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IWMW 2007: Next Steps for the Web Management Community

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Shirley Keane reports on the wide range of presentations given at this year's Institutional Web Management Workshop.

Torrential rain, thunder and lightening provided the backdrop to the Institutional Web Management Workshop [1], held this year at the University of York. Dramatic as they were, the conditions did not in any way dampen the enthusiasm of the delegates over the three days. The programme this year consisted of plenary sessions, discussion groups, parallel sessions and the famed social events. New this year was the IWMW Innovation Competition, where participants were invited to submit lightweight examples of innovative uses of Web technologies as well as the IWMW logo. As I work through the presentations I intend to cover, readers can refer to further information on the speakers and their talks [2].

Day One

Opening Session: What Is A Community?

Chair: Brian Kelly, UKOLN

Welcome to York

Dr Miranda Stephenson, Deputy Director of the National Science Learning Centre, welcomed delegates to the University of York and expressed how privileged the University felt to be hosting the conference, particularly with such a current and important theme: Web 2.0. The latter represented a balance of resource implications and educational benefits and the services it provided were very important. Moreover, Miranda added, those who worked, largely unseen, in support of such services deserved greater recognition.

image (15KB) : new IWMW spider logo

IWMW logo

Brian Kelly then gave an overview of this year's IWMW programme. He explained that Marieke Guy, the official IWMW Chair, was unable to attend this year as she had just given birth to a baby boy and that she would be back next year. Marieke had worked very hard to make this year's conference as successful as IWMW 2006 - which had been voted the 'best ever' IWMW workshop. Brian introduced a new feature this year, the 'Innovation Competition', to be judged on the final day [3].

Plenary 1: Sustainable Communities: What Does 'Community of Practice' Mean for Institutional Web Managers?

Dr Steven Warburton, School of Law, King's College London

The title of Steven Warburton's presentation was 'From individuals to networks and sustainable communities?' in which he discussed the dimensions of communities and how they are a fundamental aspect within descriptions of shared human activity and group bonding; he described architecture in a virtual learning environment and asked where we would find the 'locus of power' and the 'discourse of control', explaining how policy is dictated from institutional level through Web managers to the users.

photo (29KB) : Steven Warburton presenting

Steven Warburton presenting

Policies are in place at institutional level, web management level. There are policies around design and branding; information architecture, access and accessibility, Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and so on; yet there is little feedback invited from students. He suggested there is possibly a paradigm shift now to a less hierarchical system with more freedom of choice, sharing and collaboration, creativity and creative commons. Steven also mentioned 'digital identity' and the question of 'personal reputation management' versus 'institutional reputation management and how these are now dependent on each other. He also alluded to ethical issues such as consent - and how to reconcile personal freedoms and institutional responsibilities; and also spoke on digital literacy for participation (the art of reading visual representations), of creative recycling of existing material, socio-emotional literacy, empowerment and the role of the institutional Web management community; developing shared purpose, and how and where to articulate understanding of self, role and community. He concluded by reminding us that the role and identity of an institutional Web manager is 'inseparable from a field of practice that remains dynamic, fluid and under constant negotiation'. [4]

Plenary 2: Let the Students Do the Talking...

Alison Wildish, Head of Web Services, Edge Hill University

This presentation from Alison Wildish was on how Edge Hill University decided to take a radical approach to updating its Web site after receiving University status in 2006, by using the latest trends to develop:

  • A student portal which embeds social networking and user-owned technologies with its own institutional systems.
  • An applicant community Web site which allows applicants to chat directly to current students to discover all there is to know about University life.

Alison described how the Web was constantly changing and current trends in the world of social networking included Web sites such as Facebook [5], MySpace [6] and Bebo [7] used by 98% of Edge Hill students. Facebook, for example, had not even figured on the UK radar in September 2006; yet now it is in widespread use and there is even a developer platform available. As users become more sophisticated in how they use the Web, they have a strong desire to do things 'their way' and they speak as they find. With many free tools to choose from, the Web development and marketing teams at Edgehill thought they should review how the Web site should be re-developed. Rather than try to force the traditional 'way of the Web' on students, they embraced Web 2.0 and provided a portal to blogs, feeds, and so on [8] to make the site more attractive to potential students. By featuring social networking elements, the University sought to help students visiting its Web sites feel part of the community before they arrived, and so able to gain a flavour of the Edgehill Community, as well as of the education the University could provide.

Day Two

Morning Session: Getting Technical #1

Chair: Helen Sargan, Cambridge University

Plenary 3: Building Highly Scalable Web Applications

Jeff Barr, Amazon Web Services

In this session, Jeff Barr discussed Amazon's approach to Web-scale computing and how, by using this new approach, developers can use Amazon's services to build scalable and flexible Web applications both rapidly and cost-effectively. He spoke of the issues facing developers, describing how approximately 70% of developers' work could be described as 'muck'- the must-do elements of the job such as running data centres; managing bandwidth, power and cooling issues; maintaining operations and looking after issues of staffing. Scaling was difficult and expensive, requiring large, up-front investment ahead of demand, but where load was unpredictable. It is possible to prepare for large, seasonal spikes, but it can be expensive to run this level of service for the short time that might be used to capacity. He believed the solution was 'Web-scale computing' - that is, to scale capacity on demand, turn fixed costs into variable costs and have reliability allowing you to focus on product and core competencies. Jeff went on to describe in detail Amazon's newest services, including the Simple Queue Service, the Simple Storage Service, and the Elastic Compute Cloud; and how the services are being used by customers worldwide. Jeff described Amazon's unique "Mechanical Turk" [9] service, 'a crowdsourcing marketplace that enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do'. [10]

Plenary 4: Can Your Website Be Your API?

Drew McLellan, allinthehead.com

In this session, Drew McLellan discussed the issues around non-semantic markup and how HTML, with its basic tags, did not offer much in the way of semantics thus allowing data to "die all over the Web".

"Every time non-semantic markup is used, a piece of data dies. Data was born to be shared."

Drew spoke of a community project that is addressing this by using microformats, based on hAtom, hCard, hCal and so forth:

"Designed for humans first and machines second, microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards. Instead of throwing away what works today, microformats intend to solve simpler problems first by adapting to current behaviors and usage patterns." [11]

It is possible to begin on a small scale by adding microfomats to existing pages to build up a more semantic set of Web pages. An example, based on vCard might be:

 

<p class="vCard">
<span class="org">Apple</span>
<span class="role">CEO</span>
<span class="fn">Smith</span>
</p>

 

Firefox has an extension for showing and exporting microformats; its 'tails' extension [12] exposes microformats and Dreamweaver extensions for this can be downloaded [13]. XML has failed to support this and now companies such as Yahoo are publishing millions of microformats [14].

Getting Technical #2

Chair: Jeremy Speller, UCL

Plenary 5: The Promise of Information Architecture

Keith Doyle, Salford University

Keith Doyle talked about how Information Architecture (IA) is concerned with 'finding things' and how vital IA is to any Web site. He highlighted how the IA role at institutions is often 'squeezed' into a multitude of tasks, and asked the question as to whether this should, in fact, be a specific post. The Institute of Information Architecture [15] defines IA as "...the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability." Unlike a library, with its sophisticated cataloguing systems, we tend to add pages rather randomly to Web sites. It is clear that it is important for users to be able to find information and, if they can't, they will give up and go elsewhere. The probability of finding what you are looking for on the Web is the same as for winning the lottery...1 in 2,330,636...so there is a specific need to reduce such odds, and IA could help insofar as every Web site already has information architecture (IA) in some form. In terms of navigation, there are methods to choose from in order to provide a better experience for the user:

  • Wayfinding - such as using the logo to link back to 'home'; or including a clear 'home page' link and a site map. User testing has proved how useful this is.
  • Berry picking: where the user ends up finding something completely different.
  • Information foraging: like bees [16]
  • 'Satisficing': doing the minimum possible to satisfy user needs
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Taxonomies
  • Design for the user's convenience, not yours (Nielsen)
  • Search engines
  • Thesaurus management

By designing for the user's convenience, rather than your own, a visit to your Web site should be a better experience for the user. The keywords are: findability, responsibility, user testing and community of practice. Many institutions squeeze this kind of work into the life of busy staff but Keith Doyle suggests a full-time Information Architect on the team would be extremely valuable.

Attacks on web servers, and on Internet-connected devices in general, have become both more common and more sophisticated in recent years. Arthur Clune looked at how people attack Web servers, and what they hope to gain from it. This presentation was based on data from the Honeynet Project's [17] deployment of Honeypot servers worldwide.

People are breaking in for various reasons: out of curiosity, for status, fame and for monetary gain. Since the first attacks on the Web, the Distributed Denial of Service (DDS) is a constant threat and current trends point to much activity in:

  • Blog spam
  • Wiki spam
  • Calendar spam
  • Harvesting of text for use in above.

This problem is not going to go way and needs to be addressed with some urgency. Educational institutions are often attacked due to the large bandwidth available and attacks on the servers can affect reputation, violate copyright on services, can spread the exploit code and so on. It is important, therefore, that institutions follow best practice and do not multiply servers unnecessarily. They should undertake code audits, build firewalls, and create a perimeter security network called a demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates the internal network from the outside world. Most importantly, it is important to talk to staff responsible for security to ensure proper plans are in place to combat such attacks.

photo (53KB) : The main auditorium

The main auditorium

Afternoon Session: A Viral Marketing Vision

Chair: Patrick Lauke, University of Salford

Plenary 7: Marketing Man Takes off His Tie: Customers, Communities and Communication

Peter Reader, University of Bath

Peter Reader began by describing how e-communications, e-marketing and social media are hot topics for university marketing and communications staff, with old ideas of 'control' looking more and more unrealistic. Talk now is of students as 'customers', of 'client management', of 'influence' and of 'viral marketing'. The Web and its technologies are now being seen as important marketing tools and new challenges have now arisen for marketers as the customer becomes more demanding.

Peter continued by saying that marketing and communications departments are often misunderstood by VCs downward, and as university courses become 'products', university league tables will become even more important for positioning your institution.. Currently, there is no national marketing for universities. He presented statistics that indicate 86% of students in the North East of England remain within the area when taking up university places; 92% in the North West stay within their local area. Branding seems to terrify VCs, yet it is well known that 'your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room' and can no longer be ignored. Peter went on to say that the subject of gender imbalance, to take one example, needs to be addressed by marketers and communicators. Statistics show that in 1999 the numbers of male/female students in Further Education (FE) were equal; however, in 2006, 59% of the intake into FE were female. How the Web site communicates to its audience is of paramount importance: the message must be correct, and over-communication must be addressed.

Peter described how young people today are using media in a different way, characterised by the following pointers:

  • More online than on TV
  • More than one need at a time
  • One in seven has their own blog
  • Young women are online a great deal
  • Email is the most frequent e-activity
  • Facebook captured the UK Higher Education (HE) market in 18 months; attracting 80% in 2007

Today, the customer is in control, not the marketing manager and we need to know: how to become part of students' conversation, how universities can involve themselves in social media without facing rejection; track what is coming next and try to see what will expand and what will die. He concluded that, when all is said and done, universities must be more open and truthful with their messages: trying to continue to 'manage' communication is dangerous and can lead to alienation in the wider community.

Plenary 8: Social Participation in Student Recruitment

Paul Boag, Headscape

Paul Boag talked about social participation and how it has been around for a long time in the form of mailing lists, newsgroups, chat rooms and community sites and, at the heart of the development of these communities, is the HE sector.

Trends come and go and forums have dominated social participation for a long time, supporting both large and small communities. The problem with forums is that they are not so easy to set up. Blogging, however, has changed this and it can be said that Web 2.0 has refreshed social participation. Businesses have been quick to take this up and are buying up small Web 2.0 companies; however, the HE sector is struggling a little, preferring to play it safe, being risk-averse. There are, however, some universities who are tackling this head on: for example Warwick and Edge Hill. And the sector as a whole should not be afraid of negative comments it might receive by entering this virtual arena, as the influence it would gain by embracing these technologies would in his view far outweigh the risks. Indeed, negative comments reinforce the positive. While it is true that issues of moderating postings and dealing with flaming, etc, as well as legal implications, should be borne in mind, the corporate sector is already overcoming these difficulties by responding in a timely manner, providing examples of how to deal with these aspects.

The FE sector has a choice as to whether it builds its own services or use existing ones, using social participation to aid student recruitment; whatever it decides, it should not let fear stand in its way. Paul's 'recommendations' were:

  • embrace change
  • recognise potential
  • take some risks
  • dedicate resources
  • innovate content

... and finally 'Don't give up! Fight!'

Day Three

Morning Session: Conclusions

Chair: Stephen Emmott, LSE

Panel Session: Dealing with the Commercial World: Saviour or Satan?

John Harrison and Adam Hulme, Maxsi Ltd, discussed the potential benefits and pitfalls of commercial advertising on university Web sites. Potential ways of advertising included:

  • payment each time the page is seen
  • a "click through rate" payment (i.e. how many times a banner is clicked)
  • cost per acquisition (CPA) - the user clicks via banner to a third-party site where a purchase is made
  • 'slot banner rental': payment for hosting a link (usually on a monthly basis)
  • sponsorship: eg: 'sponsored by....' with logo or a link

The advertiser sees one advantage of advertising on a university site as being able to target an audience which would otherwise be hard to reach; however, a major disadvantage is the relatively low volume compared with other sources. Nonetheless, it was pointed out that universities could create consortia to bring numbers up should they wish to go down this route. It is very hard to find out how much this market is worth and the institutions would need a good analytics system, to research this.

Isabel Allen, independent consultant, former head of eBusiness, Nottingham Trent University, talked about how Nottingham Trent University has streamlined the 150 Web sites it used to maintain, all with varying designs and content, through the installation of a commercial CMS.

Project Slimfast was thus named as the remit was that the Web site had to become skinny in eight weeks. The main goals were to:

  • reduce size to become more attractive
  • create consistency in accessibility
  • implement a Content Management System
  • become more competitive

The project team looked at industry benchmarking, spoke to commercial organisations, went to industry events for research into various aspects of the new site, including how to introduce an online payment system. There were pitfalls, but not only did the project succeed, it brought with it new skills and helped staff to develop professionally.

Paul Boag described the main stages involved with good Web design and what his company provides:

  • front end, interface, design is main work
  • usability/accessibility testing
  • Information Architecture
  • stakeholder interviews to get people on board
  • stakeholder training (explaining basics of the Web)
  • help with selecting a suitable CMS

Brian Kelly argued that the use, or not, of commercial services is just one dimension of a more complex set of issues. He discussed the tensions between the role of the institutional Web management team in ensuring standards and best practice are observed (in order to provide quality Web sites) and the role of meeting the diverse needs of current and future users in in our institutions (in order to provide a quality Web experience)

.

Here is a summary of the main discussion points:

  • we shouldn't take commercial as meaning 'money', it should really be viewed as using external suppliers
  • we should consider using backup and support for software from the commercial world
  • it might be possible to pull revenue out of students' union income
  • we should use the fact that advertisers are moving in a big way onto the Web as TV audiences fall and there is plenty of opportunity for everyone
  • we must maintain standards - adverts can create accessibility problems
  • whatever software we use, it must be sustainable and robust, be it open source or commercial
  • some talk of the 'dishonesty' in commercial world . If you are going to purchase commercial products, then make sure you obtain a test version and talk to the developers. The bottom line: it's your responsibility
photo (37KB) : University of York grounds

University of York grounds

Discussion Groups and Parallel Sessions

A variety of important issues were covered and more can be found on the IWMW wiki [18]. Here you can find details of all the discussions and also view recorded sessions.

Final Session

Chair: Brian Kelly

Competition

This session began with the judging of the Innovation Competition which aimed to provide an opportunity to experiment in a friendly environment and to help towards professional development. There were fifteen submissions [19] and winners were:

  • Sebastian Rahtz's Community Focus Mashup [20], Oxford University Computing Services (first)
  • Michael Nolan's How To Find Us and Hi from Edge Hill [21], Edge Hill University (second place)
  • Paul Walk's Community Focus Mashup [22] (equal third)
  • Mike Ellis' Mashed Museums Directory [23] (equal third)

Reflections on IWMW 2007: Saviour or Satan?

Brian Kelly reflected on the workshop content and felt the balance had been about right; however, he thought the question we should be asking was perhaps not "Commercial World: Saviour or Satan?" but rather "Web Managers: Saviour or Satan?"

Brian then thanked the organising committee, speakers and workshop facilitors, sponsors [24] and all the helpers who had contributed to the success of the workshop.

IWMW 2008

Brian concluded the workshop by telling us that the 2008 Workshop will be held at University of Aberdeen.

Conclusion

As well as the very interesting range of talks, discussions and workshops, the social events were a great success, in particular the magician who wowed the whole conference dinner with his sleight of hand. As I was busy scribing, I was unable to take any photos - and the rain didn't help either - so there are some posted on the technorati Web site, from which you will be able to get a flavour of the occasion [25]. And there is much more information on the IWMW Web site [1].

To quote someone I overheard "the bar has been raised even higher this year", and I hope I have been able to do justice to this year's workshop. I would like to sign off with my own homage to the event:

image (62KB) : Tag Cloud IWMW 2007 © Shirley Keane 2007. light rain, torrential rain, storm clouds, gale force, umbrellas, bebo, wiki, competition, blogging, IWMW 2007, twittering, YouTube, discussion groups, parallel sessions, plenary sessions, MySpace, flood warning, weather warning, drizzle, raincoats,lightning, thunder, competition, railway museum, magician, puddles, University of York

Tag Cloud IWMW 2007 © Shirley Keane 2007

References

  1. Institutional Web Management Workshop 2007 http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/
  2. IWMW 2007 speakers http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/speakers/
    IWMW talks http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/talks/
  3. IWMW Innovation Competition http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/
  4. Presentation: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/talks/warburton/
  5. Facebook http://www.facebook.com/
  6. MySpace http://www.myspace.com/
  7. Bebo http://www.bebo.com/
  8. Edghill blogs http://blogs.edgehill.ac.uk/
  9. Amazon Mechanical Turk http://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome
  10. Wikipedia entry on Amazon Mechanical Turk, retrieved 15 August 2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Mechanical_Turk
  11. microformats http://microformats.org/
  12. Tails Export:: Firefox Add-ons https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2240
  13. Microformats Extensions: The Web Standards Project http://www.webstandards.org/action/dwtf/microformats
  14. microformats weblog: Yahoo Local Supports Microformats http://microformats.org/blog/2006/06/21/yahoo-local-supports-microformats/
  15. The Information Architecture Institute http://iainstitute.org/
  16. Information Architecture: Consequencing http://consequencing.com/tag/information-architecture/
  17. UK Honeynet Project http://www.honeynet.org.uk/
  18. IWMW 2007 Wiki http://iwmw2007.wetpaint.com/
  19. IWMW 2007 Innovation Competition http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/
  20. Competition entry by Sebastian Rahtz: Alternative course discovery using calendars and maps
    http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/submissions/#submission-15
  21. Competition entry by Michael Nolan: How To Find Us http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/submissions/#submission-10
    and Hi From Edge Hill http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/submissions/#submission-11
  22. Competition entry by Paul Walk: Community Focus Mashup
    http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/submissions/#submission-2
  23. Competition entry by Mike Ellis: Mashed Museums Directory
    http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/competition/submissions/#submission-5
  24. IWMW 2007 Workshop Sponsors
    http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/events/workshops/webmaster-2007/sponsors/
  25. IWMW 2007 Conference photos http://www.technorati.com/photos/tag/iwmw-2007

Author Details

Shirley Keane
UKOLN

Email: s.keane@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/

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Date published: 
30 July 2007

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How to cite this article

Shirley Keane. "IWMW 2007: Next Steps for the Web Management Community". July 2007, Ariadne Issue 52 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue52/iwmw-2007-rpt/


article | by Dr. Radut