Blogging web teams

We’ve been blogging in the web team for over a year now and it’s become another part of the work I do but some conversations I had at IWMW 2008 got me thinking about the wider Higher Education Community.

Blogging web teams are rare. I suspect you could count them on one hand:

There’s a larger number of individuals who work in web teams who maintain a blog – Gareth Saunders (St Andrews), Matthew Bull (Kent), Michael Webb (Newport) for example – but the purpose of those is somewhat different so I’ll leave them to one side for now.

So back to web team blogging! When I asked people why they don’t have a blog there were a couple of reasons that came up regularly. One was that they’re not used to writing like a blogger and would find it hard to come up with the right type of posts. I can understand that, but there’s no one single type of blog post – variety is the spice of life – and there’s value in short posts, maybe just some links to cool websites or embedding a video.

The other main reason given by people for not blogging is that they don’t have time and I’m less convinced by this argument. Blogging has lots of uses both for the individual and team, and for the wider community both inside and outside a University.

Communicating what you’re doing. One of the best uses of a blog is to talk about what you’re doing within the Web Services team. Informing colleagues of current projects, changes to sites, even reporting on problems that have happened to the website keeps them in the loop and it’s less likely to be a surprise at the end of the day. A blog can complement and support other methods of communication. Many IT Services (or Marketing, or Communications, or wherever-you-are) departments have a regular (if not necessarily frequent) newsletter and often blog posts can be adapted for use there.

Personal Development. Universities are big on staff development and a blog is a great way of sharing knowledge with colleagues and turning some of your ideas into a more concrete form. Social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us can help here by making it really quick and easy to post links to useful resources to a blog.

Community Engagement. Most – if not all – web teams rely on the wider non-highered community to support the work they do. Whether it be a simple Google search to find out what’s screwing your CSS design or plugins for your web framework, the web is full of people willing to help! While consuming this is great, you can get more out of it by actively engaging in the community. At Edge Hill, we use the symfony web framework and it has a great community of bloggers and developers built around it. Part of the community is a blog aggregator so whenever we post an entry tagged symfony it gets sent to the symfony website as well. By contributing back to the community we get much more out of it.

Practice what you preach. For years, many web teams have been promoting the use of blogs within our institutions but how can we do this with any authority unless we engage ourselves? Blogs are now an important tool for researchers, marketing, applicant communications and within a teaching environment and web teams need to be able to advise on the systems and services available and prepare themselves for the demands that are coming from colleagues. If we don’t, then they will go elsewhere for advice and service provision with the potential risks that involves.

Networking with peers. We have the IWMW, some regions have additional regular meet ups of web folks, but often this can be a lonely game. JISCMAIL’s Web-Support and Website-Info-Mgt are useful, but they only go so far. Blogs can open up the highered web community by allowing us to share our experiences on a more regular basis. One of the joys of working in this industry is how willing to share people are and there’s no reason that should be restricted to just a couple of times per year. Together with the suggestion from Alison Wildish for an area to share project ideas and increase visibility between institutions, blogs can really help develop the community beyond the key events.

I’m in danger of this starting to sound like a broken record, so I’ll leave it there. If I’ve missed anyone out from the lists of blogging departments or web developers then please post a comment and I’ll be sure to check you out. If you think I’m talking rubbish, then I’d be really interested to hear about the challenges you think you’d face blogging your web team.

Updates – I’ll add extra blogs below:

16 thoughts on “Blogging web teams

  1. Pingback: Mister Roy’s musings » Corrupted by blogging

  2. Matt Machell

    By the same token, it often surprises me how insular the HE web development world is. It seems to talk to itself, but not to the wider web professional community…

    Oh, and you can add Birmingham City University to the list of blogging web teams, they have an Online Marketing Blog

  3. Phil Wilson

    It was interesting that after Alison presented her idea about teams sharing information on the work they’re doing the indicator for whether institutions would participate was an overwhelming “yes”, which makes you wonder why they’re not already doing it.

    Or of course, perhaps they are, but just on some webpage on their site somewhere, invisible to the rest of us.

  4. Mike Nolan Post author

    Hi Matt, you’re absolutely right about us being far too insular. Maybe we have a bit of an inferiority complex, but we shouldn’t – universities have large, complex websites communicating with thousands of different users – that’s way more impressive than some “cool” startup! Once we get over this we can talk more openly with the wider web community and share more effectively. Thanks for the link to the BCU online marketing blog – looks good!

  5. Alison Wildish

    As posted on the WEBSITE-INFO-MGT JISCMAIL list:

    I think there are many reasons why it hasn’t had the take-up we might expect.

    Firstly it takes a confident person to be so upfront about their ideas/thoughts/projects. Not everyone has that confidence and I’m sure we’ve all witnessed posts where people have been flamed for saying something controversial. This is especially difficult within teams as the most vocal tend to blog the most.

    I think many people still don’t see the point. It can take less than five minutes to write a blog post but you have to have a topic in mind, consider how you may come across and what you want to say.

    I also don’t think there aren’t enough of us doing it for people to see the real value – yet! If more of us used blogs then we’d be able to gain a real picture of the work going on across all Universites (which would make the idea I pitched at IWMW really useful – and easy!).

    I think perhaps we need to give people more incentives to blog rather than just asking them why they don’t. If other Universites can see real value then I’m sure we’d see greater takeup. So from a University of Bath perspective you can learn:

    – Details on our Web Sessions which have included presentations (and videos) on such things as ‘Managing your professional identity’ and ‘RSS and Atom feeds in the real world). Both of these are available for anyone to re-use so we’re effectively giving away our work for free!

    – Our thoughts and reflections on conferences and events. You don’t have to be there – you can read our notes to see if it’s of interest – any maybe attend the next year.

    – Our projects – Find our what we’re working on and any new technologies we’re playing around with.

    http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/webservices

    Blogs are very useful. If we know more about the activities of others we can learn a great deal and hopefully prevent re-inventions of the wheel, over and over and over again…

  6. Mike Nolan Post author

    Thanks Alison for commenting here as well. I think the way Bath are using their blog is really good, tying what’s posted there into “real life” Web Sessions other communications within the University. The Bath Web Services wiki is also really impressive and a great way of sharing information both within the team and beyond. But maybe that should be the topic of another post…?

  7. Roy Bayfield

    Alison says ‘the most vocal tend to blog the most’ – which can be true – though I think it’s a great medium for people who express themselves best in writing (rather than, say, in meetings or presentations) to get their perspective across.

  8. Alison Wildish

    I agree with you Roy. Is is a great medium for those who express themselves best in writing but based on the blogs I read (and the ‘little’ experience of trying to get teams to use them) it’s the vocal people who seem to be blogging the most (certainly when it comes to the web).

    We should certainly be looking at ways to encourage those who do express themselves best in writing to use blogs more though.

  9. Roy Bayfield

    Yep. It’s also a fact of life that lots of people with interesting and valuable things to communicate work in jobs that don’t put them onto ‘arenas’ where their ideas can be expressed – such as meetings – cos someone has to be at the desk doing the actual work!

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  11. S

    The reason why we (a community college) don’t blog is because the management does not like to have control taken away from their communication. We don’t use social networking sites at the moment as conversations can’t be controlled, we don’t blog because we can’t control the comments and when we add a video to youtube we get asked if if we can influence the related videos.

    I’m trying to get across that you have zero control when you are not participating about the conversations people have about your institution and that taking part in the conversation is an opportunity to get your message across but it doesn’t come naturally to management and people not used to digital communication.

  12. Mike Nolan Post author

    Hi S, thanks for the comment. I suspect you’re not alone in that situation but I’m sure you’ll get there in the end. Most big companies are engaging with the web in these ways now and managers often can understand that!

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