Top of the blogs

The Web Services blog only started in April but in that time we’ve posted over 100 entries. As seems to be common around these times, I’ve done some digging into our Google Analytics stats and come up with a top ten list of popular posts. First the list then maybe I’ll talk a little about them!

1. Web development with symfony

2. Facebook > MySpace

3. Go PHP5!

4. Facebook Applications

5. The Paris Hilton effect…

6. Where Am I?

7. We’re still being used

8. Release Early, Release Often!

9. Jobs Website Live

10. University email from Google

So what does this show us? It shows the continued interest in Facebook. It’s just over a year since Facebook opened the doors to non-students and in that time growth has been massive. They’ve continued to innovate with their developer platform but have perhaps misread their users on the Beacon advertising system.

About half of the top posts are technical in nature including many about our use of the symfony framework. In the last year we’ve developed several symfony-powered sites including Hi, the applicant community and the brand new GO portal. Work is well underway on a couple of new parts of the corporate website – look out for more in the new year!

Watching the ships go by

I can count myself pretty lucky here in Edge Hill. My desk is by a window with a decent view. Not bad for a new starter.

I haven’t always been so lucky, I’ve previously found myself in office blocks where I’ve been so far from a window, I wouldn’t know if it was night or day. My previous desk job had a view over the Mersey and I could (occaisionaly) watch the ships go by and see some spectacular sunsets. I’m enjoying my new job, here at Edge Hill but I don’t see many ships.

This morning I stumbled on an old bookmarked link for AIS, for a site called AISLiverpool – Watching the boats go by. This webcam and this one mean that I can (almost) get my old view back.

Preparing for the Big Brief: CSS Sprites

In one of my previous posts I embarrassingly listed the use of Image Maps as one of Nate Koechley’s ten tips for making web pages load faster, what I meant was CSS Sprites.

We will be using CSS Sprites to organise common graphic elements in the Choice Campaign website. They are a really easy way of grouping buttons with their corresponding rollover states onto a single master graphic, rather than slicing everything up.

Taking an HTML element like a DIV, you specify its width and height with CSS. Then using the CSS Background selector, you set the Master graphic as the background image. Following this you offset the background image using minus pixel values along the X and Y axes so that the top left hand corner of your button fits the top left hand corner of your div. You apply these values to the hover state of an anchor to create a rollover.

There is a good tutorial on A List Apart:

This will save a lot of time when preparing graphics in Photoshop, and will reduce the amount of CSS I will have to write, leading to faster page loads.

The Bubble is Back!

A bit of light entertainment since it’s less than a week until Christmas*:

This video was taken down from YouTube when the copyright holder of one of the photos objected to not receiving credit but it’s back online now for everyone to see. There’s much debate as to whether it really was breach of copyright or if a parody is fair use.

Is there a bubble, and is it going to burst? That’s a question many commentators will probably try to answer in their New Year predictions, or refuse to answer if they have any sense! Last time there was a “market adjustment” a lot of long term good came out of it. The waste and excess was given the squeeze and the good ideas won through. I could write more about this but I won’t – enjoy the video, and stay tuned over the holidays – I’m going to try to blog some stuff.

* Find out on when it really is Christmas!

BBC launches iPlayer

Have I Got News For YouThe BBC announced a couple of months ago that they were launching a new streaming version of their iPlayer catchup service. On Wednesday it was unleashed to the hordes of eager Mac and Linux users who’ve been locked out of the desktop client. It’s a neat system and one of the best Flash video clients I’ve seen.

While reading about the iPlayer launch I came across some more very interesting things from the BBC, but that will have to wait for another time…

Google charts for Christmas

It must be Christmas, 24 Ways is opening its advent calendar doors to any web designers who care to listen. The entire site is worth a read but what caught my eye, yesterday, was an article about Google Charts and how easy it is to use to generate your own charts on the fly.

To generate your own chart, start with:

<img src="" />

which produces the following chart.

You can see that the image tag references the Google Charts API, passes it a few parameters which Google outputs as an image – Done.

The article then explains how to create, pie, bar and line graph, all by passing different parameters and values. Creating something as complex as:

<img src=",4BB74C,EE2C2C,CC3232,33FF33,66FF66,9AFF9A,C1FFC1,CCFFCC&chl=Egg+nog|Christmas+Ham|Milk+(not+including+egg+nog)|Cookies|Roast+Chestnuts|Chocolate|Various+Other+Beverages|Various+Other+Foods|Snacks&chtt=Food+and+Drink+Consumed+Christmas+2007&cht=p&chs=600x300&chd=s:KUIZFDPJF" />

Heres a summary of the parameters:

  • cht – Chart type (lc is a line chart, p is a pie chart, bhg is a bar chart etc.).
  • chs – Chart size (height and width).
  • chd – Chart data. (Tricky, Google uses simple encoding)
  • chtt – Chart title (use + in place of spaces)
  • chco – Chart Colours (use hex value, but not prefixed with # as in CSS).
  • chl – Chart labels (separate by a pipe | character)

Further Reading: Google Charts API

Vacancy: Web Services Project Officer

We’re looking for another web developer to join our team to work with the Faculty of Health to develop an extranet.

You can see full details on the jobs website but here’s a few more details:

The project will involve developing and implementing systems for managing information for use by staff, students and external partners. It will build on existing systems such as our GO portal and the developments we’re doing for the corporate website. The Faculty are fully behind the developments and are already working on evaluating the information they currently have which will let us get off to a running start in the new year.

At Edge Hill we try to develop innovative approaches to projects, are quick to adapt and flexible to changes which enable us to create the best websites we can.

Check out the job description for more information or if you have any questions about the role, please drop me a line –

Vacancy: Head of Web Services

I will be leaving Edge Hill in the New Year to take up the position of University Web Manager at the University of Bath and as a result a vacancy has arisen for a new Head of Web Services at Edge Hill.

Full details can be found on our website however I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some key facts about the position and provide some background.

In the last twelve months it’s fair to say Edge Hill’s Web Services team has had some good press. The Hi applicant site was a huge success (soon to be featured in UCISA’s Best Practice Guide for Communicating with Users) as was the Go portal developments (designed for our students). We’ve also been talked about in HE Web circles and peers are interested in our vision and approach.

More exciting projects are imminent. The Corporate Website is currently getting a re-vamp to ensure we utilise new technologies to communicate key messages to our prospective students and we’re building in more functionality to key applications such as the eProspectus (course search) and News and Events.

So there is a lot going on and the successful applicant will get to work on a variety of exciting projects and with a talented and committed Web Services team.

I have been incredibly proud to have worked at Edge Hill University and seen it’s growth and success over the last few years and I look forward to hearing of it’s continued success in the future.

If you’re interested please don’t hesitate to contact me for an informal discussion on 01695 584780 or email