Tag Archives: 25 days

Was 2010 the year of Open Data?


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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.
  • 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!

A Brief Look at Tomorrow

the number 4

Over the next year we will be looking at ways to improve the corporate website; including a hard look at the design and structure.

We are currently focussing on our top-end homepages, and approaching them independently; rather than applying a uniform concept to all of them – like with our current grid. This is so we can focus on the client, and identify their narrative as a user. In plain English this means: look at what you want; send you to where you want to go; and show you some interesting stuff on the way.

About Interesting Stuff

It’s been long established that online users don’t sit and studiously read long pages of text; they intuitively fix upon interesting content, and ignore the peripherals.

The key is to have enough types of content to engage each user at whatever point in the story they’re at: for example it could be someone seeking a virtual tour of the campus, or a committed applicant making a decision on a course combination.

We intend to mix authoritative writing and strong imagery with relevant news and events, videos, student profiles, blog posts, and galleries. We want to combine formal and informal voices with contrasting media, to appeal to different needs and tastes.

What I’m doing as part of the process

Following on from initial conversations, I’ve been putting together a series of monochrome wireframes, so we have something visual to refer to in forthcoming meetings. We hope these will lead to healthy debate, and help decision making.

We will continue with a group approach when addressing navigation and design concepts. I’m expecting a lot of creative input from our team and corporate marketing, and I’m feeling very positive about the project.

Have we finally gone Christmas pudding mad!

The History

The ‘Christmas Pudding’ or ‘Plum Pudding’ has long been an old favourite, steeped in tradition and history.  The pudding as we know it today comes from the Victorians but it surprisingly emerged as far back as the 1420s, not as a desert but as an early form of preserving meat! The meat was kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative. The resulting ‘Mince Pies’ could then be used to feed many people, particularly useful in the festive season.  The Pudding can also be traced further back to Roman times, when it started life as a ‘pottage’ prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked with dried fruits, sugar and spices.

By the reign of Elizabeth I, prunes were added to the pudding recipe, this new addition was so popular the dish became known as ‘Plum Pottage’.

By the eighteenth century, as techniques for meat preserving improved, the savoury element of both the mince pie and the plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. The mince pie kept its name, though the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding. Although the latter was always a celebratory dish it was originally eaten at the Harvest Festival, not Christmas. It was not until the 1830s that the flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, and the Christmas pudding was born.

The Wish

Traditionally puddings were made 5 weeks before Christmas, known then as ‘Stir-up Sunday’, traditions stated that everyone in the house, especially children, would give the mixture a stir, and make a wish for future prosperity and happiness.  It became common practice for the Pudding to have a silver coin in it usually a thrupence or sixpence, to be kept by the lucky person who had it in their portion! This would hopefully symbolise wealth in the New Year!

The Reality

As our ever growing society strives harder, faster, further for those special things in life that we all must have, our humble Christmas pudding has not been spared. A special edition Christmas pudding created by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal for the super market chain Waitrose has almost sold out in stores up and down the country and is now appearing on eBay for up to £250.

The Hidden Orange pudding has a whole candied Valencia orange inside and went on sale for £13.99 in Waitrose less than 2 weeks ago.

Tens of thousands have quite literally flown off the shelves and last night Waitrose said there were only 2,000 left in the country.

The store said it was trying to produce more, but it is understood that the oranges take seven weeks to cure, meaning there are unlikely to be any new puddings ready in time for Christmas, which is why this pudding has become the most sort after food item of 2010.

There are currently 151 Hidden Orange puddings on eBay. Some are ‘Buy it now’ offers at £250 and £99, and others are attracting bids of up to £102 or more.

We really have gone mad but I prefer to leave it to chance, so if you missed out on Heston Blumenthal’s Christmas pudding this year maybe you should make your own and stir in a wish for one next year, I know I will!

Wallboards, dashboards and home tabs!

Colorful house number, twoWhat do you have on yours?

I’ve been avidly watching The Ultimate Wallboard contest that my favourite productive development software maker Atlassian sponsored.

Taken from the site:

A wallboard is a type of information radiator used for extreme feedback. Wallboards are typically displayed above a development team’s workspace.

Now that’s got you wondering.. what’s an “Information Radiator?”:

An information radiator is a large, highly visible display used by software development teams to show anyone walking by what’s going on.

Wallboards can be beautiful catchy looking things, and they should be!

As you can see, wallboards can be quite complex things, that take large amounts of important information, prioritise it and keep it visible to the people who need it most.

We want one at Edge Hill Web Services, we use JIRA here so can easily pull data out of that and I’m sure we could squeeze some information out of RMS while we were at it too, albeit with a LOT more hacking (software like that SHOULD have an API!). Looking to the future we’ve just got Crucible and Bamboo licences so that information would join out mythical wallboard..

Do you have a wallboard? / Do you want one?
Is it useful? / Can you see it’s potential use?
What’s on it? / What would you have on it?

You’ve got me every Thursday till Christmas so stay tuned for the next in my series.. Dashboards or home tabs!

Ste Daniels

We’re back, ready for Round Two!

Number OneA year ago the Web Services team stared blogging every day during Advent and the pain of that followed by blogging every day for 125 days apparently hasn’t put me off trying it again.

I have no idea where we’ll go with it but last year we covered everything from open data to environmental issues. I’ve got a few ideas for things to blog about but I’ll be writing fewer posts this month so there should be a bit more variety.

So subscribe to the feed or sign up keep an eye on GO for new posts and let us have your feedback in the comments!

Merry Christmas Everybody!

25 by Leo Reynolds.I started working at Edge Hill around the same time IT Services launched the GO portal and there was talk in the office the first Christmas about how many people would be logging in on Christmas day.

We don’t have the stats for Christmas day 2006, but we do have last couple of years so now you can check out how many people were logging in a year ago today (except I’m writing this in November so it’s not a year ago for me).

Last year GO received 840 visits on Christmas day.  Here’s an hourly breakdown – thick blue line is 2008 stats and the thin green line is 2007:

GO stats for Christmas day 2007 and 2008

The main Edge Hill website received even more visitors. Again, thick blue line is 2008 stats and the thin green line is 2007:

Edge Hill University website stats for Christmas day 2007 and 2008

I wonder if either site will beat those figures this year!

That’s all for 25 days of blogging – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of the posts and thank you to everyone who’s commented.  See you in 2010 where we’ll start it all again with some very exciting projects on the cards (well, on the product backlog actually!)

2010: The Year of Open Data?

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.

I’ve long been a believer in opening up sources of data.  As far as possible, we try to practice what we preach by supplying feeds of courses, news stories, events and so on.  We also make extensive use of our own data feeds so I’m always interested to see what other people are doing.  Over the last year there has been growing support for opening up data to see what can be done with it and there’s potentially more exciting stuff to come.

A big part of what many consider to be “Web 2.0” is open APIs to allow connections to be made and they have undoubtedly let to the success of services like Twitter.

Following in their footsteps have been journalists, both professional and amateur, who are making increasing use of data sources and in many cases republishing them.  The MPs expenses issue showed an interesting contrast in approaches.  While the Daily Telegraph broke the story and relied on internal man power to trawl through the receipts for juicy information the Guardian took a different route.  As soon as the redacted details were published, the Guardian launched a website allowing the public to help sort through pages and identify pages of interest.  Both the Guardian and the Times have active data teams releasing much of their sources for the public to mashup.

The non commercial sector have produced arguably more useful sources of data.  MySociety have a set of sites which do some really cool things to help the public better engage with their community and government.

In the next few months there looks set to be even more activity.  The government asked Tim B-L to advise on ways to make the government more open and whether due to his influence or other factors there are changes on the horizon.

But it’s set to be the election, which must be held before [June], which could do the most.  Data-based projects look set to pop up everywhere.  One project – The Straight Choice – will track flyers and leaflets distributed by candidates in order to track promises during and after the election.  Tweetminster tracks Twitter accounts belonging to MPs and PPCs and has some nice tools to visualise and engage with them.

I believe there will be an increasing call for Higher Education to open up its data.  Whether that’s information about courses using the XCRI format, or getting information out of the institutional VLE in a format that suits the user not the developer, there is lots that can be done.  I’m not pretending this is an easy task but surely if it can be done it should because it’s the right thing to do.

Since I started writing this entry a few days ago, the Google Blog post on The Meaning of Open. Of course they say things much better than I could, so I’ll leave you with one final quote:

Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet.

Let’s do our bit to contribute to that future.

New Homepages for 2010


We’ve recently used heatmap software to get an impression of the way people use our homepage; disappointingly, the central area, which we use to promote university achievements, major news and events, is often bypassed. This indifference is largely down to everyday visitors using the homepage as an entry point to the GO portal, but we are concerned that major announcements are going unnoticed.

We’ve had some strong homepages over the past year, as yesterday’s blog post attests; but we seemed to have got stuck in a rut by using the same three story template time and time again. It is clear that the single story homepages with the dedicated background images have far more visual impact, and are harder to ignore as a consequence.

compare

The obvious step was to add some interaction, so that we can navigate between stories, therefore individual stories can fill the whole area making a greater impression. Also by adding a random element we can ensure some freshness for each visit.

newGraduation

Typography

We’ve been using uppercase Futura Bold for our homepage headlines since the 2008 redesign; the justification for this was simple, that I felt it had more impact. Over time I’ve noticed that the blocks of text have a solidity, that consumes too much of the negative space around the letters; as a consequence the headlines are less readable.

futuraBold

So I’ve opted for lowercase Futura Book instead, as it seems to create more breathing space, but still has enough oomph for a headline.

futuraBook

Navigation

The coloured bar on the right will be used to flip between screens, there will be a colour association based on tints in the image itself, or as a direct contrast to the background colour; and this will also be used as the highlight colour in the headlines.

There will be sub navigation across the bottom where applicable: the links will have titles if the sections are different, or can be generic circles if you are flipping through a gallery.

125prev

The new homepage style will make its debut for Edge Hill’s 125th anniversary celebrations, which begin in January 2010.

125prev2