This weekend I took a trip up the M62 to Leeds. No, not for the SSWG shopping trip, I went for a day of technology! That’s right, I experienced my first BarCamp!

BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from participants.

BarCamp is a network of unconferences organised all over the world. They’ve been going for about two years and are growing in popularity. Yesterday was BarCampLeeds, held at Old Broadcasting House, the former BBC studios now owned by Leeds Met University.

Since BarCamps are presented by and for the participants, and this being my first BarCamp, I “had to” do a session. After racking my brains all week I ended up finishing a presentation at 1:30am on Saturday morning. The subject was basically an introduction to symfony and why you should use it, combined with some case studies of the work we’ve done here at Edge Hill (with some slides borrowed from Alison’s IWMW talk!)

With nine timeslots and up to four rooms in use at any one time there was a wide variety of subjects ranging from entrepreneurs imparting their experiences to Live Coding demonstrations of Ruby. I tried to mix some business talks with stuff about web technologies and found it all pretty enjoyable.

The highlight for me was Tom Smith talking about “Stuff I Know”. The slides are online but they’re unlikely to make much sense. The line that sums it up was “pair programming is a bit like bran… you know you should eat it but you don’t really know why”. Apparently if you don’t have a real person to pair with, talking to the teddy bear is a good substitute.

I’m glad I went and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in technology (not necessarily a web focus). Thanks to the enormous generosity of the sponsors the whole weekend was pretty cheap for me (although the Etap Hotel proved that you really do get what you pay for… not impressed) so the journey was well worth it.

Less buzzwords, more content

We’re very open about our web developments and always welcome feedback, particularly from our users, but we are naturally disappointed when we hear we’re not giving people what we want.

We arrived at the office this morning to the following comment on my blog post ‘Where to stop?!’ from an anonymous user:


Less buzzwords, more content. Give us something we can use; not look at. We’re (students) not bothered about blogs. We don’t care about tech news. We can get that from more important places. This is a university web site. Give us university content. Live access to our files in a decent way. E-mail from POP or ATOM. RSS feeds of our coursework updates and changes. Loose the Blackboard and Web CT and start giving us information that we need. We’re not looking at it, we’re using it.

Whilst the comment doesn’t explicity reference Go (our student portal) I assume that’s what it relates to and in response (as buzzword-less as I can make it) I’d like to highlight the following.

The Go portal is not a finished product/service indeed non of our Web Services are. Once we put something in the public domain we seek feedback from our users and we continually build/adapt/enhance it to ensure it’s doing what YOU want. University blogs are fairly new for us and at present we only have a number of bloggers within the community – so whilst the usefulness of these might not seem apparent right now the more our community grows the more interesting they’ll be for a wider group of people. In direct response to the user who added the comment I’d also like to add that you may say students aren’t interested in blogs – but then you did just read and comment on one! 😉

I completely take the point about more university content and can confirm this is what we are striving to add. There are plans to pull in feeds from WebCT/Blackboard and even direct from the Student Record System but these are third party systems so understandably adapting these to be accessible in the same way as our university resources is a little more time consuming – bear with us. New features will be added all the time. The overall aim of our services is to make everything more accessible and easier for you and not just within the Go portal we’ve developed. Longer term aims are to have our content pushed out so that our users can decided how/where they access it from. Again we’re working on these things so keep an eye on this blog to see where we’re at.

All of that said we are confident we are providing some great features already. The new version of Go is due to be rolled out fully later this month and it’ll give all students easier access to Mail, File Storage, Discussion, Community, Library and WebCT/Blackboard. Performing Arts students are already piloting new services which give them a bespoke (course specific) area which allows them to submit assignments, get module updates and notifications about their course. I would argue that the services we’re offering are purely about content and we look forward to building on them in the future.

Welcome to the Jungle

There’s been a few changes in Web Services over the last couple of weeks. First up we did a quick switch of offices with Business Systems – still upstairs in the SIC but on the other side of the Helpdesk. The move has made a little extra room to accommodate a new member of the team. Andy Davies started on Monday in the position of Web Applications Developer.

It’s an exciting time in the team with lots of new developments over the coming months on the eProspectus, news and events as well as ongoing work on GO. So lots going on and we’re glad to have Andy on board! Stay tuned to hear more about developments as they progress.

Pecha Kucha

Ever heard of Pecha Kucha? Me neither until last Friday when I read an article in the January (2008, no I don’t understand it either) issue of PC Pro! It’s Japanese for “chit chat” and it’s all the rage amongst those crazy designer types. It aims to put an end to “Death by PowerPoint” by giving a rigid structure to presentations to help keep the flow moving and get through more in one session.

The concept is simple. 20 slides; 20 seconds per slide; GO! You don’t have time to bore the audience and this is why it’s gaining popularity in the business world. Seth Godin puts it quite succinctly:

Tell me a problem that can’t be outlined in six minutes and I’ll show you a problem it’s probably not worth having a meeting about.

I’d be up for giving this a go at Edge Hill! Anyone else fancy picking a topic that might be of interest to colleagues (or even something people might not be interested in – it only lasts 6m 40s!) and doing a turn?

Facebook 101

Stanford Facebook Class LogoA story from a few days ago but have only just got around to blogging about – students at Stanford University in the US are developing Facebook applications as part of their coursework. Students get to develop a “real” application and immediately see the results being used in the wild. The most successful application in the Stanford class has just short of 100,000 daily users! Most of the applications have been fairly frivolous but that’s not really the point – it covers the entire life cycle of an application from conception through to deployment and maintenance (100,000 users hitting your servers needs some serious management!).

So far only the first application has come out and there’s more of the course to come. The second application will focus on a problem in teaching and learning (lecturers – you can breathe again – it’s not all about “Get Wasted” and “KissMe”!) and there’s also presentations and analysis. I think this is a great idea and I’ve got a bunch of ideas for Facebook (or OpenSocial or whatever come next) applications that would be really useful for the University to develop, now where can I find some students? 😉

Random Stat

BBC News’ Magazine Monitor have been running a feature publishing a random statistic every day. This alone is worth subscribe to their feed for, although their sardonic review of the papers is good fun too. Today’s stat is:

Fifteen per cent of people have checked their e-mails at a wedding, according to a survey. Just over a quarter (26%) of the 3,000 people surveyed by 72 Point for Leaders of London, said they had checked their inbox while on holiday.

It wasn’t my wedding and I only logged in to check for comments on this blog, dear reader 🙂

More on OpenSocial

It seems that Google had more up their sleeves than the early announcements that leaked out. Today they added MySpace, Bebo and Six Apart (of Moveable Type, LiveJournal, TypePad and Vox fame) to the list of relatively minor players. MySpace announced back in June that they’re looking to open up and it would appear that this deal with Google goes back over a year.

This significantly increases the potential market for the OpenSocial platform and will be a definite draw to developers looking to engage with MySpace and Bebo users. This is unlikely to change my personal views on either of these sites but by having a standard API to write for it removes the problems of having to pander to NewsCorp’s whims.

Alison commented yesterday about Facebook’s next move:

I’ll be interested to see how long it is before Facebook choose to support Open Social… surely that’s the next obvious step for them?!

I’m more tempted to agree now, but it’s still not a given. Facebook are saying they’ve not been asked to join, itself not a great surprise but Google won’t be able to stop Facebook from joining in once the API is released. A bigger factor is perhaps Facebook’s plans for their Social Advertising Network. If they see OpenSocial as an opportunity to push targetted adverts out on competitor’s sites through embedded applications then there’s a strong financial motivation to join in.