This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop 2009 was, as last year, a very friendly, useful, forward-looking conference. I suspect that some organisations didn’t send people this year because of the economic climate, which is a pity because the mindset of the conference was very focused on coping with future changes. There was, as last year, a lot of discussion of what the commercial sector can provide, and whether Google will conquer all. A phrase that got some use was “80/20 solutions”, i.e. 80% of the functionality at 20% of the effort.
For me the most interesting contribution was Prof. Derek Law’s opening keynote. He warned that the HE library sector may be too focused on responding to changing economic conditions, when the cultural changes happening now are arguably more significant. More and more of our culture is visual rather than verbal, and reading is becoming an optional lifestyle choice rather than a requirement of university life. University-level assessments are increasingly practical or multimedia rather than essays. It is nearly possible to get a PhD in some subjects without being literate in a conventional sense: by learning to operate software and getting Google Scholar to do most of your literature review. Moving into the digital age is not merely about digitising old formats. It requires engaging with the difficult questions of how to access and preserve the new kinds of cultural objects that new technologies make possible. Law proposed a “Library 2.0″ approach that compromises between “Web 2.0″ and the traditional bricks-and-mortar library.
I went to Mike Ellis and Tony Hirst’s session on mashups, which was similar to last year’s, but it’s a pleasure to hear about new tools and mashups, and their enthusiasm for opening up the web’s data is inspiring. I hope their exhortations are heard across the sector.
Paul Boag contrasted the experience of finding a course on a university web site with the experience of using a typical ecommerce site. The experiences are poles apart, with course finders being almost universally hard work for the user. Isn’t promoting courses to potential students a core function of university sites?
The keynote session on How the BBC make Web Sites illustrated a polar opposite to a standard procedure of Design-in-Photoshop-then-convert-to-HTML. They started with the question “what is this site about?”, analysed the data structure of the domain and thought very deeply about URL design. Page layout, design and branding were added as a penultimate layer, with interactivity being the final addition.
A number of sessions that I attended were case studies in things going wrong. From Jeremy Speller’s and Russell Allen’s session on implementing university portals, I learned the term “Zombie project” (see ZDnet blog post). A lesson learned was that a tech project will only succeed if you get buy-in from the suits, the techies and the users.
One delight of the conference was this “Hug a Developer today” video. Someone out there cares!
Thanks to the IWMW community, and hopefully see you next year.