Development iCal Machine-readable Microformats RSS Search Website

Small (scale dev) is beautiful

After the long, complex and all-consuming project that was the JISC website relaunch in April 2009, it’s been lovely to be able to engage in some small-scale, interesting little bits of dev that hopefully add some value to the site.

First up, we’ve implemented an ’email this page/share this’ tool for all content pages. These things are everywhere nowadays and I confess I have no idea, nor have I bothered to look into, how many people use them (I don’t myself!). We opted to use AddThis partly because it gives you easy-access stats on usage. It was simple to implement so, even if it is only used by a few people, it was worth doing.

We’ve also improved the Staff Finder so it auto-suggests names as you type, making it quicker to find staff contact details.

The other stuff I have been working on is making more of the key content machine-readable. This was very much inspired by seeing Mike Ellis and Tony Hirst speak about mashups at IWMW 2009, and subsequently seeing Mike’s slides, ‘Don’t think websites, think data‘ (well worth a look if you haven’t seen them).

We have used microformats on staff and events pages for a few years now but we’ve not done a lot to promote them, figuring those who were interested would find them. However, now every page that has embedded microformats is actively flagged and we have provided some guidance on how to use them. Aside from the geeky possibilities of mashups, microformats such as hCard and hCalendar are simply very useful for the average user as a quick, easy and error-free way to copy contact or events details to address books or calendars.

The same is true of iCalendar and now all events information, both all current events and each individual event, is now available in iCalendar format.

As Mike says, start small. As soon as one starts thinking about RDF, APIs etc. the complexity level increases considerably. As ever, it is about time and priorities but, for now, these seemed like a couple of quick wins and worth doing.

Not to forget RSS of course. A lot of key JISC website data has been available as RSS for a number of years (the news feed has over 1300 subscribers). There’s still scope to expand the use of RSS, particularly around JISC programmes and projects, and also search. It’s on the to-do list.

By Ben Whitehouse

I'm head of web at Jisc. My team manages and other web services. I'm responsible for ensuring the overall user experience of the Jisc web estate is simple, clear and consistent

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