Category Archives: Conference

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 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.

My thoughts on IWMW2009

Where I went

I had the opportunity to attend IWMW2009 at the University of Essex in Colchester. To digest all I saw and did I thought I’d write a post.

What I saw

Headlights on Dark roads

Described on ‘Derek will review the recent history of libraries and the challenges now facing them.’ In fact, the talk was far more interesting than that sounds and a wide ranging meditation on the state of current literacy, the culture that libraries have traditional worked in and the large changes that technology has wrought.

One of his interesting ideas was the shift from a literary culture to a visual one. He used a great slide to emphasize how images stay in our memories rather than words. With a challenge to name all the images. I think I got a few, but he didn’t put all the answers up.

Also very good from the whole conference was the use of twitter. Brian Kelly talks about this on his blog.

So, we can see what other people thought of the Plenary at the time via twitter

An Introduction to WAIARIA

I attended a BARCAMP where Dan Jackson from UCL took us through the concepts and some possible ways to implement ARIA. It was very good and you really need to view all the slides to appreciate how much info is there. Dan was an engaging speaker who helped me get to grips with a subject that I’d been putting off learning about because the whole issue seems wrapped up in a big W3C bun-fight at the moment.

Servicing ‘Core’ and ‘Chore’: A framework for understanding a Modern IT Working Environment

For me, this talk was a call to get to grips with the the emerging reality of users not being dependent on IT departments for their tools and the IT departments taking a much more active role in helping users. They are increasingly able to help themselves to the menu of external IT tools that give them what they need very quickly. Rather than competing with them perhaps we should form a relationship with users of our services that helps us and them work out where our best efforts should be directed. It seems very sensible that IT should be an unobtrusive part of people’s work and external services are part of our set of tools to achieve that.

Making your killer applications killer

Despite a technology failure, Paul Boag gave an enthusiastic talk about the context that Universities release their course information into. The rest of the web is increasingly using dynamic and interactive features on screen that give people the chance to try things like comparisons and reviews that help people make their choice. He contends that University’s need to start providing richer and deeper experiences around the course information. He rattled through some examples of sites that provided interactivity, and personality. I found this point particularly interesting, because it’s often the case that an organization’s persona becomes pretty dry and conservative. It’s quite a leap in mindset to have a clear and distinct character shine through the writing. Hard to do, but probably highly rewarding.

He also touched on the reasons why things are as they are, with Universities taking their requirements to produce accessible sites seriously, Limits on resources and a lack of experience in producing this more engaging and interactive experience. Universities have traditionally offered large amounts of rather dry information, but the nature of the web and the audience requires us to adapt the way we get our message over.

He then encouraged Us to ‘just do it’ – especially with regard to creating proof of concept things. He acknowledged the importance of showing a new feature rather than trying to describe it to get the go ahead to do the work. He presented the idea of HIJAX (which I’d never hea) to help with accessibility. To cut costs he advocated not reinventing the wheel and using existing libraries, APIs and third party websites.

Overall, a good call to arms if perhaps a little daunting. If we implemented at least some of the things he talked about we’d be heading in the right direction.

What is the web

James Curran ran a brave experiment in presenting an idea. He talked around the nebulous question of ‘What is the web’ , I think with the idea of getting people who work on ‘it’ every day to consider the fundamental concepts to help us have a vision of where it is taking us. The brave part was the continually refreshing twitter feed being displayed on the screen that James was attempting to respond to. It was intriguing, especially when people in the room were critical; I thought people might be too polite. Quite a tricky task to maintain focus of the talk, but thought it was definitely worth a go.

Hub websites for youth participation

I have to admit this talk didn’t really do much for me. I think I was expecting a more fully formed idea, and perhaps it suffered by being in the early stages of the project. At this stage it gave me the impression of a heavily academic treatment of a potentially very interesting project. Maybe it is too large in it’s scope. The idea of the opinions of a generation who are growing up with a technology, having a way to express that opinion seems good, but I wonder if the web itself will provide a place for those opinions to be expressed.

iTunes U

Attended a session on iTunesU, again, just to find out about something that I knew nothing about. It was great to see how much great content is available from the various universities, but Barry did a great job of explaining just how much work needed to be done around that content. Oxford had lecturers who had established podcasts well before the opportunity for iTunes U existed, which helped them greatly. There are lots of things that you need to do when creating the content and if you are thinking of this then Barry’s slides are a comprehensive guide to just how much work you are proposing to take on.

How the BBC make websites

Enjoyed the BBC session the most. Obviously, they have brilliant content as the organization’s whole business is producing great stuff. They emphasized that they see their main job as making that resource available, so everything is geared around that end. The bit about hackable URLs provoked lots of sage nodding from the audience. I was also surprised by how much thinking goes into things before they get anywhere near writing code. They did lots of paper prototyping, wire-framing and story-boarding, and once the code was written they emphasized testing, testing and more testing.

What I missed

The only thing I was midly disappointed about was not being able to catch some of the other barcamps, and hopefully some of them will appear online over the next week or so.


Lots of slides can be found on slideshare

What I did

All the talks were only one part of the experience for me. The rest of the time was taken up with meeting people from lots of other Universities, and realizing that we are facing the same issues and that sometimes we come up with ways to solve them. It was an eye opener for me just how many other Universities were in the looking for or implementing CMSs.

We were unusual in that we take a pretty open source approach to the CMS systems that we use, and talking to people it was clear that every CMS has strengths and weaknesses. If the mythical CMS exists that will magically transform business processes, make people better writers, satisfy end users, manage it’s own infrastructure and take University web presences to a new level, then I don’t think anyone there has found it.

On a personal note. I found it really useful to go on my own, which forced me to get out and say hello to people, which as it turns out is much easier than I’d thought. Despite being engaged in the dreaded ‘networking’ i enjoyed the chance to tell some people how impressed I am with the work they are doing. Hopefully I can go back next year with a list of things that we’ve done that we started by going to IWMW2009.