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:
- Edge Hill University Web Services
- University of Bath Web Services
- University College London
- City University Web Team
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: