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The Institutional Web Managers Workshop 2012

This week I have been at the Institutional Web Managers Workshop. I am no stranger to web management but I am new to institutional web management and this was a good place to come and get orientated. The event brings together a mixture of techies, content creators and web team managers from across the HE sector to share ideas and experiences from the business end of institutions.

This year the words on everyone’s lips seemed to be “Responsive Design” and the message seems to be “you should do some of that”. Responsive design is about having one website which is responsive to the device the user is viewing on. So if you are looking at the webpage through a smart fone you get a smooth experience for a small screen driven by chubby fingers and when you are on a big screen you get controls designed for mouse level precision. I think 4 of the sessions i attended were advocating responsive design in some sense.

Points of interest to note were Bradfords experience going responsive and E.A Draffans responsive design improves site accessibility. Bradford noted that going responsive wasnt too hard to do, the results were pleasing to users but they did not mind being pushed between responsive and unresponsive parts of the site. This is good news for large web presnces because you dont have go responive all in one go. E.A pointed out users are choosing to come to your site on mobile and not giving them responsive design was effectively reducing the quality of user experience. ECS is a very technical place and we have always felt that have a rich and interesting website is completely vital as a way of demostrating the technical skills in the Faculty to prespective students.

Another session of some note was Phil Barker talking about microdata and It seems microdata is Googles indexing weapon of choice and they do some pretty fun stuff with it. Unlike RDFa the schema is fixed by which means that not everything can be represented but common themes can be. The top level of heirachy is fairly broad. I think that these tools are good for helping Google and others index your site but not a sensible way to transfer data for use else where. For that you need a data document of some sort.

Kevin ashley talked about the problems of science data and the EPSRC guidelines. This is something I care about a lot but I have not yet thought of the killer solution, only unimaginative ones. Tony Hirst and Martin Hawksey showed us the power of visualizing simple data and I expect this is connected to the data repositories killer app. Ferdinand von Prondzynski had a good rant about how over complicated all university front pages are. On his hit list of crimes were the scrolling gallery, the news, lists of events, and pretty much everything which wasnt a link to 8 lower websites covering everything in a much more targeted way. The bottom line is university front pages are trying to serve too many masters and succeeding at serving none of them very well. When I looked at the Southampton front page I realised we were no where near as bad as his case study examples and I commend both the iSolutions web team and the branding company for keeping our front page fairly clean.

Over all the event was very on topic and I picked up some neat tricks.

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