Category Archives: Web Services

Senior Web Designer

Hot on the heels of our web applications developer vacancy we’re also recruiting a senior web designer.

Over the last twelve months we’ve completely redesigned our website and moved to using WordPress to manage Faculty and Department websites but there’s still more to do and this post will be responsible for managing the design aspects of projects undertaken by Web Services.

The person specification has the details but please drop me an email if you’d like an informal chat.

 

Web Applications Developer

We’re currently recruiting a web applications developer. The post will join the web development side of Web Services working on a variety of systems that power the Edge Hill website and portal.

The majority of code we write is PHP, often using the Symfony web framework for bespoke developments or WordPress as the basis of lightweight content management for departmental websites.

The deadline is 17 February 27 February but if you would like an informal chat email me direct.

WordPress 3.3

We’ve just upgraded WordPress to version 3.3 on the blogs.edgehill.ac.uk site. Take a look at some of the new features:

If everything goes well we will be upgrading WordPress-powered sites on the corporate website early in the new year, ignoring this helpful advice from Twitter :-)

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Number 19I wonder how many of you this year have visited a bookmakers and put on a bet for a ‘White Christmas’, not many I would imagine or maybe I’m completely wrong, one thing I do know however is as its more of a sure thing this year I can’t imagine any of them paying out. Well imagine my surprise when I visited a few betting sites just to see if they were taking bets on a ‘White Christmas’, do you know what, they are but at much lower odds! Pretty much an inevitable conclusion to expect one flake I would say, at least for this year.

Practically anywhere in the UK has roughly a 90% chance of seeing snow in the winter, it very rarely falls at Christmas (generally in January and February). However apparently it does occur approximately every 6 years.

I’m sure we all remember last year’s Christmas, 2009 and the start of 2010. The gritters had been out too early after the councils had not anticipated a big freeze, certainly nothing like we had seen previously since 1986. (I was 12 years old then and remember fondly the skiddy patches that would last for weeks). Britain was covered with thick lying snow which easterly winds had brought over the previous week. Travel over much of Britain was badly affected by ice and snow on the roads, and made more slippery by partial daytime thaw followed by overnight refreezing. It was the first white Christmas anywhere in the United Kingdom since 2004.

The second big freeze of this winter, due to start this week, is likely to last for as long as a month, putting the country on course for a winter which could be even colder than the notoriously treacherous 1962-63. This year however has been the coldest start to a winter for 100 years; bitterly cold winds from the ­Arctic will without doubt bring a blanket of snow to Scotland, the North, London and the South-east on December 25th. Wales, the South-west and central England will probably be a winter mix of sleet with snow on higher ground. So there you have it almost proof that this year will be a really cold, white Christmas. So wrap up, stay safe and warm and have a Merry Christmas.

OMAC Buzz Words

17Tuesday saw the first meeting of OMAC – the Online Marketing and Communications project that will, over the coming months, address a wide variety of issues with our main external website. As Roy will explain in a post on Monday, part of this involves opening up the website to more contributors which means a whole world of terminology for users to learn.

A few of these came up in the first meeting so let’s go over them!

Tags

These are keywords attached to bits of information to aid navigation, categorisation of searching across a set of documents. We’ve been using tags on our website for several years and they’re pretty embedded into the site from videos and courses to news and events, everything is tagged. We also use tags to link parts of the site together. For example a department will list all news stories with a particular tag.

Andy Davies wrote a pretty comprehensive post about tags including an explanation of tag clouds and machine or triple tags.

Vanity URLs

I don’t think this term came up in this week’s OMAC meeting but it’s one of my biggest regrets from my time working at Edge Hill. Wikipedia defines Vanity URLs like this:

A vanity URL is a URL or domain name, created to point to something to which it is related and indicated in the name of the URL. In many cases this is done by a company to point to a specific product or advertising campaign microsite. In theory, vanity URLs are creatively linked to something making them easier to remember than a more random link.

In our case, the term more typically refers to a short web address. For department sites, it’s the address their site is accessible at, for example www.edgehill.ac.uk/education – while others may be created for a specific event or course and redirect deep into the site.

Read more about how our URLs are structured in this series of posts.

Creeping Personalisation

Another term I introduced to Edge Hill and cringe whenever I hear it, creeping personalisation refers to the practice of building up a profile of a user in a piecemeal way. It may be that to register users only need enter their name and an email address and as they start to use the site extra information is collected.

Mega Menus

I covered this pretty thoroughly last year. but it’s something we’re moving forward with testing.

Mega or “Fat” Footers

At the other end of the page is a trend towards having larger footers able to provide more structure to links within them, perhaps with more overtly useful information than the types of link currently present.

The web is full of buzz words and odd terminology but we’re always here to guide users around what they need to know.

More about OMAC soon!

Learn about Social Media

The Social Media has had a major social impact by changing the way we interact by using different forms of online communication, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts. We share what happens to us in real time in Twitter or Facebook, publish our photos on Flickr, Twitpic, see videos on YouTube and subscribe to multiple pages to use RSS feeds rather than searching the internet for information.

Let’s take a look at the following videos to see how social media has become the new form of conversation between individuals, institutions, brands and companies, how it affects communication, and the importance of online conversations through social choices.

What the HELL is Social Media?
This is an interesting way to explain how Social Media marketing has gained enormous popularity and why more companies are adopting it as a part of their marketing strategy.

The effect of Social Media in Europe
There are millions of Facebook users in Europe that spend hours updating their profiles, uploading photos or interacting with friends “Social Media is changing the Communication Industry,” brands such as Nutella, Axe and Adidas, started advertising using Facebook achieving and excellent response by earning millions of followers.

Social Media Revolution
“Social Media is not a fashion”. Surprisingly, the number of users of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter have reached higher numbers for the amount of the population in some countries. Consider the effect of Social Media in figures and percentages:

Social Media Did You Know?
While Social Media increases exponentially, traditional media such as radio, television and print media decline each year. In 25 years the print media have fallen in an amount of 7 million readers, while online readers have increased by 30 million over 5 years.

Social Media Marketing
Jody Underhill and Eric Kurita of Upside Down Iceberg tells us four steps to the success of Social Media and its benefits to become what they call “Top Of Mind”

How Obama used Social Media during his presidential candidacy
James Burnes explains how Obama became president of the United States, showing that their technique was to have a clear goal, implementing strategies, integrating the Internet to all and offer a credible change, not to talk about change, be the change.

Social Media Blues song

After a series of videos about Social Media, its effect on society, how users of traditional media have become social media users as we see a Blues song dedicated to Facebook, YouTube and Linkedln, Twitter.

Social Media will continue to develop and evolve. Who knows… what’s after Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?

Go Success

Go was launched roughly three years ago and the overall aim was to make everything more accessible and easier for students. Specifically access to their Mail, File Storage, Discussion, Community, Library and Blackboard.

I would say over all Go has been a fabulous success, we have developed it a great deal over the past three years, improving it in ways more specific to certain groups of students. For example Health, Business School and Performing Arts students can all log into Go and see a taylor made area that allows them to submit assignments, get module updates and notifications about their course. Who’d of thought from this very first version we’d end up with something so dynamic.

The ‘news‘ area is split into four sections: general, support, learning and social. It serves to inform both staff and students of up and coming events; serious and fun alike and health and safety issues. It’s regulary updated to keep interest and to get out as much information as possible, too as many users as possible.

There are ‘panels‘ that can be moved around the page or removed completley, it’s up to you! In particular the ‘student learning‘ panel and the ‘student support‘ panel, they provide important information such as Term Dates and Exam Timetables.

Learning Services have created a video called ‘Learning Services 2010: Introduction to the Go Portal‘, it takes you through Go step by step: http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/study/accommodation/video/learning-services-2010-introduction-to-the-go-portal. It’s a very useful way to introduce you to Go, so if you are a student or a member of staff and you haven’t used Go, what are you waiting for!

Was 2010 the year of Open Data?

sometimes you throw a sixIn a little-read post published last Christmas Eve as part of our previous 25 days project I suggested 2010 might be the year open data became important:

I don’t like to predict the future – usually because I’m wrong – but I’m going to put my neck out on one point for the coming year. 2010 will be the year that data becomes important.

So let’s look at what’s happened over the last year.

  • Ordnance Survey Code-Point® Open data containing the location of every postcode in the country. With this people have been able to build some nice cool services like a wrapper API to give you XML/CSV/JSON/RDF as well as a hackable URL: http://www.uk-postcodes.com/postcode/L394QP (that’s Edge Hill, by the way)
  • The OS also released a bunch of other data from road atlases in raster format through to vector contour data.  Of particular interest is OS VectorMap in vector and raster format – that’s the same scale as their paper Landranger maps and while it doesn’t have quite as much data, they’re beautifully rendered and suitable for many uses, but sadly not for walking.

OS VectorMap of Ormskirk. Crown copyright and database rights 2010 Ordnance Survey.

  • Manchester has taken a very positive step in releasing transport data (their site is down as I type) – is it too much to hope that Merseytravel will follow suit?
  • London has gone one step further with the London Datastore.
  • data.gov.uk now has over 4600 datasets.  Some of them are probably useful.

In May I gave a talk at Liver and Mash expanding on some ideas about data.ac.uk. Since then lots of other people have been discussing in far more detail than I, including the prolific Tony Hirst from the Open University who have become (I believe) the first data.foo.ac.uk with the release of data.open.ac.uk.

So things are starting to move in the Higher Education open data world. I think things will move further with the HEFCE consultation on providing information to prospective students and maybe XCRI’s time has come!

Maybe 2011 will be the year people start to do data without even thinking about it?

Team Twitter

Twitter

Clock number 5Nearly everyone in Web Services has a Twitter account.
MikeNolanJanetHowarthstedanielstraffordtigerpiddyzedzdead

Many of the team have a Delicious account for storing all our bookmarks there’s even a team one.

We needed  a way to comunicate useful information from the team without it getting lost in the clutter of our personal posts.  We needed a team identity on Twitter.

Delicious

Most people have heard of twitter (its so mainstream, even the BBC now offer a #hashtag at the beginning of some of their programmes if you want to get in on the discussion) but if you haven’t heard of Delicious, it’s a social bookmarking site. It saves your bookmarks to a website, so as long as you have a connection to the web, you’ll have access to your bookmarks no matter what browser or device you’re working from. It’s social, because you can network with other users and push links to those who you might think would be interested them.

We push links to the ehu.webteam account that we think the team might find interesting or useful. Pushing a link is easy (in this case I’m using the Firefox plugin):

FireFox plugin

RSS

The link will be stored in the inbox of the ehu.webteam delicious account. Everything in delicious has an rss feed, including inboxes, so we can pull that feed into anything we like, even a twitter account. Pulling an rss feed into a twitter account is easy too. Just create an account at TwitterFeed.com and add your feeds:

TwitterFeed

Twitter Feed

As we also blog, so it made a lot of sense to add the feed from that too.

Finally we created our twitter account under the rocking title of @EHUWebServices. We’re using a HAL9000 image for our avatar, but we’ll change that if you have a better idea.

Christmas question: Why was the computer in 2001 a Space Odyssey called HAL?  Google Caesar cipher for a clue if you don’t want to go straight to the answer!

So now we have a twitter account for Web Services which automatically displays any worthy links spotted by team members and all of our blog posts. Follow us its good stuff!

Live Chat with Learning Services

Over the last couple of months we’ve been working with colleagues in Learning Services to roll out a “live chat” service allowing students to ask helpdesk staff questions online.

Here’s what it looks like for the student:

Live Chat web client

And a sneak peak of what the staff interface looks like:

Live Chat agent client

It makes use of an XMPP/Jabber server called Openfire with a plugin called Fastpath that talks to the Spark client installed on staff machines. Fastpath provides a web interface that can be embedded into the Learning Services website.

The service is currently a trial running 11am – 3pm so go along and take a look.