Category Archives: Conferences

Tech Events in the North West

A colleague just asked me about BarCamps in the North West and I got a bit carried away in the reply, covering a whole host of tech activity happening in Liverpool and beyond. Here’s an edited version of my email:

  • BarCamp Blackpool is typically early summer so it’ll probably be in June or July and the couple I’ve been to have been very good events. Manchester ran last November so I’m guessing they won’t be doing another until the Autumn; Liverpool have tended to run a touch less frequently.
  • Ignite Liverpool – Short Pecha Kucha style presentations showcasing things people are passionate about. There was one of these last Thursday but they are pretty regular in Liverpool and may be some in other cities.
  • GeekUp – much smaller events – usually just a single talk followed by drinks/chat. Liverpool events tend to happen at the DoES Liverpool co-working space
  • DoES Liverpool – all sorts of events happen at their rooms in the Gostins buildings. Maker Night takes place in their workshop and I think they even have a sewing club.
  • TEDxLiverpool – independently organised versions of the TED events and the Liverpool/Manchester/Newcastle ones are very good (organised by Herb Kim). 15 speakers for £10 for students is a bargain.
  • Social Media Café Liverpool – another good, friendly event with more of a focus on social media but many of the topics are broader than that. Next event seems to be 29 May.
  • SWIG – Liverpool WordPress group is on hiatus at the moment but I’m hoping it will make a reappearance at some point.
  • OggCamp – a bit like BarCamps but slightly more geeky, if that’s possible! A few of them have happened in Liverpool but I’m not sure if they move around.
  • PHPNW – first Tuesday of the month in Manchester – seems to be more detail on Twitter (@phpnw) than their website. They also run an annual conference which is very good.

Many of the events are listed at http://bit.ly/livedigital which is maintained by Neil Morrin.

News moves to WordPress

It’s a little over five years since our last major redevelopment of the Edge Hill news website when it moved from a classic ASP application into Symfony with lots of new functionality. In that time it’s been well used (and abused) with 1337 new articles plus an archive of 537 articles dating back to July 2001 imported across. News gets piped around the website with RSS feeds and machine tags to populate the homepage, department websites and various other places – it’s a bit string-and-tape, but it’s worked pretty well!

Two years ago we began moving some websites to WordPress in order to devolve control of content and structure to Faculties and Departments. WordPress has proved itself a very capable content management system, but more importantly it is now a solid web development framework. It has moved beyond its blogging origins and has handled everything we’ve thrown its way.

Until now we hadn’t migrated any of our “applications” (online prospectus, news, events, jobs etc) to WordPress as the cost of re-writing systems outweighed the benefit but our latest project sees us make the move with a brand new News website.

Latest News from Edge Hill University

While news might seem like an obvious thing to move to WordPress there were still a number of significant challenges we had to overcome in order to make the move. We also had a list of requirements from colleagues in Corporate Communications that we needed to tick off and some ideas of our own to make our news website more than “just another WordPress site”.

Over the next week or so we’ll be blogging about how we built the site and some of the new features.

If you work in Higher Ed Web Design you may be interested in hearing us talk about our use of WordPress at IWMW 2013 next month. Sign up for workshop session A7 – “WordPress: Beyond Blogging“!

Handling Social Media Overload

Wednesday night at Static played host to the second Liverpool Social Media Cafe and I was one of the speakers. The audio was recorded so you can hear exactly what I said or read below for some notes.

RSS is not dead

For the last few years various people have claimed that RSS is dead, like this article from TechCrunch:

“It’s time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

— Steve Gillmor

And this one from ZDNet:

“RSS: A good idea at the time but there are better ways now”

— Sam Diaz

In my opinion claiming Twitter is a replacement for RSS is like saying you’ve stopped watching the news and find out what’s going on by listening in to conversations at the bus stop.  RSS readers may not have the same widespread appeal that Facebook has found but they are an essential tool for many purposes.

Google Reader

Google Reader

Many of the tips below make use of feeds so it’s important you know how they work.  I’ve been a fan of Google Reader for many years – it’s available for desktop and mobile and there are apps that integrate with it too.

Find a better Twitter client

Twitter.com isn’t perfect. Despite their best efforts to “fill holes” in the product there are still many things that the website doesn’t do on its own. Fortunately for the power user there are many third party clients available so find one that you like.

TweetDeck

If you’re sat at your desk most of the day a desktop client can be a very useful way to manage your Twitter stream.  The first thing you should do is turn off pop up notifications and sounds – they’re very distracting.  TweetDeck handles multiple accounts and even allows you to add Foursquare and Facebook to the mix.

HootSuite

HootSuite has quite a lot of fans.  Personally I’ve always been put off it by the awful ht.ly tracking bar it adds to links but recently I’ve started playing with it a bit more and I like some of its features.

CoTweet

CoTweet

But for companies wanting to track customer engagement, CoTweet is excellent.  It’s designed for exactly that purpose and you’ll see it being used by some very big companies like BT, Vodafone, O2

One feature CoTweet and HootSuite share is the ability to delegate access out to several members of a team without them needing to know the password. Both also allow you to make use of the carat syntax to show who in a team is tweeting, giving a personal fact to your account.

RSSFriends.com

rssfriends.com

Really simple site – plug in a Twitter username and RSSFriends will give you a feed to subscribe to showing new followers with far more detail than the standard notification email.  Helps you some way to achieving Inbox Zero.

search.twitter.com

Twitter Search

Search on the main Twitter website sucks so go to the standalone search.twitter.com. Better still grab your feed addresses and plug them into your feed reader.

TwapperKeeper

Twitter search has the fairly serious limitation of only keeping about 7 days of tweets available for searching. The solution is a service like TwapperKeeper which regularly polls Twitter Search and saves the results to an archive. You can access this through an API, as a feed or download the data for processing in other ways.

Automate, Consolidate, Mainstream

The final part of my talk was three ways of managing your social media presences better.

Automate: use a service like TwitterFeed#mce_temp_url# to send the contents of RSS feeds from a blog or news site to Twitter and Facebook.  Other sites such as Flickr or WordPress can auto-post to Twitter as well.

Consolidate: break up your messages into simple chunks that can be posted to multiple networks.  Both Facebook and Twitter have the ability to post to the other network but make sure your messages are relevant, for example by not posting @replies to Facebook.

Mainstream: once you know that a service is working for your organisation, try to mainstream its use – spread the load of people updating sites.  Make sure there’s a spread of people involved – it’s good to have both technical and marketing people for example.

Finally, don’t be afraid to Mark All Read and if something isn’t working, Fail Fast.

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone

At IWMW last week I ran a BarCamp session titled “Slate My Website… and Your Website?”.

As I explained on the IWMW blog, the format of the session is based on Nick DeNardis’ EDU Checkup and consists of three parts:

  • 10 second test: show then hide the homepage then try to remember as much as possible.
  • ~5 minute review: surf around the site looking for things of interest – as Roy Walker would say, “say what you see”.
  • Ratings: scores out of 100 for design, content and code.

In the 30 minute slot we had time to slate review three websites:

University of Reading

University of Reading

Scores:

  • design: 68
  • content: 63
  • code: 79

University of Nottingham

University of Nottingham

Scores:

  • design: 71
  • content: 65
  • code: 62

Edge Hill University

Edge Hill University

Part of the “deal” for this session was that someone else would review our website so with me sat in the corner with my eyes closed and fingers in ears, Dan Wiggle from the University of York did the business.  Lynda Bewley summarised the atmosphere well:

@lyndabewley: vengeance being meted out on http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/ 🙂 #slatemywebsite #iwmw10

Scores:

  • design: 74
  • content: 74
  • code: 70

Many thanks to Jeremy Speller for acting as scorekeeper and Reading and Nottingham for being such good sports and not lynching me!

If you want me to Slate Your Website in person, I’m looking for someone to act as our “external expert” so get in touch!

Will you be our expert?

Paul Boag

Once again,  Paul Boag from Headscape spoke at the Institutional Web Management Workshop, this year in Sheffield.  The plenary talk was titled No Money, No Matter and was generally accepted to be one of the highlights of the conference.  Much of the content Paul has covered separately on his blog and [failed :-)] podcast but the talk tied it together and brought up some new ideas.

You can see Paul’s practice and links to related posts on boagworld.com and the full video is available from Sheffield.

Paul often treads a fine line between great advice and a sales pitch but he always does it with a glint in his eye so we’ll allow it!  Recently, he has been promoting the idea of bringing in external agencies just for big overhauls of the website and instead have an ongoing relationship.  While at Edge Hill we don’t particularly do web design agencies, I wholeheartedly agree that cycles of major redesigns are a bad thing.

Just when you think the talk is going to turn into hard sell for Headscape, Paul turns it around and admits for many Universities money is tight and suggests instead HEIs act as “external experts” for each other.  This is a fantastic idea and I really want to make this happen for us.  Paul suggested monthly meetings with your expert and while I think that might be a little too often, we can see how it goes.

So I’m looking for volunteers to come to Edge Hill (we’re based in Ormskirk, Lancashire in case you didn’t know!) and give us free consultancy!  In return you’ll get as much coffee as you can drink, a sandwich from the SCR and – if you want – I’ll return the favour and “consult” for your HEI.

There’s a few conditions, chiefly I don’t think TPTB would like one of our competitors coming in but other than that I’m open to offers!  If you’re interested, drop me an email on michael.nolan@edgehill.ac.uk.

Update: after posting on JISCmail’s WEBSITE-INFO-MGT list I received a couple of questions about the areas to be covered.  Our team covers design, development and to a large degree content and while we don’t author the majority of information on the site, we do have responsibility for it.  So essentially I’m looking for a general expert – someone who can say “that doesn’t look right” or “have you thought about doing cool thing X using HTML5 there”.

Mobile Apps vs Mobile Web

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Power and I were approached to cover Anthony Doherty’s workshop Mobile Apps vs Mobile Web.  We spent a week working through some ideas then finalised what we were talking about on arrival in Sheffield on Monday afternoon.

After the session, Kirsty Pitkin collared me to record a short piece to camera about what we covered:

[Aside: Bath’s Phil Wilson described this as “best. still. ever.” You can see and hear Phil laughing like a girl in the background of Adrian Tribe’s Take Away video. :-D]

Many thanks to Jeremy Speller from UCL for demonstrating their implementation of campusM and to everyone in the session for taking part in what I hope was an interesting discussion. There was quite a lot of Mobile Apps/Web talk throughout IWMW this year so I was a little worried we’d be repeating what everyone else said but I think it’s important for institutions to have the debate over what approach is best for them, whether that is buying in a native mobile app, deploying a mobile web app framework such as Molly, or building mobile versions of their website.

Finally, to make this post a bit more useful than just things you can find elsewhere, here’s a list of some mobile websites I may have demonstrated:

Additionally, check out the following universities in the iTunes App Store:

  • Stanford (Blackboard)
  • LJMU (campusM)
  • Trent Valley University (iUni)
  • UCL Go! (campusM)
  • UCLan
  • MSU Mobile

WordCamp UK

Following Hacks meet Hackers on Friday I decided that two conferences in a week wasn’t enough and headed into Manchester to WordCamp UK at MMU’s Business School. It was a full weekend event including socials in the evening but prior commitments meant I could only go for the day.  In case the name doesn’t give it away, WordCamps are conferences about WordPress and happen all over the world.

The first session was introductions to find out who was there. With a couple of hundred (I’d guess) this took a while but I was impressed with the diversity of uses in the room. Lots of web developers as you’d expect but also bloggers and it was nice to see a couple of other universities in the room.

Other sessions I attended…

Core PluginsPeter Westwood

Also known as Canonical plugins, it’s proposed that these will allow extra support for key features that aren’t part of the core WordPress code.  Currently two core plugins are under development:

  • Health Check: this will scan your WordPress install and tell you if there’s anything wrong, for example executable files or out of date PHP versions.
  • Post-by-Email: currently part of the core but badly out of date, the hope is to get the community to support it and take advantage of some extra development that has been done for other plugins.

Managing multiple WordPress instances – John Adams

John Adams just-in-time session planning :)

John showed us the just-in-time approach to session planning, also known as winging it, after forgetting he’d agreed to run this session.  It actually turned out well and some good discussion over ways of managing multiple blogs.  It seems Edge Hill had one of the larger installations, albeit as part of two WordPress MU instances but it’s a problem for everyone.

We’re certainly not alone in struggling with a development/testing/staging/live strategy for WordPress but Shaun Hare from Nottingham University suggested it is possible so we should probably pick their brains about it sometime!

Beyond Blogging – Kieran O’Shea

Kieran O'Shea: Beyond Blogging

Kieran highlighted a couple of plugins he’s developed to take a blog a little further:

  • Calendar: provides embeddable calendar that can show in a post, page or sidebar widget.
  • Social View: a new plugin that takes feeds from other websites – currently YouTube, Flickr and Twitter – and converts them to blog posts but makes them look a little prettier.

WordPress and more in Big MediaDave Coveney of Interconnect IT

WordPress in Big Media with @davecoveney

Final session of the day for me was Liverpool’s own Dave Coveney presenting a session about how the media can use WordPress.  He was followed by a chap from the Telegraph going into a little more detail about their blogging platform with some impressive usage statistics.  If you didn’t think that WordPress was a serious system you should now!

Hacks meet Hackers

Francis Irving

It’s been a busy week with the Institutional Web Management Workshop last Monday to Wednesday in Sheffield and WordCamp UK happening in Manchester this weekend but on Friday I took a day off to pop down to a hack day in Liverpool.

The event was hosted by LJMU’s Open Labs at the Art and Design Academy in partnership with ScraperWiki and Trinity Mirror Merseyside (think Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, Ormskirk Advertiser, Southport Visiter etc etc!). The idea was that hacks (journalists) meet hackers (coders, not to be confused with crackers who break into systems!) for a day working on datasets to produce something at the end of the day.

The basic format was splitting into teams comprising a few hacks and a few hackers with an interest in a particular subject, being put into a “booth” for 6 hours and seeing what happened. The group I was in was focused around Liverpool datasets – think Doctors surgeries, educational statistics etc.

I’ve come across ScraperWiki before at Liver and Mash and while there was no requirement to use their system, since it’s recently added support for PHP alongside Python I thought I’d give it a try. We found some data to scrape on the NHS website and set about building a scraper.

The chaps at ScraperWiki would be the first to admit that their support for PHP is still very much beta and so it was a little harder than I expected. Eventually I got it scraping a set of data and used Yahoo Pipes to add location data to allow it to be mapped. Here’s what it looks like on Google Earth alongside school and transport datasets:

Google Earth Three Layers

Okay, so not terribly exciting but it was useful to have a go at ScraperWiki and get an idea of some of the things that can be done with it. You can find my scraper on the ScraperWiki site; the Pipe is also available.

I think it was also very interesting to get journalists to meet coders. A few weeks ago I heard someone (possibly Alison Gow) say recently that you can’t get a job for the Guardian without talking about data and it’s becoming an increasingly important part of journalism. No longer is it enough to simply report the news or spout opinion – being open about where your data comes from can be just as important. So it was really good that Trinity Mirror are taking this so seriously.

Someone in my team asked when I raised the idea of using DBpedia (and hence Wikipedia) data how reliable it was and could it be trusted. My response was to point out that most Wikipedia articles cite their sources and asked how many news stories do the same!

I’m getting off topic now so I’ll leave it there! ScraperWiki are running a series of Hack Days across the UK (and beyond) so if you’re interested, make sure you sign up!

Social Media Café Liverpool

Last night was Liverpool’s first Social Media Café at Static. SMC’s are nothing new – they’ve been running in cities around the UK, and the world, for a while but it’s good to see one happening closer to home.

The format for the evening was three speakers with generous breaks between to grab a beverage and “network”. The organisers got some great talks:

Alison Gow: Data and the art of storytelling

From Alison we learn that you can’t get a job for the Guardian without talking about data! Alison has written up a blog post about her talk so go read it!

Josh: How to win Foursquare friends and influence people

How to win @foursquare friends and influence people by @technicalfault

Josh is involved in organising Social Media Café Manchester and popped down the road to talk about Foursquare. Once again, Josh has blogged about the subject so go read that.

I’ve got a blog post in draft (which has fallen foul to my 48 hour rule) about Foursquare and how we might be able to use it as a University. Hopefully I’ll be inspired to look at it again and publish it in the next week or two.

David Coveney: Social media and work

@davecoveney #smvliv #smday

Final talk of the night was Dave Coveney talking about how work and social media mix. Once again his slides – as a Prezi – are online. They probably make about as much sense as Dave’s talk, and I say that as a compliment! It was very engaging walk through the history of social media (anyone remember CIX?) and how he makes use of social media personally, with the business as a side effect.

So overall a great first SMC Liverpool. There was some discussion about the direction to take the events but it will probably be a monthly thing. I’ve added the hashtag #smcliv to TwapperKeeper so you should be able to read through the archive of tweets there as it fills up.