Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Web Focus: Widening the Focus for the Future

Brian Kelly reviews the history of the Web Focus post and describes funding changes which gives Web Focus a much wider remit.

The UK Web Focus post was established by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) [1] to advise the UK Higher Education Committee on Web developments. The post is based at UKOLN and located at the University of Bath. As post-holder I began work on 1 November 1996.

UK Web Focus Activities

“Advising on Web developments” is a very broad remit, especially when one considers that, for many, the Web is pervasive in many aspects of both our work and, nowadays, social activities. In order to avoid being deluged by HTML queries, the UK Web Focus has focussed on the use of open standards and best practices for Web development.

Although in the very early days of the Web when I was one of the Web evangelists in the UK [2], I probably had a good understanding of Web architecture, development plans and approaches to implementation; these days the Web architecture is so complex that it is difficult for an individual to have a deep understanding of all aspects. It is also impossible to keep up to date with all the approaches to implementing Web services or the pros and cons of those different approaches.

In light of this, the approach taken by UK Web Focus has always been one of seeking to work with the Web development community and to facilitate the sharing of best practice across the community.

The most high-profile activity to support this sharing of best practice has been the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series. This event has been held every year since 1997; a total of seven workshops. The initial workshop [3] was held at King’s College London in June 1997 and lasted for one day, with an overnight stay. The response to the first workshop made it clear that there was a demand for a larger event, so the following year the IWMW 1998 workshop [4] held at the University of Newcastle was spread over three days. This format was repeated at the IWMW 1999 workshop [5] (Goldsmith’s College) and the IWMW 2000 workshop [6] (University of Bath). The IWMW 2001 workshop [7] was held at Queen’s University Belfast. Given the location, most delegates would need to fly the day prior to the workshop, so it was decided to start the workshop first thing on the first day, which provided a valuable additional half-day’s content. This format was kept for the IWMW 2002 workshop [8] (University of Strathclyde) and the most recent event, IWMW 2003 workshop [9], which was held at the University of Kent.

The responses from the workshop evaluation forms give an indication of the popularity of these workshops across the Web community. This is due, I feel, to the active contributions made by speakers and workshop facilitators at the events and the culture of collaboration and sharing which is one of the most valuable aspects of working in this community.

In addition to organising the workshop series, UK Web Focus also contributes regularly at conferences and workshops organised by other groups within the sector, on topics ranging from “Disseminating News Within Your Organisation”, “Benchmarking Your IT Services Web Site”, “Finding Resources Locally and Remotely” “WebWatching the UK HE community” and “Web Futures” at UCISA-TLIG conferences; “The Web In The 21st Century”, “Auditing and Monitoring Your Web Site”, “Using Externally-Hosted Web Services; Good Idea or Bad?”, “Advertising On The Network”, “The Next Steps For Institutional Web Services”, “Managing Your Institutional Web Gateway”, “The Latest Web Developments: How Do I Deploy Them?” and “Advances in Web Technologies” at UKERNA’s annual Janet User Support Workshop. As might be expected, the materials used in these events are freely available on the UK Web Focus Presentations Web page [10].

In addition to involvement with these annual or bi-annual conferences, presentations have also been given at many events which support JISC activities such as JISC programmes and a number of events organised by institutions.

The dissemination activities aimed specifically at the Higher Education sector have been complemented by work in the wider community, which has provided an opportunity to share best practice across related sectors (such as regular participation at the Internet Librarian International Conference) or to seek validation of ideas by presenting papers at peer-reviewed conferences. This has included papers on “Ideology or Pragmatism? Open Standards and Cultural Heritage Web Sites[11], “Developing a Quality Culture for Digital Library Programmes[12], “Approaches to Validation of Dublin Core Metadata Embedded in (X)HTML Document[13], “Approaches to the Preservation of Web Sites[14], “Automated Benchmarking of Local Government Web Sites[15], “RDN-Include: Re-branding Remote Resources[16], “Approaches to Indexing in the UK Higher Education Community[17] and “A Lightweight Approach to Support of Resource Discovery Standards[18]. Again access to these and other papers is freely available on the UK Web Focus Publications Web page [10].

In addition to these peer-reviewed papers regular columns and articles have also been published in e-journals such as Ariadne , Cultivate Interactive and Exploit Interactive [19].

The dissemination activities outlined above have been informed by engaging in a range of activities. From the start close links have been developed with the JISC, through involvement with several of JISC’s development programmes from eLib in the 1990s through to the current JISC 599, FAIR and X4L programmes.

Within UKOLN successful bids for funding led to the WebWatch Project (which involved the development and use of benchmarking software employed to profile Web communities and which led to the regular WebWatch columns in Ariadne), the Exploit Interactive and Cultivate Interactive e-journals (which provided dissemination mechanisms for EU-funded programmes) and the current QA Focus work (which is developing quality assurance methodologies for JISC digital library programmes).

Recent Changes - Support For FE

The audience for UK Web Focus work extended a few years ago when the Further Education funding bodies agreed to fund the JISC. A programme of work targeted at the FE sector is currently under way. The approach to this work is based on close collaboration with the JISC RSCs (Regional Support Centres) which provide an interface to the 400+ FE colleges. A number of workshops for the JISC RSCs have already been delivered. This included one that was available to all of the JISC RSCs and which provided an opportunity for Web development staff at the RSCs to assess their Web sites and develop strategies for enhancement.

Recent Changes - Support For The Cultural Heritage Sector

A more significant change occurred on 1 August 2003. Since this date the UK Web Focus has been jointly funded by JISC and Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives & Libraries. This change in funding brings the UK Web Focus post in alignment with UKOLN itself, which has JISC and Resource as its core funders.

This change is a very important one for UK Web Focus. The challenge is to make a significant impact within the cultural heritage sector. Ideally the impact will be comparable with the impact UK Web Focus has made within the HE sector. However in order to do this it will be necessary to gain an understanding of the community; (I should say communities as although museums, libraries and archives are all part of the Resource sector, they have their own challenges and cultures). A particular issue will be the lack of a communications infrastructure such as that used within Higher Education, where participation on mailing lists such as web-support [20] and website-info-mgt [21] is the norm for members of institutional Web management teams.

Work in engaging with the cultural heritage sector has already begun. The initial activity was a day’s workshop relating to quality assurance in the context of Museum Web sites [22] which was held prior to the mda 2003 conference. This provided a valuable opportunity to engage with Web developers within the museum’s community and to gain an understanding of the sector.

The workshop was followed by participation in the ichim03 (International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting) conference. This provided an opportunity to hear about significant developments in the international digital heritage world. I was also an active participant and gave a paper on open standards and cultural heritage Web sites [23].

The Future

The engagement with the cultural heritage community in England and Wales (the geographical area covered by Resource) has only just begun. I would expect there to be interest in many of the areas of work addressed and approaches taken under the previous funding regime. However it will also be necessary to engage with the new communities and develop strategies which are appropriate for these communities.

The changes in funding and the need to begin work developing links with these communities will, of course, have an impact on the involvement with the HE sector, especially as it is intended to engage more with the FE sector. There will be less participation in activities which have primarily a HE focus - although it is intended to continue to provide the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop series.

For the post-16 educational community a dedicated UK Web Focus support service is dead. For the post-16 educational community, as well as the cultural heritage sector, UK Web Focus is alive and well.


  1. JISC http://www.jisc.ac.uk/
  2. How the Web Was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web, James Gillies and Robert Cailliau, Published by Oxford Paperbacks, 2000, ISBN 0192862073
  3. Running An Institutional Web Service, 16-17 July 1997
  4. Institutional Web Management Workshop 1998, 15-17 September 1998
  5. Institutional Web Management: The Next Steps, 15-17 September 1999
  6. Institutional Web Management: The Joined-Up Web, 6-8 September 2000
  7. Institutional Web Management: Organising Chaos, 25-27 June 2001
  8. Institutional Web Management: The Pervasive Web, 18-20 June 2002
  9. Institutional Web Management: Supporting Our Users, 11-13 June 2003
  10. UKOLN: UK Web Focus: Presentations http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/presentations
  11. Ideology Or Pragmatism? Open Standards And Cultural Heritage Web Sites , B. Kelly, A. Dunning, M. Guy and L. Phipps, ichim 03 Proceedings
  12. Developing a Quality Culture For Digital Library Programmes, B. Kelly, EUNIS 2003 Conference Proceedings
  13. Approaches To Validation Of Dublin Core Metadata Embedded In (X)HTML Document, B. Kelly, P. Johnston and A. Powell, WWW 2003 Conference Poster Proceedings
  14. Approaches To The Preservation Of Web Sites, B. Kelly, Online Information 2002 Conference Proceedings
  15. Automated Benchmarking Of Local Government Web Sites, B. Kelly, EuroWeb 2001: The Web In Public Administration Conference Proceedings
  16. RDN-Include: Re-branding Remote Resources, B. Kelly, P. Cliff and A. Powell, WWW10 Conference Poster Proceedings
  17. Approaches To Indexing In The UK Higher Education Community”, B. Kelly, P. Cliff and A. Powell,
  18. A Lightweight Approach To Support Of Resource Discovery Standards, B. Kelly,
  19. Ariadne Magazine http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/
    Cultivate Interactive Magazine http://www.cultivate-int.org/
    Exploit Interactive Magazine http://www.exploit-lib.org/
  20. Archives of WEB-SUPPORT@JISCMAIL.AC.UK WEB-SUPPORT which discusses all issues relating to the World Wide Web
  21. Archives of WEBSITE-INFO-MGT@JISCMAIL.AC.UK: Managing an institutional Web site http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/wa.exe?A0=website-info-mgt
  22. Quality Assurance For Museum Web Sites, Workshop, mda 2003 conference,
  23. Ideology Or Pragmatism? Open Standards And Cultural Heritage Web Sites, B. Kelly, A. Dunning, M. Guy and L. Phipps, ichim03 Proceedings

Author Details

photo (10KB): Picture of Brian Kelly Brian Kelly
UK Web Focus
University of Bath

Email: b.kelly@ukoln.ac.uk

Brian Kelly is UK Web Focus. He works for UKOLN, which is based at the University of Bath.

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