Monthly Archives: May 2008

BarCampNorthEast: Day 1

Last weekend I took a drive to Newcastle for BarCampNorthEast – 350+ mile round trip for the region’s first BarCamp. If you don’t know what a BarCamp is, the wiki describes it as:

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.

It’s a form of Unconference which are growing in popularity and now happen in cities all over the world. The by-the-people, for-the-people ethos is what makes BarCamps different to virtually all mainstream conferences.

The organisers of BarCampNorthEast had booked out the Art Works Galleries for the two days to provide plenty of space for informal discussions as well as four areas for sessions.

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Tag me

Tags are being used by more and more websites. They’re everywhere. Look at the top of this post, its been tagged (by me). Look to the sidebar, a tag cloud (more about these later). Chances are if you use any social networking site or web 2.0 site, you’ll have used, seen and interacted with tags.

Our new-look corporate site, extensively uses tagging, specifically in News, Events, Imaging and the eProspectus, but what’s a tag used for? A tag is metadata, a keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information. So tags can be added to any page in a web document and associated with any other pages prieviously tagged with the same tag.

The tags themselves are usually single words, informally and personally chosen. If you’ve signed up for accounts with Flickr, Picasa, delicious, Magnolia or YouTube, to name but a few, you’ve probably added your own tags by now. So is tagging just a way to show similarities between your documents? Not really, tagging data on these sites provides a simple navigation through to your own content, but also hooks into other members’ data by turning tags into links, which aggregate documents similarly tagged.

Tag Clouds

Tag Cloud

Popular tags can be visually represented through tag clouds, also known as a weighted list, with the most popular tags shown larger and bolder. Again the tags are links which drill down to similar content. You could even base an rss feed on a tag to alert visitors to new content so tagged.

Microformats

Microformats logoBy adding rel=”tag” into the links, the link also becomes a microformat. Microformats are a standard way to represent things in HTML, by adding rel-tag we’re standardising the link as a tag. Making the link a microformat allows the reader to find similarly tagged content from a wider source than just the current site. Firefox users can install a fantastic add-on called Operator. Operator recognises microformats on the page and in the case of tags, offers the reader entry points to content similarly tagged on other websites. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be anything similar available for Internet Explorer, yet.

Machine Tags

On the horizon, we have Machine tagging or Triple tagging. Machine tags use a specific syntax to define extra information about the tag, making it more meaningful for interpretation by computer programs. Triple tags comprise three parts: a namespace, a predicate and a value. For example, ehu:news=607This kind of tagging isn’t currently used on the Edge Hill site, but it’s built-in ready to go. Anyone interested can see an implementation on Adactio, any Flickr images, tagged ( where n is representative of his blog post) will be included automatically.adactio:post=n

Adopting Tags

By adopting tags, or creating tags so unique, ensures that all things tagged are related. For example, all news, event and images relating to this year’s Solstice Seminars could be tagged: solstice08. The tag is so unique, items tagged with it would be unlikely to be included out of context. Such unique tags can be promoted like a product, by requesting conference attendees to tag their own online content, on websites and slides etc.

Tagging Best Practices

If you’re about to embark on a journey of tagging for your own sites, it can feel a little daunting. There are, however, some best practices you can use to get started:

Use our data

I mentioned previously about some of the feeds we’re providing for news and events and said at the end of the post that we’d be doing some stuff for the Institutional Web Management Workshop. Well it’s finally time that we have to firm up what that stuff is!

Edge Hill – along with the Universities of Aberdeen and Bath – are sponsoring the workshop’s Innovation Competition. For this we’re letting people know what data we have available for people to use in the creation of innovate, lightweight demonstrations of web technologies.

For the Big Brief we’ve restructured several of our systems to allow information to be extracted in different ways. Now as well as viewing web pages, you can use our data the way you want to or access in more machine-readable forms.

Several of these feeds we use internally – for example, the JSON feed of events is used to populate the calendar in the sidebar to show what days events are on.

It’s all work in progress so we’ll be adding more formats in the coming months but I’m really looking forward to seeing the ways people can use information from the website as part of the innovation competition.

Two hundred words

Leeds Met UniversityOften people think that blogging can be a bit of a chore – requiring hours to draft and edit each post to ensure that it’s word perfect – but that needn’t be the case. I’m often guilty of writing long, verbose posts, and they certainly have their place – to explain our thinking behind what we do on the web or go into more depth on certain subjects which may be of interest to specific groups of readers – but shorter posts are equally valid.

This was brought home to me when colleagues returned from a trip to Leeds Met a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that their VC, Professor Simon Lee, writes a daily blog. VC Reflects has been running for nearly five years and is a fantastic insight into what’s going on in the University. It’s not a true blog – you can’t comment on posts or subscribe to an RSS feed – but as far as regularly communicating with University stakeholders, it’s fantastic!

So if you’re thinking about starting to blog but don’t want to get bogged down writing long posts then don’t worry – you can even get away with writing just two hundred words.

Mapping Wikipedia

Google Maps Wikipedia
Google have started adding photos and Wikipedia entries to their maps. Currently only activated when using maps.google.com you can click the “More” button to activate icons showing points of interest. I was amazed by how many things are tagged but slightly disappointed that Edge Hill isn’t on there yet.

It will be interesting to see if this is a one off, or with any luck shows that Google are going to be making more use of microformats and tagged pages in search results.

Choice Part 7: Bite the hand that feeds you

RSS Awareness DayI meant to blog about this last week but bank-holiday-weekend-fever caught up with me. 1st May was RSS Day – aimed at raising awareness of feeds and how they can be used to stay connected to websites that interest you.

I’ve blogged before about the topic and said then we’d be introducing more feeds in the future. Well we have – you can now subscribe to feeds of news, events and jobs so you can stay right up to date with what’s going on at Edge Hill. In most cases there are multiple feeds available allowing you to narrow down to just what interests you.

If you’re new to feeds then this video from the folks at the Common Craft show to see how they work and can benefit you:

To justify this post being part of the “Choice” series, I should probably say a little more about the developments in the new site. We’re providing feeds initially for areas of the site that are now in databases. The jobs website has been like this for a while but news and events are now structured properly to allow us to create a feed directly from the database. We’re using a plugin for symfony called sfFeed2Plugin which allows easy creation and manipulation of feeds and saves us from having to worry about the finer details of the Atom specification.

We’re going to provide more ways of using our data in the way you want in the future, including some stuff for the Institutional Web Management Workshop in July so stay tuned for more about that.