This was the 13th Institutional Web Management Workshop  to be organised by UKOLN  held at the University of Sheffield from 12 to 14 July 2010. The theme was 'The Web in Turbulent Times' . As such, there was a healthy balance of glass-half-empty-doom-and-gloom, and glass-half-full-yes-we-can.
Just before the start of the conference, the level of noise seemed low, perhaps because there was a twitterwall of #iwmw10 tweets  being projected on the stage. Marieke welcomed us to the conference, then Brian explored the theme of the conference.
Brian turned the clock back to show an early version of the University of Sheffield Web site using the memento Firefox plugin. By show of hands, three delegates indicated that they had attended the first IWMW in 1997. This was when a newly elected Tony Blair talked about 'Education, Education, Education.' Brian said that it is now 'Cuts, Cuts, Cuts.'
What this means for the community is: it needs to be more innovative; focus on efficiency and networking instead of growth; make greater use of centralised shared services; save costs by using commercial services; come to terms with social media; rediscover the community online despite the drop in use of Jiscmail for mutual support.
Sponsors for the event were thanked . These were Jadu, TERMINALFOUR, Statistics into Decisions, Eduserv, and Site Confidence.
Chris highlighted key IT issues which institutions will need to address in the coming years. She expects cuts to hit universities not this year but in the subsequent two years. The issues facing institutions are:
When Susan asked, few of the audience felt that their VC understood the role of the Web team. We are not as valued as librarians, who have chartered status. The main conclusion of this session was that Web teams needed to promote themselves and be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem:
I attended an excellent session by Stuart Church (left) from Pure Usability on Usability and User Experience on a Shoestring. He discussed a user-centred philosophy and some useful low-cost tools.
Other sessions were: A Little Project Management Can Save a Lot of Fan Cleaning; FlashMash; 'Follow us on Twitter'...'Join our Facebook group'; Getting Awesome Results from Data Visualisation; Location Based Services Without the Cocoa; My Superpower is Content Curation. What's Yours? RDFa from theory to practice; Sheffield Made Us – using social media to engage students in the University brand; Stylesheets for mobile / Smartphones.
Patrick focussed on what can be done with core HTML5, which is being developed by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group. Unlike XHTML2, HTML5 is backwards-compatible, and works with the realities of browser functionality. According to Ian Hickson, it is for 'extending the language to better support Web applications.' The examples which Patrick gave were:
Patrick suggested that when using HTML5, feature detection would be better than browser-sniffing to code with graceful degradation.
Damian gave a history of mobile phone technology. He said that webkit is dominant, and that although there are other technologies, consumers are not using them. Useful features are: CSS3 to query screen capabilities; device location detection; offline Web applications capability; orientation and gesture detection. The Mobile Campus Assistant uses time- and location-sensitive information. Their most popular tool is live bus information. Their next project will be My Mobile Bristol.
Alex talked about Mobile Oxford, which developed quick-win mobile applications: street maps; contacts search; library search; universal search with regex pattern matching; real-time bus, weather and Web cam information. Some of the data used were scraped, and pages could be rendered in different formats, so that third parties can make use of their data. The software is called Molly, and can be downloaded from Sourceforge.
Sid concluded that the challenge for Web teams is to show value. In order to show value, context must be included. A Web site may be expensive, but context is needed to determine what value it brings to the institution.
As institutional Web sites are both e-commerce and informational, we can learn from both types of site. The importance of PDF downloads was demonstrated by looking at how brochures feature on a car Web site. PDF downloads provide more value than posted prospectuses which in turn provide more value than contacting the institution in person. Sid then showed a demonstration dashboard page which he produced by feeding XML data into InDesign. This is a single-page visual report which could be sent to management which shows month-on-month and year-on-year data, statistics, highlights, and recommendations.
Paul sees cuts as an opportunity to simplify the service and approach things differently.
He suggested that the service needs simplifying because Web sites are bloated. If there is less money, then smaller Web sites are required. This can be done by three methods: remove content; hide content by removing from navigation and search so it no longer needs maintaining; and shrinking content. This can be implemented by embracing supporting policies such as: the link on the home page with the fewest clicks will be replaced; un publish pages with few views; un publish un reviewed pages.
Suggested methods to approach things differently were: a more agile approach with one month sprints for projects; bringing in an outside perspective; monthly strategic meetings.
Jeremy Speller drew on his experiences in 2005, when the 7/7 London bombings took place during the Institutional Web Management Workshop. During the London bombings, the Web and phone service came down, so the only way to get news was through television.
All institutions have a major incident plan, but the Web team is not always fully involved in the team responsible for such a plan. Jeremy recommended that they should be. Jeremy showed a map of different forms of communication and explored the appropriateness of each. An example was given of twitter being used to communicate with students during snowy weather last winter. Jeremy also looked at Web services hosted on third parties, on the Janet network, or co-located at other institutions. Different services are required depending on service availability. If nothing is functioning, the institution should have a megaphone available.
We remembered the UCL victims of the bombing: Gladys Wundowa, Lee Harris, Miriam Hyman and Neetu Jain.
There were two BarCamp sessions and an Online BarCamp .
I attended a session by Helen Sargan from the University of Cambridge on dallying with Plone one year on. Other sessions included: An Insight Into Website Quality Assurance and Enterprise Search; Client Update and Feedback Session; Course Finders and Beyond; Making Your Site Mobile-Friendly.
I ran a session called 'instant usability testing – let's do it!'. I ran a usability test, including selection, preparation, test and review, in 25 minutes.
Other sessions included: Apache Wookie & W3C Widgets; Helping Your Users Get Satisfaction; Promoting Your Institution with Wikipedia – an insider's view; Slate My Website; Web Teams Must Blog; What Makes For a Great Online Video? – review live examples.
This session focussed on the Online Course Prospectus
I presented a session on 'Developing Your Contingency Plan: Beat the Panic.' In the session, we looked at ways of creating and analysing choices, creating a vision, and qualities which are useful for making change.
Other sessions were: Course Advertising and XCRI; Designing, Developing and Testing a Location-aware Learning Activity Using QR Codes; Engagement, Impact, Value: Measuring and Maximising Impact Using the Social Web; Inside the Pantheon: A Dreamweaver framework for managing dynamic content; Looking at Linked Data; Mobile Apps vs Mobile Web; Taxonomy – Creating structure across content using metadata; Wordpress beyond Blogging.
Richard's talk was informed by his experiences of upgrading a CMS to a completely new version. Often a CMS is blamed for problems, but really any problems are the responsibility of the Web team. He listed his department's CMS ethos as:
Josef gave a live demo of a student portal system which is the home page for students on campus. Once created, it is very easy for the developers to create new widgets to add new functionality. Some content is forced on students, but mostly students can choose which widgets to display on their home page. The system allows granular messaging to students. It features drag-and-drop functionality, students can check their data and modules, RSS feeds can be added, there is contextual help for each application.
90% of Universities have SharePoint. It is mostly being used for: staff administration using its collaborative tools; and for academic research because it is easier to allow access to third parties than for VLEs. The advantages of SharePoint are that it is good for committees and that it can be used to develop solutions without the skills of a developer. It can be useful for short or external courses. However, there is a steep learning curve, and MySite is designed for people in businesses. Forms can be created using InfoPath, and there is a workflow tool called Skelter which is simpler than SharePoint's.
The panel answered questions from the audience.
Workshop conclusions facilitated by Brian Kelly, UK Web Focus, UKOLN
Brian and others summarised some of the sessions. Brian also demonstrated some fascinating mashups. This included a Twitter buzzword bingo. The following points were made:
Brian talked about whether the IWMW would be held again, if the format would need to change, and the need to explore sponsorship.
There was a good turnout for the conference, and I enjoyed it as much as previous conferences I have attended in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There was a mixed mood of 'doom and gloom' at the prospect of cuts, and enthusiasm for innovations and new ways of working. I have commented from the perspective of someone attending the conference, but there were live online activities happening too. People not attending the conference could: watch the main sessions live on the Internet; take part in twitter discussions; take part in an online BarCamp.
From talking with conference participants, I sensed that people valued the conference for providing them with enthusiasm and motivation. At the same time, there was realism about the changes which will need to be made in the economic climate and people were ready to return to their institutions with a clearer sense of the importance of strategy.
Keith Doyle worked in further and higher education for a total of 13 years. He has been Web Content Architect at the University of Salford and Web Master at Manchester College of Arts and Technology (now The Manchester College). Since leaving Salford in 2008, Keith has worked in the private sector, and is now self-employed. Keith's technical interests are in user experience - in particular in Web site navigation, information architecture and live usability testing.