doug asks “What does working openly on the web mean in practice?“. This is a very timely post in light of today’s Guardian article on “An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web“.

What Does Working Openly on the Web Mean in Practice?

I’m what’s known as a ‘paid contributor to the Mozilla project’. You may think that’s just a quirky way to describe being an employee of the Mozilla Foundation but I think it highlights something important that I’d like to explore in this post.

Image CC BY-NC-SA mag3737

Mozilla is a mission-driven organisation. You can read the manifesto here. But it’s not only Mozilla’s mission that makes it different. After all, there are plenty of charities, NGO’s, and even for-profit organisations that aim to change the world for the better. Something fundamentally different about Mozilla is a commitment to ‘working in the open’.

There are many definitions of what ‘open’ means. At one end of the spectrum are those who use the term to mean nothing more than something being ‘accessible to everyone’. People who take this approach allow you to access their resources if you have the required hardware and/or software. At the other end of the spectrum (where you will find Mozilla) is what might be called ‘open practice’. This goes several stages further. You may access the resource and use it under the terms of an open license. You may remix (or ‘fork’) the resource to improve it or better fit your context. And you may discuss and suggest changes to the resource with those responsible for maintaining it.

Many of Mozilla’s working practices are heavily influenced by the Free Software Definition. However, it’s applied more widely then just to the creation of software. For example, Mozilla uses it when creating teaching resources as part of our Webmaker programme. It’s used when planning the future of the Open Badges Infrastructure. Mozilla chooses open source tools and protocols like BugzillaIRC and Etherpad that default to publicly-accessible outputs. Unless there’s a very good reason for doing otherwise, anyone can see what’s going in within Mozilla projects.

Working open is not only in Mozilla’s DNA but leads to huge benefits for the project more broadly. While Mozilla has hundreds of paid contributors, they have tens of thousands of volunteer contributors — all working together to keep the web open and as a platform for innovation. Working open means Mozilla can draw on talent no matter where in the world someone happens to live. It means people with what Clay Shirky would call cognitive surplus can contribute as much or as little free time and labour to projects as they wish. Importantly, it also leads to a level of trust that users can have in Mozilla’s products. Not only can they inspect the source code used to build the product, but actually participate in discussions about its development.

There’s a well-known saying called Linus’s Law that states, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” In other words, problems can be fixed if you get enough people to work on solutions. Of course, there needs to be an architecture of participation to make the process distinct from chaos, but get this right and — like Wikipedia and Mozilla’s Firefox, you end up with a competitive advantage. The cognitive surplus can be channelled away from TV watching towards things that benefit humankind.

In practice, working open for Mozilla looks like this: if you’re interested in something (whoever you are and wherever you’re from) you can turn up and get involved. If the community find your input useful, then you are likely to be given more responsibility. There are many ways this can happen, but becoming a module owner is a good example. Module owners are people in charge of a module or sub-module of code within a particular codebase. They have responsibility and authority that has been earned through a meritocratic system. For more on this, I’d highly recommend reading Peer Participation and Software: What Mozilla Has to Teach Government (it’s a free download).

But what does all this mean for education? As someone who’s worked in both schools and universities, I know how different the brave new world of the web can feel from the lived reality of institutions. One way to shake things up is to continually ask the question, “can we make this public?” And if that’s too radical, how about “is there any reason why this shouldn’t be shared with everyone at the institution?” It’s a truism that innovation comes from the edges; you’re unlikely to know where the best ideas are residing unless you give people a platform to share them. And one of the easiest ways to provide such a platform is to use the web.

I won’t deny that there may be legitimate reasons for sometimes restricting access to resources, using closed-source software, and privileging top-down decision making. However, I’d suggest that these cases are probably rarer than we collectively admit. Why not try inviting comments from everyone connected with your institution or organisation next time you’re drafting a new policy? How about throwing open the doors (perhaps virtually?) of your next meeting? Next time you’re choosing a digital tool, is it worth considering privileging Open Source software?

There’s much to say on this issue, but if you’ll excuse me I’m going to have to go. A Mozilla contributor is pinging me on IRC…

Biography and Contact Details

Doug BelshawDr. Doug Belshaw, Web Literacy Lead for the non-profit Mozilla Foundation is an educator, researcher and writer.

Contact details:

Twitter: @dajbelshaw

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Posted in Guest-post, openness | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Guest Post: Open Education Data

Posted by mariekeguy on 11 Mar 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The first guest post in the series is written by my former colleague Marieke Guy. After working at UKOLN for 13 years Marieke moved to the Open Knowledge Foundation last year. In this post Marieke reviews her work at the Open Knowledge Foundation on open education data.

Open Education Data

Hi, I’m Marieke Guy and I work for the Open Knowledge Foundation, a global not-for-profit organization that want to open up knowledge around the world and see it used and useful.

My main area of interest is open education, I co-ordinate the Open Education Working Group and I work on a project called LinkedUp. LinkedUp is an EU-funded project that aims to push forward the exploitation of public, open data available on the Web, in particular by educational institutions and organizations. It is doing this through a series of competitions aimed at developers called the LinkedUp Challenge. For the challenge we ask developers to create interesting and innovative tools and applications that analyse and/or integrate open web data for educational purposes.

Defining the terms…

Within the project we use terms like ‘open education data’, ‘open educational data’ and ‘open data in education’ fairly loosely, partly because the terms themselves are ill-defined. For the sake of this post I want to drill down and consider one particular characterization of open education data, and consider its use.

Open education data can refer specifically to the open data that comes out of educational institutions. By educational Institutions I am here referring to all physical places of study from schools to further education and universities. One could broaden this out to include data from online courses, though that is a topic for another post!

So we are really talking about administrative data, which could include:

  • Reference data such as the location of academic institutions

  • Internal data such as staff names, resources available, personnel data, identity data, budgets

  • Course data, curriculum data, learning objectives,

  • User-generated data such as learning analytics, assessments, performance data, job placements

Naturally these types of data can be classified in a variety of different ways, so you can think of them in terms of content, but also in terms of provenance, openness (some are more openly available than others), granularity, legal restrictions and so on. The World Economic Forum report Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches sees there as being two types of education data: traditional and new. Traditional data sets include identity data and system-wide data, such as attendance information; new data sets are those created as a result of user interaction, which may include web site statistics, and inferred content created by mining data sets using questions.

Whatever their classification it is clear that open education data sets are of interest to a wide variety of people including educators, learners, institutions, government, parents and the wider public.

Open Education Data Sets

Here in the UK you could start thinking about some of the datasets that fall under this definition, many of them are held by the government, such as school performance data, data on the location of educational establishments and pupil absenteeism. There is also data from individual institutions such as that collated on linked universities and on and from research into education, such as the Open Public Services Network report into Empowering Parents, Improving Accountability.

Previously much of the release and use of open educational data sets has been driven by the need for accountability and transparency. A well-cited global example has been the situation in Uganda where the Ugandan government allocated funding for schools, but corruption at various levels meant much of the money never reached its intended destination. Between 1995 and 2001, the proportion of funding allocated which actually reached the schools rose from 24% to 82%. In the interim, they initiated a programme of publishing data on how much was allocated to each school. There were other factors but Reinikke and Svensson’s analysis showed that data publication played a significant part in the funding increase.

However recent developments, such as the current upsurge of open data challenges (see the ODI Education: Open Data Challenge and the LAK data challenge), have meant that there is an increasing innovation in data use, and opportunities for efficiency and improvements to education more generally. Their potential us is broad. Data sets can support students through creation of tools that enable new ways to analyse and access data e.g. maps of disabled access and by enriching resources, making it easier to share and find them, and personalize the way they are presented. Open data can also support those who need to make informed choices on education e.g. by comparing scores, and support schools and institutions by enabling efficiencies in practice e.g. library data can help support book purchasing.

Education technology providers are also starting to see the potential of data-mining and app development. So for example open education data is a high priority area for Pearson Think tank, back in 2011 they published their blue skies paper How Open Data, data literacy and Linked Data will revolutionise higher education. Ideas around how money, or savings, can be made from these data sets are slowly starting to surface.

Application of Data Sets

Some of the interesting UK applications of these data sets can be see through services like Which? University which builds on the NSS annual survey held in Unistats, the Key information sets and other related data sets to allow aid students to select a university; Locrating, defined as ‘To locate by rating: they locrated the school using’ which combines data on schools, area and commuting times; London Schools Atlas, an interactive online map providing a comprehensive picture of London schools; equipment – which allow searching across all published UK research equipment databases through one aggregation portal.

The UK is not alone in seeing the benefit of open education data, in Holland, for example, the education department of the city of Amsterdam commissioned an app challenge similar to the current ODI one mentioned earlier. The goal of the challenge was to provide parents with tools that help them to make well-informed choices about their children. A variety of tools were built, such as,,, and The various apps have now been displayed on an education portal focused on finding the ‘right school’.

Further afield in Tanzania (see accompanying image) allows comparison of exam results across different regions of Tanzania and for users to follow trends over time, or to see the effect of the adjustments made to yearly exam results. The site was developed by young Tanzanian developers who approached Twaweza, an Open Development Consultant, for advice, rather than for funding. The result is beneficial to anyone interested in education in Tanzania.

The School of Data, through their data expeditions, are starting to do some important work in the area of education data in the developing world. And in January the World Bank released a new open data tool called SABER (The Systems Approach for Better Education Results), which enables comparison of countries education policies. The web tool helps countries collect and analyze information on their education policies, benchmark themselves against other countries, and prioritize areas for reform, with the goal of ensuring that in those countries all children and youth go to school and learn.

All over the world prototypes and apps are been developed that use and build on open education data.

Data Challenges

However there are still challenges that those keen to develop applications using open education data face. Privacy and data protection laws can often prevent access to some potentially useful data sets, yet many data sets that are not personal or controversial remain unavailable, or only available under a closed licence or inappropriate format. This may be for many reasons: trust, concerns around quality and cost being the biggest issues. Naturally there is a cost to releasing data but in many cases this can be far out-weighed by cost-savings later down the line, so for example a proactive approach will save time and effort when FOI requests are made.

Open Education

So while you may find this all very interesting (I hope!) it’s possible you could still be asking how does this all relate to open education?

My answer would be that firstly Open education is fundamentally about removing barriers to education, this could be barriers to entry, or barriers to content, data or knowledge. Opening up data of any sort fits with this agenda and activities around open licensing in particular are both important and hugely supportive. But secondly, and possibly more importantly, opening up education data gives us the potential to see education and its components differently. This new perspective provides us with an opportunity to revolutionise education and make it better.

As David Lassner, Interim president and former chief information officer at the University of Hawaii explains:

Our opportunities for improvement are immense, and data provide a powerful lens to understand how we are doing internally and relative to our peers. This applies across all segments of what we do, from teaching and learning to administrative support. Performance metrics and dashboards are the beginning, but using data to understand deeper correlations and causality so we can shape change will be critical as we strive to advance our effectiveness.”

The movement for open education is ultimately about wanting better education for all. Open education data is proving to be an important instrument in achieving that goal.

If you would like to participate in more discussions around open education data and its role in open education then do join the Open Education Working Group mailing list.

Biography and Contact Details

Marieke GuyMarieke Guy is a Project Co-ordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation. She leads on dissemination and community building on the LinkedUp Project and co-ordinates the Open Education Working Group.

Prior to joining the Open Knowledge Foundation she worked at UKOLN at the University of Bath on a number of digital information projects focussing on digital preservation, e-learning and social networking for communities such as the cultural heritage sector. She spent two years supporting higher education institutions with their research data management via the Digital Curation Centre institutional support work.

Marieke writes a blog about remote working.

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Posted in Guest-post, openness | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Guest Post: Sheila MacNeill’s reflections on the #byod4l “mini-MOOC”

Posted by sheilmcn on 31 Jan 2014

The #BYOD4L event took place this week. One of the aims of the five-day long online course was to encourage collaboration. Brian Kelly and I have agreed to collaborate by writing guest posts on each others blog. Brian’s post is available on my HowSheilaseesIT blog and my post is given below.

What was the byod4l event about

The best place to get an overview of the event is from the byod4l homepage, and last Sunday in preparation for the week I wrote this blog post which explains some of my thoughts and motivations for participating.

What did I learn?

To be honest I’m not completely sure yet as I think there is another C that needs to be added to the list – contemplation. I think a need a couple of days to cogitate and reflect on the week. But a few things come to mind including time and chaos but more on that later in the post


I’ve tried to instigate some f2f connections here and later today a few of us are having a MOOC meet-up to have a chat about our experiences. I’ve managed to join in a couple of the twitter chats at night and that has allowed me to connect with old friends and find some new ones via twitter. This has also been a great way for Brian and I to connect in a different context. My connecting blog post tho’ was about a different kind of connection.


I’ve pretty much stuck to twitter, my blog and google+. I find the UI of the ipad google+ much nicer now and so I am more inclined to look at that more than before. I also automagically publish blog posts to various places including google+ so I’m there even when I’m not. Brian and I also experimented with a bit of video communication.


To be honest, I’m leaving curating to others, the team are doing a grand job of curating tweets, posts etc. I shared my thoughts on curating in this post.


I hope this post is a form of collaboration, and that the different approaches Brian and I have shared resonate with others. I also hope that focused interactions with others in my peer group online and within my institution will lead to more collaboration.


Well I have created 4 posts over the week and one or two tweets:-)  and I’ve created time for some f2f discussions with colleagues which I think is really important.

Final Thoughts

This is the hardest bit to write. As I said earlier I’m still processing the week. It’s been really useful to have some f2f chats with people and get different perspectives on things. It has reinforced the fact that I don’t mind a bit of chaos, and I that am confident enough online to “have a go” without having always having a clear goal in mind. This is probably equally a good and bad thing!

However the one thing that I keep coming back to is time. Participating this week has required time commitment. Some evenings I’ve been able to join the twitter chat, others I haven’t. Some days I’ve been able to take a bit of time during the day to watch the videos, do a quick blog post, others I haven’t. Today a few of us have blocked some time out to discuss the experience. Creating that time is really important for us as academic staff but I think we also need to find ways to give students more time to become more comfortable with using their own devices in an educational context. If we are serious about integrating byod4l approaches into education, then we need to move beyond byod policies and think about how to redesign our courses to allow some time to just try things. We all need some space and time to play (or experiment if you prefer) to develop the confidence and digital literacies needed to engage more fully with the potential that byod4l approaches to connecting, communication, curating, creating and collaboration can contribute to.

This guest blog post was written by Sheila MacNeill, Senior Lecturer, Blended Learning, Glasgow Caledonian University an assignmentexperiment for BYOD4L. Sheila normally publishes on the How Sheila Sees IT blog.

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Institutional Web Team Blog Aggregator: Advance Notice of Closure

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Jun 2013

The Institutional Web Team Blog Aggregator

IWTB: Institutional Web Team blog aggregator

The Institutional Web Team Blog Aggregator was announced at the final session of the IWMW 2011 event held at the University of Reading.

The aim of the service was to provide a centralised location which aggregates blog posts provided by institutional Web teams, by individuals who post primarily about their work in supporting institutional Web services or by others who support members of the institutional Web management community.

In a post on “Sharing Job Information More Effectively” I gave an example of one additional use case was for ensuring that members of Web teams at other institutions could easily find details of job vacancies.

However it’s probably fair to say that use of blog technologies as a simple mechanism for letting others know about the work being carried out in Web teams, plans for new areas of work and more general sharing of information hadn’t taken off to the extent to which I had hoped.

Advance Notice of Closure

In light of the forthcoming cessation of UKOLN’s core funding we are in the process of archiving our digital content and, where appropriate, shutting down services.

This post provides notification of the closure of the Institutional Web Team Blog Aggregator. It should be noted that this should not mean the loss of significant content – the aggregator is a collection of blog content published elsewhere. If people find this aggregation of content useful I suggest that you visit the IWTB blog while it is still available, make a note of the RSS feed for blogs of interest to you and add them to your own blog reader.

Note that we cannot guarantee that the service will continue to be available after 30 June.

Posted in Blog, rss | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Guest Post: Opening up University Space online using Google Street View

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 Mar 2013

The UK Web Focus blog invites occasional guest posts which cover topics which are likely to be of interest to readers of this blog. In this guest post Edward Miller, a graduate from the University of Sheffield, describes ways of opening up University space online using Google Street View. This post is based on his work for the Sheffield University.

Sheffield Information Commons Street View
Google Street View inside Sheffield University Information Commons

Last month, Sheffield University became the first University to have Google Street View inside one of their buildings. So far, the ground and first floor of the university’s flagship learning space, the Information Commons has been mapped out, with more buildings on their way.

To see the imagery, just drag the little man into the building or you can go directly to it. Don’t forget to explore both floors by going up or down the stairs.

Once more buildings have been made live on Street View, each building will be embedded into the university’s website, along with integration into the University’s Facebook page.

Shooting Google Streetview-in the Information Commons
Edward Photographing Street View inside Sheffield University Information Commons

Google started to roll out Google Street View inside buildings about a year and a half ago, initially just in the United States and now have a roster of “Google-Trusted photographers” across several countries who are able to photograph the Street View imagery.

In addition to photographing Street View imagery, photographers also take still photos around each venue for use in any offline and online marketing and are uploaded to your Google Place Page to help improve a building or businesses’ web presence and SEO.

After what began with a few streets in the States 5 years ago, Street View has now expanded to 5 million miles of road across 48 countries with 96% coverage of all roads in the UK. We can travel from the Rainforest to the Grand Canyon; from caves in Japan to a hut in the Antarctic in a matter of seconds. It allows us to visit places halfway across the globe that are inaccessible, either because of time, money or practicality.

For universities, this means prospective students who are unable to visit a university in person are able to gauge a feeling for the environment from the comfort of their homes on their computer or mobile device. For international students particularly, this could be an invaluable resource. In a world becoming increasingly digital, Street View allows universities to celebrate, promote and attract people to their physical home, online.

Edward Miller, a graduate from the University of Sheffield, started a business producing interactive photography in his third year of University whilst reading Philosophy and Psychology. He specializes in large scale ‘gigapixel’ photos that can be tagged through Facebook and is trusted by Google to produce Street View imagery. Since leaving university, he as built a client list including The Mail, ESPN, Press Association and Vogue.

Contact Details

Telephone: +44 (0)20 3397 7989

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Posted in Guest-post, mashups | 1 Comment »

2012 in review

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 Dec 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 90,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Blog, blog-summary | Leave a Comment »

Guest Post: “1 billion people, 17 million students, 500+ colleges and millions of eager learners”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Dec 2012

Today’s guest post is written by  Gwen van der Velden, Director, Learning and Teaching Enhancement at the University of Bath. Following a chat last night along our shared corridor on level 5 of the Wessex House building Gwen kindly agreed to write a guest post about her recent trip to India.

I work a few offices away from Brian Kelly and Paul Walk and other colleagues in UKOLN. We chat often in the corridors and today I told Brian about last week’s trip to Delhi, India. Because of my enthusiasm about what we found in relation to e-learning, new technologies and connectivity for the public good, Brian asked me to blog and share some of the inspiration. For context, when I say ‘we’ I am not being royal, I am just also referring to Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou, our Head of e-Learning at Bath who has the kind of international reputation that got us invited to India in the first place.

The Indian government works with the HE sector on increasing access to HE for learners who cannot access HE at the moment. The HE system in India is highly regulated and it isn’t a market where entry is easily possible. Many UK universities are working to establish themselves there, but this is far from easy. Moreover, there isn’t enough Indian faculty to grow the existing universities or establish new ones and student places are very, very limited considering the interest in university study that there is. We heard that for one of the Institutes of Technology, there are over 40 students for each available place. So, a different approach is required. Against this background there is a bigger drive to educate India out of poverty. Experiencing New Delhi, you can see what is possible. But driving into old Delhi, we saw what still is to be achieved. It is a country of zest, opportunity, large numbers (1 Billion people) and great economic and social challenges…

The Ministry of Human Resources Development which oversees HE, is investing $1 billion into growing HE. Crucial to their plan is the National Mission on Education through ICT. Growth is going to come through reaching all corners of India with connectivity, and that is why there is an incredible project of taking glass fibre cable into the farthest ends of India. A huge development, and often combined with putting solar energy provision in place, where no electricity existed before. WiFi connections are going to become available through 40 rupees a year subscriptions. That’s about 50 pence. It shows some clear government financial commitment. And it’s all for learning, how inspiring is that?

Aakash tablet (image from WIkipedia:

Aakash tablet (image from Wikipedia:

The second step is to have the learning platforms that connect learners to the curriculum, teaching and assessment. This too is addressed in the most imaginative way. You may have heard of the Indian invention of a $30 tablet, the Aakash (illustrated). I understood that Aakash means ‘clouds’, or ‘sky’, and that shows again how India is reaching for the sky here. The Aakash 1 apparently didn’t get past the pilot, but I’ve held the Aakash 2, played with it (thanks Prof Kannan Moudgalya) and sat in amazement at what a smart little thing this is.  It’s less than half the size of an i-pad but large enough to work comfortably with. It has some good processing power and I saw some software on it that allows you to do programming –useful for Comp Sci students and e-developers. The current pilot means 100.000 learners are testing it out, and we understood from government officials that another 1.5 Million are to be piloted in early Spring next year.

With connectivity and the technology platform under way, the content needs to get out there, and this is where our discussions came in. At the moment universities are encouraged to make as much content available as possible. They all do it in different ways. In some cases it is curriculum, sometimes just content and in some cases there is a larger or smaller effort towards designing materials for learning. Designing content for learning is clearly a developing field and again, full of challenges in India, such as the need for various language versions, cultural context adjustment and then there are also issues about what text/ expression/ content may or may not be used for cultural, religious or property right sensitivities. (On that note, this entry is not a statement sanctioned or approved by the Indian government or any partners we have worked with. It’s just my own account!)

Interestingly, at the conference – courtesy of the British Council and Indira Gandhi National Open University – the Ministry’s Secretary told us that developments now in universities have to be about quality, not quantity. It isn’t good enough to just put content online, if ICT is not used effectively to actually improve learning. Excellent.

The three step approach is incredible considering the size of the country: 1 billion people, 17 million students, 500+ colleges and millions of eager learners wanting to get ahead. We were impressed by the university colleagues we met from all over India. They were genuinely driven by seeing universities as a public good: educating the country out of poverty and developing the technologies to do it. It explains where all these inspired e-ideas are coming from. Watch that space, I can’t help thinking there is more to come from the East.

gwenGwen van der Velden
Learning and Teaching Enhancement
University of Bath.

Web page:
Twitter: @gwenvdv

Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou
Head of e-Learning
Learning and Teaching Enhancement
University of Bath.

Web page:

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Posted in General, Guest-post | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Guest Post: Reflections on Open Access Week 2012 at the University of Oxford

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Dec 2012

During Open Access Week a series of guest blog posts were published on this blog in which three repository managers shared their findings of SEO analyses of their institutional repositories.

As a follow-up to those posts, which were motivated by a commitment to openness and sharing which is prevalent in the repository community, this post by Catherine Dockerty (Web and Data Services Manager, Radcliffe Science Library) and Juliet Ralph (Bodleian Libraries Life Sciences Librarian) provides a summary of the activities behind the Open Access Week event at the University of Oxford.

Open Access Week at Oxford

Open Access Week 2012 saw a determined effort from the Bodleian Libraries of Oxford University to shine a light on developments in Open Access with a full week-long programme of events. This was prompted by the need to assess the state of play in Open Access (OA) which, for major research institutions such as Oxford, is particularly urgent in the wake of the publication of the Finch Report. It was the second year we have participated in Open Access Week – last year we held a single event and we wanted to do a lot more this time round.

What We Were Trying To Do

We had a number of specific things we wanted to achieve though our programme:

  • Increasing the knowledge of library staff. All reader-facing staff will potentially deal with enquiries relating to Open Access.
  • Assembling and showcasing the expertise of Bodleian Libraries staff in Open Access. Readers need to know what we can do for them.
  • Raising awareness of publishing options to academic researchers.
  • Promoting submission to Oxford’s institutional repository ORA (Oxford Research Archive). Oxford currently has mandatory deposit for doctoral theses, but not for research papers.
  • Highlighting Oxford’s progress in the field of Open Data.

What We Did

We put together a programme of talks and other activities, most of which were lunchtime sessions and took place at the Radcliffe Science Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford University’s main library for the sciences and engineering. The majority of speakers were library staff. The focus was on science, but events covering law and medicine were included and there were attendees from the humanities and social sciences.

An evening session, “Bodley’s ‘Republic of [Open] Letters” was hosted by the Oxford Open Science Group and highlighted the DaMaRO Project, which is developing a research data management policy and data archiving infrastructure for Oxford

The presentations are available online.

Wikipedia Editathon

Ada Lovelace by Margaret Carpenter, 1836

Ada Lovelace by Margaret Carpenter, 1836

The final event of the Open Access Week programme was a Wikipedia “Editathon” on the theme Women in Science. The event was organised as a collaboration between the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford University’s IT Services, and was a follow-up to the Ada Lovelace Day event at the Royal Society the week earlier. This tied in neatly with Open Access Week as we were able to highlight open access sources for use in updating articles. Our event was publicised at the Royal Society one and on Ada Lovelace Day Wikipedia page.

Having an Oxford-based Wikipedia event was also an opportunity to encourage academics and students to get involved in editing Wikipedia, which is reliant on expert contributors to add high quality articles and improve existing ones. Wikipedia has a readership vastly exceeding that of any academic journal, and presents an opportunity for academics to have an impact on a wider audience.

Juliet Ralph (Bodleian Libraries Life Sciences Librarian) kicked off the proceedings with an introductory talk to introduce Wikipedia and outline the format of the session. Online resources for editing articles were suggested, focusing on open access. The fact that the Royal Society was providing free access to all its publications until 29th November 2012 was highlighted. A collection of printed reference materials from the RSL’s collection was also provided.

A list of articles for adding/updating was provided as guidance to participants, but this was not intended to be prescriptive. The list was the same one as used at the Royal Society event, updated to reflect all the work done that day.

We were very pleased that Oxford-based Wikipedians James and Harry Burt were able to attend and assist the assembled editors. They also treated us to an impromptu presentation on their work as long-time Wikipedia editors.

Online participation via Twitter was encouraged using the hashtag #WomenSciWP (the same as for the Royal Society event). Note that a Twubs archive of the tweets is available. The event was also live-tweeted from the RSL’s Twitter feed (@radcliffescilib).

By the end of the session two new articles were created and 12 updated. Attendees were mainly research staff and postgraduate students from the fields of science and medicine. Also present were two archivists from the Saving Oxford Medicine project who posted a blog post about the work.

Special thanks to:

  • James and Harry Burt for presenting and for help they gave to other participants.
  • Izzie McMann and Karen Langdon (Radcliffe Science Library staff) for assisting participants on the day.
  • Janet McKnight (IT Services) and Alison Prince (Bodleian Libraries Web Manager) for help in organising and publicising the event.
  • Andrew Gray (British Library Wikipedian in Residence) and Daria Cybulska (Wikimedia UK) for publicising the Editathon and supplying learning materials for the session.


We certainly achieved the aim of increasing the knowledge of OA issues in Library staff within the sciences, several of whom attended more than one event. In future we will aim to actively promote the staff development benefits from participating to all Bodleian Libraries staff, not just those in the sciences. Our collaborations with the Open Science Group and IT Services were successful, and we hope to work together with them on future events.

We fulfilled all our original intentions to some extent, but some events were not well attended in spite of being publicised widely although were positively received by those who did.

The timing of Open Access Week is a problem for Oxford as the start of the academic year is later than for most UK universities, which means the new term is just getting underway in earnest and there are many other events to compete with. Staff time in planning events is also in short supply as reader-facing staff will have been prioritising inductions for new students over the previous weeks.

The Wikipedia event was a success (well attended with positive feedback) and we would certainly hold a similar event in the future, although not necessarily as part of Open Access Week. The fact that it was a hands-on session went down well, and the Women in Science theme attracted interest.

Next Time

Holding events at lunchtime was evidently not popular and we may decide to move them to an afternoon slot (colleagues who run user education programmes had a higher take-up when they did this). We may also move the sessions out of the library into academic departments or colleges, and hold events at other times of year.

We will be making a concerted effort to involve well-known speakers, rather than relying heavily on library staff.

We will be looking to encourage other OA events in Oxford and elsewhere, and we will also think about using online chat as well as Twitter for online participation. The planning starts now!

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

Catherine DockertyCatherine Dockerty is the Web and Data Services Manager at the Radcliffe Science Library at Oxford University where her role is managing online content, social media and communications, and to support colleagues in serving the University’s teaching and research in the sciences. She has spent 13 years working in various reader services roles at Oxford University, and has also worked in the civil engineering industry and the book trade.

Juliet RalphJuliet Ralph is the Subject Librarian for Life Sciences and Medicine in the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, where she has worked for over 15 years. She is one of many librarians involved in providing support for research at Oxford, including Open Access.

Posted in Guest-post, openness, Repositories | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Social Media Analytics for R&D: a Catalan Vision

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 Nov 2012

Social Media Analytics for R&D: a Catalan Vision

In this guest post Xavier Lasauca i Cisa reviews how institutions that are part of the Catalan R&D environment make use of social media and described the benefits of this approach. Xavier also discusses the metrics  used by the Catalan Administration to evaluate and measure the impact of the government’s presence in this area and their benefits for the public.

This guest blog post builds on previous posts on this blog which have described use of social media in the UK higher education sector, including posts on Social Analytics for Institutional Twitter Accounts Provided by the 24 Russell Group UniversitiesUse of Facebook by Russell Group Universities and Links to Social Media Sites on Russell Group University Home Pages.

The post has been published in the run-up to the Spot-On London (SOLO12) conference which includes sessions on Assessing social media impact (#solo12impact), Altmetrics beyond the Numbers (#solo12alt) and Using Twitter as a Means of Effective Science Engagement (#solo12Twitter). The post aims to provide a wider view on approaches to use of social media and evaluation of its impact beyond the UK.


The Directorate General for Research is the unit of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia) responsible for promoting science and technology research centres, planning training and career development of researchers, promoting Catalan participation in national, European and international research programs, and designing actions on science communication and dissemination in Catalonia, among other functions. This unit, along with the Directorate General of Universities, is part of the Secretariat for Universities and Research, which at the same time is part of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge, headed by Minister Andreu Mas-Colell. The parallels with the British political system lie in the fact that the Directorate General for Research is the equivalent to the Government Office for Science within the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

As the person responsible for Knowledge Management and ICT on R&D, I am in charge of the management of R&D computer applications at the Directorate General for Research, of the technical coordination of the research website of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge, and of an electronic newsletter (RECERCAT). I am also the person responsible, in conjunction with the Communication department of the Secretariat, for  the administration of  the Directorate General for Research profiles on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.). In addition, I maintain a personal blog (“L’ase quàntic” or “The quantum donkey“) where I write about innovation in Public Administration, the use of social media in universities and research, the Open Galaxy (Open Access, Open Science, Open Data, Open Courseware…) and the issue of women in science, among others.

This article focuses on the use of social media by the units within the departments of the Catalan Government (specifically the Secretariat for Universities and Research), research centres, large research support infrastructures and the reference networks in Catalonia. I would like to thank Professor Miquel Duran, from the University of Girona, for his support in the preparation of data on the number of Twitter, Klout and Kred followers of the organisations analyzed during the second week of October this year.

A General Overview of the Catalan R&D System

The Catalan public R&D system is primarily composed of universities, research centres, large research support infrastructures, hospitals, science and technology parks, networks of reference and research groups.

The central topics in science policies applied in Catalonia in recent years are, on the one hand, talent attraction and retention, with excellence and internationalization as their benchmarks (a good example of this line of action is ICREA, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies), and on the other hand, a sustained increase in research funding, with the bulk of the spending allocated to research structures, both research centres and large facilities (such as the Alba synchrotron light facility or the MareNostrum supercomputer).
A good sign of the health status of the Catalan scientific system is that, if we consider that the size of the population in Catalonia represents 1.5% of the EU-27, the system has managed to attract 2.2% of the financing available from the European Union Seventh  Framework Programme, and has obtained 3.4% of European Research Council (ERC) grants. Another relevant fact is that 2.9% of scientific publications in the EU-27 have been written by Catalan researchers. You can find these data and more information on the Catalan research system in the article by the Secretary for Universities and Research of the Catalan Government, Antoni Castellà, published in the issue 1 of the journal Global Scientia.

Institutional support

Three social media accounts are being managed from the Secretariat for Universities and Research: the Directorate General for Research account ((@recercat), the Directorate General of Universities (@universitatscat) and the Secretariat for Universities and Research (@coneixementcat).

The Twitter account of the Directorate General for Research is used to disseminate the scholarships and research grants funded by the unit, as well as the publications of the institution (for example, the most important news published in the newsletter RECERCAT). It is also used to post news and updates from the web, to promote the scientific dissemination activities from the unit and from the Recerca en acció (Research in action) website, as well as events, awards, scholarships, publications and other information from the system related agents. Apart from this public information service, the Twitter account also serves to promote government action (with links to press releases) and to share institutional statements from events or interviews of policymakers.

The institutional account management of the Secretariat for Universities and Research, as well as of other departments of the Catalan government, is based on the Style and usage guide of the Government of Catalonia’s social networks, produced by the General Directorate for Citizen Services and Publicity (GDCSP), at the Ministry of the Presidency of the Government of Catalonia. This publication establishes common guidelines for a consistent presence of the Government  of Catalonia on social networks and lists the different social media utilities, their various uses, the purpose of each network, recommendations for an appropriate and productive presence, and criteria for finding the best communicative style for each tool.

One of the most important chapters in the guide is dedicated to metrics, an essential tool to monitor the activity that is being done and to assess and measure the impact, in this case, of the presence of the Administration in this environment and the benefits it represents for citizens. Metric indicators are based on the following key concepts:

  • Dialogue: measures the degree of dialogue that the Government of Catalonia maintains with citizens on different social networks.
  • Reach: information on the distribution of the Government of Catalonia contents to the people who are part of the social network.
  • Action: indicates whether the content shared on the networks promotes activity.
  • Interaction: shows the global relationship between an account and its audience.
  • Acceptance (Applause): quantifies the degree of satisfaction.

For each of these key concepts, the indicators shown in Table 1 (List of indicators for Twitter and Facebook) and Table 2 (List of indicators for YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare) are used:

Concept  Twitter Facebook
Audience Followers Friends
Tweets sent Entries
Interactions Mentions Comments
Retweets (RT) Shares
Clicks to links Likes
Interest Dialogue Mentionts/tweets Comments/entries
Reach RT/tweets Shares/entries
Action Clicks to links/tweets
Applause Likes/entries
Interactions (Mentions+RT)/tweets (Comments+shares+likes)/entries
Commitment Dialogue Mentions/followers Comments/friends
Reach RT/followers Shares/friends
Action Clicks to links/followers
Applause Likes/friends
Interactions (Mentions+RT)/followers (Comments+shares+likes)/friends

Table 1: List of indicators for Twitter and Facebook

Tool Indicator
Youtube Total number of videos uploaded
Videos uploaded during the month
Number of views of all the videos uploaded
Visits to the channel
Flickr Total number of photos published
Photos published during the month
Number of views of all the photos
Slideshare Total number of presentations and documents published
Presentations and documents published during one month
Number of downloads of all the presentations and documents published
Number of visits of all the presentations and documents published

Table 2: List of indicators for Youtube, Flickr and Slideshare

In order to facilitate a better interpretation of the metrics, the GDCSP prepares a quarterly report that shows the evolution of these indicators graphically and sends it to each of the units responsible for corporate social media accounts. These reports help the units to evaluate the effectiveness of their activity on social media and to consider whether the previously defined objectives are being achieved. In addition, the information obtained can serve as a basis for predicting future actions and planning campaigns. After all, assessment in the Administration must serve to identify public policies that work, knowing the impact and to what extent it is attributable to the intervention of Public Administration. Table 3 shows the number of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube followers of the institutional accounts of the Universities and Research areas in the Catalan Government, as well as the Klout and Kred reputation indices:

Secretariat for Universities and Research accounts Twitter FB YT Klout Kred
Directorate General for Universities (@universitatscat) 3,300 859 52 718 5
Directorate General for Research (@recercat) 2,970 538 53 697 5
Secretariat for Universities and Research (@coneixementcat) 1,467 49 656 4
Research in action (@RecercaenAccio) 1,438 87 49 616 3

Table 3: Social Analytics for Institutional Twitter Accounts of  Secretariat for Universities and Research of Catalan Government

The Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Universities area lead the classification ahead of the Research accounts, probably because their target audience is considerably larger. The Twitter account of the Knowledge area of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge of the Government of Catalonia ranks third, whereas the account of the science dissemination website Research in action closes the classification.

Research Centres in Catalonia: Increasingly Intensive Use of the Social Web

As regards research centres in Catalonia, it has to be mentioned that the CERCA Institute  is the Government of Catalonia’s technical service and its means for supervising, supporting and facilitating the activities of the 47 research centres in the CERCA system. These research centres are independent entities with their own independent legal status, partially-financed by the Government of Catalonia (which provides them with stable funding through programme contracts) and their main aim is excellence in scientific research. They follow a private sector management model that is totally flexible and based on multi-year activity programmes within the framework of a strategic plan and ex-post supervision  that respects the autonomy of each centre.

The aim of this model is to encourage co-ordination and strategic co-operation between  centres, to improve the positioning, visibility and impact of the research carried out and to facilitate communication between public and private agents. To illustrate  the efficiency of the system, out of the 60 ERC Starting Grants awarded in Catalonia during the 2007-2012 period, 34 were awarded to researchers from the CERCA centres (56%), whereas in the case of the ERC Advanced Grants, the percentage rises to 63% (19 out of 30) for the 2008-2011 period.

Out of all the 47 CERCA centres, 25 use social media tools, primarily Twitter, as part of their communication strategy. Table 4 summarises the most important indicators of their presence on social media:

CERCA centres accounts Twitter Facebook YouTube Klout Kred
1 IJC – Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute >2,344 >44,758 >245 >50 >730 >3
2 i2CAT – Internet and Digital Innovation in Catalonia 1,503 44 638 4
3 CTFC – Forest Technology Centre of Catalonia 1,195   957    21 49 650 3
4 CREAF – Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications 1,191 51 681 5
5 IPHES – Catalan Institute for Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution 1,097 1,048    29 49 677 5
6 IGTP – Health Sciences Research Institute of the Germans Trias i Pujol Foundation   923 50 667 5
7 CRG – Centre for Genomic Regulation   905  449    58 50 675 6
8 IDIBELL – Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute   777  234     3 52 685 5
9 IDIBAPS – August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute   772  185 43 597 2
10 ISGlobal-CRESIB-Barcelona Centre for International Health Research   758  353 52 694 6
11 IMIM – Municipal Institute for Medical Research Hospital del Mar   744    24 44 583 3
12 VHIR – Vall d’Hebron Research Institute   734  301    62 47 644 3
13 ICCC – Catalan Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences   617  217 39 595 4
14 ICIQ – Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia   499  428    12 45 600 4
15 IRB Barcelona – Institute for Research in Biomedicine   295  448    13 43 576 3
16 IRSI-CAIXA – Institute for AIDS Research   283 46 597 5
17 ICP – Catalan Institute of Palaeontology Miquel Crusafont   258 2,683    20 42 545 3
18 CVC – Computer Vision Center   252    93 43 577 4
19 ICFO – Institute of Photonic Sciences   228  197 45 619 3
20 IMPPC – Institute of Predictive and Personalized Cancer Medicine    70 31 434 2
21 IC3 – Catalan Climate Sciences Institute    33  218 31 351 2
22 CTTC – Catalan Telecommunications Technology Centre    29    12     1 25 344 1
23 CMR[B] – Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona    21    21   52 0
24 IBEC – Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia  265     7
25 CReSA – Centre for Animal Health Research     6

Table 4: Social Analytics for Institutional Twitter Accounts Provided by CERCA centres

As for the number of Twitter followers, the Josep Carreras Foundation, on which the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute depends, leads the account classification with 2.344 followers. At a certain distance, and above 1.000 followers, we find the i2CAT Foundation (Internet and Digital Innovation in Catalonia), the Forest Technology Centre of Catalonia and the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications.

Regarding the José Carreras Foundation, which also tops the rankings on Facebook (over 44.000 followers) and YouTube (with 245 subscribers), it should be noted that the Foundation probably generates a very significant number of emotional supporters, which may not occur in most other centres.

In the case of Facebook, 18 CERCA centres are present in this network. Apart from the aforementioned first position, the second one goes to the Catalan Institute of Palaeontology Miquel Crusafont, and the third is for the Catalan Institute for Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution, both of them with over 1000 followers.

About YouTube, the top channels in number of subscribers correspond to the Josep Carreras Foundation, the Center for Genomic Regulation and the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute. As we can see, there is a wide variety of fields of knowledge regarding the top positions of the various social media.

As regards to reputation indices, the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal-CRESIB) lead the Klout ranking (Klout 52), and there are four centres over 50: the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications, the Center for Genomic Regulation, the Health Sciences Research Institute of the Germans Trias i Pujol Foundation, and the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute. Interestingly, when analyzing the Kred index substantial variations are not observed with respect to the centres that occupy the top six ranking positions of the Klout index, except for the entry of the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution into the Top 6, which moves the Health Sciences Research Institute of the Germans Trias i Pujol Foundation up to the seventh position.

Apart from the 47 CERCA centres, Catalonia has 21 centres from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which are public state-owned agencies. Among these research centres, we wish to highlight the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (IIIA), with 369 followers on Twitter, the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB), with 306 followers, and the Institute of Robotics and Industrial Computing (IRII), with 144 followers.

Large research support infrastructures

Large research support infrastructures require large investments for their construction and maintenance, with the aim to advance cutting-edge experimental science. Catalonia has basically two major infrastructures: the Alba synchrotron light facility at the CELLS Consortium and the MareNostrum supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS).

These major research support infrastructures in Catalan territory are mainly consortia participated by the Government of Catalonia, the Spanish State and other organizations that take a minority stake. Apart from the two major infrastructures mentioned above, there are up to 10 other major research support infrastructures. Only five out of these 12 structures are present on social media as shown in Table 5:

Catalan large infrastructures accounts  Twitter Facebook YouTube Klout Kred
Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS) 385 236 11 45 597 4
Center for Scientific and Academic Services of Catalonia (CESCA) 158  45  0 31 523 3
Ebre Observatory  99 137 38 494 2
National Centre for Genomic Analysis (CNAG)  64 40 395 3
Montsec Observatory 940

Table 5: Social Analytics for Institutional Twitter Accounts Provided by Catalan Large Infrastructures

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) ranks first in the number of Twitter followers, while the Montsec Astronomical Observatory leads the Facebook network.

Reference networks of R&D and innovation

Reference networks of R&D and innovation consist of a series of groups from different institutions that carry out research and innovation projects, and other activities collaboratively. These groups have common goals and the networks aim at promoting collaborative, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work, as well as the optimization of infrastructure and R&D and innovation facilities in Catalonia. Four out of the eight reference networks are present on Twitter, as shown in Table 6, with the Reference Network of R&D and innovation on Theoretical and Computational Chemistry leading the classification:

Catalan reference networks accounts Twitter Facebook Klout Kred
Reference Network of R&D&I on Theoretical and Computational Chemistry (XRQTC) 117 35 516 4
Catalan Biotechnology Reference Network (XRB) 112 41 498 4
Reference Network of R&D&I on Aquaculture (XRAq)  63 74 23 396 3
Reference Network of R&D&I on Food Technology (XaRTA)  39 17 220 1

Table 6: Social Analytics for Institutional Twitter Accounts Provided by Catalan Reference Networks

How Can We Measure the Reputation of a Research Network?

Is the number of Twitter followers a good indicator of the presence of an institution on the net? In my blog, I regularly analyze the presence of research structures in Catalonia on social media, based on the number of followers. I realized that this indicator may not be a sufficiently complete indicator, so I decided to introduce also the Klout and Kred indicators, in line with the analysis of Professor Miquel Duran, an expert in analyzing metrics in universities of the Catalan-speaking territories, and Brian Kelly, UKOLN,  University of Bath, with his detailed analysis on the presence of the UK Russell Group universities (note the latter also includes indicators such as  Peerindex or Twitalyzer). Both Klout and Kred provide complementary and useful information in order to assess the impact of bidirectional communication.

Klout is a social networking service that measures influence using data points from Twitter, such as the size of a person’s network, the content created and how other people interact with that content. This analysis is also done on data taken from Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, and other sites. Klout creates profiles on individuals and assigns them scores ranging from 1 to 100. Despite being criticized because of its opacity, this service has become quite popular and I believe it is a good complement.

Another interesting measure of influence is Kred. Unlike Klout, Kred provides a fully transparent view of the actions that compose any user’s score and it is the only influence measure to openly publish its algorithm. Kred’s scoring system, which is based on Twitter profiles, is composed of two scores: Influence measures a user’s ability to inspire action from others like retweeting, replies or new follows and it is scored on a 1000 point scale.  Outreach reflects generosity in engaging with others and helping them spread their message and it is scored on a 10 point scale. Outreach score is cumulative and always increases, and it is measured on Twitter by your retweets, replies and mentions of others.

The Importance of Being Present on Social Media

In late May 2012, I gave a presentation at the University of Barcelona on dissemination using Web 2.0 (Com divulgar en el web 2.0). The workshop aimed to provide tools and strategies for scientific knowledge dissemination to researchers and other agents linked to R&D and innovation system, so that they could be in a better position to spread the object of their research.

Although my remarks focused on the importance of having a blog and a Twitter account to disseminate research, I finally mentioned other instruments that could contribute to it such as repositories (Slideshare, YouTube, Flickr) or social networking tools (ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Google+). During the talk it was mentioned that, while Facebook has been considered a very suitable network for personal rather than professional purposes, currently a trend has been detected among young people to use this network to disseminate research. Therefore, it should be considered in future studies.

Twitter and Facebook are the social networking tools where research structures in Catalonia are mostly present, although with slightly different communication strategies. The centres use these media mainly to disseminate research and, in some cases, to make dissemination activities organized by the centre more widely available and to engage with the public, even as a teaching support. Moreover, these tools are often used to post vacancies at the institution. According to Raül Toran, science writer at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), “generally the topics that are forwarded mostly are the ones related to cutting-edge research and job vacancies at the institution“.

Social media at the research centres are basically managed by the Communication Departments at the same institution although in most centres, some researchers use social media mostly for personal rather than professional activity. Cinta S. Bellmunt, Head of Communication at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) states that the researchers in the centre “are aware of the value and visibility that social networks provide to research, because quite often I have to refer questions that arise in the group to them, so they realize there is movement, interrelation“. To follow up on the impact of the communication strategy of the centre, tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are used.

A good example of the impact of the dissemination activity of social media by the centres is to be found in the increasing traffic to their websites, as well as an increase in the number of job applications for possible vacancies. Inevitably, this communication activity results in a continuous increase in the number of Twitter and Facebook followers. As far as readers’ preferences is concerned, it is highly variable and it depends on the centres: in the case of the IDIBELL, there is more interaction via Twitter (direct messages, mentions, RT, etc.) than via Facebook (Likes or comments), while in the case of IPHES the situation is reversed.

As regards privacy, there is growing awareness that knowledge must flow, but with precaution in order not to affect the privacy of others, respecting authorship and quoting the source of what is being communicated.

Open social network tools such as Diaspora or, are still little known in Catalonia. In contrast, a growing increase in Catalan researchers in the ResearchGate network has been detected.

In summary, we could say that research structures in Catalonia are consolidating and increasing their presence on social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook, which has become part of their communication strategy, increasing visibility. To disseminate the research that is being carried out and to approach society are the main goals. In addition, communication units are progressively incorporating metrics tracking tools designed to evaluate and measure the impact of the communication activity and its benefits to the target audience. And good news is that research, often funded with public money, engages with the whole of society.

About the Author

Xavier Lasauca i Cisa is the person in charge of Knowledge Management and Information Technologies on R&D (Directorate General for Research, Ministry of Economy and Knowledge, Government of Catalonia).

Twitter: @xavierlasauca

Image: 2.0, by Maricel Saball (CC BY 3.0), adapted from My social networks

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

Posted in Guest-post, Social Web | 12 Comments »

The Sixth Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Nov 2012

This blog was launched in 1 November 2006. A year after the launch I described The First Year of the UK Web Focus Blog. The following year I provided a summary of  The Second Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog) in which I provided a link to a backup copy of the blog’s content, hosted on Scribd. In a post on The Third Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog I commented that “with over 600 posts published on the UK Web Focus blog, I can’t recall all of the things I have written about!“. In 2010 a post on Fourth Anniversary of this Blog – Feedback Invited provided a link to a SurveyMonkey form and I subsequently published a post which gave an Analysis of the 2010 Survey of UK Web Focus Blog.

Last year’s anniversary post, entitled How People Find This Blog, Five Years On concluded that “most people now view posts on this blog following alerts they have come across on Twitter rather than via a Google search or by subscribing to the blog’s RSS feed“. I went on to say that “to put it more succinctly, social search is beating Google and RSS“.

Figure 1: Referrer Traffic to this blog, 2011-12

But what do usage statistics now tell us about the previous year? Looking at the referrer statistics for the last 365 days (as illustrated in Figure 1) it seems that has changed how it displays the referrer statistics compared with last year.

Figure 2: Referrer Traffic, 2006-11

Last year’s findings (illustrated in Figure 2) had Twitter in first place, followed by Google Reader and the UKOLN Web site. However this year we find Search Engines in first place, by a significant margin.

This reflects comments made last year by Tony Hirst who felt that the statistics were somewhat misleading:

my stats from the last year show a lot of Twitter referrals, but also (following a three or four day experiment by WordPress a week or so ago), inflated referrals from “”. The experiment (or error?) that WordPress ran was to include RSS counts in the stats. The ‘normal’ stats are page views on; the views over the feed can be found by looking at the stats for each page.

It would appear that last year’s conclusion: “social search is beating Google and RSS” was incorrect. In fact Google continues to be significant in driving traffic to this blog. However I think we can say that “social services, especially Twitter, are beating RSS readers“.

The importance of Twitter is widely appreciated as a means of ensuring that the intended target audience  – those with whom you are likely to share similar professional interests – are alerted to your content. But the thing that surprised me was the importance of Facebook – in third place behind Search Engines and Twitter in referring traffic to this blog.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised by Facebook’s high profile. After all, a post by Daniel Sharkov, an 18 year old student and a blogger, which provided a 9 Step Blog Checklist to Make Sure Your Posts Get Maximum Exposure included the following suggestion:

Did You Share Your Post on Facebook?

An obvious one. What I do is share the post both on my personal wall and on my fan page right after publishing the article.

I appreciate that use of Facebook won’t be appropriate in all cases, but for blogs provided by individuals who have a Facebook account and who wish to see their content widely viewed, it would appear that Facebook can have a role to play in supporting that objective; the evidence is clear to see – even, or perhaps especially, if you’re not a fan of Facebook.

Posted in Blog, Evidence, Facebook | 2 Comments »

SEO Analysis of Enlighten, the University of Glasgow Institutional Repository

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Oct 2012


In the third and final guest post published during Open Access Week William Nixon, Head of Digital Library Team at the University of Glasgow Library and the Service Development Manager of Enlighten, the University of Glasgow’s institutional repository service, gives his findings on use of  the MajesticSEO tool to analyse the Enlighten repository.

SEO Analysis of Enlighten, University of Glasgow

This post takes an in-depth look at a search engine optimisation (SEO) analysis of Enlighten, the institutional repository of the University of Glasgow. This builds on an initial pilot survey of institutional repositories provided by Russell Group universities described in the post on MajesticSEO Analysis of Russell Group University Repositories.


University of Glasgow

Founded in 1451, the University of Glasgow is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world. Today we are a broad-based, research intensive institution with a global reach. It’s ranked in the top 1% of the world’s universities. The University is a member of the Russell Group of leading UK research universities. Our annual research grants and contracts income totals more than £128m, which puts us in the UK’s top 10 earners for research. Glasgow has more than 23,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students and 6000 staff.


We have been working with repositories since 2001 (our first work was part of the JISC funded FAIR Programme) and we now have two main repositories, Enlighten for research papers (and the focus of this post) and a second for our Glasgow Theses.

Today we consider Enlighten to be an “embedded repository”, that is, one which has “been integrated with other institutional services and processes such as research management, library and learning services” [JISC Call, 10/2010]. We have done this in various ways including:

  • Enabling sign-on with institutional ID (GUID)
  • Managing author identities
  • Linking publications to funder data from Research System
  • Feeding institutional research profile pages

As an embedded repository Enlighten supports a range of activities including our original Open Access aims to provide as any of our research outputs freely available as possible but also to act as a publications database and to support the university’s submission to REF2014.

University Publications Policy

The University has a Publications Policy, introduced to Senate in June 2008, has two key objectives:

  • to raise the profile of the university’s research
  • to help us to manage research publications.

The policy (it is a mandate but we tend not to use that term) asks that staff:

  • deposit a copy of their paper (where copyright permits)
  • provide details of the publication
  • ensure the University is in the address for correspondence (important for citation counts and database searches)

Enlighten: Size and Usage

Size and coverage

In mid-October 2012 Enlighten had 4,700 full text items covering a range of item types including journal articles, conference proceedings, book, reports and compositions. Enlighten has over 53,000 records and the Enlighten Team work with staff across all four Colleges to ensure our publications coverage is as comprehensive as possible.


We monitor Enlighten’s primarily via Google Analytics for overall access (including number of visitors, page views referrals and keywords) and EPrints IRStats package for downloads. Daily and monthly download statistics are provided in records for items with full text and we provide an overall listing of download stats for the last one and 12 month periods.

Looking at Google Analytics for the 1 Jan 12 – 30 Sep 12 (to tie in with this October snapshot) and the previous period we had 201,839 Unique Visitors up to 30 Sept 12 compared to 196,988 in 2011.

In the last year we have seen an increase in the number of referrals and our search traffic is now around 62%. In 2012 – 250,733 people visited this site, 62.82% was Search Traffic (94% of that is Google) with 157,503 Visits and 28.07% Referral Traffic with 70,392 visits.

In 2011 232,480 people visited this site, 69.97% of that was Search Traffic with 162,665 Visits and 18.98% came from referrals with 44,128 Visits.


Our experience with Google Analytics has shown that much of our traffic still comes from search engines, predominantly Google but it has been interesting to note the increase in referral traffic, in particular from our local * domain, this rise has coincided with the rollout of staff publication pages which are populated from Enlighten and provides links to the record held in Enlighten.

After * domain referrals our most popular external referrals come from:

  • Mendeley
  • Wikipedia
  • Google Scholar

We expected that these would feature most predominantly in the Majestic results, with Google itself.

Majestic SEO Survey Results

The data for this survey was generated on the 22nd October 2012 using the ‘fresh index’, current data can be found from the Majestic SEO site with a free account. We do own the domain but haven’t added the code to create a free report. The summary for the site is given below showing 632 referring domains and 5,099 external backlinks. Interestingly it seems our repository is sufficiently mature for Majestic to all provide details for the last five years too.

Since we were looking at rather than * we anticipated that our local referrals wouldn’t feature in this report. As a sidebar a focus just on showed nearly 411,000 backlinks and over 42,000 referring domains.

Figure 1.  Majestic SEO Summary for

This includes 619 educational backlinks and 54 educational referring domains. This shows a drop in the number of referring domains since Brian’s original post in August which showed 680 and a breakdown of the Top Five Domains (and number of links) as:

  • 5,880
  • 5,087
  • 322
  • 178
  • 135

These demonstrate a very strong showing for blog sites, news and Wikipedia.

Figure 2. Top 5 Backlinks

Referring domains was a challenge! We couldn’t replicate the same Matched Links data which Warwick and the LSE have used. Our default Referring Domains report is ordered by Backlinks (other options including matches are available but none of our Site Explorer – Ref Domains options seemed to be able to replicate this. We didn’t use Create Report.

These Referring Domains ordered by Backlinks point us to full text content held in Enlighten from sites it’s unlikely we would have readily identified.

Figure 3a: Referring Domains by Backlinks

Figure 3b: Referring Domains by Matches (albeit by 1)

This report shows at number one with the blog sites holding spots 2 and 3 and then Bibsonomy (social bookmark and publication sharing system) and Mendeley at 4 and 5.

An alternative view of the Referring Domains report by Referring Domain shows the major blog services and Wikipedia in the top 3, with two UK universities Southampton and Aberdeen (featuring again) in positions 4 and 5.

The final report is a ranked list of Pages, downloaded as CSV file and then re-ordered by ReferringExtBacklinks.

URL ReferringExtBackLinks CitationFlow TrustFlow 584 36 28 198 18 15 77 10 9 70 24 2 69 23 2[1].pdf 61 0 0

Table 1: Top 5 pages, sorted by Backlinks

These pages are:

  • Enlighten home page
  • PDF for “Arguments For Socialism”
  • PDF for “Language in Pictland”
  • A chronology of the Scythian antiquities of Eurasia based on new archaeological and C-14 data [Full text record]
  • Some problems in the study of the chronology of the ancient nomadic cultures in Eurasia (9th – 3rd centuries BC) [Full text record]
  • PDF for “87Sr/86Sr chemostratigraphy of Neoproterozoic Dalradian limestones of Scotland and Ireland: constraints on depositional ages and time scales” [Full text record]


Focusing in more detail on the results, in Figure 2, the top 5 backlinks, 4 out of the 5 are from Wikipedia, the first two are to the same paper but from different Wikipedia entries. It’s interesting to see that our third ranked backlink is the ROARmap registry.

Looking at the top 5 pages ranked by backlinks, none of the PDFs or the records which have PDFs currently appear in our IRStats generated list of most downloaded papers in the last 12 months. It is clear however, in this pilot sampling to draw a correlation between ranking and the availability of  full text and not merely a metadata record.


While this initial work has focused on the Top 5, extending this to at least the Top 10 would be useful for further comparison, it was interesting to see that sites such as Mendeley appeared in variations of our Referring Domains which correlated with our Google Analytics reports which indicate that they are a growing source of referrals.

Looking at Figure 3a, a Google search, on the first referring domain (by backlinks) reveals that the number Ref Domain has 136,000 results on Google for “”, didn’t match at all and had 5 results.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter don’t appear in these initial results, it may be because the volume is insufficient to be ranked here or there may be breach of service issues. Google Analytics now provides some social media tools and we have been identifying our most popular papers from Facebook and Twitter.

This has been an interesting, challenging and thought-provoking exercise with the opportunity to look at the results and experiences of Warwick and the LSE who, like us reflect the use of Google Analytics to provide measures of traffic and usage.

The overall results from this work provide some interesting counterpoints and data to the results which we get from both Google Analytics and IRStats. These will need further analysis as we explore how Majestic SEO could be part of the repository altmetrics toolbox and how we can leverage its data to enhance access our research.

About the Author

William Nixon is the Head of Digital Library Team at the University of Glasgow Library. He is also the Service Development Manager of Enlighten, the University of Glasgow’s institutional repository service ( He been working with repositories over the last decade and was the Project Manager (Service Development) for the JISC funded DAEDALUS Project that set up repositories at Glasgow using both EPrints and DSpace. William is now involved with the ongoing development of services for Enlighten and support for Open Access at Glasgow. Through JISC funded projects including Enrich and Enquire he has worked to embed the repository into University systems. This work includes links to the research system for funder data and the re-use of publications data in the University’s web pages. He was part of the University’s team which provided publications data for the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) Bibliometrics Pilot. William is now involved in supporting the University of Glasgow’s submission to the REF2014 national research assessment exercise. Enlighten is a key component of this exercise, enabling staff to select and provide further details on their research outputs.

Posted in Evidence, Guest-post, openness | 2 Comments »

SEO Analysis of LSE Research Online

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 24 Oct 2012


The second in the series of guest blog posts which gives a summary of an SEO analysis of a repository hosted at a Russell Group university is provided by Natalia Madjarevic, the LSE Research Online Manager. As described in the initial post, the aim of this work is to enable repository managers to openly share their experiences in use of MajesticSEO, a freely-available SEO analysis tool to analyse their institutional repositories.

SEO Analysis of LSE Research Online

This post takes an in-depth look at a search engine optimisation (SEO) analysis of LSE Research Online, the institutional repository of LSE research outputs. This builds on Brian Kelly’s post published on this blog in August 2012 on MajesticSEO Analysis of Russell Group University Repositories.

The London School of Economics and Political Science


LSE is a specialist university with an international intake and a global reach. Its research and teaching span the full breadth of the social sciences, from economics, politics and law to sociology, anthropology, accounting and finance. Founded in 1895 by Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the School has a reputation for academic excellence. The School has around 9,300 full time students from 145 countries and a staff of just under 3,000, with about 45 per cent drawn from countries outside the UK. In 2008, the RAE found that LSE has the highest percentage of world-leading research of any university in the country, topping or coming close to the top of a number of rankings of research excellence. LSE came top nationally by grade point average in Economics, Law, Social Policy and European Studies and 68% of the submitted research outputs were ranked 3* or 4*.

LSE Research Online – a short history

LSE Research Online (LSERO) was set up in 2005 as part of the SHERPA-LEAP project. The aim of the project was to create EPrints repositories for each of the seven partner institutions, of which LSE was one, and to populate those repositories with full-text research papers. In June 2008 the LSE Academic Board agreed that records for all LSE research outputs would be entered into LSE Research Online. We have no full-text mandate but authors are encouraged to provide full-text deposits of journal articles in pre-publication form, clearly labelled as such, alongside references to publications. Research outputs included in LSE Research Online appear in LSE Experts profiles automatically, thereby reusing data collected by LSE Research Online.

LSE Research Online is to be the main source of bibliographic information for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014. This has served to further increase the impetus for deposit and visibility of the repository in the School and we have various repository champions throughout the School across departments.

LSE Research Online size and a brief look at usage statistics

As of September 2012, LSE Research Online contains around 33,696 records, with 7,050 full-text items. We include a variety of item types such as articles, book chapters, working papers, data sets, blogs and conference proceedings. We most recently began collecting LSE blogs to create a permanent home for this important content. We began tracking LSERO site usage with Google Analytics in 2007 and the site has received 2,268,135 visits since this date. According to Google Analytics, 76.55% (1,748,725 total visits) of traffic to LSE Research Online comes from searches. Only 16.13% of traffic is from referrals and 7.14% from direct traffic. We also use analog server statistics to monitor downloads and total downloads May 2007-Sept 2012 was 5,266,871.

Expectations of the survey

Before running the Majestic SEO report, I expected we would see plenty of traffic from Google and backlinks (i.e. incoming links) from as, understandably, these are key sources of traffic to LSERO and are indicated as such on Google Analytics. Google Analytics also points to referrals from Wikipedia and Google Scholar, and most recently, our Summon implementation which includes LSERO content. However, I was intrigued as to how LSERO would fare in an SEO analysis.

Majestic SEO survey results

The data was generated from Majestic SEO using a free account on 24th September 2012 using the ‘fresh’ index option. A summary of the results is shown below: there are 1,285 referring domains and 8,856 external backlinks. Note that the current findings can be viewed if you have a MajesticSEO account (which is free to obtain).

Figure 1: Majestic SEO analysis summary for

This includes 408 educational referring backlinks. If we look at backlinks in more detail, patterns begin to unravel:

Figure 2: Top 5 Backlinks

This illustrates a distinct majority of Wikipedia pages linking to LSERO content and yet this is only ranked as the sixth most popular source of traffic in Google Analytics.

Top referring domains, sorted by matched links, can be found in the table shown below:

Referring domains Matched links Alexa rank Flow Metrics
Citation flow Trust flow 14502 21 95 93 11239 5 97 94 349 8 97 98 272 33 98 96 225 1 99 99

Table 1: Top 5 Referring Domains

Flickr makes a surprise appearance, with WordPress and Blogger dominating the top of the table.

Top 5 items sorted by Majestic’s flow metrics can be found here:

Figure 3: Top 5 Resources in Repository (sorted by flow metrics)

Perhaps more indicative, the Top 5 linked resources sorted by number of backlinks can be found in the table shown below:

Ref no. URL Ext. BackLinks Ref. Domains CitationFlow TrustFlow
1 501 83 45 41
2 417 69 28 19
3 225 4 27 32
4 130 46 30 25
5 112 54 22 23

Table 2: Top 5 Linked Resources in Repository (sorted by no. of links)

These pages are:

  1. The LSE Research Online homepage.
  2. A PDF of a research paper on climate policy.
  3. The record for a paper on teenager’s use of social networking sites.
  4. The record for a paper on climate policy.
  5. The record for a paper on open source software.


Looking in more detail at the top backlinks to the repository, as listed in Figure 2, we can see that Wikipedia represents four out of five top pages. This includes the Wikipedia page on Free Software, which links back to a Government report on the cost of ownership of open source software. The Wikipedia pages on the European Commission and Proportional Representation are ranked second and third respectively. The Proportional Representation page links back to the full-text of a 2010 workshop paper: Review of paradoxes afflicting various voting procedures where one out of m candidates (m ≥ 2) must be elected. The fifth and only backlink not be Wikipedia is, an AIDS Education site which links back to the record of an early LSERO paper: Peer education, gender and the development of critical consciousness : participatory HIV prevention by South African youth.

In Table 1, the Top 5 Referring Domains to LSE Research Online are WordPress, Blogspot, Wikipedia, Flickr and Google. We can see the dominance of international social platforms here with WordPress (14,502 links) and Blogspot (11239 links), followed by Wikipedia (349 links), Flickr (272 links) and, finally a search engine, (225).

In Figure 3, Top 5 Resources in Repository (sorted by flow metrics), we can see several links to LSERO information pages including the home page and the feed of latest additions. There are, however, several direct links to full-text papers including an Economic History Working Paper on A dreadful heritage: interpreting epidemic disease at Eyam, 1666-2000Sorting this data by number of backlinks, as shown in Table 2, the top item is the LSERO homepage with 501 backlinks. The second item is the PDF of one of our most downloaded papers of all time: The Hartwell Paper.


So what can I draw from the results of the Majestic SEO report of LSE Research Online? Analysing the top referring domains according to the Majestic report, it seems reasonable to suggest that adding links to repository content on blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogspot may result in an increased SEO ranking. We often link to LSERO content in various LSE Library blogs hosted on Blogspot, including New Research Selected by LSE Library. Flickr is also listed as a top referring domain according to the Majestic SEO but running a Google search for “” retrieves zero results. It’s difficult to ascertain how MajesticSEO gets this result when Google does not confirm the findings – perhaps it uses very different algorithms to Google? The MajesticSEO top referring domains indicate that blogging platforms are the main referring domains to LSERO content. However, according to our Google Analytics stats, 76.55% of traffic to LSERO is from searches. Furthermore, the Majestic report indicates that there are 349 matched links to LSERO content on Wikipedia. “Running the search “” in you get (on 11 October 2012) “About 92 results”. From the last page of the results, by repeating the search to include omitted results, Google ends up with 80 hits.” Searching for in retrieves 83 hits. How does MajesticSEO retrieve such varying results?

Looking at backlinks, it’s important to note that the majority of top backlinks refer to papers that have the full-text attached and often link directly to the full-text PDF, of course resulting in a direct download. In addition, the Top 5 Resources in Repository (sorted by external backlinks) as seen in Table 2 tallies with our consistently popular papers according to Google Analytics and our analog statistics.

It is apparent that the inclusion of repository links on domains such as Wikipedia and blogging platforms appears to have a positive impact in helping the relevancy ranking weighting for LSERO content in web pages. This is not to mention direct hits on the links themselves, adding directly to the site’s visitors, and thus the dissemination of LSE research outputs. However, whether we can draw firm conclusions from the Majestic report remains to be seen, particularly with such differing results to those found on Google.

Thanks to my colleague Peter Spring for his advice when writing this post.

About the Author

Natalia Madjarevic is the manager of LSE Research Online, LSE Theses Online and LSE Learning Resources Online, the repositories of The London School of Economics and Political Science.

Natalia is also the Academic Support Librarian for the Department of Economics and LSE Research Lab. Joining LSE in 2011, prior to that Natalia worked at libraries including UCL, The Guardian and Queen Mary, University of London. Her professional interests include Open Access, research support, REF, bibliometrics and digital developments in libraries.

Posted in Evidence, Guest-post, Repositories | 4 Comments »