Opening the (Flood)Gates

‘Mister’ Roy Bayfield reflects on empowerment of users

Part of the next stage of evolution of the Edge Hill site will be greater distribution of direct content creation across academic departments. This won’t be some clunky CMS that costs a fortune, takes ages to implement, adds layers of semi-automated bureaucracy and then doesn’t work anyway. Instead, we intend to give selected people (whoever their department decides to nominate) access to tools that are as simple as blogging, ie they will be able to write, embed images and video and click publish – job done.

Isn’t this all a bit scary? Will dozens or hundreds of staff suddenly be bestowed with the combined powers of King Midas, Dr Frankenstein and the Sorceror’s Apprentice? Well…maybe. But the alternative – failing to do justice to the rich diversity of research, scholarship, student work and experience across the University – is even scarier. It has become easier to publish to the web (on, say, Facebook) than it is to put a PowerPoint presentation together, so why would people want to have to send stuff to other people to place online?

Well one reason is that an organisation such as ours has to manage its reputation carefully. Another consideration is the quasi-contractual status of published information, particularly relating to courses. An incorrect or outdated claim about, say, professional accreditation could get us sued. All very well for the Cluetrain Manifesto to quote Herman Melville saying “”Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses — for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it…” – how many QAA audits or Ofsted inspections did he have to go through?

There are some serious issues to consider. But for me these aren’t reasons not to enable a broader group to publish directly online – just reminders that we have to do it properly.

There are a number of things we have to get right. Off the top of my head, these include
– The people-management within departments
– Tone of voice – when to be informal and when to be corporate
– Training and standards so that we don’t trip ourselves up with, say, copyright violations
– Links between centrally-produced, corporate content (such as quality-assured prospectus entries, PR features) and locally-produced material
– Non-duplication
– Developing the right system that is easy to use
– Navigation so that routes through the site, for various key user groups, actually lead to the cool new content that will be popping up all over the site.

It will be an exciting New Year.

The Computer’s First Christmas Card

number 11
It’s a Friday afternoon, I’m as busy as a bee, and I need to write my advent blog post in five minutes. I need a theme: think Christmas, think technology…….think poetry???

Proustian memory time

It’s the 1970s when school boys wore Clarks sandals and had dirty faces; we sit crossed legged on a shiny cork floor, and our teacher reads us a poem.

Picture an avuncular man in a kipper tie, imparting verse in the style of a Dalek!

You need to know that the final line is delivered with a self-satisfied robotic squawk; which brings about an outbreak of childish laughter.

The Computer’s First Christmas Card

By Edwin Morgan (1968)


Better Blog Day 11: Dig Into Your Blog’s Statistics

I’m going to skip day 10 – declutter your sidebar – as it’s fairly clean as it is and I like how the IT Services blogs, and some of the other University blogs, have the same theme with a consistent layout, albeit with different colour schemes and graphics.

So today I’m looking at stats using Google Analytics and other tools.

Top Posts

  1. Web development with symfony
  2. Go PHP5!
  3. Facebook Applications
  4. The Paris Hilton effect…
  5. Jobs Website Live

Interesting that three of the top five are tagged symfony – the project website syndicates blog posts related to the framework leading to a boost in traffic.


The number one source of referrals to our blog is, unsurprisingly, our own website, the latest posts feed on the homepage of the intranet accounts for about 30% of visitors. Number two is the symfony website and the peaks in traffic are clearly visible. Google is next up with people clicking through from Google Reader. Technorati follows with a variety of queries including tags such as IWMW and direct from the blog info page. Finally is my own website (Edge Hill University is not responsible for content of external websites etc etc…!)

Search Engines

Across the whole domain because it’s more interesting (and easier to work out):

  1. Google – by far, with half the top ten searches for people.
  2. Ask – very bizarre series of searches for “paul cheeseman core services” over a three week period. Deeply worrying, but excellent page/visit and average time on site!.
  3. Yahoo – interesting range of searches, just not many of them.
  4. AOL – someone’s been searching for “ceremonial mace makers“.
  5. Live – must try harder.

Bounce Rates

The bounce rate is the percentage of users who don’t click any further links after arriving at a site (lower is better). Overall across it’s 53.5% – Web Services is slightly lower.


We don’t currently have good stats for feed usage but looking at the raw log files, about 15 people are subscribed using Google Reader, half a dozen using Bloglines plus a variety of other services. Now that FeedBurner allows you to use your own domain maybe it’s time to sign up and pipe some feeds through it and find out how many people are reading that way – I suspect it’s a significant number.

Better Blog Day 7: Plan Your Next Week’s Posting Schedule

Continuing the ProBlogger plan to a better blog, day 7 (yes, I know I’m not doing them in the right order) is to plan your blogging schedule for the next week.

As a team blog, posts can be a bit sporadic at times but with 77 posts over the last four months we’ve got a fairly decent post rate. Content wise we cover a mix of web/tech news from around the web, issues within the University, reports from conferences and our thoughts on projects within the team. Personally I don’t currently plan ahead very much – I have a few rough ideas for themes such as a series of posts reviewing the feeds I subscribe to and of course the current 31 days to a better blog series – but on the whole I blog about whatever I’m up to or happen to come across on the superinterweb.

So what’s the benefits of planning ahead? Putting it the other way, Darren Rowse explains the problems of not planning:

  • Sporadic Posting Frequency – some days when I sat down to write – nothing came. On these days I would quite often not post anything.
  • Post Quality Varied – on days when I was on fire I could pump out a great quality post – while on other days when I was struggling I would often feel the pressure to post something – so would end up posting rubbishy posts.
  • Productivity Decreased – posting this way meant that I was spending more time blogging for less results. It took me away from other activities that I wanted to spend time on.
  • Lack of Momentum – from day to day posts were not really relating to each other. I found readers complaining that I was all over the place.

I can see some elements of that in our blog – we sometimes go quite a while without any posts and it would be nice to have a more related posts. So I’m going to attempt to do a couple of weeks of planned posts to see what comes out of it. It it works then hopefully I’ll spend less time staring at a blank page wondering what to write and come out with more interesting content!

Day 9 doesn’t really apply to our blog – I don’t think plastering the site with adverts would go down too well! Some more of the next few days don’t look too useful so I’ll pick and choose a few.

Better Blog Day 8: Comment on a Blog that you’ve never Commented on Before

Well I thought today’s task was going to be really easy – I’ve just been forced to comment on my Dad’s new website for Southport Table Tennis Club but that doesn’t count:

Go on a blog hunt today to see how many new blogs you can find in your niche.

I think it’s a bit off topic! But as Brian Kelly has pointed out, there’s not a whole lot of blogging going on in our niche. There’s a bit more across the pond – College Web Guy and are a good read – but it would be nice to see more. So any web teams out there – practice what you preach and set up a blog!

Better Blog Day 6: Email an Old Timer Reader

Today’s ProBlogger challenge is to email an old timer reader.

I did a quick scan through the comments to see who’s been reading and while we’ve had 123 comments, outside a core group of regulars it’s difficult to know who actually reads religiously and who just dropped by one time because they were searching for pictures of Paris Hilton.

Roy, Al the Tog, Brian: You Have Mail!

Better Blog Day 5: Conduct an About Page Audit

Today’s task is to conduct an about page audit:

One of the key pages on a blog is the about page. This page is often used by new readers to a blog to gather information about you and your blog and based upon what they find on this page they could be making a decision as to whether they’ll subscribe to your blog or not.

I’ve made a few changes adding a bit of information about the purpose of the blog but it would be useful to make some more changes. ProBlogger has a load of tips about creating an about page so we should follow some of them through.

Short and sweet today.

Better Blog Day 4: Interlinking Posts

Today’s task is to link blog posts together so that users can find information more easily.

As you add more and more content to your blog there will be more and more opportunity to link your posts together so that readers can view more pages of your blog. It’s also won’t hurt the search engine ranking of those posts that you interlink as internal links count in SEO (not as much as an incoming link from an external site – but it still helps).

While we’re pretty good at linking new posts to older ones – and hence creating a trackback on that post – there might be other things of interest that aren’t directly linked. The manual way seems a little bit too much like hard work right now and the plugin suggested (once I found it – the link was dead) doesn’t seem to play nicely with WordPress MU so I went looking for other alternatives.

We already have a way of linking posts by topic – we use tags – so it makes sense to use that somehow when deciding what posts are “related”. A quick search found the UTW Related Posts widget which does pretty much what I was looking for -picks out a number of posts and puts them in a list. It’s written as a widget so at the moment it has to appear in the sidebar but maybe that’s something we can take a look at when developing the blog system in the future.

If you’ve got an Edge Hill blog then you can install it too – just install it from the Plugins menu and add it to your sidebar. It required UTW to be installed and working first.

Better Blog Day 3: Search for and Join a Forum

Yes, yes, I know I’ve missed out day 2 – I’ll come back to that once I’ve found a suitable candidate who hasn’t read the blog. So on to day 3:

Search for and Join Forums on Your Blog’s Topic

This could be a bit tricky – I don’t really know of any forums directly related to HE web services! I subscribe to a couple of JISCmail lists and try to chip in whenever I feel I have something to add but there’s something different about forums.

One forum I do post on is the symfony project forum, although I have to admit that I’ve been a bit slack lately. Forums are a very useful source of information if you’re closely involved, and the symfony one has been great for picking up ideas and best practices, as well as giving something back to the community by answering other people’s questions.

So I’m going to steal Michele Martin’s key learning for day 3:

  • I need to pay more attention to forum posts to 1) participate in the conversation and 2) identify questions to answer or topics to write about. I’m going to try to do at least one post to a forum this weekend.
  • I should be sure to add my blog URL to my signature.

In the meantime, if anyone knows of good forums related to what we do in a Web Services team (I’m assuming here that you know what we do in Web Services…!) then feel free to post a comment.

Better Blog Day 1: Email a new reader

Here goes! It’s day 1 of our challenge to build a better blog following ProBlogger’s series of tasks.

Day 1 is to Email a New Reader:

Create a great impression upon a brand new readers to your blog by choosing a commenter that is new and emailing them to thank them for their comment.

It might not sound like the most profound tip but I’ll let you in on a secret – this is one of the main strategies I used to build up ProBlogger’s audience a couple of years ago.

What I found is that when you do it the chances of the readers that you email coming back to your blog again increases significantly. Get them to come back to your blog once and you increase the chances of them coming back again… and again…

That sounds easy enough – I’ve just fired off an email to my latest commenter – but it would be good to know who’s lurking out there and we should probably make a habit of emailing new readers.

Some comments on the Bamboo Project give a reminder of the importance of engaging with readers:

While I am still a new blogger/blog reader, I have noticed that I do pay more attention to the blogs where the author has emailed me after I made a comment.

When they don’t respond either by email or acknowledge in the comments, I assume they don’t really want interaction. I may keep reading, but I tend not to bother responding again.

I’m definately guilty of this sometimes. While I read every comment that’s posted to our blog – I get emailed when one is posted and also subscribe to the comments RSS feed I feel a bit awkward just replying with “Thanks for the comment” or “I agree” something like that but if it makes for happier more engaged users then I’m all for it!

So go ahead, post a comment and I’ll try to reply!