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Highlights of #iwmw10

I have just returned from the Institutional Web Managers Workshop (IWMW), held at the University of Sheffield. This was my 6th IWMW (sheesh, how time flies) and I always enjoy the event. It’s not always directly relevant for my role in the JISC comms team but it’s the principal gathering for webbies in the sector and it’s good for me to keep an eye on their concerns and interests. Anyway, these are my top 3 highlights of #iwmw10.

Great plenary from Patrick Lauke on ‘HTML5 and Friends’. HTML5 is cool because it aims to improve native support for web apps (putting it in direct competition with tech like Flash and Silverlight). Patrick showed how it is possible to use HTML5 now; it is (almost) as simple as just changing the DOCTYPE, which was heartening to hear as I imagined it would be a more onerous process of retrofitting code. The introduction of common, semantic elements, such as navigation, header, video etc. is a step forward to a more meaningful, machine-readable web but why oh why is there no content element (a point raised in the Q&A)? It seems like a real wasted opportunity that people will end up still needing  to use generic containers with a class name of ‘content’ (this is crying out for rectifying in HTML5.1 surely). Brian Kelly voiced the question that was on my mind – how does HTML5 sit alongside that other web tech that is getting everyone excited at the moment: RDFa? As HTML5 is no longer an XML-based language, unlike XHTML, can HTML5 and RDFa (which seems to require well-formed XHTML) sit side by side in the same document? Patrick didn’t have the answer but assured us the working group were looking at it. I think Patrick’s focus on the core language and not on any of the related tech was right in the time available but it did leave me hungry for a fuller exploration of CSS3, geolocation, mobile etc. Given the significance of the developments, maybe this plenary could have got a longer time slot.

I also really enjoyed Joss Win’s parallel session on ‘WordPress: Beyond Blogging’ (see slides). I’ve heard others talk about it in such terms for a while but Joss really convinced me that WP is a ‘bleeding edge technology platform’, not just a bit of (albeit very good) blogging software. The thing that got me really interested in WP in the first place is its great usability. It’s intuitive and it empowers users to get on with creating content – the whole point, after all. It puts most of the ‘enterprise web content management systems’ to shame in this vital respect . My current interest in WordPress is as a platform for microsites and I was excited by the potential speed and low cost of producing sites in this way, as well as the minimal support overhead (we are a team of 2 now!). Key to the success of WP though is its dizzying array of plugins that seem to do just about everything you could conceive of and keep apace with new developments on the web. These ones sounded cool and useful: BuddyPress (social network), RDFa, domain mapping, sitewide tags (add tags to non-blog pages), more privacy options, wp-super-cache (essential for WPMU apparently), akismet (spam filter – free for non-profits). Joss also talked about some of his more innovative work with WordPress, such as WriteToReply and the JISC-funded JISCPress – two flavours of the same tool that provide ‘deliberative documents’ i.e. enables granular commentary on individual paragraphs of a document. This was used for getting feedback on the latest JISC strategy and is also being increasingly used by government for consultative documents. Joss talks about his session on the IWMW blog.

Ranjit’s Siddhu’s talk on web teams quantifying the value of what they do had a noticeably electrifying effect on an audience who have maybe not had to worry too much about concepts such as return on investment up until now. Ranjit had a simple point that he made forcefully: the web is the most cost effective dissemination and marketing tool an organisation has, but we, as web managers, have historically not been very good at expressing that to the holders of the purse strings. But in an age of shrinking budgets, if we can show, with real figures, what the actual value of the web is, and put it in context by comparing it with other modes of delivery, such as print, we are more likely to get management agreeing to fund that desired bit of usability work we have been lobbying for. Anyone who produces stats on the use of their web services needs to look at Ranjit’s talk and start monetarising their metrics. We know what we do adds value – it’s time to prove it. This talk was a great wake up call.

There were loads of other talks worthy of a mention but these 3 did it for me. Check out the site, the presentations on Slideshare, the blog and Twitter.

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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