Monthly Archives: July 2010

IWMW2010 – a conference with the theme ‘the Web in turbulent times’

IWMW Talks I remembered

Stylesheets for mobile phones with Helen from Cambridge.

I enjoyed this session where Helen from Cambridge showed the steps she’d considered and taken to experiment with media queries and different styles being fed to different devices. The slides are available, and there was some good discussion about linearising the page for mobile devices. There was no consensus about the best way to do this, illustrating that the focus of a homepage can be difficult to maintain when having to distill. If nothing else the constraints of smaller devices means you have to make some hard decisions about what is really useful and importanat to your vistors. Decsisons that perhaps can be fudged with the screen available to desktop users. I was struck by the amount of work and thought that Helen had done in considering the user, and yet it may all be to no avail, since devices have improved so much that they provide their own method for navigating sites.

Course Advertsing and XCRI

This session was quite a broad one, giving an overview of a project that has been running for a while to try to standardise a format that describes and structures course information. This session focussed on the XCRI-CAP part of the project which looks at marketing information of courses. Some good tools were presented to check how ready an institution would be to start using this. It struck me that it could be really useful in the our circumstances where we have courses across the Glamorgan Group, from a variety of different levels and a standard way of referring to them. Other universities are starting to use this format, and the real benefits of standards that might actually accrue to the end user.

Slate my website barcamp

Really fun session run by Mike Nolan from Edgehill. The idea was to have a quick look around a university’s site and mark it on design, content and code. Reading, Nottingham and Edgehill were reviewed (Dan from York did the honours for the Edgehill review), and marks then given whilst everyone discussed aspects of the site. Really useful to see the site through someone else’s eyes and it worked really well to quickly identify things that can be done better. Was a shame it didn’t go on longer.

The Web in Turbulent Times

Really good broad talk about IT and where the web fits in. Nice video here with twitter responses from the time. She makes very good point that IT projects are considered separate from business project when they are in fact integral. There is an unhelpful perception that IT is somehow separate from the business.Chris also made some interesting points about shared services and the pressure from government for the Education sector to share things more.

HTML5 (and friends)

Enjoyed the good talk from Patrick Lauke, thinking that it worked well as a tactical talk, encouraging a look at the practical steps one can take to get started with HTML5. It struck me that there was an appetite in the audience to get cracking and Patrick made it seem less daunting and complicated than many people (myself included)imagine it to be.

‘So what do you do exactly?’ In challenging times justifying the roles of the web teams

Galvanising talk about stats and measuring what we do. Particularly liked the reminder that Universities are big businesses and the web is central to how we do business. I think the whole room saw the value of taking the time to present the case for what we do in business terms (going back to the unhelpful separation between IT and Business goals). The importance of providing context for costs per click was nice with Sid explaining that the cost of a link to gocompare.com on google seems high in isolation but was worth it to that company. Similarly the link to download a brochure from a car manufacturers site could be measured and used to make the case for that method of communication.

No money? No matter – Improve your website with next to no cash

Another talk, by Paul Boag, that had many nodding their heads and resolving to implement the suggestions. The key one for me was the idea of content curation. In the forecast hard times ahead, he suggested that we take the opportunity to scale down sites to provide a better user experience and focus on making smaller but more better sites.

Sharepoint, Sheffield CMS and Student Portal

There was a mixture of talks on the last day which began merging a little by then. Josef Lapka presented a very nice Student Portal that they have created at Canterbury, which lots of people were impressed with. Richard Brierton gave a talk about the process of rolling out a new CMS at Sheffield, and people were eager to hear about the practicalities and problems that they had faced. We then came to a talk on Sharepoint by James Lapping and Peter Gilbert that provoked a very busy twitter back channel, coming out strongly against.

General Themes

  • 2 years is too long for an IT project
  • Lots more people seem to be doing or thinking about agile.
  • CMS – The eternal search for the holy grail goes on.
  • Mobile Apps vs Mobile Web
  • Practical talks versus strategic vision

Rather than link individually to each talk, it’s better if I point you to the Resources page where the organisers have done a great job in collecting and presenting much of the event content.

Why your PDF should be HTML

Over the last few months the issue of formats has come up a few times, when librarians, educators and marketeers have all wanted to use PDFs to deliver information to the user. I thought now would be an opportune time for me to state why, in many cases this is a bad idea (even if done with the best of intentions).

What the experts say

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, July 14, 2003 – PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption
Usability guru Jakob Neilsen is forthright in his appraisal of PDF as a format on web sites.

Joe Clark’s 2005 article about PDF accessibility included here to refer to the section where Joe clearly elucidates why most things should be HTML and even better has written a thorough list of exceptions. If your information doesn’t fall into one of these categories then you really should be using HTML.

Where we are going wrong

Of the many PDFs that are currently available on our various web sites very few can really justify the format that they are in if we use the criteria laid out in the articles linked to previously. I believe that a combination of overstating the role of a particular visual style and understating the inconvenience to the user leads to a situation where uploading a document suffices. I don’t believe this is the case. If we want to provide the best experience for users then we need to be making that extra (small) effort to put the information in the right format. It’s not that hard, and everyone benefits.

Issues with ISSUU

A beta subject guides page has been created by the proactive librarians that we have at Glamorgan that uses issuu.com , a service for hosting PDFs that wraps them up in flash, and add various user interface feature like page turning animations, zooming, various views and useful social features like commenting and sharing. I think it’s unfortunate that the useful features have been mingled with the user interface fluff that actually makes the information harder to retrieve.

Putting it into practice

To show what’s possible I downloaded a PDF of Lighting Design and Technology & Live Event Technology from a Subject guides page, and spent an hour or two copying and pasting to create an HTML version. The pdf is 115k to download. The HTML is 41.5k. In addition to the smaller file size the user does not need to wait for the PDF reader to open up, can navigate via a table of contents and most usefully can click on the many URLs to go straight to the info. The HTML format enables to the user to directly interact rather than read, then copy the links.

It may not have the visual impact of the issuu PDF version, but it is more functional, in the browser window that people are used to. Also, none of this precludes making the pdf available for those people that wish to download it.

Summary

Hope that people find this a useful position statement, and would love to see some response in the comments.